Parashat Re’eh: A Balanced, Look!

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Looking Glass
08 Aug 2007


Part One: Look!

This week’s parsha begins with Moshe Rabbeinu’s directive to the Jewish nation to make the right choices; those which will lead us to blessings of good life, and not to the paths of evil and death.

Moshe declares:

Look! I am placing before you a blessing and a curse. A blessing if you go along HaShem’s ways and a curse if you do not.

Moshe’s choice of a particular word raises a question.

Moshe is dealing here with conceptual matters: the acceptance of the role of “Chosen People,” which HaShem has placed upon us, and its corollary – the sincere performance of His mitzvot in all circumstances.

The proper verb for conceptual matters is “shema”, meaning heed, listen, understand. One does not “look” at the ways of HaShem. One comprehends or identifies with them but does not “look” at them.

I would suggest that Moshe is referring to something very substantive. Moshe is saying to the nation:

Look about you. Your family, your wife and children, your extended family, and indeed your tribe and nation.

What did we have to overcome in order to merit this astounding and amazing sight? From a group of downtrodden, hopeless slaves forty years ago, we are today a nation unprecedented in its spirituality – a nation of scholar-warriors prepared to defend the ideals of HaShem’s Torah and to begin to remake the world.

There was no man or woman present at that moment who did not feel the exhilaration of being about to enter the Holy Land after a metamorphosis so extreme as to defy all historical precedent. The family of Yisrael has now become the nation of Yisrael. And Moshe reviews the breathtaking miracles which HaShem wrought for His people and only for His people.

At that moment, no one standing there could have foreseen what the future would hold for the new nation. In people’s minds what remains to be done are the three mitzvot which the nation is commanded after conquering the country: appointing a king, the total destruction of Amalek and building the Bet Hamikdash.

These things can be done within the time frame of one generation, after which the Mashiach will come and we will enjoy Gan Eden in this world.

No one could have foreseen the unraveling of Jewish history up to the present time. The incomplete liberation of Eretz Yisrael, the adoption of idol worship by the Jews, division of the nation into Yisrael and Yehuda, the destruction of the Temples, 2000 years of exile, the Holocaust and the return.

I bring this up not just to relate what everyone already knows, but to give you, dear friend, an ironclad promise, guarantee and assurance.

I vividly recall walking along a beautiful avenue in Ramat Gan shortly after arriving in Eretz Yisrael. The year was 1962 and life was sweet.

I wondered to myself: How much had I missed by being born ten years too late. I was not a fighter with the Hagana or Etzel or Lechi.

I did not rush into the sea to carry on my back survivors of the Holocaust, ramming the British blockade on Eretz Yisrael. I did not (like several of my cousins) make life miserable for the brutish British troops, who terrified the small yishuv of Jews here in Eretz Yisrael. I was not a student in the Ponovitz Yeshiva nor did I have the zchut to see the Chazon Ish.

Today, I thought, it’s just a matter of extending the present road system, building some more homes and planting a few more dunam of oranges.

It did not take long to learn that HaShem had a huge agenda for Am Yisrael. Five years later, the Jewish nation liberated Yerushalayim for the first time in 2000 years. HaShem gave us control over the mountain range where the Tanach was written – Shechem, Yerushalayim, Bet Lechem, Chevron.

Settlements were established in Yehuda and Shomron, in the Golan and Azza and in the deep areas of Sinai.

Jews began converging on Eretz Yisrael from all parts of the world, and the gates of the Soviet Union were opened.

Just as the Jews at the time of Moshe could not have imagined what HaShem had in store for them, we too, today, cannot fathom what yet lays ahead of us.

I would venture to say that if we put all Jewish history to date on one side of the scale, and what HaShem is yet going to perform for us on the other side, the future will outweigh by far whatever has already transpired.

Out there in this big world, there are hundreds of millions of descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes who will one day return to us; as is happening today with the many thousands of people along the Indian-Pakistan border, who claim they are directly descended from the tribe of Menashe.

