No Fear, No Fair
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
The world was corrupt before G-d, and the land was filled with violence.
Imagine the following scenario. It will seem outlandish at first, but if
you think about, it actually happens every time a professional basketball
player runs on to the court to play a game.
Imagine that your favorite basketball player has just been called for a
foul. But, rather than simply award a free shot to the other team, the
lights dim, except for a spotlight on the errant ball player. The crowd
hushes, and a booming voice yells out,
The rest of the conversation goes like this:
Player: "I what?!"
Voice: "YOU FOULED ANOTHER PLAYER!"
"Yah, so I did! Big deal! They got their free shot and three points!? Let's
get back to the game already!"
"Not so fast! That is not good enough!"
"Huh?" the player says in a confused tone. "What do you mean that it is not
good enough? Hey, who are you anyhow?"
"That does not matter. What does matter is that, unless you repent from
your sinning ways, you're not playing anymore basketball!"
"WHAT!" the player says, offended and confused. "Hey, what is this, church
or something? You a priest or something?"
"No, more POWERFUL than that!" the voice shouts menacingly.
"You mean . . .?"
"I mean, unless you stop fouling other players, you are not going to play
basketball anymore, because we are not going to pay your salary. Fouls slow
the game down and give the other team unnecessary advantages. Crowds don't
like that, and won't pay to watch it. If the people don't pay, then you
don't play! Do we make ourselves clear?"
"Ah . . . yes . . ." the player says, obviously humbled. "PERFECTLY
clear! I play fair from now on . . ."
For some, the power of money is tantamount to the power of G-d, which, of
course, is idol worship. History and everyday life constantly reveal how
powerful a motivator like money is to make people follow rules, even
against their own natures. Without a real fear of reprisal from a higher,
more powerful source, people have little to motivate them to live by rules
they do not relate to. No fear, no fair.
That was the state of creation at the time of the Great Flood. As Rashi
points out, stealing was quite prevalent, which means that people had no
fear of any higher authority. They were totally unfair to one another, and
this is what moved G-d to wipe them out (Bereishis 6:13), for it was the
best proof of what they thought about G-d and His ability to be involved in
the everyday affairs of man.
It always amazes me today when people claim unfairness, especially we Jews.
You can't say that it is a totally G-d -less society today, thank G-d, but
it is overwhelmingly close to it. Furthermore, many of those who do believe
in a G-d-concept have such distorted and self-serving versions of Him that
the world would more than likely be better off if they were agnostic
instead! So, when people cry foul, especially the Jewish people today, I
can't help but wonder to whom they are crying it, and what they expect in
What role does a word like "fair" play in our present-day lexicon? It used
to mean that someone was acting consistent with a set of objective rules to
which all the players agree. But if people do not believe in G-d, or at
least in a common game plan for mankind, then by definition one person's
fair is going to be another person's unfair, and failure to realize and
appreciate this can only result in tremendous vulnerability to the more
powerful human forces in everyday life.
"G-d said, 'They are one nation with one language, and they do this! Now
nothing will stop them from what they set out to do. Come, let us go down
and confound their language, so that one person will not be able to
understand the language of the other.'"(Bereishis 11:6-7)
The NBA is a league. What does it mean to be a league? It means that the
people belonging to it have agreed to a common game plan, a set of rules,
rewards and punishments. It also means that they have agreed to a system by
which to implement the rules and to judge adherence to them, meting out
warnings and punishments when necessary.
Thus, in 1917, after suffering through WWI - a war of attrition - mankind
came up with the League of Nations. It was a noble idea, just as is its
descendant, the United Nations, for both have endeavored to find a common
set of rules by which to self-govern mankind and bring lasting peace to the
And, both have failed for the same reason, that reason being the lack of an
objective definition of G-d, of good, and therefore of peace. Instead, the
United Nations - a modern-day Tower of Bavel - is a place to control
others, to impose self-serving versions of truth on the meek. The United
Nations is the biggest and best living proof of how far the world can walk
off the deep end when the Jewish people fail miserably to sell the world on
a single objective truth.
Is it any wonder, then, that the most popular recipient of its lack of
objectivity is Israel and the Jewish people?
The Tower of Bavel had also been an effort to peacefully organize the
nations of the world at that time. Post-Flood, it had been an attempt at a
new world order, which did not go unnoticed by G-d. As Rashi points out
(Bereishis 11:9), there was a certain camaraderie that G-d had appreciated.
