Parashat Matot-Maasei 5767
- Part one: Two Trains
- Part Two: Annulled Vows
- Part three: Who do you love more, your father or your mother?
- Part four: Our grandmothers and the torch
- Part five: an anachronism of history
Part one: Two Trains
Our parasha enumerates the 42 stations where the Jewish nation encamped in their 40 years of wandering in the desert; some are well known, and others are just markers on a map.
Wandering is part of Jewish history in the galut. It has had its drawbacks. To have to leave the land in which you and your parents were born, in order to begin a new life in foreign surroundings, in the knowledge that in three or four generations your descendants will have to leave for a new place, is traumatic. However, this situation has also held within it the survival of our people. The feeling that we were “permanently temporary” decreased the degree of assimilation into the cultures of our “host” countries. Some might argue that the “treatment” was much too harsh in combating the disease. Perhaps, but it worked!
Some of the places of our wanderings are well known: Babylon, Rome, Madrid, Paris, London, New York. But some are little, impossible-to-spell villages in Poland and the Ukraine, and equally difficult places to pronounce in Morocco or Yemen.
We wandered double speed on foot to escape the raw end of whips held by Spanish priests and paralyzing blows of Cossack murderers. The death marches, so skillfully conducted by the ever-orderly German army, made their ways from Poland back to Germany to escape the advancing Russian army.
The terrain we walked was as varied as the very earth itself. We trekked through deserts, up steep mountains, across dangerous ice glaciers, under the glaring sun and bedeviled by subzero cold. We did it all, and Hashem kept us alive to tell the tales of our tormentors who are no more.
The means of transport were also varied. Usually it was by foot, occasionally by horse or horse-driven wagon. The Russians used trains to transfer tens of thousands of Jews to Siberia. Rusty old cargo ships brought many back to Eretz Yisrael; that is, those which succeeded in running His Royal Majesty’s naval blockade. Jews from Yemen sat upon the “wings of silvery eagles” with four motors, which whisked them back across 2500 years of history to Eretz Yisrael.
The Biblical wanderings in the desert were a warning of what was waiting for us in the future – to wander over the face of the planet.
I mentioned that some of our wanderings were with trains. So I want to tell you about two trains which serviced our people – actually two cars of two different trains.
The first car is on display at Yad Vashem here in Yerushalayim. If you would not know, you would even find the car sort of “quaint” with its strange kind of roof and disproportionately large wheels. At second glance, it might strike you as being strange that it has no windows. The first time I saw it, I was reminded of a childhood story book, “The Little Engine that Could”; although the proper name for it should be “The Little Car that Killed.”
If this car could speak, you would be deafened by the screams emitted from its slatted walls. You wouldn’t understand what the screams were saying anyway, because they would be in a jumbled, muddled cacophony of different languages. However, if you tried hard you would be able to discern the same words in many different accents: “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokaynu Hashem Echad“.
This little car carried its human baggage on the Warsaw-Auschwitz route, when after dispensing its “baggage” turned around to collect more fuel for the fires of Satan.
Now, not all trains are alike. Some spew out coal fumes, while others are clean electric-powered machines. Some have comfortable seats with panoramic windows, while others are no more than four walls atop a platform with heavy steel wheels. Some are for humans to transport animals, while this car was built for animals but transported Jews. The “passengers” were compressed together in a dense, congested, airless mass of torsos and limbs. An inescapable stench reeked from every corner.
As the train stopped in the picturesque villages of Galicia in southern Poland, the Jews inside who were still capable of standing would call out for water to the locals who had gathered to see the now frequent sight of Jews “getting what they deserve for killing god”. The locals would open their water bottles; and while approaching the Jews who were near insanity from thirst, would lift up their cups of water – and spill the water on the ground.
Now let’s talk about a different train car, in a different time, and in a way on a different planet.
The seats in this car are padded for ultimate comfort, and the car is air conditioned to allow the commuters to arrive fresh for a new day of productive work. The seats are wide enough so that no one needs trespass on his neighbor’s “territory”. Many of the passengers carry water bottles to prevent dehydration during the 45- minute ride to the city.