We have yet to liberate the Biblical borders of the Holy Land which begin in Turkey in the north until the Nile River to the south. And from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the “Persian” Gulf to the east (and according to Rabbi Yehuda in the Gemara Gittin, the western border of the Holy Land begins in the area of Spain).

We have yet to cleanse the land of all who would do us malice. The Bet Hamikdash waits to be built, and with it the return of halacha as the law of the land.

There is no end to the blessings which HaShem yet has in store for us.

As a young man in college, I took a degree in history. And then said to myself, “Why study history when I can be making it by being in Eretz Yisrael?”

Like Moshe said in his time, I say to you “Look!” We should all “look” at ourselves and at our children. We have been gifted with the greatest human experience of all – to be born Benai Yisrael.

But in contrast to the people of Moshe’s time who did not have an inkling of what awaited them, we have seen the hand of HaShem weaving the tapestry of history and must take advantage of the opportunity He has presented to us in our time.

If you, the parents, cannot come here, do not wait for your children to announce that they are going home to Eretz Yisrael. Initiate it in your families. Help your children, as emotionally difficult as it might be, to make aliya and thereby pave the way for you to come at the right time.

The future belongs to the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael.

We are the recipients of what Moshe called in this week’s parsha “bracha” and “chaim”. It is for us to make the right choices for ourselves and for the sake of our children and future generations.

Part Two: Duality and Balance

Follow the precise directions laid down in the parasha and you will find yourself in the area of the tribe of Efrayim. Walk a little farther and you will come to the city of Shechem, enclosed in a valley by two mountains: Har Grizim to the south and Har Eyval to the north.

The tzaddik will see the evil inclination which was his, and it will appear as large as a mountain. He will be overwhelmed by the dangers he faced and at his own ability to have survived the onslaught of this adversary. The rasha will see his evil instinct as thin as a hair’s breadth, and he too will be overwhelmed at his inability to have conquered such a flimsy enemy.

There is no way one can confuse these two mountains. Grizim is dense with foliage; its sister mountain is bare. Scientists point out that the reason for this phenomenon is the direction of the winds, which push the rains towards Grizim, leaving Ayval nearly dry of water.

The Torah calls Grizim “the mountain of the blessing”, and Eyval the “mountain of the curse”.

Am Yisrael, on the very first day of entering Eretz Yisrael, trekked up the mountain range, from the Plains of Yericho to perform the ceremony of the two mountains. Six tribes stood on Grizim and six on Eyval, with the greater part of the Kohanim and Levi’im in the valley. Yehoshua gave the signal and the Kohanim turned to Grizim and proclaimed: “Blessed is he who keeps…” and continued to single out each individual mitzva, to which all the nation called out “Amen.” Then the Kohanim turned to Eyval and proclaimed: “Cursed is he who…” and continued to single out each and every thing which the Jewish nation is prohibited from doing.

Two mountains of equal elevation. On each mountain is an equal number of tribes. Each one arousing deep emotions – one whose beauty beckons to the beholder, the other repulsive in its nakedness.

The two mountains have balance and synchronization, yet their polar differences reflect the great lesson of this ceremony – that the world is a duality. On the one side, high-voltage beauty, morality, sanctity and on the other side, an equal intensity of evil, chaos and sin.

Physically, man is a duality. The line of demarcation begins with the two hemispheres of the brain, and runs along the face creating right and left sides, continuing to the extremities. Emotionally, we are divided between all the feelings which HaShem placed in us – love vs hate, compassion vs cruelty, egotism vs altruism.

And on a deeper level, we are divided between the yetzer tov and yetzer rah, the instinct for good vs the instinct to do evil.

The good and beauty of Har Grizim within us vs the evil and barren Har Eyval.

Here is the absolute balance which permits HaShem to reward the righteous and punish the evildoer. The holier the man, the more intense his evil inclination; the lower one’s spirituality, the less intense his evil nature. Vive la difference! It is the essence of Man.

The Gemara in Succa 52a states that in the future HaShem will destroy the yetzer hara, and when this happens all people will be brought to tears. The tzaddik will see the evil inclination which was his, and it will appear as large as a mountain. He will be overwhelmed by the dangers he faced and at his own ability to have survived the onslaught of this adversary. The rasha will see his evil instinct as thin as a hair’s breadth, and he too will be overwhelmed at his inability to have conquered such a flimsy enemy.

It is this balance which creates the tension which moves people and nations. The past flows into the waiting future just as the flow of electric energy surges from the plus to the opposing minus.

It is the point-counter-point tension between the generations which causes the dynamics of change. The deliberation and discretion which comes with age is balanced by the often impetuous agility and briskness of youth. As the Gemara in Megila 31b states, the dismantling suggested by the elders has within it the seeds of rebuilding, whereas the building suggested by youth has often the seeds of destruction.

The balanced differences between man and woman create the attraction which guarantees the continuance of the human species.

We are witnessing today a balance of tragedy in the world.

The Torah in Bereishit 47,21 relates that Yosef transferred the Egyptian people so that no person remained in a familiar area.

Rashi brings the Gemara in Chulin 60b which explains that Yosef did this in order to remove the indignity which the Jews endured when the Egyptians would call them “Golim” (exiles, deportees). For now the Egyptians too are exiles. A balance of tragedy.

The world is witnessing today great human suffering. There are unprecedented drought and fires in central Europe. England is being devastated by unprecedented rains, flooding, land slides and more. The United States has been racked by the greatest natural disaster in recorded US history with hurricanes and forest fires. The cost in human life is great and the material loss reaches into the billions of dollars.

Why does the Almighty do this? It is in order to create the balance perfected by Yosef.

The leading nations of the world – the United States, Europe indeed the entire United Nations are “holding our heads under water” until we agree to establish a state for the Arab murderers in the heart of Eretz Yisrael. They wish to sit back in comfort while we in Eretz Yisrael agonize; this is not an option in HaShem’s world.

The very fine balance on which the world exists demands that if the Jewish nation is suffering, then the world at large must suffer too.

HaShem watches over his people in Eretz Yisrael. Not only does He guard our lives in the most miraculous way, He also protects our honor even from the foolish mistakes which we make on our way to the Geula.

Based on the above mentioned principle of balance, sixty years ago, HaShem initiated a dual process which is accelerating with the passing of time.

One is the ongoing ingathering of Jews from the four corners of the globe.

One need only read the first verses of the haftara of parashat Aykev to see the words coming alive before our very eyes. In verse 7, as the children of Israel return to the land in the millions, it calls out to HaShem in wonder, “Who bore them for me, for am I not alone and destitute?”

When one sees this unprecedented return of a nation to its ancient home land after 2000 years of praying and dreaming, how can a believing Jew remain aloof and passive!, unwilling to take part in the present day “yetz’at Mitzrayim” (exodus from Egypt)?

However, this miraculous chapter in our history comes with a huge cost in human life and resources. Our return to the land promised to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov for them and their descendants, has aroused the enmity and jealousy of Aysav and Yishmael. Aysav, led by the former Soviet Union and present day Russia, joins arms with barbaric Islam, the astute students of Yishmael, in attempting to reverse HaShem’s decree that the time has arrived for the prayers of Rachel (Yirmiyahu chapter 31) be answered.

So in order to balance the infinite hate of the gentile world, HaShem has created three concentric rings around His holy people in Eretz Yisrael, without which we could not exist here a day.

The outer circle consists of the tens of thousands of Bnei Torah who dedicate their lives to Torah study. If their merit does not suffice, the middle ring made up of the mesirat nefesh (self sacrifice) of the soldiers of Tzahal – the living and those who died so young holding back the enemy with their bodies, comes forth. And if their sacrifice falls short, then the souls of the six million Jews murdered in the Shoa who constitute the inner circle, stand before the heavenly throne to appeal to HaShem to protect His Chosen Nation.

The circle of history in all its balance is closing: the iniquities, the retribution by exile, the redemption. It has come to pass, and we of this generation living in Eretz Yisrael are the heirs to the prophetic promises which are now becoming reality.

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.