Tuesday, Apr 23, 2024

Withstanding The Test Of Time

The Bais Hamikdosh had many different gates, chambers and side rooms serving various purposes. Most of these were named after the jobs that were done there. Some of them had interesting names that arouse our curiosity. For example, the room in Bayis Sheini where the kohein gadol immersed himself in the mikvah during the avodah on Yom Kippur was called Bais Haparvoh. What is Parvoh? Rav Yosef said that it was named after a sorcerer by the name of Parvoh (Yoma 35a). Hmmm. A room in the Bais Hamikdosh named after one who was engaged in witchcraft, one of the most serious transgressions of the Torah, which Chazal say weakens the power of the heavens (Sanhedrin 67a) and is punishable by death? That is quite curious and beckons for explanation.

Tosafos explains in the name of the Aruch that Parvoh the sorcerer was eager to observe the avodah of the kohein gadol in the sanctuary, where no one else could tread, so he dug a secret underground tunnel, hoping to see the avodah from an opening. The kohanim found this shaft, later used it as a mikvah, and named it after him. Very interesting. But we still wonder why he would deserve such an honor. There was the eastern gate named after Nikanor, who donated its shiny copper doors with great mesirus nefesh. That is understandable. But to name a place of purification after a rasha is not understandable. Why would the chachomim do this?  


Perhaps it was to accentuate just how precious and potent the avodah in the Bais Hamikdosh was. Parvoh was a sorcerer who was well-acquainted with supernatural powers beyond the range of human comprehension. He was able to invoke the energy of the spirits, demons, and other kochos of tumah. Such a man probably should have been self-satisfied, as he was free to manipulate things according to his will beyond the confines of nature. One would think that such a man would not be interested in what went on in Hashem’s sanctuary. But he was very much interested in the avodah.


Despite his familiarity with the occult and his unusual powers, he still felt unfulfilled, for he realized that his powers were only superficial and not everlasting. He recognized that, in the long run, he wasn’t elevating himself by practicing witchcraft and that his way of life paled in comparison to one who was engaged in avodas Hashem. He therefore wanted to observe this avodah in the inner sanctum and was willing to go to the extreme of digging an underground tunnel to feast his eyes on the beauty of this service.


Whether or not Parvoh was a Jew or a gentile and whether he did teshuvah or not, are matters of discussion amongst the commentaries. Regardless, the chachomim named this room after him to show how choshuv, respected, our avodah is that someone would take such a drastic step just to view it. Showing a special reverence for our avodah was especially important during the period of Bayis Sheini, because foreign ideologies had invaded the Jewish camp and, unfortunately, influenced many to go off the derech.


The power of witchcraft was a major issue in golus Mitzrayim. “Ten measures of witchcraft came down to this world, nine of them to Mitzrayim” (Kiddushin 49b).


A talmid approached the Vilna Gaon and told him that he just saw a man performing miracles and telling prophecies about the future. The Gaon asked him if the man was holding onto a stick while doing this and he answered in the affirmative. The Gaon said that this was nothing more than sorcery, and even a young child in Mitzrayim was capable of doing this.


The Egyptians were a powerful people, were very successful, and, with their supernatural capabilities, were very smug in their belief that they could do as they please and nothing could ever topple their kingdom.


The meforshim ask why it was necessary for the ten makkos to last for so long. According to one opinion, each plague lasted for a week, while the warning for it lasted three weeks. Another opinion holds the opposite. Why this extension of time?


One answer given is that the purpose of the makkos was to change Paroh’s heart so that he would allow the Yidden to leave his country. When someone is so deeply steeped in his own way of life, it takes a long time to convince him that he is mistaken. So confident was Paroh in his witchcraft and false gods that even if he were to submit to Hashem, it would take a lot of time and effort to get him to do so.


One of the makkos that this week’s sedrah tells us about is tzefardeia, frogs. This was a nightmare for the Mitzriyim, as the frogs entered their ovens, their beds, and even their bodies. The constant croaking of these creatures drove them crazy. When they sat down to eat, a frog jumped out of nowhere on to their plates of food. When they went to sleep, the frogs danced all over them. They were starving, because they couldn’t eat, and they were fainting from exhaustion, because they couldn’t sleep (Medrash).


