Archive for Responsibility
This D’var Torah was said over by Rabbi Jay Shapiro of WITS Institute in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
If a mugger robs someone at gunpoint, what punishment does he incur? What about a burglar? What penalty does he receive when a family goes on vacation and he helps himself?
Believe it or not, according to Jewish law, the burglar gets a stiffer penalty than the mugger. The reason, the Sages tell us, is because it seems like the burglar is more afraid of man then he is of G-d, while the mugger treats G-d and man the same. This that burglar has displayed is a tremendous breach of faith.
Rabbi Jay Shapiro learns from Rabbi Samson Refael Hirsh something fascinating. When the mugger robs someone, it’s something personal as it’s between the mugger and the individual. However, if a burglar steals in the middle of the night, sneaking in and out of the house like a cat, this is a crime against society. His act is causing the sentiment that “we can’t trust one another, my house is my private domain and someone has trespassed on my property”. One cannot leave his house without worrying that something might happen. The burglar commits a sin beyond only affecting the individual; the entire neighborhood and community has been compromised; it’s a breach of trust. This is the reason why the penalty is so severe.
If one, for instance is a student and he is standing on line in the cafeteria waiting to be served and a delicious delicacy is served, let’s say its garlic hot dogs from Romanian delicatessen. When it’s his turn to be served, he grabs the spatula and takes five servings. This act of selfishness is a crime affecting the school community; it’s stealing from his comrades.
Rav Hirsch seems to indicate that a violation against society is far greater than one against an individual. Every one of us has a responsibility and owes a debt to society. G-d is emphatic about keeping an orderly and thereby growing world. This is of great importance to Him.
The new generation didn’t understand their elders; sounds familiar doesn’t it? The young were sick and tired of Rome, the occupiers, lording over them. The new blood developed a backbone; the cast of characters consisted of hotheads, Mafioso, zealots, and a few Rabbis. But in hindsight, it was very dangerous to be Mr. Macho Maccabee; it was the wrong time. Hillel, the great sage, warned the Jews to keep a low profile and let sleeping dogs lie. However, the Jews were divided into bitter rival factions and the friction between them was heard all the way in Rome. Each group portrayed the other as disloyal to the Roman Empire. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the Kamtza-Bar-Kamtza story. One of them received an invitation mistakenly meant for the other. So he came to the party thinking the host wants to reconcile their differences. When he arrived, the host was shocked to see him and ordered his butlers to kick him out. Trying to reason with the host was futile; he even offered to pay for half the party as long as he wouldn’t embarrass him so people shouldn’t see him being thrown out. The Rabbis attending, unfortunately, didn’t intervene. This was a tremendous mistake and a lesson to be learned, to save your fellow from uncomfortable situations. After being embarrassed by being kicked out, he went to the Roman authorities the next day with a vicious scream, where disloyalty was very apparent, against the Empire. The Romans had enough and the war began. Do we fight them or do we lay low? Every faction had their opinion – who was right? A bitter divide was apparent in the midst of our people.
Three wealthy Jews supplied grains to the brethren in the walled city of Jerusalem that would have lasted for twenty years. One of the bravado groups insisted that the whole nation fight even though there were sufficient numbers that were against such action. They forced their hand by destroying all the grain. “Ah ha, now you have to fight.” We, unfortunately know the disastrous result.
Not getting along and hatred was obviously the main reason of the destruction of the temple. I would like to bring out another valuable lesson from this tragic time.
