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Parshas Ki Teitzei
When you go out to war against your enemies… And you will see among the captivity a maiden who is beautiful of form… If a man will have two wives, one beloved and one hated… A man will have a wayward and rebellious son…(21:10,15,18)
This pasuk presents three perspectives: the "yefas toar", the beautiful woman who arouses the soldier's desire; the two wives, one beloved and one hated; the wayward and rebellious son. They are all linked to one another. Rashi explains that the juxtaposition of these laws upon one another teaches us an important lesson. An improper lust for a beautiful gentile catalyzes a chain reaction leading to one tragedy after another. We should learn from here that if an endeavor is not right, it will ultimately not provide any benefit. The Torah permits this particular relationship only as an avenue for the lustful soldier to cool his passion, to prevent him from acting inappropriately. Hashem has provided an outlet for the soldier who is away from home, under incredible duress; it is, however, only an outlet, a heter, dispensation, for a specific reason. In the end, one must realize that good cannot emerge from bad.
In Parashas Shelach, we read about the meraglim, spies, who went to Eretz Yisrael presumably to search out the land, only to return slandering the land and Klal Yisrael's leadership. Their disparaging remarks incited a rebellion against Moshe and Aharon, so that the people questioned the Almighty's "ability" to take them into Eretz Yisrael. Indeed, that night was to become a dark night in Jewish history. How did it all begin? The people sought to be like everybody else, to send spies to investigate the land which they were on the verge of conquering. Hashem did not lightly accept this seemingly innocuous request. He understood their true intentions. Yet, He told Moshe to send spies; sometimes it is necessary to yield to people in order to give them the opportunity to do what they want. Such acquiescence may enable them to see that they are wrong. Once again, what seemed to have been right resulted in tragedy. Good cannot come from bad.
We look for excuses to justify our actions. We ignore the warning signs in relationships that should be vilified, only to see them end in discord and tragedy. If something is not right, it cannot be justified; it will not produce a healthy result. Love does not conquer all. It does not rise above the Torah's laws. For those who think that it does, they have only to wait to see the consequences of their actions.
You shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep or goat cast off…You shall surely return them to your brother. So shall you do for any lost article of your brother… You shall not hide yourself. (22:1,3)
One is forbidden to ignore the opportunity to help protect a fellow Jew from financial loss. The word "v'hisalamta," "and hide yourself," is appropriate in distinguishing different types of nature. One would never hurt someone - willingly. To hide oneself, to turn away one's eyes as if he does not see his friend's plight, has different meanings to different people. The Torah does not think so. The Torah understands human nature. Too often we do "not see" the poor man; are not aware of the senior citizen who is cooped up at home - alone, secluded from non-caring family and friends; just "forget" about the widow and her family; or overlook the boy or girl who is undergoing a family crisis at home. We would never knowingly, intentionally, hurt someone - but what we do not know does not seem to distress us. The Torah responds to this type of selective perception, saying, "You shall not hide yourself".
Horav Akiva Eiger, zl, offered a homiletic rendering of the pasuk in conjunction with another pasuk that contains a similar word. The story is told that when Rav Eigar came to Warsaw for a rabbinic function, he was welcomed by thousands of Jews from that community. The honor accorded the pre-imminent Torah scholar of his generation was truly magnificent. After the gaon attended to his business, he announced that he wanted to travel to a small village, a suburb of Warsaw, to visit with a cousin that he had not seen in many years. When he arrived at his cousin's home, he was greeted warmly, although the family was living amidst abject poverty. After a while, he returned to Warsaw. One of his students asked: why had he gone to the great trouble to visit his cousin. Why did he not wait for the cousin to come visit him instead? After all, it was more than a simple inconvenience for a man of his stature to take the time and trouble to make such a trip.
Rav Akiva Eiger responded by first citing the pasuk that admonishes one against ignoring a lost article: "Lo suchal l'hisalem," "you may not ignore it". In the Talmud Bava Metzia 30, Chazal derive that there are times when one may look away and ignore the lost item. For example, if he is a Torah scholar for whom carrying this lost item in public would be a humiliating experience, he is exempt from picking it up. There is another pasuk in Yeshaya 58:7 in which the Navi exhorts us not to ignore our flesh and blood relatives: "Umibsarcha lo sisalem," "And do not ignore your flesh (relatives)."
Interestingly, regarding this pasuk, Chazal do not include an exemption for a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, as they do for returning a lost article. The same terminology is present, but different halachos are rendered. Regarding concern for a relative, one may not look away - even if confronting the people is humiliating. This is why Rav Akiva Eiger took the time and made the effort to visit his poor cousin.
While this is a beautiful lesson that applies to relatives, it should be relevant to all people. Why would we want to ignore someone just because they do not fit into our social sphere? Perhaps if we were on the receiving end of the humiliation, our attitude might be somewhat different.
In his Shaarei Teshuvah, Rabbeinu Yona writes that the mitzvah of "lo suchal l'hisalem" exhorts us not to ignore our friend's material needs. He adds that every community should have individuals who focus specifically upon the material and emotional needs of its members, who stand ready to offer assistance as soon as it is needed. We must search for opportunities to help others.
Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, notes that in the sequence of pesukim addressing the needs of the person whose animal is lost, the word "achicha," "your brother," is mentioned five times. Also, the Torah's choice of phrases is somewhat enigmatic. Rather than state, "you should not," it says, "lo suchal," which actually means, "you are not able to". How is not "being allowed" connected to not "being able"? Horav Solomon explains that concerning a brother one must do, he must help - regardless of his excuses, he simply cannot ignore a brother. So, too, should our relationship be with every Jew. We help everyone, because they are all our brothers. Simply put, to use the Yiddish vernacular, "es lost zich nisht," it does not lend itself to ignoring our fellow Jews' plight. We just cannot justify our lack of tolerance for a fellow Jew. The mitzvah of "lo suchal" is actually the Torah's enjoinment regarding "achvah," brotherhood. It teaches us the true meaning of brotherhood, as well as the ramifications.
