Demons – are they real?

Now days with modern science it seems that anyone who has belief in demons is considered a fool; yet it’s not that simple…

Many Kabbalistic texts, Torah, Mishna, Talmud are full of description around demons and their powers, yet we don’t see any proof to their existence. How come?

Kabbalists teach us that Creator in His infinite wisdom created two systems – System of Kedusha (holiness/desire to bestow) and System of Tumah (impurities, desire to receive for the sake of receiving) as it’s explained in depth by Baal HaSulam. These two systems were created to give us – the creation – freedom of choice. A lot is already written on this topic, so I won’t go further into this.

For these two systems to co-exist in harmony and provide us with true freedom of choice there must be balance – i.e. the forces must be equal in power. Therefore when Sanhedrin requested from the Creator to take away from us the nisanyon (test) of idolatry we immediately lost the ability to prophesy in the same moment as idolatry was taken away from us.

Thus in our time we can’t even comprehend how one would be servering a stone – yet our ancestors were far from fools – they had tangible benefits from serving idols and the closet desire that we could somehow compare their hunger to work the idols can be only compared to our nowadays sexual desires for intimacy (but even that is far from what they felt).

Thus, just as prophesy was taken away from us once we asked to be absolved from idolatry so the power of demons diminished once our level of Kedusha started to decline. Ben Ish Chai – widely accepted Kabbalist – wrote about this in several of his commentaries. I also would like to share a link that can give an insight to how our ancestors were able to interact with demons when their level allowed it

http://www.communitym.com/article.asp?article_id=101388

 

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14 Responses to Demons – are they real?

  1. Even if we hadn’t these wonderful Midrashim, mentioned in article, we would have to believe that there are Demons=maarekhet HaTumar=the system of impurity, otherwise there would be no freedom of choice.
    And even more the belief in in the exictence of Demons and Angels is based on the freedom of choice, because if we knew for sure they do exist, there would be no freedom to belive or not.

    Real freedom of choice is in the field where you have to BELIEVE this or that point of view.

    HaShem on the other side gives us sometimes some “scientific, or historical “facts, which we can’t deny, but He leaves us to interpret them and to fight for our believe in our interpretation.

    You may see the distruction of the Temples and the greatest desaster jewish people ever had, and you may see it as the greatest blessing we recieved.

    Rav Fanger gave such and example:
    one day one artist draw a wonderful picture and he called his friend to look at it. He himself started moving away from the picture and looking at it from more and more distance, and he saw the picture more and more wondeful from the far away distance by moving in this way he didn’t notice that there was an abyss behind him, but his friend did see it. He try to make him some signs with the hands, and voice, but the artist interpreted them as the signes of agreement on the beauty of his picture and only moved quicker and quiker with his back to the abyss. When the friend understood that in a moment his friend will be down into nowhere and forever, he so the only right thing to do.He took the picture and tore it into pieces. The Artist gave a horible cry of pain and disbelive, but he STOPED and started running towards his friend, shouting and crying, but ALIVE…

    Another guestion is if we should intentionaly to look for expiriences connected with getting involved with the system of Demons.

    here we have to know some rules in case and any of us would think it is his “fight” and ” I’ll go for it”.

    1.Any system is made by haShem and exists because it serves Him for ” pushing” us into the right direction or for us to have a freedom of choice.

    2.if I feel a special agitation connected with this or that kind of impurity, I should know that it is first of all my own correction that is connected with this mirrowed side of me.

    And when I am able to overcome it I can teach others to do it. For ex. I shouldn’t fight cigarette industry, but I should stop smoking and strengthen the choice to the side of stopping smoking thus giving others some help through precident of stopping smoking.

    So little by little people will stop smoking not because I destroid this industry, but because they choose to stop smoking, out of having many other intresting thing to do except smoking.
    So first I put smoking in “loMatti” position for me, and latter it will be in this posotion for others, and not as we like to say “if there were no people smoking I would stop smoking too.”

    3. If I feel that I am spiritually strong I may ask HaShem to let me help others through Hitkallelut(through being involved)For ex.I want to help my children, loved ones to overcome something that isn’t good, and I pray first of all for them to see it also as no good , and when it is seen by them as no good you should show them that though it is their fight, but you are here always to help or to meet their needs according to your abilities.

    Do not try to correct or fight their Demons, because their Demons may be stronger than you are and your” fall” won’t help those who are already in the “pit”, but could use your help if you hadn’t fallen down.

    Do not try to substitued one Demon(ex. heroin) by another(methodone) it won’t work, because you have to overcome being dependent, be it dependency on your mom or alkhohol, or any othe sort of it. The susbstituting one dependency with the other ex.marreing a person to get rid of the parents dependency will bring you to the situation where you will get into double dependency from your parents and your wife/husband and the fight you will have, will be much more “bloody” G-d gorbid.

    4.But if you anyway try to help “other” by activeting your involvment, first of all think over the plan, don’t do anything spontaniously. It should be spiritual ” business” plan which state each step, its purpose, possibility to assess the results and replanning the involvment.

    Do not rely upon another Demons in fighting with this one, they may make coalision between each other in a moment and you will find yourself in a situation you are not ready for.

    In short if you want to join HaShem’s Army prove yourself to be a real warrier through correcting your portion of Ratzon LeKabbel first, then learn to fight for others in Hitkallelit, and if it will be necessary for haShem and not for your ego, haShem will help you to see where, when and how you should really and openly fight for others or against others, but it belongs to Tzimtzum Alef, where the reactions should be on the 1. 3rd degree- speed of thought. 2.2nd degree- in no time, 3. 1st degree- the reaction that leaves another party( Sitrra Akhra) no choice, but to play the game according to your rules- the way Patriarh Yakove knew to Fight, that instead of damage got the blessing, and overcame the Demon of Eissav and prouve his Bkhurra on spiritual and matirial levels forever.
    G-d blees you and good luck.

  2. yehudith says:

    It the Begining, G-d created heaven and Earth…

    He was then faced with the lawsuit for failing to file an environmental impact statement from HEPA(Heavenly Enviromental Protection Agency), and angelically staffed agancy whose duty was to keep the universe pollution free.

    G-d was given a temporary permit for the heavenly portion of the project, but was issued a cease and desist order on the earthly portion of the project of the project, which needed further investigation by HEPA. Upon completion of His construction permit and enviromental impact statement, G-d appeared before HEPA council to answer some questions. When asked why He began these projects in the first place, He simply replied that He liked to be creative. This was not considered an adequate reason and He was required to be more detailed.

    HEPA was unable to see any practical use for earth anyway, since “the earth was void and empty and darkness was on the face of the deep”. Then G-d said, “Let there be Light”.

    He should never have brought up this point, since one member of the Council immediatly protested, asking how the Light was to be made.Would there be strip mining? Air Pollution?G-d expalined that the Light would come from a huge ball of fire.

    Nobody on the council really understood this, but it was accepted, assuming 1) that there would be no smog or smoke resulting from the burning; 2) a separate burning permit would be required; and 3) since continuous light would be a waste of energy, it should be dark half of the time. So G-d agreed to divide the Light and the Darkness and He would call the Light Day, and the Darkness Night. ( The Council expressed no intrest in in-house semantics.)

    When asked how the earth would be covered, G-d said, “Let there be firmament made amidst the waters; and let it divide the waters from the waters.” One ecologically radical Council member accused Him of double talk, but the Council allowed G-d to do this, since He would have to first file for a permit from the ABLM ( Angelic Bureau of Land Managment) and further would be required to obtain water permit from the appropriate agencies involved.

    The council asked if there would only be water and firmament, and G-d said,”Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit tree yielding after its own kind, which may have been itself upon the earth.” The Council agreed as long as native seed would be used. About future development the G-d also said,” Let the waters bring forth the creeping creature having life, and the fowl that may fly over the earth.” Here again, the Council took no formal action since this would require approvel of the Fish and Game Commission coordinated with the Heavenly Wildlife Federation.

    It then appeared that everything was in order until G-d stated that He wanted to complete the project in six days.

    At this time He was advised by the Council that his timing was completely out of question… HEPA would require a minimum of 180 days to review the application and enviromental impact statement, and then there would be public hearings.It would take 10 to 12 months before a permit would be given.

    G-d said, “To Hell with it!”

  3. Niddah 24a-b – Giving birth to demonsJune 14, 2012

    The Gemara continues in its investigation of miscarriages for the purposes of determining whether or not the mother becomes ritually unclean as a woman who gave birth (tum’at leidah), and the discussion turns to an examination of demon-like creatures. The Gemara relates:

    Rav Yehudah citing Shmuel ruled: If an abortion had the likeness of Lilith, its mother is unclean by reason of the birth, for it is a child, but it has wings.
    So it was also taught: Rabbi Yose stated, “It once happened at Simoni that a woman aborted the likeness of Lilith, and when the case came up for a decision before the Sages they ruled that it was a child but that it also had wings.”

    The commentaries differ with regard to the identification of Lilith and its appearance. According to Rashi, Lilith is a demon. Demons have human features, together with wings. The Radak (see his commentary to Yeshayahu 34:14) suggests that it is a creature that shrieks at night, or some kind of a nocturnal bird. The Zohar identifies Lilith as the mother of all demons.

    It is interesting to note that when the Rambam – a rationalist who rejects the world of supernatural demons – brings this halakhah in his Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Isurei Bi’ah 10:10), he does not quote the original language of the Gemara that refers to Lilith, rather he simply writes: “If a woman aborts a human form that has wings of flesh.” Nevertheless, both the Ein Mishpat and the Bet Yosef point to our Gemara as the source for that ruling.

