065 Torah Portion of the Week – Masei – How to Create the Ideal Society – The Human/Divine Paradigm – A Powerful Parable about the Drunk Son – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – More on Dialogue
The Torah Podcast Transcript
065 -The Torah Podcast – How to Create the Ideal Society – The Human/Divine Paradigm
Torah Portion of the Week – Masei
Towards the beginning of Parshas Masei the Torah says, “Hashem spoke to Moses in the plains of Moav by the Jordan at Jericho saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, when you cross the Yarden to go into the land of Canaan”, the Jews are about to cross the Yarden river and go into Eretz Yisroel, “You shall drive out the inhabitants of the land before you. And you shall destroy all their temples, all their molten images shall you destroy. And their high places you shall demolish. You shall rid the land, and you shall settle in it. For to you have I given the land to possess it…” then it continues a little bit later, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, those whom you leave shall be as pins in your eyes and as thorn hedges in your sides. And they will harass you upon the land that you dwell. And it shall be that what I had meant to do to them I will do to you.” Rashi explains that the Jews actually passed over the Yarden river on dry land. Hashem made it dry. But it’s on the condition that you do what I say, which is to get rid of all these idol worshippers. And if not, the water will come back and wash you away. The Rambam explains that this is a mitzvah, it’s a positive commandment to come to the Land of Israel and settle it. If it should enter their minds to go to Syria, they would be over the violation of the commandment of God. They have to go specifically to Eretz Yisroel. And it’s forbidden to leave it. He brings the Gemara in Bava Basra that says that if a husband wants to go to Eretz Yisroel and the wife doesn’t want to come with him, she’s considered a rebellious wife. And likewise the husband, if the woman wants to go to Eretz Yisroel and the husband doesn’t want to come, he’s considered rebellious also, because this verse is a positive commandment and it reiterates this mitzvah in many places. It says in Devarim, “Come and possess the Land.” It’s a mitzvah to come to Eretz Yisroel to live in Eretz Yisroel, to conquer Eretz Yisroel, and to settle in Eretz Yisroel.
The verse a little bit later on says, “Do not defile the Land in which you dwell, in whose midst I reside, for I am Hashem who resides in Bnai Yisroel.” Rav Wolbe brings the Seforno who explains on the possuk in Vayikra that says, “The Land shall not be sold forever because the Land belongs to Me.” The Seforno explains, even though it says in Tehillim, “The heavens are the heavens for Hashem, the Land He gave to mankind,” Eretz Yisroel still belongs to God. He didn’t give it to man. What does the practical difference? He brings the Bach who explains that someone who lives in Israel, it’s like he’s living with the shechina, God is here. When he eats the fruits of Eretz Yisroel, he’s eating holy fruits. And we transform our physical bodies to an abode for the shechina. We see that Eretz Yisroel is a very special place and it’s a commandment for us to come and settle the land and live here. But the first commandment we get when we got here was to drive out before you the inhabitants of the Land, and destroy their symbols and their images. And if not, what happens? “These people will be as hedges in your eyes and thorns in your sides. And they will press you.” What does the Ramban explain? They will gouge your eyes, they will lead you astray so you will not see or understand spiritual truths. In other words, spiritually – you’ll be spiritually blind, and you’ll start to worship their gods. What does it mean, “Thorns in your sides?” “They will afflict you with pain. They will steal from you, and plunder against you. They will actually wage war against you, and bring you under siege in your own country.” That’s exactly what’s happening today.