Of course, the Mitzriyim would not admit that this plague was from Hashem, as their sorcerers were also able to produce frogs. But there were two unique characteristics that the magicians were not able to duplicate, two qualities that reflect a basic difference between the imaginary world of sorcery and the real world of Hakadosh Boruch Hu.


The Seforno says that while the frogs sent by Hashem were able to bear offspring, the frogs of Paroh’s necromancers were incapable of procreating, for Hashem’s frogs were alive and real, while the magical frogs were merely moving superficially and were visible to the eye, but were lacking any real systems of a live organism.


A second trait discussed by the Seforno is as follows: “And the frogs will depart from you and your houses and from your servants, and from your people only in the river shall they remain” (Shemos 8:9). Why was it so important that the frogs remain in the river and not depart completely? The Seforno explains that there is a basic difference between a creation of Hashem and the production of a sorcerer, for necromancy is temporary and cannot withstand the test of time.


The very presence of magic is counter to the will of Hashem, as the world was created according to the confines of nature. Only when Hashem decides to bring miracles are the boundaries of teva allowed to be broken. Consequently, something that goes against the ratzon Hashem cannot last for very long. This is why the frogs remained in the river: to show that they weren’t merely a mirage and that they were very real and lasted for a long time. As a matter of fact, the Ramban (Shemos 10:14) quotes Rabbeinu Chananel, who says that the type of tzefardeia that remained in the river is the crocodile, which is still very much present in the Nile River today. About this the Ramban says, “Sichu bechol nifle’osavSpeak about all of His wonders.”


The lesson to be taken by seeing the differences between these creatures is, “In order that you shall know that there is none like Hashem, our G-d” (Shemos 8:6). Had Paroh capitulated earlier, he could have saved himself and his people much trouble. Unfortunately, he realized the truth too late, when his land was totally decimated.


Throughout our long and arduous travels through golus, there have been foreign ideologies that charmed segments of our people much like magic captivated the people of Mitzrayim. In golus Yovon, it was Hellenism, with the worship of the body and senses, that enchanted many and threatened our very existence. In more recent history, the Haskalah movement, which led to the Reform movement, brought much spiritual destruction to our nation. Communism and Zionism cut deeply into the fabric of Yiddishkeit, causing more loss ofYiddishe neshamos. And here, in America, the pursuit of materialism was a catalyst for many to shed their religion and blend into American society, totally disconnecting from their roots.


All of these were attractive, enchanting, and captivating in their era. And they all had something else in common. None of them were everlasting. Like the frogs of the sorcerers in Mitzrayim, they were not able to procreate to keep their ideals going for many generations, nor were they able to survive the changing times, as they went against the ratzon Hashem. They have been swept into the dustbin of history.


Contrast this with the remnants of Klal Yisroel that have endured the temptations of foreign ideologies and remained loyal to Hashem. Look and marvel how, bli ayin hara,they are multiplying and spreading their communities far and wide as they conduct their lives beruach Yisroel sabba.


See how they have withstood the test of time. We don’t need any proof that we are doing what is right, for the dictates of the Torah and Chazal are our biggest proof. But it doesn’t hurt to get some outside validation. The recent Pew report that spoke of a very low birth rate and a very low connectivity to the Jewish world amongst non-Orthodox Jews bears this out. Following artificial charms that are Jewish only in name will not get us very far.


While the Pew report is heartening to us, it is also distressing to have reaffirmed to us what we already knew – that so many of our uneducated, uncommitted brothers and sisters are being lost to Yiddishkeit. Furthermore, we ourselves should never become too confident, for every genre has its own temptations trying to bewitch us and we cannot allow ourselves to be caught off guard.


This is what we say in Krias Shema twice a day: “I am Hashem, your G-d, Who has removed you from the land of Mitzrayim. I have saved you from the land of the unreal, of the superficial, which has no permanent standing…and for what…to be a G-d for you.”


Just as I am eternal, says Hashem, if you cling to Me faithfully, you, too, will be eternal.



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