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Friday, April 02, 2010

Kri'as Yam Suf and Sefiras Ha'omer; Unconditional Concord, Unyielding Exclusivism

A Classic Havolim post, from '09.

The Zohar (also in Yalkut Shim’oni) says that when the Egyptians were about to be washed away by the returning waters of the Yam Suf the Sattan came before Hashem and said, " Halalu ovdei....These worshiped idols and these worshiped idols," why should you save one at the expense of the other? Hashem defended the Jews and said that the Jews only mimicked the Egyptians under circumstances of great stress and confusion. Nonetheless, the message is clear: there was a moment of danger during the kri’as yam suf.  We learn this from the lettering of the word Choma, a wall. In the passuk ve'hamayim... it says the word Choma without a vav, so that it can be read Cheima, burning anger. The kashe is, that the word choma appears a few psukim earlier, in the same context, and there, the word is spelled choma, with a vav. What changed between the two psukim?


To answer this question,  Reb Meir Simcha, the Rov of Dvinsk, (Parshas Beshalach) discusses the relative severity of sins. When we balance the punishments for aveiros, for example, on the one hand avoda zara and gilui arayos, and on the other gezel and lashon hara and machlokes, there is, of course, no comparison - avoda zara and gilui arayos are cardinal sins, while gezel and lashon hara are not even subject to malkos; theft avoids malkos because restitution can be made, and slander because it is done without a significant physical act. But this contrast is only true for these aveiros when done by individuals. When these aveiros become endemic, and the community is being judged as a community, the balance shifts completely. The Yerushalmi says that the people of the generation of David were holy, but because there were among them those that would malign others for personal gain, men would die in battle. The generation of Achav was idolatrous - the generation of Achav is the paradigm of widespread avoda zara - but because they lived in harmony, they were invincible. As we learned in the gemara in Yoma, hashochein itam betoch tum’asam - Hashem dwells among his people even when they are defiled by idolatry and gilui arayos. But when they are selfish and spiteful, the other pasuk applies - Rummah al shamayim, Hashem withdraws his presence to heaven. Similarly, the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins, while the second was destroyed because of baseless hatred. The gemara asks, which generation was greater? The gemara answers, "look at the the Edifice!" In other words, do you see a Bais Hamikdash yet? Has it been rebuilt? The sins of the first generation were expiated in seventy years, while those of the second haven't been overcome to this day. The final straw that brought the mabul was when they began robbing each other - mal’ah ha’aretz chamas. The cheit ha’eigel was forgiven, but the cheit ha’meraglim, which was slander and ingratitude, resulted in the death of the entire generation. We see from all these examples one clear rule - that where a community’s interpersonal relationships are contaminated, it is at much greater risk than where the people are befouled by other sins.

Rav Meir Simcha explains, that when the nissim in Mitzrayim took place, when Hashem protected the Jews and brought the makkos on the Mitzrim, the people were unified and at peace, and the words of the Sattan had no effect at all. The nissim were like a choma - a solid wall that separated the Jews from the Mitzrim. Before krias yam suf, however, the people split into four groups, with some arguing that they split up and go their own ways, with each group viewing the other as an adversary, and that unity was lost. At that point, they were judged as individuals, and as individuals, they seemed no better than the Mitzrim.

The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (3:11) makes a statement that is very difficult to understand, but which supports this approach. The Rambam says that even if one has never sinned, if one separates himself from the community, and is indifferent to their suffering, and does not join in their celebrations, ein lo chelek le’olam haba. This is remarkable! The man is a tzaddik gammur. He has never sinned. But if he doesn’t care for his fellow jew, he has no share in olam haba. In fact, this is the basis of what we say to the rasha in the four kashos. The rasha says "lachem," he considers us "others." We tell him , if we are eschem, ilu haya sham lo hayah nig’al. And who died in the makas choshech? Rashi says, "she’hayu bam resha’im shelo ratzu latzeis..." The ones who didn’t care, who were happy to stay in Mitzrayim when the nation left, they died in Mitzrayim. Actually, we say this every day in the beginning of davenning, in Le’olam - mah anu, mah cha’yeinu ...vechachamim kivli mada...the learned know nothing, the understanding are as if they were senseless, and the difference between man and animal is like nothing: God, we know that we are beneath Your notice. But... but we are your people, children of your covenant. That makes all the difference. The threshold issue is, are you a member of Klal Yisrael, do you love your fellow Jew? If you haven’t crossed that threshold, you’re wasting your time, ein lo chelek le’olam haba. And the interesting thing is, that frum doesn’t matter. After the war, when the Ponevizher Rav would meet a Lithuanian jew, frum or resolutely not frum, he would hug him and kiss him as if he had found his own long-lost brother. And that is the word that really matters - your own brother. If in the generation of Achav, when the people were degenerate worshippers of the most profane idols, their unity as Jews protected them, this clearly has nothing to do with religious unity. It is simply a law of Jewish unity.

