The “Accident” Which Saved the World

The posuk in parshas Vayelech, (Devarim 31:18) “ I will hide My face on that day,” forces us to remember the Holocaust which took place nearly eighty years ago, what happened and what could have happened.

Shortly before the Second World War began, a young talmid chochom learning in the Brisk Yeshiva in Europe was threatened with conscription to the Polish army. He had great potential; how could he waste time in the army? Every legal method was attempted to earn him an exemption . Although these efforts bought some time, they were not permanent solutions and the draft still loomed over him. The only possible loophole was to get married. With the deadline approaching, a shidduch was sought for this young man. A suitable match was suggested — but for some inexplicable reason the shidduch did not go through. Then, just a few days before the deadline, the young man was recommended for a job in a Yeshiva in Switzerland. With bittersweet emotions, he left his whole family and became a rebbe in a Swiss yeshiva. He could well have thought of the great shame that the shidduch did not go through, causing him to go into virtual exile. However he soon saw Hashem’s hashgacha. The Holocaust claimed the lives of the rest of his family and so many more. He was the sole survivor from his family. The name of this young talmid chochom with great potential was Aaron Leib Steinman zt”l who became a leading Godol and guiding light for Klal Yisroel over his long life.

About the same time another young rav was on a ship which sailed from Europe towards Eretz Yisroel. The British authorities refused the ship permission to dock in the Haifa port. The captain directed the ship southwards along the coastline, but there was no safe landing- place. The ship was low on fuel, the captain said, and told his passengers there was nothing he could do to help them. Their only hope was to attempt to swim to the shore, a considerable distance away. Only six people made it to the beach, including this young rav and his wife. His name was Rav Shmuel Wosner, another great Godol and guiding light for Klal Yisroel over many decades. Both these Gedolim, who were a hairsbreadth from death, lived over a hundred years.

At Mincha of Yom Kippur the haftora is Sefer Yona, about another survivor. He was thrown into the sea and was swallowed by a great fish but miraculously remained alive in the stomach of the fish until Hashem instructed the fish to spit Yona out on to dry land. The commentators say that Yona’s survival was not assured until he said that, if he lived, he would bring korbonos to Hashem (2:10) implying that he would henceforth follow Hashem’s command and rebuke the people of Nineveh. After a life-saving miracle what response is there but to devote the rest of one’s life to Hashem, as done by these Gedolim?

Bamidbar (8:17) shows that a recipient of a miracle has to devote himself to Hashem as a payment for that miracle. “All the Jewish firstborn, since the day that I smote the Egyptian firstborn, are mine.” Rashi explains: “Since I protected the Jewish firstborn that they weren’t smitten with the Egyptian firstborn, they are mine by right.”

Having been born in Manchester, England to English-born parents, I never considered myself to have been involved in the Holocaust, let alone to be regarded as a survivor; now I realize that my understanding was flawed. This month is the 78th anniversary of the day that the Germans were to have invaded Britain. The plan was that British air defences were to be destroyed and then German ground forces would invade and conquer the country with the same speed that they had already conquered Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and France. Their headquarters were to be set up in Manchester where the self-styled English Nazi leader, Oswald Mosley had managed to form his strongest base of local sympathisers. In the summer of 1940, the Battle of Britain began. The Luftwaffe attacked the RAF’s airfields and by the end of August seemed to be on the verge of victory. But in early September 1940, a German aircraft was short of fuel and needed to return to Germany. The pilot wanted to jettison his bombs to reduce the plane’s weight and quite by “accident” the bombs landed on London, which had been studiously avoided up until then. Churchill reacted by bombing Berlin. Hitler was so annoyed that, with tactical stupidity, he stopped attacking the English airfields and started attacking English cities. This gave the battered British air force enough respite to regroup and eventually take command of the skies. What I now realize is that if it weren’t for that ‘accident,’ Mosley’s Blackshirts based in Manchester would have quickly rounded up my grandparents and other Jewish Mancunians and this essay would probably have never been written. I am, together with the rest of Anglo-Jewry, therefore, also a survivor with all the responsibility that that status brings with it. Also, if Britain would have been conquered, the allied invasion of Europe in 1944 , could not have taken place and Nazi rule could well have continued unopposed. Therefore this “accident” can be said to have saved Europe and much of the free world. Even American Jews, many of whom, or their parents, had also not long before immigrated from Europe can also consider themselves survivors. So we, the post-Holocaust world Jewish community, are all survivors and as survivors, we have responsibilities.

This is yet another moral imperative for us to do teshuva before Shabbos Shuva and Yom Kippur. After being saved by Hashem’s hidden hand, how can we focus our lives on our personal successes or our material achievements? Is this why Hashem saved us? Rather, we have to focus on Hashem’s priorities. What can we do to bring honor to Hashem? What can we do to rebuild the Jewish people? Yom Kippur can bring about a realignment of our priorities; to accept upon ourselves our responsibilities, the responsibilities of survivors. No less than the Jewish firstborn in Mitzrayim, we all owe our continued existence to Hashem.

On Our Way To Be Inscribed in the Sefer Hachaim

Ten Short Essays in Preparation For Rosh Hashana

Copyright: Rabbi Michoel Fletcher
Comments: rabbimfletcher@gmail.com

WHAT I LEARNED FROM OUR PASSIFLORA

Passiflora, otherwise known as passion fruit, grows in our neighbour’s garden in Ramat Bet Shemesh. It has grown and grown until it reached the first floor, where we live. It ‘spotted’ our balcony and climbed on to the railings around the top. It never stops growing. Once it has attached itself to one bar it sends out ‘feelers’ in different directions until it finds another bar to attach itself to. My wife and I enjoy the pretty greenery which gives our balcony some privacy, not to mention the delicious fruit which in shemitta year is hefker. With a bit of encouragement from us, it has even wound itself around a corner and it is still growing. When will it stop? After all it must be at least a hundred yards long by now but no. It is never satisfied. It grows, grows and grows some more. As Elul began this year, I realised what the passiflora can teach us.

The minhag to say L’David Hashem Ori twice a day from Rosh Chodesh Elul is clearly designed to guide us during this month of preparation for the Yamim Nora’im. What is the theme of this mizmor?

The first section sounds rather warlike. “ Hashem is my light and salvation. Whom shall I be afraid of? Hashem is the strength of my life. Whom shall I fear? When the evildoers are advancing towards me to devour my flesh, these are my enemies, they will stumble and fall. If a troop is encamped against me, my heart will not fear. Even if they wage war against me, I will put my trust in this.”

How does it relate to us ordinary Jews, who are not facing our enemies on the battlefield? Why is this a preparation for Rosh Hashana? Did Dovid Hamelech really feel no fear when he faced his enemies? A few quotations from Nach should at least answer the third question.

In Shmuel Alef (17) we find a giant from the Pelishtim, Golios taunting the Jewish army asking for any Jew to fight with him and if Golios would vanquish the Jew, the Jews would be slaves to the Pelishtim. If the Jew would vanquish Golios, the Pelishtim would be slaves to the Jews. However all the Jews were afraid and no-one volunteered to fight Golios. Eventually young Dovid, not even a soldier, stepped forward. When Golios saw Dovid, he mocked him and invited him to come towards him so that he could offer Dovid’s flesh to the fowl of the heavens and the beast of the field. Dovid replied,(17:45) “You come to me with a sword, spear and javelin but I come to you in the name of Hashem….On this day, Hashem will deliver you into my hand ….and I shall offer the carcass of the Philistine camp to the fowl of the heavens and the beast of the field.” And, of course, that is exactly what miraculously happened.

Another, lesser- known event, gives even more clarity in Dovid’s attitude to his enemies. Shmuel                                                                                                                    Alef (21:13) tells that Dovid was captured by Achish, king of Gat and was at his mercy. Dovid feigned madness and the king was convinced that he was a mentally ill person who merely looked like Dovid, and let him go. What was Dovid thinking when he stood defenceless in front of a sworn enemy? A pasuk in Tehilim reveals Dovid’s inner thoughts at that moment. “By Dovid, a michtam when the Pelishtim seized him in Gat. In Hashem … I have trusted. I shall not fear. What can mortal flesh do to me? (Tehilim 56:5) The lashon hakodesh is even more direct, even derisive. “Ma ya’aseh basar li? For Dovid there wasn’t even a question. Whatever Hashem decides, that’s what will happen. Achish, king of Gat, with all his armed soldiers, was a mere mortal. Dovid focussed entirely on intense tefila even as he did his hishtadlus and escaped unharmed.

We asked earlier what we ordinary Jews who are not fighting on the battlefield, can learn from these first pesukim in L’Dovid Hashem Ori and how it is a preparation for Rosh Hashono. The answer is that it can transform our davening completely. When we say hagibor in the beginning of the Shemone Esre, what are we really thinking? We can say the word gibor, thinking of a powerful king. Or we can learn from Dovid Hamelech that Hashem is the ultimate unstoppable power. Nothing stands in the way of His will. A powerful king is still only human. Even powerful kings and dictators are sometimes overthrown. But Hashem is in a league of His own. No mortal can lift a finger against the will of Hashem, never could do and never will do. We may ‘know’ this. If asked, we believing Jews, would all say that Hashem is all powerful. But do we feel it? Do we live it? Do we really think it as we are saying the word gibor? If we would do this, our Shemone Esre would be much more intense.When we make our requests in the intermediate Brachos we would’t just mouth the words.We would appeal to Hashem from the depths of our hearts. Please Hashem. If You agree to do as I ask, nothing can stand in Your way. Shema Koleinu.Listen to our voice, our prayers and our supplications.

Kol hachoshvim olai ra’a, meheira hafer atzasam vekalkel machshevosam – Annul the plans of all those who are planning evil against me.

One of our challenges every Elul is, what can I do to prepare for Rosh Hashono? We are shomrei Toah umitzvos, we keep Shabbos, we daven, we do chesed. What extra can I do? The answer is that we can learn from the passiflora. It is already long, very long. But it continues to grow. We too can always grow in our shemiras hamitzvos, our tefila, our madreiga. The lesson we are learning here about Hashem’s gevura is only one of many. But realising the depth of every word in our tefilos can be a springboard for increased kavana in our tefilos. A meaningful tefila brings us closer to Hashem which in turn strengthens our resolve in general shemiras hamitzvos. There is always room to improve and grow. After all, should we less determined than our passiflora?


MAD DOGS AND JEWS

Recently in Beit Shemesh, a wild dog somehow found its way into a block of flats near the edge of the town. The residents were petrified. No-one could get in or out. The dog wasn’t even barking but no-one was prepared to challenge it. Maybe it hadn’t eaten supper yet! Frantic calls were made to the municipal authorities to send the official dog-catcher. Yishai arrived eventually and calmly captured and removed the animal, to the cheers of the residents. Was this an incident best forgotten or can we learn something from it?

The later sections of Mesilas Yesharim discuss aspects of avodas Hashem which are way beyond the spiritual level of most of us, in the area of fear of Hashem and in particular fear of sin. This applies both to the past and to the future. We find that some of our greatest ancestors were never satisfied with their level of avodas Hashem, thinking that perhaps they had fallen short in some way. This section about fear of the past is probably not for us at all. We would be continuously worried and would not achieve simchas chaim which is so necessary for us and our children. However, we can aspire to the concept of fear of sin in the future, even if we don’t reach the highest levels.

Let’s talk about the ideal first and then discuss some practical ramifications for our lives. The concept of sinning against Hashem should be abhorrent to us. After all, He provides us with everything; how can we possibly think of going against Him? Our vulnerability is clear. He can turn off the supply of blessings in a moment and then where would we be? To challenge Him would be akin to an ant defying a human. We can blot out its life in a moment. It is laughable even to think of defying the Source of our life. The stupidity of challenging our Creator is multiplied much more if we think of the punishment we could incur. An ant might die instantly and that is the end of its existence. But Hashem can punish us in this world or the next while we continue to exist. We could be liable to severe punishments in untold ways. With this in mind, logic would tell us to run a mile from any risk of sin.

How can we bring this concept to life? We could imagine meeting a wild animal in the street. How terrified we would be. Running away is not an option but if there was a chance of taking refuge in a nearby building, what a sigh of relief we would give, especially if there was a door we could lock behind us.

To really feel such horror at the possibility of sinning may be a high madreiga. But we should at least feel the importance of avoiding coming close to sinning. If we know that a certain group of people are constant loshon hora speakers, we should look for another circle of friends. Another group discuss politics bein gavra l’gavra. We should move to another part of the shul or maybe a different shul altogether. It is natural to want to be one of the crowd. One who fears sin may have to consider changing his or her crowd.

Clear sources in the Torah warn us to stay far away from the possibility of sin. A nazir who is forbidden to drink wine may not even go near a vineyard. (Shabbos 13a). Tzitzis are supposed to remind us to keep all the other mitzvos of the Torah. (Bamidbar 15:39). The posuk says (Vayikra 18:6) “Do not come close to immorality.” Hilchos Yichud forbid a man to be alone with a woman who is not his wife. This is a vital fence against immorality. Although there are certain leniencies in halacha, they should only be used in emergencies and with the guidance of a rav. Parents should warn their daughters, who may not realise how vulnerable they are, never to be alone with a man other than a father or brother.

The residents of the block of flats in Beit Shemesh who felt up close the fear of a wild dog can use the experience to strive towards feeling the same fear when they are close to sinning. One must escape and lock the door securely, to make sure to keep far from sin even if others are unfortunately succumbing. And the rest of us, who just read about it, can also imagine the fear of being there, in order to strive towards this madreiga of yiras cheit. For Jews, no experience should be wasted – not even an encounter with a mad dog.


“LIKE THE RISING OF THE SUN”

We all want Hashem’s blessings. We all want to be inscribed in the Book of Life this coming Rosh Hashono. We wouldn’t claim to be tzaddikim gemurim who are written immediately in the Book of Life. On the other hand we are not resho’im gemurim. We’re somewhere in the middle. Are there any short cuts to meriting a good outcome this Rosh Hashono? Is there a hint or a clue as to what finds particular favour in Hashem’s eyes that will earn us a place in the ‘right’ Book even though we’re not tzaddikim gemurim?

In Parshas Re’eh (15:7-10) we read, “If there be a destitute person among you, of one of your brothers in any of your cities, in your land that Hashem your G-d gives you, you shall not harden your heart nor shall you close your hand against your destitute brother. Rather you shall open your hand to him and give to him whatever he needs. Beware lest a wicked thought comes into your heart saying that the seventh year is approaching and therefore you do not want to give to him. He will call out to Hashem and you will be deemed to have sinned. You shall give to him and not feel bad when you give to him because on account of this, Hashem will bless you in all your deeds and in all your undertakings.”

The background to this warning not to be reluctant to lend to the poor when the seventh year is approaching is because the Jewish calendar is divided into cycles of seven years. Every seventh year is the shmitta year. During this year not only is it forbidden to cultivate the Land of Israel but any loans which are outstanding at the end of the year are cancelled. Therefore if a person lends money just before the shmitta and the borrower is unable to repay on time the lender is liable to lose his money. Hence a possible reluctance to lend at this time and it is against this ‘evil’ thought that the Torah warns us.

The question is asked why this would be such an evil thought. A person may have enough money to lend but not to give outright. It can happen that a borrower is late in repaying. So why is it so wrong to be reluctant to lend at this time. Isn’t a wise man ro’eh es hanolad (anticipates the future)?

In the Sefer Hachinuch ‘s explanation of this prohibition of the Torah, he mentions a detail which makes the question less strong. He says that the Torah is talking about a lender who is reluctant because he is afraid that some unforeseen event might prevent a timely repayment. The Torah is not talking about about someone who admits that he has no way of returning the loan. He is hoping that a miracle will occur and he will acquire the means to repay. It may well be that a person is not even allowed to borrow under such circumstances even for Shabbos needs (Shaar Hatziun 242:12) and certainly a person is not obliged to lend to him. The Torah is warning about being reluctant to lend to a person who in the normal course of events will have the means to repay but the lender is worrying that the borrower will suddenly, for some unforeseen reason, lose his ability to repay on time. This is even before the shmitta year has started, leaving over a year for the loan to be repaid and the lender has the money available and has no need of it. Further there is no prohibition of repaying a loan after the shmitta year (unlike the laws of interest). An honourable borrower will presumably repay even after the shmitta year. Therefore it is clearly a very uncharitable act to refuse this borrower a loan which he needs, possibly, very urgently.

But the Sefer Hachinuch then continues with a very powerful statement. “Anyone who has any knowledge of the Torah will know that Hashem judges a person according to his deeds and blesses a person according to how near he is to Him. An uncharitable person builds a mechitza shel barzel (an iron separation) between himself and Hashem’s blessings. A generous person is very close to Hashem and is very close to receiving Hashem’s blessings.”

This is, therefore, one direction we can be looking in as we approach Rosh Hashono; to train ourselves to be as generous as possible. Generosity, however, is not limited to the giving of Tzedoko or even lending money to a person in need. We can acquire generosity of spirit which includes thinking well of others, hoping for their success, rejoicing at their simchas, giving freely of our time to help others, looking for ways to bring pleasure to other people and more. In loshon hakodesh this is called nedivas lev , which also falls into the category of people who are close to Hashem and his blessings as described by the Sefer Hachinuch.

One form of nedivas lev is the ability and desire to see beyond another person’s actions and words to understand what the person is really ‘saying.’ Sometimes his words may seem harsh but really they reflect an inner hurt. He doesn’t mean to be confrontational but because he is upset, the words come out the way they do. Many an argument could be avoided if we would recognize this human characteristic. Someone with a generous spirit will have the patience and self-control not to react to another’s words but will dig deeper. “Why did he say that?” “Why did she say this?” At the very least we don’t react with similar confrontational words from which an argument can often escalate. The blessings of this form of nedivas lev do not have to wait until Rosh Hashono but will be immediately felt in enhanced sholom bayis in the home and more friendship with others outside.

Chazal say (Gittin 36b) “Those who are insulted but do not insult back are like ‘the sun as it rises with great strength.’ (Sefer Shoftim 5:31).” What does this comparison mean and what strength does the sun show when it rises? The answer could be based on another statement of Chazal (Nedorim 39b) that the sun does not want to rise in the morning because it knows that the sun-worshippers will immediately begin their avoda zoro. The sun does not want to initiate avoda zoro. However it does so because of the many Jews who rise early to daven vasikin. The sun looks at the positive and rejects the negative. Similarly, when we are insulted, our immediate reaction is to answer back in kind. If, with great inner strength, we can look at the positive by thinking that the person is in pain for some reason or simply by recalling that despite this fault he has many good points, we can be compared to the sun which overcomes its initial feelings and rises every morning.

Generosity of spirit is within reach for all of us. If we can take a step back during Ellul and consider the wonderful blessings we can acquire with it, as the Sefer Hachinuch says, we can be more confident that come Rosh Hashono we will indeed be written in the ‘right’ Book, the Book of Life.


LOOK DOWN…..AND BLESS YOUR PEOPLE”

In the parsha of Ki Sovo, we read about the vidui maaser, the declaration that one had observed the halachic requirements of mitzvos connected with tithing one’s produce.

“I have removed all the consecrated food from the house, I have given to the Levi, the stranger, the orphan and the widow….I have not transgressed Your commandments nor forgotten to praise You….I have done all You commanded me.” The next pasuk continues with a request. “Look down from Your Holy abode and bless Your People Israel and the Land which You gave us as You swore to our Fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Devarim 26:13-15). Rashi comments on this last pasuk, “We have fulfilled our obligations, now You fulfill Your obligations as it says, “If you keep my statutes, I will provide rain in the right time.”

These pesukim and this Rashi are very difficult to understand. Who can stand before Hashem and declare “I have done all You commanded me?” And if this is not enough chutzpa, as Rashi said, we then come with demands on Hashem. “We’ve done our bit, now You do Yours.”

The Mesilas Yesharim in his chapter on humility, (Chapter 22), seems to warn us strongly against just such an attitude. No matter how much we achieve we should not forget that we have certainly not fulfilled all our obligations. Even what we have achieved has been only through the kindness of Hashem who gave us the means to do what have done. Pirkei Avos (2:8) says “If you have learnt much Torah, do not praise yourself for it because this is what you were created for.” There is never an excuse for arrogance. The Mesilas Yesharim brings the case of Nechemyiah ben Chachalya who was very successful in fighting intermarriage, Shabbos desecration and social injustice. Yet the Gemara Sanhedrin (93b) finds fault with Nechemyiah for the words which he said (Nechemyiah 5:19), “Remember in my favour, O my G-d, all that I have done for this People.”

We can perhaps lighten our question slightly with a comment by the late Rav Yosef Dunner zt”l the revered former Rav of the Addass Kehilla of London in his sefer Mikdash Levi. He points out that in the text of the Pasuk (26:14) “I have done what You commanded me” the wording is “osisi kechol asher tzivisani.” (not chol but kechol). Indeed, writes Rav Dunner, a person cannot say that he has done everything (chol) that he has been commanded but approximately everything (kechol). We are still astounded, however, by the brazenous and arrogance of making demands on Hashem based on our apparently faultless observance as brought in Rashi: “We have done what we are supposed to do, now You do what you are supposed to do.”A friend of mine from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Reb Yaakov Schoeman (n.y.) suggested the following possible answer.

There is a difference between the way we must look at ourselves and the way we should look at others. The Mesilas Yesharim is talking about the way we should look at ourselves, with humility. We should never think that our deeds are perfect. Surely we made mistakes, perhaps we could have done more. If we learnt Torah this is because Hashem has given us the possibility to do so in the form of our mental abilities, memory, a supportive enviroment etc. If we have given Tzedaka this is because Hashem gave us the means to do so and we have merely fulfilled our responsibilities. Good characteristics are probably inherited, we perform mitzvos because of the good education we received or good influences which we have been in proximity to, etc. We do not have to negate our achievements but we should put them in context.

However we should not look at other people’s achievements in this way. If they have learnt Torah we should try to be inspired by them, learn from their diligence. If they have good characteristics we should try to emulate them. Whatever others have achieved should be played up not down. Even if there are imperfections with others we should assume they are done by mistake. If we are not sure, we should give the benefit of the doubt, etc.

The Jew who asks Hashem for a blessing in the pasuk, is not talking about himself. Rashi uses the words “We have done what we should have done” Concerning himself he would have spoken with more humility. But he is looking at the achievements of the People as a whole. Concerning others, he sees only perfection. He sees Jews faithfully tithing their produce and bringing the first fruits to Yerusholayim. He sees Jews making sure that orphans and widows are looked after. He sees Jews rising early go to a shiur and learning again in the evening after a hard day’s work. He sees acts of kindness, bikur cholim, hatzala, chaveirim, misaskim. He sees Jews in the midst of serious challenges living with emuna and bitachon. He sees a Jewish People loyally keeping details of halacha despite a galus of two thousand years. He sees holiness. And that is enough reason to beseech Hashem, “We have done so much, we have continued to believe in You and to keep Your mitzvos despite persecutions, pogroms and a Holocaust. Now, please, keep the promises You wrote in the Torah and in the Prophets and bless the Land You gave us that it should flow with milk and honey. May all the wickedness disappear like smoke, may the Tzadikim see and rejoice, may You give honour to Your People

and may the time finally come to witness utzemichas keren l’Dovid Avdecho, bimhairo beyomeinu, omein.


POMEGRANATES AND BANANAS

Parsha of Nitzavim begins with Moshe Rabeinu talking to Bnei Yisroel. “You are all standing today before Hashem Elokeichem: the heads of your tribes, your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, the convert, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.” (Devarim 29:9-10) Nitzavim very often falls on the Shabbos before Rosh Hashono when all of us too stand before Hashem to be judged.

