Thursday, August 22, 2019

land of milk and honey

Ramban (11:6) points out a very strange omission in our parsha.  After relating the great miracle of the destruction of the Egyptian army at Yam Suf, the parsha then speaks about the midbar and focusses specifically on, "v'asher asa l'Dasan v'Aviram…" who were swallowed up by the earth.  Why does the parsha zero in on Dasan and Aviram and completely ignore the instigator of that whole rebellion, Korach?  Why focus on the supporting players and leave out any mention of the star of the show?

The Oznayim laTorah offers a brilliant analysis that takes us back to the story of the meraglim.  When the spies return and report, they tell Moshe and the people, "V'gam zavas chalav u'devash hi," (13:27) that Eretz Yisrael is ***also*** a land of milk and honey.  To the Jewish people at the time, the land of Egypt was the most beautiful, sophisticated society that they could ever imagine. If not for their being enslaved, it would have been the greatest place to live.  So when the spies report, the best thing that they could say about Eretz Yisrael is that it's also good -- Egypt is of course great, and is the standard by which we measure everything else, but (and this was their one bit of truth) Eretz Yisrael is nothing to look down on either.  From there on, the report was all downhill and led to the people rebelling against going.

Yehoshua and Kaleiv responded that G-d will bring them into (14:8) "...Eretz asher HI zavas chalav u'devash," ***IT***, Eretz Yisrael is the land of milk and honey.  "HI" in the pasuk is a miyut -- only Eretz Yisrael, no other place, can be described as the land of zvas, chalav, u'devash.  Forget Egypt -- we are promised a much better place.

This was the shakla v'treya that led to the punishment meted out to the meraglim.  Is Eretz Yisrael THE land of milk and honey, or is it A land of milk and honey -- one of many possibilities.

This set the stage for Dasan and Aviram, who went even further than that and challenged Moshe, "Ki he'elisanu mei'eretz zvas chalav u'devash la'hamiseinu ba'midbar," (16:13) "You took us out of the land of milk and honey" -- i.e. Egypt! -- "in order to kill us in the desert."  They don't equate Eretz Yisrael with Egypt, but instead reverse things completely and identify Egypt as THE true land of milk and honey. 

This is a completely different argument than that advanced by Korach, one that cuts to the heart of where Klal Yisrael should make their future homeland.

This is the argument that Moshe once again is addressing himself to in our parsha, on the doorstep to finally entering the Land.  Having just spoken about the destruction of the Egyptian armies, Moshe turns to address the question that nagged at the people's heels during these past episodes.  If Egypt was such a wonderful place if not for the fact that they chose to enslave the Jews, why not simply return there once the Egyptian army was destroyed and the Jews freed?  Why travel through the desert to some uncharted new territory when the height of culture and civilization was now open?   Why search for a new "eretz zvas chalav u'devash" when there is one already available?

That's exactly the sin of Dasan and Aviram, Moshe reminds the people.  There is only one land that is THE land of zvas chalav u'devash.

Based on this reading of the Oznayin laTorah, the conclusion of the parsha fits perfectly.  "U'shmarten es kol hamitzvah... lama'an ta'arichu yamim al... eretz zvas chalav u'devash." (11:8-9)  But why  not Egypt?  "Ki ha'aretz asher ata ba shama l'rihsta lo k'Eretz Mitzrayim hi..."  Because Eretz Yisrael is not like Egypt.  It's irrigated by rain, it's got mountains and valleys and beautiful land, it's got hi-tech (OK, I threw that one in), and most importantly, it's "eretz asher Hashem Elokecha doreish osa tamid."  (11:11-12) 

There is no other land like that. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

ha'zan vs nodeh lecha -- the perspective of Moshe vs that of Yehoshua

Chazal tell us that Moshe composed the first bracha of birchas ha'mazon; Yehoshua composed the second.  The Ishbitzer (Mei haShiloach vol 2 on P' VaEschanan) points out that in the first bracha we refer to Hashem in third-person -- ha'zan es ha'olam, etc.; the second bracha, however, switches to second person -- nodeh lecha, etc. Moshe Rabeinu was forced to remain outside Eretz Yisrael and ha'dar b'chutz la'aretz k'mi she'ain lo Eloka -- in chu"l G-d appears distant; it is hard to see his presence in day-to-day life.  We can only speak of Him in the abstract.  Yehoshua took us into Eretz Yisrael.  In our own land G-d in there with us as we work the fields, as we build bridges and trains, as we build a country.  We switch to second person to show G-d's direct involvement in every detail of what happens.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Va'Eschanan -- the parsha of nechama

