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.”

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.

 

Going in the Right Direction

Last week we quoted Rashi saying that we bring bulls as korbonos in the merit of Avrohom because he ran to shecht a bull to give hospitality to his guests. We deduced from this that if we want to earn the opportunity to bring bulls as korbonos in a rebuilt Beis Hamikdash, we have to go in the ways of Avrohom Ovinu, in particular, following his example in chessed. Rashi also says that we bring rams as korbonos in the merit of Yitzchok who was prepared to be brought as a korbon himself and was only replaced by a ram at the last second. This requires us to follow Yitzchok’s example of fearing Hashem if we want to merit bringing rams in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash.

This appears more difficult. To do chessed is to some extent, natural. We enjoy helping others. Following Avrohom’s example is a challenge, but a challenge which we can meet with simcha. Fearing Hashem, to the extent that Yitzchok did, goes against our instinct for self- preservation. How can we take on such a seemingly unsumountable challenge?

I remember an exchange which took place in Glasgow about thirty years ago between Rabbi Chaim Jacobs of Lubavitch and some members of the community at a public gathering. Somebody asked Rabbi Jacobs why Lubavitch teach the children to say brochos  in their cheder when the parents don’t say brochos. I remember his answer. He said, “One day you’ll thank us that your children will not be under the impression that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want.”

When we learn about saying brochos before we eat, we are learning to fear Hashem. We are learning that we can’t just do whatever we want, whenever we want. We have a G-d who allows us to do certain things and does not allow us to do other things. We don’t just grab food and put it into our mouth. First we have to check that the food is kosher. Next, what the correct brocho is. Is it milchig if we are fleishig. This teaches us self-control. Indeed it is the beginning of learning to fear Hashem. It is not merely a drush which extrapolates the mitzva of saying one hundred brochos per day from the posuk “What does Hashem ask from you …except for fearing Him.” Brochos and fearing Hashem are intertwined.

We learn to say brochos when we are young because this is how the process begins. We asked how we can reach the level of Yitzchok’s fear of Hashem. The answer is that we cannot reach his level in a moment or two or three. It is a long process, possibly the work of a lifetime. In the meantime we can climb the ladder of yiras Hashem step by step.

We start with a fear of punishment. Hashem seems to be an extension of our parents or teachers who will punish us  if we cross the road without looking right, left and right again. So Hashem will punish us if we transgress one of His mitzvos. Although this is a childish concept, it is an important first step. If a child is told gently that it not a good idea to cross the road without looking because he might be hurt, this will not enter his mind very deeply. And if a ball or an ice-cream van happens to be on the other side of the road, he might just forget the benign warning he was given. However if he is told that he will be severely punished if he runs into a road without looking, fear of punishment might be more effective and help him think twice. Similarly we have to realise that Hashem is not just giving us good advice when He tells us to do mitzvos but He will punish us severely for any transgression. This might be more effective when we are faced with a strong temptation to sin. “Consider what you will gain from doing this sin — a moment’s gratification, compared to the loss — severe punishment which Hashem can give us.”(Pirkei Avos 2:1)

As our concept of Hashem matures, we realise that He is not just a disciplinarian. He provides for us constantly. As a person’s knowledge of his body increases we realise that we are dependent on Hashem for the good functioning of countless aspects of our physical and mental health. Now we will not just obey Hashem because otherwise he will punish us. We understand that we are so utterly dependent on Him that only a fool would transgress His will. If we are sinning, who will keep our heart beating if Hashem decides against continuing to give us life? Our yiras Hashem will already be on a higher level than before. We are climbing the ladder.

In time, hopefully, our recognition of what Hashem does will continue to grow. He doesn’t just provide for us. He provides for every creature from the eagles in the sky, the elephants on the plain and the small ants on the ground. He provides sunshine, rain and winds according to what the world needs. He controls all the Hosts of the Heavens, millions of galaxies. Transgressing His will is futile. Can we hide from Him? Can we disobey Him? Can we question His authority? The idea of not doing what He says is absurd and self-defeating . If He commands, we do it, without question.

