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Posted on March 1, 2022 (5782) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

Friday Night

WHEN I WATCH a conductor lead an orchestra, I always wonder what he is actually doing. He just stands there scanning the instrument players back-and-forth while animatedly, some more than others, waving a wand in all kinds of directions. It’s a little entertaining, but what does it have to do with the music being played, especially when so much of the time the musicians don’t seem to be even looking at their conductor?

So, for the sake of this dvar Torah, I looked it up. This is what it said. It said that a conductor directs rehearsals and performances by the orchestra, and their primary responsibilities are: accuracy—The conductor must ensure that the composer’s intentions and instructions are faithfully carried out—that is, everybody is playing all of the right notes and rhythms; ensemble—The conductor must make sure musicians play together, in precise rhythmic and musical coordination; tempo and dynamics (speed and volume)—The conductor’s job is to interpret the composer’s—that is, choosing general levels of tempo and volume as well as to ensure the realization of the composer’s intentions, and it least four more other similar aspects of quality of performance. THAT takes a lot of background knowledge, experience, and expertise.

In the end, it is not so much what the conductor does at the performance itself as what they do to prepare for it. By the time over 100 musicians show up to work in amazing synchrony to produce a magnificent rendition of some classical piece of amazingly composed music, the conductor has already made his mark. What they do at the live performance seems to be more symbolic than actual. They may get move frenetically, but that is probably more for them and the audience at that point than anyone else.

It is not unlike how it works for the greatest Conductor of the greatest and largest orchestra there is, mankind. At the performance, He is there as well directing all that is happening, like the way in the Ukraine. But the bulk of His work and expertise is what He did out of the eyeshot of the audience, and well in advance of the actual performance, making sure that each player knows their part just so in order to work in synchrony with the others to properly execute God’s masterpiece called “History.”

Shabbos Day

WHAT DOES THAT mean? To begin with, consider the primary characters playing out history at this time, you know, the people in the news, for good or for bad. They did not just show up on the scene all of a sudden. They were developed over time, they think by themselves or by circumstance, but really by God. He directs and develops all of us, but some people have more pronounced missions than others. Like any conductor, the Conductor of history has been working with everything and everyone since Creation.

This is what the Midrash says:

There was a time for Adam HaRishon to enter Gan Aiden…and a time for him to leave there. There was a time for Noach to enter the ark…and a time for him to leave it. There was a time to give Avraham milah…and a time for his descendants to circumcise themselves in two locations, once in Egypt and once is the desert, as it says, “For all the people that came out were circumcised, etc.” (Yehoshua 3:5). There was a time to give the Torah to the Jewish people, etc. (Koheles Rabbah 3:1)

Of course that always brings up the question about free will, but I have dealt with that in the past and it is not really the point here. The point is that whatever is going on today was planned back at Creation, and the people carrying it out were born to play their parts, small or major. Even the background people in a major motion film didn’t just happen to wander onto the set.

So what? What difference does it make if what is happening today is organic or scripted? Either way it will do what it will do, and affect the people it will affect.

The difference is Purim, which makes the timing of world events quite significant. It is also a Shmittah, adding to the significance of what is happening today. It is significant not just because of what it might lead to, but it is also a form of divine communication, which we so sorely need today.

Purim has come to mean many things to many people, not all of which was what Chazal had in mind when they established it as a yearly holiday. But the one thing it was always meant to be, since the era of prophecy was ending, was a history lesson. It was to leave an impression on the collective mind of the Jewish people about how God runs Jewish history, from exile to redemption. It was meant to teach us that even after God stops talking to us He nevertheless continues the dialogue with us through the events of the day.

But it’s more complicated. It’s in code. The person interpreting the message has to be able to recognize the patterns and references to know what is being communicated. That means knowing the navi, midrashim, and the gemoras and various other sources that have been bequeathed to us specifically to help us navigate the end of days.

It’s funny how these words were so real for Ya’akov Avinu in his time, and his sons too. They lived so long ago, and yet they could imagine history coming to an end, including a War of Gog and Magog. We however live so close to the end of history and yet act as if it could be thousands of years away, not because we can be, but because we never take the time to familiar ourselves with it. Now we have to scramble to deal with it.

Something is very wrong with that.

