B parashat hashavua b



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10 – ERETZ CHEMDA

Eretz Hemdah is the premier institution for training young rabbi's to take the Israeli Rabbinate's rigorous Yadin Yadin examinations. Eretz Hemdah, with its distinctive blend of Religious Zionist philosophy and scholarship coupled with community service, ensures its graduates emerge with the finest training, the noblest motivations and the strongest connection to Jewish communities worldwide. Email: eretzhem@netvision.net.il web-site: www.eretzhemdah.org



A Time of Peace and a Time of War”

Harav Yosef Carmel

Let us deal with the haftara, which discusses David’s instructions to his son and successor, Shlomo. David instructed Shlomo to execute Yoav, his top general, for having killed rivals, Avner and Amasa, who had lead troops opposed to David before reconciling with David. David explained that he had “placed the blood of war in peace” (Melachim I, 2:5). What does that phrase mean?

Rashi and the Targum explain that Yoav used trickery to kill the unsuspecting who thought they were at peace with him. This explanation is difficult as it does not seem to be grounds for punishing Yoav. If Avner had deserved death, what difference did it make that he used trickery to accomplish the just outcome? If he did not deserve to be killed, would it have helped to have killed in a straightforward manner? The phraseology of war and peace are also problematic, as these are terms that refer to the relationship between national or factional groupings, whereas Yoav acted against personal rivals?

The gemara (Sanhedrin 49a) discusses at length the legal argument between Yoav and Avner before the latter’s execution. Apparently Yoav killed him not with the claim that Avner had rebelled against the kingdom but for killing Yoav’s brother Asael during the civil war. Asael had chased Avner during battle. Avner warned him to stop pursuing him and, when he refused, killed him. The crux of the debate was whether Avner, who was clearly a superior warrior to the fleet-footed Asael, had needed to kill Asael in order to save his own life. The gemara concludes that Avner could have sufficed with injuring him, and thus Yoav had some justification to kill his brother’s murderer. Before understanding Yoav’s culpability, we need to introduce a new concept.

It is not always clear when a situation of war-like tension and sporadic fighting qualifies as a war. Note, for example, that the fighting in the summer of ’06 in Lebanon was not initially considered a war. The bloodshed in the many terrorist attacks over the last two decades and our responses to them have also not been seen to qualify. The differing rules of engagement between peacetime and wartime make these distinctions potentially critical. Does one warn an attacker to put down his weapon or does one just charge the attacker and kill him?

David and Yoav argued a question of this nature in regard to the tensions and battles between the supporters of Shaul’s family’s claim to the throne and David’s. David consistently considered it peace time, in which case, one who could have saved his life without killing another had to do so. Yoav and his brothers reasoned that there was a civil war that warranted killing. Therefore, by Yoav claiming that his brother’s death was murder and not death during battle, he was contradicting himself in mixing the concepts of peace and war.

Ask the Rabbi

Question: What happens if one has an urge to go to the bathroom that arises when he is in the middle of davening (Shemoneh Esrei or other)? If and when should he go to the bathroom? Does he recite Asher Yatzar when he returns? From where does he resume davening?

Answer: These are important questions, as many people do not know what to do or find it hard to follow these halachot, which are a little counterintuitive to some of us.

The gemara (Berachot 23a) takes the matter of preparing the body for a clean and respectable tefilla very seriously. Accordingly, if one davens when he is unable to hold in his need to eliminate (regarding urination the matter is unclear – see Biur Halacha to 92:1) for 72 minutes his tefilla is considered an abomination, is disqualified, and needs to be repeated (see Rambam, Tefilla 4:10). Even when one can wait 72 minutes, he should properly take care of his needs before davening if he feels any real urge to go to the bathroom even if, as a result, he will be unable to daven along with the congregation (Mishna Berura 92:5).

If one started when it was forbidden and then thinks the matter over again, he must stop right away no matter where he is in the tefilla. However, if he started when he did not need the facilities and then his situation “deteriorated” unusually quickly, the matter depends on where he is in tefilla and the severity of the urge. In Shemoneh Esrei, where it is forbidden to move under all but the most severe circumstances, he must continue until the end and then go to the bathroom even if he will miss Kedusha (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 92:2 and Mishna Berura 92:8). Only if he reaches the point where restraining himself is considered difficult to the point of being degrading would one be able to leave his place in the midst of Shemoneh Esrei (Rama, Orach Chayim 92:2 and Mishna Berura 92:11). Even in that case, if he is davening publicly and walking out in the middle will be of significant embarrassment, he may decide to continue davening (Mishna Berura, ibid.). Regarding Kri’at Shema, he may go to the bathroom if he likes or continue if he likes (Mishna Berura 92:9). However, since he may not start Shemoneh Esrei in that state, it is best to find one of the relative breaks in Kri’at Shema to go to the bathroom (ibid.). Regarding P’sukei D’zimra, one may go to the bathroom between any of the sections of psalms or before Yishtabach. He should not wait until after Barchu, which begins the next section of tefilla (ibid.).

