Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume X, No. 38
Siddur Avodat Yisrael writes that there is a chapter of Tehilim
which corresponds to each parashah -- this week, psalm 137. Parashat
Devarim is always read on, or just before, Tishah B'Av, and, most
likely, this chapter was chosen because it echoes the themes of
Tishah B'Av: "By the rivers of Babylon -- there we sat and also
wept, when we remembered Zion . . . How can we sing the song of
Hashem on alien soil. If I forget thee, O Yerushalayim, let my right
hand forget its skill . . ."
In this psalm, David prophesied regarding the destructions of both
Temples. Verse 1, "By the rivers of Babylon -- there we sat and also
wept," refers to the first Bet Hamikdash, which was destroyed by
Bavel/Babylon. Verse 7, "Remember, Hashem, for the offspring of
Edom, the day of Yerushalayim," alludes to the second Bet Hamikdash,
which was destroyed by Rome, which is traditionally associated with
Edom/Esav. (Midrash Shocher Tov)
The verses and commentaries on this page relate to the chapter
of Tehilim associated with our parashah (see page 1).
"By the rivers of Babylon -- there we sat and also wept, when we
remembered Zion. On the willows/aravim we hung our musical
instruments. For there our captors requested words of song from us,
and our joyous hanging [instruments], 'Sing for us from the songs
of Zion'." (Tehilim 137:1-3)
Rav Moshe Alshich z"l asks: Why is it significant that our
ancestors sat by the river, of all places, or that they hung their
instruments on willows, of all trees? Also, given the Jews' sadness,
why did they hang their instruments on the trees, rather than getting
rid of them entirely?
The Zohar relates that the Jews who were exiled were depressed
beyond description. It was at that time that Yechezkel, who was
standing by the River Kevar, saw the vision of the merkavah/chariot
described in the opening chapters of his book. That vision
symbolized that G-d and his entourage also were going into exile as
a guarantee (in Hebrew, "arevut") of the future redemption.
As a sign of their consolation, the "Alshich Hakadosh" explains,
the Jews kept their musical instruments, objects of joy, and they
hung them on the aravim --related to arevut -- by the river.
In light of this, he continues, we can understand the next verse.
At first, the Babylonian captors assumed that the Jews would be too
depressed to sing; therefore they requested only to know the words
of the Jews' songs. However, when they saw the hanging instruments,
they realized that their captives had been consoled, and they
ordered, "Sing for us from the songs of Zion."
"By the rivers of Babylon -- there we sat and also wept."
The entire way from Yerushalayim to Bavel, the Jews were not
allowed to rest. The Babylonians reasoned, "This nation has a
merciful G-d. If we let them rest, they will cry out to Him and He
will save them."
"There we sat and also wept" also alludes to Yirmiyahu's rebuke
to the exiled Jews: "Had you only cried to G-d one time while you
were still in Yerushalayim, you would not be here today."
(Midrash Shocher Tov)
"Enough of your circling this mountain/'har'; turn yourselves
Rav Ben-Zion Halberstam (the "Bobover Rebbe") z"l comments:
Before one can please G-d with his good deeds, he must abandon his
bad deeds. This is alluded to in our verse.
The letters which surround those of the word "har"/"mountain"
spell "kadosh"/"holy." (The letters "kuf" and "shin" are before
and after the letter "resh," and the letters "dalet" and "vav"
precede and follow the letter "heh.") One cannot so easily "circle
the mountain," i.e., become holy. First one must "turn
"tzafonah"/"northward." The "tzefoni"/ "hidden one" is a nickname
for the yetzer hara; before one can be holy, he must turn his
attention to the yetzer hara and defeat it.
"For Hashem your G-d has blessed you . . ." (2:7)
Rashi comments: "Therefore, do not be ungrateful by appearing
to be poor. Rather, you should appear to be rich."
Rav David Sperber z"l asks: Doesn't this contradict the advice
which Yaakov gave his children (Bereishit 42:1), "Do not make
Rav Sperber explains: Chazal said, "Poverty is good for the Jews
like a saddle for a horse." When does a horse where a saddle? Not
when it is home, in the stable -- the horse wears the saddle
outdoors. Similarly, Jews should not appear conspicuous when they
are outside, among the gentiles. Privately, however, Jews should
be satisfied with what they have, and should "feel" rich.
[Ed. note: In fact, Rashi's wording may be precisely chosen to
preempt Rav Sperber's question. Rashi does not advocate showing off.
Rather, he is saying, "You must not act so poor that you appear to
be ungrateful for Hashem's kindness."]
Rav Ben-Zion Halberstam hy"d
born Iyar 5634 (1874) - died 4 Av 5741 (1941)
Rav Bn-Zion Halberstam, the "Bobover Rebbe," was a great-grandson
of Rav Chaim Halberstam, the "Sanzer Rav." Rav Ben-Zion was one of
the major leaders in Galicia (southern Poland), and was at once a
chassidic rebbe, town rabbi, and head of a large network of yeshivot.
He also was noted as a miracle worker and composer, and for giving
sage advice to Jews in trouble.
For example, to a Jew who accidentally stepped on a facsimile of
the official seal of the Polish state and was charged with sedition,
Rav Ben-Zion advised: "When you go to trial, bring a book of matches
that has the seal of Poland on the cover, but take out all but one
match. When you see the judge take out a cigarette, offer him a
light." The defendant did this, and watched as the judge threw away
the empty matchbook, seal and all. The defense counsel pointed this
out to the judge, and charges were dismissed.
Upon succeeding his father in 1905, Rav Ben-Zion revolutionized
the chassidic world. Before him, the movement had catered to the
spiritual needs of the middle-aged and old. Bobov revolved around
the young. Rav Ben-Zion explained that just as soldiers are trained
to meet different challenges now than they were 100 years ago, so
it is with our youth. In previous generations, Jews had lived
sheltered lives and there had been few spiritual challenges facing
the young. They did not need the inspiration of visiting a rebbe.
However, this is no longer true.
With the outbreak of World War II, Rav Ben-Zion and his family
fled eastward in front of the advancing Nazis. He turned down the
opportunity to flee to the United States because one of his children
was missing. (He had been taken to Siberia, where he died.) After
some time in the city of Lvov, Rav Ben-Zion was "arrested" by
Ukrainian police and murdered in cold blood.
Rav Ben-Zion's eldest son is the Bobover Rebbe in Brooklyn. One
of Rav Ben-Zion's daughters (who passed away last month) was the
mother of the well-known Twerski brothers: psychiatrist and author,
Dr. Avraham; law professor and activist, Rabbi Aharon; and Rabbis
Michel (Milwaukee) and Shlomo (Denver).
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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