Seudas Shlishis

THE WORD MISHKAN is mentioned twice at the beginning of the parsha, and Rashi explains that this alludes to the two temples that would eventually be built and destroyed. We’re just building the Mishkan and God has yet to dwell in it, and we’re already alluding to future destroyed temples? How depressing is that?

The Talmud also mentions something similar. For example, it says that when Shlomo HaMelech married the converted daughter of Pharaoh, the seeds of the destruction of the Second Temple were planted. He had just built and inaugurated the First Temple, and we’re already talking about the destruction of the Second Temple! Are we doomed to suffer until Moshiach finally comes?

It depends. If we stay awake, no. But if we sleep, then yes.

When Achashveros worried aloud to Haman that God might to him as He did to the king’s predecessors, Haman answered him, “Not to worry. The Jewish people are asleep, and so their God is as well.”

And when God threatened to sink the ship on which Yonah fled his prophecy, the sailors frantically fought the stormy sea while praying for mercy. As for Yonah, apparently, he was sound asleep. The person whom Eliyahu HaNavi had revived as young boy and who became Moshiach Ben Yosef in his time, somehow was able to sleep soundly while a chaotic sea wanted to drown his ship and everyone on it. It took a bunch of terrified gentile sailors to arouse Yonah to deal with the problem he had himself created.

We read that Maftir on Yom Kippur. A couple reasons are given, but I think the most important one is the most overlooked one. I mean, who can sleep in the hold of a ship that is being tossed around from wave to wave? Likewise, who can go about their normal activities when the rest of the world is worrying about the next world war?

I get it. We don’t want to get all excited for no reason. We don’t want to get all messianic because we worry that it is too early. After waiting for Moshiach for thousands of years now and getting wrong a few times, we’re cautious.

Cautious is good. Ignoring the potential of redemption is not. That’s called sleeping, and we know who usually wakes us up when we do that at the wrong time. Everything that is happening today was prepared long before we even got into bed. But that is no reason to pull the cover over our heads to go back to sleep. Adar Sheini is about to begin, and Purim isn’t far behind, b”H. Is that not enough of a wake-up call?

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Book: The Mystery of Jewish History

WHEN WAS THE LAST time a Roman needed an excuse to kill Jews during the time of the Second Temple Period? Never. And, if they ever needed one, they would have had no problem fabricating one:

There was once a Caesar who hated the Jews. One day he said to the prominent members of the government, “If one has a wart on his foot, should he cut it away and live [in comfort] or leave it on and suffer discomfort?” They replied: “He should cut it away and live in comfort.” (Avodah Zarah 10b)

The wart to which the Caesar referred was the Jewish people, and he was looking for approval to exterminate the Jews under his control. Like so many anti-Semites before and after him, the Roman Emperor saw the Jewish population as a cancerous plague, and wished to make the land Judenrein.

This makes the story of the Ten Martyrs that much more confusing. The Romans had already destroyed the Temple and massacred thousands of Jews. Countless rabbis had been accused of one violation or another, and publicly executed as a result. Killing ten of the most important rabbis of the time would only have strengthened the hold of the Romans over the defeated Jewish nation, and that was reason enough to murder them at will.

Yet, we are told, that is not the way it happened. Instead of impulsively and ruthlessly killing these rabbis, the Caesar sought a pretext to carry out his diabolical plan. And though, as a Roman, he could have used all kinds of Roman reasons to kill them, ironically, he turned to the Torah for the basis of his accusations.

“What is the punishment for kidnapping a fellow Jew?” he asked some of the greatest talmidei chachamim of the last 2,000 years.

“Capital punishment,” they answered.

“Yet,” he told them, “your ancestors kidnapped and sold their brother into slavery, and were never tried or executed!”

By this time, these rabbis had to have known where their Roman captor was going. They had to have figured out that he was using an ancient miscarriage of justice as a pretext to murder them in the present. Ten rabbis for ten brothers; the math was perfect even if the reasoning was not.

Nevertheless, they played along. They asked their accuser for three days to return with an answer, which is equally puzzling. What had they planned to do during those three days that might change the situation, and why did the Roman even grant it to them? Had he been prepared to entertain an alternative ending for the story? Unlikely.

We are told what happened next. Nine of the rabbis turned to Rebi Yishmael, who was the Kohen Gadol at that time, and charged him with the mission of using a Divine Name to spiritually ascend in order to find out Heaven’s take on the entire episode: what was actually happening from a historical point-of-view, and what did God actually want from them?

