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by Daneal Weiner
Drasvutsya! Russian for "Greetings comrades have you seen my potato? This
is a special parsha for me. Come back with me..back and over to the summer of ‘93. It was 4 years ago this Shabbos that I was standing in the lunch room of a carved out hole in the woods called Machana Yisrael just outside the toddling town, Vitebsk, Belarusia. Talk about a city that never sleeps...then you'll have to talk about somewhere else. I was the kitchen mashgiach for this 3 week over night camp and that shabbos the kids had just finished their seudah and it was time for a little d'var Torah.
Who's better suited than the kitchen mashgiach, the overseer of sanctity, to whip up a little Torah, to fill the heads now that the tummies were satisfied, to top off the meal with a little taste of yiddishkeite, to leave them with a flavor of their heritage? Yes, who but the kitchen mashgiach who toils night and day to insure only food of spirtual purity fills their bodies to now serve words of spiritual purity to fill their souls, to nourish their neshamas, to offer sustenance from the ultimate...sustenancer? Either that or my threat to burn the kishke paid off.
Seriously folks, (no chance) I stood up and began with the words of Moshe Rabbeinu "Yasbush kyochno degudah d'znobi zubahbwah" which non of them understood becaue its a bunch of jibberish. I no speaky d'Russian. Fortunately, there was a translator near by. Moshe tells B'Y on behalf of the Almighty (11:26), "Look! I place before you this day a blessing and a curse." Commentaries agree that there is no point to a "look" unless there is something that's physically there for them to look at. These commentaries obviously never took Mr. Melingers physics class of ‘77 in which case "Alright, now look" wasn't to get us to look at all but to shut up! So whatever this is that all B'Y are looking at is symbolic of the blessing and the curse placed before them as well. Furthermore, the word ‘hayom', ‘this day' is explained all through Tanach to mean literally this day, today! Whatever was then is as good as now! Or is that now is as good as then? Now is then and then is now? How now brown cow.
So what are they looking at that trancends time? We'll climb that hill when we get to it (wink wink). First a little background informatsia. The next verses (11:27-28) say, "The blessing; when you listen to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, that I command you today. And the curse if you do not listen to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, and you stray from the path that I command you today." (2 more times the word ‘today'!) A point of interest is the difference between the use of the word ‘ahsher', ‘when' and the word ‘eem', ‘now'.
The blessing is ‘when you listen' and the curse is ‘if you do not listen'. Whats the difference? The former has a matter-of-factness to it "You will receive the bracha when..." It follows naturally. How natural it is for the Jew to follow in the ways of Hashem. And when we do, bracha naturally follows. Perhaps it also reflects the nature of the bracha itself. A natural bracha. The rains will come, the crops will grow, business will boom, all will be healthy and we'll have peace from our enemies. Now we'll be free to engage in even more of H's ways. But IF we turn away, if it's possible, if it can be done, the unnatural, the unimaginable- then the curses will come! Perhaps the nature of the curse will also be unnatural and unimaginable? r"l.
The word "derech." literally it means ‘road' and figuratively means ‘way'. The road to h-e-double L may be paved with good intention but the road to G-d is paved with the ways of G-d. Actions! This is a world of action. Avraham Aveinu leaves in the middle of a prophecy from G-d to go and serve three Arabs because Avraham knows that action is where it's at. I just heard an incredible Rabbi Tatz tape, as they all are, on this very point. You'll never become charitable by sitting with your hands in your pocket pondering the goodness of giving! Give. Give, give and give again! Thats how to change, to improve a trait, to better ones self. Do it! The attitude will follow. Obviously be sure what you're doing is along the derech H' or your new attitude will be a bad attitude. But I digress.
This ‘derech' has shown itself in the last two parsha's. Back in 8:2 we have, interestingly enough, another pasuk regarding choices. In his summation of events to all B"Y, Moshe changes to singular verb form to speak to each and every Jew saying, "You will remember the derech which Hashem took you these forty years in the desert to afflict you, to test you, to know when it is in your heart to guard His mitzvos, [or] if not." (Again ‘ahsher' and ‘eem')
There is no testing a person unless it is according to the limits of their specific potential. As Rabbi Tatz put it, any less is not a test and any more is basically a beating. Moshe is talking about major events that happened to all B"Y, en masse! How can he use a languge of individuality? It is difficult to grasp but that question is the point. Anything that H' does, even en masse, is a personal challenge on the individual level. And since it is according to the individuals capabilities, one always has what it takes to make good, to stick to the derech. To the individual, it will appear an impossible challenge. This is because G-d is leading them somewhere they haven't been before.When one knows that this is what's happening then there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Putting in every effort and praying for H's help is easier. Then H' will intervene.
