שבת טעם החיים בשלח תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Beshalach 5771
The Sea split but HaShem’s kingship was not yet complete
ה’ ימלוך לעולם ועד, HaShem will reign forever. (Shemos 15:18)
In this week’s parasha we find an amazing concept that should literally stop us in our tracks. The parshaha is well known for the Splitting of the Sea, the song that the Jewish People sang when HaShem drowned the Egyptians and saved the Jewish People, and for the battle with our archenemy, Amalek. What is less known, however, is what was lacking when the Jewish People crossed the Sea, and how that relates to the subsequent battle with Amalek. It is said (Shemos 15:18) ה’ ימלוך לעולם ועד, HaShem will reign forever. The Rema MiPano writes that the Torah should have stated ה’ מלך לעולם ועד, Hashem rules forever, in the present tense. The reason the Torah states that HaShem will rule in the future, writes the Rema MiPano, is because the Jewish People had with them the idol of Micha when they crossed through the Sea. How are we to understand this mind boggling statement? The Medrash tells us that even a lowly maidservant merited a level of prophecy by the Sea that the greatest of prophets never reached. Does the fact that they had an idol with them negate HaShem’s Kingship completely?
In order to gain a better understanding of the effect that Micha’s idol had on HaShem’s kingship, it is worthwhile to examine what transpired by the battle against Amalek. The Torah states that Amalek attacked the Jewish People upon their departure from Egypt. Moshe instructed Yehoshua to wage battle against Amalek, and Yehoshua decimated the Amalekites. Nonetheless, it is said (Ibid 17:16) ויאמר כי יד על כס קה מלחמה לה’ בעמלק מדר דר, and he said, “For the hand is on the throne of G-d: Hashem maintains a war against Amalek, from generation to generation. Rashi cites the Medrash that states that as long as Amalek is in existence, the Name of HaShem and His Throne are not complete. This concept also requires explanation. What did Amalek do that caused so much chaos in the upper worlds? Was this battle against the Jewish people any different than Pharaoh persecuting and enslaving the Jewish People? Why did Amalek attacking the Jewish People have such a profound effect on HaShem’s Name and His Throne?
The answer to these questions is that when HaShem wishes to demonstrate His might and glory, everything in this world becomes meaningless and non-existent. Yet, HaShem allows for the wicked to believe that their actions harm His Heavenly Abode. The Gemara states that כישוף, witchcraft, is thus called, because it is מכחישין פמליא של מעלה, it weakens the Heavenly Ensemble. In a similar vein, idolatry weakens the Heavenly Abode, and Amole’s attempt at belittling the Jewish People also weakens, so to speak, HaShem’s kingdom. The Medrash states that when Amalek attacked the Jewish People, they cut off the foreskins of the Jews and cast them heavenward, proclaiming to Hashem, “here is what you requested.” It is said (Devarim ) לא בשמים היא לאמר מי יעלה לנו השמימה ויקחה לנו וישמיענו אותה ונעשנה, it is not in heaven, [for you to say], “Who can ascend to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” The Baal HaTurim writes that the first letters of the words מי יעלה לנו השמימה spell the word מילה, circumcision, and the last letters of these words spell the name of Hashem. It follows that Amalek was blaspheming by declaring that circumcision and HaShem’s kingdom are meaningless, heaven forbid. Similarly, when the Jewish People passed through the Sea with Micha’s idol, they were in a sense negating HaShem’s kingship. It was for this reason that they were only able to declare that HaShem will rule forever in the future, as in the present state HaShem’s kingship was, so to speak, incomplete. The Ramak writes in Tomer Devorah that HaShem tolerates ones sins to the extent that HaShem allows the sinner to breathe while simultaneously sinning. Similarly, HaShem raised the Jewish People to lofty spiritual heights at the Sea, despite the fact that simultaneously they were negating His kingship.
Micha’s idol and the blasphemy of Amalek teaches us that we must constantly strive to elevate the glory of HaShem in this world, and then we will merit the fulfillment of the verse that states (Zechariah 14:9) והיה ה’ למלך על כל הארץ ביום ההוא יהיה ה’ אחד ושמו אחד, Hashem will be the King over all the land; on that day Hashem will be One and His Name will be One.