Rambam (Tefilah 13:2):

עזרא תיקן להם לישראל שיהו קורין קללות שבספר ויקרא קודם עצרת ושבמשנה תורה קודם ראש השנה. והמנהג הפשוט שיהו קוראין במדבר סיני קודם עצרת. ואתחנן אחר תשעה באב. אתם נצבים קודם ראש השנה. צו את אהרן קודם הפסח בשנה פשוטה. לפיכך יש שבתות שקורין שחרית שני סדרין כגון אשה כי תזריע וזאת תהיה תורת המצורע. אם בחקותי עם בהר סיני וכיוצא בהן כדי שישלימו בשנה ויקראו אותן הסדרים בעונתן:

We all think that you have to lein Devarim before Tishba B'Av and get in the pasuk of "Eicah esa livadi..."and m'meila, it just happens to work out that Va'Eschanan then falls out the week afterwards.  Rav Soloveitchik showed from this Rambam that just the opposite is true.  The reason we end up leining Devarim before Tisha b'Av is because Va'Eschanan always has to come after Tisha b'Av.  Va'Eschanan is the nechama for destruction as it tells us that even though there may be galus and churban, ultimately we will enter Eretz Yisrael. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

carry the vision with you

1. "Va'Eschanan el Hashem ba'eis ha'hi..."  Why did Moshe choose to daven davka then, ba'eis ha'hi, at that moment?  Rashi explains that since Moshe had entered the land of Sichon v'Og, he was already part of the way there into Eretz Yisrael, and therefore he thought he could ask Hashem to let him go the rest of the way.  It was an opportune moment to see if he could get what he wanted.  Netziv offers a different explanation.  Moshe foresaw that the splitting off of the tribes of Reuvain and Gad after the defeat of Sichon and Og and their settling in Eiver haYarden would lead to eventual galus.  The only thing that preserves Klal Yisrael in galus in Torah.  Therefore, Moshe wanted to enter Eretz Yisrael so that he could help reveal the torah of Eretz Yisrael, which is, as we learned last week, qualitatively different, deeper, more profound, than Torah learned elsewhere. 

2. Moshe Rabeinu is nitzchiyus.  Moshe Rabeinu brought down the Torah for us from Har Sinai and Torah is ours forever in its same immutable form.  Moshe Rabeinu at the beginning of our parsha davened to be able to enter Eretz Yisrael because had he done so then Eretz Yisrael would have been ours forever -- no galus, no Tisha b'Av, game over, complete geulah (see Ohr haChaim 3:25).  Why should Klal Yisrael have to wait for geulah?  "E'ebrah na v'ereh es ha'aretz…"  Rashi says "na" here is "lashon bakasha," like saying please, but, as the Sifsei Chachamim points out, that's not what the word "na" usually means.  What it usually means is "now," which is how the Targum translates the pasuk.  Moshe said, "We want geulah now!" -- not in a few thousand years.  And had Moshe entered the land, then it would have been the geulah right then.

Hashem responded to Moshe's prayers by letting him see Eretz Yisrael.  He couldn't physically go there, but he would have a vision of the land, something to carry in his mind and heart.  Sefas Emes explains that because Moshe is nitzchiyus, this too became ours forever.  Wherever we may be in galus, no matter how long we may be in galus, we will always  have in our minds a vision of Eretz Yisrael.  

3. The Torah ends its record of Moshe's tefilah and Hashem's response with the pasuk, "Va'neishev ba'gai mul Beis Pe'or." (3:29)  The Kotznitzer Magid writes that the Torah is not switching gears here and going from the report of the dialogue between Hashem and Moshe back to a note on geography, where Bnei Yisrael were camped.  Rather, this too is part of the dialogue, part of what Hashem said to Moshe.  "Va'neishev" -- we sat, in the plural.  Hashem is telling Moshe, "Don't think you being left all alone.  I am here with you -- va'neishev -- we will together sit here.  Just like you, Moshe, are waiting here in galus until the day that you can lead the Jewish people back into the land for a geulah of nitzchiyus, I'm here with you, waiting for that day as well."  

