“The Best of Parashat HaShavuah” Articles taken from list subscriptions on the internet, edited, reformatted and printed for members of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu (Editor: Arieh Yarden)
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Moshe Reuven ben Yaakov z”l
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1 - SHABBAT B’SHABBATO (Tzomet)
Extract from SHABBAT-B'SHABBATO, published by the Zomet Institute of Alon Shevut, Israel
STARTING POINT: The Complaints
Rabbi Amnon Bazak
This week's Torah portion describes four different complaints by Bnei Yisrael. Three of them are long (we will not be concerned here with the fourth short one, "What can we drink?" [Shemot 15:24]). The complaints can be viewed as a sequence, with the main question being: who is the object of the complaint, G-d or Moshe and Aharon?
In the first complaint (14:10-12), the nation clearly distinguishes between the Almighty and Moshe. When the people see the Egyptians pursuing them, they react in two ways: (1) "They were very frightened, and Bnei Yisrael cried out to G-d" [14:10] - This seems to be a proper response, including prayer. (2) "And they said to Moshe, Was it for a lack of graves in Egypt that you took us out to die in the desert? What have you done to us, to take us out of Egypt?" [14:11]. This implies that it was not G-d who took Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt but Moshe, and that he is to blame for their troubles.
In the second complaint, the situation becomes worse. Bnei Yisrael continue to blame Moshe, this time together with Aharon, for taking them out of Egypt to die in the desert. But they no longer turn to G-d with a prayer. However, Bnei Yisrael still differentiate between the will of G-d and the actions of Moshe and Aharon. "And Bnei Yisrael said to them: Would that we had died by the hand of G-d in the land of Egypt... rather than that you had taken us out to this desert, to kill this entire community from hunger" [16:3]. That is, the will of G-d was that they should die natural deaths in Egypt (see the Rashbam), but Moshe and Aharon brought them to the desert to die in suffering.
In response, Moshe and Aharon indeed emphasize that the process of the exodus from Egypt was performed by the Almighty, and complaining about them is the same as complaining about G-d. "Tonight, you will know that G-d took you out of Egypt (and we did not!). And in the morning, you will see the glory of G-d, when He hears your complaints about G-d. Who are we, that you should complain about us? And Moshe said, G-d will give you flesh to eat in the evening and bread in the morning to satiation, and G-d will hear your complaints that you complain about Him. And who are we? Your complaints are not about us but about G-d." [16:6-8].
In the last complaint in this portion (17:2-3), G-d's name does not appear at all. Only Moshe is mentioned. "And the nation argued with Moshe, saying, give us water and we will drink." Moshe once again tries to clarify who is the real object of their complaint. "And Moshe said to them, why do you argue with me, why are you testing G-d?" The people continue to complain, "Why did you take us out of Egypt to kill me and my children and my cattle by thirst?" But in the end, it is written, "And the place was called Massa U'Meriva, in memory of the quarrel of Bnei Yisrael, and the fact that they tested G-d, saying, Is G-d among us or not?" Whether this last verse is a direct quote or a commentary explaining their words, the message is clear. Separating themselves from Moshe is a symbol of separating themselves from the Almighty. This is the beginning of a process which will reach its peak later, with the sin of the Golden Calf.
POINT OF VIEW: The Price for a Body or for Information
Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
These lines are being written the day after the national humiliation we experienced, which took place on Thursday, 28 January. The day began with the blowing up of a bus in Jerusalem, continued with the release of hundreds of murderers in return for several dead bodies and a live man who is suspected of being a criminal. The end of the day saw a victory march in Beirut, led by "the cruel head of the poisoned serpent" [see Devarim 32:33], a Sheik who defeated Israel, at least for the time being. The atmosphere of defeat is even worse in view of the conviction that this poisonous viper is preparing for a body blow leading to a knockout in the second half of the "game," where he sets the rules – he will demand a reward simply for giving us information.
In any struggle, each side attempts to take advantage of his adversary's weak points. Our enemies have long ago found our own weakness – it is our moral weakness. In this I am not referring to a lack of morals. Rather, our weakness lies in an exaggerated moral feeling, an excessive sensitivity for human life and the remains of a human body. This leads us to a willingness to pay an exaggerated price – in blood as well as in money – for scraps of information. The scoundrel, with a devilish smile on his face, plays havoc with our emotions and announces that he will continue his way of considering human beings as nothing more than bargaining chips and of looking at the entire world as if it were nothing but a circus of fear.
