Shemot 5766 – Gilayon #430
(link to original page)
Click here to
receive the weekly parsha by email each week.
WHEN THE LORD SAW THAT HE HAD
TURNED ASIDE TO LOOK, GOD CALLED TO HIM OUT OF THE BUSH, AND SAID: "MOSES! MOSES!" HE ANSWERED:
"HERE I AM." AND HE SAID, "DO NOT COME CLOSER. REMOVE YOUR
SANDALS FROM YOUR FEET, FOR THE PLACE ON WHICH YOU STAND IS HOLY GROUND.
Remove your sandals from your
feet – While
the verse should be understood literally – the wearing of footwear is
prohibited in any place where the Divine Presence reveals itself, just as it is
in the Temple – in any event there is a wonderful figurative meaning here as
well, as all material matters allude to spiritual
matters. It is made clear in the Book of Devarim in
connection with the removal of the yabam's
shoe in the halitzah ceremony that the removal
of shoes refers to the shedding of materiality, i.e., that one should not
follow human nature and will at all, but rather be completely given over to
heaven, as is the way of the excellent person [adam]
whose name is essentially adam… he who wants
to come near to the Divine Presence must remove his shoes, i.e. his "garment"
the place on which you stand – The word hamakom
– the place – is to be understood figuratively, its point being that
Moshe's value was very high, as is
written, Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord, and who will rise in His
holy place? One of clean hands and pure heart…
– This means figuratively that even before becoming abstinent he was sanctified
in the womb and created for greatness. That is why it was easy for him to begin
sanctifying himself and abstaining from the world and all that is in it. It is
doubtless that our Rabbi Moses took this upon himself happily, and removed his
sandals, both literally and figuratively, and prepared himself for prophecy.
Davar ad loc)
When they ask
me for his name, what shall I tell them?
Every time the word segulah
appears in the Torah, Onkelos translates it as haviv [beloved]. Am segulah,
for example, is translated as am haviv [beloved
nation]. Thus, when Seforno explains the verse af hovev
amim [indeed, a lover of peoples] (Devarim 33:3), he writes, "With
this the Lord announces that all of the human race is a segulah
for Him." In this way, Seforno took an
exegetical stand regarding our treatment of gentiles. The status of gentiles
has become an especially important issue following the horrors of the Shoah, which sprung from a racist ideology. Seforno's interpretation can help us grapple with the tremendously
destructive phenomenon of racism. He finds a basis for the notion that all the human race is segulah,
i.e., beloved of God, in the teaching of Rabbi Akiva
that appears in Pirkei Avot
Beloved is man, for he was created in the [Divine]
image. He is especially beloved, having been informed that he was created in the [Divine] image, for it is said He made man in the image of God
image. He is especially beloved, having been informed that he was created in
the [Divine] image, for it is said He made man in the image of God(Bereishit 9:6). Beloved are Israel,
for they were called "children of the Omnipresent." They are
especially beloved, having been informed that they were called "children
of the Omnipresent," for it is said you are children of the Lord your
14:1). Beloved are Israel,
for they were given a desirable instrument [the Torah] with which the world was
created, as it is said: For I gave you good instruction; do not forsake my
Torah (Proverbs 4:2).
Some commentators thought that the first sentence,
"Beloved is man," relates to Israel alone, and not to the Noahides in general. In addition to Seforno,
a good number of the great classical commentaries on the Mishnah
oppose this view. Of them, I shall only mention Tosafot Yom Tov and Tiferet Yisrael.
