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by Daneal Weiner
Baruch Hashem for this break in the heat. The second half of the week it
did not go over 90 degrees and there was a breeze! I spoke with someone who
was in Tel Aviv and they said it was better there than in Jerusalem
(obviously referring only to the weather). Then someone who was in Tsfas,
which is way up in the mountains (one mountain anyway), said it was hotter
there then in Jerusalem! It's crazy! Just like our service of Hashem. "Give
ear O heavens and I will speak." Moshe Rabbeinu called the heavens and
earth as witnesses to our service of Hashem and the job of a witness in
Judaism is not just to testify but also to warn!|
The weather is not the only barometer we have for our behavior. I was flipping through an English Yated Neeman, a weekly Torah newspaper and was given a good jolt by a powerful article submitted by a Rav Y. Lorberbaum. Follow me.
"And Bnei Yisrael were fruitful and increased abundantly....and they grew exceedingly great and the land was filled with them....Now there arose a new power who said, 'Behold, they are more and mightier than we! Come let us deal wisely with them!' Does this sound familiar?
Not 'where is this from?' because then the answer would have been 'the beginning of Parshas Shmos when the attitude of the Egyptians began to turn against the Jews'? It sounds familiar, like in Shmos, but this is the new platform of Ehud Barak the Labor hopeful, inciting, excuse me, enticing votes for the next election. Since the Arab problem will no longer get a Labor candidate elected, they switched platforms to a different problem. He has to turn the people against their Torah Observant brethren so they'll vote him in.
And Pharoah Ehud decreed, "Throw their males to drown in the green river!" The Israeli Army. So what the army dismisses veteran officers who do tshuvah- become Observant!? So what Ehud Barak HIMSELF has said regarding Torah Observant in the army when his political aspirations weren't as high, "Don't want them and don't need them!" But it also says in Shmos, "the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied and grew." King Solomon said, "There is nothing at all new under the sun."
It's not just the army which "doesn't want, doesn't need" the Torah Observant. Sergeant Major Yonah Cohen, one of a force of 100 policemen at the Kishon prison, asked, after 12 years of flawless duty, not to work the Shabbos shift. He suddenly found himself before a court defending himself against charges of smuggling goods for the prisoners. Both the polygraph tests and the court found him completely innocent. All his superiors could do then was transfer him out. And he was transferred again. And he was transferred again. And he was transferred again. Finally he reached a commander who was 'honest' enough to write in his report regarding Srgt. Mjr. Cohen, "The officer does not work Friday evening and Shabbos, due to his status of 'baal tshuvah' and this indicates he is not suitable for the position" and then he was fired without the right to appeal the decision. Mr. Cohen, the father of the officer, a Holocaust survivor, needless to say is troubled watching AGAIN loved ones persecuted "on the basis of our Jewishness" as he puts it.
I just spoke this very week with a matchmaker to set up a Baal Tshuvah whose learning in Yeshiva and would like to continue to do so. The matchmaker knew of fine young woman, a Baalas Tshuvah, who has been in a woman's Yeshiva in Israel for a year. She considers herself "Yeshivish." She wants a husband who learns. But she doesn't see herself becoming 'Chareidi' because said can't bring herself to be affiliated with a segment of society who are "hated so much" as she puts it. Can one blame her?
Remembering that these last few paragraphs began with the introduction that the weather isn't the only barometer we have of our service to Hashem, as a large segment of Israeli society finds themselves re-living past persecution, we can not turn a blind eye to what are Sages say was the cause of that persecution.
Parshas Shmos, the introduction to the Egyptian exile, the forerunner of all exiles. The Beis Halevi refers to a Midrash which explains the verse in Tehillim. "It was when Bnei Yisrael were unfaithful to Hashem that (105:25) '[Hashem] turned their hearts to hate His nation, to plot against His servants.'" The Bais Halevi explains further saying we tangibly feel the increased hatred for us, in this long exile, in the same measure Israel decreases the differences between herself and the nations. As the desired distinctions between Israel and the world, as dictated by Torah, diminish, Hashem puts hatred into the hearts of those surrounding them so that we will nonetheless remain distinct.
