Parashat Ki Tisa: Tug-of-War and Crystal Balls

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Tug of War
08 Mar 2007

Parshat Ki Tisa 5767

Did it ever cross your mind, that we Jews, the most clever people on earth, abide by a code of laws which no one understands. We know when to keep the respective mitzvot and how to keep them to the most minute detail, but even the greatest rabbi cannot explain the essence of any mitzva.

Countless numbers of Jews from time immemorial have sacrificed their lives in defense of their right to keep the Torah, yet not one of them knew why shrimp is prohibited, or why a mikva drives away tumah or why leavened bread causes the dire punishment of karet on Pesach.

In order to understand why the Creator demands such un-intellectual adherence to the Torah while decreeing that the study of the legal details is of utmost importance, we have to turn to the Midrash Tanchuma (Parshat Ekev chap. 11.)

The Midrash relates that when the people sinned with the egel haZahav (the golden calf), Hashem informed Moshe that He was revoking His decision to give the Torah to Am Yisrael.

There then transpired a colossal tug-of-war. Each luach (stone tablet) was six tefachim long (a little more than half a meter) and three wide. Hashem held the top two tefachim in an attempt to keep the luchot to Himself while Moshe held the bottom two tefachim struggling to bring them to earth, and between them the luchot shattered.

What is the meaning of this midrash?

Here lies the essence of the Torah we received at Sinai and the answer to our questions regarding the absence of understanding of mitzvot.

Initially, it was Hashem’s intention to give the Torah with full understanding of the mitzvot and their spiritual consequences in this world and in the next; but in the wake of the egel haZahav episode Hashem told Moshe of His decision not to give the Torah to Am Yisrael.

Moshe refused to accept this reversal of world history and thus began the inconceivable struggle between finite man and the infinite Creator. This is characterized by the Midrash with Hashem grasping the top part of the luchot and Moshe the bottom.

The breaking of the luchot symbolizes the compromise agreed upon between the sides – Am Yisrael would receive the Torah, but without understanding of the profound spiritual nature of the mitzvot. Hence to this day, we keep the mitzvot and have no idea what they mean and their consequences beyond the superficial reasons laid forth for them. Kashrut, para adumah, tumah and taharah etc., are all mysteries enveloped in an enigma.

Of all the mysteries surrounding the Jews and Judaism, the reason for our tragic history and when Hashem will finally bring about the final redemption of our nation leads the list.

It is interesting to note that the Mishna Brurah, in the section called “biur halacha” chapter 427, discusses the veracity of calendars as they appear in certain halachic books, and he adds that by the year 5708 there will, most likely, no longer be a need to rely on calendars because by then the final redemption will have already come about and we will declare the new months according to the traditional manner of relying on witnesses. How fascinating that the author, the Chofetz Chaim chose the year 5708 as the one which, in his holy mind, has relevance to the geula, because 5708 corresponds to the general year of 1948, the year of the establishment of Medinat Yisrael.

The final redemption did not occur in 1948, although in that year HaShem brought Am Yisrael a giant step closer to the future redemption.

Predicting the future is always a precarious business; but even more so with regard to predicting the future of Am Yisrael, as many prophesiers have found out. But as we draw closer to the “end” the chances of success become greater.

I would like to try my hand at predicting the signs of the redemption and the time frame when it will happen; and in doing so uncover the camouflaged intentions of chazal.

The gemara in Megilla 14a states that Esther argued before the rabbis that the episode of Purim deserved to be recorded in the Tanach. The rabbis initially denied her request relying on a pasuk in Mishlei 24 which was understood to mean that Amalek is to be mentioned only three times in the Tanach – in Parshat Beshalach, Parshat Ki Teitzei and in the Book of Shmuel. So the addition of the Purim story would bring it to four times. But subsequently Esther’s position was vindicated when the rabbis agreed that the two times Amalek is mentioned in the Torah – parashat Beshalach and parashat Ki Teitzei – could be considered as one time, the Book of Shmuel the second and Megilat Esther the third time.

What does all this mean?

I suggest that by the pasuk in Mishlei, which limits the number of times Amalek may be mentioned in the Tanach to three, Shlomo Hamelech is telling us that the final redemption of the Jewish people will come about in that generation (a generation is 70 years based on the pasuk in Tehilim 90, 10) when Amalek is defeated the number times that their defeat is mentioned in the Tanach – three times. But in the light of Esther’s request that the Megilla be included in the Tanach, it meant that a fourth defeat of Amalek had to be accomplished in one generation, which the rabbis believed to be an unnecessary burden on the Jewish people and history. But at some point Esther convinced the rabbis that it was more than feasible that Amalek should suffer four defeats in a single generation.

The Jewish people have a long record of defeating enemies, beginning with the ancient Egyptians and continuing with the Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans etc. But no two of these defeats of our enemies ever occurred in one generation.

But there is one generation in which the potential for this to happen exists – our generation. Those of us who were born before 1945 have already witnessed the destruction of Nazi Germany, and the downfall of the Soviet Union – two candidates for the infamous status of Amalek. These two nations can be considered in the larger picture as one because of their ethnic and racial connections as Europeans.

The second defeat of Amalek will soon occur when the Arab nations of the Middle East will be destroyed, and the third will be the defeat of the Iranians, heirs to the Persian dream of ridding the world – all 127 plus nations – of the Jewish people, as predicted by Esther in her request for recognition as the twenty fourth book of the Tanach.

In the time frame of 70 years – one generation – beginning with 1945, the defeat of Nazi Germany, the final year will be eight years from now in 2015, although it could occur even sooner. The Hebrew corresponding year to 2015 is תשע’ה which means salvation.

With the understanding that all the above might well fall by the wayside, together with many other predictions of the future, the fact remains that the majority of the Jews in the world are now or will very shortly be in Eretz Yisrael, and the signs of the onset of the geula (redemption) are available for all to see.

The prophet Zechariah states that one sign will be when the streets of Yerushalayim will be filled with elderly people and young children at play – something I see every day from my windows.

The prophet Yechezkel in 36, 8 offers as a sign the reappearance of Eretz Yisrael as a blooming garden of agricultural produce after being a fallow desert. Just go into the market place in any town in the country and become engulfed in the variety of colors and types of our produce.

But, in my view, the most heartening sign of the geula are the young men and woman of the land who by their Torah study and adherence to its mitzvot, are ridding themselves of the scars of 2000 years of galut; as they dedicate their lives to defending and rebuilding the land and its people.

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.