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Vol. 5 No. 31
No Middle Road
Although the middle path is recommended by our sages when it comes to Midos, it would be a dreadful fallacy to apply that 'golden middle path' to the realm of mitzvos. One either goes in the ways of Hashem, earning oneself eternal reward by fulfilling all the 613 mitzvos, or one earns oneself the title of transgressor by disregarding them. Those who totter with uncertainty somewhere between the two groups, serving Hashem one day and the Sotton the next, will be lucky if they earn themselves the title of 'beinonim', but tzaddikim? A tzaddik is someone who performs all the mitzvos and who does not sin!
It does not follow that Hashem rejects anyone who has not reached the level of a tzaddik. Far from it! A ba'al teshuvah for example, may well find the burden of the sudden change from the performing of no mitzvos to that of performing 613, more than he can cope with; great tzaddikim have been known to commit ba'alei teshuvah to Torah and mitzvos gradually, beginning with a few of the most basic mitzvos, adding mitzvos at intervals, as the ba'al teshuvah absorbs the previous group into his system. But that is a matter of necessity, not of principle.
What Hashem most certainly does object to, is those people who adopt the principle of observing those mitzvos that suit them, and discarding those that don't. The goal of every Jew must be ultimately, to observe all the mitzvos, and as long as a Jew is positively working his way towards that goal, on the understanding that every mitzvah and minhag not observed is a transgression and must be rectified at the earliest possible opportunity, then there is a good chance that even his imperfect G-d worship he will find favour in the eyes of Hashem.
In fact, the principle of choosing one's mitzvos, observing the one and relinquishing the other at will, is both ridiculous and impudent. Who are we to pit our wits against the wits of the Almighty G-d, who created Heaven and Earth, and who ordained that we observe them all? To decide on principle, to observe the mitzvos of one's choice is, at best, presumptuous and rebellious. Nor is there such a thing as a Mitsvah being beyond any Jew’s scope, because we have a principle that G-d does not command any task that is too difficult to perform.
The fact that there is no middle road in mitzvos is clearly demonstrated in this week's parshah, where the Torah describes two situations, one of utopian blessings, for those who do His will, and the other of the most terrible curses - for those who don't. The Torah has no prescription for the middle-of-the-road Jew, because he does not exist. Either one is a loyal servant of G-d, or one isn't.
The same idea is expressed often by the Torah; to quote a second example: the possuk writes, in connection with the mitzvah of tzitzis, "in order that you will remember and fulfill all My mitzvos" (Ba'midbor 15:40). The Torah makes no bones about the importance of observing all the mitzvos, adding "and you will be holy to your G-d" - implying that sanctity cannot be achieved in any other way.
Nor, come to think of it, is there any other option, because nobody really wants to settle for half a house or half a car, so why should they want to settle for half the mitzvos?
We have already explained that Shema is the only passage which the Torah orders us to recite daily. Consequently, the two hundred and forty-eight words (including 'Keil Melech ne'emon' by the individual, or the repetition of the chazen's 'Hashem Elokeichem emes') take on a tremendous significance. When we accept upon ourselves the yoke of Hashem and the yoke of mitzvos, with their various ramifications, we do so with all of our limbs - there is no part of us that should be excluded from the unique expression of our undivided loyalty to Hashem and His Torah. This is in itself, another reflection of the triumvirate of G-d, the Torah and Yisroel, of which we spoke earlier, due to the fact that the opening pesukim of the Shema incorporate the mitzvah of Torah-study, as well as that of reciting the Shema, which opens with the close relationship between G-d and Yisroel, as the Gemoro explains in the first chapter of B'rochos (and as we will elaborate upon later).
'Keil Melech Ne'emon'
The importance of the Shema is demonstrated by the custom to cover one's eyes whilst reciting the first possuk, in order to intensify our concentration. And little wonder, for the first possuk of the Shema contains the essence of the Jewish faith, as the Gemoro in Makos (23a), quoting the prophet Chavakuk, explains - emunah (faith) is the basis of the entire Torah. In fact, it encapsulates the first two of the ten commandments - to believe in the existence of G-d, and in his one-ness .
