Parshas Ki Seitzei
Gratitude--A Hereditary Trait?
Volume 3 Issue 50
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Marriage: The tie that binds. It is the building-block of any nation
and the foundation for its growth. Yet Jewish law restricts whom the
children of Abraham may marry - even among those who share their own
faith. The Torah tells us that neither an Ammonite nor Moabite male may
marry into the direct descendants of Abraham.
True they may marry other converts, but they can never enter a direct
union with descendants of Klal Yisrael.
The Torah tells us the reason for this restriction. "On the fact that
they (Ammon) did not greet you with bread and water as you left Egypt and
for employing (Moab) Bilaam the son of Pe'or to curse you" (Deuteronomy
One must truly wonder: according to the Torah, anyone is allowed to
become a Jew. It requires acceptance of the mitzvos and the
responsibilities that Judaism entails. Yet the Torah it seems, has great
reason to disallow males who descend from the nation of Ammon and Moab
from marrying direct descendants of Abraham. Surely it is solely not the
refusal of bread and water or the employing of a sorcerer to curse the Jews.
After all, the Egyptians enslaved the descendants of Jacob, nevertheless,
Egyptian converts may marry Jews - albeit after three generations of
waiting. Even converted descendants of our enemy Esau may marry the
children of his nemesis brother Yaakov. What then is the inherent evil
trait of Ammon and Moab that disallows their union with Abraham?
A brilliant young student entered the portals of Yeshiva Torah Voda'ath
in the 1940s. Hailing from a distinguished rabbinic family which
instilled within him a creative mind, he questioned some of the arcane
dormitory rules and restrictions that were imposed with boys of less
character in mind.
But rules, said the dormitory counselor, are rules and he wanted to have
the young student temporarily expelled until he would agree to conform.
An expulsion of that sort would have left the young man (who lived
out of town) no alternative but to leave the Yeshiva.
They brought the matter before the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky.
"True," he said, "rules are rules, but I owe this young man something."
The dorm counselor looked stunned.
"In the 1800s this boy's great-grandfather helped establish the kollel
(fellowship program for married Torah scholars) at which I would study
some decades later. I owe his family a debt of gratitude. If the rules
disallow his stay in the dormitory, then he will sleep in my home."
An essential trait of the Jewish people is gratitude. The children of
Avraham are instilled with it, whether it be gratitude to Hashem or his
mortal messengers. However, it seems that Ammon and Moab have no sense
of gratitude. Their forebear was Lot, Avraham's nephew who raised Lot
and was saved him during a vicious war. Avraham taught Lot the spirit of
hospitality and helped establish him in life. Yet Lot's children,
Ammon, and Moab, showed no gratitude. In fact, they were eager to
destroy Avraham's children - both physically and spiritually. There can
be no fusion of those two traits.
We can handle enemies. When an Edomite or Egyptian accepts the faith he
can become a true partner in every aspect that bonds Jews - even
marriage. But in the harmony of the Jewish family, in the building the
future of our nation, there is no room for ingrates.
Moabite women however, are exempt from the ban. It seems that they had
no control over the decisions. How interesting it is to note that the
Moabite convert, Ruth, the woman who showed tremendous gratitude toward
her mother-in-law was the precedent-setting example that lifted the ban
on Moabite-women converts.
Those actions of gratitude and understanding ultimately led to the birth
of King David the forebear of Moshiach.
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