Rashi on posuk twelve brings an extraordinary medrash. “Why does the parsha of Nitzavim follow the ninety-eight curses mentioned in Parshas Ki Sovo? Because the people had heard these ninety-eight curses plus the forty-nine of parsha Bechukosai and their faces turned green. They said, “Who can possibly survive these?” Moshe Rabeinu attempted to calm them. “You have caused Hashem to be angry with you many times and still you all standing here today.” Reb Mattisyahu שליט”א once quoted Reb Elya Lapian זצ”ל who was amazed by this medrash. Was Moshe Rabeinu destroying the whole purpose of the warnings of the Torah? Surely the curses were to warn the people of the severe consequences of transgressing the Torah and the people were right to be terrified. Yet Moshe Rabeinu seems to be saying that their fear is unnecessary. They are standing here today despite their sins and they will apparently always survive, no matter what, so the people could heave a sigh of relief. Why should Moshe Rabeinu, Hashem’s most trusted servant, seem to negate the Torah’s warnings?

Reb Elya’s explanation is highly relevant for us. He says that Moshe Rabeinu saw that the people were terrified of Hashem’s judgment. The consequences of sin are a frightening threat. He reassured them, “You are standing here today with a fear of punishment. That is good. If you always have this fear of sin and punishment, you will always survive.”

We are optimistic on Rosh Hashono. We dip our challoh into honey hoping for a sweet year. The simonim express our hopes that all our enemies will disappear. Some French Jews eat bananas hoping for a bonne année. But nothing is guaranteed. We need to earn Hashem’s blessings. If we fear the consequences of our wrongdoings, we will live as we should and do teshuva for our aveiros. But if Rosh Hashono means no more than tasting the sweetest honey, luscious dates, the reddest apples, maybe bananas, and of course, pomegranates, but our lives continue as before, who knows what next year will bring?

One of the most shocking examples of Hashem’s punishment for sinful behaviour is found in Melochim Alef Chapter 21. “There was a vineyard belonging to Novos the Yizre’elite, next to the palace of Achov, King of Shomron. Achov spoke to Navos and said that he wanted to buy the land this vineyard occupied, for a vegetable garden.

However Navos refused. He said to Achov, “Far be it from me before Hashem that I should give you my ancestors’ heritage.” Achov’s wife Izevel then committed a heinous sin. She arranged for false witnesses to testify that Novos had “blessed” Hashem and Novos was duly stoned to death. Achov went down to the vineyard of his former neighbor and inherited it. “Problem solved,” he might have thought. Wrong. “Hashem sent Eliyohu Hanovi to tell Achov, You have murdered and now you inherit? Thus said Hashem, “In the place that the dogs licked up the blood of Novos, the dogs will lick up your blood as well.” Hashem spoke concerning Izevel. The dogs shall eat Izevel in the valley of Yizre’el. Anyone of the house of Achov who dies in the city, the dogs will eat. Anyone who dies in the field, the birds of the heavens will eat.” The posuk (22:37) tells us later this is what happened “…the dogs licked up Achov’s blood and immoral women bathed in it.” Achov the king who is described in Megila 11a as being one of three men, (the others were Nevuchadnetzar and Achashveirosh) who at one point ruled the whole world, came to an ignominious end. The day he walked into Novos’ vineyard, he might have been congratulating himself on the removal of someone who didn’t grovel before him. However Hashem made clear to him and us that sins have consequences. Incidentally, the Gemara in Shabbos 149b says that Novos the innocent victim, merited, in the World to Come, to be in the inner mechitza of Hashem. Everyone gets what is due to them.

There is a mitzvah never to forget Amolek. There is another mitzvah to destroy utterly all memory of Amolek. These two mitzvos seem mutually exclusive? However the Sefer Hachinuch explains that the mitzvah is not to remember Amolek himself but to remember that “anyone who does harm to the Jewish People is hated by Hashem. And according to the evil of his act so shall be his fall, as we see with Amolek who, because he did a great evil to Israel, Hashem commanded that he should be utterly destroyed.” Again, sins have consequences.

The Gemoro in Kesuvos 30a says that although there is no Sanhedrin to carry out capital punishment today, those who need to be punished, will be punished. Someone who would have been stoned to death will fall from a roof and die or an animal will crush him to death. Somebody who would have been burned to death will die in a fire or from a snake-bite. Someone who would have been beheaded, will be beheaded by a criminal or by the government. One who would have been strangled to death will die by drowning. This does NOT mean that somebody who has tragically died in one of these ways was guilty of any sin. There are many other reasons why such a tragedy might have occurred. But we have to know that just because there is no Sanhedrin or Beis Din to exact the punishments certain people deserve, it does not mean leis din veleis dayan – there is no judgment and no Judge.

Before Rosh Hashono, before Yom Kippur and throughout the year we should be afraid. Fear of sin and fear of Divine punishment will prod us to reflect on what we might have done wrong and encourage us to improve. If we have wronged someone we have to ask their forgiveness. Only if we do this can we be confident of what will be. Only if we are “nitzavim kulchem hayom” all standing here today with a fear of possible punishment can we optimistically look forward to a sweet year and a bonne année. Only then can we truly enjoy our pomegranates and bananas.


TOWARDS A SUCCESSFUL ROSH HASHONO

The best-known section of Ki Sovo is the Tochacha – warning us what will happen if we do not keep the mitzvos of the Torah. The low voice of the Baal Koreh hints to our trepidation of the fulfilment of the prophecies, many of which we have already witnessed. It would appear to be a timely preparation for Rosh Hashono, when we will again accept on ourselves ol malchus shomayim. The severe consequences of failing to keep Hashem’s commandments is surely the best incentive we could have to accept all our obligations. However, is this really the case?

Megila (31b) asks why Ezra arranged that we read Parshas Ki Savo before Rosh Hashana. Abaya answers, “Tichleh shana vekloloseho – that the year with its curses should end.” We want to look forward to a new year of blessings. Why didn’t Abaya answer that Ezra wanted us all to feel fearful of transgressing Hashem’s Torah and therefore be ready to accept Hashem’s kingship on Rosh Hashono?

The answer can be found on small cardboard boxes which we sometimes see. “SMOKING KILLS” is written in bold letters on every packet of cigarettes yet we see people, who presumably don’t want to die, calmly smoking cigarettes. Why do people still smoke? Why do so many of our teenagers begin smoking? The answer is because people say, “It won’t happen to me.” Hundreds of thousands of people die from lung cancer but “it won’t happen to me.” We can read the pesukim, hear the baal koreh reading the Tochacho, in hushed tones, we can know that such things have happened to others in our lifetime, but none of this impinges on our preparation for Rosh Hashono. Why? Because we say, “it won’t happen to me.”

What will make a difference? Perhaps a more positive approach – Tichle shana vekloloseho – May next year be full of blessings and not curses… Blessings encourage us. We like blessings

Perhaps concentrating on the section before the tochacha would be more effective. “If you will keep My mitzvos, you will be the foremost nation. You will be blessed in the city. You will be blessed in the field. I will bless your children, your cattle and your produce.” “Now this would be useful,” we think. “Our children certainly need a brocho. An increase in salary together with growth in our investments would help pay a few bills. And if everybody treated us with great respect when they see that we are members of the Jewish People, that would be the icing on the cake.” And if it costs me the effort to resist listening to some juicy loshon hora, it’s well worth it.

The concept of reward is a constant theme in Sefer Devorim. Parshas Ekev (7:12-16) speaks at length about the reward for even minor mitzvos and, again, later in the section which we read as part of our krias shema (11:13-15). In Parshas Re’eh (12:25) the pasuk says that we and our children will be greatly rewarded for not drinking blood. Rashi says that if we merit a great reward when we desist from drinking blood which we consider disgusting, how much more so if we desist from sins which we have a desire for. In Parshas Ki Teitzei (22:7) the pasuk says that if we send away the mother bird before taking the eggs, we will be blessed with long life. Rashi again expounds: If we receive a great reward for a mitzvah that costs us nothing, how much more so for more significant mitzvos. And in this week’s parsha of Ki Sovo, the section about reward precedes the section about punishment.

The reward of observing Hashem’s mitzvos is given to us both in this world and the next. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 9:1) explains that the real reward is in the World to Come but, if we keep the mitzvos, Hashem will grant us an interim reward of peace, good health and financial security to enable us to keep more and more mitzvos. Thus we will earn more and more reward in the World to Come. And one hour of reward there is more pleasurable than all the pleasures of this world. (Pirkei Avos 4:17). Michtav M’Eliyahu (1:4) explains that this means that one moment of pleasure in the World to Come is greater than all the pleasures of this world compressed into a single moment.

Just think. For saying brochos with more care, for a friendly hello to a lonely stranger, for counting to ten and calming down rather than getting angry, the rewards are literally out of this world. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s go for it!

The currency of the interim reward may not be pounds, shillings and pence. It may come in the form of physical and mental health, a reasonable income and protection from people who would be happy to harm us, given half a chance. But these are just what we need to enable us to do more mitzvos. According to some mefarshim, the rewards mentioned in the Torah are physical forms of spiritual pleasures which we will enjoy in the World to Come. All in all, keeping mitzvos is the best investment we could possibly make.

Someone might argue that this acceptance of mitzvos is lo lishma – not for pure motives. Our response would be that firstly, we shouldn’t think we are wiser than Moshe Rabeinu who did encourage the Bnei Yisroel with promises of reward, as we have seen. And secondly, Chazal say, “Mitoch lo lishma ba lishma.” From doing mitzvos for insincere reasons one will come to do them for sincere reasons. So let’s put at least put one foot forward – towards a successful Rosh Hashono.


BUILDING THE KING’S PALACE

Nissan is commonly known as the month of redemption, but the Gemoro in Rosh Hashono (11a) brings another opinion that Tishrei is the month of redemption. This seems to be confirmed by the tefila on Rosh Hashono in which we plead with Hashem, “Ten pachdecho Hashem Elokeinu al kol maasecho” – Put fear of You on all the nations. We long for the final redemption, when Hashem will give due honour to His People, praise to those who fear him … speedily and in our days.

Rav Mattisyohu Salamon shlita asks in Matnas Chaim. Why should we focus on the subject of the Geula on Rosh Hashana? We can do this every day and we do. On Rosh Hashono there are other priorities. Our future is being decided on Rosh Hashono. Mi yichye, mi yomus – Who will live; who will die, who at his appointed time; who not at his appointed time. Beitza 15a says that our income for the year is fixed on Rosh Hashono. Surely, asks the Matnas Chaim, the main focus of our tefilos should be pleading for Hashem’s mercy for ourselves. Yet instead, we concentrate on accepting that Hashem is the King and on our hopes that soon everybody else will also accept Hashem as King. Our personal tefilos, zochreinu l’chaim etc are squeezed in at the beginning and end of the tefilos. Would not the reverse emphasis be more appropriate?

The Matnas Chaim answers with a parable. A king once employed a builder to build a magnificent palace for himself and his household. He wanted it to be ready as soon as possible and sent the contractor to the builders’ merchant for the bricks, timber, screws and all the supplies for the new palace. Knowing that there would be a queue, he wrote a note to the manager to give priority to this particular builder because he was working for the king. The other builders protested when he jumped the queue but the manager explained that they needed materials for their own needs but this builder is working for the king. He must be served first.

We all have our own needs, explains the Matnas Chaim. We all want to live and to enjoy good health and a comfortable income. If we want these things for our own benefit and enjoyment we will not receive preferential treatment. However, if we want health and strength in order to learn Torah, to do mitzvos, to sanctify Hashem’s name in the way we live our lives, we can hope for a better reception. If we argue that it is a chillul Hashem when resho’im who don’t even believe in Hashem seem to rule the world, our tefilos are even more likely to be accepted. And if we express our desire for a world where every person is G-d-fearing, so that Hashem’s name is magnified and sanctified, that we want the world to be a huge palace appropriate for the King of Kings, then like the royal contractor builder in the parable, we will move to the head of the queue. We all need life, health and material goods. But if we need them to build Hashem’s palace we will be granted priority in obtaining all the materials we need to do our job.