As long as one stopped properly, he can continue upon return to the place in the tefilla that he was up to. Even if he should have stopped earlier, that which he said in any part of tefilla other than Shemoneh Esrei is valid after the fact and therefore he can continue from where he was (ibid.:6). The only issue is that if he spent more time in the bathroom than it takes for him to recite the entire section he is in, he must return to the beginning of the section (Biur Halacha to 92:2). If he started Shemoneh Esrei when he could not have waited 72 minutes, the tefilla was valueless and therefore he must go back to its beginning.

Regarding reciting Asher Yatzar upon exiting the bathroom, the matter depends on the place in tefilla one finds himself. If he was in the middle of P’sukei D’zimra, he would optimally make the beracha at the first break between “paragraphs” of P’sukei D’zimra (see Mishna Berura 51:8; Ishei Yisrael 16:6). If he went to the bathroom during Kriat Shema or its berachot he should wait to recite Asher Yatzar until after Shemoneh Esrei (ibid. 66:23) (assuming he will not have felt a new urge to go to the bathroom by the time he has the chance to recite it). During Shemoneh Esrei certainly one would not be able to recite Asher Yatzar and must wait under all circumstances.

MORESHET SHAUL

The Approaches of Chasidut, Hitnagdut, and the Mussar Movement – part III

(from Perakim B’Machshevet Yisrael, pp. 515-531)

[We continue with Rav Yisraeli’s survey of the basics of Chasidic thought. We saw last time about the importance, in Chasidic thought, of one’s intention in doing mitzvot.]

Because everything is a manifestation of the Divine, there is no room for sadness, an emotion that the Ba’al Shem Tov saw as an impediment to service of Hashem. No event needs to rob a person of his happiness. The famous pasuk, “Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid,” whose simple meaning is that one should always view himself as being before Him, can mean that all events should be equal to a person. Even being sad because of a spiritual lacking is a trick of the Evil Inclination to make one feel that he is in a worse position than he is. One should take comfort that, in whatever position he is, Hashem is with him. Sadness prevents one from using the energy he needs to succeed, just as an energetic wrestler will beat a stronger but lethargic one (Tanya 26). Even if one has a sinful thought during davening, it should not depress him but encourage him to concentrate harder on his prayers. The thought need not be the product of a deficient prayer but of a prayer with enough potential to make it a threat to the negative in the world (ibid. 28).

The Ba’al Shem Tov used the following example to explain evil inclinations. A king summoned his friends and used optical illusions to make them see a large palace, when indeed the king was right before them. It took the king’s son to assure them that the king was right there. The inclinations are the work of the animalistic spirit; a person must remind himself that this is not his true desire. One should get angry at the Evil Inclination and should try to see Hashem’s infinite light in the most palpable manner possible. The Satan does not have any essence that can prevent one from exposure to Hashem. He is referred to in terms of darkness because he can be made irrelevant by adding light (Tanya 29).

Desiring to always be connected to Hashem can remove other thoughts, of permitted or forbidden matters. Not everyone can fulfill mitzvot optimally and thereby cling to Hashem. Therefore Chazal told us to cling to Torah scholars, which enables one to indirectly cling to Hashem. Every generation includes those who stand above the multitudes and are like the heads and brains of the masses (Tanya 1). The masses of simple people form one entity with the tzaddikim. As there are 248 limbs and 365 sinews so are there many parts to a spiritual body. The multitudes comprise the entity’s body and the tzaddik constitutes its soul. The latter occupies a higher level beyond regular free choice, in a manner that normal people cannot aspire to, whereby they have strong love for Hashem and are reviled by evil (Tanya 14). On one hand, simple people are expected to cling to the tzaddik. Conversely, the tzaddik is to connect to them. They can realize their potential spiritual heights only through the tzaddik, and the tzaddik is granted his high level only to serve the role in his congregant’s lives. When the multitudes elevate themselves one step, the tzaddik is also elevated. This is what happened to Moshe. After Bnei Yisrael were united in their preparation to receive the Torah, they caused “And Moshe went up to G-d.” Heaven forbid, the opposite is true as well.