According to Tiferet Yisrael, our mishnah refers to three classes of
human beings: the human race as a whole (as Seforno would put it or as the Sages would say, "all
of the Noahides"), Israel, and the Torah scholars [talmidei
Tosafot Yom Tov points out that the verse used as a proof text by R. Akiva, He made man in the image of God (Bereishit 9:6) tells Noahides not to murder any human being. Tiferet Yisrael adds that "the
righteous gentiles have a share in the world to come, and even if the holy
mouth of the Sages had not informed us of this, we would have known it through
the exercise of our own intelligence, since the Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in
all His works. We
observe some righteous gentiles who not only recognize the Creator and perform
deeds of kindness [including deeds that help] Israel, but who have even greatly
benefited all humanity…" According to Tiferet Yisrael, some of today's
nations are civilized and contain many righteous gentiles. We should add that
many righteous gentiles risked their lives during the Shoah
while trying to save Jews. Some of them were arrested, tortured and killed for
We are confronted with two polar extremes: one
approach views all human beings as beloved of God, while the other reserves
this honor for Jews alone. The choice between these exegetical alternatives
leads to different attitudes towards the gentiles. It seems to me that after
the Shoah, the option of discriminating between
people on the basis of their origins is closed to us, and we are forced to
choose the interpretation that sees all humanity as beloved of God. Did we not
learn from the Shoah that discrimination between
people can lead to the very worst injustice and suffering?
One asks to what extent historical events can
influence our understanding of the Torah. Harav Amital once related to the lessons of the Shoah in a different context. A book about him (Moshe Maya's A World Built, Destroyed,
and Rebuilt: Rav Yehudah Amital's Confrontation with the Memory of the Holocaust) describes the turn in
the Rav's thought. At first, as a student of Harav Kook, Rav Amital thought that it was possible to give historical
events, such as the creation of the State of Israel, a religious interpretation,
i.e., that we may learn what God's intention in history is from such events. Later,
however, Rav Amital came to
recognize that it is impossible to give the Shoah a
religious interpretation and that no transgression [on the Jews' part] can
explain it. From there he reached the broader view that it is impossible for us
to interpret any historical event; that is to say that we are unable to know
why any event occurred. Despite the impossibility of determining the
significance of an event and of understanding events from a religious
standpoint, Rav Amital came
to philosophical conclusions on the basis of historical lessons. We see from
this that it is possible to derive philosophical and normative conclusions from
an historical event, even though it is impossible to fathom the ways of history.
This distinction is of essential importance. Lessons
concerning Torah study and ethical behavior may be learned from the Shoah. However, we are not able to understand the course of
history and predict the future. Thus it seems legitimate to me to say that the
commentators who removed gentiles from the category of the "beloved"
did not see the Shoah and the destructive consequences
that can derive from such ideas, while we must choose the interpretation that
says that all of humanity is beloved by God.
Tifferet Yisrael, which was written
about a hundred years before the Shoah, goes even
farther. He believes that both the civilized nations of the world and the
Jewish People posses certain advantages over each other. When Israel was in
Egypt, neither they nor the Egyptians knew the Lord; they were all idolaters. Pharaoh
said: I do not know the Lord (Shemot 5:2), and referring to the Jews, Moses asked God: What
shall I tell them when they ask me, "What is His name?" (Shemot 3:3). The midrash claims that they even had
their idols with them at the Red Sea. God gave the Torah at Sinai so that the descendants
of His servant Abraham would become as priests and teachers to all of humanity.
The civilized nations of the world achieved their moral standing through their
own efforts on the basis of slow progress drawn out across history – both through
intellectual effort and by studying the Torah of Israel – and that is their
great merit. In contrast, the Israelites received the Torah and their high
level stems from the revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah and not from
their own intellectual effort. Israel's advantage is that the Torah includes
matters that the nations have yet to recognize and which they will discover
only in Messianic times.
The Shoah is an event of
tremendous significance for us. The main conclusions of the above analysis are
that there is room to base interpretive and normative decisions on those tragic
events, even though we do not understand their meaning. We must struggle against
any form of discrimination on the basis of origin, and in this framework we
must prefer the interpretation which claims that all human beings are beloved
I read Shlomo Fuchs's article (from the Miketz-Hanukah issue) carefully, and arrived at a
conclusion opposite to his own.