The Ohr haChayim explains that you have to get rid of everybody. It says, to drive them all out, even those that are not part of the seven nations. And if you don’t have the power to kill them you should at least send them out of the land to make sure they’re not around. But if you decide to let some of them stay, in order that you should have workers and people to help you, so they’re going to be like thorns in your eyes and pricks in your side. They’re going to harass you. That’s exactly what happened after the Six Day War. We decided to keep all the Arabs in the country to help us build the country. And look what’s happening now. What does it mean, “They’ll harass you in the Land?” They’ll harass you even in the parts that you conquered. If they’re in a different part, even in those parts you’ll still be harassed. You won’t have peace. So, the first mitzvah that we had when we came to Eretz Yisroel is to get rid of the negative influences. Which negative influence? Between man and God. And Rav Hirsch explains it, he says like this. “If you will allow the pagan inhabitants to remain in the Land, they will become like a hedge around their pagan practices.” What do you mean, a hedge? “The nature of these practices will be concealed from you, from your perception and insight. And you won’t find any fault in them.” What happens? “Tolerance towards the pagan inhabitants will beget tolerance towards paganism. You’ll start to become friends with them, you’ll get used to these people. You’ll say, ‘These people are okay. What’s the problem?’ And really inside their houses they’re doing idol worship, worshipping multiple gods, different forces. What will happen? You will cease to belong to God alone. Therefore, you will be deprived of your right to exist in the Land, and you won’t be worthy of God’s protection. And what will happen? When God removes His protection, those who you’ve been so tolerant towards, they will become your enemies. The same people that you accepted, they’ll come against you.” He says, “The whole book of Shoftim is nothing but a history of what befell the Jewish people by disregarding this warning.” By allowing the nations and their philosophies to exist in Eretz Yisroel, it brings our destruction. “Ah, we should be liberal. We should be politically correct. Let’s let everybody in. Let’s let everybody convert, bring them in easily.” No, we need purity, we need holiness. We need to make sure that the prevalent philosophy is that Hashem is one. There’s only one way, the Torah.
And all these other outside forces have to be gotten rid of. These outside ideas, you have to destroy them. If not, they’re going to destroy us. So, that was the first mitzvah between us and God. It took us 40 years of traveling in the desert to purify ourselves just to get to this point, so we have to make sure we don’t fall at this point. The Malbim explains when it says in Devarim, “You saw what Hashem did before your eyes in the Land of Mitzrayim, Egypt. Yet Hashem did not give you a heart to know until this very day, until you traveled for 40 years.” He brings a parable like this. If you want to bring a person from a warm country and bring them to a cold country, you can’t do it overnight. You have to do it little by little, or else he’s going to die. And this is why the Jewish people had to go through the desert for 40 years to purify them from the paganism of Mitzrayim. When we come into the Land we have to make sure everything’s pure. You see how important it is for us to guard ourselves against these false ideas. This is the fight of a Jew as he’s placed among the nations, to stay devoted to the Torah and the right way of looking at things.
Interestingly enough, what’s the next mitzvah right after we divide the Land? The mitzvah is to make irei miklat. These are the cities of the Leviim where if a person was to kill another person inadvertently by mistake, by accident, he could run there to save his life so that the family of the one that he killed do not kill him. This is a way to protect him, to protect life. The verse says, “Among the cities that you shall give to the Leviim there shall be first six cities of reception,” irei miklat, “which designates that a manslaughterer shall flee there.” Then afterwards there’s going to be another 42 cities. In total there’s 48 irei miklat, cities all throughout the country which someone can run if he’s in a situation like that. Rabbeinu Bachye explains, “What is this mitzvah? Such a person is not guilty of the death penalty. He didn’t intend to kill his victim. This law demonstrates that the heart of the person and the prime driving force of man’s activity, where there’s no coordination between the body and the mind, the guilty party only has to be exiled.” He brings a possuk from Tehillim that says, “Oh Lord, be mindful of your compassion and your faithfulness as of time of old.” What was the time of old? Even though Adam haRishon brought death into the world, he didn’t kill him. So, if God is compassionate towards involuntary murders, showing them a path to escape their predicament, how much more so compassion He must have on genuinely righteous people. This is a mitzvah bein adam l’adam. It’s our mitzvah, when we settle the land, when we create a country, we have to have mercy upon people in order to save them from being killed.
Rav Wolbe explains the possuk says that Moses set aside three cities on the bank of the Jordan towards the rising sun. What does the Gemara Makkos say there? He caused the sun to shine for the murderers. This is the last mitzvah that Moshe Rabbeinu did, causing the sun to shine for dejected people, caring for the downtrodden. And Rav Wolbe wants to add, “Chazal teaches us, one that shows the white of his teeth, his smile to a friend, does more for him than giving him milk to drink.” When you smile on somebody and you’re there to help the person, and you have rachmanus on them, you truly light up their life. This is the second mitzvah we need in order to be able to settle the Land of Israel, to help people, to care about people, to care about murderers that they shouldn’t die. Rav Hirsch says, “The Land is given over to all God’s people only on the condition that we respect the sanctity of every human life which is sacred to the Torah. Innocent blood that is spilled and disregarded loses a thread and the tie that connects the Land with the nation, and both the land and the nation with God.” Immediately upon the conquest of the Land when the Land was divided, there shall be created that legal institution, the irei miklat, that’s the first thing we should do, after we got rid of all the idol worship.
