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  • Very hard to give up the Power and the Glory

    by Rabbi Avi Matmon

    The cruelty of war brings out the ugliness in man. After World War I ended, Soviet Russia, hoping to advance through the Baltic States in order to bring about a Socialist revolution in Germany, attacked in November 1918 and conquered three-quarters of Estonia's territory. They imprisoned many of the top-ranking officers to the lowly soldiers of the army, sending them to a favorite Soviet Hell spot, Siberia. Many of the top-ranking officers would be forced and subjected to clean toilets and perform demeaning janitorial jobs in these work camps. It was a military tactic, and quite effective at that, of the Russians to demoralizes them.

    It was there that a Jew, an inmate in this horrific camp who survived the hell, who was able to tell over an incident that occurred in the prison barracks a story which is equal parts peculiar and extraordinary. The Jew, a light sleeper, would notice one of the Latvian prisoners get up in the middle of the night and reach out to a duffle bag under his bed. He then would put on his old general's uniform that was folded neatly in the bag. It was a sight to see and, frankly, comically weird, as this prisoner of war walked to the mirror, decked out in full uniform, and saluting. He would mumble as if he is giving orders to his subordinates. This would occur nightly. The Jew once had an opportunity to ask this particular prisoner about his midnight antics. The ex-general replied firmly. "Here I'm in prison but this is not the reality. The reality is I am a general; this is who I am. I am not a janitor." The prisoner, the ex-general, cannot accept his new status. It was obviously a tremendous down grade of the respect honor and importance of what he was.

    In this week's parsha, the Israelites are slaves to the Egyptians. The Israelites were persecuted and were over worked to say the least. They were forced to work even on Shabbat until Moshe intervened and persuaded Pharaoh for a day of rest "to rejuvenate" during the week. As we begin the book of Shemot and find our ancestors in an unfortunate predicament, we disclose something very unusual and against, for the most part, human nature. G-d proclaims that the redeemer is finally here and it's Moshe. He will pilot the Hebrews out of Egypt into the promise land. There is only one problem. The leader of the Jewish people is none other than his older brother Aharon. Well, guess who has to step down.

    Interestingly, what we see from the pasuk is quite extraordinary on Aharon's part. Not only does he step down and gives over the mantle to Moshe, he is SAMEACH BEHLIBO -he is happy in his heart. The narrative probes Aharon's heart and we discover not only he's okay with it but he is ecstatic. However, it seems Aharon is clearly downsizing his ability. To give up power for the sake of the greater cause is extraordinary.

    My articles are generally "feel good" material about our heritage; I hope I infuse an entertaining educational publication. Besides that, it's also about self-improvement and how to better ourselves as individuals as well as how can we improve ourselves on a national level. The goal is to accelerate in one direction and that is up. To downgrade our abilities is not an option. We are born with a sea of opportunities and that has to be maximized. We shall not allow anything to hamper our potential!

    However, we learn a powerful lesson about life from Aharon. For it is quite common that one has to downgrade his status in this world. Although, it is bold and politically incorrect, a writer's death seal - chas vesholom - is to write about reversal of fortune. We tend to gravitate toward the rock 'em sock 'em go get 'em positive outlook that one wants and is exited to read. However, I felt compelled to write on this important topic because this is reality! It's important to know. There are times where we have to paddle back with the hope to eventually move forward. Or maybe, there is no more moving forward and the test is to deal with the predicament. Perhaps facing setbacks is growth.

    It pained me to see many of my Jewelry comrades after enjoying a great run of success, especially during the Obama Presidency, having a reversal of fortunes. They would give me a tour, with pride, of their big luxurious offices, with many employees, only after a span of 5 to 10 years, to let go of the majority of them and move to smaller confines. Unfortunately, this is quite common!

    Rabbi Ginsberg spoke at the funeral of Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt'l and he said something quite astonishing which I will never forget. He said that, towards the end of his time in this world, Rav Henoch confided in him and told him the most difficult decision in his life was to step down as head of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim. Although he was not well and it was evident that he was no longer able to go through the daily rigorous work load of a Rosh Yeshiva - Head Task Master, and even though he handpicked his successors himself, he found it agonizing to step down. Yes, it's true that he nurtured and built the Yeshiva every step of the way and made it into formidable Torah institution. Nevertheless, he had a hard time pulling the trigger. Here is a giant in Torah who instilled in his students, it was the motto of the Yeshiva, to refine their character, yet he had difficulty giving up the power. It should be noted that many Torah leaders were not able to pull the trigger and pick a successor in their lifetime and their followers suffered the consequences. We learn how downright challenging it is to give up power. It is absolutely tough to say, "I'm not the go to guy anymore!" Is the reason a case of maintaining honor?

    It would be unprecedented and illogical to say that the reason why many of our leaders and great Torah G-d fearing people are reluctant to give up power for honor sake. There is a mindboggling Midrash that will have one raise his eye brow on the transition of power between Moshe and his successor Yehoshua.

    The Midrash states: "Moshe said to God: Master of the World, let Yehoshua take my crown and I shall live. God said to him: Act with him as he has acted with you. Moshe immediately went to the house of Yehoshua... They went out, and Moshe walked on the left of Yehoshua... At that time, Moshe cried and said: Better a thousand deaths than one jealousy." (Devarim Rabbah 9:19).

    In other words, Moshe asked Yehoshua what G-d told you in the prophecy. Yehoshua replied I cannot disclose that information. Moshe cried out that a thousand deaths would be better than to live longer and not be the leader. There are those who say that Moshe was not condemned to die in the desert - rather that he could not be the leader of the people in the Land. He had the opportunity to enter the Land as a "citizen", but preferred death to the jealousy of living under Yehoshua's rule. Moshe was considered Mr. Humble par excellence. How can he not see his loyal student take over? Why was it so difficult? Could it be that Moshe was seeking honor? Was holding on to power so difficult to let go? Was he that power hungry?

    Another bizarre incident where we find holding on to power is King Shaul. A request from King Shaul to the Prophet Shmuel. Shaul had been berated by the Prophet Shmuel for not listening to G-d command. He was then informed that G-d had become disgusted with him and would terminate his reign. Shaul then requested, "Show me honor before the elders of my people and before Israel" (l Shmuel 15:30)

    Of what use is this meaningless honor? Had he not been informed that he lost his regal stature? This from Shaul the prime example of humility, of whom Shmuel testified, you are very small in your eyes (l Shmuel 15:17) who hid in the kitchen to avoid being chosen as king! Before he was anointed he refused the position. The answer is that Shaul understood one's urgent need to retain some remnant of his former regality in order to slow his descent. His plea to Shmuel is not to abolish the decree but to slow its effect so that he not becomes easy prey for his evil inclination. He begged Shmuel to cushion his fall so he would not become shattered by the impact of the terrible news. We learn that power has an enticing element. After Shaul retained the Kingdom and all its glory he realized that power is very gratifying. One has to ask gratifying in what sense. One must be forced to say that perhaps the reason wants to retain power stems not from selfish negative intentions.

    A number of weeks ago, we read the story of Chanukah and about our heroes, the Maccabees. G-d had mercy on the Jews and our heroes prevailed. We all have that sense of pride of what Mattisyahu and his sons accomplished. It was a magnificent display of courage, belief in G-d and national pride; Kol HaKavod to them. Little is written about the Maccabees. Surprisingly, only one side of a page is written about them in Tractate Shabbat, while a whole tractate and a Megila is dedicated to the holiday of Purim. Why is that so?

    In the Torah, nothing is coincidence. There is always a reason why things are the way they are. Chanukah always falls out on the week when we read about the story of Yehuda and how he earned the right to be the leader of the brothers. The bracha of our patriarch Yaacov not only crowns Yehuda as royalty, but his descendants as well. The kingdom is only to come out from Yehuda. Only under the extreme dire situations should Israel alter this tradition.

    Unfortunately, such was the case with the Maccabees; there was nobody from the tribe of Yehuda at the time worthy to be King. Therefore, Shimon, one of the remaining sons of Mattisyahu, became King temporarily. However, what started out as a noble gesture, even though the original Maccabees were as sincere as one can get, their descendants were not. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once again, we see that it is very hard to let go of power and kavod, especially when the high position is passed down from generation to generation, and one feels it is mine to inherit.

    Our sages informed us that whoever says they are descendants of the Maccabees are terribly mistaken. Because they hung onto the kingdom longer than they were supposed to, all the descendants were wiped out. This was the curse, for they had no business to hang onto the kingdom longer than they did, for the kingdom belongs only to Yehuda. It is evident that they just could not let go of the power. The Maccabees, by hanging on went into a self-destructive mode and are no longer.

    Perhaps, one can derive an answer from a fundamental principle that we find in our holy books. The Torah states that humanity was created in the image of G-d - B'Tzelem Elokim. What is it in our nature that is G-d-like? Rashi explains that we are like G-d in that we have the ability to understand and discern. Maimonides points out that the Hebrew words translated as "image" and "likeness" in Bereshit 1:27 do not refer to the physical form of a thing. The word for "image" in Bereshit 1,27 is "Tzelem", which refers to the nature or essence of a thing, as in Psalms 73:20, Maimonides elaborates that by using our intellect, we are able to perceive things without the use of our physical senses, an ability that makes us like G-d, who perceives without having physical senses.

    It is our soul that is labeled "Tzelem". For this reason, we are always startled when we find out a person dies, even if the relationship was strictly acquaintance status. Our soul is eternal-Godly and cannot bear to see the body cease to exist.

    As we take a step further, there are G-dly traits that we have been incorporated with that we gravitate towards. G-d is MALCHUT-kingship and therefore we're inclined to be attracted to leadership-authoritative roles. We yearn at the possibility of reaching and holding on to that position for when reached, we feel unlimited power, similar to G-d. Humans have a drive to rule; power it is very attractive. How many of us look in the mirror and pretend we are it, the captain of the basketball team, head CEO, Rosh Yeshiva. This is Tzelem Elokim - G-dly trait.

    So, it is perfectly normal to have this trait and it is perfectly normal to have that agonizing reaction. Nevertheless, it has to be contained somewhat. We learn from our great Sages "Everything in moderation". "Perhaps", Rabbi Asher Hertzberg suggest, "the remedy to contain the trait of pursuit and hanging on for too long of power, is by having another perspective of Shabbat. The Torah hints by referring to Shabbat as Malchut-kingship. Why is Shabbat called Malchut? G-d said, "do not work on Shabbat". Why don't we work? Because G-d said so. By virtue of Shabbat we are humbled and abandon, for the most part our quest for power. The message of Shabbat is that we relent to one King, one Boss, one Authority and that of course is G-d. We relinquish the controls to the master of the Universe.

    In Egypt, we were slaves we were worked to the bones. We cleaned toilets and did all the most humiliating work a slave performs. However, the Israelites kept three things. They kept their Jewish names; they kept their clothes; they kept their language. This was their dignity. Those three things were their uniforms similarly to the Latvia General; just like him, we preserved our reality.

    Shabbat Shalom
    Rabbi Avi Matmon

    This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi's Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l, Berrel Wien, Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus, Yitzchak Etshalom.

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  • Band Of Brothers

    by Rabbi Avi Matmon

    Rabbi Yissachar Frand relates an article. Major Jered Spencer, United States Army, graduate of West Point, wrote an Op Ed article in the New York Times. In the military there is a concept called band of brothers, it refers to soldiers who are in the same unit who fight together, eat together, sleep together, laugh together, and cry together. The bond is so closely knit that they become willing to risk their lives for their fellow soldiers. Anyone who ever saw the old "Combat" or "Rat Patrol" series knows the cohesiveness and respect each one has for his fellow in the unit. It doesn't matter if one is in the Israeli, American, or whatever army unit in the world, the "band of brothers" concept is real. Spencer was in Iraq in 2003 and in another tour of duty in 2008, and he noticed a profound change in cohesion of his unit in those five years. These are some notes that he conveyed that the reader might find intriguing.

    "I had forty men in combat in Iraq. We practically lived and slept in our vehicles. We ate together; we experienced missions together. The only real contact we had with the outside world was an occasional letter or infrequent phone calls. At that time, cell phones have not really arrived. When I returned in 2008, by this time our living quarters were fully equipped with 24-hour internet service and we had purchased cell phones from the Iraqis. Facebook was taking off and changing social media. Soldiers spent hours and hours on the computer lab, posting to their Facebook wall and sending messages to their friends. Astonishingly, this new burst of modern technology had a terrible effect on the cohesion of the group. They would criticize each other more often. I saw them arguing on what decisions to make. We went from a band of brothers to a band of tweeters."

    The 'band of brothers' concept has been established since war began. It has been a full proof signature act of brotherhood that ever existed. The goal is to focus on comradery, humanity one for all and all for one. What happened? How can one get so unfocused? How can this group unravel? There seems to be doubt cast in the relationship with their fellow comrades-in-arms. The focus on bringing men together to perform kindness to each other is gone. The drive and focus for the goal of brotherly love has been diluted.

    It was perhaps the single greatest collective failure of leadership in the Torah. Ten of the spies whom Moses had sent to spy out the land came back with a report calculated to demoralize the nation. "We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large ... We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are ... The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height ... We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them." (Num. 13: 27-33)

    This was nonsense, and they should have known it. They had left Egypt, the greatest empire of the ancient world, after a series of plagues that brought that great country to its knees. They had crossed the seemingly impenetrable barrier of the Red Sea. They had fought and defeated the Amalekites, a ferocious warrior nation. They had even sung, along with their fellow Israelites, a song at the Sea that contained the words: "The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away." (Ex. 15: 14-15)
    They should have known that the people of the land were afraid of them, not the other way around. How and why did they stray off the plan? They were riding high, steamrolling into Eretz Yisrael. The land of "milk and honey", here we come; this was the rallying cry, the focus throughout the exodus. How did they get off course? Furthermore, even more bizarre, this week's parsha tell an additional story of the Mapilim. (14:44) After the sin of the spies, G-d decreed that the generation would die in the desert and they won't enter Eretz Yisrael. A group of people known as the Mapilim decided they would go to Israel regardless.

    Rashi explains {Mapilim} implies force. These people made themselves strong and stubborn and they decided to go to the land with or without permission from G-d. Essentially, they were sinning in the reverse way. At first, when G-d told them to go, the Jews were apprehensive and scared, then when G-d took away the option, now, all of a sudden, they have the strong urge. Moshe said, "Why are you going against G-d decree; it will not succeed. Do not go up because G-d is not in your midst, lest you will be smitten before your enemies..."

    But they tried to go to the Holy land anyway. The verse tells us (14:45) "Amalek and Cana'an who live on the mountains went down and smote them." These verses are surprising. The previous day, everyone was afraid to go to the land, on the next day they were courageous and fearless. How can we explain this? How did they change their stance so quickly?

    The Chasam Sofer says the Mapilim were misguided tzadikim. Their focus was de-focused. He proves it from a Gemara in Shabbat. (96-97) How did Tzelafchad die? Reb Yehuda ben Beisera said he was one of the Mapilim and had good intentions. They wanted to repent and couldn't bear that they lost the opportunity to go to Israel. Interestingly, now we attach a prequel to the story of his daughters. Tzelafchad's daughter wanted to claim the right of inheritance of their father in the land of Israel. (Tzelafchad had no sons to inherit him.)

    In order to understand our problem, I say our problem for it haunts each one of us today, we have to go to the source. The nachash-snake was able to seduce Eve into eating from the fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil. By eating from this tree, Adam and Eve brought the yetzer hara-Satan into themselves. This means that they now constituted of a combination of the good that emanated from their pure soul, and the evil that came from the yetzer hara-Satan.

    The result of this was that they were now subject to the main weapon of the yetzer hara; confusion and with this confusion he will always attempt to un-focus the focus. When a person knows that something is clearly wrong, he will not do it. The yetzer hara's tactic is to convince him that this sin is actually not a sin at all, in fact it is the correct thing to do. Furthermore, he will convince him that his good deed was not as good after all.

    The Netivot Shalom (the Slonimer Rebbe) writes the following idea in his book. Every night we say in the Aravit prayer: "Remove the Satan from in front of us and from behind us". It is obvious to all of us what the purpose of the "Satan in front of us" is. Many times, we are on the way to do something positive and we find it becomes very difficult to accomplish the task. This is due to the "Satan in front of us" who tries to prevent us from doing mitzvot. In the most famous act of trust and love towards the Master of the Universe, the Sages tell us that the Satan wanted to get in the way of Avraham Avinu and not let him accomplish the Akedah [binding] of Yitzchak.

    But what is the significance of the prayer to remove the "Satan from behind us"? How can there be a "Satan behind us" if the mitzvah has already been completed? The Netivot Shalom explains that sometimes after we have already completed a mitzvah, or passed a nisayon [spiritual challenge] things don't work out the way we thought they would and we begin to "second guess" our righteous acts. We wonder whether or not we did the right thing. The Satan never gives up. He may lose battle after battle, but he does not give up the war so easily.

    What does the person think? What do the people around him think? This is the idea of "Remove Satan from behind us." After the good deed is done, the Satan does not want you to be at peace with it. Even if the person was not contemplating going back to where he came from spiritually, nonetheless, it is no longer the same. It is with a regret and remorse that one decided to do the right thing and become religious.
    The Sages tell us that a person only sins when a 'spirit of insanity' [ruach shtut] overtakes him- this means that he loses touch with his sense of right and wrong and therefore does the wrong thing, whilst convincing himself that it is actually the right thing to do.

    The Ben Ish Chai and Maskil leDavid both point out that the prayers which we recite stating "please prevent us from sinning" seem to contradict a well-known axiom, that 'everything is in the hands of heaven except for fear of heaven.' This means that the one thing that is completely in the control of man is the ability to choose between right and wrong. If we pray for things beyond our control, such as health and livelihood, it can be highly beneficial because those things are totally dependent on Divine Providence. However, praying to not sin would seem to have no benefit because God does not determine whether we sin - that is completely in our hands.

    The Ben Ish Chai explains that there are two different ways by which a person can come to commit a sin. One is where he has total clarity that a certain act is forbidden but he nonetheless decides to do it with a clear recognition that he is sinning. The second is where his yetzer hara (evil inclination) clouds his judgment and persuades him that this act is permissible; enabling him to rationalize that he is not sinning at all.

    The principle that 'fear of heaven is completely in our own hands' only applies to the first form of sinning, where a person is absolutely clear that acting in such a way constitutes a sin. In this area there is no benefit for a person to pray for God to stop him committing this sin; it is purely in his own hands and God cannot, so-to-speak, change his free will decision.

    However, this is not the case with regard to the second form of challenge where a person may genuinely believe that he is not sinning. The main factor that causes him to sin in such a case is lack of clarity as to the correct course of action. This is not completely within one's free will. When a person wants to do the right thing, but is at risk of being seduced by his yetzer hara, he can turn to God to help him not be clouded by its rationalizations. Therefore, in this situation it is beneficial to pray to God.

    We don't have to be in the army to cry over the loss of the "band of brothers". We can cry for it for it has hit us much closer "band of family". I once played for the reader a music video by the Maccabeats where the whole family was sitting around the dinner table and each one had a laptop in front of them. No one said a peep to their family members. Here, the Satan won; he used his primary weapon confusion. The primary goal was to focus on the family, to take advantage of the time with parents, children, and siblings. Satan convinced the individuals of the family that conversing at the table and saying I love you is secondary. The family missed an important moment in life and that is to enjoy and learn from each other. Satan altered the goals of life and threw clarity for a spin. Perhaps, it is similar to the spies an Mapilim whereas a burst of confusion is thrusted upon the situation, the primary focus derailed.

    Rabbi Asher Hurzberg relates a famous story of a king who sends his diplomat to another country but instructs him to not remove his shirt when he meets with their king and his advisers. When he got back, the king asked him how the trip went. He replied that it was good and the King would be happy. When he arrived there, the advisers looked at him from top to bottom and asked, "Are you a hunchback?" He responded "No." They persisted, ending up wagering $100,000 that he was. The diplomat thought "Boy, this is easy money." So he took off his shirt and showed them he wasn't a hunchback. The king's face turned red. "You fool I told you not to bet. I bet them $1,000,000 you would not take off your shirt."

    Let us stay focused on our primary goals and not get distracted by what seems enticing or for that matter reluctance due to fear for this is the weapon of the Satan. Let the band of brothers live on.

    Rabbi Avi Matmon

    This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbis Yissachar Frand, Elimelech Bidderman , Lord Jonothon Sacks, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus, Yonatan Gefen

     

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  • A Cover-Up of Biblical Proportions

    by Rabbi YY Jacobson

    The Truth, the Whole Truth and…

    Harry gets stopped by a police car. When the police officer gets to his car, Harry says, "What's the problem officer?"

    Officer: You were going at least 65 in a 50mph zone.

    Harry: No sir, I was going 50.

    Wife: Oh Harry, You were going 70.

    Harry gives his wife a dirty look.

    Officer: I will also give you a ticket for your broken brake light.

    Harry: Broken brake light? I didn't know about a broken brake light!

    Wife: Oh Harry, you've known about that brake light for months.

    Harry gives his wife a really dirty look.

    Officer: I am also going to book you for not wearing your seat belt.

    Harry: Oh, I just took it off when you were walking up to the car.

    Wife: Oh Harry, you never wear your seat belt.

    Harry turns to his wife and yells, "Shut your mouth!"

    Officer turns to the woman and says, "Madam, does your husband talk to you this way all the time?"

    Wife: "No, only when he's drunk…"

    Smooth or Problematic?

    In the Torah, the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle)—culminated in the Torah portion of this week Vayakhel-Pekudei—is presented as a seamless flow of command, collection, and finally, construction. G-d commands Moses, Moses presents the people with the plans, the people respond over-enthusiastically, donating more than necessary (for the first and last time in Jewish history…), and all Moses has to do is tell them when to stop. The construction goes ahead according to plan, and in no time at all—six months in total (compare that with construction nowadays)—the Mishkan is up and ready to function.

    However, the student of Midrash—the Talmudic and Midrashic commentary to the Torah, transmitted orally throughout the generations till transcribed—makes aware of the “politics” behind the events. It was anything but smooth. The Midrash[1] tells us, shockingly, that there were those who suspected Moses of pocketing funds and they insolently demanded that Moses make an accounting for every ounce of every item. Moses conceded to their demands and humbly presented a detailed account of every “dollar” collected for the grandiose “building campaign.”

    The Midrash[2] also tells us that Moses actually forgot what he did with some of the silver, and the rumors began circulating… The Rabbi is driving a new BMW… Who paid for his cruise to the Bahamas… How did he manage to buy the 2 million dollar home for his daughte? How can he afford such a grandiose wedding?... Did you see his new kitchen?… Till Moses reminded himself that he used them for hooks on the pillars in the Tabernacle, and the Jews calmed down.

    There was another obstacle in the process. There were times—the Midrash tells us—when Moses struggled with understanding G-d’s directions, and G-d had to show him a detailed vision of what He wanted.[3] Once, during the formation of the Menorah, the sages relate, that too did not work. Moses completely gave up and G-d had to make the menorah Himself.

    Then the Sanctuary was completed much earlier than expected, and it had to remain idle for three months.[4]

    When the time came for the actual erection of the Mishkan, they again ran into a glitch: No-one could succeed in lifting the walls. Even collectively, it was impossible. Imagine the anti-climax, the fear that all was in vain. At the end, Moses miraculously lifted the beams alone.

    Yet all of these parts of the story are completely ignored in the biblical text itself. There are a few tantalizing hints, but overall, the story presented in the Torah is one of a holistic, pure, and ideal experience. No glitches, no politics, no accusations, no problems; a perfectly smooth ride.

    One wonders how do we reconcile the biblical and oral traditions? If the Midrashic traditions are presenting what happened, why are these details ignored in the biblical text? Is the Torah trying to brush over the disturbing truths? Is the Torah teaching us to repress uncomfortable facts; to ignore the real story, to make believe everything is “perfect” when in fact it’s far from it? And if so, why did the Rabbis in the Midrash “ruin the party” and “spill the beans”?

    Creation Cover-Ups

    This is not the only incident with this birthmark. We find this tendency twice more.

    The opening of Genesis records eloquently but concisely the facts of creation and it sounds like a pretty smooth sailing. “In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth…” Over the next six days, a universe is formed. The Talmud and the Midrash, however, tell us that even G-d ran into some seemingly unexpected delays and had to make some serious alterations. Each of the six days presented another challenge.

    For starters, the Midrash relates[5] that the attribute of Truth opposed creation, and G-d had to cast Truth away in order to create our universe. The sages also relate that G-d attempted to create the world with the quality of Judgment and was forced to retract to Mercy when He saw that the world could not handle it.[6]

    Then: He created light on the first day, hoping it would serve all of creation, but it was too great and luminescent and He deemed it useless (and had to stow it away as a reward for only the truly meritorious.)[7]

    Next: On the second day, he constructed heaven and separated higher waters from lower waters. According to the Midrash, the lower waters “revolted” and are still weeping about their rejection.[8]

    Next: On the third say, G-d designed trees with edible branches, but the trees disobeyed and produced only edible fruit.[9] Next: On the fourth day, the sun and the moon were created to be equals, the moon complained that “two kings cannot serve with one crown,” and hence the luminaries were altered as the moon was diminished.[10]

    Next: On Thursday, G-d created the fish, including the Leviathan. Then, realizing that if the Leviathan would procreate, it would spell the end of the planet, He killed the partner of the Leviathan.[11] Next: On Friday, when He wished to create man, the angels in heaven complained it would be a fatal mistake.[12] Indeed, shortly Adam and Eve were created they disobeyed G-d commandment to refrain from eating the Tree of knowledge.

    Yet, none of these “glitches” or “issues” are recorded explicitly in the actual biblical text. There it is as smooth a process as can be. How can we make sense of this shocking discrepancy?

    Even more perplexing is the fact that following the six days of creation, the Torah sums it all up with these stunning words:

    וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה טוֹב מְאֹד וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי.

    And G-d saw all that He made and it was very good.

    Very good? Really? Each day brought another headache, another melt down, and another crisis. What makes it so good?

    The Second Cover Up

    The Tanach describes glowingly and in minute detail the materials and construction and dedication of the First Temple built in Jerusalem without the hint of a glitch. Yet the Midrash adds the “problematic” information: During construction they hit a underground spring that threatened to flood the entire world;[13] at what was to be the climactic finale, the entering of the Ark to the Holy-of-Holies, the gates refused to open against all efforts.[14]

    According to the Midrash,[15] the entire dedication of the First Holy Temple was heavily delayed, because the night before King Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh and he slept in! It was his mother, Bat Sheba, who had to enter his bedroom, wake him up and chastise him for over sleeping on the day the Temple was to be dedicated.

    We are left with a striking enigma: The biblical text ignores the disturbing details. Then the rabbis come and share with us “the rest of the story.” Why?

    What Is Your Story?

    The answer is a crucial and profound lesson in life. The Torah is not trying to hide anything (a general pattern in Torah is it tolerates no cover ups, for anybody), and that is why the Sages felt comfortable exposing all of the details. Rather, the Torah is telling us that when one develops a proper perspective at his or her life, the problems do not always deserve to be mentioned. Not because they don’t exist, but because they don’t define the story of our lives, and therefore we can decide not to make them part of the story.

    In each of these three series of events—creation of the universe; construction of the Sanctuary and the Jerusalem Temple—something awesomely cataclysmic and earth-shattering is occurring. The infinite fuses with the finite; the impossible becomes possible, Man meets G-d and G-d meets Man. Out of cosmological emptiness and infinite Divinity creation develops; something-ness is made out of nothingness. G-d “squeezes” his omnipotence and omnipresence into a Mishkan (sanctuary) of a few square cubits, into a building of stone, into the heart of mortal man.

    This, then, is THE story; this is what happened. The bumps on the road, true as they may be, do not constitute the story, not because they didn’t happen, but because they are not what really happened; they should not, they cannot, obscure or even dampen the majestic power and beauty of the events.

