Shemot 5766 – Gilayon #430


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Parshat Shemot

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.

(Shemot 3:3-5)

 

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"

of nature.

for

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…

is

holy ground

– 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.

(Ha'Amek

Davar ad loc)

 

When they ask

me for his name, what shall I tell them?

Ya'akov

Bing

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

(3:14):

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 (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

God (Devarim

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

hahakhamim].

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

their efforts.

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

of God.

 

Readers

Respond

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

others.

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

above.

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.

Sorrowfully,

Amnon Shapira

Dr. Amnon Shapira teaches Bible in

the Ariel College, and is a member of Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi

 

Shlomo

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

Condition that…

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).

The midrash

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

imagined enemy!

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

than later!

Shlomo

Fuchs

 

Editor's

comment:

I

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

people?

 

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