The Bais Halevi gives us a reason/cause to reflect upon. Is this relevant today? He was talking about the attitude of the non-Jews towards Jews and only the truly blind would not see this as being the cause of why the secular state of Israel is on the world's chopping block. Everything which goes on in this world is a consequence of our spiritual merit. The machinations of politicians and the like generate nothing when it comes to our relationship with our neighbors. But internally speaking, between Jew and Jew is this law of nature relevant today? The reality is that the majority, the vast majority of secular Israel are not the anti-Semites like the vocal few with the power and desire to incite. That is the reason for the need to incite. So are the Torah Observant coming to close to their non-Observant brother's ways? Are the lifestyles, luxuries, financial aims, status values and general conduct of the Observant different enough from the non-Observant that we need not be further isolated by the anti-Observant? With Elul just around the corner, a time for serious introspection before the High Holidays, thank you Rav Lorberbaum for bringing this to our attention.
Of course, this is being brought to you by someone who just spent all afternoon at the Chofets Chaim Water Park so...you know. Hey, I'm in Israel 4 years and this was the first time I went, so relax. (And I have yet to step into an American food chain restaurant so, double relax!) It will probably be another 4 years before my neck loosens up too. I went with a Yeshiva and we had chicken fights in the pool for about an hour! We couldn't believe the life guard let us. It was very funny. On the street, on a bus, at the Rebbe's tish the non-Israeli can't stand all the pushing and gruffness the Israeli's are accustomed to. Put us in pool and Israelis watch us kill each other! Another treat, only in Israel can you hear a father yelling at the life guard, "Stop already with the 'Hey boy,' 'Hey you,' 'Hey boy.' Every 5 seconds into the loudspeakers 'Stop this,' 'Stop that!' Such noise! Let 'em have some fun!"
Now that all the wind has been knocked out of my sails, this weeks
seems to relate the flipside of Rav Lorberbaum's question. It opens, "And this will be the reward when you listen to the ordinances and you Observe and perform them. Hashem will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers." The Torah goes on to say how Hashem will bless us, our produce and our possessions beyond natural expectations. Not an infertile man or woman nor animal in all Israel! "Hashem will remove every illness and all the bad maladies of Egypt that you knew!"
As for army duty? (7:17,18) "Perhaps you will say in your heart, 'These nations are more numerous than I'...Do not fear them! You shall remember what Hashem did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt." There is a Midrash that says Pharaoh did tshuvah, so there is hope for Ehud. I don't know his mother's name. Everyone pray for Ehud ben Sarah to do tshuvah...add Shlomo ben Sarah to the list as well.
The word "Eikev" was translated above as "reward". The Ramban translates it as "Because". "Because you will listen...Hashem will..." More common is the meaning "heel". The Midrash teaches this meaning hints to the human folly of looking at some mitsvos as being inconsequential so they are 'tread upon by the heel' figuratively speaking. "When we listen to all mitsvos, even those we see as inconsequential, then Hashem will..."
Our forefather Ya'akov was named with the same root word for being born while grabbing onto the heel of Eisav. It represented Eisav's descendants, Edom, which is who's exile we live in now, being eventually defeated by Yaakov's descendants. When? At the heel of Edom. The ending of that exile. The EIKVesah d'Mashicah"- the period of time called the "Footsteps of the Mashiach" which it is widely held we are in right now. Now we can translate the verse "And it will be, when the Mashiach will come, you will listen to the ordinances and Observe and perform them." All of you (us) to all of them (mitsvos). In fact, why not start while you're ahead! Baruch Hashem, after 4 years in Israel I am rid of some of my Madison Avenue brain washing. I still remember some commercial when the mechanic looks into the camera and says, "You can pay me now... or pay me later." Go for the now! it's more worthwhile!
