The Torah Podcast Transcript
The Torah Podcast 022 – Breaking Good – How to Escape a Bad Society
A Powerful Parable
The Chofetz Chaim brings this parable. One day, when a rich man was walking on the street, a poor man came up to him and said, “Can you please do me a favor? Can you lend me $5,000.” He says, “That’s an awful lot of money. Usually I only lend out $200 at a time. I could give 25 people that amount of money. The poor man said, “You know I used to be wealthy. If you give me that $5,000 I’ll be able to start a business again, and get back on my feet.” So, the rich man said, “If that’s the case, that’s what you want to do, so I’ll help you out.”
It came a year later for the man to pay back the money, and he gives him the money in the exact same envelope that he lent him, and the exact same bills. So the rich man said, “What is this? This is the exact same money that I lent you. Didn’t you do anything with it? You pleaded with me that you needed to start a little business. What did you do, you just took the money and put it in a drawer, and no one else could use it? How could you do such a thing?”
That’s the moshul. The nimshal, conclusion, is that God gives us a soul which is a precious treasure beyond any price. And He gave it to us to do business in this world – in other words, to learn Torah and to do mitzvos, commandments. But what do we do in our foolishness? We take this precious treasure and we leave in some forgotten corner. We don’t even use it at all. What’s going to be when we have to bring our souls back to our owner? God will see that we didn’t even use our souls. How are we going to explain that?
Torah Portion of the Week – Massei
This week’s Torah portion is Massei. The first verse says, “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went out from the Land of Egypt and their host, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journey, by the word of God. And these are their journeys according to the goings out.” Rav Miller from Gateshead has a couple of questions. First of all, we see that the first half of the verse spoke like this. “Moses wrote that their goings out are according to their journeys.” So, goings out means coming out of Egypt, and according to their journeys means where they going, their goal which is Eretz Yisroel. Obviously, it took 40 years, but this whole week’s Parsha is about all the stops that the Jewish people made through the dessert.
When Moses spoke he spoke of, “their goings out according to their journeys.” In other words, the most important thing was where they were going, and not where they were coming from. There it says, “By the word of God.” In the second half of the verse it switches to, “their journeys according to their goings out,” so really the goal wasn’t the most important thing but the going out was the most important thing. So, why this switch? That’s the first question. And the second question is, why in the first half was the goal which is Eretz Yisroel the most important, is specifically said by the word of God?
One of the questions that Chazal has is, why was it necessary for the Jewish people to wander through the dessert so laboriously for 40 years? There must have been some purpose to it. So, Rashi quotes the famous Midrash Tanhuma that says, “It may be compared to a case of a king who took his sick son to a distant place to be cured. On the son’s recovery, while they were returning home, the father pointed out at every stopping place what had happened on their way on their outward journey, saying to him, “Here we slept. Here we caught a cold. Here you had a headache.” So, from here we learned that the travel through the dessert was a cleansing procedure. It was to purge the Jewish people of their spiritual sicknesses that they received from being in the culture of Egypt which was immoral and impure. So, in order to rehabilitate the Jewish people, morally and spiritually, they had to go through the dessert to enter into the Land of Israel which was a holy place. Interestingly enough, the Kedusha HaLev says that these were not just sicknesses, they were rebellions and transgressions. The different places in the Parsha where the Jewish people stopped were all named after what happened in these places, there, very bad things happened. He says, “the moshul that the Midrash Tanhuma brings doesn’t make any sense. Why would a father record all the ingratitude and chutzpa that his son displayed to him? So, we learn from here that the Midrash doesn’t look at it that way. God doesn’t look at it that way. He just looks at it as a sickness, as an illness. My children are sick, they don’t appreciate everything that I do for them. They rebel, but it’s only because they don’t understand.
So, the Midrash also teaches us another side point which is that God doesn’t look at our transgressions as intrinsically evil, but rather as a sickness, which means that God loves us so much, he just looks at it as a child that needs help but that is a side point. So, we see the first reason that we were brought through the dessert was to purify us spiritually from all the problems and the society and the culture that we had in Mitzrayim, Egypt. There’s another Midrash Tanhuma that gives a second reason like this. God said, “If I will lead them in the simple route, each one would occupy himself with his field and his vineyard and will neglect Torah study.” In other words, if they were to go straight into Eretz Yisroel, they get so involved with the physical world, they will just start to plant and just get involved with making money. Therefore, I’m going to lead them on the way through the wilderness where they eat manna and drink the waters of the well, and the Torah will settle in them.” That’s a second reason why we spent 40 years in the dessert, which was to get our values straight. By going through the dessert and having all our physical needs taken care of, we got clear what the purpose of this life is about, and we didn’t neglect Torah.
The third reason why we had to go through the dessert for 40 years, because the possuk says, God was afraid we were going to change our minds. In Shemos it says, “And God did not want the people to change their minds the moment they saw the fighting, and return to Egypt.” Those were the three reasons why we had to go through the 40 years in the dessert.