A good number of years ago, a kashrut organization in collaboration with a mashgiach was certifying a restaurant kosher. The Mashgiach had various stores and restaurants under him. The Mashgiach, though, was a cocky guy; he had the “I know how to perform my job. I’m the best in the business,” attitude. The head of the kashrut organization was a no-nonsense, impatient, short-fused type. Both, though, were very sincere law-abiding religious pious Jews. The Mashgiach’s job was to report weekly to the kashrut organization. Although it’s a formal tedious procedure, however, the by-the-books kashrut chief expected it. However, the mashgiach didn’t follow the kashrut protocol and guidelines. The head of the kashrut organization would call him periodically for reports, but the Mashgiach didn’t comply. He didn’t even bother to relay the message, “I’m handling the situation, you’re in good hands. You have to assume I’m in the control booth; it’ll be okay”. The head chief was livid that the report was not on his desk or on his answering machine. “There must be something wrong. He’s either hiding something or not doing his job,” proclaimed the chief. He then removed the kashrut certificate from the restaurant claiming non-compliant; something was fishy.
Is there anything wrong with their behavior? Should he have filled out the silly report once a week? “Yes!” Should the kashrut chairman have a little bit more tolerance? “Yes.” All this is emet. However, there is another important factor and that is to realize and be aware of the ramification of their actions. The innocent store owner lost his certification, lost clientele after bouncing around from one fly by night hashgacha to another, and eventually lost his business.
Perhaps this is what the Jews in the Temple times were also guilty of. They didn’t foresee what their actions will bring; what the ramifications of their decisions would be. Was anybody thinking what would happen if they lost the war? What justification do they have to destroy the grain? This would have tired out the enemy for they would have to wait a very long time outside the fortress.
Seeing beyond the surface is vital for everyday life. When your wife or husband does or says something to hurt you, first, one should ask themselves “Did I do something to trigger her reaction?” If your kids starts to fight with each other or have a temper tantrum, the possibility exists maybe they’re hungry. One cannot react right away. If someone talks bad about you, one has to think first and ask is it a good idea to retaliate? What would be the ramifications if I do? Think of all the considerations before you react. One must think of the bigger picture of what might happen; what it would cause. We should try to see the other side. If we are able to see the consequences, we will avoid a lot of headaches in our lives and the lives of others.
The Haftorah uses a strange language for comforting the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple. It says nachamu nachamu – comfort; it should have said hit-nachamu – be comforted. Rabbi Baruch Dopelt, quoting his sources, says first of all it seems like it’s not just the Jewish people that the comfort is addressed to. We derive that also from the double repeat of nachamu. Who is the phantom second nachamu referring to?
The Sages teach us the phantom second comfort is referring to G-d. He promised that He will always be in our midst whether thick or thin, whether to share our joy or our pain; therefore He is with us in our time of despair and being comforted as well.
When one loses a loved one, he says the very important prayer “kaddish”. The purpose of the kaddish is to exalt the name of G-d; to bring his name out in the world, and every time we do so, our deceased loved one’s soul is raised in the heavens. It’s interesting to note that in the kaddish, there is that word again ve-nechamat – and comfort. Apparently, we are also comforting G-d in this prayer of praise of kaddish. It seems like He is also being comforted for the loss of our loved one.
Rabbi Gedalya Schorr explains that this world is like one big symphony and everyone is here to play his own unique instrument that only he can. Rabbi Dopelt says every one of us came into this world on a mission to praise G-d and no one can do our mission but ourselves. When one passes away, although his mission is complete, however his departure leaves a void in the symphony; it’s a loss of praise. Therefore, G-d is grieving with us at the loss of life.
One should always know that we are not alone whether in time of joy, and especially in a time of sorrow; G-d is always with us.
The way the lazy mind works is that it finds all kind of excuses not to do what’s supposed to be done. The prime example is minyan in the morning. It’s too cold; it’s too hot; the air conditioner is probably not working; someone is probably sitting in my seat in shul anyway, etc. This test is especially strong this time of year which is Elul-zman, the month of Elul which is a month before Rosh Hashanah. For Sephardic background Jews, it’s especially tough because we have to get up extra early for slichot. When I saw this joke, I realized we’re really not that far from making an excuse as ludicrous as this one.
On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, Rivka [Rebecca] went into the bedroom to wake her son and tell him it was time to get ready to go to the synagogue [Shul], to which he replied in a dull voice, “I’m not going.”
