040 Torah Portion of the Week – Shemos – Breaking the Self-fulfilling Prophecy and Getting Back on Course, A Powerful Parable about the Kings Son, A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home Separation and Divorce
The Torah Podcast Transcript
040 The Torah Podcast – Breaking the Self-Fulfilling Prophesy – Getting Back on Course
Torah Portion of the Week – Shemos
In the Parsha we have a verse that states, “And Aaron spoke all those things that God had told Moses, and he performed the signs before the people, and the people believed.” Moses performed all the signs, all the miracles in front of the people, which God told him to perform. The first one was, he took his staff and threw it down and it became a snake. The second was that his hand became leprous when he stuck it into his shirt and took it out. And the third one was, when he took water from the Nile and poured it on the ground, it became blood.
The Possuk says that after the people saw this, they believed. The Gemara in Shabbos 97A says like this, “From here we learn that the Jewish people were believers.” On this, Rav Miller from Gateshead has a kasha, a difficulty. “How can we see from here they were believers? These things were miracles. And if they believed because of the miracles, it’s really a conditional form of faith. It’s not real faith. It shows an inner weakness, if a person has to believe because of a miracle.
It’s mashma, you can infer, that if there wasn’t a miracle he wouldn’t believe.” How does the Gemara say that “From here we see that the Jewish people were believers?” The answer he gives is that even miracles are not in themselves conclusive. In other words, a person could see something but they decide what it means.
He brings a proof from Gemara Shabbos like this. “Talmidei Chachamim, Torah scholars, all the time that they hold on to their chochma, wisdom, they will add to their chochma. But am haratzim, simple people, all the time they hold on to their foolishness, they add on to their foolishness.” A person has a starting point, and from that perspective he adds everything on. A person who is a believer, if he sees something that can add onto his beliefs he’ll use it for that. On the other hand, if a person is atheist, he doesn’t believe in God, he’ll see something but it won’t add onto his belief. Just the opposite – he’ll use it to add on to his atheism. Or if a person believes that this world is just for pleasure, he’ll bring proofs that that’s really the reality. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. Your fundamental belief about what life is about will steer you in that direction. If a person is religious, his religious views will grow. If a person is less religious, he’ll go in that direction.
He brings the Chovas Levavos that says, “How does a Sage grow in his knowledge and understand God? Through his discernment, his mind is naturally attracted to those sciences and experiences that will illustrate and deepen his faith, and his gratitude for all the kindness of God. In this way, his intellectual and spiritual development moves on parallel lines. But the frivolous person turns all the powers of his mind to frivolous things – to the nonsense of the world and his position in it. And then his spiritual personality is quite neglected.”
This is quite a scary idea, because our decisions that we made long ago, that of the foundations of who we are, are really determining what direction we’re heading in. The question is – how do we change course? But first, there are a couple of proofs that this is true. You have the famous story of Rabbi Akiva who held that everything that God does is for the best. He was supposed to lodge in a certain town and there was no room, so he had to sleep in the field. And he had a donkey and a rooster and a lamp with him. He goes out into the field, and he says, “Whatever God does is for the best.” What happened? The donkey got killed, the rooster got killed, and his lamp went out. But he still said, “Whatever God does is for the best.” In the morning he saw that there were gangs that came to the town and killed everybody. He was saved because he had to sleep in the field, and his donkey didn’t make any noise. His rooster didn’t crow, and the light was out so nobody saw him. Since he had a positive attitude, and that was his starting point, so everything that happened was positive. Somebody else would have been complaining every step of the way.
Another famous story of Rabbi Akiva is one time he was walking with the Sages through a bustling Roman town. The Sages started to cry, and he started to laugh. They were crying, they were saying, “Our Temple’s been destroyed, and the Romans are having a great time.” They asked him, “Why do you laugh?” He said, “If these idolaters have such a good life, how much more so are we going to be rewarded?” Everything went according to his original positive premise that life is good and God is good. Therefore he saw the good in everything.
You have another proof from the Midrash that brings the story about a Roman princess who was speaking to Rabbi Yosie. She said to him, “My God’s are greater than yours, because when God revealed himself to Moshe at the burning bush, he merely hid his face. But when Moshe turned his staff into a snake, he was scared and he had to run away from the snake. Our deity is a snake, and Moshe was more scared of the snake than he was of God.” Rabbi Yosie answered, “When it comes to a snake, so you can run away. But when it comes to God, He’s everywhere. Where are you supposed to go? Like it says, ‘Behold, I fill the heavens and the earth.’ From our God, there’s no running away.” His point was that this Roman princess, from the Torah itself was bringing the proof that her deity was greater. Two people could read the Torah, one could be inspired and come closer to God, and somebody else could become inspired to run after avoda zara, idol worship. Now we can understand why the Gemara said, “From here we see the Jewish people were believers.” Even though there were miracles there, but they interpreted them in a way that would bring them closer to God, because they were already believers. That was their foundation. But somebody else could have written it off as magic or who knows what.