Rodney Dangerfield, who made it big at 50, spent the next 20+ years of his life being miserable asking himself the question, why didn't this happen when I was younger. Just wait till he becomes a Nevardok Chassid. Then he'll really be miserable! And not because Nevardok never wanted no respect.
Rav Mordechai Perlman brings the Eliyahu Ki Tov to answer why in this parsha, after Moshe already rebuked Bnei Yisrael earlier in Dvarim and has turned to discussing the mitsvos, does he suddenly go back to berating them? Beginning with the end of chapter 8 Moshe says it's not by your merits you come into Israel and for all chapter 9 and into 10 does He calls them stiff necked and reminds them of the rebellion, of the golden calf and of him breaking the first set of tablets. Why the shift back?
The Eliyahu Ki Tov explains it's not a shift at all. Out of Moshe's love for Bnei Yisrael he is reminding them of what it takes for their survival. Doing Mitsvos! And a message very important to give on any difficult journey is never to give up hope. If Bnei Yisrael goes into Israel thinking they had fully deserved it then any other time, when it was not deserved, what hope would they have? We were thrown out eventually and with yeridas hadoros- the spiritual decline of passing generations, what chance of coming back would we ever have?
[By the way, this is a popular question, the decline in generations. How can we merit anything our ancestor's hadn't? The answer is that we sit on the shoulders of our ancestors. Like midgets on giants. Every generation accomplishes something which brings the Mashiach that much closer. If our generation had to do it all, we couldn't. We just have to add the final touch! The first half hour or so of the chicken fighting in the pool, I was always on the bottom. Someone offered me to go on their shoulders and I tried it. What a feeling that was! Suddenly being lifted high above the heads of everyone else in the pool, what a surge of power I felt for as simple and foolish an act as it was. It's to the credit of one of the guys that when I exclaimed what a rush of adrenaline it was, he responded with the saying of the Sages, 'On the shoulders of giants.' Sunday, everyone into the pool!!! Find out how easily we can bring the Mashiach before his time!]
Moshe is not telling Bnei Yisrael they don't deserve the land of Israel. He is telling them never to give up hope because they can have Israel even when they don't deserve it! Never despair! When things aren't as good as they should be Israel may still be their home! When the nation who just witnessed Hashem's revelation can turn on the spot and defy Hashem and then be forgiven then certainly any other generation and sin can be forgiven.
The beginning of Gemorah Avodah Zarah asks, how can it be that that generation committed such a sin? We're taught again and again how the Torah protects us, why didn't that Torah straight from the mouth of Hashem, so to speak, protect them? The Gemorah answers they were 'allowed' to sin so that every generation would know it's possible to do tshuvah. And that is on the national level. That Gemorah also asks how was it at all possible King David sinned? It answers so every individual would know the possibility of doing Tshuvah. (There is another Gemorah which says anyone who thinks David sinned is mistaken! That is definitely beyond the scope of this vort! But we should hear it whenever possible.)
This is what the parsha is about. Comforting Israel. Reading of the haftorah was instituted when Jews were forbidden from reading the Torah. It functions as the bearer of the same message of that weeks parsha. The Haftorah this week is the second of 7 Haftorahs of comfort. After the three Haftorahs which foretold of impending destruction which lead us to the 9th of Av, these next 7 spell out comfort. To the detailed degree that the destruction was foretold, so too will be the rebuilding of Israel!
This weeks Haftorah begins with (Isaiah 49:14,15), "And Zion said, 'Hashem has forsaken me, my L-rd has forgotten me.' Can a woman forget her nursling, [withdraw] from the compassion for the child of her womb? Even were these to forget, I [Hashem] will not forget you!"
