Tonight R’ Bamberger discussed the importance of the kedushah (sanctity) of the Torah. Tonight’s vaad was based on the sefer Ohr Gedalyahu by R’ Gedalyah Schorr.
During Chanukah we celebrate the Jews’ victory over the Greeks. What was the conflict with the Greeks about? The Greeks had no desire to kill the Jews, nor to prevent them from practicing Judaism. They even had respect for the Torah, considering it a book of great wisdom. In fact, the translation of the Torah into Greek was based on the Greeks’ desire to study the Torah.
The Greeks were disturbed, however, by the kedushah of the Torah. They had no problem with Jews studying Torah, as long as they learned it as a secular wisdom.
In the “Al Hanissim” prayer that we recite during Chanukah, we read about the desire of the Greeks to prevent the Jewish people from performing the statutes of the Torah. Since the statutes of the Torah have no logical basis that we can understand, a person performs them only in order to fulfill G-d’s will. This approach to the performance of mitzvos creates a strong bond between us and G-d.
The truth is that we are supposed to perform all the mitzvos in the Torah in order to fulfill G-d’s will. Thus, even the laws of “torts” described in Parshas Mishpatim are really decrees of G-d that we perform only because they are G-d’s will. The Greeks wanted to destroy this aspect of the mitzvos.
The mitzvah of succah, for example, symbolizes the separation between Jews and the gentile nations of the world. The Gemara tells us in Mesechta Avodah Zarah that when Moshiach comes G-d will offer the mitzvah of succah to the gentile nations of the world. However, G-d will cause a blazing heat to prevent them from actually fulfilling the mitzvah. As a result, the nations of the world will kick the succah and leave it. This rejection of the mitzvah of succah by the nations of the world will serve as an indication that they have no connection to all the other mitzvos of the Torah as well.
R’ Bamberger related that the American media actually distorted some of the events that occurred in Mumbai, India over this past weekend. While the media made it sound like R’ Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah were simply shot during the chaos of the terror attack, the reality was much more grim. Indian media sources revealed that they were actually tortured and mutilated in a horrific fashion. Additionally, all the sefarim in the Chabad house were ripped and destroyed. The Islamic terrorists even sprayed bullets into the sefer Torah that was in the room. The bullets penetrated the section of the parchment containing the parshios of Acharei-Mos and Kedoshim, describing the deaths of Aaron’s two sons Nadav and Avihu. Thus, the Mumbai terror attacks were essentially an attack on the kedushah of the Torah.
Mr. Ronald Lowinger once made a siyum in Yeshivah Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway to celebrate the completion of a chapter of Mesechta Bava Basra. During the siyum, he recounted his latest trip to Europe to erect a monument on a mass grave for Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. As he was traveling through Hungary, he noted the hateful words of a Hungarian anti-Semite: “We thought we got rid of you people.” He also noted how a sefer Torah was strewn on top of the bodies in the mass grave.
After Mr. Lowinger finished speaking, R’ Zevi Trenk, the menahel of the yeshivah, pointed out that it was unusual that the sefer Torah was on top of the bodies. If all the Jews were killed prior to the sefer Torah being buried there, who could have buried the sefer Torah? R’ Trenk surmised that the Nazi Gestappo must have buried it. Clearly, the Nazi Gestappo believed that burying the sefer Torah was tantamount to burying the “Jewish G-d” as well.
R’ Trenk then turned to Mr. Lowinger and told him how he should have responded to the Hungarian anti-Semite: “Not only did you fail to bury the Jewish people, but you failed to bury G-d and his Torah as well.”
The language of the mishnah in Pirkei Avos, “Moshe received the Torah on Mount Sinai,” further supports this idea. If the name of the mountain was “Choreiv,” why was it called “Mount Sinai?” The answer is that the Hebrew word “Sinai” is phonetically similar to the Hebrew word for “hatred” (sin’ah). Thus, as a result of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, hatred against the Jews descended to the nations of the world.
Let’s put ourselves in Yosef’s shoes right after he was sold by his own brothers as a slave. Can you imagine the feeling of betrayal and abandonment? He had to sit alone in a wagon, heading down to Egypt to be sold as a slave. Gone were his dreams of leading Klal Yisroel; his being the chosen child of Yaakov would soon be a fading memory. One can practically feel the total darkness and despair that must have enveloped Yosef at that moment.
The Jewish people felt this palpable feeling of doom just over 50 years ago, in the spring of 1967. Our precious little Eretz Yisrael seemed on the brink of destruction. Massive Arab armies were openly preparing to attack on all sides. Their intentions were very clear.
On June 1st, 1967, the Palestinian chairman Ahmed Shukairy shouted out from a podium in Yerushalayim, “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants. As for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them.” Egyptian president Nasser threw out the UN peacekeepers from the Sinai and ordered the Straits of Tiran blockaded to prevent Israel’s access to the Red Sea. Syria and Jordan called up all their armies to Israel’s borders. Panic ensued in the streets of Israel. Literally thousands of graves were being dug in public parks throughout the country. Another Holocaust appeared on the horizon.
But tefillos (prayers) from Jews around the world were many as well. They rose to the heavens, with the knowledge that there was only one source of salvation: Hashem, the Almighty, Who watches over His nation. The war that began June 5, 1967, and the victory that ensued was nothing short of Biblical in its proportion. The entire Egyptian air force was wiped out in hours. Yerushalayim and the Kotel were liberated. Within six days, the war was over and Eretz Yisrael was over four times its original size. Nations around the world could not deny the Hand of Hashem in what had just happened.
Getting back to Yosef, there is no denying how bleak the future looked for him when he descended to Egypt. Yet, the Midrash (Midrash Rabbah 88) informs us that Yosef did not despair. The Midrash reminds us of others that did not despair: Avraham and Sarah who waited so long for a child; and Yaakov who waited for Yosef’s return for so many years. Yosef, who kept his dear father Yaakov in mind when he was experiencing his trials, knew that his prophetic dreams would somehow come true. The Midrash calls on us not to lose hope in our everyday trials, for Hashem is rooting for us to overcome the challenges and pass the tests to emerge stronger and fully victorious.
Further, Rav Elya Svei zt”l tells us the Midrash, gives us a deep insight into the parsha, noting that, “Yaakov was watching the matter of discord between the brethren.” Rashi says the word shomar – watch – here means “wait.” Yaakov was waiting and watching eagerly to see how and when the prophecy that his son Yosef would become a ruler, would come to fruition even when it seemed impossible. He knew the ultimate goal was attainable, but how and when it would happen was hidden.
Based on this explanation of the Midrash, we learn an important lesson. The Midrash is not giving us comfort that Hashem is there for us through our struggle – though we know that to be true – but rather is teaching us a formula for salvation to come. In order for the ultimate redemption to occur, we as a people need to wait patiently, believing with certainty that it will happen and just waiting to see how it will transpire as we maintain our connection with Hashem.
We live in a rapidly changing world. Corporations that were “too big to fail” have gone bankrupt overnight. Countries change leadership and policies. Mighty empires have fallen suddenly. Technological breakthroughs change our world in a moment’s notice.
Today, we are still in exile and still awaiting Moshiach. When it will happen, we don’t know, but we can help make it happen! Hashem is orchestrating events for us. Like our forefather Yaakov, we need to keep watch and be patient for the plan to unfold and the deliverance to occur, all the while doing our part to gain Hashem’s benevolence to make it happen soon.
This was a philisophic argument on what the right Hashkafah was. Esav couldn’t win this argument and out of anger bruised Yaakov’s thigh. This wound now symbolized Yaakov’s triumph over Esav.
In this week’s parsha, the Torah tells us about the confrontation between Yaakov and Esav’s spiritual counterpart. Yaakov clung tenaciously to Hashem and prevailed. However, in the midst of the struggle, the Malach of Esav injured Yaakov in the hip. Subsequently, the Malach of Esav blessed Yaakov as it says in Bereishis 32:29; “No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisroel [will be your name], for you have striven with the divine … and you have overcome.” Even though the Malach of Esav changed Yaakov’s name to Yisroel, the Torah in many places still refers to him as Yaakov. In contradistinction, the Gemara in Berachos 13a states that Hashem was the one that changed Avram’s name to Avraham, and his name remained forever changed to Avraham and it is forbidden to call him by the name of Avram.
Why by Yaakov when his name was changed it was not permanent? In the Gemara Nedarim 32b the Chochamim say tha Avram’s name has a numerical value of 243, signifying that Hashem initially gave Avraham mastery over 243 limbs of the body. After his circumcision, he was given mastery over all 248 limbs of the body. The name of Avraham has a numerical value of 248, meaning that he was the total master of himself. Hashem blessed him so that the negative impulses would be powerless against him forever. On the other hand, the incident of Yaakov’s battle with the Malach of Esav foreshadows that the descendants of Esav will desire to destroy Klal Yisroel throughout the ages.
The injury that Yaakov sustained signifies that all the righteous descendants of Yaakov will be endangered in each generation. Therefore, although Yaakov did prevail over the Malach of Esav, his victory did not mark a decisive defeat of Esav’s destructive force. Hence, Yaakov’s name change to Yisroel was not permanent, just as his victory was temporary.
This incident that happened between the Malach of Esav and Yaakov conveys the message that no matter how many times we are endangered, we can triumph, just as Yaakov Avinu did. Moreover the Bracha and healing that Yaakov ultimately received signifies that the great light that will shine on us at the time of our redemption – when the dominance of Klal Yisroel will finally endure forever.
My own thought is that the lesson to remember is that the Yetzer Hara is the Malach of Esav. That the Yetzer Hara strikes when we least expect it and he tries to defeat us and to completely destroy us spiritually. It is it up to you to look for your inner “Yisroel” to prevail against him. The biggest thing that I see throughout Klal Yisroel and it is still a big problem is our own prejudice against one another. We should learn to more tolerant and accepting to help Klal Yisroel unite under one banner and this will be the ultimate defeat against the power of Esav and can bring the Final Geulah.
This Dvar Torah is based on Etz Pri of the Steipler Gaon.