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May my teaching drop like the rain, may my utterance flow like the dew. (32:2)
The Zohar Ha'Kadosh tells us that the "rain" is an analogy for Torah She'Biksav, the Written Law, and the "dew" represents Torah She'Baal'Peh, the Oral Law. Just as the former is celestial in nature, the latter is earthly and mundane in nature. We infer from this statement that the Written Torah contains principles and laws from a pure, Heavenly point of view, while the Oral Torah emphasizes rules and regulations from the perspective of earthly society.
The commentators emphasize the various differences between dew and rain, suggesting their parallel to Torah study. Horav Eli Munk, zl, observes that while raindrops can be measured as a standard liquid, dew cannot. Likewise, the Written Torah, which is compared to rain, has clearly defined mass. It is composed of five books, containing 248 positive commandments and 365 prohibitions. The Oral Law is like the dew, that cannot be quantified. It spreads thinly over the land, without limit, literally like the vast sea of the Talmud overflowing on all sides.
Horav Munk cites the Chofetz Chaim who criticized the people's lack of proficiency in Tanach. He commented that one would expect a greater accomplishment in the Written Law, which has clearly defined parameters, than the Oral Law which is literally limitless. Regrettably, this is not the case. The study of Chumash lags far behind the study of Talmud. Perhaps one's accomplishment seems greater and more significant in an area that does not have boundaries.
Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation. (32:7)
Moshe Rabbeinu implores Klal Yisrael to learn from the past, to study its lessons to enable themto plan for the future. The pasuk seems to delineate between "days" of yore and "years" of generation after generation. This prompted the Dvar Avraham to infer a valuable lesson for us to employ in coping with the reality of life's challenges. "Remember the days of yore;" view each day as a singular occurrence, exclusive of anything else. The challenges of each day should be perceived as they are, completely independent of any other situations. Afterwards, "understand the years of generation after generation;" consider how these autonomous daily challenges interact to create progressive consequences over the years. The only way to face the challenges of life is by viewing them as part of a large picture spanning generations. Each solitary event no longer stands by itself, but is rather another piece in the mosaic of life.
The Dvar Avraham articulated this idea on the eve of World War II, when the streets of Europe were already filled with the terror that would be inflicted on the Jews. He said, "It is imperative that these words be inscribed on the tablets of our hearts. Especially now, as we are being trampled under the weight of destruction, in a bitter exile that has been our life for two thousand years. There is no day that does not bring another curse. It would be quite easy to defer to depression and hopelessness and forget about the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu and, ultimately, also forsake our Torah. We should not view present circumstances as isolated happenings with no relationship to the future. Rather , we should remember that everything that Hashem does is for the good. Thus, all events are considered a preliminary for the future. The darkness of today will bring about tomorrow's light."
Life's challenges have been poignantly analogized to a needle-point which on one side is a disarray of colors and threads, each one going in a different direction. The other side, however, is a beautiful masterpiece of color, a portrait of joy expressed through rich pastels. Regrettably, we view only one side of the needle-point. If we would only overcome our spiritual myopia, we could perceive the other side. Perhaps we would even see some of the profound beauty on the side of disarray.
Remember the days of yore, understand the years of generation after generation. Ask your fathers and they will tell you... when the Supreme One gave the nations their inheritance... He set the borders of the peoples according to the numbers of the Bnei Yisrael. (32:7,8)
In recounting Jewish history, Moshe notes that after the Mabul, flood, surviving generations attempted to build the Tower of Bavel. Hashem scattered them, dividing them into seventy nations. Each nation had its own distinct language, corresponding to the number of Bnei Yisrael, the seventy members of Yaakov Avinu's family who later went down to Egypt. The Shem M'Shmuel remarks that the correspondence between the seventy souls in Yaakov's family and the seventy nations of the world is significant in Jewish thought. Although today there are certainly more than seventy nations, after the Mabul initially seventy nations emerged. Likewise, when Yaakov's offspring were first considered to be a nation, his family consisted of seventy members. The implication is that each primary world nation corresponded to one root member of Klal Yisrael. If that member of Klal Yisrael optimized his spiritual potential, he had the ability to elevate his parallel nation. At some spiritual level the two were linked, resulting in a spiritual improvement for that nation, regardless of the behavior of its individual members.
