שבת טעם החיים כי תצא תש”ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Seitzei 5770
Fighting the Battle Against immorality
כי תצא למלחמה על איביך ונתנו ה’ אלקיך בידך ושבית שביו, when you will go out to war against your enemies, and HaShem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand, and you will capture his captivity. (Devarim 21:10)
In this week’s parasha there is a recurring theme, and that is the idea of exits and entrances. The Torah begins with the man who goes out to battle and observes a beautiful gentile woman and desires her. It is said (Devarim 21:10) ki seitzei lamilchama al oyvecho unisano HaShem Elokecho biyadecho vishavisa shivyo, when you will go out to war against your enemies, and HaShem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand, and you will capture his captivity. It is then said (Ibid verse 12) vahaveisa el toch beisecho vigilcha es rosha viasisah es tziparneha,. We thus have the man going out to battle and bringing the gentile woman into his home. Further on the Torah instructs us regarding which people and which nations are permitted to marry into the Jewish nation. The word used for marrying a Jew is yavo, enter. Subsequent to these laws the Torah discusses laws of modesty that apply to going out to battle. It is said (Ibid 23:10) ki seitzei machaneh al oyvecho vinishmarta mikol davar ra, when a camp goes out against your enemies, you shall guard against anything evil. The Torah then details the laws of one who experiences a nocturnal occurrence. It is said (Ibid verse 11) ki yihiyeh vicho ish asher lo yihyeh tahor mikrei laylah viyatza el michutz lamachaneh lo yavo el toch hamachaneh, if there will be among you a man who will not be clean because of a nocturnal occurrence, he shall go outside the camp; he shall not enter the midst of the camp . Further on the Torah discusses the laws of a worker who enters a vineyard or grain field and what food he is permitted to take. Immediately following these laws are the guidelines for a man divorcing his wife. It is said (Ibid 24:1) ki yikach ish isha uvialah vihayah im lo simtza chein bieinav ki matza vah ervas davar vichasuv lah sefer kerisus vinasan biyadah vishilcha mibeiso, if a man marries a woman and lives with her, and it will be that she will not find favor in his eyes, for he found in her a matter of immorality, and he wrote her a bill of divorce and presented it into her hand, and sent her from his house. The Torah then states (Ibid verse 5) ki yikach ish isha chadasha lo yeiztei batzava vilo yaavor alav lichol davar naki yihyeh liveiso shanah echos visimach es ishto asher lakach, when a man who marries a new wife shall not go out to the army, nor shall it obligate him for any matter; he shall be free for his home for one year, and he shall gladden his wife whom he has married. The parshaha concludes with the commandment to obliterate the memory of Amalek. It is said (Ibid 25:17) zachor eis asher asa lecho Amalek baderech bitzeischem miMitzrayim, remember what Amalek did to you, on the way, when you were leaving Egypt. What is the message that we can infer from this theme of exit and entry?
Bris Milah, circumcision, is the shield against immorality
In order to gain insight into the recuing theme in the parasha, it is worth noting that the beginning of the parasha discusses the laws regarding one who sees a beautiful woman in battle, which is a clear breach of modesty. The end of the parasha that discusses the requirement to obliterate the memory of Amalek also refers to acts of immorality. It is said (Ibid verse 18) asher korcha baderech vayizaneiv bicho kol hanecheshalim acharecho viatah ayeif viyageia viol yarei Elokim, that he happened upon you on the way, and he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d. Rashi cites the Medrash that states that the words asher korcha can be interpreted to mean that Amalek contaminated the Jewish people with acts of homosexuality. Regarding the words vayizaneiv becho, Rashi cites the Medrash that interprets these words to mean that the Amalekites cut off their own foreskins and threw them heavenward, intimating that there was no merit to the mitzvah of Bris Milah, circumcision. The Torah is demonstrating to us a very important lesson regarding our journeys. In middle of the parasha the Torah discusses the Jewish battle encampment, and the focus is on spiritual purity and not defiling one’s self with a nocturnal occurrence or immodest behavior. We learn from here that life is a constant battle, and the most vulnerable area of our life is in the area of modesty. This idea is reflected throughout the parshaha. HaShem did not allow the males of Amon and Moav to marry into the Jewish People. One of the reasons for this is because the Moabites hired Balaam to curse the Jewish People. Although Balaam did not succeed in cursing the Jewish People, he gave Balak the idea to cause the Jewish People to sin with the Moabite women. The reason that the Torah offers for a man divorcing his wife is because he found in her a matter of immorality. The Torah frowns upon any breach of modesty, and this is the catalyst for the Divine Presence to depart from our midst.
