Vol. 6 No. 16
Testing The Heart
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)
"A crucible for silver, a furnace for gold, and G-d tests the hearts" (Mishlei 17:3).
Shlomoh ha'Melech is warning us in this possuk that a person should purify his thoughts and rectify the qualities of his heart, because the heart is the most important of all the limbs, and what's more, all the other limbs are subservient to it. That is why it is situated in the middle of the body, ruling over it, leading it, and casting its influence over its limbs, all of whom are its slaves. It is like a king in the middle of his kingdom, supervising his subjects, and commanding them what they must do.
And because the life-span of all the other limbs depends on the heart, G-d, who is the source of life of all that exists, is called the heart, as the possuk in Tehillim (73:26) writes "G-d is the rock of my heart and my lot forever".
And in the same way as it is the function of the heart to lead and supervise the other limbs, so too, does G-d lead all of His creations and supervise all four corners of the earth.
The essence of Torah depends on the heart, which is why its seal (first and last letters) spell 'leiv' (heart). In fact, Torah stems from knowledge (as we explained last week), which comprises thirty-two 'wondrous paths' (the numerical value of 'leiv').
And it is because every action of man depends on the heart, that Shlomoh warns us about its qualities. He is pointing out to us that all the thoughts that remain hidden in one's heart are nevertheless revealed to G-d, because He knows all of our thoughts, and is able to distinguish between a good heart and a bad one. That is why he wrote "a crucible for silver ... and G-d tests the hearts," to teach us that as the smith examines the silver and the gold in the furnace, to ascertain the extent of their purity, so does G-d test our hearts, to know which is perfect and which is lacking.
We also learn from here that a good heart together with pure thoughts, are compared to purified silver, and a bad heart with impure thoughts, to silver that contains impurities - because a good heart will lead to good deeds just as from purified silver one crafts fine silver vessels; whereas a bad heart leads to bad deeds in the same way as impurified silver results in poor-quality workmanship.
Another connotation of 'testing the hearts' refers to the final day of judgement after the 'Revival of the Dead', and speaks about the average Jew whose merits and sins are equally balanced, whom G-d nevertheless considers righteous. This is because we rule like Beis Hillel, who maintain that, in such a case; the Divine attribute of "and abundantly kind" means that G-d tips the scales of the average person to the scale of merit, provided the sin of 'posh'ei Yisroel be'gufan' (e.g. of not wearing tefillin) is not included among their sins, because if it is, they cannot escape the fires of Gehinom. And this is the crucible and the furnace referred to by Shlomoh ha'Melech, for where there is a furnace there is fire, and the term 'testing' can only apply to the average person, since the total tzadik and the total rosho do not need to be tested - the one is slated to go straight to Gan Eden, the other, to Gehinom.
In a third explanation, R. Bachye explains that the word 'testing' relates to tzadikim. It refers to putting them on trial, in order to show the world their righteousness, as the possuk writes in Tehillim "G-d tests the righteous". And this can be compared to a potter, who strikes his wares in order to demonstrate their quality to potential clients. Which pots does he strike, if not the strongest and the best? In any event, if it were for G-d's benefit, no test would be necessary, since all of man's deeds and thoughts are revealed before Him.
It is on behalf of man therefore "who sees only with his eyes" ... that the heart of the tzadik needs to be revealed, and it is for his benefit that G-d puts him to the test. And when his good heart and pure thoughts are revealed, then the obligation to serve Hashem becomes publicised and G-d's Holy Name becomes sanctified. This is how Chazal interpret the possuk "And G-d tested Avrohom", and the possuk "because now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man" - which they explain to mean "because now I have made it known".
And in the same way, G-d tested Yisroel in Egypt, since the majority of the miracles that happened to them in the desert were performed in order to test them.
Take for example, the splitting of the Yam-Suf, where the sea did not split all at once, to create a long pathway; it split slowly, bit by bit, so that they actually saw the water 'fleeing before them' as Dovid ha'Melech wrote in Hallel - "The sea saw and fled". Or take the Mon, which did not fall in large quantities, enough to last for one or two months; no, it fell day by day. Hashem did this in order to train them in the quality of bitochon (faith), and so that they should raise their eyes Heavenwords to their Father in Heaven, and in order to test them, to see whether or not they would question Him when not everything was cut and dry.
Similarly, when Par'oh sent Yisroel out of Egypt, Hashem deliberately led them by way of the desert, to test them, to see how they would react when they were forced to take their wives and children through that great and fearful desert, terrain that was known to be full of snakes, serpents and scorpions. He could just as well have taken them through the land of P'lishtim, but He chose not to, as the Torah writes "And it was, when Par'oh sent the people away, then Hashem did not lead them via the land of the P'lishtim ...".
Adapted from the Chofetz Chaim
Better Through the Desert
" ... and Hashem did not lead them by way of the land of the P'lishtim" ... (13:17).
This implies that G-d actually contemplated taking our ancestors into Eretz Yisroel via the land of P'lishtim.
The Chofetz Chayim explains that there were two ways open to G-d to lead Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel, each with its own distinct advantage and a disadvantage. He could either take them through the land of P'lishtim, which had the advantage of all the amenities and facilities that an inhabited country has to offer, but it also had the disadvantage of the spiritual distractions inherent in a modern but pervert society.
The alternative was taking them through the desert which was free of spiritual distractions, but was also devoid of any of the basic requirements that a person needed to survive.
G-d decided that, having just left the wicked Egyptian society (from which they had only escaped by the skin of their teeth), to lead them through the land of the P'lishtim and to subject them to a style of corrupt influence similar to the one from which they had just come, would be like taking them out of the frying-pan and into the fire. Consequently, He opted to lead them through the desert, were they were spiritually safe - to avoid the 'land of the P'lishtim' at all costs!
As for the disadvantage - how would Yisroel survive in such hostile terrain, where there was no food and no amenities? For that, G-d had an answer - the Mon, the well and the Clouds of Glory!
Here we have the answer for all those people who sell themselves, to work in an environment or under circumstances which cause one to lower one's standards of Yiddishkeit - because of parnosoh.
If G-d was able to bring down mon to six hundred thousand people - in order to save them from deprivation, the Chofetz Chayim observes, He is certainly able to provide one person with his basic needs, to enable him to keep Torah and mitzvos.
(Nor should one be perturbed when, initially, he encounters problems in finding something suitable. He should know that this is nothing more than a test, and that invariably, the moment he passes the test and perseveres, G-d will respond).
Kindness and Torah
"You led in Your kindness this people that you redeemed, You led (them) with Your strength to Your holy dwelling-place" (15:13).
The Tana de'Bei Eliyohu writes that when Yisroel were in Egypt, they gathered together and made a pact that they would perform kindness with each other, that they would observe in their hearts the covenant of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Ya'akov, that they would serve their Father in Heaven alone and that they would neither give up the language of Ya'akov their father, nor learn Egyptian.
By forging this pact, the Chofetz explains, they were hoping that, particularly through the acts of kindness that they had undertaken to perform with each other, they would arouse the Divine kindness to repay them measure for measure and nullify the evil decrees of Par'oh.
In fact, that is what happened, as the Gemoro Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin states: 'If you see the merits of the fathers and of the mothers running thin, then go and cleave to kindness, as the Prophet writes (Yeshayah 54:10) "Because the mountains (the merits of the fathers) will move, and the hills (the merits of the mothers) will skip - but My kindness will never move away from you" ...
Bearing in mind the Gemoro in Yuma (28b), which informs us that in Egypt they always had Yeshivos (they studied Torah), we can now understand the P'sikta on our possuk, which explains that "You led with Your kindness" refers to the quality of kindness, and "You led (them) with Your strength" ... to Torah.
Yisroel performed kindness with each other in Egypt, and they learned the Torah that they received from their fathers. On that merit, Hashem performed kindness with them and redeemed them (even if they were perhaps unworthy), and took them to Har Sinai to receive the Torah - measure for measure.
Yehoshua and Amolek
"And Moshe said to Yehoshua 'Pick for us men and go and fight with Amolek' " (17:9).
What did Moshe see to send specifically Yehoshua to fight with Amolek, asks the Chofetz Chayim?
Possibly, it has something to do with the fact that Yehoshua was from the tribe of Ephrayim - the son of Yosef, who was the fire that would consume Amolek, the grandson of Eisov (see Rashi, Bereishis 30:25).
The Chofetz Chayim however, explains that Yehoshua symbolised the strength of Torah, as it is written "and Yehoshua bin Nun was a young man who did not move out of the tent (of Torah - 33:11). Who was better suited then, to fight Amolek, who attacked Yisrael only because they were lax in Torah, as Chazal explain based on the place-name Refidim.
The first paragraph of the Shema has been talking to individuals, whilst the second paragraph, which we are about to begin discussing, addresses the community. This explains why the second paragraph does not include the phrase "u've'chol me'odecho" - because, as the Nefesh ha'Chayim points out, it may be feasible to expect an individual to love G-d with all his money, but one cannot ask this from a community. And the second explanation ('to love G-d with whatever measure He metes out - good or bad'), also makes little sense when applied to a community.
This observation also helps us understand why this paragraph discusses reward and punishment, whereas there is no mention of this in the previous one. This is because of the principle that there is no reward for mitzvos in this world. Consequently, an individual who observes the mitzvah of Shema, loving G-d, etc., mentioned in the first Parshah, will receive reward for what he has done in the World to Come. Neither does the concept of punishment occur in the first paragraph - firstly because there are no mitzvos lo sa'aseh mentioned there, but, even if there were, the punishment for transgressing them is clarified elsewhere in the Torah (ranging from Malkos to death at the hands of Beis-din), and it would be unnecessary to repeat it there.
The community is different. When it comes to 'Hashgochoh k'lolis' (Divine supervision of the community), the Torah needs to inform us that, irrespective of each individual's portion in the World to Come, earned purely on personal merit, the destiny of the community in this world lies in their own hands. They themselves determine whether their life in this world will comprise peace and prosperity, or whether it will be one of suffering. And that is what the Torah tells us in Bechukosai, and in Ki Sovo, among other places, and here.
Indeed, in most cases, the individual rises and falls with the community; he succeeds when they prosper and he fails when they fall. That is why it is appropriate to deal with the concept of reward and punishment in the second Parshah, which speaks to the community, but not in the first.
And It will Be, if You Will Surely Listen
Rashi interprets the double expression "im shomo'a tishme'u" as a progression. Once a person begins to listen (or to obey, as Targum Unklus translates it), he will continue to do so. It is that first step that is so difficult, as Chazal have said 'All beginnings are hard'. Once one overcomes that hurdle, the rest is infinitely easier. And they also said 'One mitzvah leads to another'. Consequently, having begun to listen to G-d's words, it will develop into a trend.
The expression "ve'hoyoh", Chazal say, is one of joy - perhaps because it comprises the letters of G-d's Holy Name, the Name Havayah that denotes G-d's kindness. And what greater joy can there possibly be than when the entire community listen to the voice of G-d and obey His instructions. They will certainly merit the Divine Mercy that is inherent in the word "ve'hoyoh", as the words of the Torah go on to descibe.
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