Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg
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Vol. 7 No. 1
The Open Door
"If you will not make good,” G-d said to Kayin, “the Yeitzer ho’ra will crouch by the door; he lusts after you, but you are able to overpower him” (4:7). The Kli Yokor explains this posuk according to Chazal, who compare the Yeitzer ho’ra to a fly. A fly he explains, does not have the strength to create a fresh hole in the flesh. So what does it do? It alights on the body at a spot where there is already a wound, and proceeds to enlarge the hole, which is precisely how the Yeitzer ho’ra works. He is powerless to vanquish a tzadik, who leaves him no opening. It is only when he comes across people who sin already, that he gains entry, and causes them to sin even more. And this is what G-d meant when He told Kayin that if he remained with his sins, the Yeitzer ho’ra would crouch by the door. ‘He will wait for you to sin just once’, G-d was informing him, ‘so that he will gain the impetus to make you do another, because one sin leads to another’. If you refrain from the first sin however, the Yeitzer ho’ra will have no choice but to remain outside the shut door.
The Gro too, explains the concept of the door in a similar manner. He too, explains that the Yitzer ho’ra has no power over a person unless he opens the door to him, as Chazal have said ‘It is the breach that invites the thief’. Only he presents the idea of the open and closed door somewhat differently.
By way of introduction to the Gro’s explanation, there are three distinct levels with which each and every person has to contend: the level that is below him, the level that is above him and the level on which he operates. The level that is below him comprises those things which are so ingrained in his subconscious mind as being prohibited (or obligatory), that nothing would make him transgress (or not fulfill his obligation). The level that is above him comprises those things that are way beyond his field of endeavour. He does not know - or he does not want to know - that they are forbidden (or that they are obligatory). As a result, he transgresses them indiscriminately, without any pangs of conscience.
On these two levels (which we might refer to as the white and the black areas in a person’s life) the Gro implies, the Yeitzer ho’ra has no entry into a person’s heart, the one because he cannot enter, the other because he does not need to (seeing as the person sins under his own impetus). It is when a person operates on the level at which he stands, when he has doubts as to whether to sin or not, that the door opens, allowing the Yeitzer ho’ra to enter, to ‘help’ the person pacify his conscience and make the decision over which he is currently wavering. It is with regard to the grey areas in a person’s life that the Yeitzer ho’ra plays an active role.
This explains, says the Gro, why Dovid and Bo’az, on separate occasions, swore that they would not ‘sin’. Because, due to their respective situations, they were both in doubt as to whether to go ahead and perform the act that was tempting them. By taking an oath not to do so, they removed the doubt from their hearts, and with it, the power of the Yeitzer ho’ra.
And it also explains a Gemoro in Sanhedrin which interprets the posuk in Tehilim (91) “and a plague will not approach your tent” to mean that a man will not arrive home from a journey and find his wife a sofek nidah. A sofek nidoh is worse than a definite nidoh, for the very reason that we just wrote: because as long as his wife is a definite nidoh, he will know that she is forbidden, and abstain from touching her. It is when she is a sofek nidoh that he has doubts that maybe she is permitted, and that is when the Yeitzer ho’ra strikes ...
And this is what G-d meant when He asked Kayin why he was crestfallen at his sacrifice not having been accepted. He was not helpless at all (as he thought he was) in the face of the Yeitzer ho’ra. Quite to the contrary, he had the power to take the initiative and to hold the Yeitzer ho’ra at bay - by keeping the door shut. Should he do so, he will find the Yeitzer ho’ra becoming progressively weaker with the passing of time.
Just Till Shabbos
The Medrash Rabah writes that the command not to eat from the Eitz ha’Da’as was only meant to last until Shabbos. Had Odom not eaten from the forbidden fruit until Shabbos, the prohibition would have been rescinded. This Medrash poses two difficulties: Firstly, if the reason for the prohibition was in order that Odom should not be aware of the power of evil (so as not to fall prey to its inherent temptations) as would indeed appear to be the case, then why should Shabbos change that? In what way would Shabbos remove the likelihood of falling prey to the temptation of evil? Secondly, if the prohibition was only temporary, then why did G-d not say so? Why did He present Odom with the prohibition as if it was to remain permanently in effect?
Let us answer the second question first: It is clear that the prohibition was in reality a test for Odom and for Chavah. Here they were permitted to eat from all the numerous species of fruits (Gan Eden fruits - to boot), yet one fruit was forbidden to them. The inquisitive nature of man (and all the more so of woman) must have been sorely tempted beyond our comprehension. But that is what G-d wanted. It was the supreme test that contained all the tests that mankind would later have to endure until the end of time.
Bread in One’s Basket
We have a principle that one cannot compare someone who has no bread in his basket to someone who has (so that it is easier for example, to fast when you know that you can eat when you want to, than when you know that you cannot - and in a similar way, it is easier to fast when you know that you will be able to eat at a given time, than when you don’t). Based on that principle, for G-d to have informed Odom at the outset that the prohibition would only last three hours until Shabbos, would have defeated the very purpose of the test. The power of the temptation would have been minimised had Odom known how short a time the prohibition would last. He would have been able to hold out with relative ease until the imminent arrival of Shabbos, and it would no longer have been a supreme test.
Armed With the Sanctity of Shabbos
To answer the first question, the Be’er Mayim Chayim explains that G-d’s intention was that Odom should first experience a few moments of the sanctity of Shabbos, after which he would taste the fruit of the Eitz ha’Da’as, in order to know first-hand the difference between good and bad. Then, armed with the sanctity of Shabbos, he would automatically choose good over bad, thereby bringing the world to the ultimate purpose of its creation.
