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by Daneal Weiner
Welcome to the Orchards. If this is your first time with us please read the emergency pamphlet located in the seat pocket in front of you.
Last week we ended saying amongst the foundations being set for the Jewish people Lot headed for Sodom to begin the Messianic line, which takes us into this weeks
This week, like last week, (and every week for that matter) there is so much going on that these 15-20 pages will barely scratch the surface. But, alas, we have to draw the line somewhere. As opposed to S‘dom and Amorah who crossed every line.
Due to more than a dispute, which we’ll discuss in a bit, Avraham had told his nephew Lot he has to pack up and hit the road. Remembering fondly his days in Egypt, Lot chose to move to the ominous metropolis of Washingt..uh S’dom and Amorah. Judgement day comes and the fate of the 5 towns is sealed. In Avraham's merit, Lot and family are offered salvation. Lot tried to save his sons-in-law but they turned down his invitation. [For brevity sake, the 5 towns of S‘dom and Amorah will henceforth be referred to collectively as Sodom.]
The problem with Sodom [if you are just joining us please read the previous paragraph] wasn’t just their being bad people. They created a society in which wickedness and immorality were the law of the land. Quickly the Sodomite's measure of sin was filled and Hashem sentenced all Sodom to destruction. This is a lesson how critical it is for us to demand that our governments maintain moral and ethical standards in law even if enforcement of those laws would be difficult. If you find yourself living in a society were, say, G-d is removed from the school curriculum, where aborting a life is by mere choice, where children are exposed to premarital sexual conduct as an after school special, where entertainment is chiefly lewdness and violence, where homosexuality is an lifestyle, where the ‘good life’ means instant gratification and where ‘quality of life’ is defined by a materialistic existence, and you disagree with the assertions of said society, better make sure there are at least 9 others who think like you or consider eyeballing a couple travel brochures. But we’re on the verge of the 21st century! Who could imagine such a base society in such enlightened times?! Let’s go back to those obsolescent biblical times where we could imagine the existence of such a society.
WOOOAAA! Did I just get an inspiration and in your merit!!! Chazal- our Sages say Hashem created the world to exist for 6000 years divided into three phases. The first 2000 years is called Tohu Vavohu- Void and Desolation. The second 2000 years is called Torah. The third 2000 years is called Mashiach. Avraham, born 1948 b-c-e [Before Creating Eve, i.e. 1,948 years after the creation of Adam], began the era of Torah when he began teaching Torah. Avraham lived during the worlds first bi-millennial celebration!!! Now we can understand very well the verse which says Lot warned his sons-in-law of Hashem’s imminent judgment and they laughed at him. Laughed, no doubt, like he was some archaic, narrow-minded throw back to the days of the mythical flood. “Come on, Lot! This is the 21st century! Progress!! Get with the times!”
Like King Solomon said, “There is nothing at all new under the sun!”
Speaking of the stale, “This is the 21st century!” this is the perfect opportunity to critique an article in a recent issue of Time magazine which I happened across just last week. The cover story was about evolution and inside was a related commentary by a neanderthal, Prof. Stephen Jay Gould. My mother, however, hates when I go off on tangents so I’ll leave it for the end.
The survivors, Lot, his wife and two single daughters flee Sodom. Though warned not to, Lot's wife sticks her nose once too often into Someone elses business and get's iodized. After Kayin killed Hevel, Chazal ask what Hevel did that he deserved to die? They answer that when Hashem accepted his sacrifice and sent a fire from heaven to consume it, Hevel gazed inappropriately at this special manifestation of Hashem. Yitschak was blinded at the Akeida- the Binding, from having similarly gazed upward. The Torah equates a blind man to a dead man in certain respects. When Moshe asked to see Hashem’s glory Hashem said no man can see My face and live. When Lot’s wife gazed at the destruction of Sodom, she gazed at a unique manifestation of Hashem which she was warned she did not merit seeing. The answer to the question, ‘if looks could kill’ is yes. And ever since, that area has been called the Dead See. (Hey, who threw that?)
The surviving survivors, Lot and his two daughters, stop briefly in Tso'ar, one of the 5 cities of Sodom and then flee to a cave. The story continues with the older daughter saying to the younger, "All the world has been destroyed but us. We must repopulate the world. Our father is old. Let's make him drunk and we will lay with him." Seems pretty straight forward, yes…?
Ehhhh!!! There are a few loose ends on which Rav Wolfson asks, if the world has been destroyed than Lot is also obligated to repopulate it. Why don’t the daughters just tell it like it is? Why the need to get him drunk?? And where did the wine come from??? Lot knows it’s because of Avraham that he was saved and that Avraham is still alive. Why don't his daughters know????