Alas, our reaction is to continue dancing to his distorted beat, analyzing every clue to guess what the serpent is hinting, and begging him to allow our hell to cool down a bit and to lower the price... The world meanwhile nods its head in understanding and hidden agreement with respect to the "legitimate negotiations." In its heart, the world is excited by the smile of the evil man and is satisfied by the theater of the absurd, including the robe and head covering of the star performer.
The Memory of the Maharam and Mrs. Arad
Often, I find myself wondering how things would have been handled in a "Torah state." Public dilemmas that appear in current events disturb my rest with the question of what the Torah approach would be to such issues. In the current question of redeeming captives, I have no doubt whatsoever that men of Torah, halacha, and a Jewish approach would all come to the same conclusion: It is not justified to pay a high price in national and political terms for bodies of the dead or for information. This decision is so clear to me that there is no need to even quote traditional sources to support it. The declaration by the Prime Minister at the ceremony marking the exchange of prisoners for bodies, that "we have performed a great act of Judaism and kindness," has no objective basis at all. Just the opposite: it is a conclusion that stems from a foreign concept of morality, based on the Christian viewpoint. There is no doubt in my mind that any rabbi who would have been consulted would concur with my conclusion, while at the same time expressing sympathy and tears for the "sacrifice for the community" of the suffering family.
Many people have commented on the Mishna, "Captives should not be redeemed for more than they are worth, for the good of the world" [Gittin 4:6]. The reason is, "so that the enemies will not make an effort to capture the people" [Yoreh Dei'ah 252:4]. The remarkable story of the Maharam of Rotenberg is well known. When he was put in prison in Alsace in Germany about 700 years ago, he refused any offers to be ransomed, based on this Mishna, even though he could have accepted the release, according to the continuation: "However, a sage or one who might develop into a great man can be redeemed for a large sum of money."
It is interesting to note the following ruling by the Maharam himself (in a response quoted by the Beit Yosef, ibid paragraph 11, in the name of the Mordechai). "With respect to one who is captured and has sufficient funds to redeem himself: he should be redeemed against his will, even though he refuses to be redeemed." He compares this to "one who sees his friend drowning in a river. He must save him and even hire people to save him. And clearly, even if he screams not to be rescued, the friend should have him saved, and he can then demand to be repaid whatever money it cost... And it is wrong to depend on the captors eventually setting the man free without ransom, since one should not take chances in a case of mortal danger. Rather, he should be redeemed, even against his own will." [Responsa, Maharam of Rotenberg, volume 4, chapter 39]. Even so, in spite of the halacha "in his favor," the Maharam instructed that he was not to be freed. According to the records, his body remained in jail for 14 years after he passed away, before he was finally buried.
I have nothing but praise for Ron Arad's late mother, who in her will wrote that it would be wrong to redeem her son's body, if he were dead, by freeing living captives. This declaration of hers was not widely publicized, and I think it should be recognized as a noble gesture from both the Jewish and the moral perspective. This demand of hers corresponds to the true viewpoint of Torah. If the vipers knew with certainty that we would never pay anything for a dead body, they would make sure to keep any of our captured people alive, at all costs.
I feel that we should adopt the "moral stance" that is widely accepted in our part of the world, reacting to extortion with extortion, kidnapping in response to kidnapping, and explosives in the squares of Azza in return for bombs in buses on Azza Street.A Note for Tu B'Shevat
"When you mount a siege on a city... Do not destroy its trees... For man can be compared to the trees of the field" [Devarim 20:19]. The words of the Ramban are known, that in order to defeat an enemy, "Destroy it and chop it down [20:20] - You are permitted to chop down a tree in order to use it for a siege. Sometimes it may be destroyed completely, since this may be necessary for conquest, if the people leave the city to gather wood from the tree or hide in the forest in order to fight you, or if the trees provide them with a place to hide." There is no doubt that it is permitted to destroy orchards at the side of the roads and near settlements, so that they cannot provide protection for murderers. What about cutting down olive trees, with the objective of causing the enemy economic hardship? What was the Ramban referring to when he wrote the following? "When we attack the land of our enemies, we will destroy and uproot every good tree. This is also relevant for a time of siege, in order to disturb the inhabitants of the city, by destroying the trees so that they will not be able to live from them. All of this is permitted." [Additions to Sefer Hamitzvot, Positive Mitzva 6].
