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SHAVUOT 2012

 G-D’S TORAH AND HIS APPROACH


The Sifri (Devarim שמג) relays the following Midrash: Before G-d came to Mt.Sinaito give the Torah to His People, He approached the nations of the world, one by one, and offered them the Torah. He first approached the nations of Esav. Esav’s descendants responded by first asking G-d what is written in the Torah. G-d answered Esav that the Torah says לא תרצח  you shall not kill. The nations of Esav replied, “We cannot accept the Torah. Esav, our forefather, was a habitual killer and was even blessed by his father Yitzchak that he live by his sword -על חרבך תחיה . We are also murderers, and we cannot accept a Torah that forbids murder.”

G-d then went to the nations of Amon and Moab. He asked if perhaps they want the Torah. They also replied by first asking what the Torah says. G-d answered לא תנאף You shall not have forbidden relations. They replied that the Torah is not for them. The Amon andMoab family tree was rooted in forbidden relations. Their forefather, Lot, had had incestuous relations  with his daughters, and from such a shameful beginning, Amon andMoab were born.

G-d approached Yishmael and asked if he was at all interested in accepting the Torah. Yishmael asked – What does the Torah say?  – G-d answered that the Torah says לא תגנוב  Do not steal . The Ishmaelites answered G-d that their forefather, Yishmael, was actually a thief by trade -ויהי רבה קשת : he sat waiting in the desert and would rob the passersby. The Midrash continues that there was not a nation in the world on whose door G-d did not “knock” to see if they would be willing to accept the Torah. Finally, G-d approached the Jews, who did not ask what the Torah has to offer. Instead, they proclaimed נעשה ונשמע : “We will do, and we will listen.” They trusted that if G-d asked them to do something, then whatever it would be could be done.

This Sifri is mindboggling. If we examine it carefully, we notice that G-d approached the Gentiles with the latter five of the Ten Commandments, the ones that pertain to a man and his fellow. Approaching the Jews, however, G-d presented the first five commandments, which are mitzvoth between man and G-d. Only after informing us of the first five commandments did G-d mention the commandments between man and his friend. (This may be the reason why all the nations of the world write from left to right, and only Jews, and subsequently the Arabs, write from right to left. The Jews were offered the Tablets from the right to left, whereas the tribes of the world were offered them from left to right. The tablets and the Ten Commandments were the first written word in Creation , created on the very first Erev Shabbat – Avot ch. 5) Why did G-d approach the nations of the world with different mitzvoth from those He presented first when He approached the Jews?

Another question: Why did the nations of the world turn down the Torah on the grounds that it says not to steal or kill? Don’t the nations of the world have judicial systems where killing and stealing are forbidden? If so, why did they turn down the Torah for containing such a logical commandment?

And a third question. Why did G-d approach each of the nations of the world with exactly what was hard for them? G-d approached the descendents of Esav and told them not to kill; Yishmael, and told them not to steal, and Amon and Moab, and told them not to engage in forbidden relations. These were the specific points that were hard for these nations to overcome. So what type of game is this – if G-d did not want to give them the Torah, then why would He come and give each one the very issue that was the hardest for him to deal with?

R’ Moshe Feinstein explains that although the nations of the world have judicial systems which forbid and penalize for murder and theft, the reason behind such laws is as protection for the other civilians, and not because the act in and of itself is so unethical that the person deserves punishment. The nations of the world at the time were not willing to forbid murder as something that deserves punishment in and of itself, for they felt that in essence, they themselves were actually murderers, and thus could not be held responsible for their actions. The reason, then, why the murderer is executed or jailed is not because of the absolute value of human life; in the laws of the nations, it is only of practical expedience, just for the safety of the public.

G-d specifically approached the nations and told them that the Torah has laws that He forbade. If I forbade something, then it must be that it is possible for one to control himself and not kill or rob. G-d specifically wanted the gentiles to hear that the Torah forbids what they feel is impossible to overcome. G-d also wanted to make it clear that a person is responsible for such acts as murder, theft or forbidden relations, despite what type of family he comes from.

The Jews, on the other hand, were willing to accept without asking. They knew that if the Torah forbids something, refraining from doing it can be accomplished – that we are held responsible for obeying the Law. They believed in G-d, and so G-d approached them first with the Mitzvot of Emuna, the first five commandments, knowing that this is the basis for keeping the five latter ones. The Jewish court penalizes not because we are afraid of the rest of society getting hurt. We have Emunah, so we are not worried about that. In the Jewish court, the punishment is for the transgressor and the punishment meted out fits the crime.

We do not approach the mitzvoth of the Torah from a logical point of view. We approach the mitzvoth from a religious angle. For us, the latter commandments come after the first ones specifically to remind us that the underlying reason for the mitzvoth that are logical are not logic, but faith.

The Rebbe from Pasische was asked by his followers: All the books of the world have an introduction. What, then, is the introduction to the Torah?

The Rebbe answered that the introduction to the Torah is Derech Eretz. דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה .These words must mean that a person must make sure he is a man of character and decency before he becomes a man who presents Torah.

This can also be understood in the following manner. We are taught that without Torah the world cannot existאלמלא בריתי יומם ולילה חוקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי . How, then, did the world exist before the Torah was given? The answer is that the Torah that held up the world before it was given was the way of derech eretz – אלמלא תורה היינו לומדים גזל מנמלה וצניעות מחתול, וכו’  . This derech eretz held up the world, for it was Torah of the time. After the Torah was given, however, things changed. We now had to observe Torah teachings as a religious way of life, and not just because this is something that seems right. This is the way of the Torah. Ethics based upon common sense comprise the introduction to the Torah. Then, the Torah tells us that these things are not just ethics. We must live according to them and understand that G-d, in His wisdom, has given a much deeper meaning to why the ethical way is the right way. And, the Torah wants us to be able to be humble and to make our way of thinking subservient to the teachings of the Torah.