The first letters of the words 'Keil Melech ne'emon' with which the individual begins the Shema, spell 'omen', whose numerical value is equivalent to the two names of G-d, Havayah and Adnus (Rachamim and Din). Besides this, it is interesting to note that the three words themselves represent the characteristics of our three forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Ya'akov, because 'Keil' signifies the quality of the chessed of Avrohom (as in "Keili Keili lomoh azavtoni" - Tehillim 22:2, see also Rashi, Sh'mos 34:6); 'Melech' signifies the midas ha'din of Yitzchok; and 'ne'emon', the midas ho'emess of Ya'akov. In this way, the most important part of our davening is based on the zechus ovos, on whose merits the Jewish people were chosen, and became an Am Segulah (Hashem's treasured nation) - 'segulah" is rooted in the word 'segol' (the note in the trop formed by three equidistant dots shaped like a triangle) - hinting, at one and the same time, at the triumvirate of Hashem, Torah and Yisroel (which we quoted above) and at the zechus ovos of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Ya'akov. Both of these, like an equilateral triangle, constitute formidable strength (an equilateral triangle is unbendable ), and both of these, like an equilateral triangle, are made up of three equal partners.
We shall see more about the 'zechus ovos' (which Rebbi Dessler z"l explained to mean 'zakus ovos' - the purity of the fathers, since they transmitted their supreme character-traits to us, their descendants), later in the Shema and again in the Shemoneh-esrei.
The stress that is laid over and over again, on our connection with the ovos, without whom we would not exist, is neither a gimmick, nor in any way an exaggeration. The Torah itself already informs us that Hashem chose us only because of his infatuation with them, as the Torah writes in Eikev (10:15) "It is only that G-d was infatuated with your fathers, to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, you - from all the nations, like this day".
(Adapted from the Chofetz Chayim)
"And five of you will pursue a hundred, while a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand" (26:8). Now, if five people can chase a hundred, then a hundred should be able to chase two thousand. So why does the Torah write ten?
This teaches us, explains Rashi, that one simply cannot compare one Jew who keeps the mitzvos to many who keep the mitzvos.
From here we can learn, adds the Chofetz Chayim, the power of communal participation in performing mitzvos - the more who participate, the greater their successes.
In a similar vein, we can learn from the Shunamis, who told Elisha that she preferred to remain an unidentified member of the community, rather than to receive special mention as an individual before the Heavenly Court.
And the Mishnah in Chagigah explains that when Sh'lomoh ha'Melech referred in Koheles (1:15) to "a shortcoming that cannot be made good", he was referring to someone who failed to participate in a mitzvah performed by the community. ‘Do not set yourself apart from the community!’ (Ovos 2:4)
"And I will turn to you." (26:9)
The Sifro gives the parable of the King who commissioned men to work on a long-term project. Among the men, was one who worked with exceptional loyalty and diligence. When he came, together with the other workers, for his remuneration, the king told him to be patient, and to wait whilst he first paid the other men for the sparse work that they had performed. With him, the king had a special and more detailed reckoning to make, for which he would set aside time, to give him the reward that he so aptly deserved.
Someone who keeps Torah and mitzvos diligently should not complain, the Chofetz Chayim concludes, about the hard-times that he experiences in this world, (whilst he is waiting for his remuneration), for it is better to suffer a short-term poverty followed by long-term wealth, than short-term wealth followed by long-term poverty.
Running From Reality
There are some people who are afraid of the Tochochoh (the Parshah that contains G-d's warning of what will happen if we do not obey the Divine command), and who leave Shul when it is read, says the Chofetz Chayim. There are even Ba'alei Kore who lower their voices and swallow the words, he says, so that most of the congregants cannot hear them, and he goes on to compare this to the man who was advised not to travel a certain route, because of the numerous pitfalls and wild animals that rendered travelling that way, unsafe.