Whilst we may consider these concepts from time to time, thinking about them constantly  –Shivisi Hashem lenegdi tomid is the level of tzadikim. To be able to think about the greatness of Hashem at every moment, whatever we are doing, without a pause, is the level of our Gedolim. When a person is on that madreiga, even if Hashem says to him, “Give up your life for Me,” he will obey without question. This was the madreiga of Yitzchok Ovinu, symbolized by the ram.

It is our task to aspire to this level if we want to bring a ram in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash. We may not be   on the top rung of the ladder, or even half way up. But if we are at least on the ladder, trying to climb, Hashem will certainly rejoice that we are going in the right direction.

Connecting with our Zeidy

After a short delay, we are now well into the Three Weeks. Our focus is on the breaching of the walls of Yerushalayim  which led to the destruction of both Batei Mikdash on Tisha B’Av. Our efforts at this time should be to earn the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash and the final Geula.

Yeshayahu Hanavi (1: 11) already said that Hashem does not want korbonos unless we behave as we should. He mentions particularly aveiros bein adam l’chaveiro. Sacrificing animals can reflect a streak of cruelty. How can we show that when we slaughter an animal for a korban it is part of our avodas Hashem rather than insensitivity to the life we are extinguishing? By living in a way which shows that we are indeed highly sensitive to the needs of others.

Kiddushin (71b) makes an extraordinary statement, quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (Even Ho’ezer 2:1). If we want to check a person’s Jewish status, we look for shetikusa. Do they live at peace with other people or do they always insist on their rights, which causes many arguments? If they live in peace with others, being willing to compromise or be mevater, if they do chessed to others, we can be confident of their Jewish status. If not we have to check further.

Beitza 32b relates the story of Shabsoyi bar Marinus who went from Eretz Yisroel to Bovel on a business trip. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful. He did not blame the Babylonians for his failure, but when his request for food was refused, he said that these people could not have been authentic Jews. “They must be from the eiruv rav.”  To see a fellow Jew in need and not help him. Is this how a Jew behaves?

Rashi in our parsha (28:19) says that the bulls which were sometimes brought as korbonos were in the merit of Avrohom Ovinu, who ran to the cattle in his field to provide his visitors with a tasty meal. We can deduce from this that if we want the merit of bringing cattle as korbonos in a re-established Beis Hamikdash, our behavior must reflect in some way that of Avrohom Ovinu.

In Tanach (Shmuel II 12:1-6) we read that the Novi Noson told Dovid Hamelech a story about two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many cows and sheep but the poor man had only one small lamb which he looked after like a daughter. The rich man once had a guest but instead of taking one of his own flock, he took the lamb of his poor neighbor. Dovid Hamelech was extremely annoyed by the behaviour of the rich man and said that he deserved to die and should pay back the poor man four sheep because he did this thing and because he had no mercy.

In Ahavas Chesed , the Chofetz Chaim says the death penalty was not for stealing the lamb. For the theft, the punishment was the payment of four sheep. The death penalty is for the lack of mercy. It is for the heartlessness and cruelty of taking the lamb, the sole possession, of a poor neighbour. The Novi Micha says, (5:7-8), “Will Hashem be appeased with thousands of rams or tens of thousands of streams of oil? What does Hashem want from you but to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with Hashem.”

Rashi gives a mind-boggling explanation on a posuk in Parshas Bolok. (22:33). Bilaam hit his donkey three times because it stopped three times for no reason that Bilaam could see. The malach told Bilaam that he and not his donkey, deserves the death penalty. However, if Bilaam had died, the malach would have killed the donkey. This was because otherwise people might have recognized that this was Bilaam’s donkey who had rebuked Bilaam and said, “Why did you hit me these three times?” and Bilaam did not have a good answer. This would have embarrassed the deceased Bilaam and Hashem is concerned with the honour of all of his creatures. Bilaam was a rasha, the donkey’s outwitting him was embarrassing, but not earth shattering; but Hashem is concerned with kovod habrios. Are we at least as careful about kovod habrios when we, for whatever reason, decide to turn down a shidduch suggestion or an application to a yeshiva or seminary? Are our vulnerable fellow Yidden less deserving than Bilaam?