In Elul we should be cognizant of areas of modesty
In the psalm of LiDovid HaShem Ori that we recite every day throughout Elul until Shemini Atzeres, it is said (Tehillim 27:3) im tachaneh alay machaneh lo yira libi im takum alay milchama bizos ani voteiach, though an army would besiege me, my heart would not fear; though war would arise against me, in this I trust. What is this war that Dovid Hamelech refers to and what is “this” that I trust? The Medrash states that the word zos alludes to Bris Milah, the mitzvah of circumcision. Perhaps Dovid HaMelech refers here to the war with the Evil Inclination, who tempts a person in areas of modesty. The shield against the Evil Inclination’s blandishments is the sign of the covenant which is a reflection of modesty. Indeed, the Sefarim write that in the End of Days the redemption will arrive through shemiras habris, guarding of the covenant. It would be wise for us during this holy month of Elul when repentance is on our minds to be cognizant of the holiness of the Jewish People and not to allow any breach in modesty.
The Shabbos connection
Bris Milah is referred to in the Torah as an os, a sign, and Shabbos is also referred to as an os. Hashem should grant us that with the strength of these two signs we can ward off the attacks of the Evil Inclination and merit a complete repentance before Him.
The Fateful Flight
Sometimes it happens that life throws you some startling loops to teach you a lesson. The following incident not only changed the way I would approach the future, but also affected how I appreciate the past.
The morning dawned bright and hopeful, as did I, for the day had arrived when I would embark on my eagerly anticipated journey to Jerusalem. I had a spot reserved for me at a yeshiva for women, and a plane ticket hiding somewhere in the mountain of stuff I was desperately trying to fit into two duffel bags.
In the middle of my last chaotic attempt to get organized, something truly unnerving happened ― the phone rang. I climbed my way up, over, and through the mountain of clothes and grabbed the phone.
“Hello?!” I asked breathlessly.
“Hi. It’s Mrs. Cohen.” I heaved a sigh of relief. It was my friend’s mother. Probably calling to wish me a safe journey.
She continued, “Isn’t your flight scheduled for four o’clock this afternoon? Did you hear that your airline is on strike? All their flights are canceled, so you’d better call up your travel agent and make other arrangements.”
I thanked Mrs. Cohen, hung up the phone, and dove back into the mess to find my ticket. Self-reliant as I was, I didn’t even bother to tell my parents before I dialed the travel agent and tried to make alternate arrangements. After putting me on hold for what seemed like forever, she came up with a flight. It was a little out of the way, and required me to change planes in Geneva, but I would arrive in Israel without having lost too much time. I agreed.
“I’m going to confirm your flight.”
And then, even though the flight sounded perfect, I decided to just run the plans by my father, something I rarely did. But, in the flash of a seemingly insignificant decision, past, present, and future all came together to tip the scale of life in my favor.
I ran downstairs to where my father was working on the computer and said hurriedly, “Dad, my flight was canceled; the airline’s on strike. My travel agent has an alternate flight leaving the same time. Should I take it?”
“Why not?” he replied, casually, surprised and pleased that I turned to him for counsel.
I was back on the phone with the travel agent in less than thirty seconds.
“Wow!” she said in amazement. “You’re not gonna believe this, but while you were off the phone all the last reservations for the first Geneva flight were taken. I’ll have to put you on a later one.”
That night, I finally arrived at the airport with my oversized and most probably overweight duffel bags. I was disappointed that my trip had been pushed off a few hours, but at least this had left me extra time to pack and say goodbye.
As I waited at the counter for the airline employee to finalize the details of my flight, one of her coworkers rushed up and said shakily, “Did you hear what just happened?! A Geneva-bound Swiss Air flight crashed into the ocean near Halifax. Two-hundred fifty passengers; no survivors.”
This was the flight I would have been on had I not decided to check with my father.
I arrived safely in Israel and quickly settled in. Yet every night as I tried to fall asleep, the same question plagued me. Why? Why me?
As soon as I heard about the crash, I had called home to fine comfort in the familiar voices of my family. I hoped that hearing them would somehow calm the waves of shock that were wracking my body.
My father said I must have been saved because I had carried out the commandment to honor my father and mother. Although I appreciated the credit he gave me, I wondered if he had forgot ten all the years of teenage trouble I’d given him. Honoring my father and mother was something I had definitely not mastered. The suggestion that my life had been saved due to a momentary, decision to ask my father’s advice just didn’t make sense to me.
One day I was sitting in class when my rabbi brought up an interesting concept. He said that if someone works hard enough on a specific trait, not only is he himself rewarded for it, but the merit of this trait is imbued in his future descendants.
The rabbi concluded, “You never know. Perhaps you only made it here to Israel to learn because of the deeds of your ancestors.”