    The city of Simoni where this incident took place is identified as the Biblical city of Samaria (Shomron), an ancient city that is mentioned among the 31 cities captured by Yehoshua Bin Nun during the conquest of Canaan (see Yehoshua 12:20). One of the major battles prior to the destruction of the Second Temple took place there; throughout the centuries there was an important Jewish community there.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

  4. yehudith says:

    BURNING THE SIN
    by rav Ozer Alport

    In discussing the Golden Calf (Deut. 9:21), Moshe told the Jewish people, “Your sin which you committed, I took it and burned it in fire.” Although Moshe took the physical calf and burned it, what did he mean when he said that he burned the actual sin, something which has no physical manifestation?

    The Shelah HaKadosh explains that every action that a person does mystically creates a corresponding angel. Mitzvot generate good angels, while sins produce bad ones. Moshe recognized that simply burning the Calf itself, while necessary, wouldn’t suffice to erase the spiritual effects of their actions. He therefore additionally took the destructive angel that was created through their sin and burned it as well. Moshe related this to teach that when repenting our misdeeds, we must sincerely regret our actions and accept upon ourselves not to repeat them in order to uproot not only the physical consequences of the sin but the spiritual ones as well.

  5. yehudith says:

    Educating Desire
    by Rav Adin Steinsaltz

    Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is often sought out for his views on numerous subjects and we [at Parabola] found ourselves wondering what he’d have to say on each of our themes. Generous and gracious, he clears time from his demanding schedule not to answer but to challenge and to question editors and readers alike.

    I had a friend. He was older than me, but for a time I became his teacher. He was on a long path to religion and it was for him a way of suffering. At one point, I told him about procession caterpillars. They go in a line, one after the other. You see a whole line of caterpillars, each touching the other, and they are going in a procession. They are perhaps searching for food, or whatever. Biologists experimented with them and one experiment had almost political implications. One caterpillar leads. The others follow. Why is the leader a leader? What made him into being a leader? And they found out that the leader is a leader because each has the instinctive feeling to follow the tail of another caterpillar. Now, there was one caterpillar who didn’t find a tail, so he became the leader. By default. So that’s the leader! The one that didn’t find a tail.

    In order to prove it, they did something which is in a way unkind. They arranged them to form a circle, the first caterpillar touching the last. They work by instinct, and so they walk in a circle. And they go like this until they die. Always in the same circle. I said to my friend that sometimes people go in this kind of circle in their spiritual life and the only way to solve it is to cut it. You have to cut the caterpillar-like circle by will, and then you may go in any direction.

    The circle means death, moving but staying in the same place. There are people who lead that sort of life for years, and I’m not speaking about material ways of life, but spiritual as well. A person has all kinds of driving impulses, but no solution. You come to the same questions, the same answers, and so you move in a circle. You don’t move anywhere.

    Things like worry or depression are almost the same. You go into a circle, and you can’t cut it. Because a worry doesn’t have any answer. It can only be cut, not answered. You can go on worrying forever.

    I asked my friend what was the moving power in his search. He said it was a verse in the book of Job when Job speaks to God and says, “you are yearning for your handiwork.” And he said, “If God is yearning for me, how can I say no?” So, there is a yearning. And sometimes I come, and sometimes I don’t come. I may have my longing, the Almighty may have His. And we may meet, or we won’t ever meet.

    Sometimes you make a choice. There are certain things that you just don’t want to care about. People make such decisions all the time. Look, some people have an obsession with an absence. An absence of money. And they are obsessed with it all their life. Including people who become very, very rich. But they can’t get rid of the yearning, and all the time have same kind of unresolved desire. Other people may have a great yearning for beauty. Some people don’t have it at all. So for them, there’s no absence, and for them there’s no yearning. It just doesn’t exist. At a certain point we make decisions not only about what we are going to do but about what we are going to desire.

    Some people want power, and others may decide that they are not only not going in this path, they are deciding not to dream these dreams of power and influence. It’s not only because it interferes with other things. I just don’t want to. Sometimes a decision comes because I am convinced that I am not searching for the right thing. At other times I may think that it’s a bad, or a mean thing. Or useless. Or I say it is not important enough for me to go on dreaming about it. In a certain way, it is a matter of educating one’s desires.

    And we do have this education, all the time, and not always in a completely positive way. There is a certain age in which children will collect things: marbles, or stones, or baseball cards. It takes all of
    our time and then, somehow, it stops. Sometimes it changes into other things. Those that collected, say, the baseball cards, may come to collect other pieces of paper, green pieces of paper-some people are great collectors. At any rate, I may have still at home a collection of
    those cards. They no longer mean anything to me. This means that I was, in a way, educated. I don’t know if it’s a great advance or not a great advance. But I got educated.

    Now, in a certain way, part of our problem is that we are yearning for something which is “good.” But we have to define what is “good.” If we get educated, the notion of “good” changes. I remember when it was so very important for my little daughter to be good at playing marbles and now she no longer cares whether she was good at marbles or not. Supposedly all of us do not care now about it. But for a time, it was an important part of my life, a part of my yearning, a part sometimes of my dreams. If I would pray, sometimes I would pray to be very good at that. I’m just saying that growing up is in many ways the knowledge of how many things I dreamt about that I no longer dream about. I’m no longer yearning though the yearning at that time was a very real one. Everybody’s is different?sometimes it’s a nice pretty dress. You may have it or not have it, but it no longer counts. There is a time when you cry because you don’t have something, or are very happy because you got it. You grow up, and it’s not important anymore. A problem can arise if when we grow up we stick to the same kind of yearning – some of them we got at the age of eighteen, some of them we got at slightly earlier or later. And we stick to them.

    We can be educated in making different choices. I can decide that habit, so and so, these things, other things, other, what you call, “points of desire” – I don’t want them anymore. I decided I am not going after that anymore. I am changing to something else. And, if I am successful, I’m not bothered by them anymore. I want something else. So I discard the old things. And they don’t matter to me anymore. This bus goes in another direction. I’m not riding it. I took another one.

    See, for some people the decision for them to go into a religious life, contemplative life, it is a matter of a decision. You can will to be close to God. You can have a will like this. What happens if you find that someone is in love with you? You just find out. What is your reaction? For most people it’s very hard to ignore it completely. There is some kind of a resonance. In the book of Ecclesiastes, it says “like a face to the water” (now we would say like a face in the mirror), as one face to the other face in the water, so is one heart to the other heart. The idea is that, if I love somebody they can not be completely indifferent. When God says, “I yearn for you.” I may think, “leave me alone. Mind your own business.” Some people will answer like this. And for others it’s a very compelling power, the power that comes when you know that somebody is yearning for you.

    But many responses are possible, and sometimes it is as though somebody changed my mind. Like the points of the compass, I now am pointing in another direction. Just yesterday, I couldn’t care less and now it is the only thing that matters. It happens. It happens sometimes when people fall in love. I saw a face, I saw a person, and for some time it was of no consequence, of no importance. Now there’s a click, and it becomes more and more and more important. For some people, it’s not a matter of a click. It’s a matter of a really slow move. And in some cases, a voluntary move. I want to go in a certain direction. I want to go there. I am in a way channeling my ability, my power, my inner sense of yearning in a different direction. And in some way I think that everybody can and does do it.

    Now I am saying that the same ability is there also to shut off, to close all sorts of things. There is a Chassidic story that somebody sent one of his disciples to the home of another one. So, he came to the home, it was nighttime. Knocks on the door. No answer. He knocks, and knocks, and knocks again, and again…well, he was commanded to meet the fellow. So he’s still there, and knocks on the door, and nothing. And then, after some time, the host opens the door and says, “You know what I wanted to teach you? That man has the ability to allow whomever he wants to enter.” There are lots of knocks on my door. And I can decide: I don’t want to allow it to enter. It’s as simple as that. Let them ring.

    So I think that this kind of ringing is not only about ringing. Look, I may say there is a whole world ringing. They want from me this thing and the other thing, and people want from me lots of things. Family. Acquaintances. And I may just say I don’t want it, I want other things. Just as simple as that. They called you, and you are not going. You are not available. I may say, “I don’t care for you.” It’s a freedom. And sometimes it’s, “I don’t care for you.” Full stop. Or, “I don’t care for you,” not to put a full stop, “I care for something else.” I used to play the piano. I am not going to play the piano. I’m going to play football. And I think it’s important, because a change in the desires means eventually also a change of life. When I don’t want certain things, they no longer count, and they are no longer a part of my life. They disappear.

  6. yehudith says:

    Klippot
    ( an extract from the article
    “Worlds,Angels,and Men”
    full article is posted under the title
    “Corporial and Spiritual Worlds”

    by Rav Adin Steinsaltz

    In addition to the physical and spiritual parts just described, the World of Action contains many other ethereal or spiritual realms, which differ widely from each other in both their content and their spiritual significance. On the one hand, there are the realms of the various manifestations of human wisdom and creativity, such as philosophy, mathematics, poetry, and art, which are all ultimately “neutral” as regards their spiritual orientation. On the other hand, there are realms that possess a distinct spiritual charge, which may be either positive or negative. Furthermore, just as man can relate to various physical and spiritual features of the World of Action and thereby raise himself in the direction of holiness, so can he tie himself to the realms of the unholy, and move and act in them. These are the realms of evil, in the most general sense of the word, and are known by their Hebrew name, Kelippot (singular, Kelippah), which means husks.

    The Kelippot, like the worlds of holiness, have their own “mansions,” and are arranged in an inverted hierarchy, with the evil becoming more intense and distinct as one descends. They are, in their own way, all related to the World of Action. In fact, it can be said that our world, to the extent that it is neutral in its spiritual orientation, belongs to the realm of the Kelippot, more specifically to the one known as Kelippat Noga. This is a level of existence that contains all things that are not intrinsically directed either to the holy or the evil. Although it is neutral, when a man sinks into it entirely and does not, or cannot, disentangle himself from it, he fails to fulfill his specific human destiny and is wanting at the core of his being.

