Parshas Ki Saitzai
Out & Up
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
As of this Shabbos we will be two weeks into "Elul Zman." "Elul"
refers to the Jewish month we are now in, and "zman" means "time." In
the yeshivishe world, it refers to the short learning semester that
begins on the first day of Elul, and ends with Rosh Hashanah.
Of course, Elul Zman means more than this. MUCH more. Starting from
the first day of the month, we blow the shofar every day. Sephardim
around the world begin saying Selichos," special prayers that beg G-d
for forgiveness, and Ashkenazim will join them, this
year, the week before Rosh Hashanah.
For the spiritually sensitive and halachically aware, the Day of
Judgment is fast approaching, and they can feel it. And, we are
MEANT to feel it, for as the Rambam explains, we blow the shofar to
awaken us from our yearly slumber, to make us realize that teshuvah
is necessary and fast.
The shofar has few functions, but many forms. There is the classical
ram's-horn type, which makes that heart-penetrating, Biblical-type
sound, which seems to have the ability to elevate the repentant
person outside of his slice of time into the "Big Picture" -- G-d's
purpose in creation and our role within it.
Then there is the "Hashgochah Pratis" type. Hashgochah Pratis means
Divine Providence, and the events of our lives that are governed by
Divine Providence can be their own wake-up call to teshuvah. Crises
are very good at making us consider and reconsider what we are doing
with our lives, and whether or not we are on the "right track."
For example, the terrorist attack a couple of weeks ago at the corner
of King George and Jaffa streets, which killed fifteen people and
wounded many others. I did not hear the bomb go off, though I was
only blocks away at the time. However, I did see some of the
aftermath and read the stories that followed in its wake.
The stories of the people who "just happened" to have been there that
day at that moment, are astounding, or rather, frightening. And, the
stories of the people who were on their way there, but were
momentarily delayed for what may have seemed like the most trivial of
reasons, are also scary in as much as one can see how close one can
come to death without knowing it at the time.
And, the stories of how the people died...
It is a different Elul Zman this year. Last Elul, as we prepared for
the upcoming Rosh Hashanah of 5761, we had no idea that just before
Rosh Hashanah the Arab world would dive head first into a whole new
Intifadah, and obliterate any hope of immediate peace, or peace at
all. After the rock-throwing rampage from the Temple Mount Erev Rosh
Hashanah, it was the first time since 1967 that the Western Wall was
devoid of Jewish prayers on Rosh Hashanah.
The following Succos witnessed an uncharacteristic rainfall on the
first day, and then another dry winter. However, nothing shocked the
nation more than the butcherism of the people of Ramallah as they
proudly and happily tore two Israeli soldiers to pieces with their
bare hands. Who can forget the picture of the well-groomed
Palestinian proudly displaying the Israeli blood on his hands for the
excited crowd outside?
For a country dependent upon tourism, it was a kiss of death.
Tourism has spiraled downward, forcing stores and others out of
business, with no recovery in sight. More terrorism, more criticism
from the world that just doesn't make sense, and countries that want
to prosecute our prime minister for his indirect involvement while
their leader gets world sympathy (and money) in spite of his DIRECT
involvement in so much death and terrorism.
And, as if that wasn't maddening enough, a wedding hall collapses in
Israel due to faulty construction, killing people and ruining lives
for good. More recently, Jewish couples perish in a plane crash in
America while taking a short break from the pressures of life. All
over the world, from Australia to the United States, Jews are
concerned and nervous like never before because anti-Semitism is
clearly on the rise.
What does it mean? There seems to be three prevalent interpretations
of our people in history. There are those who ignore it and go about
business as usual, as if not looking means you can't be seen either.
Then there are those who reason it is only a passing phase, and at
most, an Israeli problem.
Finally, there are those who are suspicious that things have been
getting progressively worse for the Jewish people because things are
getting progressively worse for the Jewish people. And, they know
when that happens, it means Heaven is pulling in the "leash," or,
rather, yoke. All of a sudden in this new light, they see all the
events of the past year, and indeed, the past decade, as part of one,
long, extended shofar blast.
No one (I know) knows what's going to happen from this point onward,
though the options are few. But, whatever notes emanate out from the
shofar of Divine Providence, they will all say the same thing in the
end. Jewish destiny beckons its people. It is time to rise out of
our technologically advanced, but spiritually limited period of time
and read the writing on the proverbial wall.
If you can read, then read it, and teach it to others. If you can't
read it, then learn how. History and the nations of the world,
particularly the Arab population is making us do things we should
have done on our own. They are forcing us to do that which we should
have willingly done without instigation. As the rabbis teach, "G-d
has many messengers;"as history proves, not all of them are friendly.