There is a well-known story of a young man, who was chosen to marry the daughter of a wealthy Jew because of his Talmudic prowess. He went to the girl’s family for the Shabbos aufruf together with many guests whom the rich man had invited. However on the Friday afternoon, the chosson happened to notice that the kallo had become extremely annoyed with a turkey which had come through the open window and settled on the dough for the Shabbos challos. She  grabbed the turkey, threw it out of the window against a nearby wall where it died on impact. The chosson decided that he did not want to marry a girl with such bad midos and promptly went to the shul where he pretended to steal from the tzedaka box. His “crime” was discovered and he was thrown out of town in disgrace. The rich man still celebrated over Shabbos telling his guests that he was happy to have discovered that the chosson was a thief before the wedding rather than after. Later the chosson’s father, who knew that his son was not a thief, asked his son why he hadn’t reported the real reason that he decided not to marry the kallo. He replied, “What, and embarrass a Jewish girl?”

An example of chessed happened to me last week. On my way back from Yerusholayim I filled up my car at the petrol station at the beginning of Kvish 1– the main highway between Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv. As I was proceeding down Kvish 1 I heard loud hooting. “It can’t be anything to do with me,” I thought, as I double checked that I was in the middle of my lane. After the  Givat Shaul junction, when the traffic normally speeds up, I heard the hooting again, coming from a big green bus just behind me. Again, I assumed it had nothing to do with me although I was becoming a little apprehensive. The bus then overtook me but instead of racing ahead, the driver maneuvered the bus into a position which forced me to stop. “What could be the matter?” I thought worriedly as I opened my window. The bus driver opened his window and said “It’s open!” pointing to the back of my car. I didn’t know what he meant so he came over and pointed to the petrol cap which I had forgotten to close. As I was checking in my wing mirror, the bus driver, who had already stopped his bus full of passengers on one of Israel’s busiest roads, causing a hold-up behind him, jumped down from his bus and closed the petrol cap himself. As he came back to his bus, we exchanged a handshake, a warm smile and mutual blessings. “Wow,” I thought, “the lengths that some people go to, to do someone a chessed.

A man once approached a fancy restaurant but was stopped by the doorman who pointed out the sign which read, TIES MUST BE WORN. The man, who was not wearing a tie, nevertheless asked to be allowed in since his grandfather had founded the restaurant. The doorman put his hand inside the door and with an understanding wink, gave the man a tie to put on. Another man then appeared with a torn shirt, torn shoes and long unkempt hair. He also claimed to be a grandson of the founder.  The doorman totally ignored his pleas and threw him out. “You have no connection to your grandfather,” he barked, firmly shutting the door.

We may not be on the level of Avrohom Ovinu in our mitzvos bein odom l’chaveiro to merit bringing korbonos in his zechus. But if we at least have a connection with our great Zeidy, our pleas may still be answered.

Tzaddik B’Emunoso Yichye

The korbonos are in the merit of our Ovos. (Rashi, Bamidbar 28:19 in the name of Reb Moshe HaDarshon as we have already quoted). 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.

Going in the Right Direction

Last week we quoted Rashi saying that we bring bulls as korbonos in the merit of Avrohom because he ran to shecht a bull to give hospitality to his guests. We deduced from this that if we want to earn the opportunity to bring bulls as korbonos in a rebuilt Beis Hamikdash, we have to go in the ways of Avrohom Ovinu, in particular, following his example in chessed. Rashi also says that we bring rams as korbonos in the merit of Yitzchok who was prepared to be brought as a korbon himself and was only replaced by a ram at the last second. This requires us to follow Yitzchok’s example of fearing Hashem if we want to merit bringing rams in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash.

This appears more difficult. To do chessed is to some extent, natural. We enjoy helping others. Following Avrohom’s example is a challenge, but a challenge which we can meet with simcha. Fearing Hashem, to the extent that Yitzchok did, goes against our instinct for self- preservation. How can we take on such a seemingly unsumountable challenge?

