041 Torah Portion of the week – Vaeyra – Ignorance is Bliss for the Ignorant – The Importance of Deep Thinking – A Powerful Parable About Two Beggars– A Great Story about the Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – Three Conditions for a Successful Marriage
The Torah Podcast Transcript
041 The Torah Podcast – Ignorance is Bliss for the Ignorant – The importance of Deep Thinking
Torah Portion of the Week – Vaeyra
The verses in Vaeyra Chapter 6 verse 9, starting with verse 9 says, “Moses spoke accordingly to the Children of Israel, but they would not heed Moses because of the shortness of spirit and hard work.” The Ramban explains that because the hard work was so much pressure, they were not able to hear any idea and reflect upon it. They couldn’t think. The verses continue and say, “Hashem spoke to Moses saying, ‘Come, speak to Pharaoh King of Egypt, that he send the Children of Israel from his land.’ Moses spoke before Hashem saying, ‘Behold, the Children of Israel have not listened to me. How will Pharaoh listen to me – and I have sealed lips.’” Rashi explains, “This is one of the 10 kal vechomers written in the Torah.” A kal vechomer is the logic of “all the more so”. If it’s true by the smaller case, so surely it’s true by the bigger case. What Moses was saying that was “If the Jewish People won’t listen to me, surely Pharaoh won’t listen to me.”
There are different ways to learn this kal vechomer, but the way the Or HaChaim learns it, he has a problem. He says, “It doesn’t make any sense. If you put the three verses together, the reason why the Jewish people would not listen to Moses was because of their understandable impatience and pressure. How could we say that if the Jews wouldn’t listen because of the pressure they were under, all the more so Pharaoh won’t listen. He wasn’t under more pressure.” In order to answer this question, Rav Miller of Gateshead brings the Rambam, who explains in Yad Chazakah that there are three stages to idol worship. First there was the generation of Enosh, who wanted to give, kavod, honor to the forces of nature. They were actually still motivated by a desire to serve God, so they wanted to give honor to His creations, because God uses the stars and planets to influence what happens here on the Earth. But he explains it’s based on a fallacy. You’re not supposed to worship anything but God. There should be nothing between a person and God. It should be a direct relationship. That’s what led to was the next stage, where people were saying that the planets and the stars had independent powers of their own, which easily led to the third stage which is they forgot about the original power, God Himself. This is what avoda zara is, idol worship, – worshipping something instead of God – giving power to other kind of force instead of the Creator itself; not going back to the source of everything. Now, we know that Pharaoh was absorbed in idol worship. That was the whole culture, the culture of idol worship, which we’ve now defined as not going back to the source, the true source of where things come from.
Rav Simcha Zissel explains that when Aaron threw down his staff and it became a snake in front of Pharaoh and his magicians also the magicians were able to make snakes out of their staffs. But in the end, Aaron’s snake swallowed up all the other snakes. It was clear that his miracle was stronger, but in spite of this it didn’t affect Pharaoh. It didn’t lead him to the logical conclusion that Aaron’s miracle was greater. Pharaoh not only worshipped idols, but he believed that he himself was a God, that he created himself. That’s what the Yalkut says. He was a man who was not willing to listen, which goes along with idol worship, because it is not looking deeper into things to see the source.
This is what Rav Dessler explains. He says, “The roots of idol worship come from the unwillingness in human nature to pursue a matter to its logical conclusion. The search for truth has not the passion and urgency that it will drive to the utmost point of discovery. Perhaps the truth is sometimes not pleasant, and in the end, people prefer to stop at a convenient rest house. In this lies the cause of all idolatries and false beliefs of mankind. At some stage in the search for truth, men were contented to pitch their tents, to stifle their sense of wonder, of curiosity; their sheer need to come to the source and cause of existence.” With this, we could understand the kal vechomer. The common denominator between the Jewish people and Pharoah was the inability to hear and contemplate what was being said. If the Jewish people won’t listen, surely Pharaoh won’t listen. But there’s a very deep word of mussar that we can learn from this. It says in Mesilas Yesharim, “This is surely one of the tricks of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, which relentlessly labors to burden the hearts of people until they are left with no spare moment either to contemplate or to observe the path they are taking. For it knows, if they would only minimally devote attention to their ways, they would no doubt immediately begin to regret their deeds. And this regret would intensify until they would abandon sin altogether. The evil inclination understands if we start to think about things, we will stop to sin.” The Mesilas Yesharim continues and says, “This is similar to the advice of the wicked Pharaoh who said, ‘The work should be made harder for the men that they should be busy to do it and not talk about common things. His intent was not only to deny them of any space from their work, but also to prevent them upon any reflection by means of ceaseless toil.’”
