Nation Destined for Greatness
Volume 20, No. 39
11 Av 5766
August 5, 2006
Nathan and Rikki Lewin
in memory of his mother Peppy Lewin
(Pessel bas Reb Naftali a"h)
Ed and Linda Zurndorfer and children
on the 1st yahrzeit of Ed's mother
Hannah Zurndorfer (Chana bat Yehuda a"h)
In memory of Dovid Moshe ben Rivka a"h
(David M. Goldberg of Lorain, Ohio)
by his family
Finish Seder Mo'ed on Shabbat;
begin Seder Nashim on Sunday
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Yoma 59
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Ma'aser Sheni 6
The haftarah opens: "Nachamu, nachamu" / "Comfort, comfort My
people - says your G-d. Speak to the heart of Yerushalayim and
proclaim to her that her time [of exile] has been fulfilled, that her
iniquity has been conciliated, for she has received from the hand of
Hashem double for all her sins."
R' Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog z"l (first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi
of Israel; died 1959) commented on these verses as follows in a 1948
address: How are these verses different when we read them today from
when they were read in the past? In the past, the fulfillment of
these verses was in the distant future. Today, these verses relate
all at once to the present, the near term, and the distant future.
Chazal comment on these verses, "She [i.e., Yerushalayim] sinned
doubly, she was doubly punished, and she was doubly consoled."
Yisrael / the People of Israel has a double nature. On the one hand,
it is a nation; anyone who says that Judaism is only a religion is
mistaken. On the other hand, anyone who thinks that Yisrael is a
nation like any other nation is mistaken, and is misleading others.
Yisrael is a holy nation, with the loftiest mission, given from G-d,
of any nation. Therefore, when Yisrael sins, its sin is a double sin.
Yisrael is not the only nation that has been exiled from its
land; many nations, large and small, have experienced this fate.
However, those nations, once they are destroyed, disappear. They
assimilate and no memory remains of them, and, at the same time, their
suffering ends. Such is not the lot of Yisrael. An invisible "hand"
forced Yisrael not to assimilate, but rather to remain apart and
dispersed, and to suffer without end. Why? Because Yisrael is a
nation destined for greatness, specifically, for moral greatness - for
that greatness which in the awesome future will be the lot of all of
mankind. Therefore, they were doubly consoled: In the future, there
will be open miracles. For now, the time for open miracles has not
yet come, but certainly miracles have taken place and will continue to
take place . . . (Ha'techukah Le'Yisrael Al Pi Ha'torah III p.258)
"But you who cling to Hashem, your G-d -- you are all alive
R' Naftali Herz Wiesel z"l (18th German rabbi and prolific
author) asks: To whom else would Moshe be speaking if not to the
living? Rather, Moshe is teaching that one is truly alive only when
he clings to Hashem.
What exactly is involved in the mitzvah of clinging to Hashem?
R' Wiesel explains: This commandment instructs those who are wise and
understanding to prepare to attach themselves to the Ohr Elyon / The
Light Above at any and all times. It means devoting one's mind to
pure thoughts relating to love and awe of G-d. It means elevating
one's thoughts above the mundane thoughts of the world, as if G-d is
hovering over one's self.
R' Wiesel adds: This mitzvah is not for everyone, for (as we read
in Tehilim 24:3), "Who may ascend to the mountain of Hashem, and who
may stand in the place of His sanctity?" Only a person who has awe of
G-d within him, who loves Hashem with his entire heart, who studies
Torah, who serves G-d with his entire soul, and who understands the
concept of yirat Hashem and the teachings of the Sages--after all
this, one can begin to prepare himself to cling to Hashem, each person
according to his ability.
"You shall know this day and take to your heart that Hashem,
He is the G-d -- in heaven above and on the earth below --
there is none other." (4:39)
R' Yishayah Halevi Horowitz z"l (rabbi in Prague and
Yerushalayim; died 1630) writes: This verse requires us to know G-d in
our hearts as a result of investigation, in addition to believing in
Him as a result of the received tradition. This also is alluded to in
the verse (Divrei Hayamim I 28:9), "Know the G-d of your father,"
i.e., in addition to the fact that you have received a tradition from
your father, know G-d yourself. Likewise, the verse (Shmot 15:2),
"This is my G-d, and I will adorn Him; the G-d of my father, and I
will exalt Him." He is my G-d, and He also is my father's G-d.
Moreover, writes R' Horowitz, if I only know the G-d of my father, but
have not discovered Him on my own as well, then the verse tells us
that G-d will be too exalted--i.e., distant--from me. [Therefore, R'
Horowitz adds, one is obligated to study the work Chovot Ha'levavot,
especially the section entitled Sha'ar Ha'yichud, where the existence
and uniqueness of G-d is proven.]
(Asarah Ma'amarot, Ma'amar Rishon)
R' Tzaddok Hakohen z"l (1823-1900; one of the leading thinkers of
the chassidic movement) offers a very different explanation. Our
belief, he writes, is based on our tradition regarding the revelation
at Har Sinai. We have no use for philosophical speculation of the
sort advocated by the Chovot Ha'levavot. Our verse, which commands us
to know that Hashem is the sole G-d in heaven above and on the earth
below and that there is none other is teaching only that we should
reflect on the lessons of the Revelation at Har Sinai.
(Quoted in Ba'mesilah Na'aleh p.451)
"You shall greatly beware for your lives." (4:15)
R' Moshe Chaim Luzzato z"l ("Ramchal") writes: Among the
deterrents to serving Hashem with zeal is excessive trepidation and
fear of what time may bring, of heat and cold, of accidents, of
illness, of winds, etc. As King Shlomo wrote (Mishlei 26:13), "The
lazy person says, `There is a lion on the road'." Chazal condemned
this trait, attributing it to sinners. Rather, the proper rule of
conduct is (in the words of Tehilim 37:3), "Trust in Hashem and do
good, dwell in the land and cultivate faith."
One might ask: Chazal have instructed that a person be especially
attentive to his well-being and not place himself in danger, even if
he is righteous. In line with this, the Gemara (Ketubot 30a) says,
"Everything is in the hands of Heaven except chills and fevers." The
Torah [in the verse quoted above] commands the same thing, indicating
that a person should not place his trust in G-d when his life (i.e.,
health) is at stake! Does this teaching not contradict what was
stated in the first paragraph?
Ramchal answers: Know that there is fear and there is fear.
There is appropriate fear and there is foolish fear. On the other
hand, there is confidence and there is recklessness. Hashem has
invested man with intelligence and judgment so that he may follow the
right path and protect himself from the instruments of injury that
have been created to punish evildoers. One who chooses not to be
guided by wisdom and exposes himself to dangers is displaying not
trust, but recklessness.
The type of fear and self-protection which is appropriate is that
which grows out of wisdom and intelligence. It is the type about
which it is said (Mishlei 22:3), "The wise man sees evil and hides,
but the fools pass on and are punished." "Foolish fear" is a person's
desire to have multiple levels of protection, such that he devotes
himself to building up these layers of protection and neglects Torah
and Divine service. The criterion by which to distinguish between the
two types of fear is implied in Chazal's statement (Pesachim 8b),
"Where there is a likelihood of danger, it is different." Where there
is an identifiable risk of injury, one must be careful, but where
there is no apparent danger, one should not be afraid.
(Mesilat Yesharim, ch. 9)
"And you shall repeat them to your sons and speak of them,
when you sit in your homes . . ." (6:7)
R' Daniel Movshovitz z"l hy"d (head of the yeshiva in Kelm,
Lithuania; killed in the Holocaust) writes in a letter that the
reference here to the home does not refer to the wood and stone
structure. It refers to the family. The beginning of a person's
judgement in Heaven will address whether he set aside times for Torah
study and, in particular, whether he dedicated times to study Torah
and discuss the subjects of faith and trust in G-d with his family.
It doesn't matter so much what one learns at these times. R'
Yerucham Levovitz z"l, a great teacher of mussar, used to read the
Tze'enah u'Re'enah (a Yiddish translation and commentary on the Torah)
at meals. The simple lessons of faith contained in that work often
make a more long-lasting impression than do complicated discourses.
(Kitvei Ha'Saba Mi'Kelm V'talmidav p. 610)
Letters from Our Sages
This week's letter was written in 1951 by R' Eliezer Zusia
Portugal z"l, the Skulener Rebbe in Romania (and later in
Brooklyn). R' Portugal was particularly known for his work
on behalf of Holocaust orphans and for his spiritual
resistance against Romania's communist government. R'
Portugal died in 1982. This letter is printed in Kedushat
Life and peace and all good things to my son-in-law, the young
scholar who is wondrous in his Torah and fear [of Heaven], R' Moshe,
may his light shine forever . . .
I again wish you and your wife, my daughter Gittel, may she live
long, Mazal Tov on the birth of your new son. May he be, G-d willing,
full of old [i.e., "A new barrel full of old wine"]. [May you merit]
to bring him into the covenant of Avraham. May Hashem bless you and
show you favor, and may you merit to raise [your son] to Torah,
marriage, and good deeds with ease and comfort among all of the Jewish
People. "May this small one become great" in Torah and fear [of
Heaven - a paraphrase of the Brit Milah blessing], for only when a
child is educated, and follows, in the ways of Torah and love and fear
of Hashem can he rise from the level of a small person to a great
person. The holy books explain that a person can be eighty years old,
but only two years old [spiritually], for the years of a person's life
that are called "years of life" are only those in which he did
something useful. If he used all his days to eat and drink, to sleep
and to work, just like animals do, and especially if he used his years
to sin, such days are not considered "years of life." . . . The years
of a person's life are only those days and years in which he
accomplished and did good - learning [to do good] and teaching others,
observing [the Torah] and fulfilling it . . .
This may help explain the verse (Shmuel I 13:1), "Shaul was one
year old when he reigned." In his humility, he viewed himself not as
the accomplished adult that he was, but as an infant. This is what we
read [in this week's parashah (7:7), "Not because you are more
numerous than all the peoples did Hashem desire you and choose you,]
for you are the fewest of all the peoples." This does not mean, G-d
forbid, that we are less worthy than the other nations. Rather, G-d
loves us because we view ourselves as unworthy.
Copyright © 2006 by Shlomo Katz
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