Friday, July 17, 2009

run or fight: dealing with the challenges of a secular world

הלכה: מי שהיה נרדף מן הגויים או מן הליסטים מהו שיחלל את השבת

כך שנו רבותינו: מי שהיה נרדף מן הגויים או מן הליסטים מחלל את השבת, בשביל למלט את נפשו. וכך אנו מוצאין בדוד כשביקש שאול להרגו ברח ממנו ונמלט. אמרו רבותינו: מעשה שבאו לגדולי ציפורי כתבים רעים מן המלכות. הלכו ואמרו לר' אלעזר בן פרטא: רבי! כתבים רעים באו לנו מן המלכות, מה אתה אומר, נברח? והיה מתיירא לומר להם ברחו ואמר להם ברמז ולי אתם שואלים, לכו ושאלו את יעקב ואת משה ואת דוד. מה כתיב ביעקב? (הושע יב) ויברח יעקב וכן במשה: (שמות ב) ויברח משה. וכן בדוד: (ש"א י"ט) ודוד ברח וימלט. וכן הוא אומר: (ישעיה כו) לך עמי בא בחדריך.

אמר להם הקדוש ברוך הוא: וכאלו כל גדולי עולם יראו וברחו מן שונאיהם, כל אותן מ' שנה שעשיתם במדבר לא הנחתי אתכם לברוח אלא הייתי מפיל שונאיכם לפניכם, במה שהייתי עמכם. ולא עוד, אלא כמה נחשים וכמה שרפים וכמה עקרבים היו שם, שנאמר: (דברים ח) נחש שרף ועקרבולא הנחתי אותם להזיק אתכם, לכך אמר הקב"ה למשה: כתוב את המסעות שנסעו ישראל במדבר, כדי שיהיו יודעים מה נסים שעשיתי להם.

Sorry for the poor formatting. The Midrash on Masei starts with a halachic question: can one violate Shabbos to escape from bandits or an enemy? The Midrash then launches into an aggadic description of various leaders (e.g. David haMelech) who were forced to flee from their enemies. However, concludes the Midrash, during the 40 years of travel in the desert not only were the Jewish people never forced to flee from an enemy, but to the contrary, their enemies were crushed before them.

The Shem m'Shmuel asks: during the 40 years in the desert, what enemies did the Jewish people encounter? The only wars which we read about in the Torah are the battle with Amalek immediatly after leaving Egypt and the battles with Sichon and Og at the conclusion of the 40 years, but nothing in between.

The answer is that during those 40 years the Jewish people were fighting the toughest enemy of them all: themselves.

The Sefas Emes explains that the 42 stops in the desert + the 7 extra stops caused when they people retraced their steps after the death of Ahron = 49 stops. These 49 stops correspond to the 49 levels of tumah which the Jewish people fell to during their stay in Egypt which they had to work their way out of during their travels. Through special siyata d'shemaya the Jewish people were able to complete that task and merit entering Eretz Yisrael.

Speaking more practically, this Midrash is very relevant to questions that parents, educators, and every one of us must deal with. Internet, cell phones, certain types of books and literature -- should we run and flee from the encounter with these "enemies", or do we sit tight and trust that we can deal with the temptations and intellectual challenges thrown at us without coming to harm? Do we really need to create a tumult over these things and disturb our sense that all is well, our "shabbos", or should we start running and not look back before it is too late?

Two insights I take away from the Midrash: Firstly, even great people ran when they had to. Not every intellectual challenge or moral temptation needs a response or an answer -- sometimes the best approach is to simply avoid the encounter, even if it means abandoning the battle and appearing to lose the fight. Many sense a danger in not responding to the challenges posed to Judaism by outside society, but we also need to be sensitive to the danger of entering an intellectual tit-for-tat battle, especially when the fight is not necessarily waged on the fairest terms.

Secondly, these challenges and difficulties are surmountable when living in a "midbar", when there is a degree of isolation that allows for development, introspection, and growth. The reality of our world is such that we cannot close ourselves behind ghetto walls and practice a self-enforced isolationism, nor are these ideals to be aspired to. Even for the generation which left Egypt, the miraculous life of the desert was temporary, not meant to be an ideal. However, that temporary travel through the desert was necessary to develop into the nation which could then conquer Eretz Yisrael. Do we afford our youth a similar training ground in a "midbar", a place separated from the challenges the world will eventually throw their way, a place where we can help them deal with and successfully learn to overcome the pitfalls of secular society? Or as soon as they can, are kids parked in front of a TV, a PC, given a cell phone? We can't live in a midbar for our entire lives, but we need the "midbar" experience of yeshiva, seminary, etc. as a source of inspiration to look back on years later.


  1. Anonymous12:42 AM

    Can you do the Aruch rwason for not allowing meat for seudas rosh chodesh av this year thanks?


    OK, it's not what you asked for, but I figured I would point it out anyway.

  3. Anonymous10:51 AM

    Right and you skipped the part of the Aruch Hashulchan which is why I wanted you to do it this yyear have a complete Article