In other words, this is the work of the evil inclination to not give us time and space to think about things, to think deeply about things, to contemplate why are we here, and what are we supposed to do with our lives? There’s no time for that. This is all the trick of the evil inclination. But it’s a little bit deeper than that, because the reason why we don’t want to think about things and contemplate and wonder why we’re here, is because of the consequences of the answers. Ignorance is bliss. As long as I don’t know about it, I don’t have to deal with it. You see this in our society all over the place. Every time a new scientist comes up with some kind of scientific theory that takes God out of the picture, the theory only goes to a certain point. There’s a point at the end like the basic matter of what started everything – oh, that he doesn’t think about. That he doesn’t deal with, that something was created which led to the creation. He never goes that far, because he can’t deal with something that was created. Because if something was created, there is a Creator. Rav Miller says, “The evolutionary theory traces man back stage by stage, but there’s an inevitable point that comes where enquiry ceases. Primary matter is unaccounted for. The question is unanswerable, and in terms of theory, it’s better not to ask. Thus, man accepts systems of theories that suit their own desires. The ultimate questions are not raised. Even logic is not pushed to its conclusion. It’s human desire that dictates the conclusions of logic.”
On the other hand, a religious person, a healthy mind, wants to get to the source of things. They want to reach the rock bottom truth. There’s a desire to understand the source and origin of life. This is a religious urge that pushes a person to strive for the truth, to understand the truth. And even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it’s going to lead us to conclusions which are going to make us change our lifestyle, make us act differently – because we understand we’re doing the wrong thing, we have to emulate the Creator. The more we get in touch with the Creator, the more we have to change. It’s the opposite of the materialistic view of life, which is only local. People are only thinking locally. The spiritual presence exists globally, universally. We’re so absorbed in the details that we don’t see the bigger plan. We’re living local. What is life about? I’m going to the supermarket, and I’m going to get lunch, and I’m going to the movies. That’s life? What about global, universal? We’re flying in space. There are stars that are hundreds of millions of light years away. Why are we not thinking about the bigger picture? What are we doing here? Why are we here? This is all because we don’t want to hear the answer. We’d rather be ignorant and live our little lives.
The Ohr haChaim explains that the reason why the Jewish people had a kotzer ruach, an impatience of spirit even under the pressures of Mitzrayim, Egypt, was that it was before they received the Torah. They didn’t receive the Torah yet, but if they would have received the Torah already, they would have had such a broad mind that even under the pressures of the reality of Mitzrayim, they still would have been able to think straight. They still would have been able to contemplate the meaning of life, and what they’re supposed to do, and they would have heard Moshe. The Rabbeinu Bachye explains the chochmas HaTorah, the wisdom of the Torah and how that brings us to a deeper understanding of life. He brings the verse from Mishlei, 8:22, “The Lord created me at the beginning of His course, as the first of his works of old.” He’s talking about wisdom, that wisdom was created before the universe. The possuk in Iyov that he brings down says, “It is hidden from the eyes of the living, concealed from the fowl of Heaven.” Who’s the fowl of Heaven? The ministering angels – even the angels don’t see the chochmas of Torah. This is the wisdom which preceded the creation of Heaven and Earth. He continues and says, “The Torah has informed us that wisdom emanates from a hidden source. The Torah itself was created by drawing on that hidden source. Seeing the Torah originates from that domain, it is called lekach tov, good instruction. And the ministering angels are envious that it was entrusted to Man.” It’s the Torah itself, it’s the wisdom of the Torah that can bring us to the level of understanding and contemplation as to why we’re here, and what we’re supposed to do. That’s how the Mesilas Yesharim starts. It says, “Torah leads to zehirus.” The proofs I brought there were watchfulness, zehirus. And Torah is the thing that leads to that. Rabbeinu Bachye says, “Moshe attained the highest level of insight called reishis, something not attained by any other living human being.” He explains, “It’s not just prophesy, it was an intellectual achievement. Moshe reached a level even higher than the Avos, than Avraham, Yitzhak v’Yaakov. He had a light shining over his head so strong that he had to cover it. People couldn’t get near him.”