And if we realise that the day when Hashem’s glory is revealed and the whole world accepts Him as the Creator and King of the Universe is very close indeed, we will daven even harder. The Chofetz Chaim in Tzipiso LiYeshua says that we have already arrived at the stage of world history when the final redemption is imminent. He says that all the signs of the time of redemption mentioned in the last Mishna in Sotah have been fulfilled. “Chutzpa will be in abundance, truth will be lacking, those who fear sin will be despised, Jews will leave the way of the Torah.” The Chofetz Chaim asks, however, that the Mishna seems to contradict the pesukim in Parshas Nitzavim (30:1-3). There we read, “When all these things happen to you, the blessing and the curse … and you return to Hashem Elokecho with all your heart and with all your soul … Hashem will gather you from among all the peoples where He has scattered you.”(30:1-3) These pesukim indicate that the redemption will occur only after we do teshuva! The Chofetz Chaim answers that there will be two groups of Jews. One group will be as described in the Mishna in Sotah – lacking any fear of sin, ridiculing loyal Jews. The second group will be those Jews who despite everything still cling to the Torah. Even if they could enjoy an easier life elsewhere, they live in those places where they can best educate their children to Torah. It is precisely their determination despite all the challenges and mockery from anti-religious Jews and non-Jews, that Hashem will notice and consider this to be the best possible fulfillment of “Returning to Hashem, you and your children with all your heart and with all your soul.” The Chofetz Chaim says that the conditions for redemption, both in the pesukim and the Chumash are not contradictory but complementary. They have now all been fulfilled and the time of the redemption is imminent.

This is what we must remember as we daven on Rosh Hashono. Our deepest desire is to devote our lives to building “Hashem’s palace.” This is why we need all the materials necessary such as life, good health etc. And this new epoch in world history may already be within a hairsbreadth of happening. Our sincere and heartfelt davening might just make the difference so that it will be during this New Year of 5779 that the “Tzaddikim will see and rejoice, the Yeshorim will exult and the Chassidim will sing in joy” and Hashem’s will rejoice with all of us as He rejoiced with our fathers as written in our parsha. (ibid :9).


CHILDREN OR SERVANTS

In every shul in the Jewish world, at one of the most sublime moments of the Rosh Hashono service after the blowing of the shofar during Musaf, we all sing the following paragraph with great intensity each shul according to its custom.

Hayom haras olom, hayom yaamid bamishpot…..

“ Today is the birthday of the World. Today all creatures of the World stand in judgment whether as Your children or Your servants. If we stand before You as Your children, may You have mercy upon us like a father has mercy on his children. If as Your servants, our eyes look toward You until You will be gracious to us and judge us favourably, O Awesome and Holy One.”

It seems that there are two possibilities: to be judged like children or servants. But there is a huge difference between the two possibilities. The chances of a favorable verdict are clearly much higher if we’re judged like children. We can look forward to love and mercy. Kerachem av al bonim- like a father has mercy for his children. But if we’re judged like servants, we will be judged with midas hadin – strict judgment. Is there any way we can opt for one option rather than the other? Is there a way that we can ensure that we will be judged like children to increase the chance of a favourable outcome?

Our desire to be judged like children takes on even more urgency if we look at Gemoro Taanis (23a). The Gemoro is discussing the famous Choni Hame’agel who, in a time of famine, made a circle round himself and swore that he wouldn’t move from the circle until Hashem sent rain. When a few drops came down he argued that it wasn’t enough. When torrential rain began, he complained that it was too much until Hashem sent gishmei bracha. Reb Shimon ben Shetach was not pleased with Choni.

“ If you weren’t Choni, I would have put you in nidui but what can I do, since you are like a ben bayis of Hashem. He has mercy on you like a father for a son. If a son says to his father, “Wash me in hot water, wash me in cold water, give me nuts, almonds, peaches, pomegranates, the father gives him…

If this is how we would be treated if we are judged like children, it’s imperative to be judged this way. Our year and our whole future may depend on it.

We’ll be delighted to discover that indeed we ourselves can choose how Hashem will be judging us this Rosh Hashono. It’s up to us. But what do we have to do?

Let us consider the following. What is the difference between how a child responds to a request from his parents and how a servant responds to his master? If parents ask their child for a drink the child jumps up, only too happy to help. They ask “ Do you want a cold drink, a hot drink, with sugar, milk?” They serve it with a smile and enthusiasm, full of love for their father and mother. When a master asks his servant for a drink, he’s likely to respond grudgingly, knowing that he has no choice. In fact he was hoping that the master would have asked another servant. He really can’t be bothered. But he wants to escape without a wipping and he brings the drink.

When we have a mitzva to do, maybe getting up early for selichos, learning, Shabbos, kashrus, do we comply because we have to, because we’re afraid of eternal punishment etc or is it with simcha? “Baruch Hashem, I have the opportunity to do another mitzva” The first response is to be expected from somebody who is serving Hashem like a servant serves his master whose only interest is to receive reward and avoid punishment. The second response is to be expected from someone who is serving Hashem out of love.

Of course we are warned by the Tana in Pirkei Avos not to serve Hashem like a servant who serves his master for the purpose of receiving a reward.

The Gemoro in Brochos (29b) says that our prayers should not be like a burden and Rashi explains that this means that a person should not think as he davens that he is just fulfilling his obligation. The Mesilas Yeshorim (Chapter 7) extends this to all mitzvos. “When we are fulfilling any mitzva, we should not try to finish it as soon as possible as if we were carrying a heavy burden”. Rather our attitude should be like Dovid Hamelech said in Tehilim (42) K’ayol taarog al afikei moyim, kein nafshi saarog eilecho, Elokim.Tzomo nafshi lelokim, lekail choi, mosai v’eroeh pnai Elokim. Like a hart yearns for streams of water, so my soul yearns for you, Hashem. My soul thirsts for you, Hashem, the living G-d. When will I merit to see the face of Hashem.”

If our attitude to mitzvos is that we do them because we have to and we try to finish them as quickly as possible as if they are a heavy burden, our relationship to Hashem is like a servant to a Master and we’ll be judged accordingly – with midas hadin. We can can only hope, in the words of the machzor, that Hashem will be gracious to us and judge us favourably.

But if we are really happy to do our avodas Hashem, and we try to do it in the best possible way, like a hart yearns for streams of water, so our soul yearns for Hashem, our relationship with Hashem is like a child to a parent and we’ll be judged with love and mercy, kerachem av al bonim,like a father has mercy on his children. We can even ask for nuts, almonds, peaches and pomegranates and b’ezras Hashem, He’ll give them to us.


“REJOICE IN FEAR”

We can’t say we weren’t warned. The shofar has been reminding us loud and clear that Rosh Hashana is coming. It is another of Hashem’s great chassodim that we know about the Day of Judgment. At least we can prepare. We can be ready to re-accept Hashem as the King of the Universe, hopefully on a higher level than last year. And we can prepare our request list for the next year; what we are hoping to achieve and how to approach Hashem with our requests. We all know the value of preparing for a job interview — what to say and how to say it. The results of our ‘interview’ with Hashem are not just going to affect one detail of our life like whether we get a particular job but every aspect of life; in fact life itself. Are we going to be alive this time next year? We are optimistic that we will be blessed, but it still depends on how this Rosh Hashana goes. As the famous response to being asked how Rosh Hashana was, goes, “I’ll tell you next year.”

Do we really have confidence that our judgment will be favorable or is it just bravado? Let’s follow the Jewish custom of answering a question with another question. “Is there a mitzva of simcha on the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashana?” The Shulchan Aruch (597:1) says there is: “On Rosh Hashana we eat and drink and rejoice.” But isn’t this inappropriate on days when we are being judged? Mishna Berura (581:25) on the statement in the Shulchan Aruch that we prepare clean clothes and have a haircut on erev Rosh Hashana comments: “We are confident that Hashem in His kindness will find us to be righteous in our judgment.” “Nevertheless,” adds the Mishna Berura, “we shouldn’t wear our most elegant clothes on Rosh Hashana because we should be in fear of judgement.” Isn’t this a contradiction? We are confident about our judgment and yet we should be in fear of our judgment. How do these two statements fit together?

A posuk in Tehilim ( 2:11 ) is equally perplexing. “Gilu b’raada – Rejoice in fear.” Rejoicing and fear would appear to be incompatible. Yet this is precisely how we are supposed to daven according to Brachos 30b . What does the posuk mean?

A look at the mizmor we say during Elul, L’Dovid Hashem Ori, also reveals yet another apparent contradiction, this time between the first half and the second. Dovid Hamelech apparently starts with total confidence. “Hashem is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? Hashem is the strength of my life, whom shall I dread? When evildoers approach me to devour my flesh, my tormentors and my foes against me – it is they who will stumble and fall. Though an army would besiege me, my heart would not fear, though war would arise against me, in this I trust.” However later, a different tone emerges. “Hashem, hear my voice when I call. Be gracious to me and answer me. Do not hide Your presence from me, do not turn Your servant away in anger…do not abandon me, do not forsake me.” How can we account for this change in Dovid Hamelech’s attitude, from confidence to apparent fear?

The Chumash tells us, “Eretz Yisroel is a land that the eyes of Hashem are continually fixed on from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” (Devarim 11:12) Rosh Hashana (16a) points out that the word for the beginning of the year, “reishis” is spelt, in the Torah, without the letter aleph at the beginning which hints to the word rash —a poor man. This indicates, says the Gemara, that every year that we begin like a poor person we will be like a rich man by the end. Rashi explains that the Gemara is not referring to lack of money. One should approach Hashem like a poor man approaching a potential benefactor as we learn in Mishlei 18. “Tachanunim yedaber rash.” A poor man speaks to a potential benefactor with great humility. He cannot demand; he just appeals with great self-effacement. “Similarly,” says Rashi, “the Jewish people daven on Rosh Hashana standing humbly in front of Hashem, making no demands, just appealing that Hashem should look kindly at our requests. We have not done enough good deeds to feel that Hashem is somehow obliged to answer our tefilos as we would like. Even if last year Hashem blessed us, this does not mean that He needs to do so this year. An oni knocks on the door of the oshir hoping that he will have some success but realizing that the baal habayis could just as easily totally reject him. He might hope to make eye contact in the hope that the oshir will have rachmonus on him. Similarly we have to stand in front of Hashem on Rosh Hashana hoping that Hashem who is– “rachamov al kol maasav” will have mercy on us. With this attitude at the beginning of the year, of being like a rash – poor man, Chazal tell us, we will be blessed at the end by being like a rich man at the end, with our requests having been accepted.

This way of davening, of making humble supplications rather than demands, is a requirement not just on Rosh Hashana but every day. The Shulchan Aruch (98:3) says explicitly: “A person should speak to Hashem as a poor man speaks at the door of a potential benefactor, hoping to be shown mercy.” The Shaarei Teshuva brings from the Ari that a person should think of this when he says the words “ozer dalim” just before the beginning of the Shemone Esre. Perhaps we can have that same intention when we say the words of Anim Zemiros,           Tikar shirash rosh be’einecho k’shir yushar al korbonecho – May the song of the poor man be as precious to You as a song sung over Your korban.

There is no contradiction between the two halves of L’Dovid Hashem Ori. In the first section Dovid Hamelech is expressing his complete trust in Hashem. Dovid Hamelech was not afraid of his enemies. “They trust their cavalry and their horses but we put our trust in Hashem.” (Tehilim 20:8 ) The whole of the Egyptian army is like one horse to Hashem. (Shemos 14:23, Rashi). In a moment Hashem can destroy an army as He did at the time of krias Yam Suf, with the army of Sancheriv and on many other occasions. Even though success is not always guaranteed, “Habote’ach b’Hashem, chessed yesovevenu, – one who puts his trust in Hashem, will be enveloped by Hashem’s kindness.” (Tehilim 32:10)

But in the second half, Dovid Hamelech is davening to Hashem, “Hashem, hear my voice, do not hide Your face from me … like a poor person at the door of his potential benefactor with humility, begging for mercy. This is how everyone should daven, rich and poor.

