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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Chazal’

Face To Face With Miracles

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Our sages teach us that when we have left this life and face the Court on High, we will be called upon to answer for our lives. Among the questions we will be asked is, “Did you throughout your lifetime eagerly await and anticipate the geulah, the ultimate redemption?”

This is a deceptively difficult question. On the one hand, the answer seems self-evident. Of course we awaited that glorious time of redemption. How could we not? The travails of our lives and the lives of Jews everywhere have kept our thoughts on the coming Messiah, on the coming redemption. And yet, if we are truly honest, have we, with all of life’s day-to-day distractions, pressures and mundane preoccupations really, fully, eagerly awaited and anticipated redemption?

We have been distracted by our lives. We cannot help but be. As Jews we are aware that we have been created both flesh and soul, of heaven and of the earth. Our thoughts by virtue of our creation must be focused on both redemption and the world. As such, the question is impossible for us to answer in the affirmative.

But we will be asked. So, perhaps, the challenge is not in how we must answer but in how the question is phrased.

Perhaps it will be, when that awesome day comes, that the question will be asked, “Was there a day, an event, a moment, when you felt that redemption was at hand; that you were actually engaged in the redemptive process, that Mashiach was actually knocking on the door, awaiting entry?

In short, was there a moment when you felt the miraculous?

There are those who proclaim that life is filled with miracles, that if we truly open our eyes we cannot help to see that it is so. To them, miracles abound. But what is it that they mean when they speak of miracles?

Is it a miracle when you are accosted on a street corner only to have a police car “miraculously” drive by at that moment? Is it a miracle when, faced with foreclosure of your home, you win Lotto? Is it a miracle to notice the beauty of a field filled with wild flowers?

Does a miracle depend on the suspension of natural law?

Is it all of these things? None of them?

I would suggest that the thing that makes a miracle (versus a fortuitous confluence of circumstances, i.e. “luck”) is God’s involvement. When God is involved in our lives, not only are we experiencing the miraculous but, by definition, redemption is as close as the beating of our own hearts.

The truth, as our sages have taught, is that God is close by always. Yet even closeness is not always so easy to discern. We can follow God’s commandments, pray fervently, and lead lives of exemplary behavior and yet not feel the closeness of God.

As Jews, our history and tradition have taught us that God indeed engages in our lives. Didn’t He intercede in the lives of the Hebrews, redeeming them from slavery? The challenge for the modern Jew is that we tend to embrace miracles as communal events and most often in the distant past. They happened long, long ago. Sinai comes to mind.

But personal miracles? The modern Jew often dismisses such things. Isn’t embrace of miracles the domain of other religious traditions? Aren’t we more “rational” and “legalistic” in our lives?

The truth is, God engages us all the time and our experience with miracles is not wholly communal nor in the distant past. Miracles animate every aspect of our existence. It is our success or failure to note and embrace these miracles that will provide our answer to that question on High.

Have we experienced redemption? Yes! Once. A hundred times. A thousand times.

More than asking, What is redemption? or, What is a miracle? we might want to ask, What does it mean to have God in our lives, to know the holiness of the Divine touching our everyday lives? To feel as did the Jews at Sinai, who saw the mountain smoking and saw the voices and the flames, who trembled in awe as they responded, “we hear and we act…”?

Gaza’s Greatness And Shimshon’s Struggles

Monday, June 4th, 2012

We often sit through the haftorah without understanding what it is all about. “Why do we read the haftorah anyway?” we sometimes think. Krias HaTorah of the parsha makes sense—we read a portion of the Chumash each week so that over the course of the year we have completed the entire Torah. But what is the goal of reading the haftorah? We know that it is not so we can finish Navi on some kind of schedule. What then is the purpose of the haftorah?

The Levush (284:1) writes that Chazal enacted the obligation to read the haftorah during the time of Antiyochus who forbade reading the Torah in public. As he had not forbidden them from reading the Navi, Chazal instituting reading a portion of the Navi which related to that week’s parsha. They divided it into seven aliyos, like Krias HaTorah, so that Jews would study some aspect of Torah in public and the practice of reading from the Torah should not be totally forgotten. Even after Antiyochus’s decree was annulled, Chazal maintained the practice.

