Parshat Ki Teitzei: Painful Allowances, Drowning in Mediocrity and Cheap Shots

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Parashat Ki Teitzei: Painful Allowances, The Low Ground of Mediocrity and Cheap Shots

Dear Friends;

From time to time, I receive e-mails criticizing my weekly messages for their repetitiveness in dealing with one subject – aliya to Eretz Yisrael, and their often strident tone and critical language. This is not a fallacious assessment, so I would like to explain with a short story.

There was once a man who sought the absolute truth. He traversed the globe looking for someone who could convey to him the truth of the world. He ventured into a far away place, and as was his habit, he asked if anyone there knew the truth of life. A townsman replied that when he was a young child his father had told him that on the mountain lives a woman who knows the truth. The man ascended the mountain where he saw a woman standing before a cave. She was the ugliest person he had ever seen. Her age could have easily been 100 or 120. Any beauty which might have been hers was long ago lost and she was a pitiful sight. He asked her if she was the woman who knew the truth. She replied that she was the personification of truth in the world. The young man stayed several months enraptured by her wisdom and revelations in every subject. After several months he informed the woman that he must return to civilization. She agreed, and when he was about to leave, she said to the young man, “Just remember, tell everyone that I am young and beautiful”.

The moral of this story is that people seek to sweeten and beautify the truth when faced with facts which are unpleasant.

The things I write contain no sugar, not an iota of aspartame; for sweeteners go to your local spiritual guide. I do not apologize for bringing the pure unadulterated truth as expressed by Chazal.

Part One: Painful Allowances, Sucking the Bones

The parsha opens with a trilogy of mitzvot which are seemingly unrelated – the captive enemy woman, the prohibition against favoring one’s younger son of a beloved wife over one’s bechor (firstborn) who was born to a hated wife, and the laws regarding a rebellious son.

Chazal (Sanhedrin 107a) see a causal relationship between these three seemingly mutually exclusive issues: One who takes a “yefat to’ar” (enemy woman) in war is guaranteed to eventually hate her, and the son born to them will turn out to be “ben sorer umoreh” (rebellious son).

This is problematic. The Torah forbids copulation with a non-Jew. There are two exceptions to this rule; one is a recognized commissioned halacha the other is a heter (leniency) granted by the Torah in the face of human frailty.

The halacha is that a Jewish slave (eved ivri sold by the courts for non payment of the capital value of stolen goods) may copulate with a non-Jewish slave woman belonging to his own master within the context of his labors. For just as he involved in increasing the financial status of his master in the field or in the factory, he does so also through the offspring born by this act of procreation who are, like their mother, non- Jewish slaves.

The other case of a Jew living with a gentile woman is not a bona fide desirable halacha but a “heter” born out of human weakness. The gemara (Kedushin 21b) states that the Torah prohibits the union of a Jew with a non-Jewish woman, but in the battlefield situation where emotions run high and out of control, the Torah permits this union, which according to Rashi is a one time permitted union before she converts and marries halachically as a Jewish woman.

The problem with this set of events is that since the Torah presents one with a heter to take this gentile woman, why does he have to pay for it by the Torah’s guarantee that she will eventually become hated to her husbands and the sons born to her will be bnei sorer ve’moreh?

The answer to this lies in the fundamental nature of a heter.

A heter can be described as one who is very ill with great pain and fearful that he might have to undergo difficult surgery. The medical specialist, after considering the options, informs the patient that the medical staff has decided to forgo the surgery and instead to permit the pain to run its course in the hope that the body will cure itself. Our patient is relieved that he will not have to undergo surgery but for many moments of his future life his body will be wracked with pain.

Granted there are situations where the Torah permits a heter but it is not a happy event.

There was once a man who was told by his doctor that his body was in dire need of a particular type of protein which is found only in the meat of a pig. He went to his rav with the dilemma. The rav, after considering the matter replied, “It is a matter of pi’ku’ach nefesh (saving a life) — therefore you are permitted to eat of the chazeer (pig), but just remember – don’t suck the bones”.

