Ripping At the "Seens"
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
See, I place before you today blessing and curse. The blessing if you
listen ... (Devarim 11:26)
As Moshe continued his farewell dialogue, a short time before his actual
death, it must have occurred to the Jewish people what they were losing. As
Moshe prepared his beloved people for live after his death, they must have
cried, and asked themselves, "How? How could we have sacrificed such a
leader, and such a chance for complete redemption?" Moshe's final days must
have seemed so surreal.
The Talmud records an interesting dialogue between Rabban Yochanan ben
Zakkai and Vespasian, before he became Caesar in Rome. It was the time that
Vespasian was sent to lay siege to Jerusalem, just before the destruction
of the second Temple, and even though the rabbis did not want to resist the
Romans, they were forced to by the Jewish rebels within the walls, who had
burned the food supply to make the rest of the Jews fight.
In the end, the Talmud relates, Rabban Yochanan Zakkai feigned death to
sneak out of the city, and secretly met with Vespasian to mitigate the
Roman destruction of the surviving Jews. Their dialogue went like this:
"Peace to you king! Peace to you king!"
He [Vespasian] answered him, "You could be killed for two reasons. I am not
a king, and yet, you call me king. And, if I am a king, why have you not
come to me until now?"
"That you say you are not a king, in the future you will be, otherwise
Jerusalem would not be given over to you ... And, when you say that if you
are a king, why did I not come until now, that is because there are
rebellers who would not let us out."
He asked him, "But if you have a barrel of honey that is wrapped by a
serpent, do you not break the barrel because of the serpent (i.e., destroy
the city to eliminate the rebellers)?"
He [Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai] was silent.
Rebi Yosi, and some say Rebi Akiva, quoted with respect to him the verse,
"He turns the wise men backwards, and makes their knowledge foolish."
(Yeshayahu 44:25). (Gittin 56b)
... Because, according to the Talmud, there was an answer for Vespasian,
and that is: use tongs to remove the serpent and save the barrel. In other
words, our strategy was to remove the rebellers, so that the city and its
surviving inhabitants could live and not be destroyed in the process.
However, says Rebi Akiva, it seems that there are times that important
information is held back from our leaders.
This is a frightening concept, especially for a people that looks to its
Torah leaders for guidance and understanding. We would like to believe that
if our leaders says something, it needs to be said. Likewise, if our
leaders don't say something, it is because it is better not said, and
remarkably, that has been the case so many times throughout Jewish history.
This is the very basis of the concept "Emunas Chachamim," faith in the wise
However, the Talmud seems to indicate that this is not an absolute concept,
and doesn't provide parameters as to how to know when the lines of
communication between heaven and earth have weakened. Fortunately, the
Maharshah does, and it is a very important point to learn and integrate.
Explains the Maharshah: This means, the sin of the people of the city
causes The Holy One, Blessed is He, to "turn the wise men backwards" that
they don't have the knowledge to answer.
The truth is, this is not a new concept for us, for, Rashi pointed this out
earlier on the following posuk:
G-d said to Moshe, "Go down, for the people you brought out of Egypt have
corrupted themselves ..." (Shemos 32:7)
"Go down ... From your high position, for I have only given you distinction
for their sake!" (Rashi, Brochos 32a)
This is why Moshe, two parshios ago, bemoaned:
"G-d denied it to me because of you ..." (Devarim 3:26)
"True," Moshe was telling them, "I was previously denied the right to enter
Eretz Yisroel because I hit the rock instead of talking to it (Parashas
Chukas). However, my prayers were enough to reverse that decree, and would
have, had you been fitting for me to be your leader to enter the land."
And if this was the case with Moshe Rabbeinu, how much more so must this be
the case for all Torah leaders since. This is also why prophecy was removed
from the Jewish people (3448/313 BCE): if the Jewish people aren't going to
listen to their prophets, then what point is there in granting them
Perhaps this is why it is called "Emunas Chachamim." A person might think
that a Torah leader has to first prove himself by saying wondrous
statements that come true before our eyes. He must, in times of trouble,
one might assume, be certain of and ready with direction as if he is
receiving a direct transmission from G-d.
Perhaps they can, and will. However, first we must create the demand for
such Divine assistance by always turning to our Torah leaders, and having
faith in their decisions and directives even during peaceful times. When
G-d sees our faith in our Torah leaders, then He in turn works through them
to help us.
Furthermore, we must also endeavor to live spiritually pure lives and
remain committed to Torah and its essential ideals, as much as we
personally can. Then, as we grow greater in Torah and mitzvos, so, too, do
our Torah leaders. Then they can act as the important bridge between heaven
and ourselves, and provide is with crucial light, during peaceful times,
and especially during times of darkness and confusion.
See, I place before you today blessing and curse ... When Hashem your G-d
will bring you into the land which you are there to inherit, you will put
the blessing on Har Gerizim and the curse on Har Eival. (Devarim 11:26-29)
This posuk is referring to the blessings and curses detailed later in
Parashas Ki Savo. There, six tribes climbed one mountain, and six of them
climbed the other mountain while the blessings and curses were spoken out
and accepted by the entire nation.