Scriptures, Gemorah and Midrash describe the various relationships between Hashem and the Jewish people. The Song of Songs by King Solomon describes the relationship as one of Husband and wife, respectively. Along with verses which call us Hashem's first born, many times the Sages brings mashalim- parables portraying Hashem as a king and Israel as the prince or princess. A parent-child relationship. And then we have at least the beginning of Dvarim (regarding why Moshe hinted to the Mon by it's color, white) where there's the idea that although Hashem cursed mankind that by the sweat of their brow they will eat, in the desert He fed us the Mon like a mother nurses her infant, with total kindness and no effort required by the infant what-so-ever. A mother-nursling relationship.
After the sin of the calf Moshe came down from Sinai with the tablets and broke them. He is praised repeatedly for this action. The Avos d'Rebbi Nosson brings that the tablets were like the marriage contract between Hashem and Israel. Having just commited 'adultery' with another god, Moshe breaking the tablets making it like the marriage never was. Whereas the penalty for an adulteress is death, an unmarried woman does not pay with her life.
The Maharal argues with this idea. He says from the Sages we learn that when Moshe wrestled the tablets from the angels, the angels had their hands on the top 1/3. Moshe had his hands on the bottom third and the middle third was in-between their grip. In the Gemorah Bava Mitsiah, regarding two men who come to court holding a garment, each one saying it is his garment, the area disputed are the areas from the grip till the end of the garment. If their grips are touching, then the whole garment is in dispute. But if each are holding less then half, then they are agreeing to a partnership to the middle section and are only disputing who owns what remains (again) from each grip till the end of the garment. So the Maharal says that since there was a middle third that existed between the angels and Moshe, this means that there is an existing relationship between Hashem and Israel. The middle third was shared! It represents an confirmed bond! It can't be that the relationship was destroyed when Moshe broke the tablets because there was a portion not 'belonging' to Moshe to be able to break it!!!
Something else our Sages praise Moshe for is that by breaking the tablets he brought forgetfulness into the world. The first tablets were engraved by Hashem. That engraving meant that any Torah learned by a Jew would have been engraved in them, so to speak, never to be forgotten! When Moshe broke the tablets he 'broke' that ability to remember. That means forgetfulness. What's the praise? In the lifetime of man, just a few years will be spent learning all revealed Torah and the rest of the time will be spent fishing, golfing or have chicken fights in water parks. Now with forgetting in the world comes the need to review and our lives can be spent learning. A much better way to spend it! Those who can turn chicken fights in the pool into Torah experiences have special exemptions. [Oh, I guess that means one of the guys, not me. Nevermind.]
Finally tying all this together, a Gemorah in Brachos expounds upon the opening words of this weeks Haftorah. In the two aforementioned verses are three words, "Oolah"- nursling, "eleh"- these, "Anochi"- I. The same words as "Olah"- burnt offering, "eleh"- these [as in 'these are the gods who took us out of Egypt,' spoken about the golden calf] and "Anochi"- I [am the L-rd your G-d. (1st Commandment)]. The Gemorah sees in these words a hint of a conversation which took place between Hashem and Israel. Hashem said to Israel, "I will never forget the burnt offerings you gave Me in the desert.
Israel said, "If you never forget then You won't forget the calf either!?" Hashem responded, "There is forgetfulness in heaven. I will forget the calf." Then Israel asked, "But if there is forgetfulness then maybe You will forget that we stood at Mt. Sinai and received Your 10 commandments!?" Hashem comforts us saying, "I will never forget you."Receiving the 10 commandments without the tablets was like an engagement. How can there be an engagement and never a wedding?! When the men of Israel wrap the tfilin around their finger we say, "V'ayrastich li l'olam" from a verse in Hoshea. It means "I will betroth you to Me forever." Representing a betrothal ring put on the bride, "Israel," Hashem says "the wedding may have been called off but the engagement will be forever." There will always be a connection.