So, Rav Hirsch continues and he says on this verse, “Do not turn the Land into a hypocrite, for the blood turns the Land to a hypocrite. There could be no atonement for the Land for the blood that is spilled in it, except for the blood of the one who spilled it.” This is the continuation of the mitzvah of guarding life. You should not take ransom for the life of a murderer who has incurred the death penalty. You can’t let him get away with it. That’s someone who deliberately killed. What does it mean, “The Land is a hypocrite?” The Land will disappoint the expectations that you would otherwise justify placing on it. In other words, it’s not going to give forth its blessing. It’s going to look hypocritical. Such a society breaks the terms in which it may possess the Land. And when someone kills somebody God-forbid, since he has spilled the blood of his fellow man, he has forfeited his own right to exist. Man is not an animal. We have to care about other human beings. This is the next mitzvah of coming into Eretz Yisroel, of being here, of creating society, of creating a country, caring about people.
Rav Hirsch continues he says, “When Noach was allowed to walk on the Land again, Hashem gave him domain over the world of plants and animals, thereby proclaiming, ‘Man who was created in the image of God is endowed with a higher dignity. And the recognition of this higher dignity is on the basic condition for the gift of the earth for man’s domain over the world.” God only gave us the world if we continue as a tzelem Elokim, if we continue in the image of God, a Godly man. But if there’s indifference of part of the community towards the shedding of innocent blood, it is a patent denial of man’s divine nature. The human society in which God is present must reflect the dignity of human men, and must give expression to the fact that man was created in the image of God. The proper society should be like this,” he says. “The state shall regard the lives of its citizens as its most precious and sacred asset.” This is the second half of creating a society – caring about people. If we let bloodshed happen it means we don’t care about anybody. What’s the difference, this guy died, that guy died. Like you have in America this young girl, Kate Steinle. She was killed, and nobody cares or half the country doesn’t care. That’s the end of society. If we have people killing each other rampantly like in Syria, so God will take the Land away from us.
But you see from this you need two things for society to exist. First you have to have bein adam leMakom, you have to get rid of all the idol worship and have your philosophy straight. Then you have bein adam l’adam, between man and man. The regard for human life, human dignity that man is created in the image of God. And if you don’t have both those things you can’t have a society, a normal society, a healthy society, a society that’s blessed. And there’s a beautiful proof for this al pi kabbalah that says like this. The six irei miklat are like the six first words of the Shema. Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem echad. Six words – those are the first six irei miklat. And the next 42 irei miklat is like the first paragraph of Shema. Shema is something we say twice a day, that we accept upon ourselves ol malchus shemayim, to dedicate ourselves to God. And the whole first paragraph is about between man and God. Hear O Israel, Hashem is your God, Hashem is the only One. You shall love Hashem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul and all of your resources. And these commandments that I command you today shall be on your heart, and you should teach them to your children and speak of them when you sit in your home, and while you walk on the way, and when you lie down, and when you arise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your arm – tefillin, and between your eyes. And you should write them upon your doorposts – mezzuzot, and in the houses upon your gates. Shema is the mitzvah to accept upon ourselves our relationship to God. But according to this Chazal we see that within that is bein adam l’chavero, the 48 irei miklat. This is another beautiful example of the greatness of the Torah, of the balance of the Torah, of how to create a society and how to create a world which cares both about God and about man.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid mi Dubno brings a possuk like this. Hashem spoke to Moses, “Take revenge for the bnai Yisroel against the Midyanites. Afterwards, you shall be gathered unto your people.” The Midrash Rabba says that Moshe wanted to see the revenge against Midyan, like it says in Tehillim, “The righteous man will rejoice because he saw revenge.
