See, I place before you today a blessing and a curse . . . (Devarim
It seems like a no-brainer, right? Choose the blessing!
Well, so did not giving away Gush Katif to the Palestinians.
"But what was the alternative?" you may ask.
"You're right," I will answer and admit, "Sharon and his government were
stuck between a hard rock and a wall. The hard rock being Hamas and their
terrorist partners, and the wall being George Bush and the Western World
The only question is, how did we get into that torturous position in the
first place, without which we would never have even considered
surrendering a single inch of Jewish soil?
It is Friday, August 18, 2005, as I sit down to begin writing this parshah
sheet. This past Sunday was Tisha B'Av, followed by the final stages of
Hitnatkut that have consumed all our emotions this week. I am always
amazed at how old ideas take on a different understanding in a new context.
The Talmud informs us that Tisha B'Av was the result of the meaningless
tears shed by the Jewish people the night after the Spies had presented
their evil report about the Promised Land (Ta'anis 29a). Once again, 3,316
years later, we were rejecting a piece of Eretz Yisroel, and this time,
abandoning a portion of our people who dared to live on it and make it
bloom. The juxtaposition of the events is too obvious to ignore.
Several Israelis, when questioned about their feelings on the issue,
selfishly and angrily said, "Good. I'm glad it's happening. They had it
coming to them!"
They did? Why?
Just years ago they were the heroes willing to represent the Israeli
people on an area of land that others wouldn't dare live on. Sharon even
called them "heroes" in his speech. After all, he was completely behind
the settlement when he saw the Jewish world in a different light at that
time. It never ceases to amaze me how cold secular Israelis can be to the
plight of their own brothers, especially on ideological grounds.
In the past, I have told myself, "What do you expect from people who have
fought in so many wars, and lived with so much death? What do you expect
from people who have lived under the gun for so long, and who have born
the wrath of the world for so many generations?" And, of course there
was, "Had it not been for Israeli chutzpah, could they have drained the
swamps and built this land against all the odds - and so quickly?"
Debatable, especially since G-d can do whatever He wants to. However, such
statements worked to help me see and accept secular Israelis in a positive
light, in spite of their efforts to cast a dark shadow from a traditional
point of view.
Then there are my co-religionists. There are some who ripped their
clothing in mourning at the loss of Gush Katif, while so many went about
their business as if nothing was out of the ordinary. In some cases,
bringing up the issue of Hitnatkut brought responses of anger, as if
something heretical was being discussed. Some went out of their way, for
political reasons, not to identify with the people of Gush Katif in any
way. I also heard, "They had it coming to them" from some circles, albeit
for different reasons.
One of the things that struck me on Tisha B'Av this year was Yirmiyahu's
response to the exiled Jews of his time. If anyone had the right to wag
his finger and scream at the top of his longs, "I TOLD YOU SO!", it was
the prophet Yirmiyahu.
For how many years did Yirmiyahu prophesize in the Name of G-d, only to
derided, spat upon, abused, and even thrown into jail? In fact, it was
while he was in jail that Yirmiyahu received the word of G-d to write what
later became the first, second, and fourth chapter of Eichah. In jail!
Wait, doesn't G-d run the world? Couldn't He have smashed Yirmiyahu's
enemies, including King Yehoiakim, who burned the first version of Eichah,
and free Yirmiyahu, at least long enough to write Eichah?
Yet, when Yirmiyahu's vindication finally came, he did nothing of the
sort. Instead, amidst his wailing for his people he chased after them as
they were being led to Babylonian in chains. He found their blood along
the road and cried, their limbs on the way, and cried even more. All of it
tore him apart. And when he finally caught up with the ones who were still
alive, he embraced them, cried with them, and acted towards them as if
they had been his closest friends all along.
Personally, I cannot fathom the depths of his Ahavas Yisroel (love of his
fellow Jew). Though he is called the "Prophet of the Destruction," in
truth, few prophets represented the building blocks of rehabilitation of
the Jewish people more than Yirmiyahu.
[G-d says to Yechezkel] "I shall give you a new heart, and I shall put
new spirit within you. I shall remove the
heart of stone from within your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh."