The congregation must listen to the tzaddik. On one hand, he is to break their hearts with persuasive words, but then as they turn to repentance he must enable them to attach themselves to him. Both he who preaches and he who accepts should act for the sake of Heaven and create a lofty unity.

The approach of Chasidut created a powerful movement in which masses of people joined under a leadership that is beyond doubts or aspersions and thereby all can be elevated.



P'NINAT MISHPAT

Use of a Refrigerator Without Permission

(from Halacha Psuka, vol. 36 – condensation of a p’sak of Beit Din Gazit of Sderot)



Case: The defendant (=def) is an organization that arranges Shabbat hospitality. They secured a room for a family in a yeshiva dorm room, in which a student had a personal refrigerator, without his knowledge. After Shabbat, pl found the refrigerator to be broken. A technician says the compressor was ruined. Pl is suing def who is not aware what happened to the refrigerator, instead of suing the family who used, dirtied and perhaps knows what happened to it because he does not want to bother with the family. Def is willing to pay if beit din says that the family is responsible to pay for the damages.

Ruling: The only logical way that the compressor could have been broken by the negligence of the family is if they left the refrigerator open for a very long time, thus over-taxing the motor. However, it is hard to accept that a normal family would have done such a thing, and it is much more likely that the old compressor stopped working due to normal wear and tear. Thus, we cannot consider the family a mazik (damager).

There is room to say that the family acted as a sho’el (borrower). The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 303:1) rules that a shomer (watchman, including a borrower) is obligated to pay for the appropriate losses only after he has did meshica (a physical act of kinyan by moving the object). Although the refrigerator was not moved, there are grounds to obligate based on the Netivot Hamishpat (340:8), who says that use of the object obligates a shomer even without a kinyan. If the family is a sho’el then one could propose to obligate them even in oness (damages for which they were not at fault). However, since the refrigerator was still working when the family left after Shabbat, it is like a case of one who ceased using an object and returned it, which ends his period of obligation, even if he borrowed without permission. Therefore, there is no obligation due to the laws of sho’el.

The family certainly was neheneh (received benefit) from the use of the refrigerator. The benefit can be estimated at 20 shekels, based on the differential in value of accommodations with and without a refrigerator. Had there been no damage because of their use, we would have exempted the neheneh from payment because of the rule of zeh neheneh v’zeh lo chaser (one benefited and the other did not lose). On one hand, the refrigerator was left dirty and there was added wear and tear because of the usage and when there is much benefit and small damage (even less than a peruta) one has to pay for all of the benefit (Tosafot 30b). However, beit din determined that since the dirt and extra usage did not affect the refrigerator’s value in any noticeable manner, there is not considered to be damage. Therefore, def does not have to pay anything.

HhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhH



11 – RAV KOOK

Rav Kook on the Net: RavKook.n3.net



Anticipating Redemption

Each of us, the Sages taught, is measured on how we have lived our lives in six ways:

"When a person is brought into heavenly judgment, he is asked: Were your business dealings fair and honest? Did you have set times for Torah study? Did you engage in procreation? Did you anticipate redemption? Did you discuss wisdom? Did you discern new insights?" [Shabbat 31a]

Most of these questions indeed are the cornerstones of a life well-lived. But what is so important about anticipating redemption? Don't we all hope for the best? What does this trait reveal about how one has lived his life?

Part of the Nation

It is important to understand that tzipiyah leyeshu'ah does not refer to looking for solutions to our personal problems. Rather, we are expected to anticipate the redemption of the Jewish people and all of humanity. As Rashi explains, one should look forward to the fulfillment of the words of the prophets.

This is not a trivial demand. As individuals, we are easily caught up in our personal problems and issues. In truth, we should feel that we are like a limb of a great organism. We should recognize that we are part of the nation which in turn is part of all humanity. Every benefit of every individual contributes to the life of the klal, thus advancing the future national and universal redemption.

The question tzapita leyeshu'ah? is a critical measure of one's life. It is the yardstick that determines whether one's life has acquired an overall, universal value. By anticipating the redemption of the klal, we demonstrate that we are able to raise ourselves above the narrow concerns of our private lives. We strive not just for our personal goals, but for the ultimate elevation of the nation and the entire world. We are part of the nation; its redemption is our redemption, and its joy is our joy.

