Saturday, Apr 20, 2024

An Unbending Force

Parshas Devorim is always read prior to Tisha B’Av, for it recounts Moshe’s lecturing of the Bnei Yisroel for the sins they committed in the midbar.

Rashi (1:1) writes that all of the Jewish people were gathered together when Moshe addressed them. This miraculous occurrence that they should all be in one place and able to hear Moshe speak was brought on so that no person would be able to say later on that he missed the speech, but had he been there, he would have responded to Moshe. Therefore, everyone was there when he spoke, and Moshe said to them, “If you have anything to say, if you have a response to my castigation of you and what you did, speak up now.”

It seems a bit strange that at this late date in the sojourn through the desert, there would still be wisecrackers who would shoot off their mouths at Moshe, especially after he had told them off for their misdeeds and recounted what they did and how Hashem had reacted.

As Moshe continued his admonishment, we find in posuk 22 that Moshe reviews the story of the sin of the meraglim. He tells what transpired and then (26-27) how the people reacted. “And you did not anymore want to continue on the trip to the Promised Land and you rebelled against the word of Hashem. You sat in your tents besmirching Hashem and saying that He redeemed you from Mitzrayim because He hates you and wants to hand you over to the Emori nation to kill you.”

Moshe continues that at the time he reprimanded them that Hashem would fight and care for them as He had done in the desert ever since He took them out of Mitzrayim. Yet, the people refused to believe. Hashem angered and swore that none of the people of that generation would see Eretz Yisroel (besides Koleiv ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua bin Nun).

In Parshas Shelach, the Torah recounts the sorry story of the meraglim, yet there, instead of saying that the people complained in their tents, the posuk says that after hearing from the meraglim upon their return from Eretz Yisroel (Bamidbar 14:1), the people raised their voices and cried about their misfortune that night. 

The Gemara states (Taanis 29a, et al.) that Rava said in the name of Rabi Yochanon that it transpired on Tisha B’Av. Hashem heard their cries and said that since they cried for no reason, He would give them something to cry about on this day throughout the generations.

The Ramban (ibid.) writes that he doesn’t see how that is derived from the pesukim in Parshas Shelach. Rather, he cites the pesukim in Tehillim (106:24-27) that recount the sin of the meraglim, and there Hashem’s reaction is written differently. It says that Hashem swore that He would dump that generation in the midbar and would deposit their children and future generations among the nations of the world.

Rashi (Tehillim 106:27) writes that at that time, Hashem declared that the Botei Mikdosh would be destroyed, for this took place on Tisha B’Av, and Hashem said, “They wept for no reason; I will give them what to cry about throughout the generations.”

I found this difficult to understand. The sin of the meraglim was indeed a grave one. Although Hashem had repeatedly promised that He was bringing them to a land that flowed with milk and honey, the people felt it necessary to send spies there to check out what the country was really like.

The sin that showed a lack of faith was sending the spies to scout out the land. Once the spies returned and were able to convince the people that the land would be difficult to capture and inhabit, why was that considered more of a sin, deserving of eternal punishment? They were led astray by wicked, talented, important people. Was it their fault that the meraglim were blessed with oratory skills with which to excite the Jewish people? Although the people should have maintained their faith in Hashem and heeded His promises, can we fault them for being human and having human feelings and fears?

It would seem that our faith in the word of Hashem must be so strong that we cannot be swayed, even by smooth talkers who establish their careers based on their ability to convince people of their agenda. We must control ourselves not to be misled by false prophets who promise happiness and bliss or those who predict tragedy and failure.

We need to follow Moshe, who teaches us Torah and the way – and word – of Hashem. There is never an excuse to deviate from the words of the leader who is suffused with Torah, provides leadership, and answers purely based on Torah and not individual agendas or bias. The meraglim were biased in their reporting and thus what they said should have been ignored.

Having been freed from Mitzrayim and led for as long as anyone can remember by Moshe, a proven, faithful servant of Hashem and student of the complete Torah, anyone who could cry because he was misled by a charlatan failed in their mission as a Jew and deserved to be punished. When the entire people are misled and retreat to their homes to bemoan their fate, they have collectively failed and come close to forfeiting their future.

Thus, while perhaps the Jews could have explained that their desire for meraglim was an expression of permissible hishtadlus to see how they would enter and take over the land, nevertheless, when the people went into a collective depression following the report delivered by the people who were supposed to be aiding in permissible hishtadlus of populating the land, it showed that the sending of the spies was a sign of a lack of faith and trust in Hashem and Moshe.

Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector was rov of Kovno and widely respected by Lithuanian Jewry as the rabbon shel kol bnei hagolah, but there were always people who thought they knew better.

