Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume X, No. 38
Siddur Avodat Yisrael writes that there is a chapter of Tehilim which corresponds to each parashah — this week, psalm 137. Parashat Devarim is always read on, or just before, Tishah B’Av, and, most likely, this chapter was chosen because it echoes the themes of Tishah B’Av: “By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat and also wept, when we remembered Zion . . . How can we sing the song of Hashem on alien soil. If I forget thee, O Yerushalayim, let my right hand forget its skill . . .”
In this psalm, David prophesied regarding the destructions of both Temples. Verse 1, “By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat and also wept,” refers to the first Bet Hamikdash, which was destroyed by Bavel/Babylon. Verse 7, “Remember, Hashem, for the offspring of Edom, the day of Yerushalayim,” alludes to the second Bet Hamikdash, which was destroyed by Rome, which is traditionally associated with Edom/Esav. (Midrash Shocher Tov)
The verses and commentaries on this page relate to the chapter of Tehilim associated with our parashah (see page 1).
“By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat and also wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows/aravim we hung our musical instruments. For there our captors requested words of song from us, and our joyous hanging [instruments], ‘Sing for us from the songs of Zion’.” (Tehilim 137:1-3)
Rav Moshe Alshich z”l asks: Why is it significant that our ancestors sat by the river, of all places, or that they hung their instruments on willows, of all trees? Also, given the Jews’ sadness, why did they hang their instruments on the trees, rather than getting rid of them entirely?
The Zohar relates that the Jews who were exiled were depressed beyond description. It was at that time that Yechezkel, who was standing by the River Kevar, saw the vision of the merkavah/chariot described in the opening chapters of his book. That vision symbolized that G-d and his entourage also were going into exile as a guarantee (in Hebrew, “arevut”) of the future redemption.
As a sign of their consolation, the “Alshich Hakadosh” explains, the Jews kept their musical instruments, objects of joy, and they hung them on the aravim –related to arevut — by the river.
In light of this, he continues, we can understand the next verse. At first, the Babylonian captors assumed that the Jews would be too depressed to sing; therefore they requested only to know the words of the Jews’ songs. However, when they saw the hanging instruments, they realized that their captives had been consoled, and they ordered, “Sing for us from the songs of Zion.” (Romemut Kel)
“By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat and also wept.”
The entire way from Yerushalayim to Bavel, the Jews were not allowed to rest. The Babylonians reasoned, “This nation has a merciful G-d. If we let them rest, they will cry out to Him and He will save them.”
“There we sat and also wept” also alludes to Yirmiyahu’s rebuke to the exiled Jews: “Had you only cried to G-d one time while you were still in Yerushalayim, you would not be here today.” (Midrash Shocher Tov)
“Enough of your circling this mountain/’har’; turn yourselves northward/’tzafonah’.” (2:3)
Rav Ben-Zion Halberstam (the “Bobover Rebbe”) z”l comments: Before one can please G-d with his good deeds, he must abandon his bad deeds. This is alluded to in our verse.
The letters which surround those of the word “har”/”mountain” spell “kadosh”/”holy.” (The letters “kuf” and “shin” are before and after the letter “resh,” and the letters “dalet” and “vav” precede and follow the letter “heh.”) One cannot so easily “circle the mountain,” i.e., become holy. First one must “turn “tzafonah”/”northward.” The “tzefoni”/ “hidden one” is a nickname for the yetzer hara; before one can be holy, he must turn his attention to the yetzer hara and defeat it. (Kedushat Tzion)
“For Hashem your G-d has blessed you . . .” (2:7)
Rashi comments: “Therefore, do not be ungrateful by appearing to be poor. Rather, you should appear to be rich.”
Rav David Sperber z”l asks: Doesn’t this contradict the advice which Yaakov gave his children (Bereishit 42:1), “Do not make yourself conspicuous”?
Rav Sperber explains: Chazal said, “Poverty is good for the Jews like a saddle for a horse.” When does a horse where a saddle? Not when it is home, in the stable — the horse wears the saddle outdoors. Similarly, Jews should not appear conspicuous when they are outside, among the gentiles. Privately, however, Jews should be satisfied with what they have, and should “feel” rich. (Michtam L’David)
[Ed. note: In fact, Rashi’s wording may be precisely chosen to preempt Rav Sperber’s question. Rashi does not advocate showing off. Rather, he is saying, “You must not act so poor that you appear to be ungrateful for Hashem’s kindness.”]
born Iyar 5634 (1874) – died 4 Av 5741 (1941)
Rav Bn-Zion Halberstam, the “Bobover Rebbe,” was a great-grandson of Rav Chaim Halberstam, the “Sanzer Rav.” Rav Ben-Zion was one of the major leaders in Galicia (southern Poland), and was at once a chassidic rebbe, town rabbi, and head of a large network of yeshivot. He also was noted as a miracle worker and composer, and for giving sage advice to Jews in trouble.
For example, to a Jew who accidentally stepped on a facsimile of the official seal of the Polish state and was charged with sedition, Rav Ben-Zion advised: “When you go to trial, bring a book of matches that has the seal of Poland on the cover, but take out all but one match. When you see the judge take out a cigarette, offer him a light.” The defendant did this, and watched as the judge threw away the empty matchbook, seal and all. The defense counsel pointed this out to the judge, and charges were dismissed.
Upon succeeding his father in 1905, Rav Ben-Zion revolutionized the chassidic world. Before him, the movement had catered to the spiritual needs of the middle-aged and old. Bobov revolved around the young. Rav Ben-Zion explained that just as soldiers are trained to meet different challenges now than they were 100 years ago, so it is with our youth. In previous generations, Jews had lived sheltered lives and there had been few spiritual challenges facing the young. They did not need the inspiration of visiting a rebbe. However, this is no longer true.
With the outbreak of World War II, Rav Ben-Zion and his family fled eastward in front of the advancing Nazis. He turned down the opportunity to flee to the United States because one of his children was missing. (He had been taken to Siberia, where he died.) After some time in the city of Lvov, Rav Ben-Zion was “arrested” by Ukrainian police and murdered in cold blood.
Rav Ben-Zion’s eldest son is the Bobover Rebbe in Brooklyn. One of Rav Ben-Zion’s daughters (who passed away last month) was the mother of the well-known Twerski brothers: psychiatrist and author, Dr. Avraham; law professor and activist, Rabbi Aharon; and Rabbis Michel (Milwaukee) and Shlomo (Denver).
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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