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PARASHAS DEVARIMAnd Di Zahav. (1:1)
Sefer Devarim is the last will and testament of Moshe Rabbeinu to his beloved nation. Concerned lest they succumb to the blandishments of the pagan nations which inhabited Canaan, Moshe spoke words of rebuke to them, pointing out areas of deficiency in their natural/national character which must be rectified. Rather than mention these sins explicitly - due to his concern about a negative reaction - he alluded to them by employing names of places which did not actually exist. These names allude to a variety of indiscretions, and areas in which they mutinied against Hashem. Di Zahav refers to the sin caused by an abundance of gold, the Golden Calf, which was their first act of dissent against the spiritual leadership of Moshe. When Moshe did not return at the appointed time (according to their calculations), they sought to create an intermediary to replace him. It is called Di Zahav because as Moshe pleaded with Hashem for their forgiveness, he said: "Had they not had a surfeit of gold, they would not have sinned."
Why then is the word Di which means "enough used? To quote the Talmud Berachos 32a, "Moshe said to Hashem, 'Master of the Universe! The silver and gold that You lavished upon Yisrael until they said 'enough!' is what caused them to make the Golden Calf.'" Thus, Di Zahav is expounded to mean, "enough gold." In the wilderness, the Jews would never have been capable of making a Golden Calf had they not possessed the huge quantity of gold that Hashem had instructed them to remove from Egypt. Moshe was arguing that in fact, the Almighty was, as it were, partially to "blame" for their sin. Without all the gold, they would not have been able to sin.
Why intimate their sin with the word dai, enough, when the of gold played such a leading role in catalyzing their sin. The Torah should have said rov zahav, "excess of gold." Blaming "enough" seems inaccurate, since it did not function in the sin of the Golden Calf - or did it?
The Shem MiShmuel explains that indeed, excessive gold was not a sufficient reason to sin. On the contrary, the more (gold or anything) one has, the greater is his perceived need for more. One who has one hundred wants two hundred. This applies to all of life's possessions: we never have enough.
"Something" is always driving us further, higher, more. We do not realize that this inborn drive for "more" is Divinely ingrained in us for our good - so that it curbs our penchant for arrogance. As long as we are always seeking more - our passion for eminence, power, wealth, satisfying achievement, prominence and adulation - we are technically "safe" from arrogance. It is when we say, Dai I have enough! Whatever I have is sufficient; I am so far ahead of everyone that I can now sit back and enjoy the many fruits of my labor. I am so much ahead of the pack. I have more; I have achieved more: I am better." This is when the danger of arrogance sets in - since we no longer are driven toward even greater and more exalted goals.
After receiving the Torah, at a Revelation unprecedented in human history, Klal Yisrael developed a stronger affiliation with and attachment to the spiritual dimension of life. This world and its materialistic frivolities meant little to them. They were above it. Dai; they had enough gold. They were beyond gold. This position sadly played against them. They thought they were "it." They were "there" - no drive; no passion. Such a situation leads to boredom and arrogance, so why not make an eigel ha'zahav, Golden Calf?
I recently came across a number of articles focusing on the pressing issue of failed leadership. There are individuals who despite achieving great success on a personal, communal, or even national and global level are sadly flawed. As long as one is human, the possibility for human deficiency is real. At times, it is dormant, silent, lying in waiting, until an opportunity for its release presents itself. If the leader is fortunate, it is never released, because he has taken great pains to ensure that the opportunity for its manifestation does not occur. Some however, have not been so fortunate, or, for some reason (which we will address), they did not care, or they thought they would get away with it. Regrettably, they were caught, accused, found guilty, and demoted - all at the expense of their family, community, friends and admiring congregation/students.
These articles have great merit, attacking the core of the problem. I have always wondered why someone who has devoted a lifetime toward achieving success would risk losing everything for self-gratifying, ephemeral pleasure. The usual answers are presented: pride goes before the fall; adulation leads one to believe in his own perfection; personal charisma germinates its own seeds of destruction. The power invested in a spiritual leader is immense, and we all know what power can do to a person's moral compass. Nonetheless, I continue to ask the hypothetical fallen hero: "What were you thinking?" "Where was your seichel, common sense?" "Did you forget you had a family, students, friends?" I have yet to hear a satisfying answer.
Perhaps, the Shem MiShmuel's exposition concerning the sin of the Golden Calf might illuminate for us the quandary surrounding the actions of the leader who has fallen prey to avarice or immorality, both shameless and iniquitous - the leader who has sullied himself and, by association, his colleagues. As long as a person has a goal to reach, so long as his achievements have not plateaued, he continues to be driven by a passion for success. He is not satisfied until he climbs the mountain and is safely ensconced on its summit. Such an individual will not gamble away his life, family, career. He is too busy climbing to worry about arrogance and the pitfalls that result from lording oneself over others. It is the fellow who has achieved awesome distinction in his field, who has peaked - or - at least, in his mind has reached his plateau - who is in a dangerous position. Such a leader may be prone to haughtiness. He might fall prey to some of the blandishments that present themselves to those who have reached the pinnacle of power. The delusion that accompanies one who achieves a high position is often like the lightheadedness one experiences when he climbs a high mountain. His thought process changes, and he is now prone to make mistakes - which at any other phase of his life (or climb) would be anathema.
"How can I carry by myself your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels?" (1:12)
The nation of Moshe Rabbeinu was not an easy people to lead. Apparently, they needed to be trained in the ways and means of peoplehood - with the first requisite lesson being respect for leadership. Rashi identifies Moshe's three complaints. The first was contentiousness. The people were difficult to deal with, especially during litigation. If a litigant saw his rival prevailing, he insisted on a trial delay, with the claim that he has other witnesses to testify in his behalf ,or additional proof to support his position. Alternatively, he might have demanded his right to call for more judges on the court. Second, your burdens: the people were skeptical and suspicious of their leadership. Additionally, they always questioned Moshe's motives, attributing a negative twist to everything that he did. Third, quarrels: the people were constantly arguing with one another.
The Midrash at the beginning of Sefer Eichah observes that three individuals prophesized with the word Eichah, how: Moshe, Yeshayah, Yirmiyah: Yeshayah said, Eichah ha'seyah l'zonah, "How did she become a harlot?" Yirmiyah lamented, Eichah yashvah badad, "How does she sit alone?" Moshe said, Eichah esa levadi, "How can I carry by myself?" Rabbi Levi says, "This is compared to a matron who had three servants. One saw her when she was relaxed and at peace. The other saw her during her period of tension and controversy, when she was defiant towards authority. The last saw her during her moment of degradation when she was deposed and humiliated. Moshe saw Klal Yisrael when the nation was at its high point, when it was honorable and held in esteem by surrounding nations. Yeshayah saw the nation during a period of tension when the nation was like a harlot at everyone's beck and call. Last, was Yirmiyah who saw the nation during a time of destruction, alone and devastated.
In his Daas Sofer, the Pressburger Rav, Horav Akiva Sofer, zl, posits that the last two Eichahs - that of the Neviim, Yeshayah and Yirmiyah, were actually the result of Moshe's lament/Eichah. He quotes the Talmud Shabbos 119, in which Chazal state, "Yerushalayim was not destroyed [for any other reason other than] because the people humiliated talmidei chachamim. Their lack of respect for the rabbinic leadership of the Holy City led to their destruction. Chazal go on to say that one who is mevazeh, denigrates, a Torah scholar, ein lo refuah, "he will not be healed." In other words, he will succumb to a Heavenly dispatched illness. The sin of disrespecting a scholar weighs heavily over the head of the perpetrator to the point that it will outweigh his other merits (author's suggestion).
This is what Chazal mean by including Moshe's Eichah together with the laments of the Neviim. After all, they do not appear to be in the same category. Moshe complains about respect, while the Neviim lament the varied levels of destruction. It was the prevailing attitude in Moshe's time that led to Yerushalayim's physical devastation. When people lose or have no respect for their leadership, it indicates a deficiency in the spiritual and moral compass of a community. This, together with the social discord that prevailed in the holy city - the controversy among its citizens and the unwarranted enmity among brothers - led to the destruction of the Second Temple, whose replacement has yet to occur.
Why is disgracing a talmid chacham such an egregious sin? The Mishnas Yosef quotes the Nesivos Olam, Nesiv HaTorah II, in which the Maharal explains that a talmid chacham is much more than an erudite individual who knows the Torah. One who studies Torah properly - with diligence, toil and love - becomes himself a substance of Torah. He becomes one with the Torah. This is consistent with Chazal who decry the fact that people arise for a Sefer Torah, but neglect to do so for a scholar, who is the embodiment of Torah. This is why Chazal are stringent in the punishment of one who does not properly eulogize a talmid chacham. One who denigrates a talmid chacham denigrates the Torah, which is the dvar Hashem, every word as if it has been uttered by Hashem, Himself. A frightening story is related concerning an indirect insult to a holy talmid chacham. Indeed, the individuals involved had noble intentions, but they lacked aforethought. Had they considered carefully what they were about to do, they would have realized that they had gone too far.
Horav Yehudah Assad, zl, author of Yehudah Yaaleh, was a distinguished European Rav. His passing left a void in the hierarchy of the elite European rabbinate. It also orphaned his children, among them a number of daughters, some of whom had reached marriageable age and did not have great hope of finding a proper match without a dowry. The Rav was a holy person whose encyclopedic knowledge of Torah knew no peer, but this did not put bread onto the table. He left behind no worldly possessions, and departed this world a destitute person.
A group of close followers who were concerned about the plight of his daughters conceived a plan for raising the badly needed funds to arrange for the daughters' marriages. Their idea, although bizarre, succeeded in raising the necessary funds. The Rav had a distinguished and handsome countenance, but he had refused to have his picture taken. This was consistent with the ruling of other rabbanim, as well. Consequently, we do not have their pictures available for posterity. The followers dressed the body of the deceased in his rabbinic garb and sat him up in his chair - then they took a picture of him. No one knew the truth, and the money raised by this ruse served as a dowry for his orphaned daughters.
Obviously, these well-meaning individuals were guilty of bizayon talmid chacham, degrading a Torah scholar. Their intentions were noble; their actions, however, were reprehensible. All five perpetrators of this travesty died that year. One who shames a Torah scholar, regardless of his self-justification, will be punished.
Horav Yitzchak Abulafia, zl, was once gravely ill. He was paralyzed - unable to move or speak. The doctors had already despaired for his life. It was only a matter of time. Horav Alefanderi came to visit him and said, "Chacham Yitzchak, I promise you that you will arise from this illness. You must have faith in my word." Rav Yitzchak moved his lips slightly to respond amen.
A number of days passed, and Chacham Yitzchak was cured. He soon arose from his sickbed and began to walk within a relatively short time later. The entire city hummed over the miracle. Then tragedy struck. One of Rav Yitzchak's close relatives suddenly became ill, and, a few days later, his soul went to its eternal rest. The entire town participated in his funeral. Among the mourners were Rav Yitzchak Abulafia and Rav Alefanderi. Rav Yitzchak turned to the holy sage and said, "His honor should know that when he left my house (after blessing me) the deceased, who was also there, began to chuckle, saying, "How could anyone regain his health from such an illness?" Now that I am cured, he became ill and died. Rav Yitzchak was alluding to the self-generated curse the deceased inadvertently placed upon himself by questioning the saintly Rav Alefanderi.
"Designate for yourselves men who are wise, understanding and well-known to your tribes, and I shall appoint them as your leaders." (1:13)
Rashi explains that the tribes among whom the leaders grew up and lived would know them better than Moshe Rabbeinu did. Moshe said, "If each of them were to come before me wrapped in his Tallis, I would not know who he is, from which tribe he has descended, and if he is worthy." In other words, apparently Moshe had difficulty discerning the pedigree and true nature of each judicial candidate. This seems inconsistent with the pasuk in Sefer Shemos 18:21, in which Moshe is told to "seek out men of ability,
G-d-fearing men of truth who hate improper gain." Rashi explains that he should search out these men by using his Heavenly endowed powers of Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration. If Moshe is able to discern "who is who" by using his spiritual powers, why did he ask the people for their input?
Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, teaches us an important lesson, which sadly, all too often, proves itself valid. He explains that Moshe himself circumvented this question when he said, "For if he will come before me covered in his Tallis, I will not know who he is." Indeed, Yitzchak Avinu was certainly endowed with Ruach HaKodesh, yet Eisav was able to pull the proverbial wool over his eyes. How did he do it? Chazal teach us that he came before his father dressed in his finery - clothing that quite possibly concealed the real Eisav. He would present himself to his father dressed as a Torah scholar, bent over in humility, speaking with spiritual refinement. In other words, Eisav disguised himself when he came to Yitzchak.
