Thursday, February 01, 2018

dissatisfaction is sometimes a good thing

We've passed through the parsha of "v'lo sham'u el Moshe," the parsha of "mi Hashem asher eshma b'kolo," and we've reached "va'yishma Yiso" -- finally someone willing to listen.  On deck of course is "na'aseh v'nishma," telling us that listening isn't everything after all; doing is far more important.

Chazal tell us that Yisro worshipped every avodah zarah in the world.  At first blush this sounds terrible.  It's one thing to be deluded and led astray once, but to repeat the same mistake again, and again, and again...  The Maharal looks at it differently.  Chazal are speaking to the gadlus of Yisro.  Here is a man who never rested in his search for truth -- a man who was never satisfied.  Yisro went from avodah zarah to avodah zarah not because he didn't like the people in that "shul" or he thought there was a better kiddush at the place down the block.  He did it because each avodah zarah he tried left him feeling lacking, feeling that the truth was elsewhere.  Eventually, he found the truth of yahadus, but until then he spent his life running away from one falsehood after another.

Achieving kedusha and dveikus is very hard.  The loftier the goal, the more elusive it is.  The Sochotchover helps us out with a yesod: be like Yisro and start by running away from the things that you know are wrong and false.  If you do that, Hashem will take care of getting you to where you want to go.

To me this is reminiscent of the Rambam's negative theology.  The Rambam writes that you can never really describe G-d; he transcends anything one might say about Him.  The best one can do is to describe what G-d is not, e.g. He is not unkind, He is not unjust, etc. and in that way, come to some understanding, some connection to Him. 

Michelangelo was asked (not really - the story is a myth) how he was able to sculpt the famous statue of David.   He replied that he just chopped away all the marble that was not-David and m'meila he was left with a work of art.  (BTW, you have less than 2 weeks to see the Michelangelo exhibit at the Met that everyone is raving about.  Not only do you get Torah on this blog, but you get weekend museum tips as well :

Yisro spent a lifetime chopping away -- he chopped away this avodah zarah and that avodah zarah, he ran away from one false belief after another, until he was left with a connection to Hashem.

"What did Yisro see that caused him to come to Klal Yisrael?" asks Rashi.  According to one view it was the splitting of Yam Suf that was Yisro's motivation.  What's so special about the splitting of Yam Suf more than the makos in Egypt or any other miracles?  The Shem m'Shmuel (5674) quotes the Midrash that the Yam split in the merit of Yosef running away from Eishes Potifar.  "Ha'Yam ra'ah va'yanos" -- the Yam ran to its banks as well, midah k'neged midah.  Chazal tell us that even maidservants experience nevuah at Yam Suf.    Yisro saw that to connect to the infinite, you don't need to be a guru or meditate for decades on a mountain.  You can attain great heights even if all you know how to do is run away from what you know is wrong, something he had a lifetime of experience doing.  (See the Shem m'Shmuel's hesber of the other shitos of what Yisro heard along similar lines.) 

Another gemara (Sanhedrin 106): Pharoah had three advisors: Yisro, Iyov, Bilam.  Bilam advised Pharoah to kill Jewish children.  Iyov was silent.  Yisro ran away.  The gemara continues that his descendants sat in the lishkas ha'gazis teaching Torah with the Sanhedrin.  Hashem takes the energy used running from... and converts it into energy that brings a person to... 

What drew Moshe to Yisro's house?  "...Va'yivrach Moshe mipnei Pharoah va'yeishev b'Eretz Midyan."  (2:16)   Did Moshe recognize in Yisro someone like himself, someone who had run away from the evil of Egypt?  Or did Yisro recognize in Moshe's flight a journey similar to his own?   Either way, the stories of running are strikingly parallel.

In last week's parsha we read how Pharoah discovered the people had fled, "Va'yugad l'melech Mitzrayim ki barach ha'am..." (14:5) and he decided to give chase.  Strange -- the people had run away??  Pharaoh himself had gone in the middle of the night to find Moshe and Aharon to throw Klal Yisrael out as fast as possible!  

L'havdil, no parent is like Pharoah, but sometimes a kid comes back from yeshiva or seminary, and the parent has been waiting with the acceptance letter from Columbia or Penn u'k'domeh tacked to the refrigerator, and lo and behold their kid has flipped out and frummed out.  What does the parent think?  OK, so I'll give him/her some time -- it's a passing fad.  Over the summer they will adjust to America, they will meet up again with friends, they will daven again in our shul instead of yeshiva, and by fall, poof, back to normal.  What the parent doesn't realize is "ki borei'ach hu!"  Their son, even he stayed for shanah bet, has just really just gotten a taste of R' Chaim, of Ketzos, or R' Akiva Eiger; their daughter has not even made it through all of volume 1 of Michtav.  They have by no idea what a Torah life is realty about, but what they have learned is that there are a lot of things in our society that a person should run away from.  As the Sochotchover tells us, once you start running and know what you should be running from, Hashem will take care of the rest.

R Yisachar Dov Englander, a Rosh Kollel of Belz in London, suggests that that's what Pharoah discovered.  Sometimes you are in a bad situation, but change is hard, and even if you decide to move on, you sometimes have one eye looking back over your shoulder.  That's how Pharoah though Klal Yisrael would leave Egypt.  OK, so they would go for three days, but after that, they would come back.  How could they not?   That's the parent thinking that the black hat is nice, but let's be real -- the kid has to miss watching the game on Sunday, right?  He'll snap out of it eventually.  When Pharoah saw "ki borei'ach hu" -- they were running, they couldn't wait to leave, had no regrets, missed none of it -- then he knew they were gone for good unless he would act.  Even if you don't know where you are going -- "nevuchim heim ba'midbar" -- running away from wrong, like the Shem m'Shmuel tells us, chopping away the not-David parts of who you are, will get you to the right destination.

1 comment:

  1. "Yisro...chopped away this...and that...until he was left with a connection to Hashem"

    however, of Yisro's 7 names, Keni was surely his Shabbos name, meaning zealous FOR Hashem: on Shabbos, one can no longer reject negatives until he be left with the positive; the laws of borer demand that he cut zealously to the chase, that he reach directly for the desired good