The Lookout

Rav Kook noted that the heavenly tribunal does not ask kavita - did you hope for redemption - but tzapita - did you anticipate redemption. Tzipiyah indicates a constant watchfulness, like a soldier posted to the lookout, at his observation post for days and even years. The soldier may not abandon his watch, even though he sees no change.

We too are on the lookout. We should examine every incident that occurs in the world. With every new development, we should consider whether this is perhaps a means that will advance the redemption of Israel.

However, tzipiyah leyeshu'ah is not only passive observation. Woe to the army that the lookout perceives a threat but does not take any action. The moment there is some development in the field, the soldier must respond swiftly, either to defend or retreat. So too, our tzipiyah includes the readiness to act promptly. While these two traits - constant watchfulness and immediate action at the right time - may appear contradictory, they are both aspects of tzipiyah leyeshu'ah.

[Adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. I pp. 279-280; Ein Ayah vol. III p. 182]

HhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhH



12 Covenant and Conversation

Covenant and Conversation, a unique new Torah commentary from the Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks



The Future of the Past

It is the scene that brings the Book of Bereishith to a close.

Years before, Joseph had forgiven his brothers for selling him into slavery (“Now, do not worry or feel guilty because you sold me. Look: G-d has sent me ahead of you to save lives” ). Evidently, though, they only half believed him. Could he really forgive an act of abandonment that had altered the whole course of his life? Their feelings of guilt had not gone away, and came back to haunt them when Jacob died.

It seems clear from the earlier story of Esau that sons were not allowed to take revenge in the lifetime of their father. Esau says, “The days of mourning for my father will be here soon. I will then be able to kill my brother Jacob” . That is the possibility the brothers contemplate in the case of Joseph. They fear that he may want to take revenge but has waited until the death of Jacob. They are anxious that his words of forgiveness in the past may not have been sincere. He may simply have been biding his time, waiting for the appropriate moment (as later happened in the case of Amnon and Absolom).

After Jacob's death, the brothers come to Joseph and say, “Before he died, your father gave us final instructions. He said, ‘This is what you must say to Joseph: Forgive the spiteful deed and the sin your brothers committed when they did evil to you’” .

The sages realised that this was not true. Had it been true, there would be some reference to it in the narrative. This therefore became one of the texts from which the sages derived the rule, “It is permitted to tell a lie for the sake of peace.” Yet Joseph takes their words seriously – not because he believes them, but because the very fact that they said it means that they are still feeling anxious and guilty. His response is majestic in its generosity:

“Don’t be afraid,” said Joseph, “Am I in place of G-d? You intended to harm me but G-d intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”.

The significance of this speech in the context of Bereishith as a whole is simple and profound. A continuing theme of the book is sibling rivalry: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. The outcome of these conflicts charts a progression. The first culminates in fratricide, the second in separation, the third in relative goodwill (Esau and Jacob eventually meet, embrace and go their separate ways). Joseph, however, lifts the drama to new heights. He forgives. He heals where the brothers harmed. He answers hate with love.

This outcome is essential to the biblical drama of redemption. If brothers cannot live together, how can nations? And if nations cannot live together, how can the human world survive? Only now, with the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, can the story move on to the birth of Israel as a nation, passing from the crucible of slavery to the constitution of freedom as a people under the sovereignty of G-d.

Yet there is something more, and different, at stake in Joseph's remark, and it is this I wish to explore. It concerns the most paradoxical of all rabbinic statements about teshuvah.

One of the most colourful characters of the Talmud was the third century sage known as Resh Lakish. Resh Lakish was originally a highway robber and gladiator. Tradition reports that he once saw the great scholar Rabbi Jochanan bathing in the Jordan and complimented him on his appearance (Rabbi Jochanan was famed for his handsome appearance). Rabbi Jochanan, in turn, was impressed by Resh Lakish’s obvious strength. “Your strength,” he said, “should be devoted to Torah.” “Your beauty,” replied Resh Lakish, “should be devoted to women.” “I have a sister,” said Rabbi Jochanan, “who is even more beautiful than I am. If you repent, I will make sure that she becomes your wife.” Resh Lakish repented and became Rabbi Jochanan’s disciple and colleague.