I myself have not had the zechut (merit) to see it; but I have been told, and in no small degree of pride, that the passengers on this train do not speak to one another. It is not because they are unsocial. On the contrary, they are all good friends. It is simply because each one is deeply immersed in a large blue-covered Gemara. This is one of the many “daf” cars of the many trains converging on the city from all directions.
Two railroad cars, light years away from each other in every way save for one – both are part of a holocaust which has befallen the Jewish people and continues to this very day.
Jews, ten times more than the number of words on an average page of the Gemara, intermarry daily in the United States and in other places in the galut.
However, instead of drawing the obvious conclusion that galut was and forever will be the death penalty for our sins, the leaders of our people look into the mirror image of their lives; and like the mythological Narcissus who fell in love with his own image say, “How beautiful we are.”
The lesson to be learned from our parasha is inescapable. The wanderings and innumerable unpleasant and even terminal experiences of the desert prepared the Jewish nation to enter the Holy Land, in order to begin the eternal odyssey of being God’s Chosen People.
But, unfortunately, some people never learn, no matter how clear the indicators.
Datan and Aviram challenged Moshe Rabbeinu until their death. They saw the miracles which Moshe had wrought in Egypt and witnessed Moshe’s unprecedented relationship with the Creator. Nevertheless, they were unable to inculcate what they had seen into their own lives.
Unfortunately, many of our brothers and sisters will never learn from other people’s experiences and certainly not from the writings of our prophets or even from the miracles that their own eyes see.
People like this will learn only when they themselves will have to take a train ride.
Part two: Annulled Vows
Parashat Matot begins with the authority given to a father to annul the vows of his daughter and to a husband to annul the vows of his wife.
This authority is also given to rabbanim in the matter of vows of the general public. A recognized talmid chacham may do so by himself, and in his absence it may be performed by three people with knowledge of Torah.
However, there are basic differences in the performance and results of these two authorities: annulment performed by a father or husband is called hafara, whereas the act of a bet din or recognized Torah authority is called hatara.
Hafara does not require the consent or approval of the daughter or wife; whereas, the annulment performed by a bet din or rav must be predicated on a request by the party who took the vow, and must also be justified as to why the vow should to be invalidated.
But there is a more basic and fundamental one: In hafara performed by a father or husband, the vow remains in force up to the moment of the annulment; whereas, hatara performed by a bet din or rav retroactively eradicates and uproots the very existence of the vow from the moment it was taken, rendering it not only invalid but never having been a part of existence.
A practical difference between these two results is in the case where one takes a vow, violates it, and afterwards has the vow annulled. In the case of hafara where a father or husband invalidates the vow, the fact that it was violated prior to its annulment is recorded as a sin and dealt with accordingly. However, when a bet din or rav uproots the vow retroactively, the vow is rendered as never having been part of existence; and subsequently its violation and resulting sin are erased from existence.
In the midrash called pesikta de’rav Kahana, in the chapter dealing with the month of Nissan, a pasuk is quoted stating that when the time for our redemption arrives, Hashem will be oblivious to the sins of Am Yisrael. Hashem is the father of Am Yisrael as well as the “husband” as cited in many sources, but most of all He is the ultimate bet din which has the power to retroactively obliterate, uproot, erase, delete, cancel, annul, revoke, abolish, repeal and abrogate the sins of Am Yisrael.
In keeping with the rules of hatara, this process must be preceded by a request for tshuvah and justification for the annulment.
We are dealing here with the future of Am Yisrael on the grandest national scale. The matter, therefore, includes both Jews who are fortunate to have had a Torah education as well as those who are less fortunate. We can conclude then that this act of tshuva relates to things with which all Jews can identify with. The only thing that exists as the common denominator in our times is the return to our ancient historical homeland. Hashem will erase the sins of Am Yisrael retroactively when we return home.
Due to intermarriage and zero population growth of Jews in the galut – in stark contrast to the increasing numbers of Jews here through natural reproduction and aliya – the time is not far off when the majority of Jews in the world will reside here in Eretz Yisrael.
