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Posted on June 2, 2021 (5781) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

Friday Night

IT’S QUITE COMPLICATED. From the Torah it seems as if the spies had been great men who failed at a mission they could have successfully completed. They chose to reject Eretz Yisroel, which is why they were punished for it, teaching the rest of us the importance of not speaking badly about God’s land, no matter how much you don’t like it.

Kabbalah paints a different picture. Just like souls connect because of what they have in common and repel that which is different from them, they also connect or repel places of residence. According to the Arizal, the level of the souls of the Dor Hamidbar that rejected the land originated from a different source than that which gave rise to Eretz Yisroel. Eretz Yisroel and the Dor Hamidbar was a mismatch.

What about Yehoshua and Caleiv who did succeed at their mission?That too the Arizal explains, had to do with the uniqueness of their souls, which were more in line with the reality of Eretz Yisroel. Even before they left to spy the land, Yehoshua and Caleiv were at a distinct spiritual advantage over their ten “colleagues,” so why were the latter punished?

Have you ever noticed people tend to gravitate towards some mitzvos more than others? It is not the same for each person. Some people like mitzvos that others have a difficult time with, and vice versa. And the fact that we choose more “likable” mitzvos over others doesn’t bother us because we’re still doing a mitzvah.

If we think about it, such an approach flies in the face of the well-known statement, “According to the effort is the reward” (Pirkei Avos 5:21). Every mitzvah requires some effort, but it is the ones that fail to inspire us that require the most effort, since we have to inspire ourselves to do them.

What a tikun it is when we do. It’s simple. God made all of Creation for man to make free will choices, meaningful free will choices. Choosing between chocolate or vanilla ice cream might be super-meaningful to some people, but not to Heaven. It’s the moral choices that count to God, and the greater the moral stakes, the more they count to God. Anyone can do a good deed when it costs them nothing. But who will do one when the personal cost is high?

From this perspective, it was the ten spies that rejected the land who had the potential to be the greatest heroes. Yehoshua and Caleiv were the heroes in the end, but only because their co-spies had failed. Had the ten spies battled their yetzer haras and accepted the land, they would have been the greater heroes because of what they would have had to fight against to make their decisions.

This reminds me of what happens when they ask people to learn mishnayos in the merit of someone who has recently passed away. The list goes up and like most people, I look to learn a maseches that “talks” to me. Since I usually see the list after others have already signed up, my choice is usually narrowed down to those that do not talk to me.

After getting over my initial disappointment I decide to use the situation as an opportunity to choose the one that least talks to me. This feels surprisingly good, because it really makes me feel as if I am learning for the sake of someone else, the whole point.

Shabbos Day

IF ONLY THE spies had known what was at stake. If only they had anticipated God’s response to their kvetching. What ran through their minds when they suffered a horrible death in response? Before God responded they had wanted to stone Yehoshua and Caleiv. Once they saw God’s reaction to their choice, they must have regretted not listening to the two of them.

I have wondered the same thing about the Jews taken away in the Holocaust. History books report that speakers went around from shul to shul in Europe in the 1930s warning Jews to leave before Hitler, ysv”z, came for them. Some not only argued to the contrary. They literally threw the speakers out of shul and probably told them to never come back and make such “ridiculous” threats ever again. Did these people have a chance while being rounded up to wish they had listened instead to the warnings?

It is reported by ArtScroll in their biography about the Chofetz Chaim, that he used to mysteriously bang his table at Seudas Shlishis and cry out, “Millions of Jews are going to die, and no one is doing anything about it!” Why? What? How? These were questions that people must have had at the time that seemingly went unanswered until 1942.

The Chofetz Chaim had already moved on to the next world by 1933, the very year Adolf Hitler, ysv”z, remarkably became Chancellor of Germany. Did people think that he was the reason for the great sage’s deep concern? It doesn’t seem like it, because even when offered a chance to leave Germany between 1933 and 1939, 100,000 chose to remain, only to later die in the death camps.

When the horror of Kristallnacht happened in 1938, did anyone think is it was the beginning of the Holocaust? Only very few. But by 1945, no one had any question that it was, and those who survived may have wished their foresight had been as good as their hindsight. As the Talmud says: Who is the wise man? The person who sees what is being born (Tamid 32a).

So true, so true.

Anti-Semitism is rising in the States, Arab driven and leftist supported, even by people in the government. Even the statement used in recent wars, “Israel has the right to defend itself” is lame. The government instead should say,

“We are appalled at how the Arab population in Israel and Gaza, which has prospered so well because of and often the cost of the Israeli people, has wantonly sent thousands of smuggled-in missiles at Israeli targets and her citizens. It has forced Israel to take undesired and drastic steps just to protect itself. We will not tolerate Arab anti-Semitism, which has always existed but which was ramped up through Nazi collusion in World War II. We made that mistake once back in the 1930s. We will not make that mistake a second time now.”

