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by Daneal Weiner
Last week we matched ideas in Parshas D'varim with Megillas Esther and Purim, both alluding to the Oral Law. In the 2nd verse of this weeks
we have the words hachilosa l'haros- You have begun to show. The Ba'al Turim points out that hachilosa only appears one other time in all 24 books of Tanach and the second word, l'haros, appears only two other times in all Tanach. All three repeats occur in Megillas Esther!!! Don’t know what it means but the connection between D’varim and Purim remains strong. Next!
Parsha Va'eschanan starts with the word Va'eschanan which ArtScroll translates as ‘imploring’. Moshe is telling Bnei Yisrael of his every effort, entreating Hashem to be allowed into Erets Yisrael. The Da'as Zikainim brings a Midrash which says there are 7 different words describing prayer. (7? Hmm.) Rashi points out that the root chanan is only ever used in a context of a free gift. It would make sense to us for Moshe to implore Hashem with the likes of, "After aaaaaaall I’ve done, can't I just step one foot in Israel? The left foot, not the right?" So Rashi clarifies that Moshe isn’t using such tactics. He's asking, “Hashem, even though I don't deserve it, please let me go in anyway?" He’s asking for a undue gift.
Last week we said that Moshe referred to the mon by it's color, white, as a reminder of Hashem's loving kindness. What do we see at the end of Moshe's request? (3:25-26) "My L-rd. You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness... Let me now cross and see the good land...this good mountain and the Levanon."
It just so happens that Lebanon IS part of the original borders of Israel but it is unlikely that Moshe was dying to see the great brown North. Rashi says "this good mountain" is the Temple Mount and "the Levanon" is the Temple itself! The root of Levanon is ‘lavan’- white! (White? Hmm.) Moshe is using his best prayer, pushing the best buttons for his request of a free gift. There is going to be an entire structure built who's sole purpose is to emanate loving kindness, the Beis haMikdash- The Holy Temple. Where the Shchinah resides. Where the world offered sacrafices.
To use a word of the Chovos L'vavos, Tshuva! That Hashem has given us a means to atone for our sins, to wipe our slate clean, is the greatest act of loving kindness there is. Every Yom Kippur a red tongue of wool was brought into the Kodesh Kodashim- Holy of Holies. If our prayers were accepted than the red wool turned white. (White? Hmm.) Moshe was trying to tap into this energy source of kindness to evoke in Hashem permission to enter Israel for free rather than bartering with his merits.
Those of you who are real Moshe Rabbeinu fans are no doubt having trouble with this whole premise. Moshe Rabbeinu is the humblest of all men! There’s no way he would deal with Hashem based on his merits! What is Rashi implying with this big news that Moshe asked for it for free rather than saying he deserved it?!? Moshe would never say he deserved it, period! Good question. Let’s answer it with another? Why did Moshe want to enter Erets Yisrael anyway? The air was good for his rheumatism? To retire on a front porch overlooking the Mediterranean? No. MITSVOS, man, MITSVOS! Moshe wanted to do all those mitsvos that could only be done in Erets Yisrael!
When we run out and buy those lottery tickets. We know we don't deserve to win. We say “G-d, please, I promise I'll give a $million to the poor and a $million to the needy and I promise not to sneer at the meshulachim as I turn them away empty handed.” So let’s re-qualify; we know we don't deserve to win, NOW, but with all the good we WILL do, with all those FUTURE mitsvos a sure thing, how could Hashem not want us to win? That’s how we pray. But not the likes of Moshe. As Rashi said, he didn’t pray based on his merits, FUTURE merits, but for a free gift.
There is more buried in the word Va'eschanan. It has a gematria of 515. Chazal tell us this is a hint that Moshe prayed to Hashem 515 times. Finally G-d has to command him (3:26) "Do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter." Why command Moshe to stop? If Hashem doesn't want something to be than how could it be? So what if Moshe continued to pray? We learn an unbelievable lesson! If Moshe would have prayed one more time Hashem would have ‘given in’!!! Unbelievable! Prayer is real! The uneducated ask, “Hashem needs me to pray? Three times a day?!” No, WE need it. It makes things happens for US. And prayer is not always the means to the end but usually the end itself!
Here prayer seems to be the means to achieve the end, entry into Israel. It doesn't necessarily work that way. If someone has been negligent in their communication with Hashem, Hashem may cause good things to happen or He may cause suffering to happen, maybe to the individual directly or maybe to a loved one, ch'v'sh, just to get them to talk to Him! To use a bad example, like a creditor we owe money to and we stop the minimum payments. Do the creditors really want a team of lawyers to carry out their threats of lawsuit, wage garnishment, destroyed credit ratings and taking 1/3 of the money? No. They just want to hear from you. Events in our lives are the means to achieve the end, prayer!!!
Just in shul yesterday, the father was up in the heavens- and his kid was alone on the chair, then on the table, then on the window sill… Some times measures have to be taken to get someone’s attention.
So hopefully with the reality of prayer a little more real, why did Hashem want so much not to fulfill Moshe's request? It’s taught that if Moshe built the Beis haMikdash it could not be destroyed. Every Pesach we go through the closets and there are some things of such sentimental value that we will never throw them out. (We put them back till we see them again, 365 days later.) Hashem would have felt that way about the Temple if Moshe built it. Metaphysically speaking, Moshe's spiritually driven physical efforts of construction would have instilled spiritual immortality into the physicality of the Beis haMikdash. This would pose a problem 1100 years later, when Bnei Yisrael would anger Hashem to the point of destruction. If the Temple were destructible then Hashem could vent His wrath on the stones and not on us! So Hashem commands Moshe not to pray any more which guaranteed our continuity. What a concept! (By the way, this was the same reason King David couldn’t build the Beis haMikdash either.)
So let Moshe go in anyway? Let him build the Temple and Hashem destroy it anyway? He’ll get mad at us and not destroy us anyway? Whose in charge, anyway? True. Hashem can do what He wants and not do what He wants. What Hashem wants most is for the world to function according the rules. He gave us the rule book! First and foremost if not first and last, Hashem plays by the rules. So Moshe doesn’t get to go in and dies in the desert. He nor King David will build the Temple and it gets destroyed. And some poor kid has to sing and dance to get his space-cadet father’s attention and will probably be on drugs before he’s 15, r’l. The world operates by rules. Physically, spiritually, socially, emotionally… We have the rule book. We have to stick to it.
Undoubtedly due to these reasons and others the Shl'ah HaKadosh recommends that when we pray for something we add the words, "...if it's good for me." We know Hashem answer's every prayer, and that the answer could also be ‘NO!’. We are too subjective to know what's for our own good. It’s long ago revealed by studies in the States and in Israel that instant lottery winners statistically have more divorces, more suicides, use more drugs, need more psychiatric care... but that ain't gonna stop us from buying that ticket and praying our little hearts out that this week we nail the big one! Some people don't even bother with the SMALL chang. "I only buy a ticket when it's over 50 million." Who hasn't joked at least once, "C'mon G-d, test me on this one!" Fortunately, G-d knows our limitations better than we do and loves us more than we love ourselves. "...If it's good for me." And don't worry, if something is good for you, according to the rules, than simultaneously, essentially and intrinsically it means it's good for all Israel as well. What another ‘what a concept'!
Now that we've spent pages on just 3 words of the first two verses, all that's left in the parsha is the cities of refuge, the 10 Commandments, the Shema, not succumbing to the pitfalls of prosperity (no, we can check that one off) and teaching our kids Torah... Where to begin? Some are wondering ‘where will it end?’ Let’s see, pick a verse, any verse…
Verse 4:2-3 (I have fat fingers)> You shall not add to the word that I command you nor shall you subtract from it, to observe the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, that I command you. Your eyes have seen what Hashem did with Baal-peor, for every man that followed Baal-peor, Hashem your G-d destroyed him from your midst.
When the Midianites sent their daughters out to seduce the men of Israel, it was with the intention of getting them to serve this god of theirs, Baal-peor. The service of Baal-peor (with no help from Roget's) was pooping in front of the idol. What was meant by such a service is question enough but of all the things, Hashem warns, “You shall not add to the word that I command you nor shall you subtract… Your eyes have seen what Hashem did with Baal-peor”??? What is the connection???
The simplest meaning of the comparison is that adding or subtracting from the Torah is tantamount to idolatry! Like we impressed above, just stick to the rules! This idea is emphasized in the answer of Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin. The Midianites, like the Yetser Horah are not fools. They knew it wasn't going to be easy to get the Jews to serve an idol. Directly it would never happen. But once swept in by other passions, there is now a window for subjective reasoning to make right a wrong. Since the service to Ba’al- peor is so disgusting, a Jew could rationalize, "She thinks I'm serving this thing but in my heart I'm disgracing it!" Sorry. Just broke a rule! The Midrash tells of one Jew who, well, for the Shabbos table let’s just say he tried something particularly demeaning to the idol. The priests of Ba’al-peor want wild over the greatness of his service! The subjective reasoning which leads to idolatry is the same tool for adding and subtracting.
“Idolatry is idolatry. But if Hashem wants 4 species on Sukkos, I'll show my love by spending an extra $50 on a fifth!" No! The message can’t be made any more dramatic or any clearer. Don't add or subtract to the Torah! Just do what it says. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, a brick wall of Torah against the crashing waves of German reform, also makes clear that this warning is not referring to the fences and protective measures the Sages built around the Torah because Hashem explicitly instructs, ushmartem es mishmarti- you will guard My commandments! Which is right and which is wrong?
The first fence ever built around a rule was put up by Adam. Adam was told not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and he told Chava not to eat from it or touch it. The Yetser Haroah pushed her into the tree. Once she touched it and did not die she subjectively rationalized nor will eating from it bring any harm. Why did that injunction fail? Because eating from the tree is something she would never have done! Chazal who meticulously differentiate what is Torah law and what is Rabbinic law will always say not to allow this, LEST someone come to do that. Having the greatest knowledge of Torah and human nature our Sages knew what fences we needed to protect ourselves from ourselves. On Pesach we are forbidden from even handling chamets. But on Yom Kippur there is no problem with handling food. What’s the difference? On Pesach, a holiday on which we eat, while handling food we’re accustomed to eat all year, we may inadvertantly pop the chomets in our mouth. But on Yom Kippur, no one would accidentally eat on Yom Kippur. The former gets a fence, the latter doesn’t.
So what is that whole Ba’al-peor thing about anyway? Rav Hirsch says Baal-peor elevates physical needs to a godly status. Rav Chaim Shmulevits explains that this idolatry would be the easiest for a Jew to ‘accept’ since it was a form of SELF-worship, just while standing before an idol. The idea of Ba’al-peor is NOW rampantly destroying western civilization. No personal shame. No embarrassments. Gratification is the only necessary criteria! Homosexuality, self mutilation through gender changing operations, tattooing, body piercing, half dressed is fully dressed, all societal norms. And all slowly infiltrating the mindset of the Jews, r’l.
Rav Wolfson asks, why is it that on every other holiday an excerpt of the Torah is read from somewhere other than the weekly parsha in which the holiday falls and yet for Tisha b'Av the Torah portion comes right out of this weeks Parshas Va'eschanan?
It's so simple and yet so profound. We read particular excerpts because they reflect the holiday. Since nothing is circumstantial or one faceted, when the those holiday excerpts are read as part of the regular weekly parsha cycle, their respective holidays have a bearing on that parsha at that time of the cycle! The Rav says that since there is no Tisha B'Av like Tisha B'Av, not in it's pain and not in its soon-to-be glory, then the only Torah excerpt from the cycle that could be snipped and read on Tisha b’Av is from the portion of the week in which Tisha b'Av falls! Yet another ‘what a concept!' concept. (I had to rewrite this paragrah over a few times so don't feel bad if you have to reread it a few times to figure out what I finally wrote.)
Read slowly and clearly the portion for Tisha b’Av. 4:25-40. There is no clearer prophecy of our fall, our exile and the spiritual rejuvenation we are living today! It promises destruction, but immediately follows with dispersion. So we’re still around! But scattered. We’ll serve the gods of man. Communism, democracy, zionism, humanism. All those ideals which were going to make the world a better place! Jews are always at the forefront of big dreams. And when they’ve proven to have failed, when they have left us empty, from there we will search for Hashem. From our distress (a reason to pray) we will return to Hashem and hearken to His voice. And we’ll search till the beginnings of time and see that no other nation on earth, no other religion on earth can compare or make the claims that the Jewish people can make. We will observe Hashem’s commandments. His rules, by the rules. And we’ll reap the benefits, we and our children, on the land we were promised, with prolonged days, for all the days. It’s built in. Guaranteed.
Last week we touched upon the 7-3 split. Many things that come in 10 are experienced 7 and than 3. Sometimes the 3 are near by, sometimes not till the Mashiach comes. Another example to add to last week’s list would be the 3 haftorah's preceding Tisha B'Av and the 7 following. (Maybe a new list of 3-7 splits?) The 3 preceding are called the three haftorahs ‘of affliction', for obvious reasons. The 7 following are the haftorahs ‘of consolation.'
After the the churbans of Tisha B'Av, we start this Shabbos with the haftorah from Isaiah 40, Nachamu nachamu ami yomar Elokechem- ‘Comfort, comfort My people,’ says your G-d. It continues, " Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her time [of exile] has been fulfilled, that her iniquity has been conciliated..."
Our Sages said the Western wall would remain standing till this day. It is no coincidence so too stands the ‘Arch of Triumph’ in Rome, a monument to the Roman victory over Jerusalem and the destruction of the Beis haMikdash. Before rebuilding the 3rd Temple, the arch will fall. Maybe there are some close-up photos on the internet of cracks already having begun to show!
Time to get cracking yourself and pray to Hashem for a comforting Shabbot Shalom.
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