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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' located 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 it was Shabbos R'ay, the kids had just finished their 2nd meal 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 it is that all B'Y are looking at it's symbolic of the blessing and the curse placed before them. 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 Hashem's ways. But IF we turn away, if it's possible, if it can be done, if the unnatural, if 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 means 'road' and figuratively means 'way'. The road to h-e-double L may be paved with good intention but the road to Hashem is paved with the ways of Hashem. Mitsvos, actions! This is a world of action. Avraham Aveinu leaves in the middle of a prophecy to go and serve three Arabs because Avraham knows that engaging in mitsvos 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. Improve a trait and better yourself by doing it! The attitude will follow. Obviously what is you're doing must be on the derech Hashem or your new attitude will be a bad attitude. What is the derech Hashem?
The 'derech' has appeared 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' versus 'eem')
There is no testing a person unless it is according to the limits of the individual's potential. As Rabbi Tatz put it, less then the limit is not a test and more then one's capabilities is a beating. A test has to be right on the edge. But Moshe is talking about major events that happened to all B"Y, en masse. How can he use a languge of testing individually? It is difficult to grasp but that question is the answer. Anything that H' does, even en masse, is a personal challenge on the individual level. And since every challange is according to that individuals capabilities, one always has what it takes to make good, to chose wisely, to stick to the derech of Hashem. At the time of the challange, however, even though no one is tested beyond their strength, it appears an impossible challenge! This is because Hashem is leading one to their limit, somewhere they haven't been before. The appearance of impossibility brings one to make every effort AND turn to Hashem for strength, for intervention, for a good outcome. Just knowing well this is what is happening awards an amount of energy which carries a person through their difficult time.
Rabbi Tatz notes that 'nisayon'- test and 'nais'- miracle and 'nais'- flag all stem from the same root letters. A nais/flag which represents a people, group, movement,etc., is a symbol of presence. A nais/miracle is Hashem saying, "I'm right here." [From last to first] But Hashem is everywhere always!? (And all nature is a miracle which is how everyone will be held accountable for believing in G-d.) Regarding 'unnatural' miracles, occurances outside the established norms of nature, those miracles are Hashem saying, "I'm right here." Such miracles are not done for just anybody. The nais/miracle is therefore a flag indicating Hashem's presence and relationship to the individual! The nisayon/test is to be put in a situation which seems impossible without a nais from Hashem so that one prays for help to get through it. Then the individual becomes the flag of Hashem's presence in the world and now has a closer relationship with Hashem which will merit even greater miracles later!
It is somewhat easier to comprehend personal ordeals as these personal tests. But when things happen on a national scale doesn't the individual gets swept up, sucked in, becomea victim of circumstance? To think that beyond a certain point Hashem looses track of the individual is blasphemous. Hashem puts before each and every individual only what is divinely tailored for their spiritual needs.
When Hashem spoke directly to all Bnei Yisrael with the 1st Commandment, Our Sages- Chazal tells us that everyone died from the revelation and had to be resurrected. After the second commandment they died again and were brought back to life again. Then Bnei Yisrael came to Moshe Rabbeinu and said, "Plan B. Hashem to you, you to us." (Commandments 3-10 are in third person.) So what do we expect? Hashem reveals Himself on such a level to non-prophets, of course everyone will die!? That's not what Chazal are telling us. Hashem revealed Himself to each and every member of Bnei Yisrael at the individual's own potential! And when each one realized what they were capable of, that's the experience which killed them. Oy!
This idea comes close to how the Da'as Zkainim interpret the "R'ay"-look, to which we asked what are they looking at? Attaching the next word to it as well the Da'as Zkainim say rather than reading it "Look, I place before you," read it "Look at me. Placed before you..." Moshe is saying, "Look at me! Every since Mt. Sinai I've had to speak to you wearing a veil because you can not bear the light of Torah which shines from my face. How did I achieve this level of spirituality? By following the derech Hashem! That's the choice placed before you this day and every day." Chazal in fact tell us we should be like Moshe! When Moshe and Aharon appear together, sometimes one name comes first and sometimes the other, to which it is commented they were equals! How could they be equal if Moshe was the humblest man ever? How could they be equal if Moshe was the greatest prophet ever? And how much more so it it a question that Chazal expect us to be like Moshe? In the name of Rav Aaron Kotler zt'l Iv'e heard it answered that the equality in Moshe and Aharon was that both reached their potential. Granted, Moshe was given a greater soul which made his 100% appear more accomplished then Aharon but the reality was that both peaked. That is what Chazal are saying is expected of us. To hit that peak of our potential. To anyone who thinks they've reached theirs, if your not dead yet, think again.
Continuing with the previous mentions of "derech" verse 8:3 elaborates on the aforementioned 8:2, "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. He was 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. Avraham was so sure of his unheard, unseen, intangible 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, Hashem's interaction with this world, the laws of nature, are miracles themselves. That's regarding food growing from the ground. Food falling from the sky was unheard of. Not just because no one saw it. It would 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 still harvested food from the ground, Bnei Yisrael ate food from the sky. While the rest of the world drank rain from the sky, Bnei Yisrael drank from a rock on the ground. Other nations formed on claimed, common and fertile soil while the Jewish people were formed in a desert.
The derech of H' is that the Jewish people operate outside of nature even when out of the desert. When it is hot outside, while the non-Jews undresses to be as comfortable as animally possible, a Jew puts on tsitsis and a jacket 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 Hashem's 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 livelihood 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 Hashem.
Coming back to our parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu knows Bnei Yisrael will be divided in three. 6 tribes will stand on Mt. Grizim, 6 on Mt. Aival and the Levi'im 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 Bnei Yisrael should look at is that its not the rain, its not the sun, its not nature. Its Hashem. These two hills though they sit side by side, they are worlds apart. Thay are our nais.
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 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!