It is noteworthy that the Minchat Chinuch states, with proof, that the Bet Hamikdash can be built only when the majority of Jews in the world are present in Eretz Yisrael. The question posed to him is: How then did Ezra Hasofer build the second Temple when only a minority of the world’s Jews were here? Harav Yehoshua May’kutna suggests a far-reaching answer. He says that it is true that the Bet Hamikdash requires that the majority of the Jewish nation be present in Eretz Yisrael, but the issue is who is included in the census? He states that on the one side are the Jews of Eretz Yisrael weighed against those Jews in chutz la’aretz who wish to come here but are unable to for halachic reasons (sickness, infirmity etc.), to the exclusion of those Jews who have no interest or show no initiative in coming. This latter group of people are not even included in the count and are considered me’chutz la’machaneh. This conclusion is shocking and requires much thought on the part of the leaders in chutz la’aretz.
Part three: Who do you love more, your father or your mother?
Our parasha finds the Jewish nation at the end of their wanderings in the perilous desert, save for one last assignment: the war to utterly destroy the Midianite nation.
The Torah records several wars which our people waged on their way to Eretz Yisrael. The first was against Amalek almost immediately upon leaving Egypt and a “rematch” after the death of Aharon; the great battles against Og, King of Bashan, and Sichon, King of the Emorites, close to the Promised Land; and the war against Midian in our parasha.
What stands out in these struggles are the different roles and functions assigned to Moshe Rabbeinu.
In the first war against Amalek, Moshe was not a warrior, but was directed by Hashem to send Yehoshua to lead the troops. This was not because Moshe was a “kollel-nik” exempted from military service, but because Moshe was directed to stand on a hill from which he could see the military struggle and lift up his hands to heaven in prayer. The uplifted hands were a sign that the source of our might was from HaShem, in contrast to what our father Yitzchak called “the hands of Aysav” who believed that what could not be obtained with force could be obtained with more force.
In this struggle, the Torah relates that Yehoshua succeeded in weakening the Amalekite nation but not in destroying it. In the battles against the two super powers of Og and Sichon, Moshe took a leading role as a fighter, personally killing these two kings. But in the battle against Midian, Moshe was again relegated to a non-military role. Why?
The answer can be found in an incident indelibly inscribed in my memory.
It was the testimony of a woman survivor at the trial of Adolph Eichmann, in Yerushalayim, in 1962. At a point in her testimony, she collapsed and was unable to conclude her heartbreaking story, which follows:
The SS was carrying out an “Aktion” by suddenly appearing on a street and rounding up all the children who happened to be there. This woman’s two children were herded into a truck with many others to be taken to their death. She ran to one of the soldiers pleading that he release her children. In what could be perceived as an act of great compassion, but was in reality the depths of perversion and sadism, the German said that she could choose one of the children who would be returned to her.
She then related to the tear-filled courtroom that as she approached the truck, her two children began screaming, “Mama, Mama, ratevert” (save us). “I looked at my beloved children. There was terror in their eyes as they pleaded for me to save them. “Mama, Mama, ratevert.” I looked from one to the other, and back again and back again. Who should I save and who should I abandon? I was in a frenzy trying to find the right way to go. My eyes filled with tears. How can I choose whom I love more, when both are my life and my soul? My mind became confused. I turned around and walked away.”
At this point, she collapsed on the witness stand. The presiding judge was unable to contain himself and ordered a recess.
Let’s return to Moshe Rabbeinu.
I understand Moshe’s passive role in the war against Amalek as an expression of Hashem’s will that Amalek continue to exist; for had Moshe taken an active military role, this enemy would have ceased to exist. But Hashem, in His ultimate wisdom, knew that Amalek would be an indispensable factor in the development of the Jewish national character. Amalek’s irrational, uncontrollable animosity to Torah and G-d would be a constant threat to our people. This threat would, in turn, forge steadfastness and resolve in our national character to protect and fight for the truths in which we believe.
In the battles against Og and Sichon, Moshe fought in the front lines, as expected from a national leader.
The question is why did Moshe not serve in an active military capacity in the war against Midian?
Remember the woman who had to decide which child she would save? This was the dilemma facing Moshe Rabbeinu in the pending war with Midian. At the lowest point in Moshe’s life, when he was forced to escape from Egypt after killing the Egyptian taskmaster, the land of Midian accepted him and provided him with refuge.