The actual location of Har Gerizim and Har Eival is right by Shechem; in
fact Shechem is right between the two of them, which is quite fitting
considering that the Talmud says:
Shechem is a place set aside for punishment; the Tribes were "damaged"
there; Dinah was violated there, and there the Kingdom of Dovid divided.
As the Talmud points out, bad things happen to good Jews there, and there
is a reason for this. In fact, it has to do with something else that
happened there, also early in Jewish history:
Rebi Shimon son of Elazar went with Sefer Devarim before Rebi Meir, and
they decreed against [the ritual slaughter of] them [Kusim]. For what
reason? Rav Nachman son of Yitzchak said: The form of a dove was found
amongst them at the top of Har Gerizim, and they worshipped it. (Chullin
"There is a Midrash that this was the idol that Ya'akov buried under the
tree by the mountain Shechem (Bereishis 35:4)." (Tosfos)
It may have been years later that the Kusim, questionable Jews, found this
idol and worshipped it, but the connection had not weakened over the
millennia. On the contrary, their finding and worshipping this idol was a
throwback to the very spiritual darkness that Ya'akov wished to bury then
When? In preparation for Beit El, after Shimon and Levi had wiped out the
town of Shechem. And, immediately after he purged his camp of every last
vestige of idol worship and spiritual duplicity, the verse says:
They began their journey. The terror of G-d was felt in all the cities
around them, and they did not pursue Ya'akov's sons. Ya'akov and all the
people with him came to Luz in the land of Canaan, that is, to Beit El. He
built an altar there, and he named the place "Beit El's G-d," since that
was the place that G-d was revealed to him when he was fleeing from his
brother [Eisav] ... G-d appeared to him again and blessed him. G-d said to
him, "Your name is Ya'akov. But your name will not only be Ya'akov, but
your name will also be Yisroel." (Bereishis 35:5-10)
Unlike Avraham's name change, Ya'akov's was not permanent, for an important
reason. Whereas Avraham's name change from "Avram" represented a change in
his very being and role within creation, Ya'akov's represented the
revelation of a potential, not a fixed reality. It indicated that "Ya'akov"
was the twin brother of Eisav; "Yisroel" was, and is not.
In fact, the very name Yisroel itself means:
Your name will no longer be called "Ya'akov," but "Yisroel," [for] you have
fought with a divine being and with man, and you have one. (Bereishis
--indicating a personal struggle that Ya'akov had to undergo to reach
spiritual greatness (see, "Redemption to Redemption," Purim).
Though Ya'akov possesses the potential to follow in the ways of Eisav (who,
according to the Midrash, was completely immersed in materialism to the
point that he abandoned any longing for, and then belief in, the
World-to-Come), he can rise above them. Even while wearing the garb of a
Ya'akov, he can still act in the manner of Eisav, his twin brother, sharing
his beliefs and even sharing his vision of G-d. But never while wearing the
"clothes" of Yisroel.
Perhaps this is why Ya'akov buried the idols at the base of Har Gerizim,
the future place of the pronouncement of the blessings by his descendants
over a thousand years later. It was a time capsule, of sorts. It was a
message plain and simple: The blessings of the Jew come for being a Jew, a
Yisroel, that is. It is our job to flee Eisav, not to embrace him and his
culture. It is our responsibility to "bury" his false beliefs, not to
sustain them and to adopt them.
Perhaps this is the underlying reason for the following:
Rebi Shimon said ... The land of Galil is where Melech Moshiach will be
revealed, because it is in the territory of Yosef. It was destroyed first,
and it is the place where he will first be revealed from all the places,
before spreading to the nations ... as it says, "And the bones of Yosef
which they brought up from Egypt for burial in Shechem." (Yehoshua 24:32 ).
(Zohar, VaYakhel 220a)
Because, when you think about it, all that Moshiach boils down to, in the
end, is helping Ya'akov leave behind all connections to Eisav once and for
all, so that he can finally take his right place in history as Yisroel.
Obliteration of evil, identified only with the Days of Moshiach is
synonymous with the cleansing of all traces of Eisav within the heart of
every Jew. It is also what the Talmud refers to as the "slaughtering of the
yetzer hara" in Moshiach's day (Succah 52a).
Then, when this finally happens, there will be no curses, only blessings to
be enjoyed forever. Then, Shechem will no longer be a place set aside for
punishment, but as a place for reward. However, not for Ya'akov the twin
brother of Eisav, but for Yisroel, and it will be a well-deserved reward
for every Jew who will have "fought with a divine being and with man" and
will have won.
When you cross the Jordan, and live in the land which Hashem your G-d is
giving you to inherit, and when He gives you rest from all your enemies
around you so that you live safely; then you shall bring to the place which
Hashem your G-d will choose to establish His name ... (Devarim 12:10-11)
This verse found fulfillment later on in history during the time of King
"Then build the 'Chosen House' for yourselves in Jerusalem, as it says of
Dovid (II Shmuel 7:1-2), 'And it came to pass when the king sat in his
house, and G-d had given him respite from his enemies all around, that the
king said to Noson the prophet, "See, I dwell in the house of cedar, but
the ark of G-d dwells within curtains ..." ' " (Rashi)
... Even though the actual Temple was not built unto Shlomo HaMelech's
time, in the year 2928 from creation.