I remember an exchange which took place in Glasgow about thirty years ago between Rabbi Chaim Jacobs of Lubavitch and some members of the community at a public gathering. Somebody asked Rabbi Jacobs why Lubavitch teach the children to say brochos  in their cheder when the parents don’t say brochos. I remember his answer. He said, “One day you’ll thank us that your children will not be under the impression that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want.”

When we learn about saying brochos before we eat, we are learning to fear Hashem. We are learning that we can’t just do whatever we want, whenever we want. We have a G-d who allows us to do certain things and does not allow us to do other things. We don’t just grab food and put it into our mouth. First we have to check that the food is kosher. Next, what the correct brocho is. Is it milchig if we are fleishig. This teaches us self-control. Indeed it is the beginning of learning to fear Hashem. It is not merely a drush which extrapolates the mitzva of saying one hundred brochos per day from the posuk “What does Hashem ask from you …except for fearing Him.” Brochos and fearing Hashem are intertwined.

We learn to say brochos when we are young because this is how the process begins . We asked how we can reach the level of Yitzchok’s fear of Hashem. The answer is that we cannot reach his level in a moment or two or three. It is a long process, possibly the work of a lifetime. In the meantime we can climb the ladder of yiras Hashem step by step.

We start with a fear of punishment. Hashem seems to be an extension of our parents or teachers who will punish us  if we cross the road without looking right, left and right again. So Hashem will punish us if we transgress one of His mitzvos. Although this is a childish concept, it is an important first step. If a child is told gently that it not a good idea to cross the road without looking because he might be hurt, this will not enter his mind very deeply. And if a ball or an ice-cream van happens to be on the other side of the road, he might just forget the benign warning he was given. However if he is told that he will be severely punished if he runs into a road without looking, fear of punishment might be more effective and help him think twice. Similarly we have to realise that Hashem is not just giving us good advice when He tells us to do mitzvos but He will punish us severely for any transgression. This might be more effective when we are faced with a strong temptation to sin. “Consider what you will gain from doing this sin — a moment’s gratification, compared to the loss — severe punishment which Hashem can give us.”(Pirkei Avos 2:1)

As our concept of Hashem matures, we realise that He is not just a disciplinarian. He provides for us constantly. As a person’s knowledge of his body increases we realise that we are dependent on Hashem for the good functioning of countless aspects of our physical and mental health. Now we will not just obey Hashem because otherwise he will punish us. We understand that we are so utterly dependent on Him that only a fool would transgress His will. If we are sinning, who will keep our heart beating if Hashem decides against continuing to give us life? Our yiras Hashem will already be on a higher level than before. We are climbing the ladder.

In time, hopefully, our recognition of what Hashem does will continue to grow. He doesn’t just provide for us. He provides for every creature from the eagles in the sky, the elephants on the plain and the small ants on the ground. He provides sunshine, rain and winds according to what the world needs. He controls all the Hosts of the Heavens, millions of galaxies. Transgressing His will is futile. Can we hide from Him? Can we disobey Him? Can we question His authority? The idea of not doing what He says is absurd and self-defeating . If He commands, we do it, without question.

Whilst we may consider these concepts from time to time, thinking about them constantly  –Shivisi Hashem lenegdi tomid is the level of tzadikim. To be able to think about the greatness of Hashem at every moment, whatever we are doing, without a pause, is the level of our Gedolim. When a person is on that madreiga, even if Hashem says to him, “Give up your life for Me,” he will obey without question. This was the madreiga of Yitzchok Ovinu, symbolized by the ram.

It is our task to aspire to this level if we want to bring a ram in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash. We may not be   on the top rung of the ladder, or even half way up. But if we are at least on the ladder, trying to climb, Hashem will certainly rejoice that we are going in the right direction.

Connecting with our Zeidy

After a short delay, we are now well into the Three Weeks. Our focus is on the breaching of the walls of Yerushalayim  which led to the destruction of both Batei Mikdash on Tisha B’Av. Our efforts at this time should be to earn the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash and the final Geula.