On Rosh Hashana we have to show eimas hadin –fear of judgment. We have to be subdued. It is not appropriate to appear in our most festive clothes. We are appealing for Hashem’s mercy. But we are quietly optimistic. If we approach Hashem with humility, conscious of our imperfections, with true acceptance of Him as our Ruler and the Ruler of the whole universe, we have confidence that He will indeed look favourably upon us, extend His great kindness and send His blessings to us for a successful year ahead. And we can even be b’simcha as the posuk tells us – Gilu b’raada – Rejoice in fear.


TO BE INSCRIBED IN THE BOOK OF LIFE

One of the most dramatic and soul-stirring moments of Rosh Hashana is when the Baal Shacharis calls out with great emotion, “Hamelech,” and continues in the traditional tune “yoshev al kisei rom venisa – who sits on His most high and exalted throne.” We have prepared for at least a month for this moment, blowing the shofar throughout Ellul in anticipation of crowning Hashem as our King on Rosh Hashana. Our eyes water with emotion, our neshomos expand at this most moving acceptance of Hashem’s Kingship. Questions that troubled us during the previous year, when life did not proceed as smoothly as we had anticipated are all forgotten as we announce that Hashem is the King who knows what is right for each one of us. And at the same instant we relive the blessings received during the previous year, bestowed generously and mercifully by our Almighty King, Ruler of Heaven and Earth and the source of everything. But at this pivotal moment, perhaps another thought enters our minds. What could it be?

Every morning and evening when we say the Shema, we accept upon ourselves ol malchus shomayim – the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven. That is why, according to the Mishna in Brachos ( ), we say the first paragraph of the Shema and then the second. First we accept Hashem’s kingdom and His mitzvos, then we read of the reward for keeping the mitzvos and the punishment for transgressing them. But one difficulty is the very first mitzva mentioned, “You shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” Why this mitzva? Surely we should be first told about more down to earth mitzvos like learning Torah, wearing Tefilin and fixing a mezuza. Why put what is arguablythe most difficult mitzva first?

In Parshas Vayishlach we read of one the most upsetting episodes of the Chumash—the violation and abduction of Dina the daughterof Yaakov. We read how Shechem the son of Chamor was infatuated with Dina. The pasuk says that his soul clung to Dina, he loved her and wanted desperately to marry her. Thereafter negotiations began between Shechem and his family and Yaakov Ovinu and his sons whether such a marriage could be agreed by both sides. Why bring in this gruesome and distressing episode into our Rosh Hashana preparations?

Henry Smith is a politically aware citizen and he supports a particular candidate for president of his country. This candidate seems to be more capable than the rest and so, on election day he gets up and casts his vote for this candidate who is duly elected. Henry then concentrates on his own affairs and doesn’t involve himself in politics for the next four years. Another person is slightly more involved and wanting to make some kind of contribution, becomes a member of the party and pays his annual dues of $50. Another person is quite enamored by the president and becomes a donor to the party but still devotes most of his time to his own projects unconnected to politics. Another person is even more supportive; he speaks to his friends about how good the president is and why they should consider joining the party. Another person even arranges occasional evenings to bring in new supporters for the president. Another person is so supportive that he applies for a full time job in the party so that he can devote much more time to enlarging the president’s voter base. He is busy from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm working for the good of the president. Of course after 5.00 pm he is involved in other matters, sport and entertainment. Another person has largely given up other pursuits and even after 5.00 pm he spends his evenings speaking in front of large audiences in praise of the president hoping that his enthusiastic support will rub off on others. But another person still is as supportive as anyone could possibly be. He loves this president and spends all his time, all his thoughts, trying to think of ways that will increase people’s honor for the president so that other people will also begin to love and honor him. Both he and Henry Smith, come election day, support the president and cast their vote for him but there is a huge difference between the two.

When we say the Shema and accept the kingship of Hashem we can do it in a very minimal way. Yes, I agree that He is the King and I will serve Him. But we can also accept His kingship with great enthusiasm and love. We can spend our whole day keeping all the mitzvos in the best possible way. We can act in a way that others will be influenced to serve Hashem as well. Our thoughts can be so full of love for Hashem that nothing else is important to us. This is why the mitzva of loving Hashem is mentioned first, even though it is arguably the most difficult, because we are being reminded that kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim is not a static concept. We can grow in the level of our acceptance of Hashem as our King from the very minimum, to the level of loving Hashem with our heart, soul and strength and with every fibre of our being. It may not be achievable in one day but is rather a level to strive for throughout our lives.

The Mesilas Yesharim says that our aim should be that our devotion to Hashem should be at least at the level of Shechem’s love for Dina. Let us imagine that just as Shechem was busy negotiating with Yaakov for his permission to marry Dina, his friend came in and started telling him about some political news in their community. Shechem would dismiss him in a moment. “Not now,” he would shout. “I’m busy with Dina.” Another friend came in with news of a cheap offer on Egyptian horses. “Not now,” he would shout even louder, “I’m busy with Dina. Nothing else interests me.” “Is our love and devotion to Hashem as great as Shechem’s devotion to Dina at that moment?” asks the Mesilas Yesharim.

This could be our third thought as the Baal Shacharis calls out, “Hamelech.” Has our level of crowning Hashem improved since last year? Are we just card-carrying subjects of Hashem or are we loyal, active supporters? Do we turn up to crown Hashem just on Rosh Hashana or is He constantly in our thoughts? At this moment, a decision to try to love Him and honor Him even more than before, might just be the reason that Hashem will inscribe us immediately in the Book of Life.

Our Greatest Comfort

This final haftora of comfort envisages the highest possible level of simcha – rejoicing with Hashem. Sos osis B’Hashem tagel nafshi b’Elokai. (Yeshaya 61:10). I will rejoice deeply with Hashem, my soul will exult with my G-d. He has dressed me in the clothes of salvation… like a bridegroom who exalts himself with splendor, like a bride who bedecks herself with her jewelry. The imagery of profound love is used a few pasukim later: “As a bridegroom rejoices with his bride, so will Hashem rejoice with us.” (62:5)

We anticipate this formidable simcha every month when we say kiddush levana. We look forward to the time when the moon will again be an equal partner with the sun and compare this to the renewal of the close relationship between Hashem and Knesses Yisroel after the years of estrangement in golus. This is why we dance after kiddush levana as we dance at a wedding.(Rama 426:2).

During Kiddush Levana we quote Shir Hashirim: “The voice of my beloved, behold it came suddenly leaping over mountains, skipping over hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or young hart. Behold he was standing behind our wall, observing through the windows, peering through the cracks.” (2:8-9) The pasukim testify that even during golus, the connection between us and Hashem was never broken. Even when we couldn’t see Him, He was always watching over us, observing through the windows, peering through the cracks. Yeshaya also said in our haftorah(63:9), “Bechol tzorosom lo tzar – in all their troubles He was troubled. He sent messengers to save them and with love and compassion He redeemed them.”

Lemaan Tzion lo echeshe, leman Yerusholayim lo eshkot,” says Yeshaya in our haftora (62:1).For the sake of Zion I will not be silent, for the sake of Yerushalayim I will not rest.” Hashem ensured that the nations of the world would not live in peace as long as Yerusholayim was bereft of her children. The eighty years’ war for Dutch independence from Spain, the Hundred Years’ war between England and France, the two hundred and fourteen years of war between the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, the first and second world wars and many others have regularly punctuated history. Many wars still continue in Africa and South East Asia.

Why has the golus been so long? No-one can say for sure. But the survival of the Jewish People despite the length of the golus is possibly the greatest miracle. Reb Yonason Eibeschitz famously said that the miracle of the survival of the Jews despite the golus is greater than the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim. In the Hagada we say that in every generation, the nations rise up to destroy us but Hashem saves us from them. What greater proof could there be that the love between Hashem and His People has never ceased? While it is not possible to interpret current events without ruach hakodesh, we see today how millions of Jews have come to live in Eretz Yisroel; so many beautiful communities of religious Jews exist and are growing. We see the words of the navi coming to life: “Old men and old women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem each with his staff in his hand because of advanced age and the streets of the city are filled with boys and girls playing.” (Zechariah 8:4-5).

Every day in times of success or failure, good health or illness, peace or troubles, we affirm our love for Hashem. Ve’ohavto es Hashem Elokecha bechol levavcho, bechol nafshecha uvechol me’odecho. We are prepared to give up our lives in loyalty to Hashem and His Torah and many have done so. Ironically our love for Hashem has deepened precisely because of the long golus and many trials and tribulations. This is because a love which is based on constant blessings is more likely to be superficial. It could well be a form of self-love. “I love G-d because He is always giving me things.” Someone with such a shallow ‘love’ of G-d will change if he is faced with difficult challenges. But we have gone through slavery in Egypt, exile in Babylon, persecutions and pogroms. We know that Hashem sometimes rebukes us, sometimes tests us. We do not always see a positive response to our tefilos. But our love of Hashem remains deep because we appreciate that “His thoughts are not our thoughts.” What He sees as good for us or what is good for the world is not necessarily within our grasp. And we remain loyal to Hashem even at the darkest moments.

This haftora of parshas Nitzavim, the last of the shiva denechemta is always read just before Rosh Hashana. Just as we prepare to accept Hashem again as our King, we are reminded by the navi of our deep and ancient connection with Hashem. Blowing the shofar reminds us of our emuna that the ingathering of the exiles will happen. Hashem, who has been caring for us for many centuries “through the cracks,” will soon be visible to us and the whole world in all His resplendent glory. “Soon,“the fear of You will be upon all peoples”. Soon, “Your people will be honored, those who fear you will be praised.” Soon,“the tzaddikim will rejoice, the yesharim will exalt and the chassidim will rejoice in song.” Soon, “all wickedness will evaporate like smoke.” Soon Yeshaya’s prophecy will be fulfilled that ”Your grain will no longer be plundered as food for our enemies and strangers will no longer drink the wine which you have toiled for.”(62:8). We will be a crown of splendour in the hand of Hashem and a royal diadem in His palm. (62:3) Just as the sun will rejoice again with the renewed moon after their long estrangement, Hashem will soon rejoice with us, His loyal People, with unparalled love, as a chosson celebrates with his kalloh.. And this is our greatest comfort.

Oh Childless One, Sing and be Happy

In this latest haftora of comfort, for parshas Ki Seitzei, Yeshaya again looks forward to the great Geula of the future. “Oh childless one, sing and be happy… Make plenty of space for all the Jewish People who will be returning… They will burst out to the right and the left. They will inherit the nations and re-inhabit the destroyed cities.” (54:1-3).

It’s certainly comforting to we have a great future to look forward to. But we would like it to happen already. Why hasn’t it? Could Yeshaya be hinting to the reason?

Yeshaya describes the Jewish people in golus in different ways. Here he says, “childless one.” A few pesukim later (54:11) he uses the words, “afflicted, storm-tossed one.” Earlier (51:21) he said, “Drunk but not from wine.” It seems unlikely that Yeshaya was merely, varying his words for poetic effect. Each phrase has its own meaning and implications. In Eicha (1:2) Jerusalem is described as a widow. Why are there these different descriptions? Why did Yeshaya use the term, “childless one” here?

