TORAH PORTION OF THE WEEK

Too many times throughout history, we have failed to learn the simple rule of “No pain no gain,” and we have always suffered for it afterwards.  Hasn’t the time come for us to sacrifice a little for HaShem and His Land?  Then we will surely receive Divine assistance and defeat our enemies forever more.

BEHA’ALOTCHA – RABBI MOSHE D. LICHTMAN

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NO PAIN NO GAIN[1]

עת צרה היא ליעקב וממנה יושע (ירמיה ל,ז)

It is a time of trouble for Ya’akov, but he will be saved from it.

 

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that the Jewish nation is currently experiencing its most difficult period in over 25 years.  The past few weeks have been simply catastrophic.  The question, of course, is what – if anything – can be done about the situation?  People on the left say, “Give the Arabs what they want…”  People on the right say, “Wage war against them…”  I do not suspect that any of my readers espouse the first opinion.  But, if we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that the second option is not so feasible either.  The situation is very complex.  With world opinion being so influential these days, you can’t just go ahead and wipe out thousands of people, especially “civilians.”  I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that the only solution is Divine intervention.  (Obviously, this is always true, but this time we are prevented from helping God do His work.)  If a clear (or at least a “very hard to explain”) miracle would occur, ridding us of our enemies (like HaShem did to Sancheriv in the days of King Chizkiyah), the world would not be able to “blame” us for the outcome.

But how do we get HaShem to intervene?  The answer is obvious, but we need reminders sometimes.  This week’s parashah provides us with one of those reminders:  – When you wage war in your Land against an enemy that oppresses you, you shall sound a teru’ah with the trumpets, and you shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies (10:9).  Practically all of the commentators explain that the teru’ah is meant to awaken the Jews to repentance, so that HaShem can intervene and save them.  Thus, when our enemies come to destroy us and take away our Land, our main (and sometimes sole) focus must be prayer and repentance.  The Rambam codifies this in Mishnah Torah (Ta’aniyot 1:1-2):

There is a positive, biblical command to cry out and sound the trumpets whenever the community is faced with trouble, as it says, [When you wage war in your Land] against an enemy that oppresses you, you shall sound a teru’ah with the trumpets…  This is one of the ways of repentance, for when trouble arises and [the Jews] sound the teru’ah, everyone realizes that the evil occurred because of their evil deeds… and this will cause the trouble to be removed from them.

In reality, though, there is something more concrete that we can do.  I heard an interview on the radio this week, discussing the recent terrorist attack in Tel Aviv.  The interviewee was asked if he thought the Arabs purposely targeted new immigrants from Russia.  His answer was eye-opening.  He claimed that the Arabs’ ultimate plan has always been to overcome us by outnumbering us.  With our birthrate at approximately 3.4 children per family, and theirs at around 8, they would easily become the majority in the Land in a few decades.  (By the way, this is also why they are not willing to budge on the “right of return” issue.)  The aliyah of close to a million Jews from the former USSR over the past ten years put a bit of a damper on their plans.  Therefore, they want to discourage further aliyah from Russia.

Whether or not they really intended to target Russian olim, we can learn a lot from the basic idea, which is certainly true.  The way to truly defeat our enemies is to beat them at their own game.  We must bring large numbers of Jews into the Land and thus forever thwart the Arabs’ plans.  Our motto should be like that of the “settlers,” who say, “In response to every terrorist attack we must build a new yishuv.”  We, too, should say, “For every Jew killed (ח”ו), a thousand Jews should come and settle in the Land.”  (OK, maybe a hundred. Ten? At least one Jew!)

One might ask, how can you expect Jews to make aliyah during such dangerous and trying times?  My answer is: now, more than ever, is the time to come.  I will explain with another idea from the parashah.

Chapter 11 begins with the episode of Tav’eirah:  – The people were as complainers; it was evil in the ears of the Lord…  Rashi and many others explain that they complained about the hardships of entering the Land:

They said, “Woe unto us! How difficult this journey has been! We have not rested from the suffering of the journey for three days.”  And [god] became angry – [He said], “I intended it for your good, that you should enter the Land immediately.”

Rashi here is referring to his commentary on a previous verse:  They traveled from the Mountain of the Lord a three-day journey (10:33).  He explains:  “They walked a three-day journey in one day, for the Holy One Blessed be He wanted to bring them into the Land immediately.”  Da’at Zekanim explains the underlying cause of their complaints:  “They had a lack of faith, and they were worried about war.”

The author of Chiddushei HaRim asks an obvious question.  If God wanted to bring the Jews into Eretz Yisrael so quickly, why did He have to make the journey so arduous?  Pay close attention to his answer (as cited in Parpera’ot LaTorah):

It is impossible to receive Eretz Yisrael without suffering, as R. Shimon bar Yochai says in Tractate Berachot (5a).  Therefore, HaShem wanted to shorten the suffering of those who left Egypt and bring them into the Land quickly.  Had the Children of Israel accepted this lovingly, the pains they suffered on their “one-day/three-day” journey would have sufficed to let them inherit the Land immediately.  But since they complained… they were punished with fire…  Afterwards, this led to slandering the Promised Land, and it was decreed that those who left Egypt would wander in the desert for forty years, while their children would eventually enter the Land…

Too many times throughout history, we have failed to learn the simple rule of “No pain no gain,” and we have always suffered for it afterwards.  Hasn’t the time come for us to sacrifice a little for HaShem and His Land?  Then we will surely receive Divine assistance and defeat our enemies forever more.

 

PREACH THROUGH PRACTICE

Moshe said to Chovav son of Re’uel, the Midianite, Moshe’s father-in-law, “We are journeying to the place of which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you;’ go with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has spoken good concerning Israel.”  [Chovav] said to him, “I will not go; I will only go to my land and to my kindred.”  [Moshe] said, “Please do not leave us, since you know our encampments in the desert, and you have been like eyes for us.  And it shall be that if you go with us, we will do good to you with the goodness that the Lord will bestow upon us.”  (10:29-32)

 

The commentators dispute whether Yitro (Chovav) heeded Moshe’s pleas in the end, accompanying the Jews into Eretz Yisrael, or not.  Most authorities hold that he returned to his birthplace, as it says in Shemot (18:27),  – Moshe sent off his father-in-law, and he went to his land.  The Ramban is one of the only commentators who assert that Yitro took Moshe’s advice and entered the Land with B’nei Yisrael.  The Sforno claims that Moshe only succeeded in convincing Yitro to let his sons stay with B’nei Yisrael, as we find in the Book of Shoftim (1:16):  – The children of the Kenite, Moshe’s father-in-law, ascended from the City of Palm Trees with the children of Yehudah

Why did Yitro refuse to follow the Jews into the Promised Land?  What motivated his decision?  According to the Sforno, he was worried about his health: “I will not be able to tolerate the air and food of a different land in my old age.”  The Sifrei claims that he did not want to leave his familiar and comfortable surroundings: “I have a family; I have a land; I have possessions.”  Rashi concurs: “I will only go to my land and to my kindred – [That is] either for the sake of my possessions, or for the sake of my family.” Others (see Or HaChayim here and Rashi in Shemot) claim that Yitro’s motivation was purely religious in nature.  He wanted to return to his birthplace to convert his relatives and compatriots.  Finally, R. Yosef Bechor-Shor (the Rivash) asserts that Yitro was apprehensive about the wars that would inevitably be waged to conquer the Land.

Clearly, though, Moshe was unimpressed by any of these claims.  After all, he continued to try and convince his father-in-law to accompany them into Eretz Yisrael.  Each commentator interprets Moshe’s response in a way that coincides with his opinion as to what motivated Yitro’s refusal.  Allow me to quote one explanation that I feel lends itself to all the different opinions mentioned above.  R. Ya’akov Tzvi Mecklenberg writes in HaKetav VeHaKabbalah:

And it shall be that if you go with us… It seems to me that Moshe continued to speak to [Yitro’s] heart, saying:  If you do not leave us at this time, but agree to go with us to the Land that was given to us as an inheritance, you will be like eyes for us in this matter as well.  Everyone who hears about [your decision] will say: “Behold, this honorable man left his home and inheritance because of the corrupt beliefs that were [rampant] among [the people who dwelled there], and he went to a Land not his own, in order to cling to the true God.  We, too, will follow this true belief.”  Thus, [Moshe] said, “And it shall be that if you go with us.”  That is, just as you were like eyes to us when it came to accepting our Torah, [your influence] will increase greatly if you go with us [into the Land].  By doing this, you will greatly strengthen the true belief, by serving the true God and abandoning the foreign gods of the land.