Now we can understand the difference of opinions between the Avos d'Rebbi Nosson and the Maharal. The former was speaking of specifically the wedding. When Moshe broke the tablets in front of the eyes of all Israel it gave the appearance the entire relationship was severed. The Maharal is talking about a connection on a different level. When forced, Hashem reveals a different relationship between Him and us. One that can't be divorced. There is the parent-child relationship. But it is possible that the child will do something against the wishes of the parent. So much so that the parent would send the child from the house. Still there is the Mother-nursling relationship. Even when the baby drools, spits up or down right dirties itself, all the mother does is show unconditional love!
"And Zion said, 'Hashem has forsaken me, my L-rd has forgotten me.' Like the Agunah, a wife who is still bound by marriage when she does not know where the husband is, most of Israel after 2000 years has been numbed to the point of questioning if Hashem is there, r'l. Will He come back to her?
"Can a woman forget her nursling, [withdraw] from the compassion for the child of her womb? Although the relationship has changed, He has never forgotten us. Like a parent He has always kept a watchful eye on us. Even though we were kicked out of the house there is the Mother-nursling relationship.
"Even were these to forget," if it was possible, we shouldn't lose hope. Hashem has already promised us the engagement is forever. "I will not forget you!"
Granted we're just flesh and blood, but come on now, "a woman forget her nursling...the child of her womb? Even if these were to forget"? How could it be possible to forget?!? Anytime you pass an army post, where ever soldiers are stationed, whether there is one soldier or 5, there will be a female soldier with them. A pick-me-up for the soldiers dreary daily duty. What does this make of the holy daughters of Israel? I saw a blurb in a paper that they are moving to have female soldiers stationed on submarines. Can you imagine how demoralizing it must be when everyone else gets a female soldier and not boys on the subs? No need to say what this makes of the holy daughters of Israel. "Can a woman forget her nursling...the child of her womb?" It seems that Zion(ism) has. It is truly comforting to know that Hashem will never forget us and we may possibly retain the land even if we don't deserve it. But we can deserve it!
The parsha would not be complete without telling us how to reconnect to Hashem. 3 times the parsha says the same thing, to go in G-ds ways. In 8:6, 10:12 and 11:22. What's different? 8:6> "You shall Observe the commandments...to go in His ways and fear Him." 10:12> "...fear Hashem...to go in all His ways and to love Him." 11:22> "If you will Observe...to love Hashem...to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him."
The Chafets Chaim in his sefer Ahavas Chesed notes the 1st says 'go in His ways' and then 'fear'. The 2nd precedes 'fear' to 'in His ways' and then adds 'love.' The 3rd precedes 'love' to 'in His ways' and then adds 'cleave.' It is easy to see a growing process. Going in Hashem's ways will bring a person to fear Him. Accomplishing that, to continue in Hashem's ways will create a love for Him. Now going in His ways from a place of love will bring one to cleave to Hashem. What's the difference between loving and cleaving? Love is not 24 hours a day. Cleaving is!!! What does this mean? How is it possible? What about all the mitsvos between ourselves and our fellow men which we have to do? An occasional nap, maybe?
Love is not 24 hours a day. When one stops to think about the person they love, they feel it. But when the mind turns to something else, the feeling is gone. There is a mitsvah to love Hashem. We are obligated to stop and think about Him and feel love for Him. If it doesn't exist already we are learning how to generate that feeling now.
For cleaving, Rav Perlman has a mashal of a child holding the parents hand in a strange environment. The child's mind will also wander to other things. There is not a constant conscious awareness of holding hands. But the second the parent lets go, instantly the child looks to see what happened?! Where'd the parent go?? If the second one does something wrong- speaks lashon horah, hears it, say a bracha with less then the usual concentration, doesn't greet another with a smile, eats imported dairy products not made with milk of Israel- if there is an instant feeling that Hashem just let go of the hand, thats cleaving. Now you have arrived!
Speaking of arriving, another bride, Shabbos, is on her way now. To her, Israel is the husband. Love her and cleave to her and may we MERIT, measure for measure, our reconnection with our heavenly Father on a greater level, that the Mashiach may come and build His house that we may again be joined on the greatest level of all. Bimhayrah biyamaynu! Shabbot Shalom.