Nachamu Nachamu ami...  The process of return has started, the revelation of toras Eretz Yisrael grows every day.  We need to appreciate the special gift that we have!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

batzar lecha... v'shavta

I am not aware of any day of the year when the people of Greece gather around the Parthenon and sit and mourn the ruins of their empire.   And I don't think the people in Rome ever walk by the ruins of the Forum and say to themselves, "Od yeishvu zekeinim u'zkeinos…" and there will be children playing and this place rebuilt.  It's ruins of the past -- great for tourism, a place to visit, a place to learn ancient history, but completely irrelevant to the life of anyone in any real way.  

Someone not yet religious went on a trip to Israel.  

"So how was the trip?"

"OK, nothing so great."

To that person unfortunately it's like going to Greece to see the Parthenon or going to Rome to see the ruins there or anywhere else.  It's just a question of where the hotel is nicer and the food better.

For us, it's not like that.  We have a Tisha b'Av because for us it's not just ancient history and it's not just ruins.  It's something that matters very much to us ad ha'yom ha'zeh.

We just read this morning, "Batzar lecha u'metz'ucha kol hadevarim ha'eileh v'shavta ad Hashem Elokecha."  The Chasam Sofer in his Derahos explains that "batzar lecha," if it bothers you -- not just the antisemitism of galus, but it bothers you that there is no Mikdash, it bothers you that we are not in Eretz Yisrael, and if you are in Eretz Yisrael it bothers you that we don't yet have a full hasra'as haShechina -- then that very fact that you are bothered is a sign of teshuva, "v'shavta."  People are not bothered by ancient history and don't sit on the floor and say kinos for it.  If we are bothered enough to do that, then we are on the right path.

"Kol ha'misabel al Yerushalayim zocheh v'ro'eh b'binyanah."  The SIfsei Chaim points out that it doesn't say "yizkeh v'yireh" in the future tense -- it says "zocheh v'ro'eh," present tense, here and now.  The very act of crying over Yerushalayim, appreciating Yerushalayim, is part and parcel of rebuilding Yerushalayim.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

the torah of Eretz Yisrael

1. On 9 Av: My wife had an interesting thought on the connection between Yitzchak Avinu and 9 Av here.

2. B'eiver ha'Yarden b'eretz Moav ho'il (Rashi: hischil) Moshe be'eir es haTorah ha'zos...

What does the pasuk mean when it says that at that point Moshe started to explain the Torah?  Hadn't he been teaching Torah for the past 40 years?  (See post here).

Moshe was now standing in Eiver haYarden, which, if it is not Eretz Yisrael proper (see Meshech Chochma at the beginning of next week's parsha), is the front door to Eretz Yisrael.  Explains Sefas Emes, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael is a completely different Torah than the Torah of chu"l.  Our understanding of the dvar Hashem contained within Torah, the spirituality that is revealed when one learns Torah, is completely different when one learns in Eretz Yisrael.  Therefore, although Moshe had been teaching Torah for 40 years, this was a new start and a fresh beginning.

When the gemara (Taanis 5) tells us that galus is the biggest bitul Torah, it's not just because it's hard to learn when you suffer pogroms and persecution.  You can be living in luxury in the 5 Towns or Englewood or some other American suburb and it's still a galus of bitul Torah because whatever you learn, it in no way compares to the Torah of Eretz Yisrael -- the cheftza shel Torah is a qualitatively different cheftza shel Torah.  The spiritual plumbing in galus is blocked up and the shefa cannot flow down in the same way.  Just ask any high school kid who when he graduated could barely read a pasuk and now after shanah beit or gimel or however many years in yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael he now is a transformed person and can immerse himself in a sugya.   