Rosh Hashanah 5762 is fast approaching, and it has the potential to
be the most powerful one of all of history. Or, it can be just like
all the others, which, at this late and treacherous stage of Jewish
history isn't enough. The choice is ours to make, or to avoid. But,
in ALL cases, the consequences are OURS, all of ours, no matter in
which corner of the world a Jew lives.
When a man will take a wife . . . (Devarim 24:1)
One of the many mitzvos in this week's parshah is the one to get
married. From the posuk itself, it sounds like a very simple
process: man SEES woman, man WANTS woman, man TAKES woman.
However, from the Oral Law (Kiddushin 2a-b), we know that a Jewish
marriage is far from being a simple matter, and, anyone who has ever
been involved with an Orthodox marriage knows how precise we are
about the many details and intricacies to make sure that the Chasan
and Kallah (Groom and Bride) have a "kosher" marriage -- joyful and
full of honor for one another -- but above all, Halachically kosher.
Not every marriage works out, obviously. In fact, within the same
posuk the Torah writes:
. . . then he must write her a bill of divorce . . .
Thus, there is also a MITZVAH to get divorced when the marriage
ceases to fulfill halachic requirements, which much must be decided
on by the Bais Din which is chosen to issue the "Get." And, jJust as
the marriage was to taketook place in a halachic manner and with
honor for one another, so, too, must the divorce be executed in
accordance to halachah, and, with respect for one another.
In theory it might make sense, but the everyday reality of divorce
tells a different story. There may have been attraction and love for
one another in the beginning, at least on some level, but, that is
usually replaced with just the opposite emotions and feelings:
hatred, disgust, disrespect, resentment, etc.
When that is the case, then, the very halachic device that was
granted by Heaven to free the spouses of one another so that they can
try again with a more suitable mate, becomes a device for
imprisonment. It is more common for a woman to become an "Iguna,"
buthowever, I also know of stories where the man is the one who is
being held "captive" by the woman until she gets the settlement --
or the revenge -- that she is seeking.
Either way it is tragic, and many rabbis have spent days locked up in
their studies looking for ways to halachically free the woman of her
disgruntled husband, who obviously lacks sufficient fear of G-d to
what is right. In some cases it may yield positive results, in other
cases, it may result in a lonely wait and years of battling.
In the days when the Jewish people enjoyed Torah sovereignty, the
Talmud explains, there was a way to compel the man to give the Get he
was obligated to give. Today, aside from some vigilante squads that
work under cover, the Bais Din has few options at its disposal to
enforce their decision on behalf of the husband or the wife.
One of the most amazing things of the entire thing is how people can
get married with such confidence, with the firm belief that this is
their real "zivug" (soul-mate), and yet months or years later, become
"enemies" of one another. In my limited involvement of such cases,
and after seeing how the husband abuses the wife, or she him, or both
abuse each other, one can't help but wonder how they ever got married
in the first place!
In some cases, either one or both spouses were not mentally well (not
that any of us are 100% there either); in such circumstances, the
marriage was "iffy" from the start. However, in other cases, the
spouses appeared to be more than well enough to make the marriage
work, yet they turned into marital monsters along the way.
In some cases, a kind of marital schizophrenia sets in when the
couple appears to be having an okay time of it in public, whereas
behind closed doors the walls of marriage are privately crumbling at
a quick rate. However, it doesn't take long before what is happening
on the inside begins to appear on the outside as well, and without
the proper counseling, salvation may become impossible.
Marriage is very risky business. In a business deal, one can lose
money -- a lot of money, and even one's possessions, G-d forbid.
However, such losses do not compare to the losses that souls suffer
when the spouses and the little, innocent children born to the
parents undergo a painful divorce. However, few people think of THAT
in the big rush to get married and have as many children as possible
and as fast as possible.
One married individual with children once confided in me:
"You know, when I stood under the Chupah, I thought I was marrying a
perfect woman. And, when we spoke about our future children, we
spoke of having righteous children. I suppose that she thought that
she was marrying a perfect man. Admittedly at the time, there were a
few more things to fix up, but as far as I was concerned, we were
heading for the perfect marriage."
He paused and then continued, "after one year of marriage though, it
seemed as if we were heading instead for the divorce court. And not
too long after that, the children came, and what we had hoped would
help bring us closer together instead only added more tension . . ."
"So what changed?" I asked him, seeing what now appeared to be a
good, strong marriage with good children. I was afraid he was going
to tell me it was all an illusion.
"I did." He said. "It didn't happen over night, that's for sure, and
I still have plenty of work left to do. However, I've sobered up
about life and marriage. I've seen the depths of my 'other side' . .
. I know how mean I can be . . . how impatient . . . and how selfish.
said and done things that disgust me to this very day . . ."
Curious about what he was referring to, I didn't need to ask. I had
my own personal examples.
"I've come to realize that marriage is not a 'two-way street', like I
argued for years . . . many painful years. I have come to
understand, thank G-d, that marriage is about two 'one-way' streets,
where each person thinks of the other person FIRST without any
expectation of return. Marriage is not a partnership where
responsibilities are divided by percentages, and you sue when the
other person does a little less than you had expected that day."
"No," he was concluding, "the day I swallowed my pride and started
this new approach was the day I became proud of how selfless I could
be. And unknowingly, it was also the day that my wife began to trust
me that I really cared for her well-being, and she began to take care
of me in ways I would never have expected. It took about a decade,
but we were finally having joy from our marriage, and now we're
trying to teach all of this to our children."
One posuk, two extremes, but the choice is ours.
Remember what Amalek did to you along your way when you left Egypt.
Amalek is like a red light and siren. Being the nemesis of the
Jewish people, when he shows up in the Torah and history, as he does
at the end of this week's parshah, then there is usually something
very important to learn.
For example, the warning of Amalek and the mitzvah to remember what
he did to us comes immediately after the mitzvah to have fair and
just weights when doing business. The lesson for the generations:
cheating in business indicates a lack of faith in G-d to provide for
your needs, which results in a spiritual void into which Amalek jumps.
There is a similar message much earlier in the Torah, as the Talmud
points out. The Talmud says:
Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Had the Jewish people kept the
first Shabbos, no nation or language could have had any power [over
the Jewish people], as it says, "It was on the seventh day that the
people went out to collect . . ." (Shemos 16:27), and after that it
writes, "And Amalek came . . ." (Shemos 17:8). (Shabbos 118b)
The Talmud is referring to some of the Jewish people, in spite of
Moshe's instruction to the contrary, went out on Shabbos looking for
mann. This was considered a violation of the Shabbos, and shortly
after that, the people of Amalek came and attacked the
Jewish people for the first time in history.
The Talmud is revealing a life-saving insight: Emunah (Faith in G-d)
and Amalek represent two polar extremes of one conceptual continuum.
For, keeping the Shabbos and fair business practices represent one's
level of faith in G-d - not just that He will provide us with what
we need, but that He is always THERE always paying attention to every
last detail of our lives.
This doesn't necessarily mean that you won't lose the business deal
by ceasing from deal-making on Shabbos, or that you will have enough
customers every day to make up for what you could have cheated out of
a customer. It doesn't mean that doing mitzvos in This World will
always land us on our feet.
What DOES it mean then? It means that, whatever happens to us in our
lifetimes, and whatever we see happen to others in their lifetimes,
is for good - our good and their good - IN THE END.
The Talmud tells a couple of stories of Nachum Ish Gamzu, whose name
derived from the way he addressed all situations with the phrase,
"Gam zu l'tovah" - -- this too is for the good.
And it was as he said. For, once he brought money and valuables as a
gift to the Caesar, to "inspire" him to abandon his decree against
the Jewish people. While on the way, he stayed over night at a small
inn, and was robbed of the Jewish gift to the Caesar. The innkeeper
took the gold and silver from the trunk, and replaced it with sand.
Unknowingly, Nachum brought the trunk filled with sand to the Caesar,
who upon seeing what was in place of the money, gold and silver,
became even more infuriated, believing that the Jewish people were
mocking him. Nachum only said, "This too is for the good."
Just then, Eliyahu showed up as a Roman guard, and informed the
Caesar of how Nachum's ancestor, Avraham Avinu, used such sand to
conquer the kings of Canaan against whom he was at war. The Caesar
used the sand in a protracted war he could not win until then, and a
miracle occurred and the Romans won the war.
As a reward for Nachum's mystical sand, the Caesar let Nachum take
the decree, and more valuables than which with he had first arrived.
As Nachum had trusted, it had all worked out just fine for him and
the Jewish people.
Then there was the time that Nachum Ish Gamzu was riding on a donkey
when he was met by a poor and famished man who begged for food.
Nachum told him to wait a moment while he dismounted to help him, but
by the time he reached the ground, the man had already died.
Nachum was broken by what had occurred, and he threw himself onto the
man and cursed every limb of his own body for not having responded to
the needs of the beggar.