The truth is, it was specifically the bizarreness of the circumstance that prompted them to behave this way. Had the Roman gone after them like every other anti-Semite before him, then they would have dealt with their captor like every other anti-Semite. However, the uniqueness of his approach to their execution clued them in that something was occurring that went beyond the moment, beyond their lives, beyond the Roman who wanted to take them in a most cruel manner:

This is from God, that which is wondrous in our eyes. (Tehillim 118:23)

Thus, though it was through a Roman that the message was being delivered, the nature of the message indicated that it was God Who was doing the talking. The greatest rabbis of the last 2,000 years saw past their flesh-and-blood enemy of the moment, and saw themselves engaged, instead, in a high-level spiritual dialogue with He who runs all aspects of Creation, including, and in this case especially, the Roman Caesar.

For though it is true anti-Semitism is a natural undercurrent of history until Moshiach comes, still, it always occurs when it does, as it does, for a Divine reason. And the more mysterious the circumstances, the more Divine the reason, even when Jew perpetrates evil against Jew. Evil comes in all shapes and sizes, and once a person becomes a vehicle for it, he becomes a pawn in God’s master plan to shake up those are not evil, but are in need of change.

After all, the Ten Martyrs were not only the greatest rabbis of the last two millennia, they also consisted of the greatest Kabbalists of the last 2,000 years. Their generation, especially, possessed the keys to perform miracles of a nature that could easily have dispensed with the Caesar and his decrees:

From the beginning of the Second Temple Period, the Gates of Torah opened up, and the light of the vision of the Merkavah became revealed, as well as all the orders of Creation, and permission was given to anyone who wants to come and take the Name . . . For anyone who prepared himself to become sanctified with the upper holiness, becoming one of the holy ones who always stand before God, the gates of light, and all the secrets of Torah, opened, as well as the hidden storehouses of life, in fulfillment of the verse: “the righteous one, who rules through the fear of God” (II Shmuel 23:3). (Sefer HaKlallim, Klal 2, Anaf 3, Os 9)

Thus, the issue for these rabbis was not how to stop Caesar, but whether or not doing so missed the point of what God wished for them, and all of Creation, at that time. Sometimes it is enough to merely protest against evil, to take a stand and some kind of action against it, in order to avert a Divine decree. The fact that the Torah world wakes up to a problem and shows care and concern can be, on many occasions, enough to rectify it above, from below.

However, at other times, it is not enough. Sometimes Creation is so far down the garden path that protest and simple actions are not nearly enough to put history back on course, at least not without some kind of dramatic response from man below. This was the question the Martyrs had for above, and this was the answer they received from Gavriel:

Rebi Yishmael, upon hearing the verdict, purified himself and ascended to the heavens to inquire whether or not the decree on earth was also decreed in the heavenly court. He was informed by the angel Gavriel, “Accept this upon yourselves, righteous and beloved ones, for I heard from behind the heavenly curtain that you have been ensnared in this [decree].” (Mussaf, Yom Kippur)

Hence, the entire episode was not just about anti-Semitism, or a well-read, scheming Roman Caesar. All of that was the sideshow, only the vehicle to bring about a far more dramatic result, one that was so fundamental to the continuance of Creation that without it the world would have been returned back to null and void:

The celestial Seraphim cried out bitterly, “Is this the Torah and this its reward!” A voice from Heaven responded, “If I hear another sound, I will transform the universe to water, I will turn the earth to null and void!” (Eileh Ezkarah, Mussaf, Yom Kippur)

The only question remaining, for now, is, was the part about Yosef’s brothers selling him also just a vehicle to bring about tikun olam—world rectification—or was it the reason for it? If the former, then we need only focus on what was wrong with the world at the time that history took the lives of these ten precious souls, to appreciate why their deaths were necessary, and the resultant impact on history.

However, if the latter is the case, then it may turn out that the sale of Yosef was far more than just a Biblical event that once occurred, and ended with Yosef’s family reunification in Egypt. In fact, it may be that the sale of Yosef is the stormy undercurrent that has been disrupting Jewish history ever since, and will continue to do so until history, as we know it, reaches its end at the threshold of the Messianic Era.