As time wore on, the nations multiplied and increased in number, growing beyond the original seventy. In parallel, Bnei Yisrael increased far beyond the original seventy souls. The various components in the relationship between the Jewish People and the nations of the world became increasingly complex. The soul of an individual Jew was now linked to many more gentile nations. Thus, the ripple effect engendered by the actions of each Jew reaches out to affect the spiritual welfare of many people.
With this idea in mind, the Shem M'Shmuel observes that the mitzvah of "zechor yemos olam," "remember the days of yore," is much more than a dry intellectual imperative. It is similar to other mitzvos that require remembrance and reflection, such as Shabbos and Amalek. It should be an emotional experience in which we recall not just the concept, but also its ramifications. We are to understand that our actions affect the rest of the world. As a nation, our collective spiritual plateau, our level of mitzvah performance, our acts of chesed and good deeds influence the entire world. This remembrance requires us to realize that what we do, or neglect to do, can change the world. This mitzvah imposes upon us an incredible responsibility, but we do not expect that being a Jew is an easy endeavor.
In an alternative interpretation of the pasuk, the Shem M'Shmuel cites Ibn Ezra who observes that the root meaning of "shanah," which means year, is the same as "shinui," which means change. Thus, we read the pasuk of "binu shnos dor v'dor," to mean, "Understand the changes of each generation." We are thereby enjoined to consider the changes that occurred throughout history.
When one compares two opposing entities to one another, their respective differences are much more apparent. Darkness stands out as a result of our awareness of the advantages of light -- and vice versa. Indeed, this idea applies equally to spiritual strengths and weaknesses. It is a given that the Jewish People have digressed spiritually throughout history. The best tool for measuring our spiritual digression is comparison to previous generations. By "remembering the days of yore", and understanding the changes of each generation, we are better equipped to accept our own deficiencies and attempt to correct them. When we observe the spiritual plateau attained by Jews of previous generations, we are able to acknowledge our own needs. Indeed, our future is based upon the lessons we learn from the past.
Hashem will see and be provoked by the anger of His sons and daughters. (32:19)
Simply, the Torah is telling us that Hashem will be angry as a result of our iniquity. Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, makes a novel homiletic exposition to the pasuk, implying a valuable lesson. Hashem sees the iniquity, but that alone does not cause Him to become angry. After He sees how His children, Klal Yisrael, act when they do not get their own way, when they do not get their hearts desires, He is provoked to anger. It is one thing to make demands, to entreat Hashem for favors and hope that they are fulfilled. How do we have the audacity to sin, to perpetrate our evil actions, and still make demands on the Almighty? Furthermore, when we do not receive what we want we complain bitterly, impugning Hashem. Does this attitude represent gross chutzpah or is it merely human nature?
How often do we find people bemoaning their fate, expressing their complaints to the Ribono Shel Olam, while they continue to flaunt their selective form of religious observance? Perhaps if we were to open our eyes and take stock of our hypocritical behavior, we might see what Hashem perceives all of the time.
I put to death and I bring life; I struck down and I will heal. (32:39)
Hashem is the only source of healing. He strikes down, and He heals. Horav Yechezkel Abramski, zl, raised and addressed a pertinent question regarding the brachah of "Refaenu" which we recite in Shemonah Esrai. We say, "Heal us, Hashem - then we will be healed. Save us - then we will be saved, for You are our praise." Why do we add the words, "For You are our praise"? Why is this the only brachah in which we emphasize Hashem's unique involvement? Horav Abramski commented that in the field of medicine, one has the opportunity to attribute his recovery to the physician, due to his access to modern medicine. How often do we pay lip service to the Almighty by reciting Tehillim, all the while placing our entire faith in the hands of the physician as if he really were in charge? For this reason, we accent the fact that Hashem is our praise, which means that we realize and believe that only through His intervention will a refuah sheleimah occur. The physicians are merely His agents in effecting the cure.