A heter is a bad situation just a bit better than the situation which permits it. Bilaam was granted a heter to go to Balak, but eventually was killed because he went. David Ha’melech married a ye’fat to’ar and was “blessed” with a son Avshalom who rebelled against his father and wanted to kill him.

To do a melacha (prohibited ‘work’) on Shabbat to save a Jewish life is not a heter where a prohibition remains intact but is over-ridden by circumstances. The difference between saving a life on Shabbat by doing a melacha and other situations of “heter” is one of being over qualified as opposed to being under qualified. In the Shabbat matter, the circumstances of saving a Jewish life elevate a person to a level where he is above the minimum halachic requirements of Shabbat and he enters a different halachic realm. The halacha states that in these circumstances one is not permitted to seek out a non-Jew or a non observant Jew to avoid melacha on Shabbat. On the contrary, the more righteous the person, the more he has to involve himself with saving the life (Rambam, Shabbat chap. 2, 16-17). In contrast to this, other heterim relegate the petitioner to a status of inferiority, so the halacha is not binding upon him. In the same way that a gentile is not obligated to perform anything over his seven basic mitzvot.

People come to me with stories how their rav, rosh yeshiva and chassidishe rebbe gave them a heter not to come to live (or even visit) Eretz Yisrael because of the danger or other respectable reasons. Some even have a “super heter” to remain in “dark far away places” because they work in chinuch. How one deludes himself by believing that he is doing God’s will by being an example to students of what not to do – not to leave the galut to come home!

The heter one receives, whether it is the taking of a ye’fat to’ar, or eating the protein of a pig or not going up to Eretz Hakodesh is one in the same. A heter is not a “free ride”. It is costly. One pays for it through disruption in shalom bayit and in the myriad zig zags which life presents.

To receive a “heter” to remain in galut is not a license to “suck the bones of the pig”. It is not to a permit to build a bigger and nicer swimming pool, or to spend the weekend at a ski resort. It is a situation of “b’dieved” where one should feel embarrassed for being excluded from the mitzva which our rabbis said is equal to all the other mitzvot of the Torah.

If one is indeed “stuck out there” the right thing to do is to give your utmost support to the Jews who are rebuilding the land. Instead of the 14 room house, try, as difficult as it may be, to make do with a 10 roomer and with the money saved donate to the needy of Eretz Yisrael, to Yeshivot here, to Tzahal or to anything which speaks to you.

The important thing to remember is that when you get a heter to eat the chazir don’t suck out the sweetness of the bones.

Part Two: If Walls Could Talk, The Low Ground of Mediocrity

It was three o’clock in the afternoon on Tuesday of this week. I was sitting in my beit knesset in the northern section of the Old City, sometimes called the “Moslem Quarter”, indulging in what I have been doing for the past 35 years – trying to elucidate the complex annotations of the Tosafot commentaries on the Talmud.

I was oblivious to the normal din which is part and parcel of the main thoroughfare running from the Kotel to the Damascus Gate, when I thought I heard someone call my name “Nachman”. How strange! There was no one in the beit knesset. “A figment of my imagination,” I thought, “I should probably stop staying up so late at night”.

As I returned to the sefarim I heard again. “Nachman”. But this time a bit louder with a noticeable air of impatience. I searched the beit knesset, the ezrat nashim and the court yard, yet I was entirely alone.

Then it happened.

“Who is calling me?” I shouted.

“It is me, the walls of the beit knesset.”

“Walls can’t talk. Come out from wherever you are. Let me see you”, I said, now just a bit anxious.

“Reb Nachman. If your congregants forget your drashot, that’s one thing. But if you forget what you said, that’s another matter entirely”– came the reply.

“What do you mean?”

And the voice answered, “Twenty five years ago, on the first Shabbat celebrated in the beit knesset, you made a poignant drasha – addressing it to me, the walls of the shul. You apologized to me for the nearly forty years, from 1929 to 1967, that I was occupied by two Arab families until the city was liberated by the brave soldiers of Tzahal. You promised me a future of Torah study and prayer to make up for the years I was in the galut of Islam. Now you say that walls can’t talk! Didn’t you quote the gemara in Ta’anit 11a which states that in the next world the walls of a man’s home testify to his conduct in this world. And now you say walls can’t speak!”