The question now is what do we do in our generation? There’s such a ruach, a spirit of non-belief that’s everywhere, that makes it very difficult for a person to be a real believer. How do we change our course? I want to quote Rav Hutner. He said like this, “There is a vast difference between the nightmarish immodesty confronting us today, and manifestations of immodesty that appeared in previous times. Today’s immodesty does not constitute a simple stumbling restrain. On the contrary, it is nothing but a rebellion against the principles of faith which are found in the essence of modesty, and an uprising against any sort of exulted view in life. In our generation, the idea of an exulted life, a holy life, a higher life…” that’s why I called it the Higher Life Podcast, “a life that has meaning with modesty and holiness and intelligence and good character, all this stuff seems to be out the window. People have forgotten about it.” Rav Hutner explains that we can see this by the way that people dress immodest. The fact that someone could walk around with no clothes on is surely a sign that he doesn’t view himself as more than an animal. What happened to shame? Where’s the embarrassment? There’s tremendous chutzpa, nobody’s even embarrassed to sin.
What’s going on in the world? In 50 years, everything’s changed. What they mention on television and the radio and the media, you wouldn’t even think about 50 years ago – and no busha, no embarrassment. Everything’s spoken freely, as if it’s normal. If this perspective has permeated the entire society, how are we supposed to break out of it? Everything we see is going to bring a proof that it’s true. It’s self-perpetuating, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. You see it has no meaning – life has no meaning. You can dress any way you want, you can do whatever you want, you can live with whoever you want. You could marry anybody you want. It just perpetuates itself, and everybody believes it and continues on and on. So, how do we become believers? How do we become holy people? The answer is in the simanim, the signs themselves. The three simanim, the three signs that Moshe showed the Jewish people.
I’d like to bring the Malbim who explains what the deeper meaning of the simanim were. The first miracle was with the snake, and the snake represents the lowest part of man – his desire for physical satisfaction. But Moshe showed the Jewish people if they grab the snake by the tail, it becomes a staff of God. That’s what happened. If you could just control yourself a little bit – that’s why it’s by the tail, he grabbed it by the tail, just a little bit. If a person can control himself a little bit, he could uplift himself to be a holy person. And if he lets go, if he throws the staff down to the ground, it goes back to being a snake. Moses was showing all the Jewish people for all the generations, if you want to become holy you can. Don’t give up. A person could take his animal nature and lift himself up to be a holy person. That was the first miracle.
The second miracle was that Moses stuck his hand into his shirt and it became a leper which means it died, the flesh died. The Malbim explains that that means laziness and inaction. Putting your hand in your shirt, not using your hand is tantamount to death. In other words, don’t think that life is a vacation. We’re here to work, we’re here to do. And if we don’t do, it’s like death; every minute that passes by that we’re not doing a mitzvah, not coming close to God, it’s like death. So, get moving. We have to wake ourselves up and do mitzvos. And if not, it’s like death. The third miracle was that the Nile’s water, when poured out, turned to blood. Which blood? That was the blood of the Jewish children that were being thrown into the water. The miracle represents that judgment. Don’t think the world is hefker, that no one’s watching, and you can do whatever you want. There are consequences to what you do.
Through these three things we can, yes we can start to live an exulted lifestyle, a higher life – a life where yes, I can control myself. And yes, I must work every day. I must produce. And yes, there is din v’cheshbon, things matter. Life matters. What I do has consequences. It’s not just do whatever you want. With these three foundations which were written in the Torah for eternity, for us, we can change our basic yesod, foundation, of what we think life is about. We could go higher and higher, and direct our lives for the purpose for which we were created.
A Powerful Parable
The verse in this week’s Parsha says, “The Bnai Yisroel, Children of Israel moaned because of their enslavement, and they cried. Their plea about enslavement went up to God.” The Maggid Mi Dubno has a moshul, a parable about this. One time there was a son of king and he got his father very angry, so his father sent him into exile. He went wandering around, and he found this town. He got a job over there. He worked as a farm hand. He was ploughing and harvesting, and watering. He completely forgot the palace where he came from. He became like a simple villager. What happened? His boss died, and the boss’s son inherited everything. But the son was really bad. The son made him work very hard – he had to do twice the amount of work. It was unbearable. He gave him much less food and his life became very difficult.