    The relationships between the realms of the Kelippot are to a certain degree similar to those obtaining in the higher worlds. Thus, between each successive level, there are translations and replications of the mode of existence, and the manifestations of each are expressed in the same three dimensions: space, time, and being. The Kelippot are inhabited by ethereal beings, a species of angels known as destructive, or subversive, angels, or alternatively as devils, demons, or evil spirits. Like the holy angels, they all have their own individual personalities, which are defined in terms of their particular unchanging content and their degree. Corresponding to the angels of love-in-holiness and awe-in-holiness are the destructive angels of love-in-wickedness and awe-in-wickedness. Furthermore, some of these destructive angels are ephemeral; that is, they are created by man’s actions, whereas others are eternal, or rather, they came into existence with the world and will continue to exist until evil is finally vanquished. Each evil deed that a man performs brings into being a destructive angel, which, in turn, has its effect in the deeper realms of the Kelippot. Nevertheless, there is a substantial difference between the two systems. There is obviously no equivalent in the Kelippot to the World of Emanation. Evil has no independent, ontological existence, and its direct source of nourishment is the World of Action; indirectly, it is sustained from the higher worlds. By performing an evil deed, a man not only creates a destructive angel that will accompany him and be bound to him as part of his ambience, but he actually diverts the divine plenty into the upper realms of evil, whence it is dragged down to the deepest Kelippot.

    The eternal destructive angels are the messengers that mediate between the various realms of evil, just as the holy angels move up and down in the upper worlds. Destructive angels are manifest in our world by means of “clothing in garments,” and they appear in ethereal or material forms that are sometimes as bizarre and strange as those of the holy angels. These destructive angels are the tempters who try to incite man to evil by bringing the idea of wickedness to our realm, of existence; in return, they receive the diverted divine plenty. They also serve as the instruments by which a sinner is punished. Just as the reward received by the righteous man or the saint is an extension of his good deeds, so the retribution for shortcomings is part and parcel of the sin itself. In this life, punishment is no more than to be held in close contact with the evil one has created, in a variety of manifestations and translations-bodily and mental torment, despair and anguish, and failure.

    One of the most severe forms of punishment is the “mansion” of the Kelippot known as Hell. When a man dies, his soul is separated from his body and relates only to the ethereal beings, which he created and with which he was associated in his lifetime. The soul finds its level. In the case of a great sinner, this will be in the company of the destructive angels he created, who will punish him for bringing them into existence, until the full measure of remorse is exhausted. But even this extreme retribution is not extrinsic, for it is an organic continuation of the actual sins committed.

    Though the destructive angels are manifestations and the messengers of evil, they are also part of the totality of existence. Like the entire system of Kelippot, to which they belong, they are not optimal, but they do fulfill an essential role in maintaining a certain balance in the cosmos, by deterring men from slipping deeper into evil. Were evil to be banished from the world, they would disappear, for ultimately they are parasites on men and cannot exist without his wickedness. But as long as man uses his power of choice to do evil, they feed off, incite, and punish him. In this sense, the existence of destructive angels is conditional, rather like a police force, which is necessary only as long as there is crime.

    The fact remains, however, that far from disappearing, the destructive angels are growing stronger and more powerful, as evil waxes in the world. Their ontological status is no longer clear, and far from being mere instruments of deterrence within the total system of existence, they appear to be independent beings acting in their own terms of reference, subjects of a sovereign realm of evil.

    The significance of man’s role in Creation is thus immense. When the day comes that we free ourselves from the overwhelming temptations to sin, the entire system of evil will fall back into its proper dimensions. Those aspects of it that came into being as a consequence of man’s deeds-the ephemeral destructive angels-will disappear, while the eternal structural elements, which now serve as deterrents, will assume a new, entirely different role. That which now appears to be evil will be reintegrated into holiness.

  7. yehudith says:

    Shoftim(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)
    A Perspective on Fear
    by Rav Zev Leff

    “When you go out to war against your enemy and you see horses and chariots, an army greater than you, do not fear them, for the Lord your God, Who took you out of Egypt, is with you.”(Deut. 20:1)

    How can we possibly expect to achieve such a high level that we do not fear when we go into battle? Even Moses fled in terror when his rod was transformed into a snake. Yet if the Torah commands us not to fear the impending battle, it must be something within the capability of every Jew.

    The Talmud (Brachot 60a) raises a seeming contradiction between the verse, “Fear in Zion, you sinners” (Isaiah 33:14), which implies that fear is a sin, and the verse, “Fortunate is the one who fears constantly” (Proverbs 28:14). The Talmud resolves the apparent contradiction: fear of losing one’s Torah learning or mitzvah observance is positive; all other fear is negative.

    A careful consideration of the mitzvot of our parsha provides important clues as to how we can attain the proper fear and avoid all other fear. The unifying thread running throughout is the necessity to pursue perfection. The parsha begins with the command to appoint judges and enforcers of the law to ensure tzedek – complete and perfect righteousness. Our right to occupy Israel, the land of perfection, depends on our pursuing this goal diligently. Life – meaning an attachment to God – is possible only where that quest for righteousness is in progress. For this we require judges to discern what is right. And they must be given the means to enforce that judgment.

    The Alter of Kelm explains that judges and enforcers parallel chachma (wisdom) and mussar (ethics) on the individual level. Chachma is the ability to discern what actions and thoughts are an expression of God’s will; mussar is the ability to translate that knowledge into action.

    * * *

    QUEST FOR PERFECTION

    The Torah continues with three prohibitions that put our quest for perfection into perspective. First we are told not to plant an asheira (tree) near the altar. The message is that one is not to be misled by that which is attractive or fruitful – such as an asheira, from the path of total subjugation to God.

    The cold, unattractive stones of the Temple altar represent total devotion to God. And it is the sacrifices, which appear to involve the destruction of an aspect of the physical world, that in reality preserve and give sustenance. For this reason we are commanded to salt the portions of the sacrifices that are to be burnt on the altar. Salt is a preservative. We salt the portions about to be consumed on the altar to show that they are in fact being preserved eternally by being offered to God.

    Next the Torah enjoins us not to set up a matzeivah, a monolith, but rather a mizbe’ach. Sforno explains that a single stone represents a person standing perfect before God. A mizbe’ach altar of many stones, by contrast, represents the quest for perfection of a yet imperfect individual. If a Jew deludes himself into thinking he has reached perfection, disaster is sure to follow.

    The next prohibition against offering a blemished animal teaches us, says Sforno, that our goal is perfection and quality, not quantity.

    If one deviates even slightly from following God’s will, the quest for perfection cannot succeed. “Justice, justice pursue” – righteousness is a result of righteousness; it can never result from unrighteousness.

    * * *

    THE MILLION-RUBLE HUNCHBACK

    Rabbi Yisrael Salanter relates the following parable:

    King A bet King B a million rubles that he could convince King B’s prime minister to disrobe publicly. King B could give his prime minister any instruction he wanted as long as he did not reveal the wager. King B called in his prime minister and informed him that he was being sent to King A’s country, where he could do whatever he pleased with one exception – under no circumstances was he to disrobe publicly.

    After a few days, King A called in the prime minister and asked him how he had become a hunchback. The prime minister responded that he was not a hunchback. King A countered that he most certainly was a hunchback, and he was willing to wager a half of million rubles to that fact. To establish who was right, the prime minister was to disrobe in front of the royal court.

    The prime minister eagerly accepted the wager, despite the king’s orders. He reasoned that the bet was a sure thing, and he would split the profits with King B. The prime minister disrobed. The royal court unanimously concurred that he was not a hunchback, and the king gleefully gave him his half of million rubles.

    Upon returning home, the prime minister told King B his windfall and offered to split it with the king. But instead of being delighted, the king was enraged. “You think you won me 250,000 rubles, you fool. You cost me a million rubles because you failed to heed my command,” King B shouted.

    So, too, says Rabbi Yisrael, do all those who attempt to reach God in non-prescribed ways deceive themselves. Theirs is the path of idolatry, the next subject in the parsha.

    * * *

    INNER SANCTUM

    Only by obeying the Torah leaders of the generation can one be assured that his path leads to perfection, and not its opposite. Thus the need for such obedience is the next topic in the parsha.

    When the quest for perfection is the driving force in a person’s life, the fear that he is deluding himself or is failing to achieve this perfection is always with him. He can be compared to someone who is afraid of mice and finds himself in a burning building with a mouse standing at the only exit. That person will quickly forget his fear of mice.

    So, too, will every other fear pale for the one who seeks above all to draw close to God – besides the fear of losing his closeness to God:

    “God is my light and salvation, from whom should I fear; God is my life’s strength, from whom should I dread?… If an army encamps against me,… in this do I trust… that I will dwell in God’s home all the days of my life, that I will see the pleasantness of God and visit in His inner sanctum.” (Psalms 27:1-4)

    When such a person goes into battle to fight the enemies of Israel and God, the only thing that concerns him is the strengthening of God’s rule that will result from victory.

    In this vein, Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 525) explains the foundation of the mitzvah not to fear the enemy in battle:

    Every individual Jew should put his trust in God and not fear for his own personal life in a situation where he can give honor to God and his people. He should not think about his wife or children or property, but rather divert his mind from everything and concentrate only on the battle. And further he should ponder that the lives of the entire nation depend upon him…

    One who fights with all his heart, with the intention of sanctifying God’s Name, is assured not to be harmed and will merit for himself and his children a faithful home in Israel and eternal life in the World to Come.

    Because his only fear in battle lies in not achieving the kiddush Hashem of victory, he does not fear the enemy because he is thinking only of his own awesome responsibilities.