We are told that our generation has hearts of stone. We are told that this
is necessary, for if our hearts were made of flesh we could never survive
all the troubles our people have gone through. It is, of course,
figurative, and we are talking about a capacity to feel the reality of
This Tisha B'Av, I could feel my heart of stone. It was a day of
remembering national destruction, with a new one coming on its heels, and
I was not as moved as I ought to have been. Indeed, I had to fight to stay
awake through the Kinos (I doven at Neitz), something I found somewhat
distressing. My mind wanted to connect to the importance of the day, but
my body just wasn't cooperating.
That was Sunday. On the other hand, yesterday, Thursday, I was sad and
depressed. The events of the day were taking their toll on me. People from
Gush Katif were calling in eye-witness accounts to people who would type
them up and send them out on the spot. This, combined with the pictures of
settlers and soldiers crying on each other over the very idea of Jews
expelling Jews from Jewish land, made it past my emotional firewall and
like a computer virus, began to take over my system.
Just as I had watched myself as an outsider on Sunday, marveling at
how "out of it" I could be on such an important day, I marvel now at how
much what is going on in this country is affecting me. I am sadder than I
ever thought I would become, as if I personally know families there being
evicted from their homes (with nowhere to go to), as if I had personally
helped to build the settlement.
No, no heart of stone in me today. No, and not for the many soldiers who
either rejected their mission, sabotaged it, or cried during it. Yes,
there were "professional" policemen there capable of carrying out their
duty with a ferociousness not even used on the real enemy, but I guess,
not every heart of stone is going to melt at the End-of-Days.
Last night, as I tried to get a grasp of the situation and feeling unable
to do so, I prayed to G-d while walking home from shul after Ma'ariv, for
a little insight that might help reveal some hidden good amidst the
apparent bad. I mean, how am I supposed to fit giving up a piece of Eretz
Yisroel into my End-of-Days mindset?
Boruch Hashem, an answer came just 15 minutes later after receiving a
phone call from a student of mine from America. She had just returned from
a trip to Eretz Yisroel and was grappling with maintaining a connection to
the Kotel while living thousands of miles away. The conversation turned to
a discussion about stones that seem to have a heart, and hearts of stone,
all of which led to the following posuk:
G-d, your G-d, will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your
descendants, so you may love G-d, your G-d
with all your heart, and with all your soul, in order that you may live.
And that is when my heart and mind came together once again, as if my
heart was telling my mind, "Yeah, that's it. That's what is going on over
In fact, if I had to describe the effect of Hitnatkut on my heart, I'd
have to say that it was as if a protective layer had been peeled away,
leaving my heart vulnerable to the emotional turmoil of the outside world.
Indeed, one of the things that gnawed away at me yesterday was how I felt
yesterday instead of the way I should have felt on Tisha B'Av. On Thursday
I said Tehillim for the current crisis the way I should have said Kinos on
Sunday for past ones.
Granted, it is much easier to feel something currently happening with live
people than it is to feel about exiles from the past. Yes, we went through
them, but we also lived past them. They're over now. The despair of those
times has turned into the hope of the future in the present. On the other
hand, who knows what the Jewish people must face next, and not just the
settlers, but the entire nation, and not just in Eretz Yisroel, but all
over the world?
So, I told myself, "G-d knows that." Indeed, all along I have been telling
myself and others that the Final Redemption is at hand. When, exactly, I
do not know. But it is close enough to talk about the events of the
present in terms of the redemption of the future. I don't believe that
what is happening today, or has happened over the last 15 years for that
matter, is only a small and distant stepping stone on the path to national
redemption. I believe that this is all part of "it."
Which is why, in my mind, Hitnatkut has to end in our favor, somehow. Not
necessarily in a pleasant way, but
favorably in terms of the ultimate goals of the Jewish people.
How could abandoning a section of Eretz Yisroel at this late stage of
history be a step towards redemption, no matter what the Arabs claim about
the land . . . no matter what the world dictates to the Israeli
people . . . no matter what the Prime Minister and his cohorts are driven
to do in the opposite direction of the national goals as
spelled out by Torah?