However, though that may have saved their lives to some degree, it did not
save them from dispersal and the hardships that followed, because in their
rush to bring peace to mankind they had forgotten to include G-d in their
But how could they have? The Jewish people had not yet been created and
Torah had yet to be given to mankind. True, Avraham was only 48 years of
age at the time and walking the face of the earth, but he was a one-man
show, with lots of opposition to boot. However, as of today, the Jewish
people have existed with Torah for over 3,000 years, and still the newest
world order has little, if any, respect for G-d's master plan for creation.
How can we expect the world to play fair?!
However, it is more than that. There is more to the story besides not being
able to expect the world to act in an objectively fair manner. Ultimately,
it is about beginnings and endings, a prevalent theme in the Torah, brought
out in no uncertain terms in this week's parshah, and about "fudge factors."
Einstein once called it his worst mistake. Before Hubble confirmed the
results, Albert Einstein had made calculations that seemed to suggest the
universe was expanding. And, an expanding universe meant that it had a
beginning, and therefore an end as well, something Einstein found so
difficult to accept that he "fudged" certain aspects of the calculation to
change the results.
As always, Einstein had been ahead of his time, but this time he had even
been ahead of himself. Later forced to retract his mistake and misgivings,
physics had proven that the universe was not G-d, that is, it was not
infinite. Unlike the universal concept of G-d, the universe had a beginning
and, as we all accept now, it will have an end. Fudge all you want, but if
something is finite, it has a beginning and as sure as the sun will rise
tomorrow, it is going to have an end.
However, there is an exception to the rule, which, we will see, and was
meant to be the rule and not the exception. And, it would have been had the
Jewish people lived by it and taught it to the world.
All of you who adhere to G-d your G-d are alive today. (Devarim 4:4)
These words formed a very important part of Moshe's farewell speech to the
Jewish people in the desert. It had been after the extra 39 years in the
desert and therefore after all those who had participated in the terrible
sin of the spies and the other rebellions. Moshe had been talking to the
survivors, pointing out to them the reason WHY they had survived, and the
Torah recorded it for posterity.
On the surface of it, Moshe was telling them, "If you don't anger G-d, He
won't wipe you out. Stay on His good side, and you can only benefit and
prosper. Learn from those who didn't learn." However, on a deeper and far
more profound level, Moshe Rabbeinu was letting the Jewish people in on a
little secret that he had learned over the years: what it means to be
attached to Infinity.
As long as man has had to face the prospect of aging and death, he has
sought the fountain of youth. There have been many forms, some more
realistic than others. However, there has always only been One, and that is
G-d Himself. Stick with Him, and you can beat the rap.
What does this mean? The Talmud tells us that Ya'akov Avinu never died
(Ta'anis 5b), and elsewhere it says that seven people never died. Where did
they go? They went where all of us must go, except that they did it without
dying. And why not? If the point of death is just to allow our bodies to
dissolve any connection to the original impurity imparted on us from the
Original Snake, then why should people who have done this prior to death
have to suffer through it?
True, seven people is a rather small amount given the trillions of humans
who have lived and died since Adam HaRishon first introduced death to
mankind! And true, even extremely righteous people like Yishai, Dovid
HaMelech's father, died in spite of their great spiritual accomplishments
(Shabbos 55b), so what can we expect for ourselves?
Nevertheless, in some respects, infinity is not an all-or-nothing concept,
at least when it comes to G-d. By adhering to G-d, we may not live forever
in our present bodies, but we can certainly live longer. By including G-d
in the constitutions of societies, those societies may not last forever,
but they will certainly last longer, to the extent that mankind is attached
to G-d and His plan for creation.
That is why it is more than amusing that, as history comes down to its
final act, it is a showdown between America and the Arab nations. Even the
Jewish people seem to be on the sidelines of history at this point,
together with Europe and the rest of the so-called world powers. The
majority of Klal Yisroel just doesn't get it, and fight as they do to
ignore G-d and still climb to the top, they are constantly being pushed
down to the bottom.
After all, for reasons that defy modern-day logic, the American dollar bill
still bears the famous and powerful phrase, "In G-d we trust." This symbol
of American know-how and prowess has engraved on it the source of all their
success, the Master of the Universe. When George Bush Jr. sought to console
America after the attack on the World Trade Center, he bypassed many
secular sources of wisdom and turned instead to King David and Tehillim.
You can laugh all you want now, but we'll see at the End-of-Days how that
kept America buoyant for countless generations, in all aspects of life.
