A Standing Ovation
All the nations will ask, "Why did G-d do this to the land? Why did G-d
act with such anger?" (Devarim 29:23)
Good question. True, it was asked after the complete exile from the land
during the time of the destruction of the First Temple, but it is a
question that many religious people, Jewish and non-Jewish, are asking
today. According to the Torah, the people who will ask the question will
answer it as well with the following words:
"It was because they abandoned the covenant of G-d, the G-d of their
fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of Egypt. They
went and served other gods, and bowed down to them, gods they never knew
before, and which He did not give to them. The anger of G-d went out
against this land, bringing upon it every curse that is written in this
book. G-d exiled them from their land in anger, fury, and in great rage,
and threw them into another land to this very day." (Devarim 29:24-27)
That definitely seems to apply to the First Temple period. On the other
hand, perhaps the situation today is the continuation of the situation of
that time, and therefore the answer is as applicable today as it was then.
In other words, the situation today is just the ripple effect of the
original event over the course of two millennia.
For example, the returning exiles from Babylonian only represented only a
portion of the population that had been living in the Diaspora at that
time. As hard as Ezra the Scribe tried to convince the Jews of Chutz
L'Aretz to return and rebuild the Jewish commonwealth, he did not succeed.
As a result, the redemption remained only a partial one in many different
For example, when the Jews came back to Eretz Yisroel, they had to re-
sanctify the land, but did not include all lands. One such land that had
not been re-sanctified was Azza, though it was as much a part of Eretz
Yisroel as the cities that were re-sanctified. Indeed, the Talmud says the
reason why they did not re-sanctify it was so that the laws of Shmittah,
and other mitzvos dependent upon the land, would not apply to it, giving
the poor additional sources of income (Chullin 7a).
Whereas this may have been a boon to the poor of Ezra's time, it may have
worked against the settlers in our time. For, as it says in Tuv HaAretz,
the land atones for the sins of the Jews living there, both the accidental
sins and the ones done with intention. However, it is the performance of
the mitzvos dependent upon the land that frees the land of the sins it has
absorbed from us, without which the final stage of atonement cannot occur.
(Tuv Ha'Aretz, p. 72)
Thus, even though Gush Katif was within the borders of Biblical Eretz
Yisroel, and is as valuable to the Jewish people as other parts, it was
spiritually-handicapped in a way that can be traced back to the time of
the First Temple. Therefore, the question asked back then has echoed down
through the centuries, and even though there are no nations today
believing or informed enough to answer as the Torah has said they would,
it doesn't really matter: the answer has echoed throughout the centuries
All of you stand here today before G-d, your G-d, with leaders of your
tribes, your elders, your law enforcers, all the men of Israel, your
children, your wives, and the proselyte that is part of your camp, from
the hewer of wood to the drawer of water, about to enter into the covenant
with G-d, your G-d, and into His curse, which G-d, your G-d makes with you
today. (Devarim 29:9-11)
At the end of Parashas Ki Seitzei, the HaEmek Davar makes an interesting
point by comparing the mention of Amalek in Parashas Beshallach with that
of Parashas Ki Seitzei. At the end of Beshallach it says:
G-d told Moshe, "Write this as a memorial in the Book, and repeat it
carefully to Yehoshua. I will completely eradicate the memory of Amalek
from under heaven." (Shemos 17:14)
Thus, in this posuk G-d has promised to personally be at war with Amalek,
fighting and completing the war until Amalek is completely obliterated. We
don't seem to be actively involved in the process whatsoever.
However, in Parashas Ki Seitzei it says:
Therefore, when G-d, your G-d has given you rest from all your enemies
around you in the land which G-d, your G-d gives to you as an inheritance,
annihilate the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget this.
Thus, we are commanded to take responsibility for the annihilation of
Amalek, obviously with the help of G-d, and actively fight against him
nonetheless. Why the change of approach in the Torah?
The HaEmek Davar explains:
Annihilate the memory of Amalek . . . That is, annihilate the kingdom of
Amalek, which is not how we explained it in Parashas Beshallach by the
promise of G-d to eradicate the memory of Amalek. There it reads as a
function of Nature without any apparent Providence at all. However, in
Parashas Ki Seitzei this promise is only for the sake of the mitzvah of
eradicating the kingdom of Amalek . . . Don't forget . . . This is a
command. Even during times that we are unable to accomplish this mitzvah,
it is forbidden to forget the people of Amalek and the mitzvah of
eradicating them, in order that we remember to strengthen ourselves in our
faith in the Providence of G-d, even when the world functions naturally.
(HaEmek Davar, Devarim 25:19)
That is the essential battle, the one that takes place throughout history,
behind the scenes, and quite naturally. There was a moment in history when
actually doing battle with the people of Amalek occurred for the sake of
annihilating, but it was missed and passed up, and the main battle has
taken place in ways that are not always apparent to the idea.
Rashi explains on the posuk:
How he met you by the way - vayezaneiv becha - and attacked the
stragglers . . . (Devarim 25:18)
Vayezaneiv becha . . . he cut off the Milah and threw them up towards
And, not just the Bris Milah of the Jews they killed, but the entire Bris
Avos that it represented, with which this parshah began. Why? What
statement was he making by this cruel and grotesque act? Amalek doesn't do
things like this for nothing; he's heavy into symbolism, in an evil way,
just as we are in a holy way. That's what it means to be the antithesis of
Well, what does Bris Milah symbolize? The Torah says:
When Avram was 99 years old, G-d appeared to Avram and said to him, "I am
G-d A-lmighty, walk before Me and be perfect . . ." (Bereishis 17:1-2)
Be perfect . . . Be whole-hearted in all the trials I impose upon you.
In other words, G-d was telling Avraham, do not waver in your loyalty to
Me when I test you; stay with Me until the end. What did He mean by this?
He meant that, in spite of the urge to abandon faith during the test,
However, how could Avraham possibly even consider failing a test from G-d,
including the Akeidah? His whole life had been an investment in the
service of G-d, and falling short of G-d's expectation would have rendered
his life meaningless and not worth living. So, what kind of yetzer hara
could possibly have taken Avraham Avinu down such a path to such self-
destruction? And, how did Bris Milah counteract that?
The answer to that question lies in a deeper understanding of a test from
G-d, and the underlying meaning of Bris Avos.
You shall remember the entire way which G-d your G-d led you these
years in the desert, in order to afflict you and to test you, to know what
is in your heart: will you observe His commandments or not. He afflicted
you and made you hungry, and fed you the manna which you did not know, nor
did your fathers know, in order to inform you that man does not live by
bread alone, but man lives by all the utterances of the mouth of G-d.
The Hebrew word for "test" is nisayon, the root of the word being Nun-
Samech, or neis (miracle). For, what a test and a miracle have in common
is the way they reveal the reality of G-d through what has occurred, a
person by acting in a way that reveals his belief in G-d, and the miracle
by virtue of the fact it is supernatural.
Thus, a test and a miracle are mutually exclusive since they both
accomplish the same thing: they turn a period of Hester Panim into one of
Gilui Panim. Hence, if the reality of G-d is clear through miracles then
there is really no way to test faith in G-d. Therefore, in order to make a
test valid, G-d has to perform it during a time, and in a way, that the
hand of G-d in it is not that clear.
What makes a Divine test a test is the way it demands a sacrifice from a
person, usually putting at risk something the one being tested holds dear,
in the name of what may be a higher spiritual value. If it is clear that G-
d is truly demanding that, could a reasonable person not comply, even if
it means giving up one's own child, as Avraham had been prepared to do?
When G-d tested Avraham something he held dear had to be at stake, and
there had to be room to rationalize that G-d didn't want it. For a G-d-
fearing Jew like Avraham Avinu, the only way a test would prove anything
was if there was a way to see not completing the test as a bigger mitzvah.
Amazingly, the rationalization doesn't seem to work the same way for
people not being tested. Somehow they can see through it, as if that is
what Heaven wants just so they can bear witness to how the one being
tested fought off the yetzer hara and did the loyalty thing over the
rationalized thing. This way the person being tested, and possibly those
looking on, can say, "Wow! You must really believe in G-d to risk personal
comfort for something that could only be valuable if G-d is truly there!"
It is very telling how most cultures, when designing some kind of sign or
banner to reveal to the world what they believe or to what type of society
they belong to, choose some kind of outward manifestation for all to see.