THE RABBI'S SERMON: "When I Left Egypt"
Rabbi Tzvi Lev, Rabbi of Mechola and Head of Garin Giv'at Sal'it
"Shirat Hayam," the epic poem recited by Bnei Yisrael at the Red Sea, has the privilege of being a unique poem among all those that appear in the Torah. Even the way it is written on the page has a special name, "Tiles of Bricks," because of the pattern of words and spaces across the page. This implies that the connection between our nation and the Almighty is stable and strong, like the wall of a building. However, from the first verse in the poem, it is clear that Moshe initiated this epic poem and not the people. First, "Moshe sang," and only afterwards, "Bnei Yisrael" joined the song (Shemot 15:1). Moshe and Miriam take the initiative with words and drums, and the nation follows. A person who has experienced a miracle often does not recognize the nature of the event, and a slave does not appreciate his remarkable experience when he is set free. The experience of freedom and the perspective of time are missing to allow the slaves to describe their feelings on the shores of the sea, for as we know "what a maid-servant saw at the Red Sea was not seen by Yechezkel Ben Buzi." Note that Yechezkel was the greatest of all in terms of prophetic vision.
The people begin to recognize the significance of the Exodus only when the independence has been lost at a much later stage. One of the most poignant laments recited on the fast of Tisha B'Av expresses this perfectly. "A flame burns within me when I remember in my heart, the time when I left Egypt." This continues with a series of contrasts: "Food from heaven, and water flowing from the rocks... with miracles and signs, when I left Egypt; weeping and bitterness, when I left Jerusalem." Only the great feeling of loss establishes the proper perspective for the Exodus - exile versus redemption, humiliation versus pride, helplessness versus the fact that all other nations fear us.
However, the Exodus gives an opportunity for much more than simply weeping about the past, it also contains an element stretching towards a glorious future. The first mitzva of the Ten Commandments is to believe that G-d took us out of the house of slavery in Egypt. This is also the response of the sage when the Kuzar King asks about the basis of our faith. The sage replies that he believes in G-d, who took us out of Egypt, for the One who can control nature is also the Creator of nature.
It is said that Chaim Nachman Bialik once heard a lecture about the Exodus, where the speaker proposed several alternatives about the changes that had come over the Red Sea. When he heard this, Bialik rose to his feet and read out the verse, "Stretch your hand over the sea and cause it to split" [Shemot 14:16]. He read this verse with such emotion that the listeners felt they were actually on the shore of the Red Sea.
The Exodus from Egypt holds in store a spectacular future. "Like the days when you left Egypt, I will show them miracles" [Micha 7:15]. Our nation, which has had the experience of redemption in the past, has the knowledge to understand how an even greater redemption will look, when it arrives, soon, in our era.
THE EDUCATION CORNER: For the Sake of His Name, with Love
the Center for Religious Education in Israel
Many paths have been proposed in order to realize the goal of teaching the love of Torah, the fear of heaven, and the observance of the mitzvot. The "Moria" religious grammar school in Tel Aviv has declared itself a "Loving School," based on the theme, "For the sake of His name, with love." The school tries to establish an atmosphere of emotion and feeling, with the objective of teaching the concept that everything a Jew does is for the sake of heaven, and every action is a way of sanctifying G-d's name, based on the element of love. The concept of the program was suggested by the school consultant for Judaism, Mrs. Tzvia Levovi, and it is run by the educational staff of the school, under the direction of the principal, Mrs. Chagit Preshtend. The program is based on the large number of practical mitzvot that require a measure of love for their performance.
