As we said, Gaza is called Aza in lashon hakodesh. The word aza comes from the root word “oz,” referring to boldness and strength in overcoming obstacles within spiritual growth. The mishna says one should utilize azus and “be strong (oz) like a leopard” in combating the yetzer hara (Avos 5:23). The Gemara (Baitza 25b) comments that the Torah was given to Klal Yisrael because we are azim, steadfast and tough when facing spiritual adversity. As the Ralbag (Mishlei 31:25) notes, oz indicates an ability to tame one’s physical desires and employ them for spirituality.
The Maharal (Baba Basra 91a) explains that the trait of oz is a vital component in establishing the kingdom of Yisrael. This is why Boaz is the forerunner of Dovid Hamelech, “bo-az, within him is oz.” A king of Yisrael is obligated to use the middah of oz in the proper spiritual balance for wealth, beauty, honor and royalty—all physical components–which he possesses. Rav Moshe Eisemann writes that oz refers to the “ability to generate an imposed peace, to take disparate elements and meld them into a harmonious whole.” In our case, oz is the ability to meld the material and spiritual aspects of life into one whole of avodas Hashem.
Thus, the land of Aza is a place that offers a tremendous potential to overcome the yetzer hara and to utilize it in the service of Hashem. As Chazal have said, (Brachos 54a), we are supposed to serve Hashem “b’shnei yetzarecha,” with both the evil and good inclinations. We are bidden to utilize our lusts and passions for physical pleasure to advance ourselves within the realm of Torah. We do not subscribe to a monk-like or ascetic philosophy. We marry, eat, and enjoy the world in order to uplift and sanctify the earth.
But Aza would also be an area that presents severe, strong, and stubborn spiritual challenges to Klal Yisrael, including the consistent inability to permanently conquer and dwell in this Eretz P’lishtim – throughout history, including the disengagement of 2005. This was, and is due, to our becoming spiritually deficient by overemphasizing the gashmiyus aspect of our lives.
Rav Yisrael Reisman mentions a machlokes between Rav Avigdor Miller and Rav Avraham Pam concerning whether one should say before eating that he is eating l’shem Shamayim. Rav Pam held that we must be honest with ourselves and not say we are eating with heavenly intent when it most likely isn’t true. Rav Miller held it is worthwhile to say we are eating for heaven’s sake, even if it is not presently true, because it keeps us conscious of such a goal we might, one day, be able to attain. Rav Reisman suggested a compromise. Before eating one would say, “I know I should be eating l’shem Shamayim.”
The Gemara in Sotah (9b) says that Shimshon’s problems began in Gaza and that is where he received his punishment. Ultimately, Shimshon’s rise and fall involved the positive development of the yetzer hara and its overextension. This is why Shimshon comes from Shevet Dan, who dwells in the north, tzafon. One of the names of the yetzer hara is Tzafun, meaning hidden, which the Gemara (Succah 52b) associates with north.
Shimshon’s goal was to employ the yetzer hara for positive and spiritual use, thereby transforming its power into yetzer hatov energy. He goes to the south in Gaza to access this yetzer hatov; if the north connects to the yetzer hara, the south is linked with the yetzer hatov. (See Rav Tzadok in Yisrael Kedoshim, pgs. 31-32; Michtav M’Eliyhau, Volume 2, page 269 and the contemporary sefer Shivtei Yisrael, pgs. 309-313, by Rabbi Fishel Mael of Baltimore.]
As we read the haftorah, let us ponder some of these profundities and bring them into our lives.
To schedule a speaking engagement with Rabbi Boruch Leff or to receive two books for the price of one, Shabbos in My Soul (Feldheim 2007) and More Shabbos in My Soul (Feldheim, 2008), or to purchase the book ‘Are You Growing?’ (Feldheim, 2011) at 40% off, contact the author at: [email protected].