Yeshayahu Hanavi (1: 11) already said that Hashem does not want korbonos unless we behave as we should. He mentions particularly aveiros bein adam l’chaveiro. Sacrificing animals can reflect a streak of cruelty. How can we show that when we slaughter an animal for a korban it is part of our avodas Hashem rather than insensitivity to the life we are extinguishing? By living in a way which shows that we are indeed highly sensitive to the needs of others.

Kiddushin (71b) makes an extraordinary statement, quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (Even Ho’ezer 2:1). If we want to check a person’s Jewish status, we look for shetikusa. Do they live at peace with other people or do they always insist on their rights, which causes many arguments? If they live in peace with others, being willing to compromise or be mevater, if they do chessed to others, we can be confident of their Jewish status. If not we have to check further.

Beitza 32b relates the story of Shabsoyi bar Marinus who went from Eretz Yisroel to Bovel on a business trip. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful. He did not blame the Babylonians for his failure, but when his request for food was refused, he said that these people could not have been authentic Jews. “They must be from the eiruv rav.”  To see a fellow Jew in need and not help him. Is this how a Jew behaves?

Rashi in our parsha (28:19) says that the bulls which were sometimes brought as korbonos were in the merit of Avrohom Ovinu, who ran to the cattle in his field to provide his visitors with a tasty meal. We can deduce from this that if we want the merit of bringing cattle as korbonos in a re-established Beis Hamikdash, our behavior must reflect in some way that of Avrohom Ovinu.

In Tanach (Shmuel II 12:1-6) we read that the Novi Noson told Dovid Hamelech a story about two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many cows and sheep but the poor man had only one small lamb which he looked after like a daughter. The rich man once had a guest but instead of taking one of his own flock, he took the lamb of his poor neighbor. Dovid Hamelech was extremely annoyed by the behaviour of the rich man and said that he deserved to die and should pay back the poor man four sheep because he did this thing and because he had no mercy.

In Ahavas Chesed , the Chofetz Chaim says the death penalty was not for stealing the lamb. For the theft, the punishment was the payment of four sheep. The death penalty is for the lack of mercy. It is for the heartlessness and cruelty of taking the lamb, the sole possession, of a poor neighbour. The Novi Micha says, (5:7-8), “Will Hashem be appeased with thousands of rams or tens of thousands of streams of oil? What does Hashem want from you but to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with Hashem.”

Rashi gives a mind-boggling explanation on a posuk in Parshas Bolok. (22:33). Bilaam hit his donkey three times because it stopped three times for no reason that Bilaam could see. The malach told Bilaam that he and not his donkey, deserves the death penalty. However, if Bilaam had died, the malach would have killed the donkey. This was because otherwise people might have recognized that this was Bilaam’s donkey who had rebuked Bilaam and said, “Why did you hit me these three times?” and Bilaam did not have a good answer. This would have embarrassed the deceased Bilaam and Hashem is concerned with the honour of all of his creatures. Bilaam was a rasha, the donkey’s outwitting him was embarrassing, but not earth shattering; but Hashem is concerned with kovod habrios. Are we at least as careful about kovod habrios when we, for whatever reason, decide to turn down a shidduch suggestion or an application to a yeshiva or seminary? Are our vulnerable fellow Yidden less deserving than Bilaam?

There is a well-known story of a young man, who was chosen to marry the daughter of a wealthy Jew because of his Talmudic prowess. He went to the girl’s family for the Shabbos aufruf together with many guests whom the rich man had invited. However on the Friday afternoon, the chosson happened to notice that the kallo had become extremely annoyed with a turkey which had come through the open window and settled on the dough for the Shabbos challos. She  grabbed the turkey, threw it out of the window against a nearby wall where it died on impact. The chosson decided that he did not want to marry a girl with such bad midos and promptly went to the shul where he pretended to steal from the tzedaka box. His “crime” was discovered and he was thrown out of town in disgrace. The rich man still celebrated over Shabbos telling his guests that he was happy to have discovered that the chosson was a thief before the wedding rather than after. Later the chosson’s father, who knew that his son was not a thief, asked his son why he hadn’t reported the real reason that he decided not to marry the kallo. He replied, “What, and embarrass a Jewish girl?”