 

King David’s Secret Weapon

The other day, the teacher of my seven year-old son gave him a newspaper article to take home. I was very grateful to the teacher, for this was an article on my family’s lineage. I expected to read about Chaim Farhi and other famous Farhi family philanthropists from the past – information that I already knew. When I read the second line of the article, however, I jumped off my chair: “According to tradition, the Farhi family lineage goes all the way back to King David.” After verifying that the article was based on reliable sources, I passed on this revelation to close family members. Needless to say, I was very excited. I asked my wife if we could buy a donkey. After all, someone in the family might turn out to be Moshiach. For some reason, she refused.

The Chida says that the reason why Megillat Ruth is customarily read in shul on Shavuot is to draw attention to the lineage of King David, whose birth and death occurred on Shavuot ((שמחת הרגל ג’. King David led a most turbulent and difficult life. Early on, the special circumstances of his birth and his unusual complexion triggered accusations by his older brothers that he was illegitimate. In an attempt to rid their prestigious family of him, David’s brothers sent him to pasture the sheep in dangerous places. Then, because he was seen out late at night attending his father’s flock, people in his home town of Beth Lechem began to accuse him of being the town thief. No one stood up for him. Only his mother encouraged him to always turn to G-d. “He will never forsake you,” she reassured him.

In the next stage of his life, David was forced into an ongoing struggle with King Shaul, his father-in-law. In their first encounter, King Shaul did not honor his promise to give him his daughter Meirav, whose hand had been offered to the one who succeeded in killing Goliath. He made another outrageous bet for David to marry his second daughter Michal. But, in the meantime, Shaul secretly married off Michal to someone else. After David did eventually marry Michal, his father-in-law became convinced that David was plotting to overthrow him, a crime which carries the penalty of death. He thus sought to kill him.

David’s parents and brothers became endangered through this struggle as well. David thought they would be safe by bringing them to be guarded by the King of Moab, to whom he was related through his great-grandmother, Ruth. When things calmed down with Shaul, David asked for his father, mother, and brothers back from his trusted Moabite brethren. To his utter shock and dismay, his family had been murdered.

Later in life, King David was targeted by Avshalom, his must successful son. The background of the conflict stemmed from still another family tragedy. Avshalom himself died a tragic death which David mourned greatly. In short, King David – who was forced to bloody his hands in war after war – had no peace from his own family, teachers and friends; and no rest from all his enemies and traitors throughout all seventy years of his life.

Fortunately, though, David managed to keep a kind of diary of his experiences. He would compose a psalm (poem/song) to G-d for each challenging experience. He collected all 150 of them as a book, known as Tehillim (Psalms). One can wonder in amazement as to how David was able to muster up the emotional strength and find time to compose so many of these songs to G-d despite his never-ending challenges. With such a difficult life, how was David constantly singing songs, and compose more songs than any other Jew in history? Perhaps we can get some insight through a glimpse that Chazal give us of the future.

The Talmud (Pesachim 119b) tells us that in the future, G-d will make a lavish feast for the righteous. After the feast, the cup of wine will be passed to Avraham to make the blessing after Birkat Hamazon . Avraham will decline, feeling undeserving for having brought Yishmael into the world. Yitzchak, too, will decline because he fathered Esav; and Yaakov will turn down the honor because he married two sisters, something that the Torah later prohibited. Moshe will refuse because he did not merit to enter Eretz Yisrael, and Yehoshua because he did not have any sons. But King David will say: I will make the blessing, and it is fitting for me to do so (כוס ישועות אשא ובשם ה’ אקרא)!

Now, how can we understand this self-confidence on the part of King David? Did he not also have some problematic children, and a personal failing or two that should prevent him from feeling worthy? He was not, after all, worthy of the Holy Temple being built in his lifetime, but only later in the lifetime of his son Shlomo. Why will King David feel faultless in comparison to all the greatest figures in Jewish history?

This can be understood through King David’s use of the term למנצח – the common title for many of his psalms. The word נצח means everlasting. But למנצח means “to the Victor.” In other words, the “Ultimate Victor” – G-d – is “everlasting,” and His victories demonstrate His “everlastingness”.

King David learned from early on in his difficult life that there are battles and struggles that cannot be won through purely physical means. Fortunately, he realized that there is more to the story and he adapted the following belief: “If I praise the Ultimate Victor for all my successes, then no challenge is too hard to tackle, for it is not my strength that will determine my triumph.” This belief made it easy for young David to fight the most experienced and well-armed warrior in the world, Goliath. Although he had no armor or prior military training, David was right there to fight the battle when Goliath said that he will take on the Jews and their G-d. “Once it is a battle with G-d, the Ultimate Victor, even I (David) am able to fight it.”

At the Final Banquet in the future, King David will announce that it is not his own value or strength that brought about his successes. And, of course, he may not be more worthy than the Forefathers. On the contrary, because he feels that he is even less worthy, King David will raise the cup and make the blessing, all the while proclaiming that despite the unworthiness of mankind, G-d is our steadfast Victor.

Life has too many impossible battles to fight. Pull out a Tehillim and call out למנצח from the depths of your heart! That was King David’s life secret.

About the author, Yosef

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