“You are right, and I’m ashamed. But why are you speaking to me just now?”

“Because I am afraid. Never have I feared the future as I do this moment”, said the walls. “I was informed of the wild, raging, ferocious, cannibalistic anger of the Arab mobs which set fire to my sister shuls in Gush Katif. They pried away the walls with their fingernails, impervious to the pain in the madness and ecstasy of hatred which overtook every cell in their impure bodies.

Savagery not seen even in the slaughter camps of Europe was common place in the eyes and hearts of the thousands of Arabs. I fear what will happen to me if you leave me.”

“But why should I leave? And even when I will eventually have to leave, another Rav will come and take care of you”, I replied. “I’ve been around a lot longer than you, Reb Nachman. I have been holding up the roof of this holy building for hundreds of years. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve heard even more. So let me tell you a thing or two.

“It will come as a surprise to you to learn, that I, and all the walls of this holy city are an endangered species. There is a threat to our ability to remain erect and it comes from you and the Jewish nation in general.

“You recall 6 months ago when you were standing in the beit knesset an earth quake occurred. I heard you say ‘Shema Yisrael’, because we both knew that had the tremor continued a few more seconds I would have been forced to fall upon you. That is the way of the world.”

“Yes. I am aware of the dangers to even the mightiest walls from powerful earthquakes, but what does it have to do with me and the Jewish nation?” I asked.

And the walls answered, “I am surprised that you forgot the tractate of Berachot in the (Talmud) Yerushalmi, which expressly states that when the Jewish nation acts in an unnatural manner by desecrating the Torah, Hashem commands the earth to react unnaturally and the result is earth tremors which destroy the loftiest walls.

“You are probably wondering why earthquakes result from — your sins. Let me explain. Hashem, when creating the world, put into place the process of reciprocity, known as mida ke’neged mida – a measure for a measure. What you give is what you get back.

“Now it all goes to the essence of the relationship between the Creator and the Jewish nation. In an earthquake, tectonic plates converge. At the point of contact there is immense pressure and eventually one plate rises and the other falls. The friction between them creates immeasurable energy with potential for destruction.

“This is the ongoing relationship between Hashem and your people, which began at Mount Sinai and continues to this very day. Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu has chosen the Jewish nation to be His nation. He demands of you to rise up to the heavens, but you wish to escape this holy duty and descend to the level of the most common of the human race. In the on-going friction between the demands of Hashem that you be a nation of Kohanim and rise to the stars, your refusal to carry out His commands results in the potential energy for disaster.

“Hashem opened the way to greatness for you in 1967. Go! Just go. The entire Middle East – from the river Euphrates to the Nile, from the sea to the desert – is ready to accept her natural sons. It was all yours for the taking. But what did your leaders do? They were paralyzed with the thought that perhaps the Torah is true; that we really are God’s ‘Chosen People’, which would then require them to live a life of kedusha. And the Jews in the Galut who remain there, happy in the shelter of the nations, when they could be in the “Palace of the King”. Hashem took your people out of Egypt to serve Him and what did they do at the first difficulty? They begged to return to Egypt, where they ‘remembered the little fish, and onions and melons’ which they ate there as slaves. It is this desire to escape greatness and wallow in the shallowness of mediocrity which has engulfed your people until this very day.

“You deserted a part of Eretz Yisrael, evicting Jews from their homes and turning the land over to the children of Yishmael. No nation has ever acted so callously to its own people. And what did you create? You released the energy of hate and cruelty which took its’ course on the walls of my sister shuls in Gush Katif.”

“With all due respect,” I relied, “You are exaggerating our shortcomings. Take a look. We are today an independent nation for the first time in 2000 years. We have an army, the best in the world, which instills feelings of dread in the hearts of all the Arab nations. We are stronger then ever.”

“Let me tell you about strength. People lack historical perspective because you are limited to one lifetime. We, the walls of the world, live on and on and we remember.