The Talmud reports that, despite relinquishing his earlier life, he occasionally used his physical strength to good ends. On one occasion he rescued a rabbinic colleague, Rav Imi, who was being held captive by a group of kidnappers. Another time, he went into a town where Rabbi Jochanan had been robbed and brought back his stolen possessions. But he is best known as one of the most famous of baalei teshuvah, penitents, of the talmudic era. Perhaps speaking from his own experience, he coined several aphorisms about teshuvah, two of which are reported in the tractate of Yoma (86b):

Resh Lakish said: Great is repentance, because through it deliberate sins are accounted as unintentional, as it is said (Hosea 14: 2), “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your G-d, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.” “Iniquity” means a deliberate sin, yet the prophet calls it “stumbling” [i.e. unintentional]. Resh Lakish also said: Great is repentance, because through it deliberate sins are accounted as though they were merits, as it is said (Ezekiel 33: 19), “When the wicked man turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live thereby.”

The first of these statements makes sense. When we acknowledge our wrongs, we signal that we regret having done them. We retrospectively dissociate ourselves from them. The acts remain, but the intent does not. To that extent we turn them from deliberate sins to acts that we now wish we had not done.

The second statement, by contrast, is virtually unintelligible. By signalling our remorse, we at best declare that (now, on reflection) we did not mean to do what we did. We cancel the intention. What we cannot do is cancel the deed. It has been done. It is part of the past. It cannot be changed. How then can deliberate sins be turned into merits, in other words, into good deeds?

Nor does Resh Lakish’s quotation from Ezekiel prove his point. If anything, it proves the opposite. The prophet is speaking about a person who, having undergone repentance, now does good instead of evil – and it is because of his good deeds, not his earlier evil ones, that “he shall live.” What the verse shows is that good deeds can overcome a previous history of wrongdoing, not that they can turn wrong into right, bad into good, deliberate sins into merits.

I have hinted in the previous Covenant and Conversation, however, that the source of many of the Talmud’s principles of teshuvah are not derived from the prooftexts cited by the Talmud itself, but from the story of Joseph and his brothers – the key biblical narrative of teshuvah. The reason the sages did not cite this as their source is twofold: first, the Joseph story is narrative, not law; second, it precedes the covenant at Mount Sinai, and therefore only serves as a valid precedent if some confirmation can be found in the post-Mosaic literature.

I believe the same is true for Resh Lakish’s statement about sins and merits. Its source is precisely the words Joseph speaks to his brothers in the last chapter of Bereishith: “You intended to harm me but G-d intended it for good.” This is exactly what Resh Lakish argued. The brothers committed a deliberate sin by selling Joseph into slavery. But they (or at least Judah, the instigator of the decision to sell Joseph) had done teshuvah. The result was that -- through Divine providence -- it was now reckoned “for good.” Not only is this the source of Resh Lakish’s principle, but it also enables us to understand what it means.

Any act we perform has multiple consequences, some good, some bad. When we intend evil, the bad consequences are attributed to us because that is what we sought to achieve. The good consequences are not: they are mere by-products, happenstance, unintended outcomes.

Thus, in the case of Joseph, many things happened once he had been brought to Egypt. He became master of Potiphar’s household, a prison administrator, an interpreter of dreams. Later he became second-in-command of Egypt, overseer of its economy, and the man who saved the country from ruin during the years of famine. None of these consequences could be attributed to his brothers, even though they would not have happened had they not done as they did. The reason is that they neither foresaw nor intended this set of outcomes. They meant to sell him as a slave, and that is what they did.

However, once they had undergone complete repentance, their original intent was cancelled out. It was now possible to see the good, as well as the bad, consequences of their act – and to attribute the former to them, since the meaning of their act is no longer defined by what they originally intended but by what part they played in a providential drama whose outcome was only now fully apparent in retrospect. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, the good they did would live after them; the bad was interred with the past. That is how, through repentance, deliberate sins are accounted as merits, or as Joseph put it: “You intended to harm me, but G-d intended it for good.” This is a hugely significant idea, for it means that by a change of heart we can redeem the past.

This still sounds paradoxical. We tend to take for granted the idea of the asymmetry of time. The future is open, but the past is closed. Before us lie a series of paths: which we take depends upon our choice. Behind us lies the history of our previous decisions, none of which we can undo. We cannot go back in time. That is a logical impossibility. We can affect what is yet to be; but, in the words of the sages, “What has been, has been,” 7 and we cannot alter it. With or without repentance, the past is surely immutable. All of this is true, but it is not the whole truth. The revolutionary idea behind Joseph’s and Resh Lakish’s words is that there are two concepts of the past. The first is what happened. The second is the significance, the meaning, of what happened.