Still, because of the pure intentions of Lot’s daughters to repopulate the world their acts of incest were deemed as righteous acts. Since the older daughter thought of it and acted first, she merited 4 generations prior to her sister. That's the cryptic wording of a Gemorah in Bava Kama. Does anyone have a clue what it means?
As long as we’re asking questions, it said earlier in the parsha that Lot was sitting in the gates of the city when the angels arrived. Rashi says “sitting in the gates of the city” tells us that the Sodomites had just made Lot a judge. What is the purpose of the Torah telling us Lot’s appointment since the city was tsushmettered less than 24 hours later?
And upon analyzing how Lot got himself into this mess in the first place, there was a Reev- fight between Avraham Aveinu's shepherds and Lot's shepherds. Avraham tells Lot to separate so there is not a Mireeva- dispute between them, "for we are brothers," he says to Lot. Rashi explains “brothers” as meaning they have similar facial features. Seems pretty straightforward, yes…?
You catch on fast. Who's argument is it anyway, the shepherds’ or Avraham and Lot's? Why change the language mid story, Reev to Mireeva?? And Rashi, what do their faces have to do with the price of grass in Canaan???
Rav Wolfson answers all these questions beginning with a Gemorah in Gitin which troubled me long before the one in Bava Kama. Gitin tells the story of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the second Holy Temple, a.k.a. the story of Kamtsa and Bar Kamtsa.
Avoiding a half page of background information we end up with a disgruntled Bar Kamtsa, who, after being publicly humiliated, goes and tells the Caesar that the Jews are planning a revolt and suggests as proof a gift sacrifice be sent to Jerusalem which he assured will be rejected. The Caesar sent with Bar Kamtsa a cow. Bar Kamtsa purposely cut it on the way to Jerusalem. When the gift was presented to the Sages they examined it and found the blemish. The Torah prohibits a blemished animal from being sacrificed but most of them felt the cow should be offered anyway in the name of pikuach nefesh- a threatening circumstance. At a time of piku'ach nefesh the halacha- law is to override all other halachas (except for three). One Sage, Rabbi Zacharia ben Ovkulas, protested saying if the cow was offered then all Israel will think that blemished animals may be broto the Temple. It was suggested killing Bar Kamtsa who plans on telling the Caesar about the reject. Rav Zacharia ben Ovkulas said if they did that than all Israel will think that anyone who brings a blemished animal for sacrifice will be killed. The cow was not offered. Bar Kamtsa went back to the Caesar and tens of thousands of Roman legions came to squash the evidently brewing rebellion. The Gemorah blames Rav Zacharia ben Ovkulas with the destruction of the Temple. Seems pretty straightforward? Not for a minute.
Rav Wolfson asks, if the majority of Sages were willing to offer the cow as a matter of piku'ach nefesh then how did Rav Zacharia ben Ovkulas change their minds? And he was a single opinion against the majority. Doesn’t majority win?? And why did the Gemorah hang the blame of the destruction on Rav Zecharia ben Ovkulas if in the end it seems all Chazal concurred with his opinion???
The codified work on Jewish law, the Shulchan Oruch discusses misirus nefesh- when to give up ones life rather than succumb to defying Hashem’s will. The three fundamental sins that one should always give their life for rather than commit is killing, illicit relations and idolatry. The idea is that since spiritual death IS worse then physical death, why commit such a grave sin and spiritually die only to wander around 20 more years waiting to be physically buried? Save the soul and spare the body! We’ve a tradition of only 600,000 souls but we’ve been through millions of bodies. For any other sin, best we commit it to save our life. However, it’s not always only in the face of the 3 major sins that one must give their life. One must give their life over ANYTHING in a time of shmad- religious persecution, r'l.
During a time of shmad, the enemy intends everything to be a defiance of Hashem, a fate worse than death. If the anti-Semite says to wear orange shoelaces as a sign of rejecting the Torah than we should chose death rather than lace up. All authorities agree on this halacha.
Let's say, on the other hand, a Jew wants to walk through an Arab gateway into the old city and it's during an antifada. With his kipa on his head he's looking for a knife in the back. How about he takes off his kipa? No tyrannical anti-Semite ordered he do that. In fact, an antifada is a rebellion against the Zionist regime and not a religious issue. So to save his skin he'll look like an American tourist for a few minutes. Almost all authorities say such precautions are allowed. There is one opinion that says it is forbidden and one must put their life at risk. A Jew is a Jew all the way, all the time.
The majority of the Second Temple Sages held the former opinion. The cow was a gift offering. Rome was in charge but there was no religious persecution. They weren’t ordered to offer the blemished animal in defiance of halacha. Pikuach nefesh should override sacrificial law. Rav Zacharia ben Ovkulas held singly the latter opinion. No blemished animals, no way, no time. So why didn't the majority out vote the minority?
There is a truism that the disputes of the Sages bring peace to the world. How so? When their disputing is in the Beis Hamidrash- the study halls. Should their disputes hit the streets, meaning, be picked up by the masses, then it brings destruction to the world. The Sages want to know what Hashem wills them to do. The masses want their neighbors to know what Hashem wills them to do. It’s a different dynamic. The Chasam Sofer wrote that the generation before his own lost their opportunity to bring the Mashiach because of a dispute between Rav Yaakov Emden and Rav Yonasan Eibschitz. The Rabbis threw proofs at each other. Mishnas, Gemorahs and rationalizations. The people threw mud at each other. Names, insults, accusations. What resulted was a disgracing of the Rabbis and the Torah they represent.
Towards the end of the second Temple era there was already trouble in the streets. Homage and taxes had to be paid to Rome. There was a segment of Jews called Biryonim- Jews who felt they knew better than their leaders. They wouldn't tolerate Jerusalem being under foreign rule. The Rabbis said to be grateful living a Torah life and so what the coins are Roman. The Biryonim said the Jews must revolt! Because of Bar Kamtsa’s cow a new halachic dispute leaked out onto the streets. The Biryonim latched onto the side of Rav Zacharia ben Ovkulas and the populace sided with the other Sages. Israel’s spiritual state was already in poor shape. The Sages were not going to let the people destroy what little spiritual merit they had left by leaving the fight in the streets the duration of time it would take to conclude their halachic debate. The dispute of the blemished cow was ended without resolution. At a time of legal uncertainty the action is no action. Shev v'al ta'aseh- Sit and don't do (lit.). They Sages never agreed with Rav Zacharia ben Ovkulas and there wasn’t a chance to out vote him. Rav Zacharia ben Ovkulas’ stiff position which started a debate that shouldn’t have been eventually brought the Roman seige on Jerusalem. [Jerusalem had 20 years worth of supplies within its walls. The Biryonim burned it all to force a confrontation with Rome. They took a bad situation and made it horrific. Countless Jews needlessly died during the siege because of the Biryonim.]
There is nothing at all new under the sun. 1800 years earlier the shepherds of Avraham Aveinu and Lot didn't get along. Not only that, while Hashem had promised Israel to Avraham, the Torah has been spontaneously blurting out, "the Canaanite were in the land", “the Prizi were in the land." The Torah is telling us these foreign nations began conquering portions of Israel away from the descendants of Shem whom have been there since the flood. Politics was a hot topic. Whose land is it? Whose land will it be? The present victors? The future inheritors?
Avraham Aveinu was having a halachic disagreement with Lot where to graze the flocks. A mireeva. Once it hit the fields it fueled the fight of the shepherds. By them it was a reev. Lot’s shepherds ridiculed Avraham Aveinu and the Torah he represents. It had to stop. Avraham Aveinu told Lot to separate because they were brothers, because they had like faces. The body is a reflection of the soul. The face is the window in. If Lot’s face was similar to Avraham’s then his soul was similar too. Hashem chose Avraham Aveinu because Avraham separated himself from the rest of the idolatrous world by discovering and serving only Hashem. Lot was still on the fence. Avraham Aveinu said, “Just as I had to separate myself from my birth place, from my anti-Torah ways, so too must you separate yourself.” When he accomplished that he’d be welcomed back. Maybe Lot figured he would never measure up to Avraham but in an environment like Sodom, he could be like Avraham on a relative scale. Like Noach, a righteous man in his generation. [You see, Lot was a throw back to the time of the flood!]
In Sodom Lot's daughters grew up with daily contact with his shepherds who never grew tired of degrading Avraham Aveinu. The daughters didn't think much of their father's uncle because of what they heard. When Lot told his daughters that they were saved because of the merits of Avraham they didn’t believe it. Lot told them they could travel to Avraham’s place and see for themselves. The daughters said to themselves, "Our father is old." Who knew how much time they'd have. Maybe when he found out Avraham was dead it would be too much for him. They wouldn’t risk the wait. They gave Lot wine. Where did the Wine come from? Rashi says it was prepared for them for the sake of 2 nations [that would descend from Lot, one from each daughter]. Maybe an angel dropped it off. Maybe it was ‘accidently’ left behind by a couple picnickers. If it had a card with it it would have read, "From G-d. With love." Love of Avraham's descendants.
Why wine? Gemorah Sanhedrin, “Don't gaze at the redness of wine, for after it comes blood.” Gazing sure gets a bum rap. Judaism has many uses for wine but it warns not to overdue it! Wine has a lot in common with Lot. They are both mixtures of good and evil. The numeric value of wine is 70. If you take out all that is good, (the ultimate Good is ”Hashem” which has a value o26) that leaves you with (70-26=) 44. Dom- blood = 44.
Friday night, when we make the kiddish on the wine, the first four of the first four words (said out loud) is Hashem's Name. A hint that we are making kiddish on the goodness of the wine. We learn from psalms that in the world to come, King David's goblet will hold 221 measures of wine. What about the warning against too much wine? At that time there will be no such thing as evil. All there will be to the wine is goodness. All 221 measures for the sake of Heaven. We won't be able to get too much of a good thing.
Speaking of King David and good things- The eldest daughter of Lot, the one who acted first, named her son Moav. Moav is a nation whose men are forbidden to marry into Israel. A descendant of Moav was Ruth, the Mother of the House of David. The younger sister had a son she called Ben Ammi, the father of another forbidden nation, Ammon. Four generations after Ruth was born a descendant of Ammon named Na'ama was born. Na'ama grew up a righteous woman and married King David's son, King Solomon. Lot's mission was finally complete! His evil went by way of Moav and Ammon and are separated from Israel forever. His goodness came back to Avraham via Ruth and Na'ama.
Why were we told Lot was "king for a day?" The Torah is showing us the manifestation of Lot containing an incredible spark of the monarchy and the Mashiach. Even the Sodomites sensed this ‘energy’ in Lot and they responded to it by making him a leader.
The first place Lot and his daughters fled to was one of the 5 cities of Sodom. Lot said since it is ‘near’ [Rashi says, ‘young in years’] then maybe its measure of sin is not full and it may be spared? The angel told Lot that Hashem heard his prayer and agreed. It was spared only as long as they were there which wasn’t long. Still, Avraham Aveinu prays and prays for any part of Sodom to be saved and the answer was no! Lot says “how about it” and he saves one?!? How is that? Avraham Aveinu may be Avraham Aveinu, but Lot is the Mashiach. The power of the Mashiach will be to see the good in everyone. That's someone whose prayers Hashem is always eager to answer positively. I see something good just around the corner.
Have yourselves a Good Shabbos.
Just last week I happened across an article in a recent issue of Time magazine whose cover story was evolution. In the back was a related article by a Neanderthal named Stephen Jay Gould, who is not only a professor of geology at Harvard but a homo-ignoramus as well. His article was aimed at a Kansas Board of Education who took responsibility for their children and had evolution and the Big Bang theory removed from the curriculum. They didn’t forbid it to be taught. They just made it not the absolute must it has been. I won’t waste time on his hypocrisies or stupidities like evolution is as well documented as the earth’s revolution around the sun, therefore, we can call it ‘fact’ –or- whereas science only searches for what “is”, religion answer’s the questions to the meaning of life and the former never threatens or sways the latter. ‘Nuff said. Stephen then ends his article with “at the dawn of a new technilogical millenium, a jurisdiction in our heartland has opted to suppress one of the greatest triumphs of human discovery.” He is 100% correct. Harvard still won’t open their eyes to the responsibility of Avraham’s discovery of G-d!
To get to my point I’ll borrow Stephen’s own question, “Why get excited over this latest episode in the long, sad history of American anti-intellectualism?” I’ll tell you. It’s because this anti-intellectual is probably the first to unconsciously realize he had to qualify the new millenium. He had to say it’s a new “technilogical millenium”. If he had any intellectual integrity he would have to think about what he just did. He spends an entire article talking about what a regression it is for mankind to discriminatorily educate their young and WHY? Because we have cellular phones! Makes no sense what so ever, does it? If he stuck with the typically unqualified “This is the 21st century and look at them” line then we’d muster the expected connotations of advanced man, civilized man, sophisticated man. But he totally deflated his dramatic, albeit, cliched ending. He must have realized, while suppressing the realization, that America’s 21st century man and youth are not morally or ethically advanced, are not civilized and the extent of the sophistication is that they can kill more natives without having to get out of the car. No doubt Lot’s sons-in-law would have been more proud to have Professor Gould as a father-in-law, for their last 12 hours.
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