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"It will be when you enter the land... and you shall take of the first fruit of the ground." (26:1,2)
The parsha begins with the laws of Bikkurim. It is juxtaposed upon the previous parsha of Amalek, in which we are enjoined to blot out forever the name of our archenemy, Amalek. Is there a relationship between these two parshios? Can we glean a message from the juxtaposition? Horav Avraham Weinberg, zl, who distinguished himself as a student of the Avnei Nezer, posits that there is a serious connection between the two. In fact, Amalek battled to destroy the basic doctrine of Bikkurim.
What is the message of Bikkurim? In order to answer this basic question, Horav Weinberg addresses the reason that a ger, convert, brings Bikkurim but does not recite the accompanying ritual. This same halachah applies to one who owns a tree, but does not own land. The Torah says that in both of these cases it would appear false for him to say the ritual (hzjn treaf). Why can he not read the words, just as someone who is reading from the Torah?
Horav Weinberg responds that to permit either of these two individuals to recite the Bikkurim ritual would undermine the underlying motif of Bikkurim. Upon bringing Bikkurim, one affirms his belief in the premise that man's "raison d'etre" on this world is to serve Hashem, to be a source of nachas to Him. Although he is currently involved in mundane earthly matters, such as preparing the earth, raising and harvesting crops, his soul is bound up in the opportunity to perform the mitzvos hatluyos ba'aretz, that are connected to the land. Thus, he is able to raise the most mundane endeavor to sublime spiritual heights.
The concept that one can serve Hashem even from the material perspective is entirely Jewish. Amalek is willing to "accept" that the members of Klal Yisrael can surround themselves in a spiritual utopia, encompassed by the Pillar of Cloud, sustained by the manna. Amalek can understand that Klal Yisrael is encamped in close proximity to the Mishkan in order to devote themselves entirely to avodas ha'kodesh, holy endeavor. To raise gashmius, materialism, to a level of ruchnius, spirituality, to literally have a "sulam mutzav artzah, v'rosho magia ha'shomaymah," ladder standing on earth with its summit reaching Heavenward, seemed an impossibility.
This is the essence of Amalek's relentless war with Am Yisrael. Whenever we attempt to consecrate the material, to sanctify the mundane and physical, Amalek is present, prepared to denigrate our every action. Amalek is the symbol of sheker, falsehood, and will, therefore, ferret out any vestige of insincerity in his quest to prevent our triumph over the olam ha'gashmi, world of materialism. Yaakov/Am Yisrael is the symbol of emes, truth. We must continue to demand that every aspect of our mitzvah observance be the paragon of veracity.
Thus, an individual who does not own land -- or the convert who is not in the position to claim that this is "the land of our fathers" -- should not recite the ritual, since it does not appear completely accurate. This slight suspicion of deceit gives Amalek a foothold in the mitzvah and renders it inacceptable.
"It shall be that when you cross the Yarden you shall erect these stones..." (27:4)The two mountains clearly symbolize the concept of life and death, good and evil, for the people. Har Gerizim in full bloom, the symbol of viridity and life, stood in stark contrast to the barren peak of Har Eival, the symbol of desolation and death. The tribes were split into two groups, each taking its position on one of the mountains. The tribes listened to the choices, the blessings and curses, the consequences of good and evil. The people's acceptance and affirmation of Hashem's doctrine was, essentially, a renewal of their acceptance of the Torah on Har Sinai.
Horav Eli Munk, zl, distinguishes between the settings of the new covenant and the original circumstances surrounding the giving of the Torah. Now the people were told to stand upon the mountain, as opposed to Har Sinai at which they were told to stand at the foot of the mountain. Rather than accept the law passively, they could now express their sense of conviction confidently, declaring their unshakable resolution to upholding the Torah. They now accepted the Torah actively and were prepared to transmit it to others.
This approach, claims Horav Munk, is the manner of acceptance which every Jew should emulate. We begin by receiving the Torah and inculcating it within ourselves -- until that point at which we are prepared to reach out to others, to teach, guide, inspire, and enrich the lives of the next generation. This is the process of mesorah, transmitting the tradition from generation to generation. It is not sufficient for one to remain passive in his acceptance of Torah doctrine. He should go forth, take the initiative and reach out to others. By doing so, every individual Jew expresses his faith in Hashem.
"And you do not turn away... right or left to follow gods of others and to worship them." (28:14)There seems to be an inconsistency in the Torah's text. The pasuk begins by admonishing us not to turn away from Hashem ever so slightly to the right or to the left. Immediately following this statement, the Torah concludes its admonition by saying "to follow gods of others." To whom are we referring? All that these individuals did was to turn "aside" briefly and indulge themselves. Is this considered full-blown idol-worship?
Sforno interprets "to follow gods of others" as being a reference to one who performs mitzvos by rote, out of habit, or as a response to peer pressure. He worships Hashem and performs mitzvos because that is what his father did. He has no feelings of his own, either because he does not care or because he simply does not know. Complacency in mitzvah observance, claims Sforno, is tantamount to rebellion against Hashem. It only takes one small slight turn in either direction, one bit of insensitivity towards the manner in which we serve Hashem, to create the perception of idol-worship!
To serve Hashem is to have conviction and demonstrate commitment at all times. To obey when it is convenient, to observe when it is in vogue, is not the manner in which we serve Hashem. Avodas Hashem is an endeavor that should be carried out with enthusiasm and excitement as befits the Melech Malchei Ha'melachim.