One time, the king was making visits to different towns in his kingship. He came to the town where the son was. He made an announcement that anyone who wants to speak to the king that has problems, could come and speak to the king. The son came to the king, he was dressed in plain clothes and his hair was long. But his father recognized him right away. He came to the king and he explained, “I was a worker for one farmer and then he died. Now his son is treating me terribly. He abuses me. Can you please speak to the son to make things easier for me?” The king cried, “Is this how low my son has sunk? He has a place in the capital, in the palace, to live. Yet he’s asking me to speak to this farmer’s son to make things easier for him in the village.”
Going back to the possuk it says, “And Bnai Yisroel moaned because of their enslavement, and they cried. Their pleas to the enslavement went up to Hashem.” The nimshal, conclusion is that the Jewish people were crying because of their enslavement. But they forgot who they were – that they were a holy people, they were from a much, much higher place. They were complaining about the enslavement, their physical enslavement that was happening. But they forgot that they come from a tremendously high spiritual place; that they’re sons of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, and they could be living a very high, elevated life which will come after the final redemption. May we see it on our days.
A Great Stories About a Great Rabbi – Rav Shach
The verse says, “And Moshe went out to his brethren and saw their burdens.” The Ibn Ezra says, “He was in the palace of the king, of Pharaoh, and he went out to see the Jewish people. The question is, why did he endanger himself? Couldn’t he feel their pain from inside the palace?” The Alter Mi Kelm answers that you cannot compare knowing about someone’s difficulty and actually seeing someone’s difficulty. He brings a possuk from Koheles. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all man. And the living should take it to heart.” Everyone knows this is the end of man, but when does he take it to heart? When he actually goes to a house of mourning and he sees it.
One time there was a story of an orphan girl that was raised by a family, and she was an excellent girl. She was an excellent student and she also helped in the house. She was offered a very good job, but the job was very far away from home. The family went to Rav Shach to ask what should they do with this girl. Rav Shach told them, “At this point in the girl’s life, the most important thing is that she gets married. After that, she could work.” He said to them, “its better she stays at home even without a job. This way, each day you’re going to see her, and you’ll remember that you have to take care of her and get her married.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament speaks about divorce and separation. The question is, do we say shalom bayis, peace at any price? In other words, should a couple get together no matter what? He claims there’s no difference between separation and divorce. Once the couple has separated and the man or the woman is out of the house, that’s called a separation. The question is, should they get back together? He claims that if that’s happened already, getting back together is not so simple. He recommends that they should stay apart for at least five months. But it doesn’t mean moving back in with your parents. He says, “That’s like a summer camp.” You have to make it like a real divorce, because when you stay by your parents you say, “Well, I’m free…peace and quiet. What’s the problem? Divorce is great.” He says, “No, no. You have to rent yourself an apartment. You have to set up visitations for the children. The man has to support his wife, financially. And you have to experience what it’s really like to be divorced.” If they’d gotten to the point of separation, this is what they should do. He says, “Most people are not prepared to do such a thing. But the people who did, there’s a very high percentage that got back together.”
What usually happens? They say, “Okay, we’ve had enough. It’s been a month. I want to go back.” He says, “No, no. You have to wait five months,” because if not, what will happen? The old conflicts come back right away. It’s only after five months that they realize how bad it is to be separated; how damaging it is to the children, and how horrible it is to be a single parent. Only at that point they’ll be ready to cope with the difficulties between them. They’ll realize that it’s better to work it out, and therefore they’ll be much more flexible. But he says, “Wait a second. The Torah does have in it a mitzvah of divorce. There is a certain point where a person should divorce his wife.” The first question is, what does the future hold? Are you really going to be happy with a second marriage? He says he gets dozens of phone calls saying, “I was so much better off in my first marriage.” It’s only when people become mature enough and realize that good doesn’t mean perfect, that they can have a happy marriage.
The Gemara in Yevamos says, “It’s enough that our wives raise our sons and save us from sin,” In other words, the yesod, secret is, you have to realize what you have – the good that you do have and that should override any problems that you’re having. The second question is, what’s going to be with the children? Rav Aharon Shteineman shlita says, “It’s better for kids to see parents fighting than parents being divorced.” The parents get divorced, then they could degrade each other completely. It’s very damaging to the children. Divorce is a very serious thing, and it should only be done after one asks the advice of the Rabbis.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends, and please give me a rating on iTunes if you can.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff