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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, I am G-d your G-d. After the deeds of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelt, you shall not follow, and after the deeds of the land of Canaan, into which I bring you, shall you not do: neither shall you walk in their practices.
At the time of the Holocaust in Europe, the Germans surrounded the town of Guvorona and had all the Jews rounded up into a big shul. On Friday afternoon (erev Shabbos) they set the town ablaze in different places and announced that they would soon burn also the shul with all the men, women, and children inside. The cries of the children and their mothers were deafening, as everyone in the whole town was packed into the insufficient space of the shul. The children were hungry and tired, and there was no one to pacify the terrified people and nothing to feed them. It had happened so quickly that no one had thought of taking any food with them.
The Germans completely surrounded the shul and kept watch to make sure that no one left for any reason. In order to increase the terror, the Germans shot into the air and announced that anyone who left the shul would be instantly killed.
Reb Yoel, the baker, sat crouched in a corner the whole time, saying Tehillim in a low voice. When it became dark, he suddenly got up from his place and ran outside, disappearing into the night. When the people in the shul saw this, they became very fearful. Everyone knew that you don't play games with the Germans and that his escape would cost him his life.
After a few minutes, however, Reb Yoel re-entered quickly with a sack on his shoulders that contained all the challos that he had baked for Shabbos. He divided the contents among all the hungry, frightened people and announced, "Jews take! It is Shabbos today.
What happened afterwards seemed like a miracle. The German lieutenant entered the shul, and ordered that all the Jews leave immediately before his men burn down the shul. Everyone believed that the miracle of their being saved was a direct result of the act of Reb Yoel, who was willing to sacrifice his very life in order to help his fellow Jews even a little.
Reb Yoel's unselfishness is a trait to be admired and emulated, especially in marriage.
"Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, I am G-d your G-d. After the deeds of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelt, you shall not follow."1 Rabbi Chunya said, "It is comparable to a king who had an only daughter, and he gave her a dwelling in a certain courtyard. All the people who lived there were immoral and practiced witchcraft. Her father said to her, 'My daughter, be careful not to do as these nor as these.' Here also, when the Jews were in Egypt, the Egyptians were full of immorality, as it is written, 'That their flesh is that of mules.'2 So too, when they arrived at the land of Canaan, the Canaanites were full of immorality and also witchcraft, as it is written that G-d said to them, 'my children, be careful, not to do as these nor as these.' "
Concerning this same verse, Rabbi Chiya learn-ed, " 'I am G-d your G-d.'3 Hashem's name is written twice. It is as if G-d is telling us that there is a doubly severe punishment, and He is saying to us, 'I am the one who punished the generation of the Flood, and the people of Sedom and Amorah, and Egypt, and I will in the future punish those that emulate their actions.' "
Wherever you find immorality, you find epidemics and plagues in the world which kill the good and the bad alike.
We have found everywhere that G-d is patient and does not anger quickly, except where there is immorality, and there are many verses to verify this.
G-d says, "I am the One that rewarded Yoseph, Yael, and Palty, and I will in the future reward anyone who emulates their actions."
Why did G-d have to tell us not to be tempted either by immorality or by witchcraft, when both are obviously intolerable? Since the Canaanites were guilty of immorality and witchcraft, why did the Torah have to mention Egypt at all, when it seems that it would have sufficed to mention only the Canaanites? Why was it necessary for G-d to mention that He had already punished the generation of the Flood, the people of Sedom and Amorah, and of Egypt? Why do epidemics and plagues occur when Immorality is rampant in the world? Why are the good Punished together with the bad if they are not guilty of sin? Why does G-d anger quickly when it comes to immorality, While lie has patience for other sins? What was so special 'bout the actions of Yoseph, Yael, and Palty that they deserve to be emulated?
A person's yetzer hara can be extremely devious. One of it's tricks is to teach a person how to belittle evil. Thus someone starts to compare one evil act with another, and may then decide that one is not so bad, since it is not as extreme as the other. The same deception can apply to evil people. One might compare an evil person with someone who is even more evil, and then come to think that the first person is not so bad. In these ubtle ways, one becomes accustomed to evil.