The curse came true, and all Nachum could do when his distraught
students came to visit him was lie on his bed in agony, completely
handicapped. But, it was his students who mourned, and not him,
"Rebi! How can we see you like this?!"
"My dear students," Nachum Ish Gamzu replied, "Better you should see
me like this now in This World, than what I would look like in the
World-to-Come if I didn't go through this now."
And that is the way he died, completely lame, in agony, but
completely full of emunah - with belief in G-d's master plan and the
ultimate goodness of it. He may have lost his body, which is
temporal at best, however, he won the war against Amalek, who comes
to undermine our faith in Eternity and G-d's master plan, and that is
It is a simple equation, though hard to remember and implement: the
more faith, the less Amalek; the less faith, the more Amalek. It
seems that current history is giving us plenty of opportunities to
test it out.
History & Beyond: 6000 & Beyond
To remain with an old analogy, imagine taking water vapor and cooling
it down. The result would be water. Now, if you were to cool the
water even more to zero degrees Celsius, the water would adjust its
molecular structure even more, crystallize, and become ice. Compared
to the water vapor the H2O molecules once produced, the ice is in the
most "physical" state of all.
However, if you were to reverse the procedure and increase the
temperature, eventually the ice would begin to melt, and become fluid
water once again. If you were to increase the temperature of the
water to 100 degrees Celsius or more, the water would begin to boil
and return to a vapor state, becoming invisible to the eye.
As the light of Ain Sof moved away from its Source into the "Hollow,"
it became more physical. Now, in such a discussion as this, as in
all of Kabbalah, everything is relative. Compared to what was to
come, the light was extremely non-physical. However, compared to
higher, less filtered levels of the same light, the light was "more
This is why the First Man, before he sinned, had skin that was
translucent like our finger nails, which incidentally, we remind
ourselves of at Havdallah on Motzei Shabbos when we use the light of
the fire to view our fingernails. Physical food and physical
digestion were unnecessary, for Adam HaRishon, on his pre-sin level,
received his life-sustaining Holy Sparks directly from G-d through
creation. Just like Moshe after he came down the mountain with
"horns of light." It was the "vapor" stage of mankind.
Furthermore, on such a level, becoming "one flesh" with one's wife
was not physically impossible, but easy to do since the skin
resembled light more than it did physical and obstructing flesh.
Rashi's pshat of such human unification taking place only through the
children is a post-sin consequence, and obviously has many
shortcomings, as the reality of divorce proves.
However, the consequence of sinning, as G-d had warned man, was to
force the light to descend even more so, and result in even greater
physicality. This is represented, Kabbalistically, by our physical
skin, also called the "skin of the snake." And, once man became more
physical and limited, so did the rest of creation, forcing us to have
to eat physical food and physically digest it, all part of the
process of Tikun Olam - fixing up the mistake that Adam made.
To make use of another analogy, we have the computer. Unlike the
original typewriter, when I press on a certain key on my keyboard, it
does not result in that specific key hitting the paper
and typing the letter of my choice. Instead, when I press a key, an
electric signal is sent to my hard drive that reads it as an
instruction to produce the form of the chosen letter on my screen. It
is really quite a remarkable process, one that is duplicated when my
computer goes to print that letter on actual paper.
I don't speak in computer language, nor do I understand it. And my
computer doesn't speak English, nor does it understand me. However,
some geniuses who understand both of us got together and developed a
way to use computer technology and language to translate my will into
the reality it dictates (most of the time, except when it rebels, or
at least seems to). The more elegant the system and the language,
the better it can facilitate the will of man.
The Sefiros work in a similar fashion. They are a system that G-d
employs to translate HIS will into OUR reality, so that creation can
interact with us, and we, with it, and through it all, earn our
portion in the World-to-Come. And depending on the command of G-d, a
certain sefirah is activated to provide a certain effect at precisely
a certain time in a precise way.
Just as with the computer, there can be a chain of command where one
signal triggers another, and so on until the intention of the typist
is executed. So too, does one sefirah give light over to another,
until the light reaches its Divinely intended and final destination.
The more conductors the electrical current has to pass through a
computer, the weaker the signal. The more sefiros the light passes
through, the weaker, the more physical the light.
In Moshiach's time, may it be soon in our time, the lower sefiros
begin to move in the opposite direction from whence they originally
came, upward, and with them, human reality. Therefore, the light that
will sustain us will have less sefiros through which to travel, and
therefore, it will be less filtered. That is why evil will and must
cease to exist, just as darkness is banished with the introduction of
Digest that over Shabbos, and G-d willing, we will continue next week.