He brings a parable. A wealthy man had an only son. He was a very sweet boy but he had a problem. He couldn’t stop drinking. One time a doctor came to town, and the boy’s father said, “Please heal my son.” He said, “I can do it. I can make your son hate the drink. It will be repulsive to him.” He treated the boy, and he says the son now despises alcohol. The father saw really the truth was he’s stopped drinking. But the father wanted to be sure, so what did he do? He sent his son to go buy some wine for him. He went to the wine store and asked for a keg of wine. The salesman said, “Fine, I’m going to go downstairs and get you a keg.” In the meantime there were these empty jugs on the counter. The boy smelled the wine and was it was so repulsive to him that he took a stick and broke all the jugs. When the wine seller came upstairs he said, “What did you do?” He went up to the father and said, “Your son broke all these wine caskets.” He says, “Don’t worry, I’ll pay you for them.” The father was thrilled. Why? “Because now I know that my son’s hate for wine is deeply ingrained in him.” The same thing with Moshe Rabbeinu. He wanted to see that really Yisroel was going to fight against the Midyanites. He wanted to know if they still harbored inside of their hearts a desire for them, to be like them. If they hardly fight, so that means they weren’t really healed. But since he saw that they fought with a fury, and they hate them, so then Moshe was happy like the verse says, “The righteous man will rejoice because he saw revenge.”
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The Kli Yakar says on the verse, “You shall arrange cities for yourself, cities of refuge they shall be for you.” He compares it with the Pirkei Avos that says, “Exile yourself to a place of Torah.” Just like an inadvertent murderer runs to one of these cities he’ll be able to live, so too if you exile yourself to a place of Torah, you’ll also come to life. Like it says, “He shall live by them. And similarly, just like you shouldn’t leave a city of refuge because if the person leaves a city of refuge then the brother or the father could kill him, so too you shouldn’t leave the study hall, the house of Torah. So, we know that Rav Shach was separated from his family at a very young age to go to Yeshiva, just before World War I. But what happened? World War I broke out, and he was separated by a country border. They made new borders, he couldn’t actually go back to see his mother and his sister. His father passed away, and he never saw him again. So, what happened? There was the mother and the sister living in this town, and a neighbor also had a boy in the Yeshiva where Rav Shach was.
So, they made a plan. They were going to send a letter to Rav Shach and this other boy, his friend, and they were going to meet at the border fence. So, they sent the letter and they were supposed to meet on this one day. They were waiting there and they see that only the son of the friend comes, and Rav Shach didn’t show up. Rav Shach’s sister was a baby when Rav Shach left and she’d never even met him. So, they were waiting there, Rav Shach doesn’t show up to see his mother who’s a widow, and his sister who he never saw before, never met before. The boy brought with him a letter from Rav Shach and it said like this. He apologized to his mother, and he said he was sure that his mother would understand because she told him before the war broke out, “The safest place to be is in the beis medrash, in the house of Torah.” He wrote, “I was afraid to come, because after seeing you just after abba died, and seeing my sister, I was afraid my emotions would get the better of me and I wouldn’t be able to learn after that. So, I decided not to come.” He was sure his mother would agree with his decision. This is an unbelievable story and it’s even hard for us to understand, but in the end let’s not forget, Rav Shach became the greatest one in the generation.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Simcha Cohen explains, a woman who feels that her husband doesn’t speak to her enough, has to examine herself. Maybe she’s doing something that’s preventing him from talking to her. Does she encourage him for him to share his feelings? Does she unconsciously throw up obstacles stopping him from talking? Maybe she comments in the middle or asks questions, and it stops the flow of the conversation and it’s hard for him to complete a thought. Or she says to him, ‘Oh, that’s stupid,’ or, ‘I would have done it differently.’ So, in the end the husband just shuts up. He doesn’t want to talk. Or maybe she corrects his mistakes, little details. He says, “150, there were 150 people there.” She says, “No, there were 160.” These things don’t matter. Also in general, just speaking in the wrong way can stop the conversation. If one person speaks too loud, or one person has the wrong tone of voice, or somebody speaks too fast. So, you don’t want to speak to people like that. Or someone claims, “Once she gets going, she never wants to stop.” He doesn’t want to open a conversation with her, it’s like a can of worms. It just keeps coming out more and more. There are some women who work in kindergartens, and they’re used to repeating themselves and talking and talking and talking to the kids. That’s good for kids, but it’s not good for a husband.