Examples of the specific mitzvot are: Love of the Creator, "You shall love your G-d" [Devarim 6:5]; Loving other people, "You shall love your colleague as yourself" [Vayikra 19:18]; Love of the Torah, "How I love your Torah" [Tehillim 119:97]; Love of the land, "A pleasant, good, and broad land" [Birkat Hamazon]; Love of the nation, "For my brothers and friends" [Tehillim 122:8], "Yisrael are responsible for each other," [Shavuot 39a], and so on. Everything is keyed to G-d's name, with love.
A school-wide program has been instituted, corresponding to the cycle of the Jewish calendar, emphasizing the above mitzvot. Different classes were provided with appropriate learning experiences encompassing all of the subjects, including research and study within the classroom and in broader educational areas, using both formal and informal education. Every subject begins and ends with an impressive educational experience, in cooperation with the wider community of the school.
The Center for Religious Education supports this approach, that subjects taught with love and with special attention will be fulfilled, based on love, and the name of G-d will thus be sanctified. As was written by Rabbi Elimelech Bar-Shaul in his book, "Mitzva Valev," "If one serves from love, all of his worship stems from love."
TALES OF ERETZ YISRAEL: "A War with Amalek, from Generation to Generation"
Ever since Sancherev interspersed the different nations, we have no way of identifying the nation of Amalek, in order to wage war, as in the above verse (Shemot 17:16). However, it has been said that in every generation a new "Amalek" rises, attempting to annihilate us. Without a doubt, the German nation was the "Amalek" of the early twentieth century.
Germans arrived in Eretz Yisrael about 150 years ago. They were Templars, members of a Christian German sect, who established about 100 neighborhoods and villages throughout the land. At the times of the riots, they helped the Arab gangs, but during World War II they were afraid to rise up, out of fear of the British mandatory regime.
In the War of Independence, the Haganah quickly took control of the German village of Waldheim before the Arabs had a chance to enter. This was only a few years after the Holocaust in Europe. My father, Yosef, participated in the conquest of the village. The following is his memory of what happened.
The Germans spent the night after the capture by the Haganah at a gathering point. It can be assumed that they did not sleep very well that night. They certainly waited with worry and fear for the next day, anticipating the worst... This time, they were certain they would be forced to leave the site, and to relinquish their lands and homes. As German nationals, they had a large obligation to repay, worth much more than a few villages that they had established in Eretz Yisrael. Would they ever be able to repay this debt at all?
Dawn arrived. There were no longer church bells calling them to prayer, and on this day their pastor gave no speech calling for love of their neighbors. This morning there were other voices within the village. The young men of the Haganah were leading the Germans back to their homes, where they were given half an hour to prepare for evacuation. They were allowed to pack two cases each.
You, as a guard over these people, stand on the side with mixed feelings. An old woman is having trouble closing her bag. She looks at you, and you go to help her, remembering that the old people of your nation were pursued with blows and curses. However, in spite of this, you give her a helping hand. Why? Because you cannot degrade yourself by taking revenge in this manner. She says to you, "In the storehouse, you will find feed for the cows, they have not eaten since yesterday morning." And you reply, "We will take care of the cows, they did not do us any harm." A mother with a baby carriage passes by, saying, "In any case, we are thankful you did not treat us any worse." Evidently they expected us to treat them the same way they would have treated us if they had the upper hand...
A command in German is passed along: "That's it, get moving!" When they still take their time, the commander rebukes them: "You had enough time, you had more than enough time. We were chased out without anything..." They leave, the village Waldheim is "Deutschrein" - and you remain. The land of Eretz Yisrael is under your feet. You have control of their houses, which you did not build (see Devarim 6:11), and in addition a wealth of feelings, memories of what you might have liked to do but could not. "Do not forget!" [Devarim 25:19].
(Source: Yosef Wallack, Expulsion from Waldheim, in "Like Yesterday")
A CHASSIDIC THREAD: The Shriek of the Tree
"And he cried out to G-d, so G-d showed him a tree, which he threw into the water. And the water became sweet." [Shemot 15:25].