Shabbos with the Sfas Emes and the Rebbes of Ger
The Medrash States that the Jewish People merited the manna in the Wilderness because Avraham served bread to the angels who visited him. Furthermore, the Medrash states that the Jewish people received the manna in a place called אלוש in the merit of Avraham requesting from Sarah לושי ועשי עוגות , knead and make cakes (Bereishis 18:6) The Sfas Emes explains the Medrashim to mean that the Jewish People merited to have such refined souls that were able to eat manna, which is the food that sustains the angels. This was in the merit of Avraham who refined himself to the point that he served bread to angels. The Patriarchs conducted themselves with such holiness and the Divine Presence rested on their handiwork, so the angels ate bread that Avraham served. The Sfas Emes writes that the bread from the ground is rectified by the righteous in this world. And the bread can ascend above. In the same vein there is bread that descends from heaven. It is for this reason that on Shabbos we eat לחם משנה, to loaves of beard, as the Zohar states that on Shabbos both man and the upper worlds are sustained from the Shabbos meals.
Once there was a boy who longed to have a secret. The problem was that he didn’t have one, and it seemed everyone else did. Every once in a while he would see his parents speaking in very hushed tones, so he knew they had secrets. On his way to and from school he would see different groups of friends huddled behind buildings and crouching down among the trees, exchanging pictures and trinkets, whispers and secretive glances.
Then there were all the many books of Torah, which everyone knows contain great secrets of how God created the world and how through this knowledge the tzaddikim, the righteous ones, perform this or that miracle. Since he could not think of any secrets by himself, of course he felt left out.
He decided that he too must have a secret — but how does one go about obtaining a secret? At first he decided to wait and see if his parents or friends would reveal some hidden thing to him, for he felt it wasn’t right to just go up to someone and say, “Do you have a secret to share?” When that didn’t work he tried to make up one himself, but he couldn’t think of one worthy enough to be called a secret. He decided to pray to God that He should reveal something special to him, but his prayer went unanswered and still he was secretless.
It happened that outside his bedroom window was a large tree which he loved very much. In the mornings the birds would perch on the branches and sing the most beautiful songs, so beautiful that sometimes he imagined they were singing the morning prayers. Sometimes in the afternoon when he had nothing to do he would climb up this tree and make up all kinds of games.
One afternoon, as he sat in the tree, he noticed one of the seedpods fall to the ground. As he watched it fall it became clear to him that if he took the little seed deep into a nearby pine forest and planted it, it could become his great secret.
He scrambled down the tree, took the seed, and ran off to the forest that was just a short distance from his home. The forest was a pine forest, one of the many planted by the Jewish people when they had returned to their homeland. As he went deeper and deeper into the forest looking for the best place to plant his tree, he thought about the forest itself for the first time, though he had played there ever since he could remember. “Isn’t it a mystery how this forest even stands here, planted by a people who themselves are like seeds cast to the wind for so long?”
When he had finally found the right place, he looked at the tiny seed in his hand and thought about how this small seed would one day be a great tree, which was quite miraculous in and of itself. With great awe and love he planted his seed and prayed for a long time in the stillness of the forest that his seed would take root and grow. As he returned home he had a very amazing thought: Isn’t it interesting how having one secret leads to another secret which leads to even another one!
A short time went by, and the seed sprouted and began to grow. Now that the boy had a secret he was very happy and felt much more grown up. As the boy grew so did the tree, or was it that as the tree grew so did the boy? No matter, for it seemed that in no time at all they both stood straight and tall; a seed became a tree and a boy became a man.
During those years he loved to visit his tree and sit beneath its shade, studying Torah, writing poems, thinking, dreaming, planning, stargazing, and watching the world go by. He would pass through the procession of the year: the new buds, the growing leaves, the leaves turning colors, the barren branches, the excitement and satisfaction of seeing the first new buds, which signaled a new cycle of growth. Each change seemed to foretell some greater truth of creation and life, and as each year passed he saw the tree as more and more a mirror of the whole world.
When people would pass through the spot where the tree stood, most would immediately think, how did this tree get here? Some imagined that perhaps a bird had been collecting food and somehow dropped a seed there, while others figured maybe the wind had blown it from a faraway place. There were those people who stared at it with no idea at all how it got there, while some did not notice it at all.
