"When you go out to war against your enemies, and God, your God gives
them over to you and you take captives, and you see among the captives a
desirable, beautiful woman who you want to marry"(Devarim 21:10-11)
Elul Zman is upon us, the last
month to get serious about life
before Rosh Hashanah and
the Heavenly Court arrives to
judge the worthiness of our
lives. The shofar is blowing, and
in some parts of the Jewish world, Selichos is already being said. It may still
be hot outside, but the summer is definitely over, according to the Torah
It is important to be a problem solver, something I learned to do from a
very young age, from a man for whom I have always had great respect: my
father. Working for my father, I was taught early that every problem is just
another challenge in need of a solution, the finding of which is one of the
greatest sources of excitement and accomplishment in life. I may still kvetch
a lot when problems arise, but in the background, my mind is usually busy
working on a solution.
Indeed, the Jewish people in general are good problem solvers. When
you have had as many problems to solve as we have had over the course of
our 3,300 years of history, you become quite good at it after while. Too
good, sometimes, for, it seems, after a while, rather than see the problems as
reasons to pray to God to end the exile, we just work on solving them instead.
Today, the Jewish people are experiencing many problems, both physically
and spiritually. In one sense, nothing is new, for the Jewish people
have always had to deal with Jews forsaking the way of Torah, intermarriage,
and a whole host of other problems that seem to becoming more
prevalent with each passing day, R"L. And, according to some, physical illnesses
that used to by-pass the religious community seem to make no exceptions
Perhaps, it is more like some say, that nothing really has changed. It is
just that modern medicine has become better at diagnosing problems than
ever before, and therefore we are finding out more, and earlier, about health
problems we always had, but just didn't understand or know about in the
past. Furthermore, enhanced communication has served to amplify problems
that have always existed, in one form or another, but which we didn't
always find out about, since communities were not as in touch with one another
as they are today.
Perhaps. However, historically that has not been the case, starting at the
beginning of Jewish history, with the descendants of Avraham in the Egyptian
exile. Clearly, in that situation, the Jews called out to God to help them
from their suffering, not because modern medicine told them they were sick
or dying, or because communication between communities improved. It
was because the situation facing the Jewish people at the time became unbearable
because of the exile.
Eventually the king of Egypt died. By that time, the Children of Israel
were broken because of the servitude, and they cried. Their cry for help
came to God, who heard their groaning. God remembered His covenant
with Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov, and saw the Children of Israel.
God was aware of their suffering. (Shemos 3:23-25)
It was a two-step process. First the Jewish people had to call out because
of their servitude, and this caused, so-to-speak, God to hear their groaning,
and remember His covenant with Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov. Well,
not really, not in the conventional sense of "hearing" and "remembering,"
because, one can safely assume, God was there the entire time, heard every
kvetch from the beginning of the exile until its end, and never once forgot
the covenant He made with the ancestors of the enslaved Jewish people.
Then what? Why the charade?
It was no charade. The missing component in Egypt, and in every exile
for that matter, is not God's hearing, or His remembering. Every single second
God hears the complaining of His people, and every single second He
is ready to fulfill ALL the promises made to Avraham, Yitzchak, and
Ya'akov, as the Talmud indicates:
Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi met Eliyahu standing at the entrance of the cave
of Rebi Shimon bar Yochai and asked him..."When will Moshiach appear?"
He answered, "Go and ask Moshiach himself."
"But where can he be found"
"At the gate of Rome."
"And by what sign [can I recognize him]?"
"He is among the poor people afflicted with wounds. They open the
bandages of all their wounds at one time, adjust and dress them. He
opens, adjusts, and dresses one wound at time, for the reason that when
he might be called there should be no delay."
I went to him, and said, "Peace be upon you, my master and teacher,"
and he answered, "Peace be with you, Bar Levi."
I asked him, "When will the master appear?"
He answered, "Today."
I then went back to Eliyahu and asked regarding all that Moshiach said,
and told him that he said, "Peace be with you, Bar Levi." Eliyahu then
said, "I can assure you and your father a share in the World-to-Come."
"But he made a fool of me," I told Eliyahu, "because he said that he
would come today."
Eliyahu answered and said, "The expression 'today' means the same as
it does in the verse, 'Today, if you will listen to His voice'" (Tehillim
In other words, every single day redemption is in place. It's just that
we're not. We may be waiting for the Final Redemption, but that is not
enough. We have to WANT it, and want it more than anything else. For,
embodied in the Final Redemption is everything we Jews are supposed to
strive for and achieve. Accepting exile as a normal way of life is unacceptable.
The fact that we kvetch from day-to-day about our problems, something
we are also fairly good at, is not called wanting redemption. The fact that
we pay lip service to Moshiach and the ultimate era he will usher in, bˇ¨H,
does not count as yearning for such a period. It's hard to convince someone
of your desire to leave when you seem to be having such a good time staying.