    It is not fear which is prohibited but fearing “them.” The fear of the enemy pales into nothingness next to the fear of the chillul Hashem of being vanquished in battle.

  8. yehudith says:

    Shoftim(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)
    Bribery
    by Avigdor Bonchek

    This parsha deals mainly with the laws that are relevant for the just running of a society. The Torah teaches how this can be accomplished.

    Deuteronomy 16:19

    “You must not pervert judgement, nor show favoritism; you must not accept a bribe for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and distorts the words of the righteous.”

    RASHI

    You shall not accept a bribe – Rashi: Even in order to judge justly.

    What would you ask here?

    Your question:

    QUESTIONING RASHI

    A Question: What does bribery “to judge justly” mean? Bribes are usually given to influence the judge to decide in a dishonest way, to swing his verdict. If the person giving the bribe thought he was in the right and justice was on his side, he would have little need to bribe the judge. And if, in spite of this, he did give a bribe and the judge thought his case was just, why would this be considered “bribery”? And what is so wrong with accepting bribery if the judgment is correct?

    There are really two questions here:

    1.What’s bothering Rashi, that lead him to opt for an interpretation different than simple p’shat?

    2.Why is giving money – and accepting it – to judge justly, considered a sin?

    Your Answers:

    WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?

    Let us take each question separately.

    An Answer to #1: The verse already says “Do not pervert judgement,” which is the same as swinging a judgement in favor of the one who gave a bribe, if, in fact, he was not in the right. So, if we interpret “You shall not accept a bribe” to mean “don’t take money in order to pervert the judgement,” then we would have the same prohibition repeated twice in the same verse. It is for this reason that Rashi interpreted these words in the unusual way he did.

    Actually, Rashi is quite consistent in this regard. He sees each phrase in this verse as a different commandment. Look at his comment on the words in this verse:

    RASHI

    Do not show favoritism – Rashi: Not even during the deliberations. The is a warning to the judge that he should not be considerate with one and harsh with the other; having one stand while the other sits, because when he sees that the judge defers to his fellow, his arguments are stifled (i.e. he is not at his best in defending himself).

    Obviously, the simple meaning of “showing favoritism,” is to decide the case in favor of the disputant that you favor, even though justice is not on his side. Yet, Rashi does not accept this as p’shat. We see here, as we did above, that Rashi searches for an interpretation that is not identical to “distorting judgement,” (its obvious meaning) in order to avoid having the verse express the same prohibition, but in different words.

    This, by the way, is a basic principle in Torah interpretation. There are no unnecessary repetitions in the Torah. Therefore, when the Torah appears to repeat itself unnecessarily, the commentators, frequently on the basis of the teachings of the Talmudic Sages, search for additional meanings. (For a fuller discussion, see my “Studying the Torah: A Guide to in-Depth Interpretation”, published by Jason Aronson.)

    Now let us return to our second question. What is wrong with accepting money to judge justly?

    UNDERSTANDING RASHI

    An Answer: Let us think this through. Who gave this bribe? If it was one of the disputants, then what sense does it make to say that he gave it so the judge would “judge justly”? If he didn’t give any bribe, he would have also judged justly. But now that he received money from one side, his chances of being objective and judging without bias are close to zero.

    Another possibility is that the judge received money from a third party in order to judge the case justly. As is done today, judges are paid by the government or by some Rabbinical organization. But if such is the case, what is wrong with receiving money in this way? Is this a bribe in any sense of the term?

    The Talmud deals with this question explicitly in Tractate Kesubos (105a) the following analysis:

    Karna (A Babylonian Sage of the third century) used to take one istra from the innocent party and one istra from the guilty party. And then informed them of his decision. But does it not say “you shall not accept a bribe”? Perhaps you will answer that the verse applies only where he does not take from both parties since he might be biased towards the party he received from, but Karna took from both parties and he would thus not be biased. But is even this permitted? Have we not learned: What does the verse “You shall not accept a bribe” refer to? Does it mean one should not acquit the guilty and make guilty the innocent? But the Torah already says “You shall not distort judgement.” So the verse must refer even to a case where he proclaims the innocent to be innocent and the guilty to be guilty (Note: this is the basis for our Rashi comment) [therefore it says] “You shall not accept a bribe.” You may answer that this only applies where the judge took the money as a bribe (before deciding the case) but Karna took the money as a fee (after deciding the case). But is even this permissible [to take money as fee]? Have we not learned that the legal decisions of one who takes a fee are null and void?

    [Answers the Talmud:] This applies only when one takes a fee for pronouncing judgement; while Karna was only taking compensation for loss of work.

    The upshot of this passage is a startling and profound condition of the Jewish judicial process. That is that a judge may not take payment even to perform faithfully the task of an honest judge. This means even if the payment comes from a third party or from both litigants, all he is entitled to is compensation for loss of work (income), that he could have earned had he not been occupied judging this case.

    This is what Rashi means when he says that the command “you shall not take a bribe” is intended even in cases where the judge is asked to judge fairly.

    But what would you ask on this law?

    Your Question:

    A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE TORAH’S LAW

    A Question: Why should a salary for a judge, if it comes from the government or from a disinterested third party, be considered a “bribe”? This certainly sounds strange. Can you think of an explanation for this strict rule?

    Your Answer:

    THE TORAH’S PSYCHOLOGICALLY PROFOUND SENSITIVITY TO JUSTICE

    An Answer: This law shows us the profound psychological sensitivity the Torah evidenced in the judicial process. A judge is only human, after all. If he receives a comfortable salary for his work, he will be cautious to do the “right” and the “politically correct” thing in his legal pronouncements. His advancement within the system is dependent on how his superiors evaluate his work and the leanings of his judgements. Is he politically “Right” or “Left”? Do his decisions square with the legal outlook of his superiors? In such a case, his salary would have hidden strings attached to it. This would turn his salary into a “bribe” because his legal decisions would not be free of bias.

    This is truly an amazing insight. The Talmud is replete with stories of Jewish judges who refused to take on a case because one of the litigants had some innocent, even commonplace, dealing with the judge. (See Deut. 17:7). We learn from this that a judge’s bias can come from many quarters, not just from one of the disputants; he can be influenced to judge unfairly in order to keep his job. How then can a Jewish judge support himself, if he is not to take a salary? The Talmudic passage above makes it clear that he is entitled to receive the same salary that he could have earned in the free market doing any other work he is capable of. When the judge earns no more money than he could earn otherwise, we can understand that he will feel no threat to his income if he judges a case fairly, even if it goes against the grain of those who pay his salary. If he is fired as a judge because of his judgements, he can always take on a job in his alternative vocation, with no loss in salary. He can truly be objective in judgement.

    Such standards are hard to find even in today’s enlightened, human-rights sensitive, secular courts, as they are in Jewish courts, as well.

  9. yehudith says:

    Shoftim(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)
    We, the Elders
    by Avigdor Bonchek

    This week’s parsha details many laws between Man and Man. At the end of the parsha we are taught the strange ceremony that is performed by the Elders of the court if a dead person is found between two cities and we don’t know how he was killed or who killed him.

    Deuteronomy 21:7-8

    “And they (i.e. the Elders) answered and said ‘Our hands have not shed this blood nor have our eyes seen (this act).’ ”

    RASHI

    Our hands have not shed – RASHI: Is it possible to imagine that that the Elders of the court committed murder? Rather, “We did not observe him and dismiss him, without food and without escort.” The Priests say: “Forgive your people Israel, etc….”

    WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?

    What is bothering Rashi is clear. He begins his comment with the question: Why should the Elders of the city need to absolve themselves of this murder? They are not the accused party. Therefore, Rashi reinterprets these words to mean, “We, the Elders, have not neglected this stranger, letting him off without food or letting him leave without accompanying him.” The implication is that since we took good care of him when he visited our city, his unfortunate demise cannot, even indirectly, be attributed to us.

    We should point out that Rashi mentions two points in the Elders’ statement. First, that they didn’t see him and second, that they didn’t let him go without food. The meaning is that had they seen him they would have provided him with food and escort. It should be noted that the two parts of this statement are parallel to the two parts in the Torah verse. The Torah’s words, “Our hands did not shed this blood” are paralleled in Rashi by “we did not dismiss him without food and escort.” And the Torah’s words, “Our eyes did not see” are paralleled in Rashi by, “We did not see him.”

    Looking at this comment, do you have a question?

    Your Question:

    QUESTIONING RASHI

    Question: It is understandable that had the victim been escorted, his murder might have been prevented. But what does going without food have to do with his having been murdered? If he had had food, would that have prevented his murder?

    Your Answer:

    UNDERSTANDING RASHI

    An Answer: Rashi himself in his Talmud commentary on Sotah 45b, says that being without food might have led the man to attack others to obtain food. His aggressive and illegal behavior may have brought him into physical confrontation, which then may have resulted in his being murdered. Had he been given food by the city people, he never would have gotten into trouble. And this is the significance of the Elders’ denial, “we did not dismiss him without food.”

    But we can ask another question, regarding the last words in this Rashi-comment:

    Your Question:

    THE PRIESTS SAY: FORGIVE YOUR PEOPLE ISRAEL, ETC.

    A Question: Why does Rashi add these words? Actually these are the Torah’s words. Why does the Torah add them? After the Elders’ have claimed total innocence, of either directly or indirectly, being party to this man’s death, why is there any need for atonement? Atonement means a sin has been atoned for. What sin?

    Your Answer:
    UNDERSTANDING THE TORAH’S WORDS

    Answer: There is a corpus delicti, the murdered body is lying in front of us. So a murder was committed. There’s no denying that. The Elders of the city have proclaimed their innocence; as leaders of the community they acted responsibly. But nevertheless, someone did commit a murder. It is for this crime that the Priests have to request atonement from God.

    EGLAH ARUFA: A MITZVAH WITH MEANING

    The Eglah Arufa ceremony is quite strange. A young calf is taken to a stony valley that has never produced crops. There it is killed by breaking its neck and the Elders and Priests make their public declarations. There is much symbolism here (see Rashi on 21:4). But can the ceremony as a whole be rationalized?

    The Abarbanel explains that this public ceremony, with it dramatic center-piece of breaking the calf’s neck followed by short public statements by community leaders, is meant to awaken people’s attention and cause public outrage to this humanly caused tragedy. Modern society knows only too well how inured we can become to even the most shattering obscenities, if they happen often enough. We are aware how the crime-filled newspapers, that we read daily, contribute to our growing insensitivity and to our moral paralysis. As has been said about the Holocaust, one death is a tragedy, six million is a statistic. The Torah, aware of the human inclination towards habituation, created the shocking Eglah Arufah ceremony to shake us and shock us out of our moral slumber. So that we don’t conduct business as usual when a human being’s life has been snuffed out through violence.

  10. yehudith says:

    Shoftim(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)
    Greatness Is Humility
    by Rav Jonathan Sakcs

    There is a fascinating detail in the passage about the king in this week’s parsha. The text says that “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he must write for himself a copy of this Torah on a scroll before the levitical priests” (Deut. 17:18). He must “read it all the days of his life” so that he will be God-fearing and never break Torah law. But there is another reason also: so that he will “not begin to feel superior to his brethren” (Kaplan translation), “so that his heart be not haughty over his brothers” (Robert Alter). The king had to have humility. The highest in the land should not feel himself to be the highest in the land.

    This is hugely significant in terms of the Jewish understanding of political leadership. There are other commands directed to the king. He must not accumulate horses so as not to establish trading links with Egypt. He should not have too many wives for “they will lead his heart astray.” He should not accumulate wealth. These were all standing temptations to a king. As we know and as the sages pointed out, it was these three prohibitions that Solomon, wisest of men, broke, marking the beginning of the long slow slide into corruption that marked much of the history of the monarchy in ancient Israel. It led, after his death, to the division of the kingdom.

    But these were symptoms, not the cause. The cause was the feeling on the part of the king that, since he is above the people he is above the law. As the rabbis said (Sanhedrin 21b), Solomon justified his breach of these prohibitions by saying: the only reason that a king may not accumulate wives is that they will lead his heart astray, so I will marry many wives and not let my heart be led astray. And since the only reason not to have many horses is not to establish links with Egypt, I will have many horses but not do business with Egypt. In both cases he fell into the trap of which the Torah had warned. Solomon’s wives did lead his heart astray (1 Kings 11:3), and his horses were imported from Egypt (1 Kings 10:28-29). The arrogance of power is its downfall. Hubris leads to nemesis.

    Hence the Torah’s insistence on humility, not as a mere nicety, a good thing to have, but as essential to the role. The king was to be treated with the highest honour. In Jewish law, only a king may not renounce the honour due to his role. A parent may do so, so may a rav, so may even a nasi, but not a king (Kiddushin 32a-b). Yet there is to be a complete contrast between the external trappings of the king and his inward emotions. Maimonides is eloquent on the subject:

    Just as the Torah grants him [the king] great honour and obliges everyone to revere him, so it commands him to be lowly and empty at heart, as it says: ‘My heart is empty within me’ (Ps. 109:22). Nor should he treat Israel with overbearing haughtiness, for it says, “so that his heart be not haughty over his brothers” (Deut. 17:20).

    He should be gracious and merciful to the small and the great, involving himself in their good and welfare. He should protect the honour of even the humblest of men. When he speaks to the people as a community, he should speak gently, as it says, “Listen my brothers and my people….” (1 Chronicles 28:2), and similarly, “If today you will be a servant to these people…” (1 Kings 12:7).

    He should always conduct himself with great humility. There was none greater than Moses, our teacher. Yet he said: “What are we? Your complaints are not against us” (Ex. 16:8). He should bear the nation’s difficulties, burdens, complaints and anger as a nurse carries an infant. (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 2:6)

    The model is Moses, described in the Torah as “very humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). “Humble” here does not mean diffident, meek, self-abasing, timid, bashful, demure or lacking in self-confidence. Moses was none of these. It means honouring others and regarding them as important, no less important than you are. It does not mean holding yourself low; it means holding other people high. It means roughly what Ben Zoma meant when he said (Avot 4:1), “Who is honoured? One who honours others.” This led to one of the great rabbinic teachings, contained in the siddur and said on Motsei Shabbat:

    Rabbi Jochanan said, Wherever you find the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He, there you find His humility. This is written in the Torah, repeated in the Prophets, and stated a third time in the Writings. It is written in the Torah: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty and awe-inspiring God, who shows no favoritism and accepts no bribe.” Immediately afterwards it is written, “He upholds the cause of the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing” … (Megillah 31a)

    God cares for all regardless of rank, and so must we, even a king, especially a king. Greatness is humility.

  11. Ki Tavo(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)
    Reishit: Beginning
    by Rav Ari Kahn

    And it shall be, when you come in to the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, and possess it, and live in it. That you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which you shall bring of your land that the Lord your God gives you, and shall put it in a basket, and shall go to the place which the Lord your God shall choose to place his name there. (Deut. 26:1-2)

    The taking of the first fruits and dedicating them to God is understood. The beginning of any venture has uniqueness, a special quality. The Torah mandates that the first fruits be brought to Jerusalem where they will serve as an impetus for religious expression and experience, where thanks to God may be expressed. The term1 used for the first fruits is Reishit, which is similar to the word Bereishit meaning “in the beginning” (the opening word of the Book of Genesis).

    Rashi commenting on that very first verse in the Torah tells us that the Torah itself is Reishit as are the people of Israel.2 All of these items have uniqueness to them and are therefore linked. There is, however, something else that is called Reishit and this application is somewhat disturbing.

    And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his discourse, and said, “Amalek was the first (reshit) of the nations, but his latter end shall be that of everlasting perdition.” (Numbers 24:20)

    How can Amalek — the very antithesis of Torah and Israel — deserve the same appellation?

    THE AMALEK LINK

    While the essence of the connection requires additional analysis, the use of the term Reishit for Amalek sheds light on the sequence of teachings and provides the link from the end of last week’s Torah portion and the beginning of this week’s. This observation that Amalek, too, is called Reishit links two sections of the Torah which otherwise seem thematically independent.

    Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt. How he met you by the way, and struck at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it. (Deut. 25:17-19)

    And it shall be, when you come in to the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, and possess it, and live in it. That you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which you shall bring of your land that the Lord your God gives you, and shall put it in a basket, and shall go to the place which the Lord your God shall choose to place his name there. (Deut. 26:1-2)

    The juxtaposition of teachings leads us to conclude that there must be a deeper relationship between the first fruits and Amalek the “first nation.”

    Rashi in his comments to Parshat Ki Tetzei gives three explanations to the insidiousness of Amalek:

    The characteristic of the nation of Amalek is its worldview that God does not exist and life is all coincidence.

    Amalek pollutes the world, and is the source of unnatural illegitimate pleasure.

    After the splitting of the sea awed the nations, only Amalek was not afraid. The people of Israel were compared to a boiling cauldron, and Amalek jumped in to cool them off.

    Rabbi Yehuda said: “It is written, Amalek is the first of the nations; but his latter end shall be that he perish for ever. Was, then, Amalek the first of the nations? Were there not many tribes, nations, and peoples in the world before Amalek came? But the meaning is that Amalek was the first nation who feared not to proclaim war against Israel, as it says, and he feared not God; whilst the other nations were filled with fear and trembling before Israel at the time of the Exodus, as it says: The peoples heard and were afraid; trembling took hold of the inhabitants of Pelesheth. In fact, apart from Amalek there was no nation that was not awestruck before the mighty works of the Holy One, blessed be He. Therefore his latter end shall be that he perish for ever.” (Zohar, Exodus 65a)

    AMALEK VS. JETHRO

    Amalek and Jethro stand in stark contrast. Jethro too heard of the amazing happenings and of the terrible punishment decreed for Amalek, and in response made his way to the Hebrew encampment. The Midrash explains the juxtaposition of the end of Parshat Bishalach and the beginning of Parshat Jethro:

    For he said, Because the Lord has sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation. (Exodus 17:16)

    When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moshe, and for Israel his people, and that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. (Exodus 18:1)

    Amalek and Jethro were of the advisers of Pharaoh; but when Jethro beheld that God had wiped out Amalek both from this world and the next, he felt remorse and repented, for first it says, For I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven and then … said he: “The only thing for me to do is to join the God of Israel.” (Midrash Rabbah – Exodus 27:6)

    Significantly, the portion of Jethro contains the story of the Revelation ? the giving of the Torah. The first fruits were brought to Jerusalem on the holiday of Shavuot ? the day of the giving of the Torah.

    While the Torah and Israel represent one type of Reishit, Amalek represents the antithesis, a completely different type of beginning. The Torah and Israel are a manifestation of God’s will – holiness on earth. Amalek represents the opposite, the rejection of God, a world view of coincidence, a pact with impurity and a desire to attack all that is holy.

    Rashi (25:18) cites a tradition taught in the Midrash Tanchuma that when the people of Amalek won in battle they immediately severed the male sexual organ from their victims and threw them heavenward. The very idea of a circumcision that represented a covenant with God was foreign to them. The idea of holiness and purity grated against them and caused this atrocious response.

    PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL BATTLE

    The battle against Amalek is both a physical and spiritual struggle. The Bikkurim ? the first fruits – have a quality to them which allow the defeat of Amalakian philosophy. The individual who sees his produce as the work of God, and gives proper thanks rejects the worldview of coincidence.

    Immediately following the first fruit declaration the Torah continues:

    This day the Lord your God has commanded you to do these statutes and judgments; you shall therefore keep and do them with all your heart, and with all your soul. (Deut 26:16)

    Rashi (26:16) explains the significance of the term “this day” in this context: “Every day should be new for you, as if on that day you were commanded [given the Torah].

    The ability of man to see himself in close proximity to God is the antidote to Amalek. If a person were able to visualize the revelation taking place each and every day, adherence to the word of God would be infinitely easier.3

    Amalek, despite a well-earned reputation, was not the first instigator against God. That distinction belongs to the original serpent in the Garden of Eden.4 The serpent too tried to lead man toward an existence without God. The delusion which he tried to infect man with was the thought that man can be like God, and need not heed the word of God. The serpent and Amalek are one. Each leads a rebellion against God, and is responsible for the spread of evil and the rejection of God.

    In the aftermath of man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, man will now have to work by the sweat of his brow. Now despite the initial victory by the serpent and the perceived distance from God, man is called upon to find God through his labor.

    Later on in history there lived two brothers — Esau was a man of the field, while Jacob remained in the tents. Their realms seemed separate: the secular and the Divine. Jacob remained engaged in spiritual pursuits while his brother Esav was involved in the mundane. However, in this post-Eden world it was decreed that Jacob must become a man of the field as well. His task was to merge the spiritual and the secular. To take the mundane and elevate it into a spiritual context.

    The descendent of Esau, Amalek, continues his was against the spiritual. While the descendent of Jacob, Israel, attempts to merge the two worlds.

    FIRST FRUITS

    Now we may appreciate the commandment of Bikkurim ? the first fruits.

    When the children of Israel entered the land, so close to fulfilling their destiny, the most crucial of questions emerged: Would they follow the legacy of the serpent, of Amalek? Would they see the fruits of their labor independent of God? Or would they bring the fruits to Jerusalem part and parcel of their religious experience?

    An understanding of this issue will shed light on another issue articulated in this week’s Torah portion. Later on, we read about the terrible calamities which will befall the people should they deviate from the word of God. The specific explanation offered by the Torah is:

    Because you served not the Lord your God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things (Deut. 28:47)

    The terms for “abundance” and “all” are rov and kol respectively. These same terms are found in a fascinating discussion between Jacob and Esau.

    After becoming a man of the field Jacob returns to Israel. He meets up with his estranged brother. Jacob offers gifts to Esau ? who declines saying that he has rov, an abundance. Jacob for his part insists that he has everything, kol.

    And Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have to yourself.” And Jacob said, “No, I beg you, if now I have found grace in your sight, then receive my present from my hand; for therefore I have seen your face, as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me. Take, I beg you, my blessing that is brought to you; because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything.” And he urged him, and he took it. (Genesis 33:9-11)

    Rashi points out the difference in speech. While Jacob says that he has everything that he can imagine, Esau says merely that he has enough ? indicating that he is well aware that there is more and he would like to possess it one day.

    The Torah is telling us that when we fail to appreciate the gifts which God gives us, and instead we become fixated on acquiring more and more, we become like Esau. Jacob focuses on what he has and is satisfied. Esau focuses on what he does not have and is never satisfied. This is how Esau produces Amalek who represents misanthropy. When Israel becomes like Amalek then its stay in the Land of Israel will come to an end.

    JOY AND APPRECIATION

    Now we understand the significance of being satisfied with the Bikkurim the sanctification of the first fruits. Even though this is still the beginning of the season and hopefully more produce will follow, even the first fruits should produce joy in the heart of the Jew, when he realizes that all this bounty comes from God.

    As we saw, the offering of first fruits took place on the holiday of Shavuot, the day of the giving of the Torah. For our part we need to view each day as if the Torah is new, fresh, given that day. This type of consciousness is the opposite of the worldview of the serpent and Amalek.

    This was the trait of our forefathers. The Talmud connects the trait of kol with the taste of another world:

    Our Rabbis taught: “There were three to whom the Holy One, blessed be He, gave a foretaste of the future world while they were still in this world, to wit, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham [we know] because it is written of him, [The Lord blessed Abraham] in all, Isaac, because it is written, [And I ate] of all; Jacob, because it is written, [For I have] all. There were three over whom the evil inclination had no dominion, to wit Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, [as we know] because it is written in connection with them, in all, of all, all. (Baba Bathra 17a)

    Because Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob saw themselves as privileged, as possessing all good, they had defeated the evil inclination, that wicked serpent had no power over them. They were able to taste the future world.

    As the children of Israel prepared for their entrance into Land of Israel, they were given a strategy which will allow the stay to be enduring and meaningful. God provided the tools needed to create a society with a God consciousness — a society which will have tents of study and fields of labor.

    But no schism could exist between the two. God must be found in the fields, marketplaces and study-halls. Every day revelation would be experienced. Holiness would permeate the streets and fields. This is what eradication of Amalek is all about. This is the goal of the commandment of the first fruits.

  12. Ki Tavo(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)
    How Tolerance Can Lead to Destruction
    by Rav Noson Weisz

    There are two sets of curses in the Torah. One set is recorded at the end of the Book of Vayikra in Parshat Bechukotai, and the latter part of our Parsha contains the second set.

    The first set of curses is referred to as the Covenant of Sinai, whereas the curses in our Parsha are referred to as the Covenant of Arvot Moav. The names are self-explanatory: the first set of curses is an integral portion of the initial covenant we signed with God at Mt. Sinai; the subject on the table was the agreement to accept the Torah. The curses set forth in our Parsha are the backdrop to another covenant: the subject on the table this time was the delivery of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. They were issued in Arvot Maov at the very end of the forty-year desert sojourn immediately prior to the entry to Israel.

    We have explained the need for curses elsewhere at greater length (see the essay on Parshat Bechukotai). Curses are a necessary part of the covenantal process by definition; the covenants recorded in the Torah constitute legal agreements between God and the Jewish people. These agreements override the natural consequences of behaviors built into the system of the natural world God set up at creation. The covenant substitutes the curses as the consequences of the violation of Torah obligations. Both signatories, God and the Jewish people, agree to adhere to the covenantal obligations and accept the covenantal consequences of violations in place of natural consequences. That is why Jewish history does not fit the theories and models developed by secular historians to explain the history of societies. Arnold Toynbee called us the ‘fossils of history’.

    THE CURSES ARE NON-CONDITIONAL

    Be that as it may, both these sets of curses describe cataclysmic events that will befall the Jewish people as a public entity. They are addressed to the Jewish public rather than to individuals; according to Nachmanides they are firm prophecies that describe real future events; they were never intended to be regarded as contingent possibilities. It was clear to the Jewish people who were informed about these future events in the desert 3,000 years ago that they would inevitably experience these events; they formed a part of their future.

    In line with his approach to the curses as future events, Nachmanides leafs through the pages of Jewish history up to his own times and points out how and when the Jewish people suffered the events described in the curses in different historic eras. His basic thesis: the curses of Parshat Bechukotai foreshadow the destruction of the First Temple and its aftermath, while the curses of our Parsha describe events that occurred during the destruction of the Second Temple and its aftermath.

    Apart from the philosophical problem of predestination versus free will that is presented by such a thesis, the curses present an even deeper philosophical dilemma. Public tragedies are the consequences of public transgressions. Our sense of justice is outraged by the thought of the entire Jewish people having to suffer for the actions of individuals, no matter how numerous. According to principles of elementary justice only public transgressions can provide justification for public punishments. But how is it possible for a people to transgress as a people? Where is the locus of people consciousness? Is there any real content to the concept of a national conscience?

    NUMBERS THAT DON’T ADD UP

    I once heard the following explanation from Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg of blessed memory: the basic concept is derived from a historic incident recorded in the Scriptures.

    The reign of Ahab and Jezebel was one of the most depraved periods of the First Temple era. This infamous royal couple introduced the worship of the idol Baal into the Kingdom of Israel, and established it as the official state religion. Jezebel has been held up as a model of the treacherous woman ever since. See a detailed description of the period in 1 Kings, Chapters 18 and 19. So apparently widespread did this Baal religion become that God informed the Prophet Elijah:

    “But I will leave over in Israel seven thousand people, all the knees that did not kneel to the Baal and every mouth that did not kiss it.” (1 Kings 19:18)

    In 2 Kings Chapter 10, we learn of the ascension of Jehu to the throne of Israel following the death of Ahab’s son, and the story is told how this same Jehu destroyed all the worshippers of the Baal. His stratagem: he publicly announced that he would dedicate his reign to the worship of the Baal to an even greater degree than Ahab. As part of the ceremonies of his inauguration he proclaimed a holiday in honor of the Baal and summoned all the worshippers of the Baal from all the corners of Israel to attend a major feast. We are told that the entire gathering fit into a single building. He then surrounded the building with eighty guards and instructed them to kill everyone who attended the gathering on their way out. Apparently all the worshippers of the Baal were able to assemble within the confines of a single building and eighty guards constituted a sufficient force to kill them all.

    The numbers simply don’t add up. God informs Elijah that there are only seven thousand people uninfected by Baal worship, whose mouths did not kiss the Baal, and yet from a population of at least several million, Jehu only manages to scrape together a single building-full of Baal worshippers. How can we explain this glaring discrepancy?

    Rabbi Weinberg explained that the answer is to be found in the concept of social tolerance.

    THE IMPLICATIONS OF SOCIAL SANCTION

    Let us present a simple metaphor to explain his thesis. In our day secular society sanctions abortions as legal. While studies show that the vast majority of people consider it morally wrong to abort unborn children – many consider it murder – secular society has enshrined the right of those who choose to abort to execute this choice without suffering any adverse social consequences. It is therefore fair to say that secular society finds the practice of abortion morally acceptable as a society – we certainly do not condone murder – and could not in good conscience object if everyone chose to abort their babies.

    It is irrelevant that the majority of individuals consider the practice of abortion immoral. The protection of the defenseless is an acknowledged public responsibility. If the legal system withdraws such protection from unborn babies, then society as a group sanctions the destruction. According to the prevailing social norm it is obviously okay to kill unborn babies.

    In the same way, a Jewish society that tolerates the establishment of Baal worship as the official state religion is justly regarded by God as a society of idol worshippers. Anyone who reads the Torah must surely realize that the elimination of idol worship is a serious Jewish social responsibility. If people have the legal right to serve the Baal without suffering any detrimental social consequences then it must be acceptable for everyone to do so. The fact that the number of idol worshippers is relatively few is a matter of circumstance, and not due to the social ethic.

    That is how the numbers can be reconciled. There were only seven thousand people who stood up against the idea of idol worship and refused to tolerate it and give it social sanction. They were forced to go into hiding because of their voluble protest against the social acceptability of the practice. Everyone else silently tolerated it.

    LIMITS TO TOLERANCE

    In fact, the issues involved should be familiar to all of us who follow current events. Many serious intellectuals have argued for years that we should legalize prostitution and drugs as many European countries have done. The arguments in favor sound quite reasonable and compelling.

    The demand for these services is endemic to all modern societies. There is a lot of organization involved in providing the service. The people have to be recruited, the drugs manufactured etc. When they are placed outside the pale they necessarily fall under the control of organizecrime. Criminals charge unconscionable prices, they never worry about health and safety and as they have no legal means of enforcing the payment of debts, unacceptable levels of violence are an inevitable aspect of all illegal industries. As there is no way to effectively stamp out the demand, surely we would be wiser to bring these activities under social control by legalizing and licensing the industries involved.

    Despite the apparently compelling logic there seems little likelihood that either of these activities will be legalized in the near future. We are even unwilling to legalize marijuana. Why not? Are we all so prudish and unintelligent?

    The answer is obvious. Society is not willing to legalize these activities because it is not ready to afford them moral sanction. We want to state clearly and unequivocally that these activities are evil and morally unacceptable. We are not ready to contemplate living in a society where we must tolerate everyone who partakes of drugs and employs the services of prostitutes as normal everyday citizens of good standing. We realize that legalizing these activities amounts to condoning them and declaring ourselves ready to accept everyone engaging in them. We want them to be associated with criminal activity. Just as drugs and prostitution remain beyond the pale of what society is ready to recognize and accept as ‘normal’ behaviors, by implication it is clear that whatever is legalized is condoned and tolerated on some level.

    SOCIAL NORMS AND CAREER CHOICES

    The idea of social morality and social accountability is beginning to emerge. We are not accountable for the way individuals behave as long as their activities are not the social norm. It isn’t always practically possible to force people to live morally. But God does hold societies accountable for the modes of behavior they sanction as acceptable even if they are only practiced by minorities. If it is legal and acceptable there is no reason other than distaste why everyone isn’t indulging; society does not consider it wrong.

    And yet, this is still only a surface picture; this presentation only covers the civic aspect of the issues. The Torah is primarily a spiritual document and the spiritual implications extend much deeper. Among human beings the social norm and the social evaluation of desirability often serves as a substitute for serious thought. Very few of us devote much thought to what we ought to be doing with our lives. Most of us are content to take the social norm as a reliable guide.

    For example: surveys indicate that the best minds in the Western world are currently being invested in business related careers. Imagine asking the talented person who applies to business school why he chose a career in business over medicine, science or education. He would likely answer that he picked the career that is likely to bring him the highest income. Imagine asking him next, “why is the high income so important? After all, the alternative careers also make enough money to live on a decent standard, so what about idealism? What about spiritual satisfaction?” He is likely to respond, “What do you mean? That is what is considered success; I am merely aiming for a successful life.” If we were then to ask, “Why do you consider a successful career in business a successful life?” Nine out of ten people will answer, “That’s what everyone says.” If we finally ask, “Yes, but how do you know that ‘everyone’ is right?” Our respondent is likely to get impatient and answer, “How can everyone be wrong?”

    A society that honors scholarship will produce many scholars, one that honors social service and gives tribute to people who dedicate themselves to the promotion of social justice will develop many idealists, whereas a society that worships money and power will drive its most talented minds to become MBA’s. Human beings crave recognition and will conduct their lives according to the prevailing social ethic. You can draw the profile of a society by studying the lives of the people with the greatest potential; the ones with the greatest talent who are the freest to make career choices. The careers and lifestyles of such people accurately reflect the prevailing social norms.

    MASS DESTRUCTION

    The curses outlined in the Torah describe future eras characterized by intense individual suffering as well as the mass destruction of Jewish communities. Both sets of curses end with a guarantee of Jewish survival and refer to the eventual redemption. God has formally committed Himself to the survival of the Jewish people and the eventual coming of the Messiah despite all the suffering and destruction the Torah predicts.

    Nevertheless, every instance of mass destruction in Jewish history wiped out the existing social structure that the Jewish people had erected permanently. Individual Jews survived and repeatedly reconstructed new Jewish societies on the ashes of the old. But Jewish institutions, the public expressions of Jewish society, were destroyed utterly. God’s commitment to Jewish survival evidently cannot be extended to social structures.

    When the First Temple ? the ultimate public expression of the Jewish social norms prevailing at the time – was destroyed, it was gone for good. The second Temple was not a replacement. The Shechinah, God’s Presence, never rested on the second Temple; there was no prophecy in the second Temple era, and miraculous events, which were the hallmark of the first Temple era vanished from the world. The majority of the Jewish people never returned from exile and elected to remain abroad in Babylon. Jewish society was reorganized and rebuilt, but in an entirely different mode. It was not a continuation of the previous Jewish world; it started again from scratch.

    The same applies to the destruction of the second Temple, the subject of the curses of this week’s Torah portion according to Nachmanides. We know more about the details of this tragedy; the mass destruction wreaked on Jewish society by the Roman Empire is described in horrendous detail in the works of Josephus Flavius. The Temple disappeared for good and organized Jewish national life in Israel came to an end for 2,000 years. We became the Wandering Jew.

    This was certainly the case in the most recent destruction experienced by the Jewish people. The Holocaust suffered by our people a mere half-century ago left no surviving Jewish institutions at all. As a people we were compelled to rebuild all our institutions, both religious and secular from the ground up.

    INDIVIDUAL ETHICS AND SOCIAL NORMS

    Only prophets speaking in God’s name would presume to explain the precise reasons for the occurrence of the horrendous events of Jewish history foretold in the curses; that is certainly not our intention here. But it seems clear that none of these tragedies were the sole responsibility of the individual Jews who were alive at the time and who suffered their effects. Every event of Divinely ordained mass destruction is brought about by the gradual crumbling and disintegration of the social ethic, an evolving process that gradually unfolds over several generations.

    The Talmud (Yuma 9b) tells us that the commission of the cardinal sins of idolatry, licentiousness and bloodshed caused the destruction of the First Temple, while the destruction of the Second Temple was brought about by groundless hatred between fellow Jews. Each of these structures stood for 500 years and it was not only the generation that experienced the destruction who were guilty of these crimes.

    Indeed, in the case of the destruction of the First Temple, it seems difficult to believe that the last generation to see it standing was more culpable than the generation of Ahab and Jezebel who lived centuries earlier. If anything, the writings of the prophets attest to the fact that the later generations were better than the earlier ones. The point is that the social fabric continued to deteriorate. The social tolerance for the commission of the cardinal sins increased over time.

    On the level God connected with the Jewish people in the first Temple era, a social ethic that could not tolerate the practice of idolatry was indispensato the relationship. Individuals are responsible for the commission of sins, but the entire Jewish people is held accountable for the prevailing social ethic. When the tolerance of idolatry reached such proportions that it was no longer acceptable to ostracize people for practicing idolatry, in terms of social norms Jewish society could justifiably be termed a society of idol worshippers, even if the actual practitioners were relatively few. God connects with the Jewish people as a nation, not with particular individuals. When the social norm deteriorated He could no longer maintain His connection with the Jewish people; the result was the destruction of the Temple and the social fabric that was built around it.

    THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE RIGHTEOUS

    This concept is clearly set forth in the following passage of the Talmud:

    Rabbi Zeira said to Rabbi Shimon: “The Rabbi [you] should reprove these officials of the House of the Exilarch for their transgressions.” He replied that they would not accept his reproof. Rabbi Zeira thereupon said: “Even if they do not accept it the rabbi should nevertheless reprove them. For Rabbi Acha bar Chanina said, ‘A good decree never issued from the mouth of God and was then retracted for a bad one except in this matter.'”

    It is written: God said to the angel, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and mark the letter ‘tav’ on the foreheads of the people who sigh and moan over all the abominations that are done in its midst.” (Ezekiel 9:4) God said to the angel Gabriel: “Go and mark a ‘tav’ of ink on the foreheads of the righteous, so that the angels of destruction should have no power over them; and on the foreheads of the wicked a ‘tav’ of blood, so that the angels of destruction should have power over them.” Said the Attribute of Justice before God, “Master of the Universe what is the difference between these and these?” God replied, “These are completely righteous and these are completely wicked.” Justice than argued, “But the righteous had the opportunity to protest and they didn’t protest!” God replied, “It is revealed and known to Me that if they had protested, the sinners would not have accepted it from them.” Justice then argued, “If it is revealed before You, is it revealed to them?”