Back to the original question, what was the difference between us going out of Egypt as compared to the goal which is, coming to Eretz Yisroel? The Maggid mi Dubno gives a beautiful parable. He says, “One time there was a boy whose mother died. The father married a new wife. But the boy did not get along at all with his stepmother. So, the father was just praying that his boy can get married and get out of the house. Finally he found a wonderful family and a wonderful girl, and he was all excited and he tells his son, ‘Now we’re going to go and you’re going to go get married in this other town to this girl.’ On the way, the son kept asking the driver, ‘How far have we traveled so far? How far are we away from my town?’ and the father kept asking, ‘How much longer do we have to go? When are we going to get there?’” The explanation is, that the son who had such a hard time with his stepmother was just interested I how far he was going to get away from her. The father on the other hand, understood the great family and the great girl his son was about to get married to, so he was all excited about the goal. So, Moses who understood the value of Eretz Yisroel, the spiritual value of coming to Israel, when he spelled it out, he spoke about the goal. His focus was on the goal. He said, “the goings out according to their journeys,” which is the goal. But the Jewish people who were not aware of the goal, their focus was on leaving Egypt which is a whole other aspect which we discussed, of purification and breaking away from that culture.
I just want to explain the value of being in Eretz Yisroel, the value of living in Israel. In Kesubos, the Gemara says, “One should always live in Israel, even in a city where most of the inhabitants worship idols,” because it says that someone who lives in Israel is considered as if he has a God. And someone who doesn’t live in Israel, it’s considered like he doesn’t have a God. So, the Ran said – he explains that only Israel is under God’s direct control. All the other lands are under the direction of the stars and the constellations. He says it’s much easier to rebel against God outside of Israel. He says sarcastically, “This is not like those pious people who mistakenly insist that religious experience is identical in both places for good and for bad.” Eretz Yisroel, the Land of Israel has a special quality that helps a person to be more spiritual. Moshe Rabbeinu understood that, so that was his focus which was the goal. There is also a Rambam that explained that really only in Eretz Yisroel can a person do the mitzvos. Outside Eretz Yisroel the Rambam holds it’s just like practicing the mitzvos, but the mitzvos themselves can only actually be done in Eretz Yisroel.
There’s another Gemara that says, “Whoever lives in Israel lives without sin.” The Pnei Yoshua says, “Wait a second, come on. We know there were tons of Jews that did sins in Eretz Yisroel.” So he explains, if somebody comes with the commandment of settling in the land based on that, he will repent and won’t have any sin. But if he just happens to be born here or it’s a nice place to live, so then it’s not going to have the same influence on him.
And Rabbeinu Bachye explains the possuk that says, “Israel is the land that God attends to constantly.” He says, “God is also concerned with the countries of the world, but God’s influence comes from Eretz Yisroel and goes out to the world.” It’s like a man’s heart, which is the center of the body. So, we see there are many Chazals that talk about the power of Eretz Yisroel. Moshe Rabbeinu understood after 40 years that’s where we’re going to go, it’s going to have a tremendous positive influence on the Jewish people. But in the meantime, we needed to be weaned from the culture of Mitzrayim, Egypt.
Rav Tzadok Cohen explains that when the Jews left Mitzrayim, it was very hard for them to break away from that culture. The Rambam says that Pharaoh was the epitome of the evil inclination. Rav Dessler wants to explain from that, that when the possuk says, “The Jews were pursued by Pharaoh,” it means their evil inclinations were following them. In other words, even when we left Mitzrayim, we still had tremendous desires to do bad things. Also, the Malbim explains that we couldn’t just leave that culture all at once. He says a moshul, parable like this. “It’s like a man wants to move from a very warm country into a cold country. The doctor prescribed that should move little by little, he should go from the warmer area to the colder area, till he adjusts. He can’t just all of a sudden go from a warm country into a freezing country, he’ll die. And this was God’s prescription for the Jewish people, in order to make them a holy people.”
So, in order to break us down and remove us from the culture of Egypt, God had to bring us 40 years through the dessert. He said if not, we would have come into Eretz Yisroel and we just would have been busy all day with our parnassa, trying to make money. We would have forgotten about the Torah. As soon as we felt it was unsafe, we would have run away. So, God slowly had to remove us and put faith into our hearts to bring us into Eretz Yisroel.
We know there’s a possuk in Tehillim that says, “Tzur me rah, v’asei tov.” There are two parts to becoming righteous. First it’s tzur me rah, remove yourself from evil, from what’s bad. The second half is, asei tov, do good. But there are two separate influences. I know there’s a Yeshiva here in Eretz Yisroel for boys who a little bit went off the derech, the correct path. His main focus is tzur me rah. First he has to stop the boys from going to town, from being with girls, from drinking, from doing all kinds of bad things. How is it possible to become righteous if you’re still doing bad? We know the famous Shaarei Teshuva, he says it’s like going in a mikva, ritual pool, jumping in a mikva with a sheretz, a snake in your hand. You’re holding a snake, but you’re jumping into the mikva, it’s not going to help you. You’re still going to be tamei, you’re still going to be impure. This is a very big lesson. A person really has to think about what am I doing wrong? He has to drop those things before he starts thinking about doing good, and doing the right things. We have to do a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of our souls, and think about what are we doing wrong? If we can remove the wrong things, we’re more than halfway there. We can’t expect to be really spiritual if we’re still doing things wrong. So, that’s the message here. Sit down, think about your day, think about your week. And think about what am I doing wrong that I can eliminate? What can I let go of?
