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by Jacob Solomon

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There (in exile) you will serve gods made by Man out of wood and stone, which do not see, hear, eat or inhale. From there you will seek G-d and you will find Him, because you sought Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress (batzar lecha) and all these things have happened to you… you return to G-d… and obey His voice… (4:28-30).


Moses assures the Israelites that G-d will be there when they turn to Him, even when they have been dispersed into exile for their sins. However this seems to contradict the words that G-d spoke to Moses before his death:

G-d said to Moses: "Behold, you will lie with your forefathers, but this people will… stray after foreign gods… and they will forsake Me and annul My covenant which I have sealed with them. My anger will flare against them on that day. I shall forsake them. I will hide My face from them… and many evils and troubles will fall on them… and they will say on that day, 'Is it because G-d is not in (our) midst that these evils have befallen (us)?' But I will hide My face on that day because of all the evil that (they) did, because (they) turned to the gods of others" (31:16-18).

Here it seems that He will not be found when the Israelites turn to Him, after having worshipped idols.

A more detailed study of the two verses may help to explain the apparent contradiction.

1. The passage in this Parasha specifies that the idols worshipped will be made out of wood and stone. Rav Z. Z. Breuer (Siach Ha-Shulchan, p.179) says this means that the Israelites will repent as they eventually realize the futility of an idol worship that has no power to deliver. This idea may be extended in the following way. Wood and stone symbolize homes, security, wealth, and prestige, The Israelites, said Moses, will work hard to obtain wealth in the Exile. And they will succeed. But they will not be satisfied. In their wealth they will find a deep desire to return to Him. The words 'batzar lecha' could therefore be translated literally - not meaning 'trouble', but 'narrow' - when all their wealth and achievements have been too 'narrow' - spiritually inadequate, leaving a strong desire to return to Him. Thus the motive of return is yirat ha-romemut - fear of G-d, meaning respect for Him in the sincere realization that He is the Creator and Master of the Universe - and that they cannot reach fulfillment without Him.

2. By contrast, the passage quoted later on does not specify any details about the gods worshipped - it states foreign gods - all types of idol worship. In addition G-d refers to a lower form of repentance - yirat ha-onesh - turning to Him solely out of fear of Divine suffering and retribution.

These passages show that genuine repentance involves returning to G-d in the sprit of Jethro, who exclaimed: Now I know that G-d is greater than all other gods (Ex. 18:11). Chazal (quoted in Yalkut Shimoni 269) bring the tradition that he only saw the truth in the Almighty after having experienced all the types of idolatry that were known in his time and realized the folly of them all. And similarly a person reaches a genuine level of repentance when he sees the worthlessness of his past negative conduct.

You shall do what is right and fair in the eyes of G-d, in order that it shall be well with you, and that you shall come and possess the good land that G-d swore (to give) to your fathers, to thrust all your enemies from before you… (6:18-19).

There are two well known explanations given to the words you shall do what is right and fair in the eyes of G-d.

The first is the general and moral explanation, given by the Ramban. After entreating the Israelites to keep the Commandments, Moses told them that their actions, specifically in dealing with people, should be guided by a sense of what is good and fair in G-d's eyes. However, what to do in any given situation depends on common and moral sensitivity. This is impossible to legislate in specific terms: general guidelines may be derived from the Torah's requirements to show compassion and forbearance to others beyond the letter of the Law.

The second is the specific, Halachic explanation expounded by the Talmud (Bava Metzia, 108a). This is the rule that if a person sells his own real estate, he should give preferential treatment to his next door neighbor, who will thereby get the additional benefit of being able to extend his own property.

We can derive both laws from the consequences stated by the Torah, of doing what is right and fair.

1. The moral explanation may be seen in you shall possess the good land… Chazal [e.g. in Avot 5:10] understand the people of Sodom as a city-state living by rules only, but not going beyond the call of duty ordered by those rules: not extending hospitality and compassion to strangers. For this reason, amongst others, they were 'ejected' from the Land… in their case, killed outright. Moses gave a veiled warning that should the Israelites follow Sodom's lack of morality, the Land would not tolerate their presence…

2. The Halachic explanation can be derived from the next phrase - to thrust your enemies from before you. This could imply that if lack of goodwill is shown to ones neighbor in the manner described above, He will thrust you, not your enemies, from the Land…



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