Our traveller chose to ignore the warnings. However, in order to avoid actually seeing the dangers, he decided to travel blind-folded. It never occurred to the foolish man that, far from eliminating the dangers that lurked at every twist and turn, it exacerbated them.
And so it is with those people who believe that they can escape punishment by not hearing the Tochochoh. Little do they realise that, not only will they not escape punishment, but, by their actions, they are inviting Divine retribution - with a vengeance!
History of the World (Part 43)
Zecharyah, the Cohen Godol, is murdered in the Beis ha'Mikdosh on Yom Kippur that fell on Shabbos, on the orders of Yeho'ash King of Yehudah, in the 39th year of his reign. At the turn of the year, he himself is killed in his bed by his servants. He does not receive a royal burial, as befits a king. Zecharyah's blood will continue to bubble for well over two hundred years, until the time of the last king of Yehudah, Tzidkiyah, at the time of the Churban.
Amatzyah his son, is crowned king in his place. He is twenty-five when he ascends the throne, in the third year of the reign of Yo'osh King of Yisroel. Tzidkiyohu is the Cohen Godol. Omotz, Yeshayah ha'Novi's father, is King Amatzyah's brother.
Elisha the prophet dies. The man they throw into Elisha's grave immediately following his burial comes to life. Some say he is the false prophet Tzidkiyoh ben Cena'ano; others say his name is Shalum ben Tikvah, the husband of Chuldoh ha'Nevi'oh, who bore him their son Chanan'el, after he had been brought back to life. Shalum ben Tikvah was himself a prophet, who merited prophecy on account of his kind deeds. What did he do? He would sit outside the gates of the town with a flask of water, and offer water to all thirsty travellers. Those who say that it was Tzidkiyoh ben Cena'ano explain that he did not remain alive. He got up, walked away and immediately dropped dead.
Amos, from the tribe of Osher, prophesies. Yoel is the Cohen Godol and he is followed by Uriyah. (King Amatzyah will later kill Amos by striking him with metal on his forehead.) Amatzyah defeats Edom in the Valley of Melach, killing ten thousand of the enemy.
Yerov'om (the second) son of King Yo'osh, ascends the throne of Yisroel in Shomron.
Uziyoh (also known as Azaryah), son of Amatzyah, ascends the throne of Yehudah, fifteen years before his father's death. Yoel is the Cohen Godol, Hoshei'a, Amos, Uziyohu and Michoh the prophets.
Amatzyah, King of Yehudah, dies.
Yeshayah receives the prophecy on the day of the earthquake. He prophesies in the days of Uziyoh, Yosom, Ochoz and Chizkiyah. He will live for another ninety years, until he is murdered (sawn in half) by King Menasheh.
Pul is crowned King of Assyria. He will conquer Menachem ben Godi, King of Yisroel.
King Uziyah tries to usurp the Kehunah. He is stricken with the plague of tzora'as, and spends the last twenty-five years of his life alone in a graveyard. His son, Yosom, rules in his stead.
Zecharyah, the son of Yerov'om (King of Yisroel), is crowned King of Yisroel. Juliu, King of Rome, banishes his older brother and orders his (brother's) daughter to remain a virgin. However, she defies him and gives birth to two sons, Rumus and Romulus. The king has the mother executed and orders the boys to be thrown into the river. However, the servant takes pity on them, and leaves them by the river bank, where they are found by a she-wolf, who feeds them. (According to others, they are brought up by a prostitute, which in their language, is synonymous with a she-wolf.) Later, they return to Rome, kill their uncle, and assume the throne. Some say that many years later, in the days of Chizkiyah, Rumus and Romulus will fortify Rome, and build within its walls seven towns on seven hills. It is then that Romulus kills Rumus and rules over Rome.
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