The Ramchal says, “Only if a man keeps watch over himself, will the Holy One, Blessed be He, help him and deliver him from the hands of the evil inclination. But if he fails to do so, the Holy One, Blessed be He, will surely not watch over him. For if he has no pity on himself, who will have pity on him? It is forbidden,” say our sages, “to have compassion on one who has spurned knowledge.” Similarly,” they say, “if I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” We are only going to get help from God to purify ourselves if we take the first step. It’s in our hands. If a person wonders why is God not helping me, he should think about why is he not helping himself. It’s only after we remove ourselves from bad things that we can start to really advance towards the true good. It’s only at that point that God is really going to help us do good.
That explains the answer to the second question we had. When it came to the first half of the verse which is focusing on the goal, the goings out according to their journeys, it says there, “By the word of God.” In other words, it’s only God at that point, then He’s going to help us to do good. The only way that we’re going to really do good is with the help of God. Tzur me rah, to leave the evil, that has to come from us. That has to originate with our own personal effort. But aseh tov, that’s only going to come with the help of God, because at that point we get siata d’shemaya, we get God’s help.
Great Stories – Rav Kotler
It says that Rav Aharon Kotler used to say to the baalei batim, the leaders of the community, “The purpose of the Yeshiva is not the Roshei Yeshivos or the Rabbonim. But simply, the development of true bnei Torah,” which means children of Torah – versed not only in the fundamentals of Torah but also in the nature of the Torah, to whom the Torah is the throb and pulse of life. That’s going to secure the Torah of Klal Yisroel, and the future of the Jewish people. “It’s not just the knowledge of Torah,” he explained, “it’s the approach. It’s the understanding of what Torah is.”
Rav Aharon used to say, “Torah is above time and space. And just because we’re in America and the context doesn’t seem to fit, we can’t change it.” He said, “Form follows function,” and therefore he kept his Yeshiva in the classic yeshiva mold, even though they were in modern America. He said, “Torah is the purpose and goal of creation, the destiny of the Jew, the highest form of worship, and the consummation of the Divine will, both the means and the ends of human fulfillment. Only through Torah does a man unite with his Creator, for God and His word are one.” This causes man to rise above the mundane, and to be truly spiritual, to be holy and to become immortal. Torah is this source where all holiness flows from.” Rav Aharon used to laugh and he said, “Some people think that other mitzvos are comparable to Torah.” He said, “Torah is as infinite as the Creator, and no man could claim to complete it. It creates the greatest reward in the next world. The greater the diligence, the greater the reward. It’s the benai torah, the children of Torah, the people who sit and learn all day, who will be at the pinnacle of the world to come.” He says, “Time wasted from Torah is the source of all evil, the gravest of sins. For it subverts the nature and purpose of creation.” This is the whole purpose of creation. If you don’t do it, it’s a perversion. He ends off like this by saying that King David said, “Were it not for my Torah being my delight, I would succumb to my poverty.” He has a kasha, what does he mean his poverty? Dovid Hamelech was one of the richest people who ever lived, he was a multi-millionaire. No, Dovid considered himself by not learning Torah, “I’m in poverty.” What am I, just physical? It’s only Torah that can lift a person up out of his physical world.
Peace in Your Home
Rav Avigdor Miller speaks about honoring the parents. Every father should openly admonish the children to honor and obey their mother. In other words, the father should tell the kids, “You have to listen to your mother.” And the mother should tell the kids, “You have to listen to the father.” That’s going to bring peace into the house. The parents should tell them that, “Honoring your parents bestows longer life and more happiness than those people who don’t honor their parents.” But if chas veshalom, God-forbid a child hears one parent berating the other, a terrible destruction is caused to the holiness of the home. If the parents speak against each other in front of the children, it affects the holiness of the home. The children should never witness it. And each husband and wife should say to each other, “Thank you,” and “Please.” The father should tell the children to say “thank you” to the mother when she gives you food. He says, “This may be a novelty to some, who think their mother must serve them. But why should the mother serve anyone? And if she decides to serve, so at least let the children say, “Thank you.” He says, “When a frum kid, a religious kid doesn’t say “thank you” to his mother, but he’s very makpid, he’s always strict to say the brocha, blessing, his brocha is worthless. Because if he can’t say thank you to his mother who he knows and he sees, surely the brocha, the blessing that he’s saying to God who he can’t see, can’t be worth much. The mother should instruct the children, the father’s always first; the first to eat, and first to speak at the table. And the father should always say, “The mother’s first to speak before the children.” It’s these attitudes that are going to bring peace in your home.
That’s the end of this week’s podcast. Please share it with your friends, and leave comments.