Moshe, in effect, was saying that all the excuses in the world, whether they be selfish or altruistic, are insignificant in comparison to the lofty spiritual levels you can reach in God’s Chosen Land and the Kiddush HaShem you can generate by moving there.

Until this very day, many Jews have yet to understand this point.  People give various excuses, very similar to Yitro’s, for not making aliyah.  Some are concerned about acclimating to unfamiliar surroundings – a different climate, new foods, etc.  Others are worried that they will not be able to make a decent living or maintain their current standard of living (“For the sake of my possessions”).  Within this group, there are those who claim that their motives are pure: the more money they possess the more charity they can give and the more mitzvot they can fulfill.  Some just cannot imagine splitting up their families (“For the sake of my family”).  Others are worried about the security situation (“the wars to conquer the Land”).  And others claim that the only reason they stay in Chutz LaAretz is to help their fellow Jews religiously (“To convert the masses”).

Although some of these excuses might have some validity, they pale in comparison to the spiritual (and, believe it or not, material) benefits of living in the King’s Palace.  And just imagine what effect the aliyah of thousands of religious Jews would have on Israeli society and all of world Jewry, the Kiddush HaShem it would generate.  Such concrete action would certainly do more than thousands of sermons aimed at “converting” the masses.  So let us take Moshe’s advice and ascend to the place of which the Lord said, “I will give it to you.”

 

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

Ø Moshe said to the Lord, “…Did I conceive this entire nation, did I give birth to it, that You say to me, ‘Carry it in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling child, to [lit., on] the Land that You swore [to give] to its fathers’?” (11:11-12).

That (כי) you say to me, ‘carry it in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling child, on the land that you swore [to give] to its fathers’:  The word כי has four meanings…  Here it can be interpreted as “perhaps.”  That is, [Moshe said to God], “Perhaps You will say to me that I should not at all consider myself Israel’s father or mother [as the first part of the verse implies], rather, as a nurse who carries a suckling child, meaning, like a nurse who [cares for] the king’s son…”  Certainly, [in such a case] no one would trace the child’s lineage to the nurse, saying that he is the nurse’s son.  Rather, [everyone would recognize that he is] the king’s son.  “Behold” – [continues Moshe] – “I would accept that upon myself joyously, if it were on the Land that you swore to its fathers.  That is, [I would be willing to consider myself a nurse] if I would bear their burden until they enter the Land.  For then, I would have the strength to tolerate their [backslidings], in anticipation of the eminence and satisfaction I would receive at that time.  (Be’er Mayim Chayim by R Chayim of Charnowitz)

 

Ø Two men remained in the camp, one was named Eldad, and the other was named Medad, and the spirit rested upon them; they were among the written ones, but they did not go out to the Tent, and they prophesied in the camp (11:26).

[Eldad and Medad] were greater than the seventy elders in four ways.  1) The other elders prophesied only about what would happen the next day…  Eldad and Medad, however, prophesied about what would happen forty years in the future.  They said, “Moshe will die and Yehoshua will lead [the Jews] into Eretz Yisrael”…  2) The names of the other elders were not specified in Scriptures, while the names of these two were specified.  3) The elders ceased to prophesy afterwards, because their [prophecy] came from Moshe, who was flesh and blood…  The prophecy of these two elders, however, came from the Holy One Blessed be He, as it says, And the spirit rested upon them.  Therefore, it did not cease, and they prophesied until their deaths.  4) The other elders did not enter Eretz Yisrael, while these two did.  Eldad was Elidad son of Kislon, the prince of the Tribe of Binyamin (see BeMidbar 34:21).  And Medad was Kemuel son of Shiftan, the prince of the Tribe of Efrayim (ibid. v. 24), who [was involved in] partitioning the Land of Israel.  (Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, pp. 134-35)

[1] This article was written shortly after June 1, 2001, when an Arab terrorist blew himself up in front of the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv, killing 21 Jews and wounding over 120.

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