The point is that we don’t want to be like Pharaoh, we want to be like Moshe. We don’t want to have shallow minds, we want to have deep minds. We want to think to the end, to the logical conclusions. No matter how much it obligates us the truth is the truth. You have to have a tremendous desire to understand the truth, to get to the source, to go deeper and deeper. The Chofetz Chaim explains, “What does it mean that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? It’s not that he took away his free will. His heart was already hard. He just didn’t help him. He didn’t have siyata d’shamayah, help from Heaven. How are we not going to be like Pharaoh? How are we going to not let our petty lives affect our perception of reality, to get to the true meaning of life? Rav Wolbe wants to say the answer is in the Shema, which is what we say twice a day. He explains that the Shema talks about how the heart is integral to our service to God. Rachmana Liba Bo, Hashem wants our heart. If Hashem has our hearts, we’re willing to think deeper. We’re willing to question our premises. We’re willing to change our lives, and do whatever it takes to get closer to God. He says, “It says in the Shema, ‘Be careful, don’t let your heart get swayed. And place these words upon your heart, and do not stray after your heart.’ The key to success in avodas Hashem, service of Hashem, is the ability to have our Torah and avoda penetrate our hearts.” This is where Pharaoh failed, even though he had all the plagues. What the plagues? A breakdown of reality. Everything he knew to be the way it was, was breaking down. Dam, Tzefardeah, kinim – blood in the water, frogs, lice. What was happening? All reality is breaking down, and he still didn’t care. But God-forbid it should happen to us. We could have earth shattering things happen to us, so it doesn’t change us.
I had a friend once who had a life-threatening disease, and had an operation and was saved. I spoke to him six months later and asked him how he was. He said, “I’m fine, everything’s good. No problem. Life just goes on.” He wasn’t moved one inch spiritually. He stayed the same. We too are missing the messages that Hashem is sending to us. Hashem is constantly sending us life situations for us to change. We don’t hear it. Why don’t we hear it? Because we don’t want to hear it. We’d rather be ignorant and in bliss. Rav Wolbe says, “Learn from this week’s Parsha. Let life and its messages and God and His creation penetrate your heart. Then we will be able to think and contemplate and understand and meditate on what our life is really about, and what does Hashem want from us.”
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno says on this verse, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with acts of great judgment.” The redemption is going to come with great judgment. There were once two poor people that were going from city to city to collect money. But they were very different from each other. One was big and strong and handsome, and the other was skinny, weak and ill. The strong healthy one always used to make fun of his friend who was skinny and weak and sick. So, he always felt bad. He used to pray that one day his dignity should be restored – he should get healthy again. One time they were traveling to the capital city to try to raise money there. Just last week, the king’s physician passed away, and also the king’s bodyguard passed away. They were looking for someone to fill the positions. They found this excellent doctor to be the king’s physician, and they found another big, strong guy to be the king’s bodyguard. The king wanted to test them to see if the doctor was a good doctor and if the bodyguard was a good bodyguard. They looked for two candidates to test out the doctor and the bodyguard. These guys were perfect. The sick guy they bought to the doctor, and the big guy they bought to the bodyguard. The sick guy, he got all the treatments and he was healed. And the bodyguard beat the heck out of the other guy.
That was the moshul, parable. What’s the nimshal, conclusion? All the nations of the world brag about their physical strength, and the Jews for thousands of years have been suffering from their persecution and their humiliation – in the end when the redemption comes, Hashem will bring them down and he will uplift the Jewish people.