So, what should we do about that? We have to ask our spouse, “Am I speaking correctly? Is there a problem with the way we’re communicating logistically? Maybe we’re doing something wrong that’s stopping the conversation.” Or sometimes what happens is the other person has an angry face on them, and they don’t realize it, and there’s just tension. There’s tension coming from them and the other person doesn’t want to relate to them. But since the person themselves is not conscious of their attitude or their anger, so they think it’s the other person who doesn’t want to speak to them. But they don’t see themselves. Or sometimes somebody speaks with too much emotion. They speak extreme, for example. Or they always say, “Yeah, that kid’s hopeless.” “I’ve had it, I can’t take it anymore.” Some people speak that way, exaggerated, in order to get the point across. But the person listening may not understand that. They think this person’s crazy. Not only that, sometimes the husband comes home and he’s relaxed. The wife is all nervous about what happened in the house, so the person who is not involved with the situation they have a different perspective on what’s going on. They don’t want to talk to somebody who’s so involved and so upset about something. When that person says to them, “Please don’t shout, don’t be too upset,” so the person talking feels there’s nobody listening to me.
Actually, we had a case of this in the Torah itself. Rochel said to Yaakov, “Give me children and if not I’m dead.” So, the Rambam explains that Yaakov got mad at her. She was frightening him with the threat of death. Sometimes the person says, “Wait a second. I like to express myself with emotion. What’s the point of telling a story if it’s not emotional?” So, this has to be made conscious. You have to understand the communication method of your spouse. How are they expressing themselves?
And a real show-stopper is when one of the couple brings up things that the other one said to them in a very intimate, private level. And all of a sudden, there’s a new thing happening or a fight and they said, “Yeah, you’re this, you’re like this, you’re like that.” So then surely the person’s not going to want to speak to them ever again. So, those are a lot of the problems. But what do we do? We have to create the right conditions for dialogue. For example, look at the other person’s eyes when they’re speaking. If one person speaks and the other one’s looking down at their iPhone, or talking to their shoes or sorting the laundry, who knows what, that’s not a conversation. That’s not a dialogue.
One time there was a wife who was complaining that the husband never paid attention to her. It turns out that the husband was a cab driver, so he’s used to speaking to people without looking at them. And don’t sit on the opposite side of the table, sit next to each other. Use the tools of public speaking. Just like a public speaker has certain methods that he uses in order to connect with his audience, to smile, to nod, to make it easy to talk and joke around a little bit, eye contact, pay attention to the audience, don’t drag on, get a feel for the other person. Pay attention to their unconscious actions. Look at their body language.
One time a wife complained that, “My husband thinks I’m an idiot. He always says, ‘Do you understand, do you get it?’” They checked out that she would listen without any expression on her face. He would talk and she would listen with no reaction. So, he would say to her, “Do you understand?” And she’s complaining that, “He thinks I’m an idiot,” but she’s not showing any kind of reaction, no connection. Show the person that you agree or disagree, smile, nod. Try to make reactions clear and evident. Also, try to find the right environment. This is a classic. The woman wants to speak to the husband right as he walks in the door. That may not be the best time, you know? Wait till he sits down, wait till he has a drink. Wait till he’s relaxed, and then talk.
Or the opposite – someone who wants to talk as the person’s about to leave the house. Surely that’s not going to make for a good conversation? The other person’s in a rush, they have their mind already out the door and you’re trying to speak to them. It’s not going to work. Or people try to speak on public transportation. The husband’s embarrassed, and the wife doesn’t care. But that’s not an environment to speak. You have to both be in a situation where you both feel comfortable speaking.
Or another classic is late at night, one of the couple loves to stay up late and the other one wants to go to sleep early. So, the one who wants to stay up late he starts talking all of a sudden, and he can talk for hours. And the wife is exhausted. She wants to go to sleep so he feels bad. It’s not the right time to talk. It’s just not the right environment. One way to get around all these problems is to make a fixed time to speak to each other, where everybody feels comfortable and it’s right for both sides.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends and leave comments.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff