Devarim 5772 – Gilayon #759
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Remember, o lord, what happened to us,
Look and see our shame. (Echa 5:1)
'Wherefore have we fasted, and
Thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul,
and Thou takest no knowledge?' – Behold, in the day
of your fast ye pursue your business, and exact all your labours.
strife and contention, and to smite with the fist of wickedness; ye fast not
the fast that I have chosen? The day for a man to afflict his
soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth
and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the
loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the
oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it
not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast
out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that
thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine
thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before
thee, the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.
Whoever observes this day perfunctorily and does not arouse his heart
to mourn over Jerusalem, will not see her in her joy, and it goes without
saying that we never totally forget her mourning, but we must recall her on
every festive occasion and reduce [our joy] at all of them in memory of the
destruction, as is written "If I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at
my happiest hour" but we do not go to extremes lest our nature be unable
to bear it, and certainly such is the case with the public. For if we were to
judge ourselves by the measure of justice, we should have to refrain from
eating meat and drinking wine, and afflict ourselves with all forms of
mortification, and our ancestors taught that in generations of evil decrees,
when the study of Torah and performance of mitzvoth and circumcision were
forbidden, it would have been proper to decree upon ourselves not to marry and
not bear children, and the result would be the end of the children of Avraham. But rather let
they will do what they can, and it is recorded in the third chapter of Bava Batra, not to mourn at all is impossible, because the
blow has fallen. To mourn overmuch is also impossible, because we do not impose
on the community a hardship which the majority cannot endure. The Sages
therefore have ordained thus; A man may stucco his
house, but he should leave a small area bare … A man may prepare a
full-course banquet, but he should leave out an item or two so that the diners
feel something is lacking. A woman may put on all her ornaments, but she should
leave out one or two. And similarly with all festive
occasions. And so we place burnt ash on the head of a bridegroom instead
of tefillin, for so it says, "to give the
mourns for Zion as she deserves will be privileged to behold her joy, as it
says, "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her,
join in her jubilation, all you who mourned over her" and this is what is
referred to in "If I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest
hour" This is symbolized by the burnt ashes placed on the heads of
bridegrooms… And there are places which the custom is not to use ashes but to
place a black napkin on their heads in memory of the destruction, and it is
also customary to smash a glass in memory of the destruction.
They will not believe me (shemot 4)
In memory of my rabbi and teacher,
Rav Yehuda Amital
Parashat Devarim, which
opens the Book of Devarim, Moshe summarizes all that
befell him since he accepted upon himself the leadership of the people. Two
similar expressions appear in close proximity:
9 … I cannot carry you by myself.
10 … O, how can I carry by myself
your trouble and your burden and your disputing? (Devarim
These are powerful expressions, if they are to be
taken seriously. The leader, the teacher and rabbi say to their congregation "I
cannot". My ability ends here. In Moshe's biography the phrase "cannot"
is especially grave. Let us recall the visit of his father-in-law, Jethro, who looked with a fresh and unprejudiced eye upon
…The thing that you are doing is not good. You will
surely wear yourself out – both you and the people
that is with you – for the thing is too heavy for you, you will not be able to
do it alone. (Shemot 18, 17)
What is the relation between the two statements? Perhaps
Moshe learned from his father-in-law, and internalized the fact that he cannot
function alone, or perhaps the voices clash within himself – one voice telling
him that he can function alone, the second warning that he cannot.
What do the people hear when their leader tells them
that he cannot? Rashi, following the midrash, gives voice to their
I cannot carry you alone. Is it possible that Moshe
was incapable of judging
A man who took them out of
and parted the sea for them, and brought down the sea, and swept up the quail,
was incapable of judging them? But thus did he say to them…
The people do not believe Moshe when he claims that he
cannot, so they interpret his words differently.
A similar occurrence is revealed with regard to the
first passage in the parasha:
These are the words that Moshe spoke to all the
The term "devarim"[in Hebrew, 'words', 'things' 'occurrences'] takes on double meaning when we
recall Moshe's appearance at the beginning of his mission. When God attempts to
persuade him to take upon himself the assignment, He pushes him into a corner.
At the end of the charged exchange, Moshe says:
Please, my Lord, no man of words am
I, not at any time in the past nor now since You have spoken to Your servant,
for I am heavy-mouthed and heavy-tongued. (Shemot 4)
The disparity between what the Book of Devarim says about Moshe, and Moshe's
description of himself as "not a man of words" serves as the basis
for the following midrash:
These are the words" – Said
you said 'I am not a man of words' yet now you speak so much?! (Midrash Tanchuma,
Parashat Devarim, 2)
Here, too, we find expression of the people's lack of
trust in Moshe's leadership. They do not believe that when he says "I am
not a man of words" he really means what he says. They have substantiation
for their skepticism, for he is, indeed, a man of words, as the Book of Devarim confirms.
however, resolves this paradox, explaining how one who is not a man of words [devarim] can speak the Book of Devarim:
The mouth which spoke "I am not a man of words'
said "These are the words" and the prophet [Isaiah] cries out,
saying: "Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of he dumb shall shout aloud" – why? Because "waters shall burst forth in the desert, streams in
the wilderness." Therefore is it written: "These are the words."