"And you will grope at midday, as a blind man gropes in the darkness." (28:29)In the Talmud Megillah 24b Chazal offer a profound insight into this pasuk. They question whether a blind man discerns day from night. They recount that Rabbi Yosi had an experience that provided him with an answer to this question. He once met a blind man walking in the dark, holding a torch. "Of what use is the torch to you?" asked Rabbi Yosi of the blind man. He replied, "When the torch is in my hand, people see me and keep me from falling into the pits." Rabbi Yosi then understood the pasuk's message. It predicts a time when people will walk around like blind men at night, stumbling, because no one can see to help them avoid the obstacles.
Moshe shares with the people the tragic punishment that awaits those who rebel against the Torah. He presents an image of a blind man who is groping helplessly in the dark. He now suffers doubly from his own helplessness, as well as from the lack of a companion to ease his plight.
Indeed, this has been the lot of the Jew throughout time immemorial. He has been subjected to the most inhuman and bestial persecution, where no one in the "free-world" surfaced to ease his plight. We have only to look back a short time to the European Holocaust, in which six million Jews were slaughtered while a world remained silent. The Jew has suffered throughout the ages in darkness. He has stood alone, groping, reaching out for someone to help, someone to hold on to, but as usual - they had all disappeared.
We were locked away in the dirty ghettos, isolated from a world which did not care. Even when we cried out, when our screams of pain and torture wrent the stillness of the night, the world simply did not heed. This was the fulfillment of the curse - no one would care. Even today there are those who would revise history; to extinguish our torch, so that once again our suffering will have been ignored or -- worse -- eradicated from history. This will, regrettably, continue as long as we "deserve" our curse.
There is yet another aspect to the problem. At least in the story, the blind man made every attempt to be seen. What about the Jew who is groping but does not want to be seen? What about the Jew who has assimilated his religion so that he does not stand out as a "blind man"? Nothing is as pathetic as the individual who is challenged but refuses to acknowledge it. The internal problem of the assimilated Jew presents a new type of "blind man" - one who does not want to be seen. It is one thing if our enemies refuse to look at our plight; it is completely another situation if we seek to delude ourselves by ignoring the problem. The torch is our Torah, our banner which we must vigilantly cherish in order to retain that ability to transmit it to our successors.
"You will go mad from the sight of your eyes that you will see." (28:33)Rav Akiva Eiger, zl, interprets "your eyes," as alluding to the "eyes" of the nation, the spiritual leadership of Klal Yisrael. Hence, the curse is that we will be dumbfounded by the behavior and the rhetoric which will emanate from some of our people's own leadership. The mar'ei einecha, image, presented by these "leaders" will be humiliating and degrading. They will act in a manner unbecoming a Torah Jew, let alone a spiritual leader. This is our thrice daily prayer to Hashem "Return (to us) our judges as before," we pray to Hashem that our leaders be worthy of their role, that we will be blessed with the calibre of leadership which was the standard years ago.
This is the meaning of our daily tefillah, "And light up our eyes with your Torah," we implore Hashem to give guidance to open the 'eyes' of our leaders with His Torah. Perhaps if these misguided, self proclaimed spokesmen for Orthodox Jewry would be enlightened by studying Torah, they would be more discerning when rendering baseless halachic decisions and injudicious advice.
"Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant." (28:47)The Torah emphasizes that the underlying reason Klal Yisrael fell prey to the many curses that Moshe enumerated was their lack of joy in mitzvah observance. This is enigmatic! Imagine that one is careful to observe the mitzvos, even punctilious in their observance. Yet, if he lacks "gladness of heart" in performing the mitzvos, he might be subjected to terrible curses. Is this right?
Horav M.D. Soloveitchik, Shlita, distinguishes between two types of sin. The first is represented by the sinner who transgresses and is remorseful about it. He is aware that he did something wrong, that he fell into the clutches of the yetzer hora, evil inclination. In such a case,we hope that he will one day repent his sins and return to Hashem. Unfortunately, a second type is represented by the sinner who is really not concerned with his actions. He does not view his deeds as iniquitous. Indeed, he even "feels good" about what he has done. Such an individual has fallen into an abyss that offers very little hope for his return.
With the above in mind, Horav Soloveitchik presents a homiletic rendering of the pasuk. "Because you did not serve Hashem your G-d," - How was this lack of service manifest? In what manner was the sin executed? "With gladness and goodness of heart." There was joy implicit in your transgression. Because it meant nothing to you that you sinned against Hashem, you have created a situation in which hope for teshuvah, repentance, is not realistic. Thus, the curses will befall you. Even in iniquity there is hope, as long as the sinner is remorseful.
In the sixth of the Haftaros of consolation, the Navi speaks of a future which will be glorious and full of joy. Yerushalayim, the mother city that was once bereft of its inhabitants, will now stand proud as its "children" return. The nations of the world will seek to pay homage to the returning exiler. Suddenly, the persecutions of the past will be forgotten, the sorrow that was so much a part of our history will yield to our everlasting joy. From Yerushalayim will go forth a blaze of eternal light that will shine throughout the world as it clears the way for those who seek to return. May we merit the advent of that glorious day!
"Like a cloud they flew away, but like doves to the dovecotes (they will return)." (60:8)
Horav Mendel Hirsch, zl, explains the distinction between a cloud and a dove. The cloud that passes away does not return - ever; the dove always finds it way back to the dovecote, regardless of the distance. When Klal Yisrael originally left, it appeared to be like a passing cloud -never to return. Now it seems, however, only to have been the flight of the dove. Klal Yisrael has not forgotten the way home, regardless of the distance, place and time.
We suggest another approach towards understanding the analogy. Once a cloud moves on, it blends into the sky as it dissipates with time. Not so the dove; it remains distinct wherever it travels. Klal Yisrael had tried to assimilate, to blend in with the "scenery." It did not work. The unique combination of traits which make up the character of a Jew has always distinguished him. Consequently, alienated members of Klal Yisrael will return to their heritage.
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