Sefer HaPardes writes that Jews used to learn Chumash and Navi immediately after davening every day, but poverty and people’s work schedules kept them from being able to devote so much time to learning. As a result the study of Navi was neglected. On Shabbosim and Yomim Tovim, when there is more time, Chazal instituted that Navi be studied after the reading of the Chumash. Though Sefer HaPardes does not mention the importance of a link to the parsha, it would seem that in this way people would study it with greater attention and interest.

What then is the goal of the haftorah? According to the Levush and Sefer HaPardes, the purpose is for us to become familiar with the insights and themes contained in Navi. Unfortunately, we don’t always get the opportunity to study and understand the haftorah properly even when we follow the reading closely. Thus, this column is meant to help us understand, learn, and know Navi- and not merely superficially read or listen to the reading.

Lessons The haftorah of Parshas Naso relates the story of the birth of Shimshon the nazir, which obviously relates to the halachos of nazir mentioned in the parsha.

Almost the entire Shimshon story occurs in the area of Eretz Yisrael called Aza, now known as Gaza.

The Tzitz Eliezer (Volume 7, siman 48, perek 12) discusses whether Gaza is including in the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael and is surprised that anyone would have any doubts. He cites a Gemara in Shabbos (145b) where it is taken for granted that Gaza is part of Eretz Yisrael.

“Rav Chiya bar Abba said to Rav Assi, ‘Why are the birds in Bavel fatter [than the ones in Israel]? Rav Assi replied, ‘Come to the desert in Gaza and I’ll show you how fat they are!’”

Rashi explains that the Gemara is clearly affirming Gaza’s status as part of Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, says the Tzitz Eliezer, the halachos of teruma, maaser, shemita and all other agricultural mitzvos relate to Gaza. The atonement one gets by being buried in Eretz Yisrael applies to Gaza, as does the mitzvah of yishuv ha’Aretz.

The Arvei Nachal (Parshas Shelach 26b) explains that successfully conquering the land of Israel does not depend on brute strength or military prowess. Rather, when Hashem created the world, he looked to the Torah as His blueprint. As the Zohar says, “Histakel b’Oraysa u’bara alma.” This means that every single part of this earth was created through an aspect of Torah. In order to take complete and permanent possession over any land, one must first study, relate to, and master the Torah which is specifically tied to that portion of land.

Although this concept is true about the entire world, Eretz Yisrael was given a much more powerful connection to the Torah. Given that the Torah in its highest form can be observed only there, every inch of Eretz Yisrael is securely tied to a specific section of Torah. One needs to master that section of Torah in order to conquer that part of Eretz Yisrael.

In this light, let us discuss what parts of Torah that Gaza profoundly relates to and how Shimshon’s struggles focused on Gaza’s role in Torah.

Shavuot

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Although Megilat Rut is one of the most beautiful stories regarding unadulterated chesed, it also serves as a primer on leadership. After all, its primary purpose is to establish the lineage of King David’s dynasty. Therefore we should expect to glean from it some important leadership lessons. Yet at first blush it would appear more apt to describe it as a book about followership. Rut’s noble commitment to join the Jewish people, despite all the hardships this entailed, is captured in her stirring words (1:16): “To where you will go I will go, where you will sleep I will sleep, your nation is my nation…” These words seem to constitute a declaration of what is termed “followership” more than leadership. However, a recent class trip, with my Yeshivah’s 8th grade, to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis helped clarify matters.

In the gift shop I saw a little book entitled Reef Points. The cashier explained to me that this book is the key book all midshipmen (at the naval academy students are called midshipmen, not cadets) are given upon entering the academy. It includes the principles, procedures and protocols that midshipmen must live by at all times. They literally have to memorize the book. While skimming through the book on the bus I came across the section on principles. One of the principles is “followership.” Strikingly, in a counter-intuitive way, the Navy feels it necessary to instruct its future leaders on the importance of being good followers. In the explanation to followership the book states: “There are several advantages to being a good follower even when you have been made a leader. First, you will never become a leader if you have not been a good follower. No one is going to recommend you for a leadership position if you have been poor at responding to the leadership of others. The most important reason goes back to the second principle. As a leader, you must always set the example” (p.39).

A deeper reason for the necessity of leaders to be good followers is that every leader is part of a greater whole. To be a trustworthy and credible leader one must demonstrate that he can subordinate himself to a greater good and be able to follow orders, instructions and directives. Even leaders at the top of the pyramid must be able to subordinate themselves to the greater goals of the people. Certainly, leaders in a Torah-based society must subordinate themselves to the Torah. Much of the chapter in the Torah describing the appointment of a king focuses on his adherence to the mitzvot. Rut, by exemplifying followership, taught her descendants this very important lesson.

Another attribute of leadership highlighted in both a positive and negative way in the megillah is optimism. A leader must believe that change and success are possible. This does not mean that a leader should be unrealistic and naively imagine the sun is shining on a cloudy day. Rather, a leader must see opportunities in setbacks and encourage his followers to move forward. Regrettably, the midrash describes (Rut Rabbah 1:4) how Elimelech had the means to support many people during the famine, but chose to abandon his leadership position for the plains of Moav, despite the damage this would cause to Bnei Yisrael’s economy and morale. In fact, the Gemara (Bava Batra 91b) points out that another name for Elimelech’s son Machlon was Yoash, which is related to the word despair. Elimelech’s son had to carry an ignominious name that highlighted for everyone the despair his family caused to the nation.

Contrast this behavior with Rut’s. Rut, who Chazal explain was from royal lineage, chose to abandon her comfortable lifestyle to begin anew as a pauper in a strange land. We can only imagine the boost to morale her accompanying Naomi and subsequent joining Bnei Yisrael precipitated. In addition to all her other attributes, Rut became the harbinger of hope and an exemplar of optimistic leadership at its best.

Leaders must also know how to exploit moments of inspiration and convert them into action plans. In his commentary on Megilat Rut, Rav Avigdor Nebenzal underscores the tragedy of Rut’s sister-in-law Orpah, who also had a very real inspirational moment. She too sincerely wanted to accompany Naomi. But unfortunately for Orpah this inspiration lasted for only a mere moment. Rut on the other hand was able to sustain her inspiration and turn it into a life-guiding vision. Rut, it turns out, was not only endowed with the ability of “followership” but with the ability of “follow-upship” as well.

Loving Parking Tickets: Wearing The Right Glasses

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Is it really possible for any self-respecting New Yorker to love parking tickets? I have seen those orange rectangular pieces of paper become the nemesis of society. As a result, those trying to earn a meager living giving out these tickets have become Public Enemy Number One. We view them as “out to get us,” deliberately attempting to make our lives miserable. I have often seen people wearing frowns for hours because of the audacity of the meter maid – or the city at large – to cause them this needless expense and for not respecting their freedom to park their car. I have witnessed people yelling at the top of their lungs, to no avail, at a blue-clad individual who is writing a summons, when it is obvious that their hysteria will not only not prevent the ticket from being written, but is probably not good for their mood or blood pressure (not to mention the unjustified Chillul Hashem they are causing). So how is it possible that these perceived menaces of society could actually be appreciated?

Chazal tell us that patience is one of the best ways to regulate our middos, and help us gain the proper perspective on life. The tefillah of the patient person is accepted—perhaps, as a result of his patience towards others, Hashem is “patient” with him and gives merit to his prayers. Not only are his prayers accepted, but he also gets forgiven for his sins. The Gemara relates that when you forgive others, even when they are not deserving of your forgiveness, then Hashem forgives you even though you may not be worthy of His forgiveness. And as we can all use the gracious forgiveness of the Almighty, it is worth finding a way to give others a pass for their indiscretions.

Additionally, one who remains silent when he is attacked gives existence to the world; by remaining silent, he is reducing the interpersonal conflict and conflagration that can destroy the world at large – and the peace of our individual worlds. YES, it is very hard to stay in control when we are attacked, but if we make the effort to restrain ourselves, we are given siyatta d’Shmaya (Divine assistance). Furthermore, refraining from responding – even when it may be allowed and justified – allows us to access the greatest heavenly blessings of forgiveness and goodness. The reward is immense for an act that is difficult, yet takes only a few seconds to accomplish.

The Gemara relates (Rosh Hashanah 17) that Rav Huna was very sick, to the point that the other Sages thought he would die, and requested that his shrouds and coffin be prepared. In the end, however, his life was spared. Rav Huna explained that he was granted life because he did not stand on ceremony and defend his honor. He showed patience and respect for others; in return, he was granted a miraculous recovery. Is it not worth a long life to keep it quiet at difficult moments?

There is a well-known story of a couple that had been childless for 20 years and went to a Gadol for a bracha. The rav told them that they should seek a blessing from someone who does not respond to insult; such a person is clean of sin and eligible for miraculous life—in this case, in the form of a child for the childless couple. At a wedding the following week, the couple observed as someone remained silent as insults were being heaped upon him. As per the rav’s suggestion, they requested a blessing from this righteous person. Within the year, the blessing was fulfilled; after two decades, they were finally parents.

The enormous restraint and patience on the part of the man who was being insulted resulted in the fulfillment of a blessing, of miraculous life. The magnitude of exhibiting self-control in the face of humiliation has rewards beyond comprehension.

Traditional advice to the newlywed is to refrain from going to sleep while in a state of anger at one’s spouse. When you go to sleep while the marriage is not in balance, it demonstrates a lack of regard for harmony, for how could you sleep in such a state? Additionally, by allowing the anger to remain and simmer, it becomes internalized; you become an angry person. At the beginnings of a dispute it may be simpler to retreat and prevent conflict. As time goes on, however, each party may ruminate about the incident until they are each able to view it in a way whereby each one believes that he/she is 100% correct. A moment of patient forgiveness, a moment of “letting things slide,” is the building block of both harmony and personal strength. The Gemara (Megillah 28) relates that Rav Zeira was asked why he merited a long life. He responded that he was not makpid in his house – he was forgiving and did not stand on ceremony with his loved ones. Thus, anger management and self-control have direct effects on our physical and spiritual planes of existence.

The Merit Of Living In Israel

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

“And Yaakov became very frightened, and it caused him much pain, and he split the nation that was with him, as well as the sheep, the cattle and the camels, into two camps.” – Bereishis 32:7

Yaakov Avinu received word that his brother Eisav was coming to greet him. He understood fully well that this was not to be a warm family reunion. Eisav came accompanied by a band of four hundred armed men, bent on revenge. The Torah says Yaakov was “very frightened,” so he prepared for war.

The Rishonim are bothered by why Yaakov would fear Eisav. After all, Hashem had promised to return him to his father’s house in peace. Throughout the many years, Hashem was right there protecting him, guarding him, keeping the promise. Why should he now fear a mere mortal?

The Dos Zakainim answers that Yaakov was afraid of the “zechus of Eretz Yisrael.” For the past twenty years, Eisav had been living in Eretz Yisrael while Yaakov had not. Therefore, Yaakov was afraid that if he engaged in mortal combat with Eisav, that particular merit might win the day for him, and Yaakov might die in battle.

This Dos Zakainim is difficult to understand on a number of levels. First, Yaakov wasn’t in Eretz Yisrael not because he had abandoned the land but because he fled from Eisav. He spent the first fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem, and then he worked for Lavan.

But even more pointedly, what possible merit could Eisav have from living in Eretz Yisrael? He wasn’t practicing Torah and mitzvos. Quite the opposite; he was a rasha. His entire existence was focused against holiness. Eretz Yisrael is a land that has an enormous amount of kedushah and cannot tolerate wickedness; it is highly sensitive to tumah. Eisav’s very presence in the land should have been intolerable. The land should have desired to throw him out. So what type of merit could he have from being in the land? It would seem the opposite. His many years of defiling that holy land should work against him, not for him.

The answer to this question can best be understood with a perspective on capitalism.

The Contribution of the Private Sector

If a man owns a successful small business he might do a million dollars a year in sales. But that is the gross revenue, not the amount he takes home. As a rule in business, 15 percent of revenues is a reasonable profit margin. So, if his mark-ups are strong and his expenses are in line, he might bring in a net profit of $150,000. Some 85 percent of the monies he earns go to expenses. And this illustrates an interesting phenomenon. While his only motivation may have been to earn a living for himself, he is providing a substantial gain to those he does business with. In this scenario, $850,000 of his efforts are going to vendors, suppliers, and employees. And while it may not at all be his intention, he is making a substantial contribution to the economy as a whole.