The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 11:1) writes that “Hamelech Hamoshiach is going to arise and restore the Malchus Beis Dovid, rebuild the Beis Hamikdash, gather in the Jewish exiles and restore all the Laws of the Torah as they were. There will be korbonos, shmitta, yovlos as written in the Torah. Anyone who doesn’t believe in this or doesn’t yearn for his coming has not only denied the prophets but the Torah and Moshe Rabeinu, since the Torah says that Hashem “will have mercy on you, will bring back the Jews who have been exiled to all the nations of the world.” The Rambam has brought a source that there will be an ingathering of all the Jews – not believing in this, is denying the Torah. But where is the source that we have to yearn for its fulfillment? And why do we have to look forward to it? There is no obligation to look forward to do any other time-related mitzva. Whenever the time of the mitzva comes, we will do it. One of the questions we will all be asked is “Tzipisa l’yeshua? Why is it not enough to believe that the Moshiach will come? Why do we have to look forward to this time?

The Rambam (12:1-4) goes on to describe what will happen in the days of Moshiach in more detail. “Do not imagine that there will be a change in the natural world. When the posuk in Yeshaya says that the wolf will lie with the lamb, and the leopard with the goat, this is a moshol referring to a period of peace between the Jews and the nations of the world, who will all return to true belief. The nations will not be violent nor will they plunder. We do not know the true meanings in these mosholim but we will find out when the time comes. The Chachomim and the Nevi’im did not look forward to the days of the Moshiach in order to rule over the whole world or to fight against the nations or in the hope that the nations will raise us up. And not to eat, drink and be happy. But to be free to delve into the Torah and its wisdom without disturbance and to earn merits for the world to come. Then there will be no famines, no wars, no jealousy and no competition. All good things will be freely available and everybody will be free to learn about Hashem. The Jewish People will be very wise, knowing hidden things and will understand their Creator as much as a person can; as is written, “The world will be full of knowledge of Hashem as the water covers the sea.” (Chabakuk 2:14).\

The Mishna says (Sukkah 41a) that at first there was an obligation to take the lulav  on the seven days of Succos in the Beis Hamikdash and elsewhere just on one day. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, Reb Yochanan ben Zakai decreed that the lulav should be taken on all seven days of Succos wherever we are, to remind us of how it was in the time of the Beis Hamikdash. The Gemara asks, “Where is the source that we should do things to remind us of how things were in the time of the Beis Hamikdash? The Gemara brings a posuk (Yirmiyahu 30:17) “They called Zion ‘discarded’; no-one cares about her.” From which we can learn, says the Gemara, that we have to care about her.” Yirmiyahu has just prophesied, “I am saving you from distant places and your descendants from the land of their captivity. Jacob will return and will be at peace and tranquil and none will make him afraid.” (30:10) The Gemara understood that this wonderful prophecy has not materialized because we show too little concern for Zion — how it was in the time of the Beis Hamikdash with the joy of the Avoda, the thrice-yearly homage to Hashem and the constant miracles. We used to smell the fresh hot scent of the lechem hapanim even though it was baked seven days earlier, how a tiny amount of the lechem hapanim was totally satisfying, how the crimson cloth turned white, as teshuva was accepted on Yom Kippur, how the azoroh was packed but everyone had enough space to prostrate himself as well as all the other constant miracles. (Yuma 21a).

If we don’t appreciate our majestic past, if we are quite happy in the present, then in the future Hashem will not give us back what we lost. In order to merit the Geula we have to be like the widow in Eicha who constantly thinks back to the joyful times she had with her late husband.

We have also to look forward to the days of Moshiach as the Rambam reminded us. “Not to rule over the world, not to eat, drink and be happy but to spend our days learning the Torah and its wisdom without disturbance.” It is not enough to believe that the Moshiach will come. Longing for it shows who we really are, what is really important to us. Do we really want a new Beis Hamikdash, korbonos, shemitta and yovlos? Do we want more time to learn the Torah? If we don’t, we can’t expect Hashem to send us the Moshiach. This is why the question, “Did you look forward to the salvation?” is crucial.

Yeshaya promises us a future ingathering of the exiles, an idyllic peace portrayed poetically and famously as the wolf lying down with the lamb but only if we are like a childless woman who craves a child desperately.  We cannot accept the present situation of golus hashechina and chillul Hashem; a world of tzaddik vera lo, rosho vetov lo; a world where every third rate monarch has a resplendent palace while the Beis Hamikdash of the Creator of the world lies in ruins. The source of the Rambam could be this pasuk in Yeshaya.

This is how Yeshaya comforts us this week. Hashem is waiting to send the Moshiach. But do we want him? Does the absence of a Beis Hamikdash matter to us? Do we yearn for it? If we do, promises Yeshaya, we will merit it. The time to sing and be happy will have come.

Wake Up – Arise from the Dust

Although Yeshaya has tried to comfort us in the first three weeks of the shiva d’nechemta, we still need more words of encouragement to help us survive spiritually during our long exile. What new ideas can this week’s haftora of Shoftim bring to our attention?

Anochi, anochi hu menachemchem,” begins Yeshaya. “Only through Me can you be comforted.” Looking to false gods for comfort does not help.  Don’t imagine that the religions of the world have answers not found in the Torah. Don’t think that immersing yourself in materialism will help. Don’t turn to drink to find solace. You will emerge from Golus only through maintaining your belief in Me and My Torah .

Mi at vatiri me’enosh yomus umiben odom chatzir yinasein.” Don’t think that your salvation is dependent on man who is here today but tomorrow in a grave.

Vatishkach Hashem osecha noteh shomayim veyoseid oretz. Have you forgotten Me who created you, who spread out all the heavens and established the earth?”

Ani Hashem Elokecho rogah hayom veyemu galov.” I am Hashem your G-d who decrees that a stormy sea calms down.

Hashem Tzevokos Shemo.” “I am the G-d of the sun and moon, the planets, stars and galaxies.”

Clearly I am the one to whom you should turn for help. How have you survived as a people all this time? In what merit have you outlived all the ancient empires?

Vo’osim devorai beficho uvetzeil yodo kisisich.” It is only because of your loyalty to the Torah which I put in your mouth to speak that I have protected you in the shadow of My hand.

This is how Yeshaya reinforces our belief and trust in Hashem. If this most powerful Creator is on our side to protect us, surely this is our greatest comfort . True, Golus is not easy. We are not in our land, we have no Beis Hamikdash with its open miracles where we went three times a year to pay homage to Hashem. We do not enjoy the material blessings which are appropriate for Hashem’s loyal followers. But who are we to presume to understand why we have been in Golus so long? The One who created the world and rules over the whole universe surely has His reasons for everything. A child may have no idea why his mother has taken him away from his toys and is walking with him down the road. As long as he is holding his mother’s hand, he is content. In her child’s eyes, a mother is all-knowing.

Now Yeshaya tells us the comforting, joyous news – after two thousand years Golus is almost over. We have fulfilled the conditions for the Geula.

Hisorari, hisorari kumi Yerusholayim asher shosis miyad Hashem es kos chamoso es kuba’as kos hatareila shosis motzis. – Wake up, wake up. Rise, O Jerusalem, you have drunk from the hand of Hashem the cup of His anger. You have drunk and drained the sediments of the cup of bewilderment.” Yeshaya is telling us, who have suffered at the hand of the nations of the world for two millennia, not only that have we already drunk the cup of Hashem’s anger because of aveiros we did in exile but we have drained even the last dregs of that cup. We have fulfilled every one of the curses in the Torah. We have been cursed in the city and cursed in the field. We have been cursed when we came in and when we went out. The heavens over our heads turned into brass and the land became iron. Our carcasses have been left for food for the bird of the sky and the beast of the earth. We built houses but we did not live in them, planted vineyards and never ate from their fruit. We became a parable – ‘the wandering Jew’ and an object of hateful slander – blood libels which continue to this day. We lived through days when we yearned for the night but on that same night we yearned for the day. We have been scattered among the peoples from one end of the earth to the other. Every sediment of that cup of anger we have already drunk. Now it is time to rejoice.

Uri, uri, livshi uzeich tzion livshi bigdei sifarteich Yerusholayim ir hakodesh. Wake up, wake up. Adorn yourself, Zion, with a re-established Beis Hamikdash, Kehuna, Sanhedrin, Malchus. (Malbim). Adorn yourself with clothes of splendor, Yerusholayim, because impure people will no longer enter you. Hisnaari me’ofor kumi. Shake off your dust and arise.” Pitzchu ranenu chorvos Yerusholayim ki nicham Hashem amo, go’al Yerusholayim. Burst out and sing, O ruins of Yerusholayim, because Hashem has comforted His people, He has redeemed Yerusholayim.

 

Illuminating the Darkness

This week, the haftora from parshas Re’eh is only read in sefardi shuls. In ashkenazi shuls it is delayed until parshas Ki Teitzei. It is the next haftora in the shiva d’nechemta – the seven weeks of comfort by the nevi’im following Tisha B’Av. Yeshaya again prophesies our glorious future. (54:11-13) “O afflicted, storm-tossed one who has not been consoled, Behold I will set down gems as your flooring stones and lay your foundation with sapphires.  I will set your window-frames with ruby, make your gates of carbuncle stones and all your boundary of precious stones.” Yeshaya seems to tell us that, our financial circumstances will be very comfortable, unlike our years in Golus. Our homes will be built with the most precious stones, with ‘money no object.’ But is this a comfort? Is poverty the reason for our discomfort in Golus? Baruch Hashem the Jews don’t do so badly. Most of our homes are adequate and some verge on the luxurious. Poverty is not per se an intrinsic part of Golus. The Ramban writes: “…all the curses of the Torah are for Eretz Yisroel before the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash or immediately after based on our behavior then. (Devarim 28:42).  Once we have been exiled, the posuk says “lo me’astim velo ge’altim lechalosom – I will not reject them to destroy them.” “On the contrary,” says the Ramban,“our financial situation in Golus will be relatively benign on the whole, better than the non-Jews.” So in what sense are Yeshaya’s words a source of comfort to us?

I would like to suggest two different ways that Yeshaya is comforting us with these words. My first way is Yeshaya “leshitasei.Yeshaya in our haftora is alluding to a concept he spoke about a few chapters later, based on Rosh Hashana 23a. “Says Reb Yochanan, “Woe to the idol worshipers who will have no atonement, as is written, (Yeshaya 60:17), ‘In place of the copper I will bring gold, in place of iron I will bring silver, in place of wood, copper and in place of stones, iron.’” And what about Rebbe Akiva and other Jewish martyrs? How will their deaths be atoned for? About them it is written in Yoel 4:21 ‘Venikeisi, domom lo nikeisi.’  I will atone for those who stole from the Jews by forcing them to pay back what they stole, many times over but there is no atonement for those who shed Jewish blood.”

We do not look forward to the Redemption to become rich. But we will become rich anyway. If the nations plundered our copper they will have to give us gold; if they plundered our iron they will have to pay back silver and so on, as Yeshaya writes. With all the money paid as restitution by the nations, we will be able to build our homes with precious stones as Yeshaya said. The knowledge that those who stole will pay back many times over and those who shed Jewish blood will have no atonement is quite a comfort for us, even now. In fact it is heartwarming to anticipate the traffic jams all over the streets of Europe, especially down the autobahn, as trucks full of money make their way to Eretz Yisroel to pay back the Jews for what the non-Jews stole from us. And this is from those who only plundered. Those who killed Jews or even co-operated in the killing of Jews will not have a mere monetary punishment. Domom lo nikeisi they will have no atonement.

But Yeshaya may also be giving us comfort in a different way. After Moshe Rabbeinu appealed, at the beginning of Vo’eschanan, to be allowed into Eretz Yisroel he was told, “Rav lach.” Rashi in one explanation says that Moshe Rebbeinu was being told that he should stop davening to enter Eretz Yisroel because he will receive something more important. “Harbeh mizeh shamur lecha .” What will Moshe Rabbeinu receive that is more important than Eretz Yisroel? Perhaps we can understand this if we refer to a similar statement said to Aaron Hakohen. When he was upset that he wasn’t included in the Chanukas Hamizbe’ach, he was told, “Shelecha gedola mishelohem.” There Chazal concluded the phrase, “She’atah madlik umeitiv es haneiros. Aaron’s role in preparing and lighting the menorah was more important than participating in the chanukas hamizbe’ach. (Bamidbar 8:2, Rashi) The menorah symbolized the Torah sheb’al peh as explained by many commentaries. It what sense was the Torah sheb’al peh more important than the Avoda in the Beis Hamikdash? And Moshe Rabbeinu symbolized Torah shebiksav which he brought down from Har Sinai. Perhaps he was also being told that, “Harbeh mizeh shamur lechah” – the Torah shebiksav which you represent is more important than Eretz Yisroel. In what sense?

