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.

A Month of Rejoicing?

The parsha tells us that he was a hero. He knew what to do when even Moshe Rabeinu had forgotten. He was heavily criticised by the court of public opinion. But Hashem praised him and gave him a very special reward. “Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon Hakohen removed my anger from the Jewish people and … behold I give him my blessing of peace.” (Bamidbar 25:11-1). Pinchas realized that what was happening was not only unacceptable but potentially disastrous. The precedent of Zimri, the Prince of Shimon marrying a Midianite princess could have led to a national spiritual and physical tragedy. Someone had to do something, fast. When he reminded Moshe Rabbeinu that “haboel aramis kanaim pogim bo” – the penalty for the sin of Zimri was instant death, Moshe Rabbeinu told him to carry out the punishment himself. Pinchos did so with zeal. He ignored the danger he was putting himself in and did what he had to do. What a hero! What a tzaddik! What a rôle model. So what’s the problem?

In last week’s parsha, Bilaam asked tamos nafshi mos yesharim – to die like the yesharim. (Bamidbar 23:10) Who are the yesharim and why did Bilaam want to die like them? The Netziv (ibid) explains that yashar refers to the characteristic of kindness bein odom l’chaveiro. Bilaam did not aspire to be a tsaddik or chassid, which he knew he could never achieve. But surely everyone can aspire to be kind to others. This is not a specifically Jewish concept. It is the basis of a functioning society. True, chessed in Jewish terms goes a lot deeper but Bilaam, as he contemplated his plan to uproot the Jewish people, had a pang of conscience and intimated that he would have preferred to die a yoshor, with acts of kindness to his name.

In his introduction to Sefer Bereishis, the Netziv says that Sefer Bereishis is also called Sefer Hayashar because in it we see how our Avos lived with a desire to do good to all people. Avraham Ovinu invited idol worshippers into his home. He davened, even argued with Hashem to save the people of Sodom despite the fact that they represented a way of life diametrically opposed to his.

In Parshas Haazinu (Devarim 32:4), Hashem is described as tsaddik veyoshor. The Netziv says that this is a prophetic acceptance and tzidduk hadin that Hashem will later destroy both Batei Hamikdash. Hashem was a Tzaddik when He destroyed the first Beis Hamikdash because the people were guilty of avoda zoro, shefichus domim and gilui aroyos (Yuma 9b). He was a Yashar when He destroyed the second Beis Hamikdash because the people were guilty of Sinas Chinam. (ibid) The Natziv says, “The people were tzadikim and chasidim but were not yeshorim. Because of the sinas chinam in their hearts, if anyone differed slightly from their way of yiras Hashem, they suspected that they were tzedukim and apirkorsim. This attitude eventually led to no less than shefichas yomim,. We describe Hashem as being yoshor because He cannot tolerate such tzaddikim. Even though what they do is leshem shomayim, their behavior destroys society.”

Sometimes we hear the claim that they are merely following the example of Pinchas, who fearlessly and unhesitatingly showed zero tolerance to Zimri. The difference is that what Zimri was doing was unquestionably a grave sin and Hashem had given specific instructions for dealing with it. This can in no way be compared to physically attacking somebody who adheres to a different path in avodas Hashem following his own Rebbe. The Netziv says that such behaviour destroys our society and makes us unworthy of a Beis Hamikdash.

It is well known that our great Gedolim differed in their approaches to the State of Israel. All were against the concept of a secular Jewish state. The Chazon Ish, the Steipler Rov, Rav Shach, Rav Eliyashiv and many Rebbes all decided to work within the system to fight for the rights of Torah and the Torah-observant citizens of Israel and encouraged people to vote in elections so that their representatives should be able to fight the Government at the highest level. Others led by the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Shmuel Wosner, Rav Moshe Sternbuch and many other tzaddikim consider this forbidden and they refused to be involved in national elections although the Satmar Rebbe was lenient in local elections. These are two ways both led by great rabbonim. Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chaim. It is not for us to say who is right and who is wrong. But based on the Netziv we have quoted, we can see how wrong and dangerous it is to attack those who follow a different but acceptable path in avodas Hashem. We have unfortunately seen how sharp words have led to violence and the consequences can be tragic. We all have much to do within our own path of avodas Hashem. With mutual respect, ahavas habrios, and excellence in midos bein odom l’chaveiro we can achieve so much more. We can even merit the transformation of Av to a month of rejoicing and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.

My new sefer The Hidden Light is now on the shelves and selling “like hot cakes.”