That is the idea behind the parable mentioned where the king warns his daughter against two forms of evil, immorality and witchcraft, both of which are prevalent among his people, She is cautioned not to think that one form of evil is not as bad as the other. She is told explicitly, "Be careful not to do as these nor as these." Similarly, G-d warns us in the Torah not to be fooled by such a trick, and end up comparing immorality to witchcraft, or the Canaanites to the Egyptians, and finding a lesser, more tolerable evil in one of them. Rather, we are warned to look at each sin and each of these nations at that time as unequivocally evil and therefore to keep away from them.
It was necessary for G-d to mention that He had already punished the generation of the Flood, the people of Sedom and Amorah, and of Egypt in order for us to have a clear picture of where our actions can lead us. A picture is worth a thousand words, and when a person visualizes the whole world being flooded, or a whole city being burned, the moral to be learned penetrates much more deeply than by simple warnings alone. The midrash implies that these happenings teach us that G-d is ready and able to punish us if we follow the wrong path.
"Wherever you find immorality, you find epidemic, all plagues in the world, which kill the good and the bad alike."
Epidemics and plagues befall the world when immorality prevails, and the good are punished together with the bad even though they are not guilty of sin. Immorality is such a horrible sin that the good should have shouted out in protest and not remained silent. This suggests that the good are influenced by sinners, since they are often tolerant of evil in that they do not speak out against it. There is also a suggestion that a plague, which unsympathetically spreads from one person to another, is comparable to immorality which also proliferates in the world and influences anyone in its path, even those who are righteous. Thus the physical disease is symbolic of the moral degeneration.
G-d angers quickly when it comes to immorality because of the severity of the sin. Immorality disrupts the order of the world. Marital bonds become devalued, trust is undermined, and a person may not even know who his children are once society becomes promiscuous. If a person cannot control his desires, he is similar to an animal that copulates. This behavior is so below and removed from a human being's intended purpose, that naturally it provokes G-d's anger.
We are given examples of people who excelled in the area of self-restraint: Yoseph, Yael, and Palty. Yoseph was alone with a powerful woman who pursued him constantly. He was unmarried and isolated in a strange land. Yet he withstood the temptation due to his great willpower. Yael was alone with Sisera, the chief of the gentile army, and no one could know what she had done, nor could anyone have blamed her if she had been forced to have relations with such a powerful man. But nevertheless she practiced restraint. 4 Palty 5 was married to a woman for twenty-two years, 6 and yet he never had relations with her because she was betrothed to another man.
These are all examples of human beings, not angels, and they prove to us that a person is capable of controlling his strong desire,. The Torah encourages us to picture their greatness and emulate their actions.
moral values are the building blocks of a strong marriage. When each partner is free of immorality, theirs is a holy union. But the moment that one partner ceases to be faithful, it tears apart that sacred union and leaves a gap in the marriage that is difficult to repair. Marriage demands that this is the only person for me, and no other person in the world exists in this intimate area.
It is important for a person to put up fences so that he will not even have the opportunity for immoral behavior. Never have an intimate conversation with someone of the opposite sex. Be careful not to gaze at another woman's beauty, since we know from the Torah that first the eyes see and then the heart desires. 7 Never be alone with someone of the opposite sex, since that can lead to immorality. The Torah has very definite and explicit laws about this, and one should review these laws and abide by them.
Our Sages say that stealing and forbidden relations are both strong temptations in a person's Soul. 8 They are teaching us not to assume that anyone is above such immoral actions. To the contrary since these desires are deeply imbedded in our natures and can easily burst out, we must do everything possible not to have any chance to stumble at all. We must be careful to stay away from any temptation.
In a healthy marriage, a person dearly loves his spouse and has no thoughts of anyone else in mind, but this must be constantly worked on, since if one loses his direction he car, stumble more easily than he can imagine.
1. Vayikra 18:2,3
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network