At that moment, a story I’d heard many times as a child came back to me. It was the tale of my two great-aunts, who had perished in the Holocaust. Toward the end of the war, an opportunity to escape had opened up for them, but they turned it down. They knowingly signed their own fate in order to continue taking care of their ill and elderly mother in the concentration camp. This story spoke to me directly, for their names were Chana and Feiga, and I, Chana Feiga, am named after them.
It is beyond our human abilities to calculate why this happens and why that takes place. Yet I find comfort in the startling parallel that my great-aunts gave up their lives to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring parents. Almost fifty years later, a small act of honor brought that merit to the fore, and, it seems, my life was saved through it.
One cold wintry day, the Rosh Yeshivah of Telz, Cleveland, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, was lining up at the airline checkout counter of Cleveland’s airport, about to embark on a trip to New York. One of his close students had enclosed nine Cleveland-New York airline tickets inside the invitation to his wedding.
Rabbi Mordechai Gifter and eight of his students ascended the aircraft. After packing away their hand luggage in the overhead compartments, they settled back in their seats, readying themselves for two hours of flying time. They could already see themselves joyfully wishing the groom “Mazal Tov” and dancing at his simchah.
But God had other plans.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking,” a voice blasted over the loudspeaker. “Due to a fierce blizzard in New York, we shall not be able to land at Kennedy Airport. Snow on the runway is knee-deep. All departing aircraft have been grounded, and incoming aircraft have been rerouted elsewhere. Ground controls have advised my co-pilot and I to head towards Washington National Airport.”
And so it happened that Rabbi Gifter and eight of his students found themselves spending the long afternoon hours in the Washington airport, while many miles away the wedding of their dear friend and student was being celebrated without them.
The murky gray of the weather outside slowly turned to inky black as afternoon slipped into evening. It was time for Ma’ariv, the evening prayers. Searching for a private corner where they could daven, the group came across an airport cleaner mopping the floor.
“Excuse me,” one of the students politely asked, “do you know of an empty room where we can say our evening prayers?”
From the man’s reaction, it seemed that he had never met observant Jews in his life. His mop clattered to the floor in alarm and he stared at them open-mouthed as if they had fallen from the moon.
One student stepped forward. “A place where we could pray,” he explained, enunciating each word loudly and miming a man praying.
That did the trick. The cleaner nodded slowly and directed them to a storage room where they could daven undisturbed.
The group commenced their prayers. Instead of leaving, the cleaner stood silently at the door, watching them intently, a dazed expression on his face. After they had finished, they were astonished to hear him ask, “Why don’t you say Kaddish?”
“We need a minyan for Kaddish ― that is, ten adult males,” one of the boys explained, “and we’re missing one man to complete a minyan.”
To their complete surprise, the cleaner responded, “I am a Jew. I will join your group to complete the minyan. Please,” he begged, “let me say the Kaddish.”
Rabbi Gifter and his students willingly agreed. The lanky airport worker, sporting a green staff apron, abandoned his mop and pail and self-consciously walked to the center of the room. Haltingly, he began reciting Kaddish, stumbling over the unfamiliar Aramaic words. Realizing that his knowledge of the text was virtually non-existent, the group patiently helped him along, word after word, until he had pronounced each difficult word in full.
After he had finished, the worker took a deep breath and said softly, “As you can see, I wasn’t brought up as a practicing Jew, and I barely know anything about Judaism. I had a terrible fight with my father about ten years before his passing. After that, all contact between us was severed. I did not even attend his funeral.
“Last night he appeared to me in a dream and said, ‘I know you’re angry at me ― you didn’t even come to my funeral ― but still, you are my only son. You must say Kaddish for my soul with a minyan, a quorum of ten Jewish men!’
“‘How can I say Kaddish?’ I cried out, afraid he would disappear before he had a chance to advise me, ‘I barely know how to say the words! And how will I find a minyan?’
“‘I will arrange it for you,’ he reassured me, and then I woke up.
“Now here you are, exactly nine of you,” continued the worker, his voice full of wonder. “Heaven-sent ― literally ― so that I can say Kaddish for the benefit of my father’s departed soul!”
Rabbi Gifter then told him their side of the story ― how they had come into the picture at that point. “See how God runs the world!” Rabbi Gifter marveled. “See how He orchestrated our meeting together! Nine invitations to a wedding, a raging snowstorm in New York, the airplane’s rerouting to Washington National Airport, missing the wedding ― all this happened so that you should be able to say Kaddish for your father!”
The amazing chain of events had such a profound impact on the airport employee that it did not take much persuading on the part of Rabbi Gifter to encourage him to continue saying Kaddish with a minyan. And that precious mitzvah was the starting point of this man’s complete return to his Jewish roots. (www.innernet.org)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Seitzei 5770
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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