With this in mind, we can gain an appreciation for this second half of Yomtov. There is a basic difference between the two halves of Yomtov. The first half commemorates the geula from Mitzrayim, and re-enacts the creation of the am hanivchar. The second half has been referred to as the Chag HaGeula Ha’asida, the Yomtov of the coming of Mashiach, as we see in the haftora that we read - Od hayom beNov. But what do we do to prepare for this half of the Yomtov? Think about all the hard work and expense that goes into making the first days, which celebrate the first geula. What do we do to prepare for the second half, which anticipates the ultimate geula? For the Chag Hamatzos, we spend 20, 30 dollars a pound for hand shemura.  (My kids tell me that in Yerushalayim, you can buy Brisker Chabura matzos for three hundred fifty shekel a kilo- Forty Dollars A Pound.) What are we buying for the Chag Hamashiach? What should we be doing to prepare for the Chag Hamashiach?

The herald of the coming of Mashiach is Eliahu, as it says Hinei Anochi...., and Eliyahu prepares the nation for the coming of Mashiach. To merit Mashiach, we must develop behavior that reflects the symbol of Eliyahu. What does Eliahu Hanavi represent? The is a story in Bava Basra (7b) about Eliahu. There was once a tzaddik who merited daily visits of Eliyahu Hanavi. At one time, he built a gatehouse in front of his courtyard, and Eliyahu no longer came to him. When he later saw Eliahu, he asked why he was no longer favored. Eliyahu told him that when his house was open to all the needy and weary, he merited his presence. Once he limited access, and erected barriers which allowed him to pick and choose, he no longer merited the presence of Eliahu. As long as your doors were open, I came too. When you locked your doors, when you locked out the poor, you locked out Eliyahu Hanavi. Lock out the assimilated Jew, or any Jew who is not like you, the Jew who might need your attention or your help, you lock out Eliyahu Hanavi. And when you lock out Eliyahu Hanavi, you lock out Mashiach.

Every Yomtov should be shared with others. But it is only Pesach that we begin, at the seder, with the invitation "Kol Dichfin." This is because the whole Yomtov leads to the climax of the second days - the celebration of the soon-to-come geula. Unless we invite every Jew, regardless of belief, into our own homes, our self-centered lives are an impediment to the geula, not a preparation for the geula.

We are counting Sefiras Ha’omer. During this period, we do not cut our hair or listen to music. This commemorates the death of 24,000 of the greatest men of our history, Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim. Chazal tell us that they died because lo na’hagu kavod zeh ba’zeh. These men, who were the nation’s leaders, died because they lacked mutual love and respect, and that character flaw among these young leaders could not be allowed to infect the nation. And when did this happen? Some say it happened during the time of Bar Kochva, and that they died as his partisans. If so, Chazal taught us the essence of the event in five words. Why didn’t Bar Kochva succeed? Because Lo Na’hagu Kavod Zeh ba’Zeh. The bi’as hamashiach was ruined by lo nahagu kovod: we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The lesson of hamayim la’hem choma is unconditional love for each and every Jew. But, like every great truth, its apparent simplicity hides a great and challenging complexity. There are dangers involved. Friendship without protest is validation, and validation is endorsement, and endorsement is complicity. On the other hand, while tolerance may mean endorsement, intolerance breeds hatred. It requires an exquisite sense of balance to prevent an abhorrence for a person’s life-style from turning into a personal antipathy, and on the other hand, it requires equal skill to prevent a love and respect for the person from implying validation of that person’s philosophy.

Torah is the only absolute in life, and those who cast it aside are ruining their own lives and are a menace to others, and we have to fight to communicate our credo. But during the battle, we must never lose sight of the fact that we love the person we are arguing with. Even indifference, the feeling that the other person is so wrong, so different than me, that I don’t want to care about him or even know him, is a great aveirah. When you lose the love, you should know that part of your own neshama is withering away, and you are chasing away the Shechina and impeding the biyas hamashiach. It is imperative that any such destructive attitude be faced and rooted out immediately, now, during the Chag Hageula, during the time of sefiras ha’omer, and we will be zocheh to the biyas hamashiach bim’heira.

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