This week’s parsha begin with the words, “Ve’eileh hamishpotim asher tosim lifneihem – These are the rules and laws to place before the Jewish people.”
Rabi Akiva (Mechilta, Mesechta D’Nezikin, 1) sees hints from the way the Torah expresses the words of Hashem to Moshe as a lesson for the proper methodology of teaching. He explains that the term “tosim lifneihem” is used to instruct those who transmit our heritage and mishpotim to place timeless ideals, values and lessons before their students as a shulchan aruch, a prepared table.
Great teachers expend much energy to be able to fulfill that dictum and present the Torah before their students as a shulchan aruch, filled with a variety of delectable mouthwatering foods laid out in a way that everyone can take part in the feast.
One such rebbi was Rav Mendel Kaplan, who made each day such an experience. As was the habit of his great rabbeim, Rav Mendel created an atmosphere in the shiur room in which we, talmidim, fed off a variety of Torah “foods” set before us, growing in Torah as we also felt ourselves being handed tools to face the future.
Among other things, he would analyze the headlines and lead stories of the newspaper through the prism of the Torah, revealing the significance and relevance of each story to us.
A tale is told that one Shabbos day, a villager in the mythical village of Chelm returned home and repeated the rabbi’s sermon to his wife.
“You know?” he told his wife. “The rov said that Moshiach might come very soon and take us all to Eretz Yisroel.”
The wife wrung her hands. “But if that happens, what will be with our chickens? Who will feed them? And how will we live?”
The husband stroked his beard and pondered her question. “Good point,” he said. “But you know, life here is rough. The goyim have all the money and are always after us. We are poor, our home leaks, and our feet are cold the whole winter. We might indeed be better off in the Holy Land.”
The wife contemplated his wise response and then her face lit up. “I know what to do!” she exclaimed. “We will ask Hashem to send the goyim to Eretz Yisroel and we can stay here, with our chickens!”
Too often, we are like that silly couple, totally missing the point of what is going on around us, failing to get the messages and misinterpreting blessings for the opposite.
We think that we have a keen understanding of life in general and particularly that which happens in our little corner, but, in fact, we need people like Rav Mendel to explain to us what is going on and the wisdom that lies between the lines of newspaper print.
Chazal teach, “Lomoh nikra shmoh Sinai? Why was the mountain upon which the Torah was given called Sinai? Because of the sinah, the hatred, that emanated from there.”
When the Jews received the Torah and became the Chosen People, a virulent, relentless hatred for the Jewish people was born. That hatred will persist until the arrival of Moshiach. It is not only ever-present in our history. It is as real today as it ever was.
Sunday was the anniversary of the day Auschwitz was liberated in 1945. We have come a long way since the awful days of the Holocaust, when anti-Semitism led to the murder of at least 6,000,000 of our brothers and sisters. The Holocaust has been commemorated ever since, and schools, museums and cultural centers have been engaging in various educational activities in a bid to ensure that such a dastardly act never takes place again.
But old habits die hard and the world’s irrational hatred of Jews has continued unabated, though at times it is hidden better and at others it has become more sophisticated, with an intellectual bent. The result remains the same: Jews are despised, mocked and vilified. Jews are judged by a double standard, and the state founded to eradicate anti-Semitism has instead become a focus and magnet for that very hatred we are all familiar with.
Meanwhile, anti-Semitic incidents rise, not only in Europe, but also here in the United States, where swastikas regularly appear, and Facebook posts call for Jews to be gassed and Hitler to finish the job.
The Democrat Party promotes Jew-haters, especially those who couch their hatred in words that have gained currency of late, such as concern for the poor Palestinians and abhorrence of the rich. Jews who don’t hue to the progressive orthodoxy are chased from campuses and publicly censured. Liberal Jewish groups join the anti-Israel movement in a bid to be accepted and get ahead in today’s leftist-socialist reality.
Holocaust education has become passé and is viewed as trite, or worse. Museums, lectures, trips and the rest are useful for organizational fundraising and feel-good publicity. They no doubt have some influence in addressing institutional biases and reinforcing the moral grounding of the more intelligent and decent people out there, but the scourge of anti-Semitism is felt on Main Street and Jewish communities all across this country.
When intolerance rears its ugly head, we must take on the haters and expose them for what they are. When bigots say that we smell up airplanes, poison the atmosphere, ruin neighborhoods and bring down home values, we must fight them with the truth.
When a minority of our people behaves in a way unbecoming the Am Hanivchar, we need to call them out as well, lest others point to those individuals as an excuse to harm our entire community.
Rashi, in last week’s parsha, tells us that Yisro went to Klal Yisroel after hearing about Krias Yam Suf and Milchemes Amaleik. Meforshim teach that these two occurrences spoke to him because they told a story. They demonstrated not just how much Hakadosh Boruch Hu loves the Jewish people, but how much the nations of the world hate us.
Yisro contemplated the duality of our role, to be loved by Hashem and hated by everyone else and knew that this belief was truth. Truth is always resisted.