Ascent to this mount of Abarim... and die on this mountain... and be gathered to your people... because you trespassed against Me among the Bnei Yisrael... because you did not sanctify Me among the Bnei Yisrael. (32:49,50,51)
Perhaps Moshe Rabbeinu could have sanctified Hashem more emphatically. Why, however, is this considered to be a transgression against the Almighty? Did Moshe's error constitute such an incursion against Hashem that hundreds of entreaties and prayers were not sufficient to effect his passage into Eretz Yisrael? Hashem refused to allow Moshe to enter the land, neither as a living being or as a corpse, as an animal or even an inanimate stone! He could not pardon Moshe's error! Moshe's behavior demanded serious consequences. Why?
Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, employs a practical approach to explaining this anomaly. Heads of state are provided with a security force to protect them. Ostensibly, this security force is comprised of trained, highly- skilled individuals whose function it is to protect their charge. They plan his trips, preparing the safest route to travel; they literally watch over his every moment of public exposure, insuring that no one can get close to inflict harm on him. Another, more select, group of security people are trained not only in protection, but also to be prepared to go one step further. Their function is to protect the head of state even with their own lives, if necessary. They must literally throw themselves down upon their charge, protecting him with their own bodies, willing to absorb or deflect whatever harm might be coming his way.
On one occasion, two such elite agents slacked off in their responsibility. An attempt was made upon the life of their charge and they did not literally throw themselves upon his body. Consequently, he was seriously wounded. They were brought before the magistrate for their breach of duty. The prosecutor sought to punish them with life imprisonment. After all, they had not protected their leader.
The defense attorney arose and delivered a moving speech before the jury. He described how the two defendants really did nothing different than the other members of the security force. When the assailant came forth from the crowd, intent upon shooting the President, no one else came forward to cover him with their own body. Why should they be singled out for guilt? These two men had devoted many years of exemplary service to their leader. Should they be held liable for not covering the President with their own bodies? They behaved no differently than any of the other security forces assembled at the time.
The words of the defense attorney made sense. The jury deliberated for a short while before returning their verdict. To everyone's shock and dismay, they found the defendants overwhelmingly guilty. Why? Had not the defense attorney shown in his brilliant argument that the two defendants had done nothing different than the other members of the security force? Why should they receive such a stiff punishment? The answer is obvious. Indeed, the others had not shielded the President with their bodies, but that had not been their assignment. They were to remain in the outer periphery searching, on guard for anyone who might harm their leader. The two defendants, however, had the responsibility to shield the President, to throw themselves upon him, to give up their lives, if necessary, to protect their leader. They failed in their responsibility; they erred in executing their mission. Those who have more demanding responsibilities will be appropriately punished for neglecting to perform accordingly.
Moshe and Aharon were alike. They were enjoined to "protect" the Name of Hashem. Nothing, no incursion against the sanctity or integrity of Hashem's Name, could be tolerated. They were literally to "shield" the Almighty with their own bodies. They erred. On a single occasion, they acted in a manner unbecoming their lofty position. They could have been mekadesh Shem Shomayim, sanctified Hashem's Name to a greater degree, and they did not. They did not accede to their unique responsibility. A person is judged in accordance with his responsibility in life. Doing half a job is not sufficient for one who must always perform to a one-hundred percent level. The margin for error does not apply to individuals of the calibre of Moshe and Aharon.
QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
1. a. Does Hashem reward the wicked for the good deeds they perform?
b. From which pasuk is this derived?
2. To which generations is the pasuk, "Understand the years of generation after generation," (32:7) referring?
3. To which Navi does the name "Avi" refer?
4. Where do we see Yehoshua's incredible modesty?
5. Which three events occurred "b'etzem hayom hazeh?"
6. Whose death did Moshe Rabbeinu envy?
1. a. Yes
b. "Kel Emunah V'ein Avel," "a G-d of faith without iniquity" (32:4)
2. The generations of Enosh and the Flood.
3. Eliyahu Hanavi.
4. Although Yehoshua was promoted to leadership over Klal Yisrael, the Torah still refers to him as "Hoshea." (32:44)
5. 1. Noach entered the Tevah. 2. Yetzias Mitzrayim. 3. Moshe Rabbeinu was niftar.
6. Aharon HaKohen.
in loving memory of my mother
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