In the same sense, Eisav was engaged in the building of Eretz Yisrael. While his interests may have been strictly his own, he maintained sheep, owned fields, hired workmen and built fences. His efforts directly benefited the land. It was cultivated and improved because of him. And this was Eretz Yisrael, the land Hashem chose as the site for the Jewish people to settle, the home of the eventual Bais HaMikdash. Its very ground is holy. While he may not have been a credit to the land, and may not even have felt an attachment to it, because of him the land was built up – and that is a great merit.

Yaakov did not in any sense think Eisav had more merit than he did as a person. He was well aware of the different lives they led. But Yaakov understood that Eisav had a tremendous zechus: he was responsible for building the land, and because of this Yaakov was afraid. In times of danger, a particular merit can stand up for a person, and that can change the outcome of a confrontation.

We Don’t Belong Here

This concept is very relevant in our lives. While we patiently wait for the imminent coming of Mashiach, one of the concepts that must be in the forefront of our minds is that we are in a foreign country. We don’t belong in chutz l’aretz. It isn’t our home. While the United States is one of the most benevolent lands we have ever resided in, a Jew doesn’t belong in Brooklyn.

A Jew belongs in his homeland, in Eretz Yisrael. Hashem invested very different properties into the land of Israel. It is a land steeped in holiness, and when a Jew lives there it is much easier to experience Hashem, much easier to reach perfection.

Rav Yosef Hochgelanter

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Rav Yosef Hochgelanter, the rav of the city of Zamushet, where Rav Akiva Eiger received his early training while still a young boy, was a great scholar and the author of Mishnas Chachamim. At the time he was chosen to be rav of the city he was the son-in-law of a very wealthy man who was very generous with his support.

Because he had no need of money, Rav Yosef insisted that he would only take the position on condition that he not be paid a salary. Oddly enough, however, he did insist on the implementation of one particular custom. For many years it had been the rule in the city that all the butchers had to supply the rav with a set amount of meat each week. Rav Yosef was particularly adamant about the butchers’ faithful fulfillment of their obligation.

Wife Surprised

Rav Yosef’s wife could not understand why her husband was so insistent on this point. “Tell me, my husband,” she asked, “Why is it that when it comes to a salary you absolutely refuse to accept money, a decision that I fully agree with, since we have no need of it. When it comes to the butchers’ quota of meat, however, you are adamant and insist that they pay it. Why is this so?”

“It is not for myself that I insist on this meat, my wife. Thank G-d we have enough money to support ourselves and have no need of the meat.

“What, however, will be the situation if the rav who follows me is a poor man? If the butchers get into the habit of disregarding their obligation because I do not insist, they will cause the poor rav to suffer terribly.”

The Seder Meal

It was this Rav Yosef who recognized quite early that his young student, Shlomo Kluger, would grow to be a giant of Torah in Israel.

Because of this, he took great pains to encourage and show warmth to his young student. It was the custom of the rav, each Pesach, to invite the best of the students to his home to participate in the Seder. Young Shlomo was also invited to attend.

As the evening progressed and the Haggadah was read, they reached the part that told of the four sons – the clever, the wicked, the simple and the one incapable of asking. One of the students turned to Rav Yosef and asked:

“Why does the Haggadah call one of the sons’ ‘wise’ and the other ‘wicked’? After all, what is the difference between them? The Haggadah says that the wicked son ‘took himself out of the general congregation of Israel since he asked: ‘What is the meaning of the service to you?’ If we look carefully, however, we will notice that the wise son also used this language when he asks: ‘what are the witnesses and commandments and law that the L-rd our G-d commanded you?’ After all, does the wise son not take himself out of the general congregation when he used the term ‘you’ instead of ‘us’”.

The Answer

Rav Yosef, who was expert in the Rambam, immediately answered that according to the Rambam, the version that we have in our Haggadah is, indeed, incorrect and that the correct version is that instead of ‘you’ the wise son says ‘us.’ “We see, therefore, that there is a very great difference between what the wise son and the wicked son said,” the rav concluded.