Jewish morality is the paradoxical product of two opposing directions
of thought. On the one hand, there is an absolute prohibition against the shedding of human blood, even that of
the enemy, and even in war time. On the other hand, there is an absolute obligation to defend oneself from
murderers. The prohibition is derived (for
instance) from the prohibition against using iron [tools] in the
construction of the altar (as
explained in Rashi's famous comments on Shemot 20:22). It is more strongly indicated by the idea that Abraham sinned by
killing people in a justified defensive war (Bereishit 15:1). On the other hand,
there is not a drop of "pacifism" – a Christian notion – in the Jewish
tradition. Rashi's classic instruction, "If
someone comes to kill you, kill him first" (Shemot 22:1) is the paradoxical
result of this contradiction. We also find this in his amazing comment on the
phrase Jacob was greatly afraid, and he was anxious (Bereishit 32:7): "greatly
afraid – that he might be killed; anxious – that he might kill the
However, in contrast to Shlomo Fuch's position, the Yom Kippur War, the Oslo Agreements,
and the "disengagement" are not at all the results of a turn towards "the
path of peace." Rather, they are a catastrophe which befell us when we
lost the Jewish tradition found in Rashi's comments
The Jews created nearly the strongest army in the world, but lost the
will power to use it in order to survive. They agreed to return to the situation
so well described by Fuchs's quote from Bialik's Im Yesh et Nafshekha la'Da'at ("If
You Want to Know"): "Go
forth joyfully towards death, to stretch their necks to every polished knife."
Since the Hanukiyah symbolizes spirit, it would be
appropriate for us not to light it at all this Hanukah, because an anti miracle has occurred for us – we
have lost our spirit. This pessimistic assessment has not been lost upon
several important periodicals in the U.S.A., and today they do not give the
Zionist state more than forty years to live.
Dr. Amnon Shapira teaches Bible in
the Ariel College, and is a member of Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi
Fuchs, author of the article, responds
Hanukah, which celebrates the Maccabian
victory, is quickly followed by the fast of the tenth of Tevet, which marks the
beginning of the siege on Jerusalem in the end of the First Temple Period. By
the yearly juxtaposition of these two commemorations, the Hebrew calendar calls
upon us to return to the words of the prophet Jeremiah, and take them to heart:
I will make this House like Shiloh (Jeremiah 26:6), or, if you would prefer an
alternative reality, the prophet says: And now, improve your ways and listen
to the voice of the Lord your God that the Lord might renounce the evil that he
has spoken to inflict upon you (2:13). There is no reason to read important American newspapers;
the words have been said, and we must internalize them.
Once, in Jerusalem, an educator told me an important drash on the title of Herzl's
book Altneuland. It does not only mean Old-New
Land but also Al-tnai Land a Hebrew play
on words that can mean either An Unconditional Land or A Land on
I think that there are those who believe that the land and
the state were given to us unconditionally, while others believe that our
behavior must fulfill certain conditions.
I am not calling for pacifism, and the army is not losing its
spirit. Rather there is an understanding that the blessing you shall live by
your sword is not Jacob's blessing. It is Esau's blessing, and we must
devote ourselves to "seeking the way of spirit."
The call for peace is learned from Moses in his war with Sihon (Devarim 2:16, in contrast to the
commandment of Devarim 2:24). According to the midrash, the Holy One blessed be
He added the command if you draw near a city to do battle against it, call
to it for peace (Devarim 20:10) resulted from Moses' own
behavior (Devarim Rabbah 5:13), and the midrash
adds that Joshua followed suit in the conquest of the land (op cit 5:14).
You make reference to the altar. It was prohibited to use
hewn stones in the construction of the altar because iron desecrates, but
animals were slaughtered on that altar with knives; in one terrible case one
priest stabbed another for the sake of the holy rite (Yoma 23a).
The distinction between the permitted and the prohibited was not always clear. Regarding
that incident, Rabbi Tzadok stood up and asked: Who
was responsible for the murder, for the misunderstanding?
You cite Rashi's commentary and I
shall recall what Rashi wrote, following the Pesikta DeRav Kahana (3):
Remember what [Amalek] did to you – If you
deceived with measurements and weights, take care of the enemy's provocation,
for it is said: False scales are an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 11:1), and later, when arrogance
appears, disgrace follows (11:2).
upon which Rashi bases his comments interprets the
juxtaposition of the passage regarding Amalek (Devarim 25:17-19) with that preceding it (25:13-1).
The juxtaposition of the passages teaches us that the
commandment to remember Amalek, the war with them,
really calls for an investigation of the underlying cause; why did the enemy-Amalek come against us?
It seems that Rashi understands
that the enemy – Amalek – points to our own internal
corruption. This explanation suggests that the true enemy lie within us. Therefore,
we must improve Israeli society before we bunker-down in the war against an
The prophet Jeremiah calls to the Jewish People in a similar
fashion to improve its ways, and does not blame the Babylonians.
In that case, "If
someone comes to kill you (from within), kill him first"! Better sooner
think that the genuine and important debate for us is not about determining
which solution might promote peace in our time or whether there is a chance to
achieve peace with the Arab world in our generation. That matter depends upon
various political developments and differing estimations of the situation and
of the balance of power. For religious Zionism, the essential debate involves
the order of priorities of religious and moral values, and requires us to ask
ourselves impartially: does "love that confuses the order" sometimes
cause us to disregard important Torah values? In our zealousness to hasten
redemption, do we notice the heavy price we pay for having power over another
If you enjoy Shabbat Shalom,
please consider contributing towards its publication and distribution.
edition distributed in Israel $700
edition distributed via email $ 100
Issues may be dedicated in honor
of an event, person, simcha, etc. Requests must be
made 3-4 weeks in advance to appear in the Hebrew, 10 days in advance to appear
in the English email.
In Israel, checks made out
to Oz VeShalom may be sent to Oz VeShalom-P.O.B.
4433, Jerusalem 91043. Unfortunately there is no Israeli tax-exemption for
US and British tax-exempt contributions to Oz VeShalom may be made through:
New Israel Fund, POB 91588,
Washington, DC 20090-1588, USA
New Israel Fund of Great Britain, 26 Enford
Street, London W1H 2DD, Great Britain
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE NEW ISRAEL
FUND IS NO LONGER ACCEPTING DONATIONS UNDER $100.
PEF will also channel donations and provide a tax-exemption. Donations
should be sent to P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, Inc., 317 Madison
Ave., Suite 607, New York, New York 10017 USA
All contributions should be
marked as donor-advised to Oz ve'Shalom, the Shabbat
Shalom is a movement dedicated to the advancement of a civil society in Israel.
It is committed to promoting the ideals of tolerance, pluralism, and justice,
concepts which have always been central to Jewish tradition and law.
Shalom shares a deep attachment to the land of Israel and it no less views
peace as a central religious value. It believes that Jews have both the
religious and the national obligation to support the pursuit of peace. It
maintains that Jewish law clearly requires us to create a fair and just
society, and that co-existence between Jews and Arabs is not an option but an
Shalom's programs include both educational and
protest activities. Seminars, lectures, workshops, conferences and weekend
programs are held for students, educators and families, as well as joint
seminars for Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. Protest activities focus on
issues of human rights, co-existence between Jews and Arabs, and responses to
issues of particular religious relevance.
5,000 copies of a 4 page peace
oriented commentary on the weekly Torah reading are written and published by Oz
VeShalom/Netivot Shalom and they are distributed to
over 350 synagogues in Israel and are sent overseas via email. Our web site is www.netivot-shalom.org.il
Shalom's educational forums draw people of different
backgrounds, secular and religious, who are keen to deepen their Jewish
knowledge and to hear an alternative religious standpoint on the subjects of
peace and social issues.
Shalom fills an ideological vacuum in Israel's society. Committed both to
Jewish tradition and observance, and to the furthering of peace and
coexistence, the movement is in a unique position to engage in dialogue with
the secular left and the religious right, with Israeli Arabs and with