    The Torah is teaching us how to live. Life is tough. The really important things are even tougher. To raise and support a family requires strength and courage. To build a good marriage is often taxing and difficult. To develop a relationship with G-d may be frustrating and lonely. Many things will not work out as we hoped they would. We face adversity, grief and loss. There are inevitably times of pain and heartbreak. There are quarrels and squabbles, moments of anger and setbacks. We must confront depression, illness, mental challenges, financial stress, and spiritual confusion.

    But we have the choice not to make them THE story of our lives. Sure, raising children is challenging, but when you gaze into the loving and trusting eyes of your child—that is THE miracle of existence, not the challenges leading toward that moment. When you connect to your spouse in a truly meaningful way, in a moment of real camaraderie and respect—that is the miracle of love playing itself out in your life. A bad day at work, hours of frustration in running your business, all melt away before the power of something so much greater, so much more real—your growth as a human being and your ability to help others with your money and your experience.

    We must look at our lives and ask what is the real story happening here? Is my life a story of hardship and struggle, or am I part of something incredible: I am building a home for G-d; I am constructing a fragment of heaven on planet earth; I am building a Jewish family, a loving marriage; I am helping people; I have the privilege of studying Torah, of spreading Torah, of doing a mitzvah, of inspiring others to light up the world. This is my story; this is my life. The other parts are of course also true, and deserve to be acknowledged as such, much as the Midrash acknowledges the other side of the story with creation, the Mishkan and the Temple. I must deal with every challenge and I must attempt to repair it, but I cannot allow it to become THE STORY.

    Here we have the origin of what is known today as Narrative Therapy many thousands of years ago. Each of us has the choice to define and reframe the story of our lives.

    When I wake up in the morning, I know that I have fifty things to do today, most of them are not fun; some are difficult and frustrating. But that is not THE story. The real story is captured in the words a Jew says the moment he or she opens his eyes: “Modeh ani lefanecha… shehechezarta bi nishmasi…” I am alive; G-d gave me back my soul for another day. Gevald! How awesome is that. I can now talk to G-d face to face, learn Torah, pray, share my heart and love with another human being, give charity, and become an ambassador for love, light and hope. I can embrace an aching soul, and touch a bleeding heart. Now that’s a life!

    Yes, I got to pay my bills, I have to deal with headaches, I need to catch the bank, I have to fix my garage, I need to call my son’s principle, I have to pick up the cleaners, I need to go to the dentist, and I need to pay back the loan. But do not let that become the story of your life. Stay focused on the real story – that at every moment you can construct a home for G-d in your corner of the world and bring redemption one step closer.[16]

    My Dear Student

    This week we commemorated the yartzeit to a former student, Nadiv Kehaty. Only 30 years old, a loving husband, and the father of four young children, his sudden passing left a family and a community in shock.

    Nadiv’s very presence made you feel how much possibility life contained, if it was filled with laughter, love and innocence. For Nadiv, all of life consisted of one story: An opportunity to laugh and make others laugh.

    I was a teacher, sitting at my desk in the lecture hall, presenting a class to 25 students. I was focused, immersed and serious. But then, suddenly, one student leaped into the classroom, jumped over the tables, and after listening to a few sentences, exclaimed with his genuine giggle and pure selflessness: “Rabbi, you are awesome; I love you!”

    This was Nadiv on a regular day. I’d melt away. It was clear that his soul was sent to this world to teach us how to love and laugh.

    I love you too, Nadiv.


    To comment on this essay, please click here.

     

    [1] Shemos Rabbah 51:6
    [2] Ibid.
    [3] Shemos Rabbah 52:4
    [4] Shemos Rabbah 52:2
    [5] Bereishis Rabbah 8:5
    [6] Berishis Rabbah 12:15. Rashi Genesis 1:1
    [7] Talmud Chagigah 12a
    [8] Tikunei Zohar Tikun 5 (19b).
    [9] Rashi Genesis 1:12
    [10] Talmud Chulin 60b
    [11] Rashi Genesis 1:21
    [12] Midrash Tehilim 8:2
    [13] Talmud Sukkah 53a
    [14] Talmud Shabbos 30a
    [15] Bamidbar Rabbah 10:4
    [16] My thanks to Rabbi Avraham David Shlomo for his help in preparing this essay.

     

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