When Rav Yosef finished, young Shlomo shyly said: “If I may be permitted to add something, I believe that there is an additional difference between the two sons, even using the version that is found in our Haggadah.”

All those assembled looked to the young Shlomo to see what he had to add to the conversation. In a soft and low voice, the young scholar said: “If we look carefully we see that while the wicked son never once uses the name of the Almighty, the wise son does say that ‘the L-rd our G-d commanded.’”

As Rav Yosef nodded in satisfaction, Shlomo continued: “A similar difference is found, I believe, in the very first chapter of the Torah in the story of the creation of light and darkness. It says there: ‘And G-d called the light day, and the darkness He called night.’

“Note that in the description of the light the name of G-d is mentioned whereas in the phrase that mentions the darkness, the Holy Name is not.

“It appears to me that this is the reason that Chazal say: ‘and G-d called the light, day – these are the deeds of the righteous, whereas the darkness in the verse refers to the deeds of the wicked.’ The meaning of Chazal is that it is the custom of the righteous to always speak with G-d on their lips, unlike the wicked.”

A True Commitment

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

In the vernacular of our sages and in our prayers, Pesach is titled, “Z’man chayrusaynu- Time of our freedom.” Although we did attain freedom at the time of our redemption from Egypt, titling the holiday as such doesn’t seem to encapsulate the root of the holiday’s greatness.

Egypt was the superpower of the ancient world from which no slave ever escaped. Yet the entire Jewish nation marched out of the country unhindered. Therefore the greatness of Pesach is that it is the time of our miraculous salvation and redemption. Freedom was indeed the desired outcome of the exodus, however, to say that Pesach is merely the “time of freedom” seems to omit the whole miracle of redemption, plagues and all.

Furthermore, Chazal state, “There is no truly free person other than one who immerses himself in Torah study” (Avos 6:2). If so, true freedom could only be attained on Shavuos, the anniversary of our receiving the Torah. If so, why is Pesach called “the time of freedom”?

In 1775, seventy soldiers of the Patriot army (known as the Minutemen) crossed paths with the six hundred or so British soldiers, who were en route to Concord, in Lexington (sixteen miles from Boston). To this day it is not known who fired first, but “the shot that was heard around the world” was fired, marking the commencement of America’s War of Independence.

On July 4th, 1776 the thirteen colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, which records the colonists’ rationalization and justification for proclaiming their independence from England. “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness… that to secure these rights Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed… that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”

It wasn’t until 1781 however, when the British General, Lord Cornwallis, surrendered to Patriot General George Washington at the conclusion of the Battle of Yorktown, that American independence was truly achieved.

Any good American citizen knows that Independence Day is celebrated on July 4th, the anniversary of the completion of the Declaration of Independence. What is the logic behind that? It was the signing of the Declaration of Independence that actually placed the colonists in perilous danger. When the British were informed of the Declaration, they seethed with anger, deepening their enmity for the colonists. The Declaration placed the colonists in a situation of “no return.” Their only option now was to fight for their survival. Wouldn’t it be more logical for American independence to be commemorated on the anniversary of the victory at Yorktown? (Does anyone even know the anniversary of the victory at the Battle of Yorktown?)

The answer is that while the colonists did not attain true independence until the Battle of Yorktown, the Declaration of Independence was their proclamation of freedom. It heralded to the world that they were willing to fight for their cause. They had declared to pledge their lives and their sacred honor to the cause, even at the risk of death. Without that first step they could never have achieved ultimate independence. The Declaration was the groundwork and the root of their victory; therefore the independence that was achieved must be attributed to those initial daring efforts. Everything the United States claims to stand for was accomplished at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence[1].

The truth is had Klal Yisroel not have accepted the Torah on Har Sinai, the entire exodus would have been in vain. Klal Yisroel could not have real freedom as a nation until they received the Torah. Nevertheless, the exodus from Egypt demonstrated an unwavering emunah in Hashem. Klal Yisroel fearlessly followed Moshe out of Egypt into the vast, perilous, and dangerous desert. Who would feed their children? Who would take care of their medical needs? From where would they get clothing? These logical worries did not concern them because they placed their complete trust in Hashem. With the exodus Klal Yisroel subconsciously expressed unyielding belief in G-d. The culmination of their efforts was only realized on Shavuos but the initiation, i.e. Klal Yisroel’s “shot that was heard around the world,” was marching out of Egypt into the vicissitudes and unknown of the desert.

Pesach may not be the day when Klal Yisroel became free per se, but it is the “time of our freedom” because it marked the beginning of our spiritual ascension which resulted in our freedom. It is for this reason that on Pesach we begin to count the forty-nine day omer concluding with Shavuos.

Ours Is To Question Why…

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

“And Aaron and his sons did all of these things that Hashem commanded through Moshe.” – Vayikra 8:36

After a long and detailed description of the avodah (service) to be done in the Mishkan, the parshah ends with statement that “Aaron and his sons did as they were told.”

Rashi seems to be bothered by the fact that this is obvious. Of course Aaron and his sons did what Hashem told them to do. Why does the Torah see fit to mention it? He answers that it is a statement of praise: they didn’t veer off to the right or to the left.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. It doesn’t seem like he answered his question. Of course Aaron didn’t veer off to the left or the right. This was the avodah in the Mishkan he was performing! The directives came straight from Hashem. Could he possibly think that he knew better than Hashem how to perform them? And if that wasn’t reason enough, the punishment for a kohen deviating in the service is death.

Imagine a man working with high voltage electrical equipment. He has been given clear safety instructions. Make sure the power is off before you switch on the transformer. Make sure you are wearing protective gloves and you are grounded. Wouldn’t we expect him to follow every nuance because of the danger involved?

So what type of praise is it that Aaron followed orders?

The answer to this question can be best understood with an example.

The story is told about an Englishman who visited a farm in Texas in the 1880s. As he approached the ranch, he saw a cowboy herding the cows. He approached and, using an expression common in England then, asked for the man’s boss by saying, “Is your master home?” The cowboy put both hands on his hips and proclaimed, “The son of a gun ain’t been born yet.”

This anecdote is illustrative of a very human trait: we don’t like to be bossed around. In fact, we hate it. I’ll gladly help you, I’ll do anything for you – but ask nicely. Boss me around and forget it. I’m out of here.

This isn’t just a quirk of human nature – it’s a direct outgrowth of man’s inherent greatness.

In the Image of Hashem

Chazal explain that when the Torah tells us Hashem created man in His image, this isn’t merely an expression. Man is both the reason for all of existence and the maintainer of it. Everything physical has a spiritual counterpart sustaining it. Hashem put man into the role of being the one who upholds the spiritual level of the world. His actions, deeds, and thoughts build the upper worlds and sustain the lower worlds. Our eyes may not be attuned to it, but man is the maintainer of physicality. He is more significant than we can ever imagine, more important than anything we can envision. He is a little creator.

While this greatness of soul allows man to reach dizzying heights, it also comes with a liability. It is very difficult for us to follow orders. Even if we know they’re right. Even if we know they’re good for us. Even if those orders are given by the greatest of all greats, by the Creator of the heavens and the earth. We don’t like taking orders. And as strange as it sounds, it is difficult for us to accept commands and directives.

Aaron was one of the greatest men who ever lived, and he had a high and lofty sprit. As such, it should have been very difficult for him to follow orders. For him to “do as he was told” should have been very hard. Nevertheless, it wasn’t. Because he was very humble, he was able to recognize his greatness and act in a bold and innovative manner when called for – yet accept that Hashem was in charge. As great as he was, he was but a servant in front of his Master. He had overcome one of the paramount challenges to man – recognizing his greatness while remaining humble.

Understanding this balance is critical for our growth. The Torah wasn’t given to robotic people who follow blindly without understanding. The Torah was given to us, and we are expected to ask questions. We are expected to delve into the reasoning behind things. We are obligated to strain our minds to understand whatever we can. And yet we are expected to yield to the superior wisdom of our Creator and humbly submit to His directives.

Our is to question why, and yet ours is to do or die.

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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/ours-is-to-question-why/2012/03/29/

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