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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Dos Zakainim’

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.

Kindliness: A Reflection Of Hashem

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

“And Pharaoh sent for Moshe and Aharon and said to them, ‘I have sinned this time. Hashem is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.” — Shemos 9:27

After months and months of rebellion, Pharaoh finally admitted he was wrong. The Dos Zakainim explains that the plague of barad moved Pharaoh more than any other. And it was because of one factor: Moshe had warned him that the hail would kill anything living. Again and again, Moshe cautioned Pharaoh to take his livestock and his slaves inside. Because Pharaoh was repeatedly warned to save the living creatures, he was moved and recognized his error.

This Dos Zakainim is difficult to understand. Why would this detail cause Pharaoh to admit that Hashem was right? He witnessed the greatest revelation of Hashem’s mastery of nature and it didn’t move him. He watched as Mitzrayim, the superpower of its time, was brought to its knees. That didn’t move him. Why should this single factor have such an effect?

This question is best answered with a mashal.

The Nature of the Human

Henry Ford, while a brilliant businessman, was not known for his kindliness. In fact, he used to brag that he never did anything for anyone. The story is told that while he was going for a walk in the fields with a friend, they heard yelps coming from a nearby property. A dog had gotten caught in a barbed wire fence and couldn’t get out. Ford walked over to the fence, gently pulled on the wire, and freed the dog. When he returned to the road, his friend said to him, “I thought you were the guy who never did anything for anyone.” Henry Ford responded, “That was for me. The dog’s cries were hurting me.”

This story is compelling because Ford didn’t care about anyone but himself. He didn’t choose to be kind. He didn’t want to feel the pain of others. In fact, he tried his best to squelch this sensitivity. But it was still there. He couldn’t stop himself. He was pre-programmed to have mercy. In his inner makeup, there was that voice that said, “Henry, the poor animal is in pain. Go do something!” Even though he prided himself on selfishness, he couldn’t quell that voice inside. It bothered him to hear a creature in pain. When he heard those cries, they reached down to his inner core, to that part of the human that only wants to do good, proper and noble things. That part was touched. It saw an animal in pain and said, “Don’t just stand there, Henry. Do something. That poor animal is suffering.”

This is illustrative of the basic components of the human. When Hashem created man, He joined together two diverse elements to form his soul. These are his spiritual soul, what we call his neshamah, and his animal soul, which is comprised of all of the drives and inclinations needed to keep him alive. The conscious “I” that thinks and feels is made up of both parts.

The neshamah comes from under the throne of Hashem’s glory. It is pure and holy and only wishes for that which is good, proper and noble. Because it comes from the upper worlds, it derives no benefit from this world and can’t relate to any of its pleasures. The other part of man’s soul is very different. It is exactly like that of an animal, with all of the passions and desires necessary to drive man though his daily existence.

We humans are this contradictory combination. Within me is an animal soul made up of desires and appetites, and within me is a holy neshamah that only wishes to do that which is right and proper. The animal soul only knows its needs and exists to fulfill them. The neshamah is magnanimous and only wishes to give. These two total opposites are forged together to create the whole we know as the human.

This seems to be the answer to the Dos Zakainim. Pharaoh was a human being, and as all humans, he had a sublime side to him. He may have spent years ignoring and pushing it down, but it remained within him. What he experienced during the plague of hail was pure chesed. His enemy was concerned for his good. There was nothing that Hashem had to gain by protecting the cattle and the slaves of the Egyptians. The only motivation was generosity, goodness, and a pure concern for others. Seeing this warmed even the callous heart of Pharaoh. He recognized this wasn’t driven by lowly motives. He understood he was dealing with something outside the realm of normal human interests.

Being Like Hashem

This also helps us understand one of the great ironies of life. The selfish person is focused on his needs and his wants. The generous person is concerned about the welfare of others – even at the cost of his own needs. We assume the selfish person would be happy. After all, he is singly focused on what’s good for him. But the generous person has the good of others on his mind – surely he can’t be as happy. He has to worry about the good of others.

