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Torah Attitude: Parashas Va'Eira: Worse than murder
The Jewish people were too distressed to even listen to Moses. After the third generation, Egyptian converts may marry Jewish spouses. One who causes another person to sin is worse than a murderer. "This world is like a corridor before the World to Come … one hour of pleasure in the World to Come is better than the entire life of this world." "Tomorrow" in the World to Come, says the Talmud, is the main forum for receiving our reward. The sin of Ammonites and Moabites, by seducing the Jewish men to sin would affect their eternal lives in the World to Come. Even if a person indirectly causes another person to sin, he needs to atone for it. The atrocities that the Nazis and Communists committed against the Jewish people take on a new dimension. It is a tremendous responsibility we all carry to prevent young people from losing their interest in observing the commandments. In Stories That Awaken The Heart, the story is told about a sick child and a specialist. It is never too late to ask for forgiveness, but the sooner one makes amends the better.
Jewish people too distressed
In last week's parasha, the Torah described the hardships and afflictions our ancestors suffered during the exile in Egypt. When G'd sent Moses down to Egypt to speak to Pharaoh, things only got worse for the Jewish people. It got so bad that when, in the beginning of this week's parasha, Moses addresses the Jewish people in the name of G'd about the upcoming redemption, they were too distressed to even listen to him (see Shemos 6:9).
Egyptian converts may marry
Despite all the cruelty committed by the Egyptians, the Torah allows the third generation of an Egyptian convert to Judaism to marry a Jewish man or woman. As it says (Devarim 23:8-9): "You shall not push away an Egyptian …. children that are born to them in the third generation may enter the congregation of G'd [in marriage]." On the other hand, the Ammonites and Moabites, even though they may convert to Judaism, they and their offspring can never marry a Jewish woman. As it says (ibid 4): "An Ammonite and Moabite shall not enter the congregation of G'd [in marriage], even the tenth generation."
Worse than a murderer
Rashi quotes the Sifri (252) that explains that the Torah here teaches that one who causes another person to sin is worse than a murderer who kills his fellow being. For the murderer deprives his victim to lose this world, whereas the one who causes another person to sin brings about that he will lose both this world and the World to Come. Although the Egyptians committed terrible atrocities and drowned Jewish male infants, they may still marry into the Jewish nation. But the Ammonites and Moabites who brought the Jewish men to sin with the Ammonite and Moabite girls may not.
The corridor before the World to Come
At first glance, this seems very difficult to understand. However, if we look at it through the lens of our sages, we gain a new insight that puts everything into the right perspective. It says in Pirkei Avos (4:21-22): "This world is like a corridor before the World to Come … one hour of pleasure in the World to Come is better than the entire life of this world." The person who was murdered was deprived of the great opportunities that are available in this world, and as such missed out on what is available in the corridor. However, this person still made it to the World to Come, that is like the magnificent banquet hall where the real enjoyment and pleasure takes place. This person lost what was available for 70 or 80, or even 120 years. But what is that compared to the eternal life of the World to Come? This is true for any murder victim. However, if someone is killed because of being a Jew, such as those who perished during the Holocaust, or someone who died fighting to protect our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel, or the victim of a terrorist attack or hate crime, all of these people have a special place of glory in the World to Come.
"Today" and "tomorrow"
Every act we perform has a consequence both in this world and in the World to Come. In the second paragraph of Shema (Devarim 11:13) we say: "And it shall be if you listen … watch for yourselves lest your heart be seduced … And the anger of G'd will flare up against you, and He will restrain the Heaven and there will be no rain." This refers to the reward and punishment that G'd gives in this world. However, the main reward and punishment for our acts we will only see in the World to Come. The Talmud (Eruvin 22a) teaches this based on what we say in the first paragraph of Shema (Devarim 7:6): "And these matters that I command you today." The Talmud asks, why does it say "today"? Answers the Talmud, "today" refers to this world, that is the only place where we have the opportunity to fulfill the commandments. And "tomorrow" in the World to Come, says the Talmud, is the main forum for receiving our reward.
Affect lives for eternity
When we look at the world through this lens we can well understand why our sages explain that the Ammonites and Moabites did more harm than the Egyptians. For although the Egyptians committed terrible atrocities, including attempted infanticide, even if they had succeeded it would have had no effect on these children's eternal lives in the World to Come. In truth, Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer (42) relates that G'd saved them miraculously and saw to that they were nourished until they could return to their parents. On the other hand, the sin of the Ammonites and Moabites, when they seduced the Jewish men to sin, would affect their eternal lives in the World to Come. In addition, we must keep in mind the words of Pirkei Avos that we quoted above: "one hour of pleasure in the World to Come is better than the entire life of this world."
Atone for indirect causes
Rabbi Yitzchok Salant, in one of his essays in his book Beer Yosef on Parashas Ki Seitzei, points out that even if a person indirectly causes another person to sin, he needs to atone for it. In the end of Parashas Shoftim, the Torah instructs what must take place if a person is found slain outside a town. The Torah teaches that the elders of the town must make a declaration (Devarim 21:7): "Our hands did not spill this blood." Rashi quotes the Mishnah (Sotah 45b) that asks why anyone would even consider that the judges of the rabbinical court in the town are murderers. The Mishnah answers that their declaration means that they did not let the slain person leave town without sufficient food and without providing him with an escort. Rashi explains that had they failed to look after this person's needs, they indirectly could have caused his death. For if he did not have what he needed, he may have attacked another traveller who may have killed him.
Nazis and Communists
With this in mind, the atrocities that the Nazis and Communists committed against the Jewish people take on a new dimension. It is bad enough that the Nazis killed six million innocent people, including one million children. Similarly, the Communists murdered so many millions of righteous people. However, on top of that, there are millions of other people who survived this terrible period, but they and their children lost their faith for generations. In a sense, this is even worse, for this effects their eternal life in the World to Come. In a broader sense, these people are not survivors. They are victims.
Sometimes young people lose their interest in observing the commandments because their parents or teachers did not manage to show them how meaningful their observance really is, and the beauty of the way of Torah. There can be situations where classmates make someone's life miserable, and thereby cause them to lose their interest in observing the commandments. This is a tremendous responsibility we all carry that we must explain to our children and students as well.
The sick child and the specialist
In last week's Torah Attitude I mentioned that my wife had shared two stories that she had read in Stories That Awaken The Heart, written by Rabbi Binyamin Pruzansky for Artscroll. Here is the second story. A young, successful real estate businessman and his wife suddenly were informed that their three year old son, who had not felt well for a week, had contracted a very serious and rare disease. Their doctor had done some research and had already contacted the most renowned expert in that field to make an appointment. On the day of the appointment, the distressed parents drove from New York to Boston to meet the specialist at his clinic. As the father of the sick child entered the doctor's office, the doctor seemed cold and disinterested. He told the father that he had reviewed the case and had decided that there was no way that he would treat his son. The devastated father pleaded with the doctor. As he was the only specialist who could treat and save his son, he asked why he was refusing to do so. The doctor answered that it was not the he could not help his son, but he would not. The father was getting more and more desperate. Suddenly, the doctor looked at the father and addressed him by his first name and said, "Do you remember me from anywhere? Maybe you don't remember me, but I am sure that you remember my son Reuven." Slowly the father recalled that there had been a boy in his grade seven class by that name. He said to the doctor, "Now that you mention it, I do remember him, but why do you ask?" The coldness in the doctor's eyes dissolved into tears as he related what happened to his son. Fifteen years earlier, they had moved to New York and his son, who was bright, had entered the same grade seven class as the sick child's father. "You were one of the leaders of the class", said the doctor. "You picked on my son. You excluded him from the 'gang' and called him names. My son was very hurt, and although I spoke to your parents and the Rebbi, and even had a conversation with you, nothing changed. After grade eight, my son lost interest in the Yeshiva. He hated his classmates and hated Judaism. We decided it was better to move out of town again, and that is why we moved to Boston. However, my son never recovered and slowly stopped observing the commandments. Eventually, he changed his name to 'Robert', and I have no idea where he has been living for the past five years. You destroyed my son and now you want me to save your son? I will not."
The father kept pleading with the doctor but to no avail, and eventually he left the doctor's office with his sick son. He returned to his wife heartbroken and told her about how his grade school days had come back to haunt him. Defeated, they started making phone calls to find another doctor, but all their leads brought them back to the specialist who refused to treat their son.
The father was emotionally exhausted and eventually he fell asleep. That night his grandmother came to him in a dream, and told him to go to Maine, for that would bring salvation to their problem. The next day, he tried to find out whether there was another specialist in Maine, but that did not seem to be the case. Nevertheless, he felt he had been given a message and he decided to go to Maine. He had no idea where to go but decided he would seek the nearest shul that he could find. He pulled into the first gas station in Maine and asked for directions to the nearest shul. The mechanic told him that he did not think that there was any synagogue for the next fifty miles. As the father persisted to ask questions, the mechanic finally said, "Let me speak to one of my workers if he knows whether there is a synagogue near here. 'Robert'", he called to a man inside the garage, "could you come out here and help someone with directions." When the distraught father heard the name "Robert", his heart started to race. Even when he saw him he was not sure if this was his old classmate Reuven. However, Reuven recognized him immediately and said flatly, "I cannot help you, good bye. Get out of here quickly or I will kill you with my bare hands." "Please Reuven", said the father, "my son is dying and only you can help me. Let me explain." The mechanic cut him off with a blast of anger. "Now you want to explain! What about when we were in Yeshiva, you ruined my life although I begged you to stop. Get out of here!"
Arriving back at the hotel, the father related his incredible journey to his wife, how he had found the doctor's son but he was not ready to help. His wife suggested that they should go back together with their son the next day. "Maybe", she said, "when he sees our sick son he will change his mind." When they came back the next day, initially there was no change in the mechanic's attitude. However, as he watched the mother and her sick child he began to soften a little and was ready to talk. Finally, he said, "I feel bad for your son, but what do you want from me?" When the father of the sick boy suggested that Reuven should go back to his father, he got irritable and said, "It is too late. You ruined my life. I cannot forgive the way you tormented me and spoiled my name. Leave me alone. I am not going back to my father just to help you." The distraught father kept begging. "I know I messed up, but it is not too late. I promise I will make it up to you somehow. Please forgive me." Finally, his tears and pleas reached Reuven's heart and he agreed to return with them to his father.
The next day, Reuven went for a short haircut and borrowed a yarmulke from the sick boy's father. When the doctor saw his son, he was overcome with emotion and enveloped his long lost son in a tight embrace. After some time, Reuven pulled away from his father and said, "Oh Daddy, I am so sorry for everything I put you through, but please help my friends' son. Everything is forgiven and things will be different now." With that statement the doctor changed his attitude and undertook to save the little boy's life. Reuven decided to go to Israel to study at a yeshiva for baalei teshuvah, and after two years of intense study, he was introduced to a young woman and together they have raised a beautiful family.
Never too late
This amazing story shows us how careful we must be when we deal with others, and how even young children can do terrible damage and cause others to reject Judaism and the commandments. The story further teaches us that it is never too late to ask for forgiveness, but the sooner one makes amends the better. One should never wait until the onset of personal problems but should settle immediately if one has wronged another person.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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