And the Be’er Mayim Chayim compares this to Avrohom Ovinu,. who arrived in Eretz Yisroel, only to be forced by a famine to go straight down to Egypt. It was necessary to go first to Eretz Yisroel, he explains, in order to imbibe the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel. And that is what gave him the strength to endure the tum’ah of Egypt and to emerge from there unscathed.
Odom the Lowly, Odom the Lofty
“Male and female He created them, and He called their name ‘Odom' on the day that He created them” (5:2). Man comprises two parts, a body, which lives in conjunction with a soul of life (no different than that of each and every animal), and a Soul that G-d breathed into Him, which elevates him into a Divine being, created “in the image of G-d” (which the Seforno explains to mean ‘with the ability to choose - between good and bad). These two aspects of man are hinted in his name: the latter half of his name, ‘dom’, meaning blood, hints at the soul of life (indeed, the Torah links the soul of life with the blood a number of times in Acharei Mos); whereas the ‘aleph’ hints at the Name of G-d, Elokim, part of whom He breathed into Odom to give him his elevated Soul (for so the Torah wrote in the previous posuk “bi’d’mus Elokim osoh oso”).
How Small, How Great!
Interestingly enough, the numerical value of Odom is equal to that of ‘moh’, which itself (when it is not in question form) has a dual meaning. It can mean ‘How small!’, as in “ve’nachnu moh” (Sh’mos 16:7) (said by Moshe and Aharon to describe their own insignificance); and it can mean ‘How great!’, as in “Moh rav tuvcha asher tzofnanto li’yere’echo” ("How great is your abundant goodness ... “ Tehilim 31:20). These two interpretations of ‘moh’ describe admirably, the two aspects of man, because from the point of view of his soul of life he is the most insignificant of all of G-d’s creations ('the flee preceded you!’); whereas from the point of view of his elevated soul, he is by far the greatest.
History of the World
(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)
Antignos Ish Socho receives the oral tradition from Shim’on ha’Tzadik. Tzodok and Baytus are his disciples. Rebbi Elozor ben Charsum is the Kohen Godol. Ptolemy the First rules in Egypt. He takes Eretz Yisroel from Seleicus by trickery. A Jew-hater, he attacks Yerusholayim, sending more than 120,000 Jews into exile, and sells them as slaves. After the death of Seleicus, Antiochus ascends the throne of Macedonia. At the end of his reign he conquers Eretz Yisroel from Ptolemy King of Egypt. He too, hates the Jews, and he too, sends 60,000 Jews into exile, 10,000 of them to Antioch. All subsequent kings of Macedonia are called Ptolemy, after him, a situation which continues for two hundred and twenty years, spanning seventeen kings, until two hundred and eighty years of the second Beis ha’Mikdosh (i.e. the year 3688).
Pilon the Jew describes a sect of P’rushim (separatists), numbering some four thousand all in all, who leave their wives and children behind in the cities of Yehudah, to go and form a society which lives by the highest possible ideals, based on the written and on the oral Toros. These people share everything that they own, and they accept into their group only someone who shares their ideology. Interestingy, based on the concept that G-d alone rules over His people, it is they who will later rebel against the Romans in a vain attempt to rid themselves of their yoke. They reach the highest levels of humility and fear of G-d, and abstain from all forms of impurity, as a result of which a number of them are able to foretell the future.
Aristotle, mentor of Alexander the Great, dies.
Ptolemy the Second, known as Philadelphus, the son of Ptolemy the First, rules over Egypt. He is an expert in all branches of wisdom. He possesses a vast library consisting of three thousand books in a variety of languages. He is in fact, the first person in history to collect books and to form a library. Many years later, the kings of Persia will loot his library, taking many of the books to Persia; others are burned, and the rest are taken to Bavel and to Rome. This Ptolemy loves the Torah sages, respects them and provides for them. He is intrigued by the greatness of the Torah and he asks his advisors why the Greeks have not translated it and added it to their own heritage. They reply that they are afraid to do this, ever since Theodikte the singer became blind for attempting to add one verse from the Torah to his songs, and was only cured when he realized his sin and swore never to touch the Torah of truth again. In similar vein, Theopompei the philosopher went out of his mind when he tried to copy part of the Torah and to add it to his writings. Upon being informed in a dream that the reason for his illness was his arrogance in tampering with the holy writings of the Torah, he prayed to G-d, promising never to repeat that sin, and was cured.
May Hashem repay Demetrius, who advised Ptolemy to set free the hundred and twenty thousand captives from Yerushalayim that his father had exiled. Ptolemy subsequently redeemed each one for a hundred flowers. And also for the table which he (Demetrius) sent to the Beis ha’Mikdosh as a gift for G-d. It was made of pure gold, with many kinds of trees and herbs engraved on it, as well as a picture of the River Nile showing how it watered the whole land of Egypt; and also for the gift that he sent to Elozor the Kohen Godol and to each of the elders.
Yossi ben Yoezer (Ish Tz’reidoh) and Yosef ben Yochonon (Ish Yerusholayim) receive the Torah from Antignos (Ish Socho) and from Shim’on ha’Tzadik. They are the twenty-ninth link in the chain of Torah leaders that began with Moshe at Har Sinai, and they are the first of the ”pairs” (listed in Pirkei Ovos - the first of which is always the Prince, and the second, the head of Beis-Din). Yossi ben Yoezer will live for almost another hundred and fifty years and will be martyred during the religious persecutions that will take place in the time of the Greeks.
Elazar the ageing Kohen Godol who will send the seventy-two elders to Ptolemy Philadelphus lives at this time.
Yochonon Kohen Godol, the father of Mattisyohu, also receives the Torah from Antignos at this time. He prepares two Poros Adumos.
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