As the son-in-law of Yitro, the High Priest of Midian and ranking member of its aristocracy, and also due to Moshe’s outstanding personal qualities, Moshe was a welcomed guest in the halls of the great and mighty of that nation. Kings and princes were his friends. The industrial-military leaders sought out his advice. And if not for Hashem’s command at the burning bush to return to Egypt, Moshe would have probably lived out his years in the comfort and luxury of a Midianite aristocrat.
Now just before entering Eretz Yisrael, the Jewish nation and its leader, Moshe, are commanded to destroy the people of Midian. Moshe will have to look into the eyes of those who saved his life and gave him love and protection and then thrust the sharp end of his sword into their hearts. This was an experience which Hashem would not bring upon mortal man.
Moshe, sit by the side! I know you will abide by my command to destroy Midian, but at what cost to you as a man? What will you think of the Lord of Righteousness on the “day after”? No man should be put in a situation of having to choose whom he loves more – his father or his mother?
Two years ago, people chosen by Hashem to bring alive HIS holy land experienced this same gruesome predicament of having to choose whom they love more – father or mother. One of the greatest moments in my life was when I put on the uniform of a soldier of Tzahal. The eighty generations of my family, from the time of the Temple’s destruction to me, who made untold sacrifices in order to remain Jews, coalesced at that second in the small figure of Nachman Kahana. I closed the magic circle of the Kohanim who served with Yehuda Ha’Maccabee and the Kohanim who fought in the Bet Hamikdash against the Romans and were driven into galut as captives. Until that very moment when a grandson donned the olive-green uniform of a soldier in Tzahal, they plowed and sowed under the beating heat of the galut so that I should be able to reap the fruits of their labors.
These feelings are shared by tens of thousands of Jews in Eretz Yisrael who see in Tzahal the army of the Mashiach, which in his time will redeem our nation. There is no greater mitzva then to protect and save the lives of our own Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael.
However, at this junction in our history, young soldiers, many of whom are talmidei chachamim, were in the midst of a crisis – father or mother.
Their love for the Torah and total acceptance of all its laws goes beyond saying, but they were thrust into the dilemma of having to choose between obeying army commands to transfer Jews from their homes in Eretz Yisrael as opposed to obeying the dictates of the Torah to protect every centimeter of Eretz Yisrael. To obey army commands meant the dismantling of Jewish homes and neighborhoods in Gush Katif and the northern Shomron, including the destruction of batei knesset, yeshivot, mikvaot and cemeteries; but to disobey could have meant the disintegration of the army!
It is my personal feeling that the unity of the nation is beyond any specific mitzva. Perhaps this was the rationale of the brothers when they sold Yosef, who they felt was destroying the unity of the future Jewish nation. The Gemara in Yuma 85b quotes Rabi Shimon ben Menasia, that in the matter of danger to life, one may do things which are otherwise prohibited on Shabbat, with the rationale to “negate one Shabbat so that he (the one whose life is in danger) will be able to keep many more Shabbatot.”
At the end of the day, what is at stake here is the cohesion of the Jewish State. The choices were cruel. No Jew should have to be in such a circumstance. Hashem himself removes Moshe Rabbeinu from his position as Chief of Staff of the army in order that he not have to make super-human choices.
The larger picture of the Medina we love and sacrifice for, and the prevention of civil war requires even today the application of the principles of pikuach nefesh (threat to life) where the halacha steps back and prepares for a better generation.
The young soldiers who will follow the halacha not to raise a hand against a fellow Jew and defend the unity of the nation, even though it runs counter to the principles of retaining every centimeter of Eretz Yisrael, are all tzadikim (righteous) – in contrast to those who have thrust these agonizing choices upon them.
In my studies, I have come across only two options in the next world – Gan Eden or Gehenom (paradise or hell). Those who create impossible situations for their fellow Jews might find themselves one day with only one option and no choices.
Part Four: Our grandmothers and holding the torch
The bitter jealousy which King Shaul felt toward his son-in-law, David, was sparked not so much by the song but rather by its singers.
