This world is, well, not what it could be, and I am being polite. Years ago, I would have said it lost its moral compass. Now, it’s so out of kilter that it is hard to watch from day-to-day. Not from the inside, meaning as one of the people who is excited about the way the world is going, but from the outside, or more accurately, from above, from God’s perspective.
How can we possibly know God’s perspective, especially at a time in history when prophecy does not exist, at least in any public and obvious way? We can know it because we have the Torah, which is God’s perspective revealed along time ago through prophecy. And being God, and therefore, it is timeless, He wrote it in such a way that it could be relevant in every generation. People who think it isn’t relevant have an insufficient grasp of Torah or of human history, and usually both.
Learning Torah is going to school. School is ideally where you are supposed to learn what life is about, and therefore what is important in life. We only live one life (at a time), and every moment passed is a moment lost. The only way to hang on to a moment is by using it to build something meaningful in the present for the future. It can’t be an investment of time unless it is able to yield positive dividends, mostly in the next world, but ideally in this world as well.
God made man with a plan. But what is it? He gave us a world to use, but how? That’s what the Torah teaches us. If a person does not learn this from Torah, then they tend to “learn” it from life, but that has generally not worked out well for mankind.
It’s not that the meaning of life cannot be learned from life itself. It’s just that, though a picture can be worth a thousand words, there’s seldom enough clarity to know specifically what to do in specific situations. If there was, then schools could scrap all their textbooks and use pictures only to give people an education. People need truth described in precise language, if they are going to be able to apply it in life.
This is why human history has been less a directed one with periodic lapses of chaos, and more one of chaos with periodic moments of direction. People aren’t even trying to figure out life. They’re just trying to have the best time they can given the challenges that come their way and, the hurdles they have to jump over just to stay afloat.
To make matters a lot worse, some people have figured out how to capitalize on the naiveté of others and their vulnerability to the lure of physical pleasure. They have learned how to use marketing and advertising and social media to persuade people to buy what they are selling, regardless of actual need. And while it satisfies the whims of people who have little or no knowledge of what life is actually about, this has made its makers exceedingly rich and powerful…and over time, even corrupt.
You don’t have to choose to become corrupt. It is just the inevitable result of success without any fear of God. This may sound weird to someone who does believe in God and does fear Him. But to those who lack both, it is just the way of the world. There are those at the top, and those at the bottom, and for such people the trick in life is to use the latter to become one of the former.
ON ONE HAND, it is amazing how, after all this time, the same rules apply. I’m not talking about God’s rules, because they’re eternal. I’m talking about how money still rocks the world and drives society, and how many people are prepared to sacrifice the truth on the altar of wealth.
That’s the first sign that man is lost. Money is valuable to most people because it makes life comfortable. When we have to worry about what we spend, we’re uneasy. When money is no object, we feel so incredibly free…even if we are totally enslaved to the yetzer hara because of it. Even God-fearing people have to struggle with the issue from time-to-time.
Look at what it has done today. It has made billionaires out of some people, and heroes out of some of those billionaires. It has put them in positions of tremendous influence and given them the ability to make life-and-death decisions on behalf of billions of people, as they see fit. According to the watchdogs, they are not doing a very good job of it.
It can be a daunting job for people who believe in God and have a sense of divine accountability. At least they would be concerned about having to answer to God for any mistakes they made. But if they aren’t concerned, then whom do they fear enough to make them think twice about what they decide when what they decide impacts the lives of so many?
They are the ones to keep your eye on because history comes down to them. History is rarely about the masses who might be the nicest and hardest working people around. But these people also tend to be those who wish to “stay out of things,” as strongly opinionated as they might be. They’d rather trust their leadership, and rather blindly at that, to direct their society and tell them what to do. Whereas the yetzer hara of a leader might push them to control others, the yetzer hara of the man on the street is to let others control them, if it helps them have a more comfortable life.
This is true of every society. It’s the very nature of mankind. The only thing that really separates one society from another is the quality of their leadership, which is a function of what the leaders believe and, the system they live by to keep them honest. When the leadership is corrupt, the world they lead becomes corrupt.
Money has never been the root of evil. The root of evil is the yetzer hara inside every individual, and the Satan on the outside who works overtime to seduce the yetzer hara of a person to follow after him. But money is key to comforts of all kinds, and comfort is the yetzer hara’s greatest joy and goal in life. This gives the people with the most money the most attractive credentials, and the greatest power to manipulate unsuspecting masses.
Admittedly, I am saying all of this to do more than make comments on this week’s parsha and about the importance of Torah in advance of Shavuos. I am, to say the least, very concerned about the direction of world society in general, which has become more transparent in the last couple of years.
Many others see it too, including some from within those societies, and they are writing about it, reporting what they can about what is happening. They are disturbed by it, and they want to change it. They are very worried about where things will end up, and how it will limit the quality of life of the world in which they belong. They are fighters, and the true heroes of those societies.
I’m not sure how global their perspective is, or has to be. I don’t know if they believe in the Bible, or know how much it is the basis of world history, even today. They’re not necessarily concerned that God will bring another flood of some sort and destroy the world. They’re more concerned that society might self-destruct, and become the playground for those who ran it into the ground.