Until last night when I was reminded of that posuk, I did not have an
answer. Now, considering this posuk and
the prophecy of Yechezkel, and seeing the effects of Hitnatkut on Jewish
consciousness, I can't help but think
of a new born Jewish baby about to enter the covenant of his Fathers, via
a threshold called Bris Milah.
Such judgments, they know them not (Bais-Lamed). (Tehillim 147:20)
There is another way of speaking about this, which also did not click in
my mind until last night. This is the
beauty of learning Kabbalah.
The Arizal taught:
Thus, when his (Adam HaRishon's) Nefesh reincarnated it first went to
Shais, the son of Adam HaRishon. This caused the evil to be separated out,
which was later given to Bilaam the Evil. Both of these levels, the good
and the evil of the Nefesh had previously been included in Hevel, as his
name alludes, with the "Heh" of "Hevel" alluding to the good which was
given to Shais. This is the sod of the posuk, "Everything You placed
(shattah) under his feet" (Tehillim 8:7), which has the letters "Shin-Tav"
(Shais) and "Heh" (of Hevel). We have already explained that this psalm is
about Moshe, about whom it says, "Yet, You have made him only slightly
less than angels" (Tehillim 8:6); and he is Shais, as we will soon
explain. The evil of Hevel's Nefesh is represented by the letters Bais-
Lamed, which is the sod of the posuk, "Such judgments, they know them not
(Bais-Lamed)" (Tehillim 147:20). For, these two letters refer to the
Klipos and the Bais-Lamed of Bilaam (BAIS-LAMED-Ayin-Mem). (Sha'ar
HaGilgulim, Ch. 29)
In other words, though Hevel seemed so pure according to the Torah's
account of his short life, in truth, he too lacked perfection. Indeed,
Kayin could only have murdered him if Hevel had been deemed worthy of such
a punishment, or in need of such a tikun (Tifferes Tzion 22:2). The Arizal
has revealed wherein lay that imperfection, or at least how it was
represented in Hevel's name.
What is even more revealing is how central to the perfection of Creation
the tikun of Hevel, of the Bais-Lamed,
. . . When all of the gilgulim of Hevel are complete, which is Moshe
Rabbeinu who reincarnates into every
generation to separate out the souls from amongst the spiritual waste,
Moshiach will come. (Ibid., Ch. 20)
Thus, history is about rectifying the Bais-Lamed of Hevel, which is
interesting because it just happens to be that
the reverse of Bais-Lamed is Lamed-Bais - leiv (heart). This makes one
wonder: Is Bais-Lamed a backward
heart, or more precisely, a stone heart? Is that what history is about,
about turning the Bais-Lamed around into
Lamed-Bais, one of the final stages of transition in the Days of Moshiach?
Hence, like a new born baby, the Jewish people must cross a threshold. For
seven days the new baby lives
peacefully without a care in the world. However, by the ninth day he must
have already entered into the
covenant of Avraham Avinu. What stands in his way is the eighth day and
Bris Milah - an operation of sorts that
result in a little blood letting and some crying along the way.
Likewise, the exile is coming to an end. Our hearts of stone served us
well on the one hand, and hindered us
on the other. They protected us from feeling too much pain over the
millennia, but they have also desensitized
us to the reality of G-d, love of His Torah, and of His people. It has
been a non-Messianic mentality that must
change if we are going into transition into the next stage of history. The
heart of stone is simply going to have to
Far be it from me to think that I can so easily make sense of G-d's master
plan of history, especially when it gets
so confusing. However, until this week, giving away a piece of Eretz
Yisroel, uprooting heroic settlers from their
self-built haven, handing it all over to people we know have no control
over the people who wish to use Azza
as a stepping stone to taking the rest of the country (having said so
themselves repeatedly), did not fit into my
End-of-Days vision. Now it does.
My only question is, how deep must the incision be before the stone hearts
of those who remain unaffected by
Hitnatkut are melted, before Jews of the Diaspora stop asking questions
"What does aliyah or the security of Israel have to do with me?"
"Why would I ever consider leaving the security and comfort of the
Diaspora for the insecurity and uncertainty of
For, Dovid HaMelech summed up Heaven's expectations of the generation of
Moshiach in this way:
You will arise and show Tzion mercy, for the time to favor her, for the
appointed time will have come. For Your
servants have cherished her stones and favor her dust. (Tehillim 102:14-15)
Hence, the Geulah Shlaimah depends upon surrendering and turning in our
hearts of stone for the stones of
Eretz Yisroel. Geulah Shlaimah is a matter of the heart.