    The Talmud concludes by quoting verses that demonstrate that not only was Justice victorious in its argument, but that the destruction began with the righteous, thus demonstrating the reversal of the good decree. (Shabbat, 55a)

    But why didn’t the righteous protest? After all God Himself testified that they were totally righteous. One of the commandments of the Torah is to chastise your friend up to a hundred times if necessary when you see him doing something wrong. How could God call these people totally righteous when they were not fulfilling this commandment?

    The answer once again is the social ethic.

    WHAT IF NO ONE WILL LISTEN?

    The righteous knew that the people who were practicing abominations believed that they were doing nothing wrong. Society taught them that what they were doing was legal and fell within the confines of socially acceptable behavior. Our treatment of homosexuals today provides an excellent model for the behavior of the righteous. As a percentage of society the ‘gay’ community is tiny. Nevertheless, a person cannot be discriminated against in any way for being ‘gay’. You cannot fire a ‘gay’ teacher. You cannot refuse an application for adoption by a ‘gay’ parent. So the righteous thought to themselves, “What is the point of protesting, they certainly will not listen. What they are doing is legal! It is against the law to chastise them!” And they were right! God Himself testified that they would not listen! So why should they have protested?

    We must turn to the social ethic for the answer. The only way to alter the social ethic is by protest. For even when people do not listen, when a good man expresses an opinion it makes an impact. If enough good men raise their voices in protest and object to something that is wrong, eventually the media covers their protests; the subject of their protest becomes a matter of public debate; they often succeed in altering the social ethic and changing the world.

    CHANGING THE WORLD

    Whoever was alive in the 1960’s remembers the Civil Rights movement. Dedicated, righteous people, genuinely pained by the oppression of minorities marched and protested until their voice was finally heard. Their protests went against the social norm that had been in place for a hundred years; and yet it uprooted and replaced that standard entirely. The doctrine advanced by the protesters ‘blowing in the wind’ is the politically correct position of today and is universally accepted as being right.

    The month of Elul is not only a time for individual repentance but also for the elevation of the public conscience. The Holocaust should have taught all of us that it is impossible for a Jew to secede from the Jewish people. In times of public travail, we stand and fall together. Just as Elul is a time of introspection about one’s private life, it should prompt a re-examination of our connection to the Jewish public. How much do I care about the Jewish people? How much do I identify with their fate? How am I contributing to the raising of the Jewish social ethic? Public apathy triggers the curses, and brings on the mass destructions that affect all of us in the long run. We should wake up and smell the coffee now.

  13. Netziv: Davar B’Ito
    by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein

    Parshas Vayeilech
    Seeing Double1

    This people will rise up and stray after the gods of the foreigners of the Land…and it will forsake Me and annul My covenant…My anger will flare against it on that day and I will forsake them…and many evils and distresses will encounter it…So now, write this song for yourselves…so that this song shall be for Me a witness against the Bnei Yisrael….For I shall bring them to the Land…it will eat, be sated, and grow fat, and turn to gods of others…it will provoke Me and annul my covenant. It shall be that when many evils and distresses come upon it, then this song shall speak up as a witness.

    A summary of these psukim might go like this. Hashem shares His playbook: “Warn the Bnei Yisrael that they will start sinning after coming into the Land. I will get angry, and terrible things will happen to them. When they do, they should turn to the shirah of Haazinu for some context. Finish speech. Repeat.” The last verses seem to do nothing more than offer a second round of the pattern laid out by the first!

    Of course there is no repetition in the Torah. This remarkable parshah predicts the very different patterns of idolatrous behavior at two future times: during the reign of the Shoftim, and during the epoch of the evil kings of Yisrael and Yehudah. Looking carefully at the many differences between these two iterations of coming gloom and doom will expose the key elements that separate them.

    We can best understand the difference by analogizing to an errant wife, or in our case, to two errant wives. We do not pick the analogy on a whim. Rather, we follow the lead of the many places that our prophets liken the relationship between Klal Yisrael and HKBH to that of a woman and her spouse.

    The first unfaithful wife we will consider deeply loves her husband. He loves her, and provides well for her. He married her, despite the fact that her early influences left much to be desired. He knew that she enjoyed previous closeness with unsavory characters, including people of promiscuous leanings and violent criminals. He tried to protect the relationship with his wife by creating distance between her and the company she used to keep. Not only does he urge her to stay away from the negative influences of her past, but he cautions her to ensure that distance by making that distance a matter of her constant attention.

    She did not do a very good job of focusing on keeping those people at arm’s length. In time, she was drawn after them and their life style, and got involved in an isolated – but serious – affair.

    Her husband found out, and was deeply hurt. He distanced himself from her, physically and emotionally. Moreover, he even suspended the support with which he had previously supplied her. She became more desperate for companionship and support, and therefore continued her illicit relationships, albeit against her better judgment and true wishes. She longed, in fact, to return to her husband. Had she acted prudently, she would have begged forgiveness after her first trespass, throwing herself on her husband’s mercy, arguing that she should not be judged nor scored for a single, unplanned indiscretion that she deeply regretted. Instead, she found herself multiplying her infidelities as her husband moved away from her.

    This mashal accurately conveys the state of affairs during the time of the Shoftim/ Judges. The Bnei Yisrael did not completely purge the Land of the seven evil peoples who populated it, disregarding the repeated warnings to them concerning the toxicity of their influence. That influence led them to some foolish experimentation with the deities of those peoples. Our psukim refer to this as “straying,” because it was just that – a non-malicious aberration. She “strayed,” but not in a deliberate manner that meant her shifting her true affections to another.

    Hashem’s reaction was to withdraw from them somewhat. He withheld much of the gift of prophecy from them. “The word of Hashem was scarce in those days; vision was not widespread[2].” (Radak: There were no prophets in Israel.) To substitute for the previous spiritual elevation, they sought connection elsewhere. They began to practice idolatry on their own, unrelated to the direct influence of the seven nations of the Canaan.

    Things were very different during the times of spiritual decline in the First Temple period. We should analogize to a different kind of adulteress. Her husband displayed excessive, boundless love towards her. He expected, however, that her behavior would conform to his expressed needs and expectations. He treated her very well; this led to complacency on her part with the “good life” she was provided. She sought to free herself of the restrictions of her life style. She could think of no other way than to cause her husband to hate her, and therefore divorce her! She foolishly reasoned that if freed from the requirements of her husband, she could take up with another man who would provide for her in a similar manner, but without imposing boundaries and restrictions. She deliberately set out to make herself so unsuited to her husband, that he would have little choice but to rid himself of her. She purposefully acted in an abominable manner, behaving in ways she understood w ere morally wrong and unsuitable to her station. Initially, her husband refused to be rebuffed by her actions, and remained devoted to her, constantly pursuing her love. As her moral decay continued, she eventually reached a point at which she indeed became detestable. He banished her from his home, distancing her as much as possible. Life became miserable for her, but she was far too embarrassed to attempt to return to her spouse. She believed that she would never be able to return again.

    Bnei Yisrael fared comfortably during the days of the first beis hamikdosh. Their material success was matched by the availability spiritual gifts, like the ruach hakodesh that was in ample supply even during the reigns of some of the evil kings like Achav. Having life too good, however, led them to chafe from the restrictions of the Torah. They attempted to free themselves from its obligations by pursuing avodah zarah. They foolishly decided that if they could get G-d to abandon them, they could do quite well for themselves working within the system of fixed laws governed by the subordinates appointed by Hashem. It seemed to work for other nations; they saw no reason why it would not work for them. Once they embarked on such a path, they also convinced themselves that there was no turning back. G-d would surely refuse them! She “strayed,” but not in a deliberate manner that meant her shifting her true affections to another.

    Two women – and two stories of tragic error in undermining a relationship, and in coping with the aftermath to disloyalty. The most important take-away impression remains the commitment of HKBH to the relationship – of abandonment that is at most transitory, always for the purpose of restoring the earlier mutual love.

    1. Based on Haamek Davar, Devarim 31:16
    2. Shmuel1 3:1

  14. Gittin 68a-b: Demons and the Temple

    Our Gemara turns its attention to an aggadic discussion, one that encompasses both issues of demonology and medicines prescribed by the Sages.

    As interpreted by the Gemara, the passage in Kohelet (2:8) describes how King Solomon tells of the pomp and ceremony that went on in his realm – there were singers with musical instruments, pools and bathhouses and – according to the Sages in Israel – great chariots. The Babylonian Sages interpreted the end of the pasuk (verse) as referring to demons, which is understood by the Gemara as being essential for the building of Solomon’s Temple. In I Melakhim (6:7) we learn that the entire beit ha-mikdash was built out of full stones that had not been split by normal means using metal implements. Rather it was a miraculous shamir that was able to divide the stone. (The shamir, a worm, was also used by Moshe to cut the gems for the High Priest’s breastplate. According to Massekhet Avot, it was one of the 10 items created by God during twilight on the sixth day of creation.)

    When King Solomon searched for the shamir he captured a male and female demon in an attempt to get them to inform him of its location. They referred him to Ashmedai, king of the demons. The Gemara describes how King Solomon sent Benayahu ben Yehoiada who tracked down Ashmedai, who informed him that the shamir had been entrusted to the tarnegola bara – the “wild rooster” – the bird that we know as a hoopoe. Benayahu found a wild rooster’s nest filled with chicks and covered it with glass. When the mother came to feed her young, finding the nest covered she dropped the shamir on the glass to open it. This was Benayahu’s opportunity to secure the shamir for use in building the Temple.

    Obviously stories like this one are difficult to accept at face value, and in Sefer Pardes Rimonim we find that that Rabbi Shem-Tov ibn Shaprut offers an explanation that views this story as allegory, and that the various demons, birds, etc. all refer to philosophers and Sages who spent their time in seclusion in the desert contemplating matters of secrets and mysticism. According to the Midrash Shlomo, the shamir should also be understood metaphorically, as a means by which one accomplished certain difficult tasks.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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