Thursday, January 21, 2016

who I'm not, not who I am

I've been very unmotivated to write lately, but this week for some reason felt like jotting some more down.  In a post last week I mentioned that “v’haya” usually connotes simcha. On the flipside, “vayehi” usually connotes sorrow. “Vayehi b’shelach Pharaoh” – shouldn’t that have been a good thing, a cause for rejoicing, not a cause for sorrow? The Midrash explains that the sorrow was Pharoah’s own. The Midrash gives a mashal to a person who was detaining the king’s son. The king sent letters, telegrams, messages asking this person to release his son and send him home, and each time the messages were ignored. Finally, the king himself came and took his son back. The person who was holding him bemoaned his fate. Until now, he said, he had been the recipient of almost daily letters from the king. Now, he was just a nobody. This was Pharaoh. Until now, he had been in constant “contact” with Hashem – dam, tzefardeya, kinim, etc. Now, he was no longer the recipient of Hashem’s “messages.”

It’s a strange fate to bemoan. Did Pharoah have some sadomasochistic wish to continue to be beaten up? I think Chazal here are revealing a keen insight into people’s personalities and not just Pharoah’s. Every shul has a guy who will complain every week that the kiddush is not up to snuff and the rabbi’s speech is no good etc. Why doesn’t he just go daven somewhere else? The answer is because being anti- is his whole chiyus.  Without something to complain about, he’s nothing. There is one blogger whose mission in life seems to be to report every wrongdoing by the YCT crowd and faculty. I feel sorry for this person if YCT ever closes, because what will he have to talk about?  What would McCarthy be like if there were no Communists?  Or, to take another example, the chassidim of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, et al talk more about G-d than the biggest yirei shamayim; registering their dissent is their life’s mission. It's who they are; it's what defines them. You can find examples galore.  Pharoah defined himself by his rebellion, by what he would not be and do. He needed Hashem to keep sending messages because his whole identity was the guy who rejected messages.  Without that, he was lost.

This is why I think Pharoah did not let BN”Y go free through all the makkos, even at the cost of Mitzrayim being destroyed.  You can compromise on many things, but you can’t compromise on your identity; you can't give up being who you are. Pharoah’s whole identity was playing the rebel against G-d. If he gave in, his whole persona would collapse.

2) The Midrash writes that the man started falling in a place called “Alush” in the merit of “lushi v’asi u’gos,” Avraham’s request to Sarah to knead fresh bread for the guests that arrived at his tent. The simple message is that since Avraham provided food for others, Hashem provided food for his children. That doesn’t explain, though, why the focus is specifically on “lushi,” on the kneading of the dough, that is highlighted by the place name Alush.

Shem m’Shmuel explains that Avraham didn’t just take the loaf he had in his cupboard or serve the bread he bought from the market to his guests. He waited until the guests came and only then had Sarah knead and prepare a fresh loaf for them. The reason wasn’t just so that the guests would have the freshest bread – the reason was so that he could invest in this bread the “l’shem mitzvah” of his gemilus chasadim. It wasn’t just food that Avraham was serving to his guests – it was spirituality, it was an exposure to taharah and mitzvos.

The reward Hashem gave Avraham’s children was midah k’neged midah. Just as Avraham’s bread was really a taste of ruchniyus disguised as a meal, so too, his children were given not just ordinary bread, but were given the man, food for malachim, a spiritual vitamin that could also physically sustain them.

3) The gemara (Sotah 37) quotes a Midrashic machlokes between R’ Meir and R’ Yehudah as to what exactly happened at the Yam. R’ Meir said that the shevatim were fighting as to who should go into the water first and Binyamin stepped up to lead the charge. R’ Yehudah says the shevatim were debating who should go first and then Nachshon jumped into the water up to his neck and then the water split.

R’ Reuvain Katz in his Dudai Reuvain asks how it’s possible to say eilu v’eilu here when it seems to be a historical debate as to who jumped into the water first. Secondly, since both R”M and R”Y darshen pesukim. Why didn’t the gemata do as it so often does and ask how each opinion reads the proof text of the other?

When there is a meeting at work, at a community group, wherever, and something needs to get done, you always have people who are first on line to talk about what they will care of. When things actually need to get done, however, often times the same people suddenly remember the doctor’s appointment they have or the other project that they just need to finish first, etc. It’s easy to make a pledge; it’s much harder to collect on one. R’ Meir is talking about who said they would jump in first. Binyamin here took the lead in saying that when the time came, they would be first into the water. Then they saw that this was not so simple -- the water was not going to split first, and wasn’t even going to split when they were waist deep. When push came to shove, when mesirus nefesh was needed, when it was time to translate words into action, it was Yehudah who took the lead and Nachshon dived in up to his neck.  Eilu v'eilu -- there are those who step forward to lead the charge in making pledges, but then there are those who step forward when it comes time for action. 

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