And yet, Bris Milah - the very symbol of the covenant between G-d and the
Jewish people, like the Holy of Holies itself, is completely HIDDEN that
even Jews forget about it.
Hence, as far back in time as the first commandment to circumcise
ourselves, before the Torah was given to his descendants, Avraham Avinu
was being informed of what kind of history he, and more importantly, his
descendants were going to live through, until Moshiach's time. With few
exceptions, the hand of G-d was going to remain strong on behalf of the
Jewish people, but quite hidden all the same.
Our job, embodied in the very concept and reality of Bris Milah, is to
strengthen our faith in that hand and its loyalty to us by acting loyal to
it, in spite of our inability to point at it and say, as the Egyptian
magicians had been able to say with complete certainty, "This is the
finger of G-d!" (Shemos 8:15).
He has said, "Because the hand is upon the Throne of G-d it is a war
d with Amalek in each generation." (Shemos 17:16)
In every generation, and at all times.
The trouble is that not only does G-d fight this battle behind the scenes
in ways that are not always apparent to us, but we, the Jewish people
don't always know who the enemy is in order to see Him fighting it. There
is no nation called "Amalek" today whose history we can trace back and
follow to see its fate.
This is also why Amalek attacked the Bris Milah of the Jewish people who
straggled behind the rest of the nation, to say that just as Bris Milah is
hidden from the public eye, so will their attack be. For, no one knows
more than Amalek himself that the best way to make a Jew zealous for G-d
is to attack his belief in G-d head-on.
Undermining Jewish belief in Hashgochah Pratis must be the result of a
carefully planned and concealed attack, one that takes into account their
sensitivities, and more importantly, their yetzer hara. Amalek can
transform himself into people, things, even events that push our belief in
Divine Providence to its limit, the goal of which is to leave doubt -
suffek, the gematria of Amalek, in our minds and in Hashgochah Pratis.
Remember Bilaam and the daughters of Midian? Remember how their goal was
to keep the Jews out of Eretz Yisroel, to push off the Final Redemption by
pushing them in the direction of Ba'al Peor? Ba'al Peor? That disgusting,
degrading form of idol worship? The Jews who were so civilized . . .
worshipping Ba'al Peor?! Never!
Well, at least not right away. First they invited the Jewish men to do a
little shopping for some fine linen products, for which Rashi says, the
Jews of that time had a soft spot. Upon entering the tents of the merchant
in search of some "finer linen," they were suddenly exposed to even
greater incitements of the yetzer hara, fulfillment of which was dependent
upon performing a service to the idol, Ba'al Peor.
That's the way it happened then, but the entire episode of the process is
also a parable for all of history, how Jews can go in search of something
innocently enough, and be succored into an even greater, more magnetic
form of the yetzer hara, until eventually it results in a form of idol
worship, which may simply mean a lack of belief in Hashgochah Pratis.
Events that are tests have been happening, and will continue to happen.
They are being designed for us as a way to prove our true colors with
respect to Hashgochah Pratis, and the ultimate goals of the Jewish people.
A lot of opinions are flying around, and will continue to fly around,
defending one approach or another regarding the interpretation of those
They always do.
The important thing to ask is, "If I believe like this, what will I have
to sacrifice, and if I interpret the other way, what will be the
If the assumed sacrifice is something dear to your heart but not G-d's,
it's worthwhile to give it some serious thought before rendering your
final decision about in which direction you go. It's that time of year to
It's been a very fast action-packed year. A new year, 5766 is about to
begin, b'ezras Hashem Yisborach. According to Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri, one
of the most respected Kabbalists today, the letters Tav-Shin-Samech-Vav
stand for: tihiyeh shnat sod v'gilui - it will be a year of secrets and
revelation. Personally, I think the process has already begun, and self-
honesty and clarity about the ultimate goals of the Jewish people may be
our most valuable assets in a year that promises to be even
more "exciting" than years in recent history.
May G-d have mercy on His world, inscribe us in His Book of Life, and seal
our fates for a year of health, success, and happiness. Thanks to all of
you who have read what I have written and thought about what I have said.
I hope that it has benefited all of you, and I look forward to continuing
on in the upcoming year with this wonderful merit of writing and spreading
Torah to our people far and wide.
Chasivah u'Chasimah Tovah,
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.