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by Daneal Weiner
Opens with Moshe telling Bnei Yisrael on behalf of the Almighty (11:26), "Look! I place before you today a blessing and a curse." Commentaries agree that there is no point to a "look" unless there is something that's physically there 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 but to shut up! What is it that all Bnei Yisrael are looking at that is symbolic of the blessing and the curse placed before them? Furthermore, whenever the words “today” appear it is explained to mean, literally, today, 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 transcends time? We'll climb that hill when we get to it (wink wink). First a little background. 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 use of the word “when” versus the use of the word “if”. The blessing comes “when you listen” and the curse “if you do not listen”. What’s the difference?
“When” has a matter-of-factness to it. "You will receive the bracha when..." Something is obvious. Expected. It’s natural. How natural it is for the Jew to follow in the ways of Hashem. 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 live secure, even amongst our enemies. Now we'll have more time and be worry free, enabling us to engage in more of Hashem's ways.
“If” however, we turn away from Hashem’s ways, 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, which we’ve been translating as ‘way’ (Derech Hashem – Hashem’s ways) literally means 'road'. 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. What is the derech Hashem? I’m sure most would agree it’s mitsvos. Some may say learning, but learning is a mitsva. It is not excluded in the first answer. Maybe being a good Jew is the derech Hashem (According to the “why-do-mitsvos?-Isn’t-it-enough-to-be-a-good-Jew” use of the word “good”)? That’s also included in mitsvos. Love your fellow Jew. Do kindness. Loan without interest. Give Charity. All mitsvos make a ‘good’ Jew. Maybe we can some it all up as action! This is a world of action. Early in Breishis Avraham Aveinu excused himself mid prophecy to run and serve three Arabs! The derech Hashem must be taking action! Sounds good. Has potential.
The word derech just appeared in Parshas Eikev. Back in 8:2 we have, interestingly enough, another verse similar to this weeks opening verse which deals with choices. In his summation of events before all Bnei Yisrael Moshe changes to the singular verb form and says to each and every Jew, "You will remember the derech which Hashem has taken you these forty years in the desert…” It seems this time Moshe uses the word derech for it’s literal meaning, road. But the second half of the verse says, “…to afflict you, to test you, to know when it is in your heart to guard His mitzvos, [or] if not." [Again, “when” versus “if”.] What does the end of the verse have to do with the beginning? It must be that Moshe’s words “remember the derech” isn’t an interest in sentimental road map but a reminder of the challenges given to Israel. Trapped against the sea. No water. No food. The revelation. Moshe’s delay. Yitro’s advice. Building the Mishkan. The leadership. Entering Israel. Etc. Etc. Etc. This was the derech by which Hashem brought our ancestor’s through the desert. What does this do with our translation of derech? Not sure. It does raise a question though.
There is no testing a person unless it is according to the limits of the individual's potential capabilities. As Rabbi Akivah Tatz puts it, less then the limit is not a test and more then the limit is just a beating. A test has to be right on the edge. If Moshe is talking about major national events that happened to all Israel, en masse, how does he suddenly and intentionally switch to the singular verb form? It is difficult for our limited minds to grasp but everything that Hashem does, even en masse, is a personal challenge on every individual level. And since, as we said, every individual challenge is according to the individuals capabilities, one always has what it takes to chose wisely, to act accordingly, to stick to the derech Hashem. Is the derech Hashem still action? I’m sure anymore. One thing is for sure. This raises a different question.
We all have had, personally know or have heard of people facing impossible challenges. Frightening, unimaginable challenges which seem insurmountable. Can we just say to these people, “Don’t worry. You’re Jewish. You can handle it.”? Rabbi Tatz shares an insight into this difficult topic. In the verse we just quoted (8:2) Moshe says, l’nasoscha- to test you. The non-conjugated word for test is nisayon. Its root, nais.
Nisayon- test, nais- miracle and nais- flag[!] all come from the same root. Working backwards, a nais/flag represents presence of a people, a group, movement, whatever. It’s your ship, it’s your land, it’s your moon… raise the flag, “We are here!”
A nais/miracle is Hashem ‘breaking’ the laws of nature to say, "I'm Am here!" This is not a contradiction to the fact that Hashem is everywhere always and all nature is really a miracle [which is why every human being will be held accountable for believing in Hashem.] To those who see Hashem in nature, nature is the neis. To those who chose to see nature as laws, the unnatural is the neis. Either way, the neis is Hashem’s flag. It goes a step further, though. Miracles are not done for just anybody. The nais/miracle is therefore a flag indicating Hashem's presence AND His relationship to the recipient!!! There were just some miracles done for some people in Chicago. In Jerusalem, a young man up the street fell 9 stories! Not only will he survive, his injuries never even put him in critical condition! That was a neis! When I see him, I know I’ll be asking him for a bracha.
A nisayon is a situation which may seem impossible to overcome without a nais. Remember, Hashem is taking us to our limits. Keep in mind we don’t function at our limit. We act within a comfort zone. After being pushed to the limit, we now have the experience to relate to. We developed new references. Found new resources. What was a limit has now moved in toward the comfort zone and a new greater limit has just developed. But before that first push, we’re heading somewhere we haven’t been before. The seeming impossibility causes us to look to Hashem for strength, for intervention and for a good outcome. A nisayon is an invitation from Hashem to get closer. To ask Him for a neis. To develop our relationship. Then we’ll merit bigger neisim next time. Then WE become the neis/flag of Hashem's presence in the world.
Even when things happen on a national scale the individual doesn't get sucked in, become a ‘victim of circumstance’. Hashem doesn’t lose track or control of any of us. Hashem puts before each and every individual only what is divinely tailored for their spiritual needs. Do we say to our brothers and sisters in times of difficulty, “Don’t worry. You can handle it.”? Of course not. But we can say with sensitivity, “I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I may not the to say this, but, I think you have what it takes to pull through. With Hashem’s help I know you’ll make it.”
You might think we’re spending all are time back in Eikev but the Da'as Z’kainim slaps what we’ve said into R'ay- look. We asked what are they looking at? The Da'as Z’kainim says 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 today and every day. If I could do it, you could do it!" Our Sages do indeed tell us we should strive to be like Moshe. How is it possible? That question has been answered.
When Moshe and Aharon’s names appear together in the Torah, sometimes Moshe’s name comes first and sometimes Aharon’s does. Commentaries explain this shows they were equals. How could Aharon be equal to Moshe if Moshe was the humblest man ever? How could they be equal if Moshe was the greatest prophet ever? How do our Rabbis expect us to be like Moshe when they themselves warn, “If we think we are men than our ancestor’s are angels. If we think they were men, them we are donkeys”? Sounds like they’re making some distinct barriers rather than telling us to strive for their levels. In the name of Rav Aaron Kotler zt'l, the equality of Moshe and Aharon was that both reached their personal potentials. Moshe’s body housed a greater soul which made his accomplishment the greatest ever in humility and prophecy. He appeared more accomplished then Aharon. The reality is that both peaked, equally. That is true equality. Not the American illusion of equality where the individual is pressed into something they aren’t because that’s what someone else is. What our Sages are telling us is we are capable and expected to hit the peak of our potential. To anyone who thinks they can’t or they have, if you’re not dead yet, think again.
Continuing with quest for the definition of derech Hashem, verse 8:3 elaborates on the aforementioned 8:2, "He [Hashem] 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…” (probably the most misquoted words in history), “…rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of Hashem does man live." What does it mean that “we and our fathers did not know”?
Avraham Aveinu 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 investigated his own abilities and knew it was not possible mankind has such incredible mental and emotional faculties in order to just survive like an animal. Eat to work, work to eat and one day die. There has to be a greater purpose. Avraham continued to investigate and through his 5 senses came to realize there is One Creator and Provider of all and that keeping the mitsvos was his 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. THEN Hashem first revealed Himself to Avraham. To Avraham the laws of nature are certainly miraculous. That refers to food growing from the ground and water falling from the sky. But food falling from the sky and water from a rock? Unheard of. Not just because no one saw it. It wasn’t necessary. It served no more a purpose than the way things already were.
Now, however, Moshe is leading a different generation of Jews. Although descendants of Avraham, they hardly had the luxury of time to think let alone time to study. Having grown up as slaves they’ve only a few traditions which have survived the oppression. They needed a crash course in what Avraham discovered for himself. Since nature was natural, they were shown Hashem's upheaval of nature. From the 10 plagues to Mt. Sinai on through the 40 years in the desert. All of which Moshe calls the derech Hashem. And for what purpose was it all? To know that we only live by what emanates from the mouth of Hashem.
I think, [emphasis on ‘I’ and ‘think’] that the derech Hashem is not just a matter of action but a question of the attitude as well. When Yitro gave Moshe advice to set up smaller courts to alleviate the long line of people waiting to see him, we find out in Moshe’s recap that he asked Israel what they preferred and they chose the smaller courts. They made a mistake! Does that mean it was a mitsva to wait in line for Moshe? No. But if the attitude was to take advantage of any opportunity to have intimate contact with Moshe and not ‘why stand in line so long’ it’s the difference between on the derech or heading of the derech. It’s the difference between reaching the peak or doing well. After the golden calf, Hashem doesn’t call Israel sinners or idolaters. He calls us stiff necked. Action and Attitude. Everything that happened to the Jews was a test in, first, if they had the proper attitude and second, what was their subsequent action.
Last night I was in a cab. The driver had no kipah on. We were driving through Jerusalem’s business center and we passed the treif McDonalds. The driver said, “They should not have given the ‘OK’ for the kosher McDonalds to open in Mivaseret because then their hands were tied when it was pushed for this treif one. A traditional Israeli will see a religious Jew in the McDonalds in Mivaseret and will come to Jerusalem and say, ‘Oh, another McDonalds’ and go in and eat! I won’t eat even in that kosher one!” Is it a mitsva for him not to eat at a kosher restaurant? I don’t think so. But when I left the cab I shook his hand and said, ”It was a pleasure to meet a yirai chait and a yirai shamayim.”- one who fears sin and who fears Hashem. By some of us our actions are ahead of our attitude. By others, the attitude is ahead of their actions. May our combined efforts merit our redemption!
Moshe Rabbeinu knows what Bnei Yisrael will face across the Jordan- long term. Short term, he tells them 6 tribes will stand on Mt. Grizim, 6 on Mt. Aival and the Levi'im in-between. Mt. Grizim represents blessing and Mt. Aival represents the curse. Two hills, standing side by side. Same latitude, same longitude. When one gets sun the other gets sun. When one gets rain the other gets rain. When one gets dew, the other gets dew. And yet one is blessed with the beauty of grass and trees and the other is barren, a pile of dirt and rocks. Just like the people of Israel, the Land of Israel. A neis. It exists only by what emanates from the mouth of Hashem. The land won't tolerate a people not on the derech Hashem. What Moshe is telling Bnei Yisrael to look at are those two hills. Don’t look to the rain. Don’t worship the sun. Don’t call nature natural. It’s all from the mouth of Hashem. These two hills, though they sit side by side, they are worlds apart. They are a nais.
Rabbi Tatz offers advice in building the derech Hashem muscle. One will never become charitable by sitting with hands clasped, pondering the goodness of giving. Give! Give, give and give again! That’s how to improve a trait or even create one where one didn’t exist. Do it and the attitude will follow. Of course the action must begin with the proper attitude; the desire to have the proper desire. Otherwise the new attitude may be a bad attitude. Again our Sages warn, regretting having done a mitsva is worse than not having done it at all. If you haven’t done it, you may come to do it. But to regret it is to never want to do it again. Repeatedly heard this past Tisha b’Av, for example, from Rabbi’s addressing our so very far removed generation was the suggestion to mourn that fact that we can no longer mourn.
It is a dispute in Gemorah Sotah whether or not Mt. Grizim and Mt. Aival are those in the vicinity of the city of Shchem. One doesn’t have to come to Israel to see a neis nor, in Israel, need one pack a lunch and an ouzi and head for Shchem. There are a few neisim walking around Chicago. There is one in Jerusalem. Then again, the derech ayears was a neis. Moshe said, “Look at me!” Maybe he said, “Look at those mountains!” There is an infinite supply of things of which just a glance can give us the attitude adjustment we seek. If you search you will find a neis near you that will inspire you on the derech Hashem. How about that tree outside your window? Or the window? Isn’t a miracle the walls hold up the roof?
Make the right choice. Develop your relationship with Hashem. Have a naturally great Shabbot Shalom.
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