VOLUME 58 NUMBER 6
10 Elul, 5771
This week’s edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated by Andy and Rana Kark in honor of the Rabbis and Staff of The Jewish Experience and all the great work that they do.
Take Out the Garbage
By Rabbi Raphael Leban
Many decades ago in Europe, there was a yeshiva with a rather unique sense of honor.
Once when a new student came to the yeshiva, he entered the Beis Medrish (main study hall) to find the Rosh Yeshiva (the Dean) walking up and down the aisles of chairs, picking up garbage and taking out the trash. Shocked and surprised, the new student ran over to the venerable, aged scholar and cried, “Rebbe! Let me do that for you.”
The Rosh Yeshiva turned to him in disbelief. “Absolutely not.”
Bewildered, the new student watched him continue on, cleaning up the room.
That Shabbos morning during the services, after they finished reading from the Torah, the new student was called upon to carry the Torah back to the Ark.
He approached eagerly, but just as he was about to take the Torah in his arms, he found the Rosh Yeshiva standing before him.
“Let me do that for you,” offered the Rosh Yeshiva.
In a flash he understood what honor was all about.
In Jewish thought, what is seen by many to be the lowliest endeavor is in fact one of the highest ideals. And no, it’s not trash collection. It’s service. Serving another person. Attending to their most basic needs. Caring for the well-being of our fellow man.
A friend of mine and his wife went to a Love and Logic parenting seminar. Much of their methodology involves allowing children to reap the natural outcomes of their actions. My friend said the seminar was going well until it was suggested that parents learn to say to their children, “I’m sorry. Since you didn’t eat your dinner when it was served, you’ll just have to go to bed hungry.” This, he said, was impossible for a Jewish parent to do. ‘What, I should deny my little tattele food?!’
Can you imagine a Jewish mother that didn’t want to stuff her children?
The obligation and responsibility to care for those around us, to serve them, to provide for their needs, is an inseparable part of our national character.
And it’s clear from this week’s parsha.
Two consecutive paragraphs in the parsha discuss which groups are permitted to marry into the Jewish people. People from Egypt are permitted to marry Jews after three generations of conversion to Judaism, people from the nations of Ammon and Moav are never permitted to marry Jews.
You would think that the Egyptians, after the way they persecuted and enslaved us, would be forever forbidden from joining our people. Not so. After three generations, they can enter into the Jewish gene pool.
What did Ammon and Moav do, then, that they deserve never to be allowed in? Must have been pretty bad, far worse than what the Egyptians did to us.
Explains the verse, “…because they didn’t come out to you with bread and water as you fled from Egypt.” What trait of theirs is totally incompatible with our national heritage and character? Their unwillingness to take care of their fellow human being. The lack of that impulse is simply unacceptable.
Take a moment as the year draws to a close to remember what it means to be deserving of true honor. Take up the mantle of honor, and take care of those around you.
The Jewish West Point
By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
We live in an era of high-tech weaponry. Missiles can be launched thousands of miles away from their target and hit with frightening accuracy. Powerful weapons that can obliterate entire structures and their contents, material or human, will destroy at the touch of a button. Enormous underground screens at NORAD track every single airborne craft throughout the entire United States. Satellites monitor our every movement and those of our enemies. When we wage war, our technological advances have assured us of victory against a foe that is not as prepared as we are.
Yet, when we view the parsha, the Torah’s military strategy seems to have quite a different philosophy. We are not trained how to outflank the enemy force or to avoid radar detection. Rather, our directive is clear; be cautious and do not abrogate any of the mitzvos. Even our speech must be cleansed of any slander or gossip. Then we will overwhelm our enemies and emerge successful from battle. Can it be that simple? What about F-16s and nuclear tipped missiles? Don’t we need super firepower to destroy the opposing army? Is this realistic or some idealistic unreasonable way to fight a war?
The Torah explains that when we wage war, we do so with the Divine Presence in our midst. Although we squeeze the trigger, in truth, the bullets and missiles are directed by a supernatural force, Hashem. He will subdue our enemies and vanquish them regardless of their superior technology and expertise. However, this guarantee only works if we maintain our side of the bargain. We must march into battle as seasoned protectors of the mitzvos, not as veterans of military protocol.
Rashi further clarifies this issue by stating that when we are in danger, the evil forces that permeate the world have the power to torment us through prosecution. Our misdeeds and wrongdoings are brought to bear in the Heavenly court where our deeds are examined and if they are not up to par, we won’t merit Divine intervention to save us from the perils of combat.
However, the expectation of our moral standards as we march into battle is even greater than that. Ohr HaChaim points out that even ‘small’ sins for which Hashem might only mete out a minor punishment, during dangerous times when we confront our enemies, will be judged much more critically. Furthermore, even actions that are not necessarily sinful, but might lead to sin, are also prohibited during these fateful times. Without question, the training that our soldiers must receive is certainly of another type entirely from that of military academies of the world.
Netziv adds another important element. When we encounter our enemies in battle, Hashem is within our camp. Not only is He directing the war so that we can defeat our adversaries, but He is actually marching together with us in the line of fire. This is the extent of Hashem’s ‘desire’ to protect His people from all evil that He is ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with us when we are in dire need of His assistance. Therefore, we should realize and take comfort that in these days when we are constantly threatened and terrorized by those who seek our destruction, we are not alone. Hashem rides with us and is on the front lines to assure that we can successfully defend ourselves. However, we must also keep in mind that Divine intervention only occurs when we deserve it. We must dedicate ourselves to the details of the mitzvos, and then we will merit His protection and security.
Byte for Shabbos
The Torah commands us to help a person when his donkey is overloaded and to keep it from falling under the load and/or help it after is has already fallen. When we assist the donkey, not only are we lifting it up, we are elevating ourselves as well by helping a friend.