As one astute Israeli writer pointed out recently, current Arab tactics against the local Jewish population prove, that the long-supported liberal claim that disputed land is at the bottom of Arab anti-Jewish hatred, otherwise. History may have changed, but not Arab dislike of Jews, and they will tell you that themselves, if you ask them. I have.

But when I ask some American Jews about the current situation, and what it would take to convince them it is time to go, investments or no investments, they answer me, it will never get that bad. They’re still focused on prosecuting President Trump and believe that the Biden Administration is not a threat to their future security. But why should they think otherwise if they believe the American media, were never taught the fundamentals of Jewish history, and have little understanding of the dynamics of anti-Semitism?

Seudas Shlishis

ONE FUNDAMENTAL OF anti-Semitism is that there is no real logic behind it. Wait, let me change that. It looks to us as if there is no real logic behind it. It will happen for reasons that won’t make sense to us at the time and in ways that will defy our personal experiences. Protection from sources we believe in and trust will not only fall short, they will end up facilitating it, leaving us baffled.

That’s the way it has worked in the past. That’s why we get so confused. That’s why we don’t recognize it until after the fact. That’s why anti-Semitism catches us off guard and defenseless. We try to deal with it logically… “We haven’t done anything bad to warrant such hatred, so it must not be as bad as it seems…Besides, people can only do so much evil against others, so we’ll be okay…And even if some can be really evil, the government will stand up for us and defend us…”

And yet, they have hated us to the point of genocide.

And yet, they have perpetrated unimaginable evils against us.

And yet, the government did not come to our rescue.

It’s as if some kind of force takes over history and makes things happen against our logic. And it does. We even have a name for it: God. Anti-Semitism may be carried out by anti-Semites, but it does not originate with them. It originates with God. Anti-Semites are just the “gun” God carries when He needs to “shoot” something.

Not just in the Diaspora, as we are finding out here in Israel. We’re on the verge, once again, of having a new government formed as an alliance between those who hate Judaism, and those who hate Jews. As we slowly wake up to this sobering possibility and ask how it is possible, it is high time we realized that it is God Who is forming the next government.

“Enough is enough!” God seems to be saying. “If you won’t yearn for redemption while you have it good, you’ll certainly yearn for it when you have it rough!”

But if you don’t believe in God, then none of this will make sense. If you believe in God, but not in Torah, then you will focus only on the people acting out history, not the Puppet Master pulling their strings. If you believe in God and Torah, but do not take its message to the full distance, then you will try to devise ways to stay politically alive.

Against a human politician, that can work.

Against the Divine Politician, that can only fail miserably.

Melave Malkah

THE TALMUD SAYS that someone who eats all three Shabbos meals will be spared the travails of Moshiach’s arrival (Shabbos 118a). And yet, it is amazing how many people skip it, or just have a rudimentary meal to be “yotzei.” It’s such an important meal that the halacha warns people to eat less for lunch to make sure they have an appetite for the third meal. It’s that important to God.

The basic explanation is that, of the three meals, it is the one most likely to be eaten because of the mitzvah only. Friday nights lend themselves to a scrumptious and upscale meal. So does Shabbos morning after a long dovening. But Seudas Shlishis? It is easily skipped while people digest their usually large lunches and save their appetites for some kind of Motzei Shabbos activity.

But why does it even make that much of a difference how many meals one eats on Shabbos, as long as a person doesn’t break Shabbos? Is that not declaration enough that God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, and that we do not believe in nature and chance? And why is protection from Chevlei Moshiach the reward, not to mention from the War of Gog and Magog, and the judgment of Gihenom?

Because, the goal of life is to make it “Kodesh L’Hashem—Holy to God.” This was on the gold plate that the Kohen Gadol wore on his forehead when he served in the Temple. It reminded him of the high level of holiness he had to maintain while in the Temple, and us of the high level of holiness we’re supposed to maintain while in this world.

Everything went awry when Adam Harishon ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil for his own purpose. We’re supposed to “eat” in this world on whatever level we consume anything as a means to come closer to God. Eating a meal on Shabbos is like serving God in the Holy of Holies, so-to-speak, so the focus has to be on God and our relationship to Him.

Anything negative that happens to us is to compensate for what we don’t do in this respect. To eat a seudah on Shabbos because you’re hungry is nice, but not the ideal. To eat it as a means to come closer to God, for HIS sake, is what life is all about.

If the spies had gone on their mission with this as their priority, it would have changed the way they viewed their mission, and their land. This is why for Yehoshua and Caleiv it was a must do, going up and taking the land. As the Torah states with perfect clarity, “I am God, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God” (Vayikra 25:38). That is the mission that we’re all on. If God is always our final “destination,” then we will have nothing to fear and everything to gain.