We may not have smiled a lot over the last couple of thousands of years
of exile, but we certainly have done a lot of it over the last 60 years in many
of the Western countries in which we have grown up. The "good life" in
these countries has drained the yearning for redemption and Eretz Yisroel
right out of many people, perhaps even most, which, for the time being
wasn't a major issue since we needed to be in these countries in order to
build towards the redemption.
However, every exile has an end, even the Roman one. Itˇ¦s been a long
haul, the longest of all, but it will have its end. It may not feel like it,
we know it is true, and we have to keep reminding ourselves of
this everyday. How can one fulfill the mandate to anticipate the Final
and to anxiously await Moshiach's arrival, if they do not?
I have learned this the hard way. Ever since before Pesach, two (and now
three) of my neighbors have been renovating their homes, which has involved
a lot of demolition of concrete walls, and hence, some serious jack
hammering. It is five months later, and I still have to put the music up full
blast at times, and use earphones, just to drown out the annoying noise.
Part of the problem is that we live in a six house building, all of us having
common walls. As a result, the jack hammering is noisier through the
walls than in person, or so it seems, and there have been times when I expected
to see one pop through my living room wall, it sounded so close. I
have lost many hours of work as a result, and have suffered anxiety as a result.
I can't wait for it to end. I mean, I reaaaallllly can't wait. Every day that I
hear the noise triggers all kinds of negative emotional reactions, and I have
to hold myself back from thinking not-so-nice things about my neighbors,
and the workers. They are certainly in their right, but tell that to my
make-up. My nerves don't seem built to take such noise for so
I know that, by necessity, the construction has to end at some point, but
it has been going on for so long now that I can't imagine that it will. I can't
even imagine anymore what it will be like once it is finally over, not even
on Shabbos or Yom Tov since I know they will start again the next day! I
can honestly say that, I want this personal exile of mine to end NOW!
If only I felt the same way about our national exile. If only all of us felt
the same way about our national exile! Then we'd be living in our national
redemption, and all the problems we are frantically trying to solve would be
no more - at all. All evil would be a thing of the past then, and all that
would remain to do is to heal from all the spiritual scars we suffered until
that time, and bask in the light of God, and not in the light of material
So, as we confront our national and personal problems that seem to be
increasing in scope and intensity, and problem solve, it may worth our
while to wonder if that is all we should be doing at this time. Perhaps, the
days of problem solving are behind us now, and with the redemption being
imminent, we need to start wanting it, and I mean, reaaaalllly wanting it,
something we seem to do best when we have more problems than we can
solve, and all that we can do effectively is call out to God to end the exile.
If that is the case, and that is true, let's call out now as if it really hurts,
which it does, so that it doesn't have to be made to hurt more, in order to
really make us scream out to God. A high threshold of pain, in this case, is
not a merit-worthy thing, for enduring suffering at this stage of history will
only prolong the exile, something which may be appealing to many at this
time, but won't be in the next moment, if our past has anything to say about
the process of transition from exile to redemption.
Which brings me to our parshah.
This week's parshah begins with the law of the yafas toar, the beautiful
gentile woman for which the Jewish soldier has fallen, emotionally that is.
As the Talmud explains, knowing that the soldier has lost the battle to his
yetzer hara, the Torah prescribes a course of action to regain some spiritual
ground, even if the soldier does end up converting the gentile woman and
However, warns the Torah, even still, danger lurks in the future. For, as
Rashi explains, the section about the hated wife and the wayward child follow
to portray what is more than likely to occur, if the soldier gives in to his
whim and takes the captive woman as his wife. In the end, not only will the
marriage be less than ideal, but it will backfire and produce offspring that
will make his life more than difficult.
As the rabbis point out, though the halachah of the yafas toar is actual, it
is also a parable for different situations in which the yetzer hara subdues us
into thinking that the path we are pursuing is the one we will ultimately
want as well. Huh! When was the last time a yetzer hara chose a path for us
that was ultimately beneficial? It's simply not his job.
Exile in the Western world is a yafas toar: attractive, seductive, but
dangerous for a Jew. There is a way to subdue it and bring it into the
fold, so-to-speak, but ultimately, it doesn't work so well, and even backfires
on us in the end. Whatever it produces has a way of coming after us in the
end, as the string of recent scandals in the States has shown us, and we can
be sure that it is not over yet.
The best thing? Yearn for redemption. Want it with all you heart. And, if
you can't, at least want to want it. And, do it now, before the situation gets
any tenser, and before we get to a point where we can't control our crying
out for God because the situation has become unbearable. It has in the past,
and it can and will again, unless we ourselves choose to the end the exile as
much as we humanly can.