The main thing is that they seem to have a sense of right and wrong, a moral compass that they follow. They are prepared to risk a lot personally for the sake of so many people they will never meet. That alone gives them great credentials to do what they do. They should be the ones leading their societies. The fact that they are fighting against the current leadership and chain-of-command is a disturbing piece of evidence about where society is headed.
I THINK THIS is an important part of the message of this week’s parsha. In this world leadership is key to everything. The average person places their life and the lives of the ones they love in the hands of their leaders. Shouldn’t they be more careful about whom they chose to fill such positions? Can we afford to assume that our leaders have our best interests in mind as a matter-of-fact, especially in societies where God has been excluded?
How do I come to this conclusion about the parsha? Because the parsha starts off talking about counting the entire nation, which turns masses of people into numbers alone. But then it switches tracks and identifies each tribe’s leader by name. It makes them stand out and seem more important than the rest of the population.
They were princes of the people, but they did not buy their way into their positions. Korach will try that much later on, and it will only result in corruption and destruction, as it always eventually does. And though lineage played a major part in their retaining of their positions, you can be sure that if they lacked fear of God and were abusive in any way, they would have been replaced by someone more spiritually worthy.
This is why Rashi will later explain in Parashas Shlach that the spies who were also leaders of their tribes, only became corrupt once they left the camp. Had they been spiritually corrupt while they stood before Moshe to receive their mission, they would have been rejected and replaced. And had they been evil from the start, the souls of the sons of Ya’akov, each leader’s forebear, would not have reincarnated into them to help them succeed on their journey.
Look what being a leader did for Rus. She descended from Moav, the son of Lot and his daughter. They are such a detestable people from the Torah’s point-of-view that, a male Moabite can never convert.
Even though Rus’s husband did not request it, she eventually converted to Judaism. And when her mother-in-law’s husband died, Rus took care of her. Even after her own husband died, Rus continued to be more concerned about Naomi her mother-in-law than herself.
When Naomi decided to return home to Eretz Yisroel, Rus went with her, leaving behind everything she had known. She accepted a life of poverty and humiliation just to be able to look after her mother-in-law.
For a while, the situation remained bleak, but Rus’s loyalty to her mother-in-law did not waver. It was for that reason that Boaz noticed her, eventually did yibum with her, and she gave birth to Oved, the great-grandfather of Dovid HaMelech and the line of Moshiach.
God loves His leaders. His leaders, and not the ones who are in it for their own personal gain and the adulation of others.
Melave Malkah: Ain Od Milvado
I HAVE MENTIONED many times that the redemption would have come in Yosef’s time if the brothers had only recognized him before Yosef revealed himself to them. Why should that have made or broken the final redemption?
And I have mentioned, also many times before, how Chazal compare Yosef’s revelation and his brother’s reaction, to us on Yom HaDin, our final day of judgment. Just as the words, “I am Yosef” shocked his brothers and rendered them speechless, on the Day of Judgment, God will only have to say, “I am God,” and we too will be shocked and rendered speechless.
What does this mean? It means that God will reveal to each person where He showed up in their lives and they failed to recognize Him. Just as Yosef appeared as a viceroy to his brothers, whom they assumed really suspected them of being spies, likewise we will see how many times God tested us by working through people and things that we took at face value. We will become aware then, how many times we were duped into believing that what confronted us had its own independent reality. In fact, it was just a disguise for the hand of God. Shocked, we will have nothing more to say and will instead just wait for our judgment.
If God says:
You have been shown, in order to know that God, He is God; there is none else besides Him. (Devarim 4:35)
it means that we are given enough information in life to see past the surface of things that impact us at the Divine Providence that drives them. We may have to think about it, but we can do it.
There is a story of the diary written by a young man who died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It was apparently written in the ghetto’s final days and covers the short period before the Nazis broke through and destroyed the ghetto. Although the author didn’t believe in God when he started the diary, he seems to have shifted to believing in Him in the end.
What changed his mind? According to his story, it was the war against the Jews. The war didn’t make sense to him. What had the Jews done to warrant an entire nation expending so much manpower and resources just to eliminate them, and so cruelly as well? If anything, the Jews had been contributors to the betterment of society, including in Germany, and should have been considered valuable. Instead they were being treated as subhuman in an unprecedented manner.
The last entry in the diary is the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” The writer came to the conclusion that the only logical explanation for the bizarre plan of the Nazis was that God was directly behind it. He had sent the Germans to go after the Jews because at that time the Germans were the most suitable people for the task. What happened was not natural but rather SUPERnatural, a miracle if you will, albeit a black one.
Even though human beings are clearly the ones who executed the Holocaust, there was something very non-human about the way they did it. Fight a world war to conquer the world? Yes. Fight a world war to conquer a seemingly harmless people? No. Something else was push-ing them to go THAT far, and this ghetto fighter determined that something else to be God.
Ain od Milvado. It was what he realized before his death. The better and happier thing is to realize this before the world becomes a dangerous for a Jew.