In ancient Israel a new concept of time was born. This did more than change the history of the West; in a sense, it created it. Until Tenakh [the Hebrew Bible], time was generally conceived as a series of eternal recurrences, endlessly repeating a pattern that belonged to the immutable structure of the universe. The seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter – and the lifecycle – birth, growth, decline and death – were a reiterated sequence in which nothing fundamentally changed. This is variously called cyclical, or cosmological, or mythic time. There is a powerful example of it in Tenakh itself, in the book of Ecclesiastes:

Generations come and generations go,

but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets,

and hurries back to where it rises . . .

All streams flow into the sea,

yet the sea is never full.

To the place the streams come from,

there they return again . . .

What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

This is a deeply conservative philosophy. It justifies the status quo. Inequalities are seen as written into the structure of the universe. All attempts to change society are destined to fail. People are what they are, and the world is what it is always been. At best this view leads to resignation, at worst to despair. There is no ultimate meaning in history. As the author of Ecclesiastes says:

Meaningless! Meaningless!"

says the Teacher.

Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless."

The Jewish understanding of time was utterly revolutionary. For the first time people began to understand that G-d had created the universe in freedom, and by making man in His image, He endowed him too with freedom. If so, he might be different tomorrow from what he was today, and if he could change himself, he could begin to change the world. Time was an arena of change. With this, the concept of history (as opposed to myth) was born.

Many great thinkers have written on this theme, including the historian Arnold Momigliano and the anthropologist Mircea Eliade. Here is how the British historian J. H Plumb puts it in his book, The Death of the Past:

The concept that within the history of mankind itself a process was at work which would mould his future, and lead man to situations totally different from his past, seems to have found its first expression among the Jews . . . With the Jews, the past became . . . an intimate part of destiny and an interpretation of the future . . . The uniqueness of this concept lay in the idea of development. The past was no longer static, a mere store of information, example and events, but dynamic, an unfolding story... This sense of narrative and of unfolding purpose bit deeply into European consciousness.

And what applies to nations, applies also to individuals.

We live life forwards, but we understand it backwards. The simplest example of this is an autobiography. Reading the story of a life, we see how a deprived childhood led to the woman of iron ambition, or the early loss of a parent shaped the man who spent his later years pursuing fame in search of the love he had lost. There is an air of inevitability about such stories, but it is an illusion. The deprived childhood or the loss of a parent might equally have led to a sense of defeat and inadequacy. What we become depends on our choices, and we are (almost) always free to choose this way or that. But what we become shapes the story of our life, and only in hindsight, looking back, do we see the past in context, as part of a tale whose end we now know. In life considered as a narrative, later events change the significance of earlier ones. It was the gift of Judaism to the world to discover time as a narrative.

That was what Resh Lakish knew from his own experience. He had been a highway robber. He might have stayed one. Instead he became a baal teshuvah, and the very characteristics he had acquired in his earlier life – physical strength and courage – he later used to virtuous ends. He knew he could not have done so had he had a different past, a life of study and peace. His sins became merits because in retrospect they were an essential part of the good he eventually did. What had happened (the past as past) did not change, but its significance (the past as part of a narrative of transformation) did.

That too was the profound philosophical-spiritual truth Joseph conveyed to his brothers. By your repentance – he intimated to them – you have changed the story of which you are a part. The harm you intended to do ultimately brought about good. So long as you stayed the people prepared to sell a brother into slavery, none of that good could be attributed to you, but now (through teshuvah) you are different and so too is the story of your life. By your change of heart you have earned the right to be included in a narrative whose ultimate outcome was benign.

We now see the profound overarching structure of the book of Bereishith. It begins with G-d creating the universe in freedom. It ends with the family of Jacob on the brink of creating a new social universe of freedom which begins in slavery but ends in the giving and receiving of the Torah, Israel’s “constitution of liberty.” Israel is charged with the task of changing the moral vision of mankind, but it can only do so if individual Jews (of whom the forerunners are Jacob’s children) are capable of changing themselves – that ultimate assertion of freedom we call teshuvah. Time then becomes an arena of change in which the future redeems the past and a new concept is born – the idea we call hope.

HhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhHhH


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