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by Daneal Weiner
Hello from the Holy Land! Or as Mahatma Ghandi used to say, "Holy cow!"
It's great to be here! Elul in Israel! There is no other place to be!!!|
I remember a talk I heard at this time a few years ago from Rabbi Lau, shlita, the Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of Israel. One of the first prayers we say in the morning, just after the brachos, asks Hashem to remember the Akeidah- the binding of Yitschak. The Akeidah was the 10th and final test after which Hashem made Avraham the father of our holy nation. In the Gemorah it says that our blowing the Shofar is to remind Hashem, so to speak, of the Akeidah. In slichos and the High Holiday prayers we again mention the Akeidah. Avraham Aveinu had TEN tests!? Why do we repeatedly mention only the last one?
To make the question stronger, the Torah tells us Hashem preserves kindness of the fathers to the 2,000th generation. We have yichus- a relationship to our father Avraham. He was the epitome of kindness. We are living today off the interest of his investments! A Gemorah says that Avraham sits by the gates of Gehenom (hell) and pulls out any Jew who is sent in. These ideas are one in the same. We benefit right now from the credit of Avraham for what he did 4000 years ago. So if he has 10 tests to his credit, let's use all of them. Let's include all of them in the prayers! You think what the Swiss are holding after 50 years is big?! We're only cashing in on a 1/10 of what we could be!
Rav Lau speaks to communities all over the world. It's a given that where ever he goes he'll be approached with people saying, "My grandfather was the Rav of," or "was the Rebbe of," or "was a brother to..." or "he learned with..." To all these people Rav Lau always want to ask one question. "Now that you've told me about your grandfather, what have you to tell me about your grandchildren??" Yichus to a righteous and holy ancestor is not a bumper sticker! It's a responsibility!! If we are going to m'yaches- to relate ourselves back to Avraham Aveinu, then it has to be in a way One can see the connection!
The Prophets who composed the prayers for all generations saw all the generations. They knew which words would be the ones that, if used, Hashem would be most 'moved' to answer positively. If we want to say, "Hashem, You remember Avraham? Look, we are his children!" then we have to look like his children! We have to act like his children! Then Hashem would answer our prayers as he answered Avraham's.
Rav Lau went through a number of Avraham's tests and compared them to today. The first test was when Hashem said, "Lech lecha"- Go! Avraham went. He didn't know where he was going but he went. And he kept going till Hashem said stop. Now days we have aliyah offices, absorption centers, cheap housing, tax reductions, free job training.... who's coming?
I know a young couple who were willing to come out for a year to try and make it work. If so, then they'd make aliyah. That qualifies for a degree of 'Lech Lecha'. A little conditional but it's a 'Go'. They were advised against it. No plan? No jobs waiting? No house being built? It will lead to stress in the home. Don't go. This is not a complaint against those who advised them. Those may know the reality far better than me. Maybe families who do come without a plan do end up with marital stress, ch'v'sh. That also is the misfortune as well. We aren't a generation who can get up and go. We can't m'yaches ourselves to Avraham with 'Lech lecha.'
The second test was Hachnasas Orchim- taking in guests. Avraham saw three arabs from afar and although in physical pain he ran out to them, prostrated himself on the ground and begged they accept his hospitality. Avraham brought them to the tent and asked Sarah to cook three tongues which she immediately set out to do without questioning, "What?! Three tongues? How about one brisket? Who's here? The president? Hide the maidservants!"
We were doing good as recent as 50 years ago, Rav Lau noted from personal experience. When he came to Israel from Buchenwald he remembers people asking him to stay with them "for 6 months," "for a year," "till you learn the language," "till you finish school." But now days we've room for the stereo, the computer, the TV, the car, the dog. Guests? How many for how long? It's an inverse relationship. The folks are getting old? Who knows a good home? The Prophets knew the prayers had to be for all times. Even the late, advanced 20th century.