An example of chessed happened to me last week. On my way back from Yerusholayim I filled up my car at the petrol station at the beginning of Kvish 1– the main highway between Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv. As I was proceeding down Kvish 1 I heard loud hooting. “It can’t be anything to do with me,” I thought, as I double checked that I was in the middle of my lane. After the  Givat Shaul junction, when the traffic normally speeds up, I heard the hooting again, coming from a big green bus just behind me. Again, I assumed it had nothing to do with me although I was becoming a little apprehensive. The bus then overtook me but instead of racing ahead, the driver maneuvered the bus into a position which forced me to stop. “What could be the matter?” I thought worriedly as I opened my window. The bus driver opened his window and said “It’s open!” pointing to the back of my car. I didn’t know what he meant so he came over and pointed to the petrol cap which I had forgotten to close. As I was checking in my wing mirror, the bus driver, who had already stopped his bus full of passengers on one of Israel’s busiest roads, causing a hold-up behind him, jumped down from his bus and closed the petrol cap himself. As he came back to his bus, we exchanged a handshake, a warm smile and mutual blessings. “Wow,” I thought, “the lengths that some people go to, to do someone a chessed.

A man once approached a fancy restaurant but was stopped by the doorman who pointed out the sign which read, TIES MUST BE WORN. The man, who was not wearing a tie, nevertheless asked to be allowed in since his grandfather had founded the restaurant. The doorman put his hand inside the door and with an understanding wink, gave the man a tie to put on. Another man then appeared with a torn shirt, torn shoes and long unkempt hair. He also claimed to be a grandson of the founder.  The doorman totally ignored his pleas and threw him out. “You have no connection to your grandfather,” he barked, firmly shutting the door.

We may not be on the level of Avrohom Ovinu in our mitzvos bein odom l’chaveiro to merit bringing korbonos in his zechus. But if we at least have a connection with our great zeidy, our pleas may still be answered.

Remember; Do Not Forget

“Five tragedies occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz; the luchos were smashed, the korban tamid was no longer brought, the walls of Yerusholayim were pierced, Apustomus burnt a sefer Torah and he brought a graven image into the Heichal of the Beis Hamikdash.” (Taanis 26a). As we know, Moshe Rabbeinu smashed the luchos when he saw the people dancing around the golden calf. And Hashem congratulated him on this, saying Yeyasher Kochacho sheshibarto.” (Devarim34:12, Rashi).

We are told to remember the sin of the golden calf every day. “Remember; do not forget how you angered Hashem in the wilderness.”(Devarim 9:7). The sin of the golden calf was very serious. However is still difficult to understand why we have to remember it every day. And why the double expression, “Remember; do not forget.” Also, we are told that with every punishment we receive, a bit more will be added because of the golden calf (Shemos 32:34)). Why? Are all succeeding generations responsible for the sin of that generation? Surely the pasuk says, “The fathers shall not die for the sins of the sons, nor the sons for the sins of the fathers; each man shall die for his own sin.” (Devarim 24:16), unless the children continue the sins of the fathers (Brachos 47:1). Do we continue to build golden calves? Besides, only three thousand people were actively involved in the sin, that is, a half a percent of the people. And why did it “anger” Hashem so much more than other sins?

Our question will become even stronger when we consider the mitzvah of the para aduma and its deeper significance. If a person touches a corpse or even goes into a room where a corpse is lying, he becomes ritually impure. He becomes an av hatuma who can even pass on tuma to another person. The only way he can purify himself is through a complicated procedure involving a para aduma, the details of which were beyond even the mind of Shlomo Hamelech to understand. Why is there such a consequence for touching a corpse or being in the same room? Death happens every day. “A generation comes and a generation goes.” (Koheles 1:4) It is the way of the world. “A man’s life is three score years and ten and if he merits it, eighty years.” (Tehilim 90:10) He was a great man? There will be other great men. The cemeteries are full of ‘indispensable’ people[1] and the world continues. Why does proximity to a corpse have such major implications?