Likewise, Moshe was concerned that a potential candidate would disguise his true self. The people with whom he had grown up knew how he really dressed, what his habits, true religious leanings, and moral compass were.
Chazal teach that le'asid lavo in Olam Habba, the World to Come, Eisav will enter dressed in his Tallis as everyone else and claim his seat right next to Yaakov Avinu - after all… This is the meaning of misatef b'Talliso, wrapped in his Tallis, concealing his many moral and spiritual faults.
Rav Galinsky relates that he once had occasion to ask information from the Gerrer Rebbe, zl, the Bais Yisrael, concerning one of his chassidim. "What would you like to know?" the Rebbe asked. "I would like to know about his level of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven," Rav Galinsky replied.
"How should I know?" asked the Rebbe. "Concerning yiraas Shomayim, only two know the real truth: Hashem and his wife!"
You approached me, all of you, and said, "Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land." (1:22)
Rashi describes the contrasting scenario in which the people came to Moshe Rabbeinu and "suggested" that spies be sent to reconnoiter Eretz Yisrael. "And you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders…" This was a reference to the decorum manifest by the people when they accepted the Torah. That approach was proper. The young honored the elders and sent them ahead of them. And the elders honored the heads of the tribes by allowing them to precede them. In this case, however, "You approached me, all of you as a rabble, with the young pushing the elders, and the elders pushing the heads." Moshe's critique focuses on two deficiencies: first, a lack of decorum whereby the young showed no respect for their elders - the common Jew for his leaders. Second, the disorderly formation in which they approached Moshe was indicative of a stressed out people who were giving rise to panic. This showed that the mission to send spies was the result of a lack of faith on their part. Hashem had promised them that they would enter and conquer the land without any problem. They seemed concerned. Otherwise, why did they come in such chaos to demand spies?
Arvuvyah, disorderly, mixed-up, is an apt description of the lack of decorum with which the people approached Moshe. On paper, their motivation appeared bona fide and sincere. They were apprehensive about entering a new, strange land, about which they knew nothing. They were not soldiers who could adapt to any given situation. For the previous two centuries, they and their ancestors had been slaves. Who was to say that their motives were anything but honorable? Arvuvyah determines the source of one's motives.
At times, one feels motivated to do what appears to be correct and proper. His yetzer tov, good inclination, spurs him on to undertake, to do, to endeavor. He could be wrong, however, and actually, he is being motivated to action by none other than his yetzer hora, evil-inclination. He is being convinced that he is about to perform a mitzvah, create/establish an organization, or undertake an endeavor that is positive and appropriate, when, in fact, it is not. He is being manipulated by the yetzer hora, convinced to do something that is wrong, and duped into signing up for something that he will later regret.
How does one recognize the signs of distortion? How does one determine the true source of his motives? The Alter, zl, m'Kelm teaches us an important rule. The way to determine if the catalyst is good or bad is to introspect on how one came to the decision to move forward. Was it impetuous, done quickly, without aforethought? Or was it the result of deep reflection, patient analyses, rational thinking, and studying all aspects from every angle? Whenever one jumps the gun (so to speak), rushing into a project without properly thinking it through, it is an indication that he is being provoked by the yetzer hora - who "knows" that if one were to give his proposal some thought, he would change his mind and back down.
This was Moshe's proof that the Jewish People were up to no good, that they were inappropriately motivated. Their objective was flawed from the very beginning. If Hashem was taking them into the Holy Land, they need not worry. The Almighty had "proven" Himself time and again. He was functioning above convention. He could suspend the laws of nature and allow His People to emerge triumphant. Spies were appropriate for usual warfare. However, there was nothing normal about the march of the Jewish People towards Eretz Yisrael.
Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, explains that the yetzer hora rests between the two "openings" of the heart - representing the path towards evil and the path towards good. From his vantage point, he has the ability to influence one to sin and also to have "input" in his mitzvah performance. The yetzer hora is focused on evil, but it is able to promote evil by convincing a person that the endeavor he is about to do is a mitzvah, when, in fact, it is not. Misrepresentation is an integral component of the yetzer hora's bag of tricks. By masquerading a sin in the guise of a mitzvah or by taking a mitzvah and persuading the person to execute it improperly, the yetzer hora has succeeded in its work. It has distanced us from Hashem.