Then Avraham saved his nephew Lot. With 318 men (that's the larger number amongst the commentaries) he went to fight 4 world powers! Are we fighting to save our fellow Jews from their spiritual captivity? Have we sent in our annual $18 dollars to save Soviet Jewry? Better not mention this test.
And so the Rav went for one or two more. Then there's the Akeidah. That was a test in Misirus Nefesh-(literally) giving over ones life- (figuratively) enduring hardship for the sake of Hashem. Everything Hashem promised Avraham, Avraham saw Yitschak as the vehicle for all the promises. He spent 37 years raising and teaching Yitschak based on that premise. Then Hashem tells Avraham to bring him up as an offering. Put all 37 years on the alter and end it all in a blink. Not only was Avraham so willing that he woke up early to do so, but Yitschak was as willing as well! This is the one flag we can raise. This is how we can connect to our forefathers. Because even if we don't offer ourselves, ourselves, we get offered anyway.
This month of Elul, the month before the High Holidays, is time of the year to misyaches ourselves to Avraham Aveinu in every way. Looking at the nation in it's entirety the Prophets could only m'yaches us in one way but every individual has the ability to m'yaches themselves in every way! This is the time of the year to take on the responsibility of what it means to be a ben or bas Avraham Aveinu- a son or daughter of Avraham our father. A society based on rights is wrong. A society based on responsibilities endures.
is the parsha with the most responsibility, in a way. Of all the parshas this one has the most mitsvos in it. And true to the time of the year when it is read, it deals with reconnecting.
The parsha opens with the Aishes Yifas Toar- Women of Beautiful Form. (21:10-11) "When you will go out to war against your enemies...and you will see amongst it's captivity a woman of beautiful form and you will desire her, you my take her to yourself for a wife."
Last week the Torah describes the degree of righteousness that every soldier of Israel was on. How does such a Tsaddik suddenly find himself desiring this woman? The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh speaks at great length on this matter. He says that the souls of these woman are souls that were handed over to the powers of impurity and the time has come [perhaps the very purpose of that war was that the time has come] for these souls to be brought back to their roots. Not only doesn't Judaism missionize but it even dissuades converts. Yet this woman brought into the home is converted even against her will. Unlike the gentile maid or man servant which can never go free, this woman is let go and we are warned not to enslave her or sell her or mistreat her in any way.
Although the Torah explicitly states the soldier may marry her, all agree that it is not the will of Hashem he do so. The Torah tells us this by the juxtaposition of this topic to the next, that of a "hated wife" which is then followed by the "wayward son." Both 'by-products' of the marriage to the Aishes Yifas Toar.
Rav Wolfson brings the Zohar on verse 13, "She shall remove the garments of her captivity...and she shall weep for her father and for her mother for a full month." The Zohar says that the Father is Hashem and the mother is Knesses Yisrael (the feminine aspect of Israel) and the month is the month of Elul. This soul which has been lost to and trapped in the clutches of the impure and unholy weeps when it feels the distance it is from her Father in heaven and from her true people on earth and at this time which is fit for closing the gap.
Can we be so sure she will recognize let alone mourn her deeply rooted plight? When Adam and Chava sinned and where sent from Gan Eden they too felt the distance between them and Hashem. What did Hashem do for them? He made them clothes! They had already made coverings for themselves so we know they knew how to sew, yet Hashem made clothes for them anyway. You can imagine that Hashem doesn't do things 'anyway'. How can we not appreciate a holiness which exists in proper clothing? Verse 13 said this woman removes the clothes of her captivity, clothes designed for seduction, clothes of impurity and unholiness, and she dons the modest holy garb of a daughter of Israel. Putting together a verse from Yirmiah and from Proverbs (regarding the Woman of Valor), "How long will you slip away o' wayward daughter?" "Strength and majesty are her dress!" This combined with the atmosphere and sanctity of the Jewish home she is sitting in will bring her to realize the distance she has fallen. The number one tool for helping to bring close any wayward Jewish soul is the sanctity in the home and the Shabbos table!