Moshe Rabbeinu and Aaron Hakohen together represented the Torah in its totality – Torah shebiksav and Torah sheb’al peh. The importance of Torah is greater than both Eretz Yisroel and the Beis Hamikdash because, despite their huge significance, Klal Yisroel can survive without them, as evidenced by the nearly two thousand years of our present golus. But without the Torah we could not have survived more than a few generations. In this sense, for both Moshe and Aaron, “Shelecha gedola mishelohem. Their zechus and consequent reward is greater than those of who enter Eretz Yisroel or who participate in the Avoda in the Beis Hamikdash.

The very next posuk of Yeshaya after the description of our homes adorned with precious stones says, “Kol bonayich limudei Hashem verav shalom bonayich – all your children will be students of Hashem and they will enjoy peace.” The Malbim learns that the stones Yeshaya speaks about are symbolic of spiritual concepts. We can now explain that Yeshaya is comforting the ‘afflicted, storm-tossed one who cannot be consoled’ by assuring her that her children will return to her and even before they return to her, she can be comforted that they will be like precious stones. Even in golus, the Jewish homes will be adorned with the Torah which will be learned and practiced in them. “All your children will be students of Hashem and will be like precious stones in their determination to remain loyal to the Torah. Their beautiful middos tovos will shine in contrast to the coarseness of those not privileged to have the Torah’s inspiration. Their faith in Hashem will glow in contrast to the godless world around them. Their purity will illuminate the darkness of a world which in every generation tries to destroy the Jews to salvage their own conscience. And because of this, Hashem guarantees their survival and their eventual return.

In the merit of the Torah, Yeshaya assures and comforts us, “Mountains may move, hills may fall, but My  covenant with you will always remain, (54:10).

Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of the popular Family Halacha Series, Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos? Do You Know Hilchos Brachos? and Do You Know Hilchos Chol Hamoed? and his hashkafa sefarim, From Strength to Strength, Dancing in our Hearts and The Hidden Light.

He Promised

As we move through the shiva d’nechemta, the seven weeks of comforting by the nevi’im, we might remember Kiddushin 31b. Rav Abahu was an old man, in failing health when he asked his son Avimi for a cup of water. Avimi rushed to bring the water, but Rav Abahu had already dozed off. Rather than waken his father, Avimi crouched at the foot of the couch, glass of water in hand so that he could give his father a drink as soon as he woke up. While Avimi waited, he thought of a new interpretation of Tehilim 49, Mizmor L’Asaf. Rashi explains that Avimi had a question on the the words, “Mizmor l’Asaf.” The first pasuk says, “The nations have entered Your inheritance,” referring to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. The opening words should have been kina l’Asaf– a dirge of Asaf, rather than “Mizmor L’Asaf” a song of Asaf. As Avimi was crouching at his father’s feet, he had siyatta dishmaya and realized the positive side of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash – He poured out His wrath on wood and stones. Rather than destroying the Jewish People for sins which made them unworthy of the Beis Hamikdash, Hashem destroyed the Beis Hamikdash. Now the Jewish People could do teshuva and be blessed in the future. Was there any connection between the fact that Avimi was just then crouching at the feet of his old, sick father and this optimistic interpretation of the Mizmor L’Asaf?

After the Romans had destroyed the Beis Hamikdash, Rebbe Akiva was once walking with Rabbon Gamliel, Rebbe Elozor ben Azariya and Rebbe Yehoshua. They noticed a fox coming out of the place which had been the Kodesh HaKadashim. Three of these great tannaim were so distraught that they cried, yet Rebbe Akiva laughed. He explained that since the prophecy of Micha which said, “Zion will be ploughed over like a field and Har Habayis will become like heaps of stone in the forest,” has been fulfilled, surely the prophecy of Zechariah that, “Old men and women will again sit in the streets of Yerusholayim with their staffs in their hands because of old age and streets of the city will be full of boys and girls playing,” will also be fulfilled. (Makkos 24b).

“Knesses Yisroel asked Hashem, ‘Engrave me on Your Heart,’ Hashem answered, ’My daughter, why do you ask for something which is sometimes seen and sometimes not seen? I will engrave you on the palm of My hand which I will always see.’(Taanis 4a). As the pasuk says, “Behold I have engraved you upon My palms.” (Yeshaya 49:16).

One of the six constant mitzvos is remembering what Amalek did to us when we left Mitzrayim. What aspect of Amalek are we supposed to remember and why is “Do not forget.” repeated at the end of the paragraph.(Devorim 17-19) We tend to think that the pasuk is commanding us to remember the evil of Amalek and never forget to destroy the Amaleki nation. However the Sefer Hachinuch has a completely different explanation. He says that the mitzva is to remember how Amalek attacked the Jews and how Hashem defeated and destroyed them. We must always remember and never forget that the same will happen to all enemies of the Jews who want to destroy us, that Hashem will destroy them.

In the Shemone Esrei we say, “Ki lishu’oscho kivinu kol hayom. – We have hoped for your salvation the whole day.” Is it true? Do we hope for Hashem’s salvation the whole day? Are we never involved in other matters which distract us from thinking about Hashem’s salvation?

A true story is told of a man who constantly expressed his love for his son. He assured him that he would always be there for him. ‘If you ever have any problem, I will come to help you.’ One terrible day, an earthquake struck the town where his son lived. The authorities informed the families that it was impossible for anyone to have survived in the flattened buildings. The father came immediately to see if he could do anything to find his son. “Maybe, just maybe, he is trapped but still alive.” The authorities said it was futile. The father refused to accept his son’s death and ran to the exact spot where he reckoned his son must have been when the earthquake struck. Indeed it was completely flattened with no sign of life. However the father began digging with whatever tools he had. After a whole day he was totally exhausted from his efforts and had achieved very little. The next day he was back digging down inch by inch. Nightfall came with no results. He came back on the third day with helpers and more tools and continued working. As nightfall approached, the father noticed that the ground was slightly softer and he thought that maybe it was a sign of something.  Soon a hole appeared and, miracle of miracles, he saw his son underneath with some other boys trapped under a table, weak and dirty, but still alive. As his father jumped down to embrace his son, the boy turned to his friends and said, “I told you my father would come to rescue me. He promised.”

While Avimi was waiting for his father to wake up, he must have thought how physically weak his father had become. Perhaps he wondered why Hashem had transformed a healthy man, the leader of a generation to a state where he could hardly stay awake. Perhaps he realized that we have such questions because our perspective is so limited. Hashem has His reasons for everything He does. Everything is for the best. Hashem was visibly preparing Rav Abahu for his future life in Olam Haba, where he would not need his physical body. Avimi might have moved on to the question of why Hashem allowed the Beis Hamikdash to be destroyed. He would have realized that Hashem could not simply have abandoned us. He has promised never to forget us. Avimi concluded that it was an act of kindness that Hashem poured out his wrath on wood and stones, allowing the Jewish People to live on.

“In every generation they rise up against us to destroy us.” Like Amalek, they will all be defeated and we will live on, b’ezras Hashem. Hashem sees and looks after the Jewish People continuously. He cannot forget us, because we are engraved in “the palm of His hand.” To Hashem a day is like a thousand years; throughout that “day’ when we suffered expulsions, persecutions, pogroms and a Holocaust, we never lost our faith and our confidence in Hashem’s ultimate salvation. Like Rebbe Akiva we saw, even in the depths of exile, the seeds of future redemption.

Yeshaya tells us, (49:14-15), “Zion perhaps thinks that Hashem has forsaken her, He has forgotten her.” Not true, says the navi. “Can a mother forget her baby, not have mercy on the child of her womb? And even if she would, I will never forget the Jewish People.” This is Yeshaya’s comfort to us. Hashem will never forget us. He loves us like “the apple of his eye.” We may go through difficult times but salvation will come eventually. He promised.

Just a Question of Time

The difference is plain. Like day and night.

After Yom Kippur we are cleansed, forgiven and atoned for. We feel like a new person.

After Tisha B’Av we seem to be back to square one. A whole day of beseeching Hashem to send the Moshiach, to be worthy of redemption ends in zero achievement. We go home from Maariv still hungry, still wearing dirty clothes, desperately needing a shower, having apparently got nowhere. How can we be comforted in these seven weeks of comfort? What words from the navi can give us a ray of light, some speck of optimism as we return to our old routine with our troubles possibly worse than before we started, three weeks ago?

In our daily Shemone Esrei we say that Hashem sustains the living with loving kindness, gives life to the dead in great mercy. He supports those who have fallen, He heals the sick, frees those who are imprisoned and keeps His promise to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, Master of mighty deeds and who is comparable to You? Why do we ask who is comparable to Hashem? What difference would it make, even if there were a certain power similar to Hashem, if that power is inferior to Hashem? Certainly our allegiance would be to Hashem, the greatest power. The second-greatest power is of no consequence. This question could be asked on a familiar line from both Shacharis and Maariv. “Who is like You amongst the mighty ones, Hashem? Who is like You, mighty in holiness, too awesome for praise, doing wonders? And if there would be a second grade god who is great but not as great as Hashem, that would make a difference? We are about to daven to Hashem, the greatest G-d. Only He is worthy to be davened to since He is superior to all other gods. Even a slightly inferior god is useless to us since it is also under Hashem’s power. Interestingly, Yeshaya HaNavi also says in the name of Hashem, in the section we read on Shabbos Nachamu, “Who is like Me, says the Holy One?”(40:25) What is the meaning of stating again and again that nobody is like Hashem?

On Tisha B’Av we look at ourselves and wonder what are we not doing right that Hashem has not sent the Moshiach yet? We know that the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins of immorality, bloodshed and idol worship so we distance ourselves as far as we can from those heinous aveiros. We know that the second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of causeless hatred so we work on ahavas chessed. We know that believing in the ultimate redemption is not enough; we must also look forward to it, so we try to learn about what we are missing, what the Beis Hamikdash represented, why all our calamities throughout history are ultimately a consequence of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. Our tefilos are invigorated, as we appeal desperately to Hashem that we should suffer no more persecution, no more pogroms, no more Holocausts. What is holding up Moshiach? How much longer do we have to wait?

One answer could be that indeed we are ready but the world isn’t. Before the final geula, the world has to reject all other possible beliefs. To accept the Moshiach, the world has to have seen that there is no other religion, no other ‘ism’, no other possible explanation of our existence. There is only Hashem and His Torah. Everything else is false.

The world has to go through this long process. It needs to see to the futility of serving idols. It is totally false to give credence to any ‘alternative’ version of our Torah. The so-called daughter-religions are at best garbled half-truths. Communism did not lead to equality. Socialism did not create a fairer society. Zionism did not end anti-semitism. Reform Judaism is not only wrong but also a one-way street to national obliteration. The nation which promoted culture and the arts committed a Holocaust. Worship of the body is futile and creates misery. Atheism is an excuse for immorality because there is no immorality in the “survival of the fittest.”

If any of these alternatives to recognition of Hashem had any credibility, to the extent that they were in some way similar to Hashem, it might take eternity for the world to gain clarity in what is right and wrong. But we emphasise in our davening that there is nothing even similar to Hashem, no belief system which remotely compares to Hashem and His Torah. As Yeshaya continues (ibid), “Raise your eyes and see who created these, who brings out all the Hosts by number, who calls out each by name …and not one is missing.” Who indeed created the sun, moon and stars? The Heaven and Earth, the many galaxies? A graven image, a man here or a man there, by themselves?  The idea is ludicrous. How long can it take for the world to come to its senses? All the ancient peoples realised that “The Torah is the source of the wisdom of the Jews.” (Devarim 4:6). So how long can it take modern man to embrace the Torah as being the sole truth? Surely it is only a matter of time.

This is Yeshayahu’s comfort to us in these seven weeks of comfort. “Hang in there. Keep beseeching Hashem, keep avoiding the sins which caused the Batei Mikdash to be destroyed. Continue yearning for Moshiach. There is nothing even similar to Hashem and therefore it is just a question of time. Surely, very soon both the Jewish People and all the nations of the world will realise that Hashem is the only truth. And then Moshiach will quickly arrive.”

Yisgadal Veyiskadesh Shemei Rabboh

In the Shacharis Kedusha of Shabbos and Yom Tov, we implore Hashem to rule over us. This is a very strange request. Haven’t we all already accepted Hashem as our King? When we say the Shema we affirm that Hashem is our King. He is, was and always will be our King, as we repeat many times especially on Rosh Hashono when we crown Him as we hear the resounding tekios? What do we mean when we say and often sing ‘Vesimloch oleinu ki mechakim anachnu loch – Rule over us because we are waiting for You’?

Three times a day we say the two paragraphs of Oleinu. The first paragraph emphasizes how much we must thank Hashem that He has chosen us to be His People, mentioning also that He rules over Heaven and Earth. We can never thank Hashem enough for our beautiful inheritance. But why do we say the second paragraph, that the all idol worshippers should acknowledge Him, so often?  Of course we want Moshiach to come. But why do we repeat this request every time we say Oleinu?

The Rambam writes that it is a mitzvas asei to build a house for Hashem, ready for us to visit three times a year and bring korbonos in it. If possible it should be overlaid with gold. (Hilchos Beis Habechira 1:1 and 11)  Later he writes that it is a mitzvas  asei for the Beis Hamikdash to  be guarded even though there is no fear of enemies. (ibid 8:1)  The Rambam explains that guarding the Beis Hamikdash is a way of showing honour to Hashem: “One cannot compare a palace with guards to a palace without guards.”

All this is the minimum honour we can give to Hashem our King. Any powerful king has a resplendent palace which is a symbol of his power. His subjects will visit him regularly to pay homage to him and do there whatever he commands them to do. How much more so should we honour Hashem who is the King of Heaven and Earth.

This is indeed how things were in the time of the Beis Hamikdash, especially the first one. Shlomo Hamelech built a beautiful Beis Hamikdash in Hashem’s honour. Kohanim, Hashem’s hand-picked representatives, served there doing the prescribed Avoda. Three times a year all the People left their farms across Eretz Yisroel to come and pay homage to Hashem, bringing with them a sample of the blessings Hashem had granted them during the year.

During Pesach, my wife and I visited our family who live in various communities in England and we saw new shuls, new mikvaos and many Yidden davening, learning and living like loyal Jews. We were impressed. There are other beautiful communities in America, Australia, South Africa and many other places over the world. We are apt to be happy and proud of all these different communities in the “four corners of the world.”

However we may be forgetting our true lowly position or more accurately the terrible chillul Hashem in today’s situation. We have become used to Jews living mefuzar umeforad bein ho’amim – scattered among the nations. This is, for us, normal. But Hashem is King of the Heaven and Earth and His People should be living in honour in the special land which He gave us. Anything else is a chillul Hashem (Sotah 49a). Where is Hashem’s Beis Hamikdash, the symbol of His Kingship?  In ruins. As the prophets bemoaned, “Where is His strength, where is His might?” Instead of doing His Avoda we have to suffice with learning what used to be done. As the malachim ask, “Where is the place of His glory?”

This is a shocking, intolerable chillul Hashem.  We believe that Hashem is all-powerful but the facts on the ground seem to indicate otherwise. Modern idol-worshippers abound. We say that we are in golus but we forget about the golus of the Shechina.  Our lives continue as though all is well. Where are the signs of our shock, our disgust and our misery at this spiritual catastrophe?

Fortunately, however, the siddur, reminds us not to be satisfied. We speak of Hashem’s glory and might in the first half of Oleinu. But then, in response to our realization that the world which we see hardly reflects Hashem’s glory, we immediately express our hope that this horrible contradiction will soon be rectified; that all these ancient and modern idol-worshippers, will soon “bend their knees to Hashem” in an acknowledgement of their error. In Kedusha after proclaiming Hashem’s great Holiness we immediately plead, Mimkomecho Malkeinu  sofia, eineinu sir’eno malchusecho.” Of course we believe that You are the King of Heaven and Earth, but ’eineinu sireno malchusecho’ – we want to see Your Kingship and we want the whole world to see Your Glory. As we say in Yom Tov Musaf, “Galei kevod malchusecho – Reveal the honour of your Kingdom in the eyes of all humanity, bring in our scattered ones and enable us to perform Your service. This is not because we are tired of golus but because we want Your Name to be glorified and sanctified – Yisgadal veyiskadash Shemei Rabbo. Our Oleinu should not be said as we take off our talis or as we walk out of shul but in a way which shows our heartfelt desire to see imminently “the glory of Your strength.” Our mimkomecho should be said or sang with great passion as we implore Hashem to reveal His greatness and sanctity.

Our task on Tisha B’Av is to yearn for the time when Hashem’s glory will be revealed to all and He will be publicly and universally acknowledged as the King of Heaven and Earth.

ותחזינה עינינו בשובך לציון ברחמים

 

Tzaddik B’Emunoso Yichye

The korbonos are in the merit of our Ovos. (Rashi, Bamidbar 28:19 in the name of Reb Moshe HaDarshon). The bulls are the merit of the chessed of Avrohom; the rams in the merit of the yiras shomayim of Yitzchok. Now we come to sheep, which are in the merit of Yaakov; as the posuk says, “Yaakov separated the sheep.” What characteristic of Yaakov does this posuk  indicate? As we prepare for Shabbos Chazon,  the climax of the Three Weeks, during which we should try to follow the midos of the Ovos in order to merit the third Beis Hamikdash, we need to know which midda of Yaakov was exemplified by his separating  the sheep, in order to be zoche to bring korbonos again.

Separating the sheep was part of Yaakov’s deal with Lovon to fix his wages for all the years he worked for Lovon. It was, to our minds, the worst deal of the century. Yaakov separated the spotted and striped sheep from the plain ones. Spotted and striped offspring which would be born to those plain sheep will be the payment due to Yaakov. The chances of a plain sheep giving birth to spotted or striped sheep were almost zero so it looks as though Yaakov had been outwitted by the cunning Lovon. Nevertheless Yaakov was not deterred. Doing a certain amount of hishtadlus and placing his bitachon in Hashem, Yaakov accepted the deal. And the deal proved successful with many striped and spotted sheep born to the plain sheep. Yaakov had the proverbial “last laugh.”

Ba Chabakuk ve’he’emido al achas; tzaddik b’emunoso yichye.”(Makos 24a). In the end of days, our main challenge will be maintaining our emuna that Hashem is the Creator and Director of the universe. Since the Creation until recently, it was accepted by everyone that the world had a creator. People had the clarity and common sense to realise that a universe cannot create itself. Yes, certain people believed in different avoda zoros or garbled versions of the Torah, but that the world should have no creator was seen as farcical by a vast majority of people. In the final epoch before Moshiach, an amazing phenomenon will appear; intelligent people somehow believing that the universe created itself by some method which they themselves admit has not been discovered yet. (This is the nonsense which OFSTED demands our mosdos to teach).

In the last century particularly, events have challenged our emuna that Hashem runs the world. However, and this is precisely the tremendous zechus of those who maintain full emuna despite everything which has happened, we refuse to be sidetracked by events which we cannot understand. As I explain in my sefer The Hidden Light, (Menucha Publishing P18)

We have to decide what our belief is. If we maintain a childish belief in a god who has supernatural powers and is supposed to do anything we want at any time we demand it, we will have questions on our belief. Why didn’t he help when we needed it? If, however, we believe in Hashem who is the all-powerful Creator, responsible for the myriads of stars and every blade of grass; who provides food for every creature from the greatest to the smallest, who gives us strength for every step we take and every breath we breathe, we might still wonder why He allows certain events to happen. But to expect an explanation which we can understand pre-supposes that we are capable of understanding Hashem’s conduct. This is clearly a weak assumption. Such a Creator is so much greater than us in every possible way that there is no reason to assume that we will understand Him, His actions or His decisions. In fact if a person thinks that has the mental capacity to understand whatever Hashem does, he is contradicting himself. If we are equal to Hashem, why worship Him?

Another phenomenon raises questions on our emuna from the opposite angle. We see that Israel is a very successful modern state. Its economic level is equal if not superior to many western countries. It is a world leader in agriculture with many innovative methods of improving production, water purification and cyber-technology. It contributes, completely out proportion to its size and population, to medical science and international intelligence. World leaders queue up to meet the Prime Minister. International surveys testify that the citizens of Israel are amongst the happiest people in the world, especially in the religious areas. Unfortunately, most of those who govern and represent Israel are not religious Jews. Halacha has only a minor influence on state policy. It is hardly the Malchus Beis Dovid which we have been waiting for. So why does Hashem bless it so spectacularly?  In the past our emuna was challenged by extreme suffering. Now our emuna is challenged by the success of those who transgress the Torah. Why is the State of Israel so successful?

I think this can possibly be explained in three ways. Firstly, the Meshech Chochma (on Shemos 6:13) interprets a Medrash to mean that the tribes of Reuven, Shimon and Levi were not enslaved in Mitzrayim. He says that because they had been demoted in importance by Yaakov’s brochos, were they to have suffered slavery, they would have left the fold completely. One blow after another would have too much for them and they would have sought a future outside of Klal Yisroel.  After the destruction of the Holocaust, the morale of a vast majority of Jews was at an all-time low. Had they not seen an early return of Hashem’s blessings to the Jewish People, in material even if not in spiritual terms, many more Jews would have simply opted out of Klal Yisroel. Hence Hashem, in His wisdom, has seen fit to favour even a secular Israel with His blessings.

A second possible explanation is based on a Rashi at the beginning of Bamidbar (1:1). Rashi explains that when Hashem instructed that the Jewish People be counted, it was always an act of love. For instance after the sin of the golden calf Hashem counted those who had died in order to know the number of survivors and to express His love for them. (Sifsei Chachomim) The Jews were perhaps worried that because of their sin and subsequent punishment, Hashem no longer loved them. This show of love was a great comfort to them. Similarly after the Holocaust, many Jews may have deduced that Hashem doesn’t love them anymore. The spiritual renaissance and material successes that we have enjoyed since then, show that nothing could be further from the truth. For whatever reason, the gezeira of the Holocaust was necessary, but His love for us is as intense as ever.

A third possible explanation why Israel, despite being a secular institution led by secular Jews has enjoyed such unprecedented success is based on Kiddushin 36a. “The Jewish People are the children of Hashem; as the posuk says, “Bonim atem l’Hashem Elokeichem.” (Devarim 14:1). How do we know that even if the Jews serve idols they are stilled called the children of Hashem? Says the posuk, “Even if people say to you, (in golus) ‘You are not My people,’ it shall be said to them, they are the children of the living G-d.” (Hoshea 2:1). Hashem seems to be reminding all of us, that despite our sins, even our extreme sins, which are surely no worse than worshipping idols, we are still His children and a Father loves His children.

This emuna which we hold on to despite many challenges, is the emuna exemplified by Yaakov Ovinu when he separated the sheep and throughout the long and difficult years when he faced a succession of demanding tests. It is our unbreakable faith in Hashem that Chabakuk was referring to when he said, “Tzaddik b’emunoso yichye.” Through our emuna Hashem grants us life.  And our emuna, despite the many years of golus, together with our emulating the other midos tovos of the Ovos will, hopefully, cause Hashem to  zocher chasdei Ovos – remember all the righteous acts of our Ovos and meivi Goel livnei veneihem, bring the Redeemer to their children’s children, bimheira beyomeinu omein.