Moshe was truly not a man of words, one from whom
speech flows naturally. Only an unnatural eruption of his consciousness created
the words which evolved into the Book of Devarim.
My teacher and master, Rabbi Yehuda Amital, used to say: "I am an uncomplicated man – ish pashut. I was
not molded from the raw materials of roshei
yeshiva [yeshiva heads]". Many of his disciples and listeners did not
believe him; they did not grasp that he was speaking with profound seriousness.
Or perhaps they did not hear his words and only perceived him as a rosh yeshiva and a Torah master, or perhaps
they interpreted his words as a kind of humility. "I come from a family of
carpenters", he said, "Were it not for the Shoah
which instilled within me a sense of duty to continue the world of Torah, I
would have been a baal bayit
[lit. "house-holder'; common usage "an
unscholarly person']". Again, they did not believe him, he wasn't really
serious. Is it possible to describe him as a baal
bayit? As a proprietor of a
grocery store? As a merchant in the stock market?
Rav Amital took a heroic step.
He invited – after he had already served as the head of the Yeshiva – Harav Lichtenstein to be a Rosh Yeshiva. He well
knew that he was inviting someone who was, in terms of intellectual endowment,
several degrees above him. In the final result, the rare combination of
intellectual power of Rav Lichtenstein and the unique
being of Rav Amital created
the Yeshiva. But the amalgamation was not without pain. He once openly – as was
his way – confided:
Before Rav Lichtenstein
arrived, I would read the Gemorrah with the students,
elaborate, read Rashi,
and everybody was happy. But since Rav Lichtenstein
arrived, if I don't bring five
approaches of Rishonim, my lesson will not be a
Again, they didn't believe him. They thought that
since he was functioning as a rosh yeshiva
he certainly lived as a rosh yeshiva
and learned like a rosh yeshiva and
loved to teach like a rosh yeshiva. They
did not believe that he really liked to learn a page of Gemorrah
simply, like a baal bayit.
And when, in his latter days, he joined his synagogue group in the learning
of Mishna and a quick 'superficial' daf yomi [daily
page of Talmud], they did not believe that these were true, authentic steps.
They rationalized – he is surely doing this only to express regard for the
common people (who were, of course, not like him).
My Rav Amital
– and every student has the teacher as he is etched in his consciousness – was
really an ish pashut
– a plain person who really loved to learn a chapter of Mishna
and Daf Yomi, and therein –
not in complex and convoluted query – he found the roots of his soul.
His ability to function as a Rosh Yeshiva
despite his alternate identity, that of the baal
habayit, was what created his uniqueness.
He once related the following story:
Once there was a great rabbi who had a waggoner who would take him from town to town to lecture. Once
the waggoner said to the rabbi:
"Wherever you go, you are accorded great honor. I
am so envious of you. I would love just once to experience that honor".
Answered the rabbi:
"Let's change clothes. I will dress like a waggoner and hold the reins, and you will dress in rabbinic
garb, so that when we reach town, they will treat you with respect."
And so they did, and upon reaching town the waggoner, in rabbinic attire, was treated with great
respect and admiration. The waggoner was ecstatic,
until someone approached and said:
"Rebbi, I cannot
understand the Tosafot in Eruvin,
page 18, the second Tosafot."
The waggoner was taken
aback, not knowing how to react. But immediately he gathered his wits and
You don't understand the second Tosafot?!
It's so simple that even my waggoner can explain it
My Rav Amital
saw himself as the costumed wagonner, and his
greatness was that he was aware of this and was able to both express his pain
and to laugh at it. Aware of the gap between his identity and his role – or,
should you prefer, his costume – he developed an almost animalistic sense for detecting
anything counterfeit and misleading. Thus he was able to chide us whenever we
were not genuine, whenever we played roles and were not ourselves.
From Rav Amital
I learned to believe Moshe who says "I cannot", to believe him when
he says "I am not a man of words." In my opinion, one who says "I
cannot" can still be attuned to fate and to history which call upon him to
do the impossible, to be someone other than that who he is. The man of truth
who is called upon to do so succeeds in being himself even when he is not
himself. Such a man, in his vulnerability and his pain, becomes a living
compass, a counterfeit-detector who walks among us, sears us, educates us.
Dr. Moshe Meir, Research
Fellow at Hartman Institute, teaches at Kolot and at
Yachdav" was published by Magnes.