When Albert Einstein came up with his theory of relativity, it was initially mocked by the wider scientific community. Apparently, they feared that the Jew and his earth-shattering brilliance would render them irrelevant and outdated.
Someone showed Einstein a book that was written against him titled “One Hundred Scientists Against Einstein.” The professor shrugged and said, “If I was really wrong, why wouldn’t one be enough? Why do they need one hundred?”
He knew what we know – that the truth is resisted with disproportionate passion and energy. Ma’amad Har Sinai and its result, the formation of our nation, engendered unprecedented hatred, and we are still feeling its effects in 2019.
Following the First World War, the nations of the world, led by United States President Woodrow Wilson, formed the League of Nations with the stated guarantee that a world war would never again take place. From the ashes of the Second World War, the United Nations was formed so that a monstrous demagogue like Hitler would never again rise to power.
Unity, it was thought, would be a barrier no dictator could overcome. The organizers didn’t factor in apathy and indifference. They didn’t factor in corruption and bigotry. Though it was founded in the shadow of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism was the least of their concerns.
More recently, the post-9/11 surge of responsibility saw world leaders announcing that it was a new world and new age, and that they would never allow terror to wreak mayhem of such magnitude again. President George W. Bush declared his doctrine for fighting the Axis of Evil, and Americans and every democratic nation supported him. He declared war on al-Qaeda, Iraq and the Taliban.
Everything takes place these days at such a fast pace that you can barely keep up with what is going on. Before you know what happened, it’s old news. America is the land of fast-food and high-speed everything, a country of instant results and instant gratification. Wars are messy and protracted, and Americans have no patience for battles that aren’t won overnight, no matter the consequences. President Bush’s successor ended the war in Iraq, allowing Iran to establish a foothold in the country so many Americans died for. The Taliban in Afghanistan are biding their time and are poised to fill the vacuum created by the eventual American departure.
Syria bombed its own citizens and a lengthy civil war was fought for years. President Barack Obama drew a red line in the sand, and when the Syrian Butcher-in-Chief marched right over the line, nothing happened to him. President Donald Trump has announced his intention to get out of that mess and leave the Jew-hating leaders of Turkey and Iran in charge together with Assad. Nobody cares. The UN certainly doesn’t.
We live in frightening times. Yet, we go about our daily lives as if there is no sword hanging over us. We don’t think about Iran closing in on Eretz Yisroel, we don’t think about the prospect of Binyomin Netanyahu losing power, and we don’t think about the growing push for socialism in the United States. We miss the signals of a world headed in dangerous directions as we fret over the silly matters of life.
As Jews are beat up, hate screeds propagate and reminders of the age-old sinah become more prevalent, we bicker over nonsense, pursue trivialities, and worry about matters of little consequence.
We need to educate ourselves to concentrate on what is important, ensuring that our lives have value and meaning.
A good place to start would be to better monitor the reading material we bring into our homes and digest. We are influenced by the written word, and ever since the invention of the printed medium, people have used newspapers and magazines to smuggle corrupt ideas and thoughts into homes considered protected.
This science was perfected by the Maskilim, who, writing in poetic Hebrew, quoting pesukim and teachings of Chazal, poisoned generations of ehrliche Yidden.
Insidious subliminal messages penetrate slowly, causing superficiality and warped thinking as well as changing views and beliefs. We become dumbed down and lose our focus from where it should be.
People who write for – address and influence – our world are also obligated by the command of “Eileh hamishpotim asher tosim lifneihem,” to put in front of the public material that is just, truthful and ehrlich.
The Alter of Kelm explained “asher tosim lifneihem k’shulchan aruch” to mean that the expansion of knowledge and intelligence emanates from having a good taste and experiencing the pleasant flavor inherent in what you are studying. A melamed who can teach his charges with intelligence and a flavor to savor will plant in them a craving to study more and grow in the subject matter.
The difference between a superficial understanding and one of depth and intelligence is vast. The person with a simple understanding has virtually nothing, but when he adds flavor and spice, a new world opens up before him.
The Alter concludes that the task of man is to be intelligent and smart.
We can all realize that goal if we study with depth and aren’t satisfied with a simple, flavorless, superficial understanding.
We need to study the laws laid forth in this week’s parsha, teaching us how to conduct ourselves, properly understanding and observing them.
We need to understand what is going on around us and properly interpret what it means for us.
We need to be more honest and forthright, treating people better and with respect. We need to follow the words of the Torah, so that our lives are ones of kiddush Hashem and not the opposite.
In Parshas Mishpotim, the Bnei Yisroel reached the apex of mankind when they proclaimed, “Na’aseh venishma,” encompassing the unity and commitment we are placed in this world to accomplish.
Let us only bring in to our homes material which enhances us as people and as Torah Jews. Let us read that which broadens our horizons and makes us smart. Let us merit to toil in understanding and appreciating Torah, following its every word, allowing us to once again climb the summit and reach the peak.