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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tzav: See and believe
The miracles of Purim and Pesach. G'd hides miracles disguised as nature. A person who wants to see the Hand of G'd will see miracles on a daily basis. The open miracle of the Great Flood was rationalized by the builders of the Tower of Babel to be a natural phenomenon. The exact order of creation suggests that it was created by an intelligent force and did not suddenly appear out of chaos. Only in retrospect, when we put everything together, do we see the concealed Hand of G'd guiding the events in the story of Purim. Even in the darkness of our exile, and most difficult situations in our lives, somewhere is hidden the goodness and lovingkindness of G'd.
Purim and Pesach
The Talmud (Ta'anis 29a) says: "With the advent of the month of Adar, one should increase in joy." Rashi explains that these are days of the miracles of Purim and Pesach. This teaches us that the joy and celebration of Purim that starts building up from the beginning of Adar should continue and increase into the month of Nissan when we celebrate Pesach. It is interesting to note that Rashi speaks about the miracles of both Pesach and Purim. Pesach is a week of celebration of all the open miracles that took place at the exodus from Egypt, culminating with the splitting of the sea on the seventh day of Pesach. In the story of Purim, on the other hand, we do not find any open miracles. Only by closely analyzing the various happenings and seeing the broader total picture do we realize the hidden hand of G'd bringing about the salvation of the Jewish people from the hands of Haman. This is no less of a miracle than what took place at the exodus from Egypt.
Fire on the altar
However, even when G'd performs open miracles G'd hides His involvement as far as possible. In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, G'd tells Moses to tell Aaron and his children about how to conduct themselves when bringing an offering on the Altar. This concludes with a commandment that a permanent fire shall remain aflamed on the altar and shall not be extinguished. The Talmud (Yuma 21b) explains that although there was a Heavenly fire descending on the Altar, nevertheless there was an obligation that the Jewish people should bring fire as well.
G'd hides miracles
Says Rabbi Aharon Halevi in Sefer HaChinuch (Ch.132), this is an example of a basic concept in regard to miracles. Even when G'd performs open miracles, He will somewhat hide them, disguised as nature so that they appear to be natural phenomena, or at least close to natural. Even at the splitting of the Red Sea, which was a very obvious open miracle, it says, (Shemos 14:21) "And HASHEM moved the Sea with a strong east wind all night and He turned the Sea into dry land and the water split." The objective observer would clearly see the hand of G'd performing the ten miracles that took place at the splitting of the sea (see Pirkei Avos 5:3). However, one who insists could claim that it was brought about by the strong east wind. Similarly, although a fire came down from Heaven, G'd commanded us to bring a fire on the Altar in order to hide the miracle. On a daily basis, the Jewish people did not necessarily see the Heavenly fire. Only at the inauguration of the Tabernacle did they merit to see it as it says (Vayikra 9:24) "A fire came out from G'd and consumed the offerings on the Altar…And all the people saw, and they sang and they fell upon their faces."
This is how G'd conducts Himself. Even at the time when there is a need to perform open miracles, G'd blends the miracle with the ways of nature in order to give people the ability to choose whether to see the Hand of G'd, as is quite evident, or to dismiss it as just being nature. A person who wants to see the Hand of G'd will see on a daily basis how G'd is behind regular natural happenings. The one who chooses not to see can experience open miracles and will explain it as nature. My father, Reb Eliyahu Kahn of Copenhagen, used to point out that it says before the splitting of the Sea (Shemos 14:13) "Place yourself and see the salvation of G'd that he will perform for you today." Even then, in order to see the miracle and the salvation, the Jewish people would have to focus and want to see it in order to absorb what was happening.
Rationalizing the Great Flood
By the Tower of Babel, the Midrash explains that the people wanted to wage a war against G'd by building a tower that would reach into Heaven. We wonder how they dared to try and fight G'd after the Great Flood which clearly showed the supreme power of G'd. Says the Midrash, they rationalized by saying that every 1656 years there is a natural occurrence where the Heavens open up and everything will be in upheaval. Since it was only 340 years after the last flood, they figured that they had another 1316 years until the next flood. For the believer, it was clear that the flood was an act of G'd. G'd had warned humanity through Noah that a flood was imminent. But the people of the Tower of Babel ignored this. They chose instead to understand the flood as a natural phenomenon. This is a clear example of how an open miracle can be turned around and twisted in such a way as to justify one's own belief.
The exact order of Creation
G'd made Creation from nothing. Everything functions with such precision and accuracy that any objective observer will clearly see the Hand of G'd. The sun's position is so exact that it properly warms the Earth. Were it a little further away, our whole planet would be covered with ice. If it were a little closer, all liquids would vaporize and the ground would dry up. Mammals breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Plants in turn absorb the carbon dioxide and produce oxygen in exchange. The exact order of Creation clearly indicates that it was created by an intelligent force and did not suddenly appear out of chaos. It is incredible how someone cannot believe in the Divine origins of Creation. Nevertheless, millions of intelligent people choose not to believe.
The story of Purim
In our daily prayers, we thank G'd for the miracles bestowed upon us every day and for the wonders and favours we continually receive. With these words, we acknowledge that even daily occurrences are nothing but hidden miracles. As mentioned above, this is a lesson that we can learn from the story of Purim. If we look at each occurrence of the Book of Esther as individual events nothing appears to be miraculous. King Ahashvarous invited all his subjects to a magnificent feast and the Jews attended despite warnings from their leader Mordechai. Seemingly unrelated to this, the King gets into a fight with his queen and has her executed. Sometime later Esther, the niece of Mordechai, is chosen against her will to be the next queen. Interwoven with this is the planning of two of the king's guards to poison the king only to be foiled by Mordechai. Finally, Haman is elevated to become the Prime Minister and Mordechai refuses to bow down to him or show him any honour. Only in retrospect, when we put everything together, do we see the concealed Hand of G'd that had been guiding the events. None of this was coincidence. However, those who choose not to see the Hand of G'd will rationalize that these events merely happened by chance.
The hidden goodness and lovingkindness
Says Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, of Lakewood, that through the reading of the Megillah we learn to understand our daily lives. Even in the darkness of our exile, and most difficult situations in our personal lives, somewhere is hidden the goodness and lovingkindness of G'd. Sometimes from the most difficult situations themselves springs forth the salvation. As Rabbenu Yonah says in The Gate of Repentance (2:5), the darkness itself can be the cause of the light. During these days of insecurity and uncertainty we have to understand that this is not just something that happened to be. There is no doubt that the Hand of G'd is behind it. Just as in the difficult time of Purim, when the Jewish people felt endangered by their enemies, it brought them closer to G'd, we must follow in their footsteps and do everything in our power to understand the message of the time and bring ourselves closer to G'd. In that merit He shall surely send us the salvation with the coming of Mashiach in the near future. We pray for the fulfillment of the saying of our sages: "In Nissan our forefathers were redeemed and in Nissan we too will be redeemed!
Torah Attitude: Pesach: Wicked son, wicked son, what have you done?Summary
The different answers to the wicked son in the Haggadah and Torah. The different attitudes of the simple son and wicked son. A factor of ignorance underlying the mockery of the wicked son. A Jew who roasted the pesach offering would see how useless the Egyptian idol was. The Patriarchs brought a pesach offering before the exodus from Egypt. The deeper levels of the commandments known only to G'd. The commandments educate us and affect our whole psyche. Even the wicked son has a truly holy soul, only his ignorance brought him to his negative attitude. Every child is different. There is a way to deal with each one.
This week's Torah attitude is that ignorance may lead one to mock G'd's commandments. We need the Torah commandments to educate us and develop our character.
In the Passover Haggadah, we learn about the four sons: the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son and the one who does not know how to ask. The wicked son says, "What is this service to you?" The Haggadah reflects, "To you, but not to me! Since he excludes himself from the group, he denies everything. You should give him a blunt answer and say, 'Because of this, G'd did [things] for me, when I left Egypt. For me – but not for you! If you had been there, you would not have been saved!" (Me'am Lo'ez Haggadah, p.32).
However, in Parashas Bo we read "And it shall be when your children say to you, 'What is this service to you?' You shall say, 'It is a pesach offering to G'd, Who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians but He saved our households', and the people bowed their heads and prostrated themselves (Shemos 12:26-27). Why does the Haggadah not give the same answer to the wicked son as the Torah?
It is interesting to note that the answer given by the Haggadah to the wicked son actually appears in the same Torah portion a few sentences later: "And you shall tell your son on that day saying, 'It is because of this that G'd did miracles for me, when I left Egypt" (Shemos 13:7-8). Strangely enough, this is what we tell the son who does not know how to ask in the Haggadah.
Still later on in the same Torah portion it says, "And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time, 'What is this? You shall say to him, 'With a strong hand G'd took us out of Egypt from the house of bondage" (Shemos 13:14). This is the question asked by the simple son in the Haggadah and the same answer as given there.
The Beit Halevi (one of the great Rabbis of Brisk) points out the difference between the way the Torah instructs us to deal with the two sons. The simple son asks a straight question and we give him a clear answer. The so-called "wicked son" has a mocking undertone in his question. The Torah instructs us to say a straight answer, but not necessarily is this addressed to the wicked son, but rather to those interested to understand and to become closer to G'd. On the other hand, the Haggadah responds to this son directly and gives him a message in response to his mocking. "That's right, in order to enable me to live a life of Torah and mitzvot, G'd performed miracles for me. If you, wicked son had been there, with this kind of attitude, you would not have been saved." The Haggadah teaches us not to feel intimidated by one who tries to mock us. Stand up for what you believe in.
However, why does the wicked son receive the same answer as the son who does not know how to ask? The answer may be that his mocking attitude is not so much because of his wickedness. Rather, there may be a factor of ignorance underlying the mockery of the wicked son. He does not appreciate that there is more to the pesach offering than appears at first. If he understood this, he would not be so quick to mock his heritage. The answer given to the son who does not know how to ask and to the wicked son addresses the ignorance of both.
Breaking ties with idols
The Children of Israel before the exodus from Egypt were surrounded by idol worship. Many were influenced by the ways of their Egyptian neighbours and began to worship idols. The lamb was one of the sacred idols of Egypt. Part of the reason for the pesach offering was to help the Jewish people to break their ties with idols. Any Jew who roasted the Pesach lamb would see that the idol was totally useless
The wicked son may say, "We no longer worship lambs as idols. Your ancient rituals do not apply to my modern life." But the wicked son is ignorant of the fact that our Matriarchs and Patriarchs brought the pesach offering hundreds of years before the Jewish people ever entered into the land of Egypt. The Torah tells us that Rebecca commanded Jacob to bring two goats for her to make a savory meal for Isaac (Bereishis 27:9). Why two goats? Surely, Isaac was not so hungry that he could have eaten even one goat? What was the second goat for? Our sages teach us that the second goat was to be brought as a pesach offering, even though there was no reason to celebrate the exodus from Egypt yet.
Every time we try to second guess G'd and His Ways, inevitably our guess will be wrong. King Solomon, the wisest man of all time, thought he knew the reason for every one of G'd's commandments. But when he was unable to explain the workings of the Red Heifer (Bamidbar 19:1), he realized that there are deeper levels to the commandments that are known only to G'd (Proverbs 7:23).
Rabbi Aharon Halevi in the Sefer HaChinuch teaches us that G'd's commandments develop and educate us and affect our whole psyche. Each of the detailed laws of the Pesach offering has its own reason and message. For example, the prohibition not to break the bones of the Pesach offering educates us to eat with good manners like an aristocrat, rather than to devour our food like a hungry wolf.
Answer for the wicked son
The wicked son mocks his heritage because he fails to see that there are deeper meanings to G'd's commandments than appears at first. The Torah addresses the one who tries seriously to understand what the service is all about. The Torah does not give an answer at this point to the wicked son. But as the Haggadah teaches us, there is an answer for this son. It is found in the Torah together with the lesson of the one who does not know how to ask, because we know that deep down even the wicked son has a truly holy soul. It is really just his ignorance that brought him to his negative attitude.
The Seder night is a sample lesson for parents and other educators how to deal with their children and students. Every child is different and needs to be dealt with accordingly. There is no one answer that fits everyone. Parents and educators may come across any of the four sons in real life situations and it can be a real challenge how to deal with some of them. The Haggadah teaches us that there is a way to deal with each one. It is important to look beyond the negative fa?ade of mockery and find the way into the holy soul even of the “wicked son”. Only then can we hope to bring up and educate every child to be a proud Jew committed to a life of Torah and mitzvot.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network