“Why not?” Rivka demanded. “I’ll give you two good reasons, Mother.” he said. “One, they don’t like me, and two, I don’t like them.” Rivka replied in an exasperated voice, “I’ll give you two good reasons why you must go to the synagogue. One, you’re 54 years old, and two, you’re the Rabbi.”
What tends to happen is we believe what we want to believe. “The gorilla in the bathroom is preventing me to wash up and brush my teeth.” We have to dig deep and ask ourselves what’s our true motive. Maybe then, we can come to the realization of the truth and finally get up from our comfortable bed and pillow to start our day.
Don’t we all hate when we hear “I told you so.” It seems like before we take action, we have to think twice, for the same stick we kick tends to boomerang back and hit us in the head.
There is a very interesting and famous story that happened to one of the greatest kings of Israel, Shaul. The Gemara describes Shaul as a tragic figure. This was a person who didn’t want the kingdom because of his modesty. One may question his decisions during his reign; however, who are we to judge? We have to ask ourselves would anybody else have been able to handle the events and the curve balls differently.
We read in this week’s Parsha, one must exile the Ca’anites, the inhabitants of the land of Israel because they would make bad neighbors. This message is repeated constantly in the previous parshiot. The Canaanim were steeped in many heathen practices in which the Jews were commanded to destroy and to stay away. One of their practices involved Necromancy – bringing up a dead person through evil powers, whose voice seems to emulate from the necromancer’s armpits or other parts of the body. Although authentic, however, it was done through the negative forces.
King Shaul removed all Ov and Yidoni – magicians – from the land, since the Torah forbids one to consult them. In the third year of his reign, a very large army of Pelishtim gathered against the Jews. Shaul was very unsure how to proceed. Had his teacher, the Prophet, Shmuel, been alive, he would have almost certainly seeked his advice. Unable to consult the Kohanim who would have used the urim vatumim (the letters of the high priest’s breastplate that conveyed divine answers), Shaul was ashamed of having exterminated Nov, a city of Kohanim, who sheltered his nemesis, David and his army. Therefore he had to resort to other measures. “Do you know whether any medium remains in the land who can conjure up the dead with the rite of Ov?” he asked. Apparently, Shaul was desperate. He resembled a king who ordered all cocks and hens in his kingdom slaughtered and later demands, “Is there a rooster to wake me up in the morning?” Nevertheless, they revealed that such a woman exists in a place called Ain Dor. In disguise, Shaul went to her and asked her to conjure up a spirit for him; she refused. She was afraid such a deed might be reported to the king. However, Shaul assured her everything will be okay and persuaded her to do as he says. “Bring me Shmuel, the master of the prophets.” The woman practiced the usual rights. She burned incense and pronounced certain incantations and WALLA – Shmuel the Prophet appeared! However, something unusual about the apparition caused her to scream. A spirit that was raised by an Ov – sorcerer with the power of evil – would appear upside down, since the nature of its return contradicts the way of G-d’s holy creation. For a king, though, the dead would appear standing on his feet. Therefore, Shmuel appeared in his proper position in honor of Shaul. She then realized who her client was. Shaul was unable to see the apparition, although he heard its voice, it was visible to the Ov – sorcerer – alone.
Shmuel now spoke to Shaul and revealed the future to him. Although he seemed agitated as to why he roused him, where Shaul apologized. Shmuel prophesized “G-d has departed from you. The time will come when He is fulfilling his word to tear down the kingdom from you and to give it to David. He is punishing you for disobeying His commandment to eradicate Amalek.” Shmuel continues, “G-d will deliver the Jewish army into the hands of the Pelishtim and you and your sons will die. However, you’re going into battle despite the knowledge you will fall, will atone for you having destroyed Nov. You will enter a compartment of Gan Eden.”
Seized with fear of this revelation. Shaul regained his composure a bit later and told no one of the prophecy. It takes courage to go to war knowing, very well, that one will soon die.
Shmuel’s Prophecy was fulfilled; the Jews were defeated and Shaul and his three sons perished in battle.