During a period when people were starving for food, the rov permitted the consumption of kitniyos on Pesach. There were those who baulked. The rosh yeshiva of Slabodka, Rav Itzele Ponovezher, overheard yeshiva bochurim objecting to the ruling. He went to the middle of the room and announced loudly from the bimah, “When Rav Yitzchok Elchonon permits something, the Torah is permitting it.”

The words of the Moshe of the dor are Torah and we must follow without demurring.

Never feel lost. Never let people scare you. Never be overwhelmed by current events and things going on around you. Never feel besieged and never feel hopeless. We don’t understand the ways of Hashem, but we do know that if we follow the Torah, whatever happens to us will be for the good.

When the Torah says, “Lo saguru mipnei ish” (Devorim 1:17), it is a lav to fear other people, “ki hampishpot l’Elokim hu,”because justice is in the Hands of Hashem. The understanding of the posuk is that the admonition refers to a judge, who may not fear those who stand before him in court, even if they threaten him. We can also say that the Torah is speaking to everyone. Fear not what others tell you, and do not fall prey to what men say, for their words are naught. Hashem is the One who rules over us, not other men, and He will decide our future.

Someone I know was coerced into swearing to do something. He soon regretted what he had committed to do. He went to Klal Yisroel’s posek, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, and asked him if he could negate his vow.

Very sternly, Rav Elyashiv looked up at him and asked why he swore to do whatever it was. He told the aged rov that he was scared of the person who pushed him to make the neder.

Rav Elyashiv became very angry with him. “I will not give you an answer now. Don’t you know that it is a lav in the Torah to be scared of other people? The posuk says, ‘Lo soguru mipnei ish.’ Return to me tomorrow after you have contemplated what you have done and I will see if I can help you.”

The Torah is a force that never bends, and if it forbids doing something, then we must never engage in that action, no matter how fearful the situation seems.

Rav Yecheskel Abramsky was well-known as a talmid muvhak of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. He later headed the London Bais Din before moving in his later years to Eretz Yisroel, settling in Yerushalayim while serving as rosh yeshiva at the Slabodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak.

In Lita, he occupied one of the most important rabbinic positions as rov of Slutzk. The communists robbed the city of its Jewish infrastructure as part of their ongoing battle against the Jewish religion. Many rabbis were taken away and locked up, and he feared for his future. He traveled to Moscow to seek a visa to leave the country. With the NKVD on his tail, he fled to Leningrad. While there, he found a room to rent for lodging.

Years later, on Chanukah in 1959, he delivered a shmuess to talmidim of Yeshiva Kol Torah. He told them that while serving as rov in Slutzk, he was consulted about a certain halachic issue and wrote a responsa on the topic. “Rav Yitzchok Elchonon had also addressed the topic,” he told the talmidim, “but I disagreed with him.

“That morning, the Bolsheviks came to town to arrest me for my activities to strengthen Torah and Yahadus across Russia. I escaped and went into hiding in the home of a Jewish widow, hoping to stay there until the Bolshevik rage calmed down.

“I searched and could not find a single sefer to study in her home and asked her if she had any seforim. Initially, she said she had none, but then she remembered that a relative had once left a book behind. She found the sefer. Amazingly, it was none other than the sefer Be’er Yitzchok, authored by Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector. Not only that, but when I opened the sefer, it was to the page where he discusses and rules on the topic on which I had disagreed with him.

“Immediately, I understood why I was being hunted by the Bolsheviks and foresaw that I would soon be arrested. A few hours later, I was indeed taken away and sent to Siberia.”

The story of Rav Yecheskel’s fate spread like wildfire across the Jewish world. Everyone began praying for his release, and giants such as Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky and the Chofetz Chaim led a campaign to free him.

He continued his story, telling the bochurim, “One night, after months of the Siberian torture, I had a dream in which I saw Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, who smiled at me. When I awoke, I said to the guards, ‘I am going to be freed today.’ And indeed I was. It was Erev Yom Kippur in 1931, and that afternoon the guards came to notify me that miraculously I had been freed.”

If a giant as great as Rav Abramsky felt that he was exiled to Siberia because of his disagreement with a p’sak of Rav Yitzchok Elchonon, how careful we must be with our own words and actions.

The Bnei Yisroel cried one night because they were misled while in exile in a barren desert. Those cries cost them their lives and caused Am Yisroel to suffer until this very day.

Let us not cry for naught. Let us repent for our sins and those of our forefathers. Let us accept upon ourselves to follow and respect the words of the Torah and its giants. Let us get along with others, and respect and love them as we do ourselves. Let us pray for the day of our geulah to arrive speedily. Our faces will break out in wide smiles and it will all feel like a dream. We will finally joyfully reap the products of the seeds we tearfully planted in golus.

May it be today. Amein.




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