Rabbi Tatz explains that test, ‘nisayon' and miracle ‘nais' and flag ‘nais' all have the same root. A flag, while symbolic of a people, group, movement,etc., is a statement of presence. The flag on the moon, the alien's flag through the presidents heart (if you saw Mars Attacks). A miracle is G-d's saying, " I'm right here." But G-d is everywhere always? Which is why, if anyone stops to think about it, all nature is a miracle. This is how everyone will be held accountable for their belief in G-d. (Sorry, an intra-digression) But regarding our implied topic of ‘unnatural' miracles, the symbolism of the flag/nais is G-ds relationship to the recipient! Only someone who deserves the unnatural or open miracle will get it. The nisayon is to be put in a situation which seems impossible without a miracle from G-d so that when we endure and pray for help and get through it, we become a the flag of G-ds presence in the world and now have a closer relationship with Him meriting even greater miracles!
It is more comprehendable to see personal ordeals as personal tests but when things happen on a national scale we could think the individual gets swept up, sucked in. A victim of circumstance. To think that beyond a certain point Hashem looses track of the individual is blasphemous. H' puts before each and every individual only what is divinely tailored for their spiritual needs.
When Hashem revealed Himself directly to all B'Y with the 1st commandment, Chazal tells us that everyone died from the revelation and had to be resurrected. After the second commandment B'Y died again and were again brought back to life. This is when they came to Moshe Rabbeinu and said, "OK, your turn. Hashem to you, you to us." (Commandments 3-10 are in third person.) So we can explain away that of course everyone died. To suddenly receive prophecy on a level of Moshe Rabbeinu would kill anyone who wasn't a Moshe Rabbeinu. That's not what Chazal are telling us. Hashem revealed Himself to each and every member of B'Y at THEIR OWN potential!! And when each one saw what they themselves were capable of, THAT experience is what killed them. Oy!
Getting back, if I can remember the way, Moshe Rabbeinu elaborates on the derech in the next verse (8:3) "He [H'] afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you the mon that you did not know nor did your fathers know, in order to make you know that man does not live by bread alone, rather by everything that emenates from the mouth of G-d does man live." (probably the most misquoted words in history) What does it mean that we and our fathers did not know?
Avraham Avinu was the worlds first scientist. The first to look at nature and see the miracles of a Creator. He did not grow up with a Jewish education. He looked at mankind and thought that it is not possible that we have all these mental and emotional faculties in order to just survive like an animal, to eat to work, work to eat and one day die. There had to be a higher purpose. So Avraham began to investigate and through his investigation of the world he came to recognize the One Creator and Provider of all AND to keep the mitszvos was the human role in the world. And Avraham was so sure of his an unheard, unseen, untangible G-d that he was willing to give up his life for it. It was by this merit that Hashem gave Avraham Avinu his first prophecy. To Avraham and his descendants, Hashems interaction with this world, the miracles, were the laws of nature themselves. Food falling from the sky was unheard of. Not just because no one saw it. It had no place. It served no purpose.
Then came Moshe Rabbeinu and the Jews of the Exodus. They were the first to see Hashem's upheaval of nature, from the 10 plagues on through the 40 years in the desert. While the rest of the world would harvest food from the ground, B'Y ate food from the sky. While the rest of the world drank rain from the sky, B"Y drank from a rock in the ground. The other nations would form on claimed, common and fertile soil while the Jewish people were formed in an unclaimed, barren desert.
The derech of H' is that the Jewish people will operate outside of nature. When it is hot outside, while the non-Jews undresses to be as comfortable as animally possible, a Jew puts on tsitsis and the Jewess wears long skirts and long sleeves. While the non-Jew gets hungry he eats whatever whereever. the hungry Jew goes looking for kosher food and stops to ask G-ds permission and only then eats. While the non-Jew thinks his livelihood comes from how much business he does and may resort to inappropriate means to make more, the Jew knows that his livelyhood comes only from Hashem. Work is not a means to an end but and end in and of itself. To work on Shabbos and certainly to resort to cheating or stealing does not earn one extra penny of income. The work place is only another stage to act in the ways of H'. And being in Russia, I threw in that a Jew does not steal even while living in a country where stealing is the norm.
So finally coming back to our parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu has B'Y divided in three. 6 tribes are standing on Mt. Grizim, 6 are on Mt. Aival and the Levi'im are standing in the middle. Mt. Grizim represents the blessing and Mt. Aival represents the curse. Two mountains standing side by side. Same latitude, same longitude. When one gets sun the other gets sun. When one gets rain the other gets rain. And yet one is blessed with the beauty of grass and trees and the other is barren with rocks and dirt. Just as the people of Israel are outside of nature, so too is the land of Israel outside of nature. It won't tolerate a nation that acts like all other nations. What Hashem wants B'Y to see, is that its not the rain, its not the sun, its not nature. Its G-d! And these two mountains, side by side yet worlds apart, are His flag.
I told the campers I hoped that they would continue their learning and define their ways from the Torah and not from what they may see going on around them. And if they should ever get to Erets Yisroel they could stand before Mt. Grizim and Mt. Aival and see for themselves the very place which every one of their ancestors stood. See where they chose bracha. See where they chose life. See where they chose to the derech H' ( maybe see a few arabs too) and know that THIS DAY, today, that same choice stands before them.
Make the right choice. Have an unnaturally great Shabbot Shalom!
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