Sparks of Torah
VOLUME 67 NUMBER 1
July 12, 2013
AV 5, 5773
Candle-lighting Time: Between 6:55 pm and 8:10 pm
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated to Rabbi Leban’s Daf Yomi class that recently completed Tractate Eruvin and the first chapter of Tractate Pesachim. Mazel Tov!
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- This year the Fast of Tisha b’Av is observed from Monday at sundown until Tuesday at sundown. The fast commemorates the all the tragedies that have befallen us in our long history, rooted in the destruction of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem and exile from Israel, may it speedily come to an end. More information about the fast can be found on our website and http://ohr.edu/holidays/tisha_bav/
War and Peace
This year, as every year, we begin reading the Book of Devarim on the Shabbos immediately preceding the ninth day of the month of Av, the tragic day in the calendar when we twice lost our Holy Temple in Jerusalem. As the Book of Devarim opens, Moshe stands at the end of his life and retells the story of their journey through the desert. He doesn’t even make it nine verses without reminding them of their shortcomings.
He laments, “How can I alone carry your great burden, your demands and your infighting.” The phrase ‘how can I’ in Hebrew is written, eicha, the Hebrew name of the Book of Lamentations, which we read on the ninth of Av. In fact, when we come to this verse in the course of reading Parshas Devarim, it is read in the special cantilation that is particular to Megilas Eicha, the Book of Lamentations. Somewhere in Moshe’s exasperated expression of his frustration in the Jewish People is a deep connection to the tragedies of the ninth of Av.
This verse points out that Moshe struggled with three things. The people were a tremendous burden, they were demanding and they fought with one another. No one said being a Jewish leader was easy. If the stereotypes have any basis in fact, we’re a tough bunch of vocal, high-maintenance folks. At times, it was too much even for Moshe. But what really pushed him over the edge?
The word order that the Torah employs is significant. In a list of three things, the greatest is always the last. The most difficult thing for Moshe to bear was Jews fighting with other Jews. And as our Sages taught us, the long exile we’re still struggling with was caused by just such hostile and hateful mistreatment of our fellow Jews.
In today’s Jewish world there is plenty of disagreement. Every Jewish group has its own ideas about how things should be done. Get a couple of Jews together and you’re almost guaranteed to have a virulent difference of opinion. How can we ever achieve national harmony?
When the Talmud describes the process of studying Torah, it calls it war. Two scholars on opposite sides of the page, fighting it out. They’re enemies, each one making his point and aggressively attacking his opponent’s point. Sound familiar?
The Talmud also says that when the conversation is over, there is love between them. Their discussion may pit them at each other’s throats, but when the topic is put aside, the war is over. In the end, there is love.
The current challenges plaguing us from within are as significant as many we have faced from without. To the casual observer, it looks like war, and from those in the trenches, it certainly feels like it. At the end of the day, however, we all know that there must be love. And when we’re able to hold each other as dearly as we hold our differing opinions, we’ll have a ninth of Av that’s no longer tragic.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE INSIGFICANT
Today’s world is all about the biggest jet, the highest skyscraper, the most huge aircraft carrier, the most powerful car engine, the most expansive airport and the list goes on. Bigger is better and it is certainly more impressive and imposing. People want to live in the biggest house on the block, drive the most stupendous car and vacation in the most extravagant locale. However, the Torah seems to view things through a different prism.
Moshe was told to appoint judges to adjudicate the disputes that might occur during our sojourn in the desert. They were instructed to be as attentive to the case that only entailed the smallest sum of money, even just a few pennies, just like the dispute involving millions of dollars, rubles or pounds. Truthfully speaking why does the Torah attach as much importance to such trivial disagreements as to the court case that involves a sizeable sum of money? The Talmud actually questions what is the Torah teaching us, obviously no matter how small or large a sum of money is being disputed we must give equal importance to either situation. Our Sages explain that if there are two cases to judge, even though one is only a disagreement concerning a small amount of money, if that case preceded the other one in the Rabbinical court, then we must attend to the one that only involves a meager sum of money first. Again we must question the validity of delaying the court case which involves a large amount of money because of the prior case that only pertains to a small sum of money.
The very same verse which requires that we temporarily postpone the seemingly more importance dispute in order to attend to the minor disagreement also teaches us that we must judge each case according to its merit. We should not view a disagreement involving a wealthy individual and a man of meager means as an opportunity to provide a livelihood for the poor man. We might be prone to say that the rich person should anyhow support the less fortunate individual therefore we will ‘find’ him guilty and therefore he will supply the funds for the other person which he so desperately needs. On the other hand our Sages point out that the judge might be inclined to avoid embarrassing the wealthy person and therefore find the person of less means ‘guilty’ and spare the prominent individual embarrassment. A judge is prohibited from using these ‘standards’ when judging and must search for the absolute truth and render his verdict accordingly.
A great Talmid Chochom once asked the Chazon Ish, one of the most renowned Torah dignitaries in Israel in the previous generation the following question. If someone cuts in front of another person in a line, what sin has he transgressed? He responded that although there is no explicit prohibition, however, he breached what he referred to as ‘the proper conduct through which the world gains its stability and coherence.’
Often we draw conclusions based upon subjective factors which can cloud our thinking process and thereby lead us astray. Even though the correct decision may be extremely obvious and clear nonetheless we often blunder and evade what we should do because of circumstances that we consider to be extenuating and therefore mitigate our liability. The Torah warns us to avoid making such mistakes and we should follow the right course which will assure the appropriate and honorable outcome of the situation that we find ourselves to be in. We are all aware of the correct attitude which we should assume in any given dilemma, we simply don’t always have the gumption and backbone to pursue the truthful approach. The Torah exhorts us to understand this principle in our personal lives by mandating this concept into a prohibition in order that we should not undervalue the importance of all types of decisions in life, even those that don’t seem to amount to very much.
Question for the Rabbis
Rashi notes that the various place names mentioned at the beginning of Deuteronomy are all hints to sins that the Jews committed in the desert, but due to his respect for the Jews, Moses only hinted at them and did not list them explicitly (Rashi, Deuteronomy 1:1). In fact, the obligation to rebuke someone with respect and to do so in a sensitive, gentle, and pleasant way is legislated in Jewish law (Maimonides, Deuteronomy 6:7). Should one avoid even mentioning the sin explicitly, as Moses did? The Zohar writes that if even mentioning the sin would cause embarrassment to the sinner, then one should only hint at the sin and not mention it explicitly (Zohar, Kedoshin, Raaya Meheimnah). This is true even if the rebuker and the sinner are alone, as one should not embarrass another even in private (Becher and Newman, Avotot Ahavah, p.77, footnote 44,45).
BYTE FOR SHABBOS
The main complaint against the spies and those who joined them was their false grievance that G-d ‘hates’ us and took us out of Egypt to destroy us. In the long and bitter exile that we still endure until Moshiach comes, this may enter our minds as well. Therefore the Torah wants us to realize that this was the mistake made by that generation, and we should not follow their mistaken path.
Joke of the Week
For Sale: Parachute. Only used once, never opened
I can handle pain until it hurts.