Throughout Divarim Moshe forewarned the Jews, “Beware! The tendency of humans is to forget G-d, especially when they are prosperous, healthy and secure. Do not deny His providence. Always remember that it is G-d Who protects you. If you should forget to Whom you owe allegiance and appreciation you will loose His personal protection and be cast into exile among the other nations.”
As we will learn in two weeks time, we are never exempted from recognizing and giving thanksgiving to G-d. Punishments, such as exile and persecution, do not excuse us from recognizing G-d’s constancy and providence. His Torah remains our obligation regardless of time and circumstance.
This tendency of denying G-d His rightful place in life’s successes and failures is a constant challenge. When things seem to be going well we relax and forget G-d. When things seem to be going poorly we remember G-d. If we do proper Teshuva (repentance) G-d fixes the bad and all is great! However, soon enough we grow complacent, take His benevolence for granted, and find ourselves right back where we started.
Which is the greater challenge? To recognize G-d and give Him His just due when things are good, or, to remember G-d and make amends when things are bad? Unfortunately, history, contemporary behavior, and the Torah seem to support the former. When prosperous, healthy, and secure we tend to forget Hashem.
Our lifestyle of Torah and Mitzvos is intended to help us not forget G-d. Tefilah (prayer), Berachos (blessings), Yomim Tovim (holidays), Chesed (kindness), and the study of Torah direct our attention to G-d’s constancy and protection. Yet, they too can become ineffective. We soon take them for granted and perform them in a perfunctory and uninspired fashion.
Which will be the fastest and least imposing (and impacting) determines our choice of a Minyan.
How many times have we decided not to eat bread so that we do not have to bench (Grace after Meals)?
Holidays are too often greeted with a groan and shudder with the concern, “how much work will we have to miss?”
We dispatch Chesed with a check, and give even more if they “just don’t bother us.”
We spend a fortune sending our children to Yeshiva to learn Torah yet argue with them if they wish to “learn” that extra year or semester.
Torah was not intended to be limited by time. “It is our life and the length of our days!” Torah should permeate everything we do, especially during the formative years extending beyond high school and that “year in Eretz Yisroel .”
Unfortunately, for many of us it takes illness and insecurity to refocus us on G-d and His benevolence. It takes difficulties and struggles to teach us humility. The situation in Eretz Yisroel is teaching us to be humble. We are caught in the terrible quandary of not knowing what to do or where to turn. There are no apparent solutions. Yet, we are constantly being shown the G-d “Who never rests or slumbers.”
Given the intent of Arafat and his unconscionable willingness to murder and maim it is a wonder that more and greater tragedies haven’t happened. As difficult as it is to see or understand, Hashem says, “I will do miracles in their midst. Listen and see how I will not let him hurt my children as much as he wishes!” Therefore, it is incumbent upon us all to proclaim, “Give thanks to Hashem because His kindness is forever.”
The Medresh on the first Pasuk of this week’s Parsha references the verse from Mishlei (6:7), “Lazy one! Go study the ways of the ant and glean wisdom. Though no one watches over her she prepares her food in the summer and stores her food in the harvest time.” The Medresh continues to describe the seemingly illogical behavior of the ant. Although it only lives for 6 months and consumes a total of a grain and a half it spends its six months of life gathering and storing thousands of times that amount of grain. Rav Tanchumah explained the reason for the ant’s behavior. The ant says,”Maybe G-d will decree upon me more life. Therefore I need to be prepared”
My Father Shlita explained the message of this Medresh. We are supposed to emulate the ant. Just as the ant lives its life on the possibility that she will be granted more life, so too must we live our lives focusing on the possibilities of the future. If our concerns were only for our limited mortality and ourselves we wouldn’t have to work so hard. Why study all of the Torah? Let us study only those parts that are pertinent to our own circumscribed lives and experiences. Why should I have to worry about anything beyond me?
However, that has never been our way. G-d set up a system of Shoftim – Judges, a system of teachers and students who study and research G-d’s words in search of answers. What will be if G-d decrees life upon us? How will we know what to do with the ever-challenging advances in technology, medicine, communication, and commerce? We are the ones who must be ready to give the answers! We are the ones who must train our children to prepare themselves to be the ones who can give the answers! We can not be lazy; otherwise, who will be the next Shoftim?!
Furthermore, the Medresh quotes the ant as saying, “Maybe G-d will decree upon me more life!” None of us are exempt from doing the work of Torah and Mitzvos. What if it is I Whom G-d has chosen to grant life? I must be prepared. It is my responsibility! I cannot afford to be lazy! What if I am to be the next Shofet?
A young woman, a daughter, wife, and mother, one of our own, taught us how fragile life really is; how much we all depend upon G-d Almighty. First of all, we must beseech the heavens that Sarah Bas Tamar Goldah should be a Maylitz Yosher for her family and the entire nation. I dedicate this week’s Rabbis Notebook in her memory. However, I also want that all of us should glean Chizuk- strength from this week’s Medresh. Hashem does miracles! Hashem will do miracles. However, we must be like the ant. We must continue to work and fight for life. Like the ant we must trust that Hashem “May decree for me life.” We do not know what tomorrow will bring. Yet, we live each day as if we are eternal.
We must continue to love and to forgive. We must continue to do Chesed and perform G-d’s Mitzvos. We must learn Torah every day and encourage our children to do the same. We must feel for each other and help shoulder each other’s pain. We cannot be lazy! What if G-d will decree for me life? Will I be prepared?
At the end, and the end will come for us all, will we be able to stand before G-d and say, “Yes! We cherished Your gift of life! We used it to the fullest! We learned Your Torah. We did Your Mitzvos. We loved our families, and waited for Your salvation! We were not lazy! May our prayers and good-deeds be accepted by G-d, and may this month of Ellul bring healing and salvation for all of us!
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.