In the Book of Shmuel A 18:7, it is recorded that after the stunning defeat of Goliat and the victory over the Philistines, King Shaul heard the women singing in the streets:
Shaul with his thousands (of slain enemies) and David with his tens of thousands
Upon hearing this, Shaul became consumed by anger and jealousy and tried to kill David.
Now since it is safe to assume that this song was not the copyright of women but the people in general – men, women and children – who were humming the melody and singing the lyrics, why does the Tanach specify that the song was sung by women, and why was this the trigger which initiated these deep emotions within King Shaul?
One could say with a high degree of certainty that the influence of a father and mother on a child is very different. In the classic religious family, a father’s influence becomes dominant when the child reaches the age of schooling, while until then the mother’s influence is much stronger.
It is the mother who shapes the basic character of the child starting even before birth. If the mother is calm, her child will be different than the child of her nervous sister. The concepts of right vs. wrong and good vs. bad are heard much more frequently from the mother than from the father, who is away from home more and less visible.
Shaul realized that a father singing the praises of David creates a single discordant sound, while the mother singing the praises is echoed by all the children.
I recall with great nostalgia my mother’s father, Harav Hagaon Baruch Shalom Trainin, from the city of Dvinsk, Latvia who was called the “ga’yindiger Shas” – the walking Talmud – and my grandmother Rabbanit Helen Trainin. My grandfather was on the bet din (religious court) of the illustrious Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk; but unfortunately, he passed away when I was eight years old, so I was unable to take advantage of his teaching. However, I knew my grandmother for many years thereafter. Her father, Harav Meir Levin, was a rabbi of a town in Lithuania near Vilna and the author of several books. My Baba was the personal friend of the wife of the illustrious Gaon Harav Yosef Rozen of Dvinsk, better known as the Rogochover Gaon.
My memory of her was as an elderly woman who sat the entire day reciting Tehilim, except when I would come to visit. She would leave her Tehilim and run to pull out a steak or lamb chop from the freezer while admonishing me for being so skinny.
I am sure that many of us had grandmothers like this little old Jewish lady who I was so fortunate to call baba. I am sure that a great part of her Tehilim and prayers were that I should turn out to be something, because her family’s welfare was uppermost in her mind.
Her influence was greatly felt in the family.
My elderly baba helped me to understand a problem in this week’s parasha.
Moshe Rabbeinu commands the Jewish army to kill all the females over the age of three. This wide-reaching, all-encompassing command to eliminate all the women, even though they were non-combatants, does not sit right with our view of Jewish morality.
This week, the newspaper had a picture of a little old Arab baba in Gaza, about the age of my baba when I left to come to Eretz Yisrael; but instead of holding a steak or lamb chop for her “under-nourished” grandson, this little old lady had over her shoulder an RPG (anti-tank weapon.).
She is part of a women’s unit established by Hamas in Gaza, manned (or womaned) by kind, elderly old ladies – with murder in their eyes.
Here lies the entire story of who we are and who we are up against, and the wisdom of the Torah in how to deal with our mortal enemies.
It is just a question of who your baba was. If your great great baba was Sarah, the wife of Avraham, then 3800 years down the line your baba will be holding a Tehilim in her hand. But if your baba was Hagar, the Egyptian princess, then 3800 years down the line the babas will be swinging RPGs.
There is a profound intrinsic love for things of kedusha in our holy grandmothers and mothers. It was the women of Am Yisrael who are credited with the exodus from Egypt and the uncompromising will to enter Eretz Yisrael.
I wish to bring to your attention a message sent to me from a holy Jewish woman. You probably never heard of her, and I am quite sure she was never honored by any national Jewish organization with the annual Shofar Award; but her words echo what is happening today in the “Jewish world.” She and her family are on the verge of coming on Aliya to their home in Yerushalayim, and her missive says it all.
As Jews in America
We read the news and watch television. We are distressed and frightened. But we do so, from afar. We feel helpless and sad. Yet we go on with our lives. But, what can we do for Israel now? We go on with our lives without news bulletins about entering shelters and constant threat to innocent human lives.