“I said that you were gods and sons of the Most High. But you will die like men; like one of the princes you will fall.” (Tehilim 82:6-7). When they received the Torah, the Jews regained the level of Odom Horishon before his sin and no-one would have died. But because they sinned with the golden calf they will die like men.” (Avoda Zara 5a) Every death is a reminder of the sin of the golden calf. Without it, there would have been no death. Therefore coming into close contact with death has to be a major event so that a person considers why this happened. The Torah commands a complex procedure with a para aduma to cancel out the effect of the tuma. We cannot treat death as just “the way of the world.” We must remember the cause of death – the sin of the golden calf.

But this only reinforces our original question. What was so ultra-significant about the sin of the golden calf that we have to constantly remember it. Why the double expression, “Remember; do not forget.” What has to do with us? And why did it “annoy” Hashem so much?

A person has a chronic illness which needs constant medical care. He has a very conscientious doctor who has followed his illness for many years and prescribes a certain medication in amounts which vary according to the patient’s precise condition. But then he hears the tragic news; the doctor has passed away following a sudden heart attack. The patient is besides himself. “Who is going to treat me now? Which other doctor could possibly be knowledgeable enough about my condition to prescribe the right dose of medication? Oy veh.”

Another person never did well to earn a parnasa. He was always getting into debt. Fortunately he had a rich uncle who always came to his rescue. Then, again, tragic news. The uncle was suddenly niftar. At the funeral he wept copiously. In truth, he didn’t love his uncle so much. He loved himself. How on earth is going to manage from now on?

In another example, a certain politician was very sympathetic to the needs of his Jewish constituents. He always seemed to know who to speak to when the Jews had a problem. Then, catastrophe. He lost his seat in Parliament and was now unable to help. “Sounds of fasting, crying and lament filled the street.” The Jews had lost their saviour; their sister in the king’s palace was no longer. Who will help them now?”

How would we respond to these situations? Like the Jews in each moshol or differently?

When Moshe Rabbeinu failed to appear after forty days there was panic. “Moshe, the one who took us out of Egypt, who brought us across the Yam Suf, who went to receive the Torah on our behalf, had disappeared, presumed dead. They looked at each other in desperation. Who was going to provide for them now? When a person is in a state of panic, he does not follow his sechel but his base instincts and they made a golden calf or at least supported the idea of a golden calf. Hashem was extremely “annoyed.” A king might see one of his subjects transgressing his law and punish him. But if a king saw that this subject has forgotten about him and thought that a servant had been providing for them and not the king, the king would be very annoyed. This is a treasonable offence.  The king will never cease reminding his subjects from then on that he and only he provides for them.

Everything Moshe had done was only as a messenger of Hashem. Without Moshe, will everything stop? Is Hashem short of messengers; short of doctors, rich uncles, politicians, Jewish leaders? “Harbe sheluchim L’Makom” ‘On the day that one tzaddik dies, another one is born.”(Kiddushin 72b). “Lo almon Yisroel – Hashem will never desert Israel.” (Yirmiyahu 51:5). Moshe Rabbeinu is not even mentioned the Hagada; only “I and not an angel; I and not a seraph; I and not a messenger; I am He and no-one else.” Moshe was the archetype servant of Hashem. Not only was he horrified that the people had apparently put their trust in him rather than Hashem but he realized that it was unconscionable that, under these circumstances, they should receive the luchos which was fashioned by Hashem. So he smashed them; an act that Hashem agreed with and congratulated him for. “Yeyasher koach sheshibarto

Now we can understand the Jews’ grievous error when they made the golden calf.  We have to remember it constantly and some of the punishment for building the golden calf is given to us because we are not immune to it ourselves. Yes, we sometimes repeat the same sin in different forms, putting our faith in Hashem’s messengers rather than in Him. The mitzvah of Para Aduma which we cannot understand with our sechel because its details are, to us, inexplicable, reminds of the sin of the golden calf which we did because we panicked and didn’t use our sechel. And finally we can understand the double expression. “Remember” the actual sin of the golden calf and “Don’t forget” that we can also transgress the same sin, just in different way.

[1] A favourite saying of my late friend Mr Hymy Gillis of Glasgow ע”ה