"For you do not judge not on behalf of man" (II Chronicles 19:6) The meaning is: Do not think in your heart:
What difference does it make if we pervert the law to declare our friends
innocent and pervert the rights of the poor and favor the rich? Is it not so
that the judgment is not for the Lord? Therefore, it says, for the Lord. It is for Him. If
you convict the innocent, it is as though you take from your Creator's property
and pervert the law of Heaven, by bestowing a distorted verdict. Therefore,
"see what you are doing," and may your heart be in every judgment, as
if the Holy One, blessed be He, is standing before you in judgment, and this is the meaning of: "and[He] is with you in the matter of the judgment." In Sanhedrin (6b) it
is stated "What are you doing, for you do not judge for man but for the
Lord." This is explained [as follows]: Perhaps the judge will say,
"How does this problem concern me?" Therefore, Scripture states:
"and it is with you concerning the matter of the judgment," i.e., it
is incumbent upon you to rule justly. And the judge must deal only with that
which he sees with his own eyes.
(Rashi on IIChronicles 19:6, Judaica Press translation)
And you shall judge justly between a man and his brother
and his stranger –There is no difference whether the
judgment is made between two Israelites from birth or between an Israelite from
birth and a convert. As soon as he joins the Israelite community, the stranger
becomes his stranger, and
his status becomes equal to that of any Israelite from birth.
(Rabbi S.R. Hirsch Devarim 1:16)
Commenting on the passage in
became an outcast, the Midrash asks: "
sin?! But even though they sin, it is nothing, but
was punished." This indicates that the responsibility weighing upon
the Jewish people is greater than that of the nations; when the nations sin,
they sometimes are successful despite their sins, whereas for the Jewish people
this is not so; iniquity and evil – which do not weaken the foundations of other
nations' existence – have the potential to undermine the existence of the
Jewish people. This is the uniqueness of the Jewish people which finds
expression is the well-known phrase "You have chosen us from all the
peoples," a choice which is the
acceptance of obligations and their fulfillment alone; this alone is its z'khut – its privilege – as the people of
(Y. Leibowitz, Sihot al Hagei Yisrael u'Mo'adav,
1. First of all, yasher koach to
Mrs. Melamed on her essay. Permit me a few comments:
2. The statement "Moshe, God's
chosen, uses his power in order to kill Korach"
is reminiscent of the people's accusation "You have killed people of God".
Regarding God's reaction to this אכ"ל
3. The fact that in Bemidbar 26 "Korach is mentioned
a propos Datan and Abiram"
derives simply from the fact that we are dealing with the tribe of Reuven.
4. According to 16:19, Korach and the 250 notables are present with their
fire-pans at the entrance to The Tent of Appointment, whereas Moshe and the
Elders go to the camp of Shimon (v.
25), and there "the earth
opened its mouth (32), and, concurrently "fire came forth"
(35). The two events appear far one from the other; the event in the camp
of Reuven made a tremendous and extraordinary impression,
and therefore Moshe's recall of the incident (Chap. 13). There are
many more such examples. For us it
is important to know that the punishment was not collective; Datan and Abiram, "went out,
poised (complaining) at the entrance of their tents, and their wives and their
sons and their little ones", all perished, whereas as the sons of Korach, who repented, praised God in one of the most
exalted of the Psalms.
5. The main thing to remember is
that to be "The Chosen People" means to strive constantly to "Be
Holy" as understood by Moshe (and God), and not as per the populist-superficial-nationalistic
"all the congregation are all holy" as per Korach.
Thanks to Mr. Eldror for his response and
Regarding the explanation for mention (or lack of mention) of the Korach story in other Biblical sources – it seems to me
that there is no need to begin a discussion on this matter. Mr. Eldror's explanation is reasonable, but there are other
explanations. The reading I proposed is one of many, and everyone has the right
to accept or reject it.
Regarding the statement that Moshe used his power against Korach, I did not intend to switch the roles in the
narrative. Certainly Korach sinned, and certainly
Moshe does not need my defense. Even so, the idea that Moshe initiated Korach's punishment and "forced" God to execute
it, perhaps out of personal insult, is not my original idea. It is to found in
Talmudic literature. I mentioned this in my article, and I refer the reader to
the very interesting and thought-arousing midrash
in Tanhuma, Parashat Korach, end of of unit 8,
beginning with "to friends of the King's daughter".
I repeat and emphasize: Even if my argument be
correct, and the Torah does (very gently and indirectly) criticize Moshe, this
is not to compare his reaction to Cain's criminal behavior. There is, perhaps,
a statement regarding the great and destructive power of anger flowing from
insult, and about the need for its avoidance, also – and especially – when a
person has reached a very high level.
And finally: I agree with every word of Mr. Eldror's
final paragraph. Holiness is indeed a challenge demanding constant effort, with
willingness to admit weaknesses and, as much as possible, to correct them.
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