VOLUME 67 NUMBER 2
July 19, 2013
AV 12, 5773
Candle-lighting Time: Between 6:52 pm and 8:06 pm
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of Yaakov and Eitan Grinberg, celebrating their Bar Mitzvahs this Shabbos with family in Australia. Mazel Tov!
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We’ve been called nicknames, we’ve been caricatured, stereotyped and lambasted, we’ve been blamed for everything from 9-11 to Hollywood. But the Jews have never been called stupid.
Perhaps this week’s parsha explains why.
In verse 4:6 of the parsha, it says, “And you shall guard [the mitzvos] and do them, for it is your intelligence and wisdom in the eyes of the nations…” Rashi explains that the Torah and its commandments, in all their infinite greatness, characterize us in the eyes of all those around us, as smart.
If we look back a few parshios, however, we find that one mitzvah, the para aduma or red heifer, inspires quite a different reaction. There at the beginning of Parshas Chukas, Rashi tells us that the nations of the world taunt us for such a seemingly inexplicable mitzvah. They don’t sound too impressed with us and our Torah in that case.
The Kli Yakar gives an insightful resolution for the contradictory reactions of the world at large. In Parshas Chukas, only one mitzvah is being discussed, the para aduma, a mitzvah which stands out as supra-rational, beyond our ability to fully grasp. When scrutinizing such a mitzvah, world reaction might well be unfavorable.
Examining the whole breadth of the Torah and its precepts, however, evinces quite the opposite reaction. There is so much wisdom, so much clarity into the human psyche, so much sophistication and purity of intent in Torah. An honest analysis of the entirety of Torah can’t inspire anything but awe.
And when you come in contact with one or two things that may not seem eminently clear, you put them in context. They must also make sense, and one day I’ll understand them. For now, I’ll treat them like all the other aspects of the Torah I treasure—I’ll be impressed.
Certainly if the nations of the world can see it that way, and see us that way, so should we have the breadth of vision and ‘big-picture’ outlook, to feel nothing but wonder and admiration for our Torah and our people.
How Long Will We Wait?
The parsha concludes with incredible promises and guarantees about the future of our nation. We are told that Hashem is trustworthy, powerful, and upholds His covenant to treat with kindness those who He loves because they fulfill the mitzvos. This portrayal of Hashem should serve to inspire us to serve Hashem with added vigor and enthusiasm. Additionally, Hashem swore that we would eventually inherit our place in Israel as was promised to the Patriarchs. Therefore we are guaranteed to ultimately receive the Land of Israel as our final abode.
Rashbam, an early commentator, poses the following question. Since Hashem swore that He would give us the Land of Israel, why do we need to continue to perform the mitzvos, since we are surely going to settle there because of the guarantee of the oath? He answers that although it is true that the oath is in place and we will eventually receive our portion in Israel, nonetheless, which generation will merit the realization of that oath remains to be seen. Perhaps Hashem will present the land to some future generation that understands that they must adhere to the Torah and they will indeed deserve the gift of the land.
In life and in our attentiveness to our commitments we walk a fine line. On the one hand our opportunities to excel are fantastic, and if we maximize our incredible prospects we can elevate ourselves and accomplish tremendous achievements for ourselves and for those around us. However, if we spurn those options and opt for the easy way out, we will doom ourselves to failure and risk losing the chance to utilize our time and energy to really excel in life. This is the upshot of what the Rashbam is teaching us.
Netziv adds a fascinating insight. He claims that the oath that Hashem made to take us out of Egypt not only guaranteed that we would escape from bondage, but additionally it instilled in us the capacity to become free and not to be tethered to the degenerate culture which we had been subject to for so many generations. This oath was not to be understood as an obligation upon Hashem to rescue us; He does not require a binder to fulfill what had already been promised to the Patriarchs. Rather, the oath was for us and it upgraded our ability to access that which had been promised to our ancestors.
Here the point is different and it alludes to the innate faculty that has been bestowed upon us by virtue of our genealogy. We are not a nation like the other nations of the world; rather, we have intrinsic spiritual power and aptitude to accomplish far beyond that which other peoples are capable of doing. Our souls are charged with a mission that exceeds the objective of others. But again we revert back to our previous understanding that life is a balancing act that we must carefully maintain. For if we are cautious and tend to our duties then even the sky does not limit us, we can soar far above to the Throne of Hashem Himself where our souls are inextricably enmeshed with the highest levels of purity in the universe. However, by the same token if we dismiss that calling and only attend to the mundane and everyday pursuits which bind us to an physical existence which lacks goal and meaning, then our fate is sealed. We will live our lives much like the rest of the animal kingdom, foraging for our immediate needs and not realizing the staggering plateaus of elevation that we can truly achieve.
Question for the Rabbis
“[Houses full of all good…” (Deuteronomy 6:11.) The Talmud (Chullin 17a) permits front line troops who conquered Israel to eat non-kosher items found in the war zone. Does this apply to soldiers in the IDF today? A contemporary work on halachah (Jewish law) for soldiers cites the view of Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (Ha’emek Davar) who writes that “Any limitations on food during war can bring to danger of life, and eating is permitted not only to sustain life, but even to satisfy hunger without having to hesitate or calculate, because during war there is no time to think about these things, lest one be in danger. In addition, sufficient nutrition increases the strength of the soldier and gives him the additional energy needed for battle.” According to this view, it is argued that the leniency should apply to contemporary Israeli soldiers under battlefield conditions (Kishrei Milchamah, Eyal Moshe Krim, p. 143) Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 18:70) also discusses this but does not clearly permit this for contemporary soldiers, as it may be dependent on an argument of Nachmanides and Maimonides.
BYTE FOR SHABBOS
We are commanded in the Shema to love G-d with our ‘entire soul.’ This means that we must be willing to sacrifice our very life for Him if and when the need should arise. Additionally, it means that we must strive to connect with G-d to such a degree that we feel as one.
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