How could this be? One week ago, we were in Israel, enjoying the beauty and the sights, breathing in the Holy air. One of the sights we visited was Yad VaShem (the Holocaust Museum). As I entered Yad VaShem last week in Jerusalem, I asked myself (as we all do) how could this have happened? How could it be that no one could have stood up to these evil, horrible people that hated one group of people so much because they were Jews? How could they have hated so much that they would perform such atrocities on us? How could this have happened? How could the commands of one evil, severely disturbed man not have been stopped? The command to wipe out a religion. So many Jewish people, yet no one could stop it. The only time that Jews were saved was when they were being rescued by people who were not Jewish. Why wasn’t there one person smart enough to stop this evil from happening? There is now. There is a country now (BH) that is strong enough, smart enough and brave enough to remind us that it will never happen again. NEVER AGAIN, THANKS TO ISRAEL!!!
At the time of the Holocaust, we were Jews in America. The same as we are now, distant and far away. We close our eyes and pretend not to see. We try to pretend that we are okay and we can carry on, but we can’t. Our insides are crying silently. Why are we crying? Because we are Jews. And as much as we try to deny it and keep ourselves busy with our fancy American lifestyles, we still feel it inside. That little Jewish place deep in our souls that feels the Jewish traditions of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. We can’t close our eyes and pretend not to see and pretend not to feel. We must remember before it’s too late. In Israel, there are Holocaust Remembrance Days – Yom HaZicharon and Yom HaShoa. On these days, all restaurants and businesses (of pleasure) are closed after 8pm. If they remain open, they are fined. El Al airlines does not show movies of pleasure or play music on its flights. On Yom HaShoa at 10am, all traffic, radio and television broadcasts must stop for 2 minutes as time is taken to remember the horrors and the atrocities of the not-so-distant past.
What do we do to remember?
We are the last generation of Jews in America that is attached to the Holocaust. We have a tremendous responsibility as Jews in America…. we must carry the Torch for the memories of our elderly parents who were there, who will not be here in 20 years. We carry the Torch of the Jews of the past who knew anti-Semitism so deep and dark, we cannot comprehend how it could exist in a human created by G-d. We carry the Torch of responsibility to teach our children (“the detached generation”) what it means to be Jewish. We are the last generation to teach our children to never forget what was done to our parents and grandparents. They will forget. They already have. They show it to us in the statistics of intermarriage. For secular couples today, sharing religious values and lifestyle is at the bottom of the list when choosing a spouse. Intermarriage is rampant and has reached epidemic proportions. Why? Because we did not carry the Torch. We dropped it somewhere along the way. We dropped our responsibility to our parents, grandparents and to the 6 million Jewish people of Eastern Europe (the Jews of the Holocaust). We forgot. We were far away. We may have read the news or heard about it, but we did nothing. We were the assimilated ones. Along the way we dropped the Torch. We forgot about our parents and grandparents and about what they were trying to tell us. We forgot about what it means to be a Jew and why one evil man wanted to kill us all. Just as there is now, except that now, there is not only one evil man and country that wants us wiped out …there are several.
The time is now. We (the Jews in America) must use this time of war in Israel to think about what is going on, not by just watching the news from afar. We must take a long, hard look at ourselves for just a moment each day and think about how we are carrying the Torch.
What can we do for Israel now? Start by being Jewish. Do one thing a week (or even one a day) that is traditionally Jewish. Maybe it’s inviting family or friends over for a Shabbat dinner, lighting candles every Friday night or giving tzedaka to a Jewish charity (especially the IDF), or even going to a shul to pray when it’s not a holiday.
The most important thing is to do something Jewish. Show your friends and family that being Jewish and connecting to the Land of Israel still matters, not by watching the news but by taking on one action …just one mitzvah.
We must carry the Torch so that we can pass it on to the next generation or the flame will definitely go out.
This Shabbat we conclude the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar. At that time, our nation had already experienced many episodes – some recorded in the Torah but most not recorded – and are now prepared to enter the holy land. The expectations were that the liberation would be as miraculous as life was in the desert. However, when reality set in, they realized that the gift of Eretz Yisrael would become reality, but at a price.