To cry out is to make a statement beyond the use of words. When the cry stems from a very deep place in our souls, it opens a track that extends beyond any other form of expression. Such a shriek, like the sound of a shofar, is an expression of our helplessness in the face of a reality with which we feel we cannot cope. Only a cry, by gathering together all of our strength, can break out of our limited space. However, it can happen that a cry fails to break out beyond our own limits, and except for a loud noise and any effect it has on us, nothing else really happens. This is a shriek whose only purpose is to cause us to feel excited. In effect, we are more involved with our own feelings than with any real issues. Therefore, G-d's advice to Moshe (and to all of us) is to learn from the trees. What is there about a tree that can teach us how to act? (Note that the letters "aiyin" and "tzadik" both appear in the three words, tze'aka, eitz, and eitza - a cry, a tree, advice.)
The main part of a tree, the trunk, can become so satisfied with itself that it forgets to grow fruit for the benefit of the world. In order to bear fruit, it must reach out to the sides and grow branches. But new branches can also become old and tired, and they must continue to create younger branches. In this way, the tree continues to develop, growing new foliage which multiplies, producing more and better fruit as time goes on. The newest foliage is always closest to the sky, and perhaps for this reason its fruit is always the juiciest. Thus, by looking at how a tree grows we can see an interesting indication of a way for us to break out beyond our existing limits. If we cast our cries out to the distance, perhaps our lives, bitter as they are, will become sweeter and juicier.
THE WAYS OF THE FATHERS (Pirkei Avot):Chapter 3
Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv
Mishna 5: "Rabbi Chanina Ben Chachinai says: One who stays awake at night, and one who travels a lonely road, and one who occupies himself with vain things - is liable to be put to death."
Instead of "and one who occupies himself," there is what seems to be a better text, "one who travels a lonely road, who occupies himself..." (this corresponds to the Kaufman manuscript, and see also Tosafot Yomtov). This means that there are only two parts to the Mishna, staying awake all night and walking alone. And in either case, if the person is occupied with vain things he is in danger of death.
This can be contrasted with the previous Mishnayot, with respect to three people who eat at the same table or even two people who sit together, who can be expected to talk to each other. Once they begin talking, it is right and proper that they should discuss matters of Torah. On the other hand, shall we demand that an individual, alone either at night or on a lonely road, also be involved in Torah? Rabbi Chanina's answer is that from such a person we demand an even higher standard, since without a companion to distract him his "default activity" should be Torah.
Anybody who does not act in this way can be considered to be turning his heart - which should be filled with Torah - to something vain instead. It is almost as if he purposely refrains from Torah (according to the Rambam, "he thinks in terms of religious denial"). Therefore, he is in danger of death, as was written in a previous Mishna by Hillel, "One who does not study is in danger of death" [1:13]. In addition, note that these two actions, staying awake at night and traveling a lonely road even during the day, can be considered dangerous. One possible defense against the danger is to study Torah (see the words of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, "One who is traveling without any accompaniment should study Torah" [Eiruvin 54a]). Anybody who does not take advantage of this defense "is in danger of death."
Even more important than the above considerations, such a person has missed an opportunity that has come his way. Here he is, alone on a road or at home during the night, and there is nothing to prevent him from getting closer to the Almighty, by studying Torah or by praying. Such a missed opportunity can have a high price, even leading to loss of life.
Mishna 6: "Rabbi Nechunia Ben Hakaneh says: If one accepts the yoke of Torah, he will be relieved of the yoke of governmental authority and the yoke of worldly matters (derech eretz). If he rejects the yoke of Torah, he will be placed under the yoke of authority and the yoke of worldly matters."
The previous Mishna was concerned with somebody who is occupied with vain things, while this one discusses a person who is similar in that he rejects the yoke of Torah. In both cases, he is purposely acting to distance himself from Torah. The message of this Mishna is that it is impossible for a man to remove all yokes from himself, since "Man was created for labor" [Iyov 5:7, see Sanhedrin 99b]. However, it is possible for a man of Yisrael to choose what type of yoke will be on him. If he accepts the Torah, he might be freed from social and worldly burdens. If not, then of necessity other burdens will fall on him.
In all of this discussion, the meaning of "yoke" is in the sense of discipline and obeying. An individual in a society must follow guidelines and orderly commands. These can stem from the Torah (which is the essence of authority in Yisrael, as Rabbi Yehuda Halevi explains with respect to the verse, "When there was a king in Yeshurun" [Devarim 33:5]) or from the authority of the government, corresponding to what is accepted by society.