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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 a few years ago this month from Rabbi Lau, shlita, the Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of Israel. He pointed out that 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 [Hashem tested Avraham 10 times] after which Hashem made Avraham the father of our holy nation. The Gemorah says that a reason we blow the Shofar is to remind Hashem, so to speak, of the Akeidah. In slichos and in 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, we have yichus- familial relationship to our forefather Avraham. The Torah tells us Hashem preserves the merits from acts of kindness of the forefathers to their 2,000th generation. Avraham was the epitome of kindness. We, today, are living off the interest of Avraham's investments! This concept is allegorically presented in a Gemorah which says Avraham sits by the gates of Gehenom and pulls out a Jew who is sent in. Were judgement based only on the individual's merits- Gehenom! Add in Avraham's merits- Gan Eden! We benefit from what Avraham did 4000 years ago. So if he has 10 tests to his credit, let's cash in on all of them! Let's mention all of them in our prayers! You're upset with the Swiss for holding back 50 years! We're only cashing in on a 1/10 of what's available for 4000 years?!? You hear the question?
Rav Lau prefaced his answer with the following idea. The Rav speaks to communities all over the world. It's a given that wherever he goes he'll be greeted with people saying, "My grandfather was the Rav of the town of ..." or "My Zaide was the Rebbe of..." or " My great grandfather was a brother to..." or "...learned with..." Everyone boasts of their yichus. To all these people Rav Lau wishes he could ask, "Now that you've told me about your grandfather, what have you to tell me about your grandchildren???" Where will they be the Rav of? Who a Rebbe to? Who are they learning with? Yichus to a righteous and holy ancestor is not a bumper sticker! It's a responsibility! If we are going to mis'yaches [the verb of yichus] ourselves back to Avraham, then it has to be in a way one sees the connection! If we are going to pray to Hashem using Avraham's merits, we have to show ourselves as deserving those merits.
The Prophets who composed our prayers foresaw to the last generations. They specifically composed the prayers with words which would most move Hashem, so to speak, to answer our prayers 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 compared some of Avraham's tests to our actions today. The first test was when Hashem said to Avraham, " Lech lecha "- Go [to the land that I will show you.] Avraham went. He didn't know where he was going but he went. And he kept going till Hashem said stop. Now days we know where we're going. And we have aliyah offices, absorption centers, inexpensive housing, tax reductions, free job training... how many are coming? We aren't a generation who can get up and go. We can't mis'yaches ourselves to Avraham with ' Lech lecha. '
The second of Avraham's tests was Hachnasas Orchim - having guests. Avraham saw three arabs and even though recovering from his circumcision 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 did 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 recalled. When he first came to Israel, having survived the concentration camp Buchenwald, people asked him to stay with them "for 6 months," "for a year," "till you learn the language," "till you finish school." Now days we've room for the stereo, the computer, the TV, the dog the 2nd car, but guests? How many for how long? [An inverse relationship.] And it's not just an attitude towards strangers. The folks are getting old? Let's find them a good home. Ours wouldn't be good. The Prophets knew our prayers had to be for all times. Even for the advanced, civilized 21st century Jew. We can't mis'yaches ourselves to Avraham with ' Hachnasas Orchim.
Test #3. With 318 men (that's the largest number amongst the commentaries) Avraham went out against four foreign armies to rescue his nephew, Lote. What are we doing for Iranian Jews? Have we sent in our annual $18 dollars for Soviet Jewry? Better not mention this test.
Rav Lau went thru a couple more tests and then jumped to the Akeidah. That was a test in misirus nefesh- literally; giving up ones life for Hashem. Figuratively; enduring hardships for Hashem. Avraham was told to offer Yitschak on an alter. As a father, Avraham certainly would have preferred giving his own life. Yitschak was not just Avraham's son. The holy, eternal nation which Hashem promised to make Avraham the father of, Avraham saw Yitschak as the beginning manifestation of that promise. Avraham spent 37 years raising, investing in and teaching Yitschak to be the heir to the greatest throne available to man. Avraham, now 137 years old, wasn't expecting another son. He was just commanded to it all on the alter and end it in a blink. Not only was Avraham unquestionably willing, Yitschak was as willing as well! This is the one merit we can mention. In this way we can connect to our forefathers. Because history has shown, even if we don't offer ourselves, ourselves, we get offered anyway.
Looking into every generation, the Prophets could only m'yaches us in one way to Avraham on a national scale. This month before the High Holidays is the time to mis'yaches ourselves, individually, to Avraham in every way! There are individuals who are doing it already. When I visited Borough Park I spent Shabbos by a family who had sectioned off their basement into two. One room was for laundry. The other had four beds for guests. Another family I was by, an elderly gentleman was staying their too. After a day or two the woman of the house asked me, "Did Mr. So-and So happen to mention what his plans were? How long he was staying for? He's been here three weeks now, Pesach is in three more and he already had asked if there was somewhere he could leave his bags for the holiday!?" A Rabbi at the Yeshiva who calls families to have guys over for Shabbos, he knows these families have 2-3 times more kids then they have rooms but the families submit their names for guests. When he calls he hears the mother ask the kids, "Who wants guests for Shabbos? So you'll double up in your brother's bed and you two will sleep on the couch so the guest can have the room? Excellent!" Not, they'll stick the guest on the couch, if he'll settle. They teach their kids miserus nefesh for guests. There are definitely individuals. We need more.
This is the time of the year to take on the responsibility of what it means to have yichus to Avraham. A society based on rights is wrong. A society based on responsibilities endures. And if it helps, remember the other 9/10ths of merits held these past 4000 years. A treasure chest for those who merit. Reconnect to Avraham in all ways and Hashem will credit where credit is due. And speaking of connecting...
Parshas Ki Saitsay
deals with reconnecting. It 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." Incredible!
Last weeks parsha describes the degree of righteousness that a Jew who went out to battle was on. How can such an individual suddenly find himself desiring a gentile woman? Furthermore, not only doesn't Judaism missionize but it even dissuades wanna-be converts. Yet the Aishes Yifas Toar is converted against her will! And unlike a non-Jewish maid or man servant whom can never go free, the Aishes Yifas Toar does go free and we are warned not to enslave her, sell her nor mistreat her in any way. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh speaks at great length on this highly unusual subject. His premise; the soul of the Aishes Yifas Toar is a Jewish soul which was given over to the powers of impurity, to Eisav, and the time has come for her to be taken back home, back to her roots.
Although the Torah says her 'captor' may marry her, it's 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 laws of a "wayward son"! The Torah is telling us these subsequent sections are 'by-products' of the marriage to an Aishes Yifas Toar.
Rav Wolfson adds to this bringing in the Zohar on verse 21:13 which says, " 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 "full month" is this month, Elul! This soul which has been lost to and trapped in the clutches of the impure and unholy weeps when she finally realizes the distance she is from her Father in heaven and from her people. And alluded to in all this is Elul, a time which was made for reconnecting. How can we be so sure she will even recognize, let alone mourn such deeply buried feelings?
When Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they also felt their sudden distance from Hashem. What did Hashem do for them? He made them clothes! The Torah tells us they had already covered themselves, yet Hashem made clothes for them anyway? As you know, Hashem doesn't do things 'anyway'. Adam and Chava made clothing to quickly cover their shame. Hashem made them clothing to reconnect them to holiness. Holiness exists in a Torah prescribed wardrobe. Verse 13 said this woman removes the clothes of her captivity. What clothes are those? Clothes designed for seduction. When the men went to war, the women dressed just in case their husbands DIDN'T come back. Clothing of impurity and unholiness. These she must take off. What does she wear? The modest and sanctified dress of a daughter of Israel. Putting together a verse from Yirmiah with one from Proverbs " How long will you slip away o' wayward daughter?" "Strength and majesty are her dress!" Combine her personal attire with the sanctified atmosphere of the Jewish home she's found herself in and that will bring her to realize the degree she has fallen from Hashem. Anyone working in kiruv will tell you there is no greater tool for reconnecting wayward souls than the Shabbos table and the atmosphere of a sanctified home.
Just as the parsha opens with lessons for reconnecting during Elul , so too does it end with the same. (Imagine what's in the middle!) The final verse (25:19) says, "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! " What do we do with this commandment? Who are the Amalekeits today?
Even if we identified an Amaleikite with 100% certainty, we probably couldn't kill him. In fact, it might be downright forbidden. The Torah commands to ERASE his memory. If an Amaleikite were killed today the court case would be publicized worldwide. "Fanatic Jew kills biblical enemy. Freedom of Religion or unconstitutional homicide? News at 11." The ADL will obviously defend the rights of the Amalekite. In Tel Aviv, they would probably put up a monument and change the name of a public square to memorialize him. Not what the Torah had in mind. Another question we could ask is on the words you must erase the memory of Amaleik from under the heavens. Where else?
Rav Osher Reich draws from the Alshich Hakadosh to answer these questions. The Alshich brings a Rashi from the book of Daniel where he says that wars start in the heavens and not here on earth! A Sar- governing angel of a nation has a dispute with another Sar and war manifests itself on earth. The real fight is up there. The results are acted out down here.
When the Jews first left Egypt, Amaleik attacked. Bnei Yisrael went to battle. Moshe raises his hands and we're ahead. He lowers them and they're ahead. What was the outcome? Amaleik was weakened! Unlike Egypt or the 7 nations who became no more, Amaleik is still around. Sounds like a different kind of battle than the other Sar vs. Sar battles in the Torah. What's different about Amaleik?
The Sar of Amaleik is none other then the Yetser Horah itself, a.k.a. the soton, a.k.a. the angel of death. Amaleik inherited the Sar of his grandpa Eisav. Amaleik's source of nourishment, their very existence comes from our sins. Were we to do a full repentance before Hashem, the Mashiach would come and the Yetser Horah would be destroyed. Right away or in his time, the Mashiach will lead the battle which will totally eradicate Amaleik from the world. Till then, we have to do fight a different battle. The command in the Torah to fight Amaleik is the command to fight the evil in ourselves.
This is why the Torah adds "under the heavens"! It's not a battle of Sar against Sar but a battle here on earth of our yetser tov against our yetser rah. Our human awareness verses our animal desires, what we're told is right verses what we feel is right, the Torah's/Rabbi's objectivity verses our subjectivity. Our desire for Judaism verses our desire for any other 'ism'. The stronger we become as Jews, the weaker Amaleik becomes.
It is not an easy fight. But it will be worth it. How? The very last words of the parsha, " Lo Tishcach !" Usually translated as "don't forget." Also translatable as, "You won't forget!" Ones greatest triumphs are the ones not forgotten! The toughest battles are the ones by which the most is gained!
For these next 4 weeks, better still, till Yom Kippur, reconnect to Hashem, to Avraham and to your people. Become a stronger Jew. Even if you are certain that after Yom Kippur you will go back to the lower standards, for just this brief time try more! Connect more! Don't let your yetser horah tell you it's hypocrisy! Lies!!! If one makes a new acquaintance and develops a strong connection, even after a long absence the connection can be easily rekindled. If the connection was weak, it may easily be forgotten. Get more acquainted with Yiddishkeit.
HaRav Zev Leff offers a different analogy. If you're building a house on a limited budget, are you better off dividing the funds between the foundation and the walls, alike, or is it better to invest more into the foundation and less into the walls? Certainly the foundation should be a strong as it can be. The house can be fortified later. Rosh Hashanah is not the first of the year. It is the HEAD of the year! It is the foundation of what's to come. Even if we feel we haven't the energy for maintaining a higher standard all year we should try for just a few short weeks to build the strongest foundation possible. Maybe the walls will come later. Maybe not.
A great way to build a foundation, a place to focus our efforts, where we might inspire not just the wayward soul but maybe even our own, is by having a sanctified, guest filled Shabbot Shalom!
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