Don't spy after the desires of your hearts and your eyes. (Bamidbar
This posuk, of course, is from the end of Parashas Shlach, the parshah of
the spies who did what the Torah is
now telling us not to do. The Talmud says regarding Eichah, the account of
the destruction of the First Temple
and the exile of its surviving Jews:
Why does the letter Peh come before the letter Ayin? Because of the spies
who spoke about that which their
eyes did not see. (Sanhedrin 104b)
The stanzas of Eichah were arranged by Yirmiyahu according to the Aleph-
Bais, to teach us that if we don't
obey the rules of G-d's world that was made with the Aleph-Bais, then that
same Aleph-Bais becomes the
source of our own suffering and demise. The only exception to the order is
with respect to the letters of Ayin
and Peh, whose chronological order Yirmiyahu reversed. The Talmud has
In other words, the spies put their mouths (Peh) before their eyes
(Ayin), so-to-speak. However, as Rashi
points out, they did indeed speak about what they saw:
They brought back to the Children of Israel an evil report of the land
which they had searched, saying, "The
land which we investigated is a land that eats up its inhabitants."
"In every place we passed we found them burying their dead!" However, the
truth was that The Holy One,
Blessed is He, did this for their good, to involve them [the inhabitants
of Canaan] in mourning to distract them
from paying attention to the spies." (Rashi)
Well, yes and no. Apparently, the issue was not about what their eyes
actually beheld, but about what their
minds perceived. They misconstrued what they saw, seeing problems in
making aliyah where they did not
exist, making mountains out of mole hills, and vice versa. Their hearts,
at that stage of the journey, just weren't
into making aliyah.
However, if one views the world through the eyes of Bais-Lamed, the
The heart and the eyes are the spies of the body; that is, they lead a
person to transgress: the eyes see, the
heart covets, and the body transgresses. (Rashi, Bamidbar 15:39)
However, view the world through the eyes of Lamed-Bais (a heart of flesh)
and it is a different scenario
altogether, one of redemption:
The two men then returned and descended from the mountain; they crossed
[the Jordan] and came to
Yehoshua son of Nun and told him all that had happened to them. They said
to Yehoshua, "G-d has given the
land into our hands; and all the inhabitants of the land have even melted
because of us." (Yehoshua 2:23-24)
It is a whole different vision, the vision that is spoken about in this
week's parshah which begins with the words:
SEE, I present before you today . . .
See what? See the truth. See clearly. See with a leiv (Lamed-Bais), not
with the empty vision of ba'al (Bais-
Lamed). The vision of Amalek is senseless, heartless, and it has greatly
affected the Jewish people. I am totally
amazed at how many Jewish leaders have congratulated Prime Minister Sharon
on evicting his own people to
leave behind a power vacuum that is sure to haunt the State of Israel in
just a matter of months from now.
And again, in the name of which higher cause?
I am absolutely awestruck by how many Jews the world over think that what
just happened was a good thing
for the Jewish people, when all that really happened was an Israeli
government, that has no G-dly vision, no
sense of Jewish history, no real mandate for the future of Eretz Yisroel,
briefly squirming out from between a
hard rock and a wall. Once again, we have sold off the future for the sake
of the present, something the
Western world does as a matter of everyday life.
If you were to ask me, I'd have to say that the ultimate circumcision of
the Jewish heart will not occur before
Moshiach arrives, only after. If I am right, and I sincerely hope that I
am wrong, that will probably mean that until
that time, a lot of hearts will remain stone and so will their viewpoints.
For them, black will remain white and
white will seem black, and a lot of good people will suffer the
consequences as a result.
However, just like after every Bris, this one will also end in celebration
when we all truly learn how to feel with a
true heart of a Jew, and to SEE with truly Jewish eyes.
Have a great Shabbos,
This week's parshah sheet is dedicated to Shaynah bas Madelyn and
Berel ben Lebah. May they merit a complete and speedy recovery.