The Shelah Ha'kadosh makes a profound statement. He questions the Torah's use of the word "hashavah," return, as opposed to the more common word, "chazarah," which has the same meaning. He suggests that the reference here is not only to material possessions, but also to one's spiritual level. It is incumbent upon us to care about a fellow Jew's spiritual level. We must not ignore those Jews who are alienated from Torah either by choice or by lack of exposure. We must bring them back. Hence, the Torah utilizes the word "hashavah," as in "teshuvah." It is our moral obligation to see to it that those Jews who have not yet become baalei teshuvah do so. To paraphrase Horav Solomon, " There is no greater demonstration of "achavah," brotherhood, than to concern oneself with his brother who is estranged from Torah."
An Ammonite and a Moavite may not enter into the congregation of Hashem. (23:4)
Rarely do we find a punishment that is so "final" as the prohibition from accepting a member of the nations of Ammon or Moav into Klal Yisrael. Every other gentile who is able to recognize the superiority of Klal Yisrael is accepted for geirus, conversion, if he is sincere and worthy. Everyone, except Ammon or Moav. Two cousins, Lot's sons, Avraham Avinu's nephews, are the only ones who are excluded - forever. Why? The Torah gives two reasons: First, they did not welcome us into their land with bread and water; second, they hired Bilaam to curse and lead us to sin and destruction. These are two interesting reasons, which are apparently extremely disparate from one another. One reason reprimands their lack of chesed, kindness. The other reason accuses them of attempted physical and spiritual destruction. Is there some relationship between the two?
The Dubno Maggid, zl, points out a practical link between the two. If Ammon and Moav were to attribute their lack of human decency to financial difficulty, if they had asserted they could not sustain such a large nation, we would ask them how they were able to procure the necessary funds to hire Bilaam. Certainly a prophet represented a financial burden. Obviously, they had fiscal priorities, and "being nice" to the Jews was not one of them. The fact that they hired Bilaam cast aspersion on them, highlighting their lack of kindness.
We have to ask ourselves: "Are we that different?" Is our attitude towards tzedakah or the support of our educational/spiritual institutions significantly different from Bnei Ammon and Moav? Is it not somewhat "strange" that we claim poverty when our educational/spiritual institutions are concerned, but when it comes to those areas removed from spirituality we suddenly seem to have money available? Time is another area of double standard. How often do we claim to have no time to attend a shiur, attend a meeting for a Torah cause, perform acts of loving kindness, but when it comes to attending a sports event, or becoming involved in an endeavor that will promote self gratification, we find the time? Obviously, human nature has not changed very much over the millennia. There is only one difference - They, at least, were pagans. How do we justify ourselves?
Remember what Amalek did to you. (25:17)
In our present galus, exile, surrounded by a world of gentiles, we really would be forbidden to perform the mitzvah of destroying Amalek - even if we could determine clearly who was Amalek. Why then does the Torah enjoin us to remember what Amalek did to us? Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, offers a practical, but profound, response. This mitzvah reminds us that it is conceivable for anyone to sink to such a nadir of depravity as Amalek. Anyone can become so evil that, although he clearly sees the Hand of Hashem guiding the world, he has the audacity to deny the Creator's existence. Amalek saw Krias Yam Suf, the splitting of the Red Sea, but he continued to be Amalek. He was aware of the many miracles that Klal Yisrael experienced, but he remained Amalek. He was willing to risk his life just to hurt Klal Yisrael. Chazal compare him to one who jumps into a scalding bath, thereby cooling the water so that others can now take the plunge. Nothing deterred Amalek, so great was his hatred. So degenerate was his evil that nothing held him back from attacking the Jews.
It could happen to us. Regardless of an individual's spiritual achievements, one can falter. He can be tricked by the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, into committing the most heinous sins. Remembering what Amalek did to us reminds us of how low a human being can fall. Not only must we distrust our ability to persist in mitzvah performance but we must also continually be on guard for even the most serious sins. When Chazal in Meseches Avos 2:5 admonish us, "Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death," they evidently had clear perceptions of human nature.
We suggest an alternative message to be gleaned from this pasuk: We are able to remember what Amalek did to us. It is unfortunate that so many of our brethren tend to divorce themselves from the evil that has been wrought against us by the sonei Yisrael, anti-Semites, who stop at nothing to destroy us. They think "er meint yenem," he means someone else - not them. What occurred thousands of years ago was an isolated case, which has no bearing on contemporary times. That is their first mistake. Amalek's outrage happened also to us. We must remember this lesson.
Horav Yosef Siegel, zl, who was a rav in Chicago many years ago, explains that Amalek attempted to do something else when he attacked us. He sought to put us down, to destroy our self-image. We had just been released from Egypt, a place where we had been treated lower than the lowest slave. We had been beaten and starved, persecuted and killed, and finally liberated. We were proud; we were enthusiastic; we were excited to be free people. We were human beings once again - until Amalek appeared. His goal was to destroy our feeling of self-esteem, our self-confidence. He was going to shatter our conception of pride. He almost succeeded then and His "descendants" are continuing his work until this very day. We are to remember this evil and its objective, so that it will not affect our sense of self-worth. We cannot permit Amalek to complete his diabolical plan in our day.
QUESTIONS and ANSWERS:
1) Are we permitted to take captives from the seven nations?
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