After 2000 years of galut and the ultimate suffering in the shoa, Hashem returned us to our Promised Land; but it is a gift which requires super-human effort to keep.
Part five: an anachronism of history
The book of Bamidbar contains the history of our wanderings in the desert up to the time the Jewish Nation finds itself on the banks of the Jordan River preparing to enter the Promised Land.
As we approach the end of Bamidbar, I would like to recall three sequential parshiyot – – Shlach, Korach and Chukat. Shlach brings us the unfortunate episode of the spies, Korach relates the organized rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership and Chukat begins with the tahara (purification) process of one who came into contact with a corpse.
What makes these three parshiot very special is the time element. Shlach occurs in the second year of our sojourn in the desert, parshat Chukat finds us 38 years later when Aharon and Miriam pass away and Korach occurs some time in between. Here we find that only three parshiot cover the totality of 38 years of our wandering in the desert!
How odd! We are all aware of the tumultuous and restless nature of the Jewish people – just look at recent history. The tiny State of Israel has not receded from the headlines of the world since its inception. The Jewish people have affected the world more than any other nation in all walks of life, as the great Hebrew author S. Agnon said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel prize for literature. “The Jewish nation comprises about one quarter of one percent of the world’s population. According to this, how many people of the 11 award winners tonight should be Jewish? Obviously eight!”
It would therefore be logical to conclude that the Jewish nation under the leadership of Moshe and Aharon experienced numerous events in 38 of the 40 years in the desert. Where are the stories? Where are the gripping events that happened to this mysterious mass of people sustained in the arid desert with food and water; a spiritual-national phenomenon coming out from slavery to give to the world the human “road map” of morality? These 38 years and their adventures are swallowed up in three parshiot of Shlach, Korach and Chukat.
The answer to this question is an enormous conclusion. Many events and changes transpire in the life of individuals and nations; events which fill thick volumes of history. But then an event so huge and revolutionary occurs which obscures every previous event rendering them anachronous.
The Torah is telling us that, from this moment on, as the Jewish Nation approached the hallowed land of Eretz Yisrael, the desert experience was no longer of consequence!
We find another precedent for this. So many miracles occurred to the people in Eretz Yisrael during the Second Temple period that the rabbis declared a ban on fasting on the date of the particular miracle and drew up a list of days called “megillat ta’anit” (days when one is not permitted to fast). However, when the Temple was destroyed, the megila was rescinded, because these days were no longer of consequence.
Our generation can feel the truth of this.
The Jews were in the major countries of the world for thousands of years. Every day in the lives of the Jews of France, England, Russia, Morocco and Persia was important at the time; but at the moment that the Jewish nation returned to Eretz Yisrael 59 years ago, all previous history became a matter for dust-collecting history books. This is what David Hamelech meant in Tehilim when he wrote “ha’yee’nu ke’chol’min” – when the redemption comes all previous experiences become as a dream.
Having experienced leaving the galut to return home to Eretz Yisrael, I can say “ha’yee’nu ke’cholmin“. The Zohar says that when one comes to Eretz Yisrael to stay, on the first night he is given an additional “neshama”, as if being born anew. Just as a newborn infant cannot remember from where he came, so too the life in Eretz Yisrael is so pervasive as to make one’s former experiences in the galut as a dream.
This month, thousands of our brothers and sisters will arrive here through the efforts of Nefesh B’Nefesh, to join with the other one hundred thousand or so who came here from North America during the last 59 years. The big question is why so few from a community which numbers several million?
In my view, it is not the Jews of America who are at fault but rather the Jewish leaders who contribute to extending the galut by not coming and by projecting the message that nothing really happened in 1948.
I would like to propose that the synagogue contract of a rabbi be limited to five years, after which time he must come on aliya with the financial help of the community (as severance pay). While the rabbis who encourage the building of new shuls or yeshivot might appear to be strengthening Yiddishkeit, they are each and every one another nail in the coffin of the galut.
There is still some time to think, to plan, to decide, and to implement. A new dawn has arrived for the Jewish Nation. To reject it is to become an anachronism of history. To take part in it is to be the master over history.
Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.