“One day after the betrayal in the Gaza area two years ago, was the ninth of Elul, the yartzeit of Dan ben Yaakov, the head of one of the twelve tribes. The gemara states that every tribe had at least one great navi (prophet), and the one which came from the tribe of Dan was Shimshon (Samson) whose area of activity was Gaza. There were two periods in Shimshon’s life; in one he was “Shimshon ha’geebor” – Shimshon the mighty, and in the second and last period of his life he was “Shimshon ha’nebach” – Shimshon the pitiful.

“Just review the Book of Judges (shoftim chap 16). Shimshon is captured by the Philistines and brought to Gaza. He is blinded and degraded to the depths of his neshama. The gentiles declared a festive holiday to celebrate their victory over Shimshon, the Jew, which was to take place in the great hall of Dagan, their local god. Shimshon, nebach and blind was placed in a central area and all the assembled were ecstatic with emotions of the victory.

“You say, Nachman, that Israel is powerful. Yes, but you are like Shimshon the nebach, the laughing stock of the world. You brought 50,000 troops to evict 8000 citizens from their homes, and two years later brought 3000 police to evict two families from their homes in Chevron!!

“At this moment your Prime Minister, the Shimshon of Israel, is standing in a central place in the United Nations. He is blind to the laughter and smirking of those applauding the Jew who again fell on his knees in Gaza.”

“What are we to do”, I asked?

And the aged walls of the beit knesset replied. “Now that you know that we walls think and remember, you should be asking yourself why doesn’t the Kotel speak to you? The reason is that it is ashamed to speak to you! It cannot understand why the Jewish people flock to it when it is no more than a retaining wall to prevent slippage of the Temple Mount. This is another expression of your escaping the status of greatness that Hashem has relegated you. Your people turn their backs on the Temple Mount, preferring the low ground of mediocrity.

If the Jewish nation does not fulfill the mission bestowed upon it by the Creator, then entities like me, the walls of shuls the world over, and certainly the Jews themselves, will suffer the fate of “a measure for a measure”. Hashem demands the return of all Jews to Eretz Yisrael; the total control of the Temple Mount; the expansion of our control over all the holy land; and Halacha as the law of the land. As long as these things are left undone, you cannot expect peace.”

“I will now return into my silent self,” said the voice, as quiet was restored to beit knesset Chazon Yechezkel.

Part Three: Cheap Shots

The conditions for determining a ben sorer ve’moreh (a wayward son who is put to death) are that he steals money from his parents and purchases meat and wine to indulge his appetite. The wine and meat must be kosher, if not, he is not deemed a ben sorer ve’more and may continue to live out a long sinful life.

From here we deduce, that it is not the act of eating to indulge one’s lust which incurs the severe penalty, it is the fact that it is classified within the category defined by the great Ramban in parashat Kedoshim as “naval bereshut haTorah,” best translated as a lowlife within the domain of the Torah, where one’s actions are outwardly halachic, but reflect a personality far removed from what the Torah seeks.

This week I saw an advertisement in the paper offering parcels of land in Eretz Yisrael to people in the galut, for the purpose of leaving the land fallow in the Shmitta year and thereby gaining an Eretz Yisrael mitzva while sitting under the shade of a pine tree in Fallsburg.

This is what we, as young boys on the streets of Brooklyn called “a cheap shot”.

In this spirit of proxy mitzvot, permit me to suggest several more.

Why pay so much for a mezuzah in every doorway? Have a central mezuzah on the roof to which all the apartments are hooked up to with a wire for ten dollars a month. Guaranteed not to produce a shock when kissed even when your hands are still wet from washing for bread.

If this is not appealing, one could find a tzaddik who would be willing to part with a little piece of his olam haba in return for a comfortable life in olam hazeh, since he has so much, and then you will be guaranteed olam haba no matter what you do here.

If this sounds unreasonable because no tzaddik would part with any piece of his olam haba for any amount of money, you can try this one. Make a connection with a hesder yeshiva bocher in a special unit of Tzahal, and offer him in return for a monthly stipend that if he gets killed you will have half his reward.

What we call a “cheap shot” the great Ramban called “naval bereshut haTorah”.

The most one can hope for in return for performing these kinds of mitzvot is a hand held little fan when sitting in that very hot place in the other world.

Do Teshuva!

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.