Everybody asks why is it that in the haggadah shel Pesach we don't answer the ben rasha -- "af atah hakhei es shinav" the haggadah tells us -- but if you look at the pesukim in the Torah, the chumash does offer an answer: "V'haya ki yomru aleichem bneichem mah ha'avodah ha'zos lachem, v'amartem zevach pesach hu la'Hashem..."  Rav Moshe Avigdor Amiel in his Derashos el Ami (derush 25 p 255) explains that the answer lies in the beginning of that pasuk: "V'haya ki tavo el ha'aretz... u'shemartem es ha'avodah ha'zos..."  When we are living in Eretz Yisrael, when we have a Mikdash and are offering a korban pesach, then we have the kelim to answer and respond to a ben rasha.  We have the torah of Eretz Yisrael to offer him.  But when we are living in galus, as the ba'al ha'hagadah was, as we see from the story of R' Eliezer and R' Akiva and the other zekeinim who were learning in hiding in Bnei Brak, then all we have is "hakhei es shinav." 

On 9 Av we still have a lot of mourning to do.  We still await a Mikdash, we still await the full hashra'as haShechina in Eretz Yisrael.  But when we get up in the afternoon and start thinking about nechama, let's also remember that we live in a generating privileged to once again taste the flavor of the torah of Eretz Yisrael, as the process of our return and redemption has begun. 

eicha as a kinah

A few years ago I suggested that the reading if Eicha is a kiyum of kinos, not a chiyuv of kri'as hamegilah like other megilos. This is why the mes sofrim brings down that the reading must be accompanied by targum so that everyone can understand the message, and why women are obligated as well as men, and why it is read at night when our mourning is most intense, unlike other megilos that are read during the day. The mes sofrim writes that the megilah is read "b'bechi u'b'yilalah" -- perhaps there is no formal trop, but rather a chiyuv to read in a crying manner because it is a lamentation.

I saw in Rav Shternbruch's teshuvos another chidush din along these same lines. He suggests that there may not be a din of shomea k'oneh by eicha because kina is a personal expression of grief -- someone else can't express feeling or grieve on your behalf.  I like the idea, but the mes sofrim sounds like there was a chazan who read on behalf of everyone. Perhaps the idea in the mes sofrim is that aside from our grief as individuals, there is a concept of communal mourning. The reading of Eicha is not meant to fulfill our individual chovas hayachid of kina, in which case you would need to debate whether shomea k'oneh applies, but rather is a kiyum of a chovas hatzibur of communal mourning.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

failure to learn from mistakes

Rashi explains that the list of places in the first pasuk in our parsha all are allusions to sins done in the midbar which Moshe was giving tochacha for. "Chatzeiros" alludes to the episode of Miriam's lashon ha'ra which the meraglim should have learned from but didn't. 

Mizrachi asks: Rashi comments that "Paran," mentioned earlier in the pasuk, alludes to the cheit hameraglim. Why do we need two allusions -- Chatzeiros and Paran -- as tochacha for this same sin of the meraglim?

Maharal in Gur Aryeh answers (see Mizrachi for a different answer) that there are two different aspects to the meraglim episode, each of which independently is deserving of tochacha.  The first sin was the act of sending the spies, which demonstrated a lack of emunah -- Paran.  The second sin was the failure to take heed and learn from the example of Miriam -- Chatzeiros.  It's one thing to do wrong, but it's a far worse thing to do wrong when one should have known better.  The failure to learn a lesson is itself a crime.

The Sefas Emes writes that the tragedy of churban bayis sheni is more serious than churban bayis rishon (compare the 2000 years we have been in galus with the mere 70 years of galus between bayis rishon and bayis sheni) because before churban bayis rishon the people could perhaps have rationalized dismissing all the warning and nevuos -- they really believed the Mikdash would never be destroyed.  Yirmiyahu (7:4) quotes the false prophets who told the people, "Heichal Hashem, Heichal Hashem, Heichal Hashem!"  This is G-d's house -- nothing can happen to it.  Later, as Radak explains, Yirmiyahu (22:29)echoes back to them, "Eretz Eretz Eretz shim'i dvar Hashem..." that destruction will indeed come.  (BTW, there is one more pasuk in Tanach where you have a refrain repeated three times -- I'll leave it to you to figure out where it is.)  In the days of bayis sheni, those rationalizations could not hold water any more.  Once you see that the Mikdash can be destroyed, then you have no excuse not to think that it can happen again.  More than that -- failure to learn from what happened only compounds the sin the second time around.