In this week’s Sedra, Moshe Rabeinu continues to rebuke Klal-Yisroel for their wrongdoings, specifically mentioning their sin with the Golden Calf. In doing so, Moshe Rabeinu talks about his painstaking Tefillos on behalf of Am-Yisroel and Aharon HaKohen. Moshe adds that Hashem got angry with Aharon HaKohen for the sin of the Golden Calf, and wanted to completely destroy him.
There are a number of obvious questions that must be answered: why is this the first mention of Hashem wanting to destroy or even punish Aharon Hakohen? What exactly was he to be punished for? What does it mean that Hashem wanted to “destroy him”? Why couldn’t Moshe Rabeinu daven for Aharon together with the rest of Am-Yisroel who had clearly sinned? And lastly, were Moshe Rabeinu’s Tefillos effective?
Rashi answers some of these questions. He explains that Aharon was not being punished for actively participating in the Chet HaEgel, but rather because he had listened to Am-Yisroel and had allowed them to create and worship the calf (see accompanying Sifsei-Chachamim). Rashi explains further, that when the Passuk uses such a term as “destroy him” it is a reference to destroying Aharon’s legacy of descendants. Also, Rashi says here that Moshe Rabeinu’s Tefillos were effective. However, in Acharei-Mos, Rashi states that Moshe Rabeinu’s Tefillos for Aharon were only partially listened to, and therefore, Nadav and Avihu were killed.
This last point leads us to yet another question: why here does Rashi say that Moshe’s Tefillos worked, while it seems later that Rashi maintains otherwise?
The Chasam Sofer is bothered as to why Moshe had to daven for Aharon separately and not with the rest of Am-Yisroel. The Chasam-Sofer says that had Moshe included Aharon in his Tefillos for the rest of Am-Yisroel, it would have been tantamount to his saying outright that Aharon had erred only because Am-Yisroel had pressured him too strongly. This would have placed yet more guilt on an already guilty Am-Yisroel. By isolating Aharon from the rest of Am-Yisroel, Moshe presented Aharon as his own separate entity, to be judged on his own.
We can try to solve the discrepancy between Rashi’s statements here and in Acharei-Mos by saying that Aharon did continue to have descendants, so Hashem did not “destroy” him in that sense, and thus Moshe’s Tefillos on Aharon’s behalf were effective. Perhaps we can answer that this is as well the reason that Moshe Rabeinu chooses now to tell Klal-Yisroel of this particular with Hashem’s being “angry” at Aharon Hakohen. Moshe Rabeinu is pointing out that true Aharon hadn’t really sinned regarding the Chet HaEgel because he only allowed it to go on because he was forced by the Klal. Yet although Moshe Rabeinu could have said this to Hashem he didn’t because he thought of all the ramifications that it would have had and the repercussions for Klal-Yisroel. Moshe was telling Klal-Yisroel how much he thought of them and how careful he was with choosing words for Davening.
We could accept these answers, but perhaps there is a deeper, more significant idea present.
One thing that is quite clear is that Moshe Rabeinu was exceedingly careful as to how he structured his Tefillos. However, even though he was very careful, it may be that he worsened Aharon’s chance of being let off scot free by worrying about Am-Yisroel’s verdict and possibly jeopardizing Aharon’s verdict in the process. If Moshe had davened for Aharon together with Am-Yisroel it may have placed far more guilt on them, however since Moshe didn’t he thus allowed more guilt to be placed on Aharon Hakohen. Hence although if Moshe had structured his Tefillos differently the outcome would have been better for Aharon, given the actual formulation it was truly only due to Moshe’s Tefillos that even two were spared.
While looking at the incident as such, we can see just how powerful, yet extremely delicate Tefilla is.
Towards the beginning of this week’s Sedra Moshe tells Klal-Yisroel that when they come to Eretz-Yisroel and they see the great and powerful nations that dwell there they shouldn’t become afraid of them and say that they can’t conquer them. It is important to notice that the words used to convey this idea are Ki Somar bilvavecha…(“when you say in your heart”…) and that the first word, “Ki”, could mean several different things (when, if, because, etc.). Moshe Rabeinu continues by telling them that when such thoughts occur they should remember all that Hashem did in Egypt – all the miracles and wonders— because Hashem will do the very same to all those nations they are afraid of.
What is puzzling about this whole speech from Moshe Rabeinu is that it sounds as if they will have such thoughts and that Hashem will make miracles. Why presume that they will have such thoughts, and why must Hashem always make Miracles as He did in Egypt?
Rashi explains that the word Ki here is used to mean maybe. Thus Rashi answers our first question by explaining that Moshe Rabeinu’s declaration denotes simply a possible future state of mind, not a preordained outcome. Rashi further explains the wonders and miracles as referring to the fact that Am-Yisroel was tested, and to various omens that Hashem had given Am-Yisroel. Rashi thus answers our second question by downplaying in this context the meaning of miracles.
The Sepharno however takes a different approach. The Sepharno assumes that Moshe Rabeinu is in fact foretelling what will happen, and indeed saying that it is essential for these wonders and miracles to take place constantly, that there is some intrinsic importance to Am-Yisroel having Nissim. The Sepharno explains that this is all in order that Am-Yisroel should realize that Hashem made us victorious.
Were Klal-Yisroel to be naturally mighty and powerful, the tendency would be to view warfare as a simple undertaking, to forget the critical importance of Hashem. We wouldn’t then fully grasp the magnitude of our relationship with Hashem. It is thus crucial for us to realize that we need to have and to experience miracles.
May Am-Yisroel have the faith to follow scrupulously Hashem’s Torah and thus not only will we realize our need for miracles, but experience them as well.
In this week’s Sedra, just as in a good part of Sefer Devarim, Moshe Rabeinu comes down tough on Klal-Yisroe. Moshe Rabeinu also tells emphasizes reward and punishment. However, before launching into his strong Mussar, Moshe Rabbeinu recapitulates by way of introduction how Hashem took care of us in the Midbar. Moshe reminds the People that Hashem arranged things in such a way that Klal-Yisroel’s clothes never wore out and that their feet never swelled during those forty years in the Desert. Moshe then makes a dramatic statement, saying: “and you (Klal-Yisroel) know in your heart that just as a father punishes a son so Hashem punishes you”. Then Moshe Rabeinu tells us that the purpose of Hashem’s disciplining us is in order to bring us too Eretz-Yisroel.
There are two obvious questions: 1) what does the fact that our garb didn’t deteriorate have to do with reward and punishment? 2) What is Moshe Rabeinu trying to communicate by telling us that the end purpose of our punishments is in order to receive Eretz-Yisroel?
A father only wants the best for his children. When a father punishes a child it isn’t for the sake of depriving the child from anything, but rather as a means of eventually giving the child the most he can. As such a father will often threaten to punish a child severely so as to instill fear in the child so that the child will act correctly. Sometimes, however, the threat will not suffice and the father will be forced to carry out the punishment. Should the child desist from doing wrong as soon as the punishment starts, the father will usually relent, halt the reprimand, and forgive.
Moshe Rabeinu is about to tell us of the punishment that Hashem is threatening us with, but before Moshe Rabeinu does so Moshe Rabeinu reminds us that the purpose is in order to bring us to achieving and deserving Eretz-Yisroel, and that we will be granted all the leniencies that a father grants a son. Moshe Rabeinu is letting us know that we will always have an ‘out’. It is for this reason that Moshe Rabeinu recapitulates the care that Hashem gave us in the Midbar. Moshe Rabeinu is emphasizing the father son relationship through the supernatural care we were given in the Midbar.
We live in a confusing time in confusing times in which unmatched evil coexists with so much good. Were we to focus only on the good and ignore the bad, we wouldn’t be doing ourselves justice; we would be merely denying the existence of something that not only is there but that is having a very destructive impact on all of us. We cannot merely rely on the good and expect that Hashem will shower us with brocho. We must, rather, confront the truth and realize that we are unfortunately very close, too close, to receiving thepunishment. We must take advantage of that ‘out’ Moshe Rabbeinu informed us of. We need to take stock of where we are, to take corrective action to distance ourselves from transgression so as to avoid threatened punishment. Should that punishment nevertheless come, we should then remind ourselves of its ultimate purpose. Instead of being comforted by denying the fact that there is evil in our midst, we should be comforted by the fact that Hashem is eager to pardon us because we are His children and Hashem ultimately wants us to merit the Geula Asida.
Towards the end of this week’s Sedra is the Parsha of Vehaya Im Shamoa. This Parsha, which we read at least twice daily, tells us that if we do not keep Hashem’s Torah and Mitzvos we will be punished by Eretz-Yisroel not responding to us the way we want it to: we will not get the rain we need and the land will not produce what and how we want it to. The final punishment listed in this Parsha is expulsion from the land of Eretz-Yisroel. This Parsha is immediately followed by another Parsha in which Hashem tells us that if we keep His Torah and Mitzvos we will be rewarded with getting more and more control over Eretz-Yisroel, and an expansion and enlargement of the Land.
The main thrust of these Parshios is that it is important for us to keep Hashem’s Torah and Mitzvos, and not Chalila to deviate from them. However, there is a clear message created by the reward and punishment formulation used.
Generally when someone wishes to threaten or lure someone else into doing something, the threat has to be something that the other one is afraid of, and the reward has to be something the other one very much wants. Why is it that the Torah chooses the very same thing both as a reward and punishment? Based on the above, it would stand to reason to conclude that Hashem assumes us to be extremely afraid of losing Eretz-Yisroel, and on the other hand extremely anxious for its complete conquest.
While Hashem Wishes that we all keep Torah and Mitzvos Hashem Assumes that we all desire to have and live in Eretz- Yisroel and at the same time that we should have a fear of Chalila losing it.
Valuing Eretz-Yisroel is exactly what Hashem wants us to be doing. Loving Eretz-Yisroel has to be a basic given. Living in Eretz-Yisroel should at the very least be a dream.
This week’s Haftorah is extremely inspiring. It is a Nevuah from Yishayohu and it starts off amidst a dialogue between Tzion and Hashem. Tzion tells Hashem that He has forgotten her (i.e. us) and Hashem answers that He hasn’t. Hashem explains that any abandonment of His was temporary and a thing of the past. Hashem explains that He could never abandon us; that it would be impossible for Him to do so.
Hashem follows this initial statement by saying that He is ushering us all back to Tzion. He instructs us to look around and says that we will then see that we are all coming back. Hashem goes on and explains our Galus and all that it entailed as something of the past. The Navi, continuing to convey Hashem’s word, further adds that the Nations of the World will bring us all back with great honor. The Navi describes how princes will ‘carry’ us back with glory.
When Rachel Imeinu cried out to Hashem on our behalf as we were on our way into Galus, Hashem responded by promising her that He would bring us back to Eretz-Yisroel. The Chosom-Sofer asks an obvious question: the Geula Asida (Final Redemption) is already promised. The Neviyim are full of such promises to Am-Yisroel. Since our eventual return is already guaranteed, what was it that Hashem promised to Rachel Imeinu? The Chosom Sofer answers: we are promised our eventual return, but Hashem promised Rachel Imeinu that we will be allowed to return home even before Hashem comes to redeem us.
While the Chosom Sofer answered his own question, we are left with another question: in our Haftorah Hashem promises us a glorious return. Hashem promises that in the Final Redemption we will return with glory. Why would anyone want to come back beforehand? There is really an obvious answer to this question. We know that many Gedolim, through many generations, yearned to come to Eretz-Yisroel. They yearned just as Moshe Rabeinu did to be in Eretz-Yisroel. Moshe Rabeinu, however, wasn’t Zoche to enter into and be in Eretz-Yisroel. Instead, Hashem only allowed him to look into Eretz-Yisroel. This would seem to imply that there is something even to seeing Eretz-Yisroel. What this all means is that someone who understands the specialness of Eretz-Yisroel will yearn to be in Eretz-Yisroel even if right now that someone is not able to arrive there in a glorious fashion. There is, however, yet another answer.
When Klal-Yisroel were at what seemed a dead end situation at the Yam-Suf, the entire nation ended up crossing the Yam in the most splendid way. While everyone crossed the Yam there was only one person who got wet from crossing it and that was Nachshon. Nachshon heard Hashem’s instructions to go into the Yam-Suf and he did – regardless of what appeared at the moment as an insurmountable obstacle. He was the one who, through his act of entering the Sea, somehow allowed for the miracle of the splitting of the sea to occur.
The Navi is telling us unequivocally that all of Am-Yisroel will be brought back to Eretz-Yisroel. That Return, however, will be with Am-Yisroel as a passive entity – without its having to do anything. Only those who choose to go to Eretz-Yisroel and to gather there will have the distinction of getting back home actively.