Just as the parsha opens with lessons and messages for Elul and for reconnecting, so too does it end with the same. (Imagine what's in the middle!?) The final verse says, (25:19) "It will be when Hashem grants you respite from all your enemies around you...that you must erase the memory of Amaleik from under the heavens: Do not forget!"
An obvious question is what do we do with this commandment? Who are the Amalekeits today? Even if we knew one we probably couldn't kill him. In fact, it may be downright forbidden. The Torah commands to ERASE his memory. If an Amalekeit was killed today the court case would be world wide news. "Fanatic Jew kills biblical enemy. Freedom of Religion or unconstitutional homicide? News at 11." The ADL will obviously defend the rights of the Amalekeit. In Tel Aviv, they would probably put up a monument and change the name of a town center to memorialize him. Not what the Torah has in mind. Another question, is regarding, "erase...from under the heavens." Where else?
Rav Osher Reich draws from the Alshich Hakadosh to answer these questions. He brings a Rashi from the book of Daniel that says that wars start in the heavens, not here on earth. The Sar- governing angel of one nation has a dispute with another Sar and war manifests itself on earth. The Sars of the 7 nations living in Israel were defeated before Bnei Yisrael went in. Once that was done, it was just a matter of clean-up.
So what is a war like with Amaleik? At the end of Shlach Amaleik attacks. Bnei Yisrael goes to do battle. Moshe raises his hands and we're ahead. He lowers them and they're ahead. What's the outcome? Amaleik is weakened! They're still around! Not like Egypt or the 7 nations who are no more. This is not the same kind of battle Who are we battling? Who is the Sar of Amaleik?
The Yetser Horah, a.k.a. the soton, a.k.a. the angel of death we learned was the Sar of Eisav. With Eisav gone his descendants, the Amalekeits, became the soul clients of this management service. Their only source of nourishment, their very existence comes from our sins. Were we sinless the Yetser would be destroyed. That would bring the Mashiach before his time. When he comes in his time H' will show us the Yetser Horah being killed. That will be the eventual end of Amaleik. Till then, we have to try to do the job. The command to fight Amaleik is the command, in essence, to fight the evil in ourselves.
This is what the Torah means by "under the heavens"! It's not a battle of Sar against Sar in the heavens. It is a battle here on earth! Our yetser horah against our yetser tov. Our animal desires verses our human awareness, what we feel is right verses what we're told is right, our subjectivity verses the Torah's/Rabbi's objectivity. Our desire for Judaism verses our desire for any other 'ism'. The stronger we become as Jews, the weaker Amaleik becomes.
Is it going to be easy? Why should it be? In fact, the Torah tells us it won't be! How? The veru last words, "Lo Tishcach!" Usually translated as "don't forget." Try, "You won't forget!" Which triumphs doesn't one forget? The toughest and the ones by which the most is gained! And that is where is found the greatest pride and pleasure. That is something we never want to forget.
For these next weeks and especially through to Yom Kippur, try taking on any extra measure to become a stronger Jew. Even if it is absolutely clear that when Yom Kippur ends you we go back to your old standard, for just this time do more! Connect more! It is absolutely not hypocrisy! When you make an acquaintance and develop a strong connection, even after a great absence the connection is felt or is quickly rekindled. If the connection is weak, it may easily be forgotten.
HaRav Zev Leff offers another parable. When you build a house and can only afford so much, are you better building the foundation and the walls the same or putting more into the foundation and less into the walls? Certainly the foundation should be a strong as it can be. Rosh Hashanah is not the first of the year. It is the HEAD of the year! It is the foundation of whats to come. Even if we feel we haven't the energy for a mitsvah the whole year or for a stringincy in one, we should try it for these few short weeks. Let's build a solid foundation, even if the rest of the walls will be a little weaker.
A greatest place to concentrate our efforts, where we might inspire not just a wayward soul but maybe even our own, is by having a purely sanctified, guest filled Shabbot Shalom!