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The verse says, “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Say to Aaron, take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt.’” It was specifically Aaron who was supposed to stretch out his hand, and not Moshe. Rashi explains, that’s because the Nile protected Moshe when he was a baby. Rav Tzvi Eisenstein the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Ateret Tzion used to daven, pray in Ponevezh in Rav Shach’s Yeshiva as a shaliach tzibbur on the High Holidays. He used to lead the davening. It was a tremendous amount of work to lead the davening on the High Holidays. Every year, Rav Eisenstein used to invite him to the graduation of the Yeshiva and Rav Shach would come and speak. Rav Shach was very old at this point. He was close to 100 years old. Rav Eisenstein went to go and invite him to come to the ceremony. He didn’t think he was going to come, but he went to invite him because every year he used to invite him. Rav Shach said, “No, my health is very poor and I’m very, very weak. I haven’t gone out of the house for months. The only place I’ve gone is to the Yeshiva. I haven’t gone anywhere else.” Rav Eisenstein said, “Fine, you should have a brocha, a blessing, you should have good health.” He started to leave. All of a sudden, Rav Shach jumped up and said, “No, no. I want to come. I want to show you hakores hatov.” He said, “I want to show you that I appreciate you for all the work you do, to daven for the tzibbur each year.” He said, “I’m obligated to have gratitude for you.” So, he did show up. This was one of Rav Shach’s last public appearances outside of the Yeshiva. As he left to go home, exhausted, he turned to Rav Eisenstein and said, “I came here for the gratitude I have for you.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament gives three conditions for a successful marriage. I may have spoken on this before, but it’s very important to hear it again. A lot of people come to him after the divorce, that they want a second marriage and they don’t want the same thing to happen again. He says, “You know what? I’m going to show you…I could show you that really your second wife is not going to be any better than your first wife. It all depends on you. If your conduct is different, everything’s going to be different.” He said, “But these conditions are not easy. The first condition is, you have to have a willingness to change. Everybody grows up in a different household with different customs, with different ideas, with a different outlook on life. When you put two people together, they’re not going to automatically live in harmony. You have to learn to accept the other person the way they are. You yourself have to change. If you want to advance in life, a person has to grow. We all have to learn not to criticize our spouse, and instead take responsibility ourselves. But it’s not simple. The husband gets angry and says, ‘I want you to accept me the way I am,’ and the wife is upset. ‘I want you to love me the way I am.’ That’s why they always switched responsibility to their spouse. But if you want to succeed, you have to take responsibility and be willing to change and adapt. If you want to succeed, you have to understand the value of change. It’s very beneficial for a person to grow.
The second condition – give without expecting of getting. The life of a Jew is based on giving and not taking. The philosophers all wanted to say when they built countries, ‘rights and benefits.’ It’s not about rights and benefits. It’s about responsibilities and obligations. He gives an example that if a guy were to hire somebody to be a new manager in his business and the guy comes and says, “Listen, I have these two conditions. I want to have the right to use the carrot and stick approach. I want to have the ability to fire my people who are working underneath me, and I want to have the ability to give them a little bit more if they’re doing a good job.’” He said, “If the boss had any self-respect he’d kick the guy out right away. First, the guy should come and listen. ‘Let me work for a couple of years. Let me try my best and you’ll see how I’m doing. Then little by little you’ll give him more responsibilities.’ You don’t come in asking for power. As long as your approach is to fulfill your obligation, there’s a much greater chance you’re going to have peace in your house. Privileges are not demanded. A privilege is created. You have a privilege and a right, after you’ve fulfilled your obligations.
The third condition is, you have to be highly motivated to have shalom bayis, peace in the home. According to your motivation and your value – we spoke about this many times before – a person will have strength and energy. As long as you’re really trying, you will have help from Heaven. It has to be of primary concern.” He said, “For example, if a guy was about to go to work and there was an accident outside his house and somebody had to be brought to the hospital, he would have brought that person to the hospital. What about work? The same thing with shalom bayis. It has to be the top priority.”
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments. And rate me on iTunes; that will really help me.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff
Stephan Sundkvist says
As always, dear Rabbi, you really make me think a lot. Thanks for all the words of wisdom and for your teachings.
It is true that idol worship is based upon a worship of the created, not the Creator. We see a lot of that even today. It can be material things, it can be science and even false religions. G-d, the Almighty, blessed is He, is far above all that and still in all these things. He is the core and life of everything.
We have all seen how idolatry has destroyed our world. And we can also see how much and deeply we need to do teshuva.
Ignorance is bliss. I would call it spiritual blindness. We can ignore to realize that we are going to succumb, but it would not help us very much, if we did not open our spiritual eyes and turned back to Hashem.
Lots of human beings refuse to realize facts and accept the truth of the Torah. And we can run head over heal directly to drown ourselves, like the pigs meantioned in the New Testament. (I do not read NT and do not believe anything in it anymore. The story just came to my mind.)
Therefore it is most important that we listen to what G-d has to say to us though things that take place in our life, and to follow His laws.