The question is, why would building the Temple be based upon first
achieving peace? Other nations specifically build Temples during war times
so that they can pray to their gods and worship them to gain support in
their battles. When it comes to the Jewish concept of a Temple, it seems to
be just the opposite.
The answer lies in the role the Temple played in the life of the Jewish
people, and the world in general, and the role the average temple plays in
the lives of the nations. The Talmud says:
Woe to the nations of the world who destroyed the Temple, and do not know
what they destroyed! When the Temple stood, it atoned for them, but what
will atone for them now? (Succah 55b)
Most temples work on behalf of the people who built them, whereas the
Jewish Temple worked on behalf of the entire world. Most temple buildings
are built to create an environment to be contained within its walls. The
Jewish Temple was built with windows that were narrow on the inside and
wide on the outside, to symbolize the role of the Temple to emanate light
out to the rest of the world!
In other words, the Jewish Temple was one of peace, which is why metal, an
choice material of weapons of war, was not used to construct the altar.
Using the symbol of death to create a symbol of life was contradictory, and
contrary to the whole concept of a Bais HaMikdosh--a house of holiness for
G-d, whose names include that of "Shalom."
Therefore, the Temple could only be built during times of peace, for, it
was peace itself that the Jewish Temple symbolized, and it was peace that
the Temple brought between man and G-d, and between man and man as well.
But his desire is in the Torah of G-d, and in His Torah he meditates day
and night ... (Tehillim 1:2)
As the Metzudas Dovid points out, not only does the praiseworthy man avoid
evil (see last week's parshah sheet), but he does much good as well. This
is really the concept, in the end, of negative and positive mitzvos.
As the Maharal explains (Tifferes Yisroel), there are 365 negative mitzvos,
corresponding to the number of the days of the year. This is because the
primary purpose of a negative mitzvah is to help man not to destroy
creation. The negative mitzvos come against the part of man's yetzer hara
that has little trouble finding the energy to do that which is
counter-productive to life and the purpose of creation.
In fact, if you find yourself unduly motivated to do something, it is a
good time to ask why. Even a righteous person, who appears to have little
difficulty finding the motivation to do a mitzvah, still is cognizant of
his inner battle, and works to overcome his yetzer hara. His greatness is
in being able to recognize the will of his yetzer hara as being different
from his own will, and therefore, can overcome it.
Likewise, when you find yourself too lazy to do a good deed, you also have
to ask why. Positive mitzvos, of which there are 248, correspond to the
limbs of the body because they symbolize our intellectual and emotional
control over our physical limbs. The 248 positive mitzvos beg the question:
who works for whom? Do you work for your limbs, or do your limbs work for
you? Don't wait to be inspired ... inspire yourself! Create a desire for
the Torah of G-d, and inspire yourself to meditate on Eternal Truth day and
night. For, if you do, then ...
He shall be like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit
in the proper season. (Tehillim 1:3)
The water, of course, symbolizes Torah and life. Being planted by such a
source means drawing one's energy and meaning from Torah itself, and then
disseminating those teachings to benefit others as well.
In a way, these first three verses of Tehillim parallel the first three
verses of the Torah. With respect to the Torah, the first verse is an
introduction to all that will follow, stating the general principle of
creation: G-d makes everything, and all is according to His will.
The second verse of the Torah can be said to represent the "storm" before
the "calm," so-to-speak, as if all that will ever become throughout history
is in incubation, a period of gestation during which creation awaits
fruition. The creation of light, in the third posuk, represents the
actualization of the will of G-d as His Holy Light emanates out and brings
life to a deadened world. Only now is G-d "compelled" to comment: "It is
In the first verse of this first paragraph of Tehillim, Dovid HaMelech
stated the general principle: Consciously avoiding evil is the basis of
doing good. However, there is no instruction yet in this verse as to how
best to do this; that is the subject of the second posuk.
Nevertheless, even the second posuk, by speaking of "desire" and
"meditation," deals only with inner being. Meditation is an active-passive
process to bring about realization. Desire, itself, is the ultimate
motivator, but not an action itself, per se. Both meditation and desire are
vehicles to bring about realization (as our parshah teaches, first you have
to "see" before you can do), and ultimately, motivation to accomplish.
Then, Dovid HaMelech speaks about a tree, a symbol of life and
strength--and man as well. But there are trees that yield no fruit, and
then there are trees that yield tremendous, life-sustaining fruit. It is
such people that become the leaders of men, and the teachers in Israel,
lifting, inspiring, and motivating the masses to seek out G-d for
themselves. It is such people, like Avraham Avinu himself, who are compared
to the Holy Light of creation, which is called "good," that is, the
fulfillment of the purpose of creation. Hence, the Midrash paraphrases and
G-d said, "Let there be light!" And there was Avraham! (Bereishis Rabbah 2:3)