In the other corner is the Islamic world. For all their unorthodox ways of
serving G-d and mankind, they are the ones, seemingly, who talk about G-d
no matter what they are involved with. It has served them well, while at
the same time making life frighteningly unstable for the non-Islamic part
However, even more scary is that, at this precarious period of history, the
secular forces within America are trying hard to erode the religious base
of American society. The Sitra Achra will always call it something else and
couch it in terms that resemble positive values, but at the end of the day,
another reference to G-d and His master plan for creation will have been
removed. It's like handing over one's ammunition to the enemy in the heat
of the battle, and it's just a matter of time before they cause "In G-d we
trust" to be removed as well.
Clever, aren't we?
Terach lived for 70 years and fathered Avram, Nachor and Haran. (Bereishis
As we know from so many different sources, and particularly the Purim
story, 70 is a number of redemption. And, as the Vilna Gaon pointed out,
there is a potential Moshiach in every generation, and in the Generation of
the Dispersion, Avraham Avinu was certainly him. Thus, it was good news for
the world when Avraham had been born in Terach's 70th year, and had the
world been ready he would have led them to the Final Redemption in his
The truth is that even though Avraham did not usher in the Final
Redemption, he did bring about a temporary one. For, had he not come around
when he did the world would have gone the same route as the Generation of
the Flood, wasting life and angering G-d to the point where He would have
again regretted mankind's existence and wiped them off the face of the
earth. Avraham Avinu was the only glimmer of hope for mankind that gave
creation a new lease on life.
What was unique about Avraham? Religions and religious people were
plentiful in Avraham's day; idol worship was quite extensive in his time.
Obviously, what made Avraham unique was the way he related to G-d, and more
importantly, to the extent to which he attached himself to Him, bringing
about the eternity of his progeny.
There is an interesting allusion to Avraham at the beginning of Parashas
Bereishis in the following posuk:
"These are the generations of Heaven and Earth b'hebar-am (in the creating
of them) . . ." (Bereishis 2:4)
In the word "b'hebar-am," the letter heh is written smaller than the rest,
setting it aside from the other letters. This, of course, implies a deeper
meaning to the word, which Rashi promptly provides, quoting the Talmud
(Menachos 29b). However, it is the very same heh that transformed the name
"Avram" into "Avraham," confirming that the reality of Avraham was the
basis for all of existence.
The Avos - they were the merkavah [chariot for the Shechinah]. (Bereishis
What does it mean to be a chariot for the Divine Presence? It means this:
There are two levels of understanding of Elokus. The first is when creation
recognizes that there is a Creator; this is called Ma'aseh Bereishis.
Another level deals with the way G-d runs the world - how G-d "rides" on
His creations - and that is called Ma'aseh Merkavah; this was the level and
understanding of the Avos. (Tzidkus HaTzaddik 189)
The concept of a chariot is that it carries its rider anywhere he wishes to
go, without giving the impression that the chariot itself is in control.
So, too, was it with the Avos - everywhere they went the reality of G-d as
the Creator, Sustainer, and Maintainer of the Universe went as well,
visible through their words and deeds. Everything they did was a Kiddush
Hashem - a sanctification of G-d's Holy Name.
Furthermore, no one ever confused their greatness for G-d's, because they
made a point of seeing to it that such errors in judgment never occurred.
This was Avraham's side of the covenant He made with G-d, eventually
referred to as Bris Avos. It was to let G-d do the driving, unlike the rest
of the world that insists upon relegating G-d to the back seat, if they let
Him into their chariot at all.
Thus, the Ramchal, when discussing Avraham and his accomplishments, wrote:
There was, however, one exception, and that was Avraham. He had succeeded
in elevating himself, and as a result of his deeds was chosen by G-d.
Avraham was therefore permanently made into a superior excellent Tree,
conforming to man's highest level. It was further provided that he would be
able to produce branches possessing his characteristics . . . After this,
the gate was closed on the era of roots. (Derech Hashem, 2:4:3)
And, as long as G-d remains in the back seat, so too will the Jewish
people. And, as long as that is the case, there is no sense in screaming
"FOUL!" every time the world misjudges a situation; it will fall on deaf
ears and bounce off of closed minds. And, if an Avraham does not rise to
the occasion and appear on the historical horizon soon, we may find
ourselves once more contending with a regretful G-d Who will stop at
nothing to justify the purpose of creation. We may find out just how finite
our existence really is.
Have a great Shabbos,