Things I Do And Things I Don’t

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

“You shall salt every meal offering with salt; you may not discontinue the salt of [Hashem’s] covenant from your meal offering; on your every offering you shall offer salt.” – Vayikra 2:13

The Dos Zakainim explains that the reason every korban must be brought with salt is to remind us that just as salt is a preservative that allows food to last longer, so too the sacrifices are permanently ours to cleanse us from our sins.

He then explains why this concept is crucial. If a man sins and gains atonement from that sin, he is clean and will be guarded against committing the sin again. However, if he couldn’t become purified, once he sinned he would repeat the act over and over again. It can be compared to a man with a beautiful white garment. When he first puts it on, he is careful to maintain its pristine condition. Once his garment becomes soiled, however, he is no longer careful about avoiding additional stains. So, too, if a man sinned and that sin remained with him, he will continue committing that sin over and over again. This is the concept that “Once a man sins, the sin becomes ‘permitted’ to him.” That is why the Torah gave us the process of teshuvah.

The Sin Is Permitted

This Dos Zakainim seems to be mixing up two divergent concepts. The first is “naseh ko kiheter” – once a man sins, the act becomes “permitted.” We commonly refer to this as rationalization: the ability to distort reality and actually believe it, the uncanny capacity to do something that is forbidden and with a flow of imagination create a credible, “rational lie” that is good enough for me to convince myself that the act is really not taboo.

But this has no connection to the parable of a man with a clean garment. That is a natural tendency. If my garment is clean, then I will be careful about maintaining its beauty. If it is soiled, I will not be as careful. What connection does that have to rationalization? Rationalization is a completely different concept. It takes a sin and washes it in a coat of white paint so that in my mind’s eye the forbidden becomes permitted. If the sin becomes permitted, then even if my cloak were cleaned from the sin, I would still revisit it since it is, after all, permitted.

The answer to this question is based on a deeper understanding of rationalization.

One of the most difficult parts to understand in all of Creation is how Hashem fashioned man with free will. Free will means the equal ability to choose good or evil. That should be impossible. How do you take man, whose wisdom is greater than that of the angels, and give him free will? Since every mitzvah allows him to grow and every sin damages him, not only should man never sin, he should never even be tempted to sin. Would an intelligent being willfully do something that is self-destructive?

To allow for free will, Hashem implanted into the human a power called imagination. This power allows man to create fanciful scenes and imaginative events and experience them as if they were real. This feature allows man to convince himself of whatever he wishes. As a result, there is no objective truth. There is no standard of measure because man at his whim can create entire theories and systems of logic to justify what he wants – and actually believe them. Now man can just as easily do what is right as what is wrong because he can convince himself it is right. If he desires something, it is no longer a sin. It is no longer damaging to his soul. In fact, it is a mitzvah. Now man has practical free will.

This mechanism is the common form of rationalization – taking a forbidden action and making it permitted. It seems that the Das Zakainim is teaching us that there is another method, one that is far subtler.

The Second Type of Rationalizing

This second form only begins after the sin, after I find myself having done something I never thought I would. I wake up and say, “What came over me?” And then starts the guilt – that voice inside, my holy neshamah gnawing deep within me. And it speaks. “How could you? What’s wrong with you? I’m ashamed of you.” Living with that guilt is very difficult. The easy way out is to make the act permitted – but I’m too smart for that. I know it’s forbidden. If you were to ask me about it, I could quote you chapter and verse about how wrong it is. So now what?

That’s when the second form of rationalization kicks in: “Look, I’m not saying it’s permitted. I certainly not saying it’s a mitzvah – but it’s just one of those things I do. Some Jews wait three hours after meat, some put on their tefillin sitting down, and I eat non-kosher gum. I’m not saying its right, but I do it. But I’m not living in a fantasy world. I know that it’s a sin, but for me, for where I’m coming from, after what I’ve been through – it’s well… you have to understand… it’s OK.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/things-i-do-and-things-i-dont/2012/03/22/

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