Rav Elchanan relates that Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, came to his Rebbe, the Gaon, zl, m'Vilna and informed him that he wanted to establish a yeshivah. He defined his goals and objectives, describing what would ensure the success and viability of the Volozhiner Yeshivah. Surprisingly, the Gaon dissuaded him from undertaking this endeavor. He was instructed to shelve the project.
A few years passed, and Rav Chaim once again presented the Gaon with his request to establish a yeshivah. This time the Gaon encouraged him and gave his blessing to the project. Understandably, Rav Chaim was incredulous by the Gaon's change of position. "Why did the Rebbe previously rule negatively concerning this project, while now I receive his blessing?"
The Gaon replied, "I sensed that you were overexcited about the project. Therefore, I feared that your motivation did not emerge entirely from a holy source." The desire to be Rosh Yeshivah, to be in control, can often cloud one's mind and cause him to act when the time is not yet propitious. Rav Elchanan added, "Imagine how careful must one be not to rush into something. Rav Chaim Volozhiner was an individual of unprecedented spiritual stature. Yet, the Gaon sensed that his passion and drive might not be one hundred percent pure. So, he halted the founding of Volozhin - until it was appropriate."
"Be not terrified nor frightened of them." (1:29)
Klal Yisrael had witnessed the destruction of the mightiest armies. Egypt was like nothing in the hands of Hashem. Likewise, Amalek went down into the dung heap of history, putty in the hands of the Almighty. Why is it that the nation that had been sustained by Hashem through the travails of wilderness journey for forty years was in deathly fear of a handful of small, scattered Canaanite kingdoms? Indeed, as noted in an earlier pasuk (27), Klal Yisrael suggested that Hashem must hate them to put them in such a terrifying situation.
The Bostoner Rebbe, zl, notes that fear reflects our perception of reality more than it reflects reality itself. The Sifri applies the well-known proverb, "What you feel about your friend, you imagine he feels about you," to explain the debacle of the meraglim, spies. Our fears of the outside world are often projections and externalizations of what we feel within. Indeed, we create the world around us by our thoughts and our beliefs. Thus, an angry person lives in an angry world; a happy person lives in a happy world. We do not see things as they are; rather, we see them through our sometimes distorted, often myopic, vision.
In Sichos HaRan (83) Horav Nachman Breslover, zl, teaches that people desire what cannot help them and fear what cannot harm them, for their desires and fears originate within their subconscious selves. Fear is always part illusion. Thus, by listening to the Torah to put fear aside, we are able to concentrate on the reality that is, the real-life challenges that we face. Sometimes, the greatest fear is an illusion which have we conjured up in our mind.
Melech Go'el u'Moshia - King, Redeemer and Savior.
At first glance, a redeemer does not appear to be different than a savior, since both spare the victim from the adversity to which he is subjected. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, distinguishes between them: The go'el, redeemer, resolves the situation and effects a more or less complete redemption. The moshia, savior, only creates a partial salvation, solving only the immediate problem, but not securing a lasting solution to the overriding problem. An example of each of these deliverances from each of these circumstances of distress would be our Rabbinic festivals - Purim and Chanukah, both of which commemorate salvation.
On Purim, we do not recite Hallel, since it was not a complete geulah. The immediate danger (Haman) was averted; the Jewish nation, however, still remained under the rule of the Persian Empire. This was, therefore, a yeshuah, partial salvation. The neis Chanukah was a miracle in which the Jewish People were freed from Greek tyranny. The kingdom of the Jewish People was now reestablished, lasting for over two hundred years. While the liberation did not endure forever, and, after the first generation of the Chashmonaim, their kingdom deteriorated and was ultimately destroyed, the neis Chanukah created an opportunity for freedom during which the Jewish People had the opportunity to reorganize and lay the foundation for future peace and accord. Missed opportunities are still opportunities which allow, under different circumstances, for the heralding of the geulah sheleimah, complete Redemption.
Roza Rochel bas R' Moshe Aryeh a"h
niftar 8 Av 5756
Shelley Horwitz a"h
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