Every once in a while when a person would start thinking about how this one unique tree ended up in a pine forest, it would lead to other questions and thoughts. Many a person began by wondering where the tree came from and ended up asking, “Where did I come from?” And this is how the tree grew and bore its fruit.
Then it happened one time when he was older, as he was learning Torah, he came across the sentence: “The Torah is a tree of life for those who grasp hold of it.” He began to think of how much his tree had been his secret tree of life and how much he had learned from it. Then it became clear to him why the Torah is compared to the tree of life. Just as he had learned to see in a leaf of the tree, a hand, or a flame, a star, or a face, so too the letters of the Torah are forever revealing an infinite amount of mental images. Each spring the tree taught him of new beginnings and rebirth; so too the Torah ends and begins again year after year. Like a bird that makes its nest in the branches of a tree, the Jewish people make their home in the beauty of the Torah. Each day one could see in the tree entire worlds being revealed from the tiniest smell, touch, or taste — and likewise the mitzvot are a bottomless well in their depth of meaning and life-giving waters.
Then he remembered the Midrash which says that when God wanted to create the world, He first looked into the blueprint, which was the Torah, and then He created the world. The young man stood up and looked all around, and saw that not only his tree, but everything was included in the Torah. His tree had been a reflection of many secrets and truths, and now he saw that through the Torah, all the secrets and truths in the world would one day be discovered.
Then God revealed to him that when he had prayed as a little boy that God should reveal a secret to him, and he thought he was not answered, his prayer had really been answered even then, and this to him was the biggest secret of all.
A Way to Return
One Friday morning, Mr. Josh Braunstein of Brooklyn was driving to Manhattan through the Battery Tunnel when he remembered that he had to make an important phone call. He knew there was a phone booth at the corner of West Street near the mouth of the tunnel since he had used that booth before; and so as he exited the tunnel, he drove to that particular corner, stopped his car alongside the phone booth, and entered to make the call.
Before he had even lifted the handset, he noticed a thick office-planner book bulging with papers and notes, resting on top of the phone. Obviously someone had forgotten it there. Josh’s first impulse was to leave it there and not get involved with the hassle of locating the owner, but he has been a “baal korei” (someone who reads aloud from the Torah in synagogue) for 30 years and the next morning he would be reading the portion which contains not only the commandment to return a lost item, but also the negative commandment forbidding a Jew to ignore such an item if he finds it (see Deuteronomy 22:1-4).
He examined the planner and looked for the owner’s name and address. There was none. He flipped through the pages in the book and saw that there were addresses and phone numbers of people from San Francisco to Boston. Among them were those of two rabbis in Brooklyn, one of them the noted adjucator Rabbi David Cohen, which led Josh to assume that the owner was not only Jewish but probably observant. Seeing the countless entries of business meetings, appointments, and reminders strewn all over every page, Josh could imagine the owner’s frustration at having carelessly lost this “portable office.”
Josh made his call and took the office-planner with him to his office. Once there, he opened the diary to the page for that particular day, August 19, hoping to find the phone numbers of people the owner might be meeting that day. It was to no avail. There were no numbers, only names, none of which Josh recognized. Josh imagined that he might well keep this planner book for years without finding the owner.
When Josh came home that Friday afternoon, he showed the book to his wife and asked if she had any suggestions. Mrs. Braunstein leafed through the book trying to find a clue, but no name or address seemed familiar. After Shabbos, she picked up the book again, turned to the inside of the back cover and noticed a listing for “Mom” with an area code of 305. It was a number in Florida.
“It makes sense,” said Josh. “Another Jewish grandmother in Miami.”
Mrs. Braunstein dialed the Florida number and told the lady who answered the phone what her husband had found in a phone booth in Manhattan. After giving a brief description, Mrs. Braunstein said, “We are observant Jews, and it is a mitzvah to return a lost item. Tonight we found your number. Do you have a child who may have lost this?”
“It sounds like it might be my daughter’s,” said the lady from Florida.
After giving her daughter’s name and number to Mrs. Braunstein, the two women chatted amiably, long distance, for close to half an hour.
On Sunday morning a young woman came to the Braunstein home, identified herself, and thanked them profusely for making the effort to find her. “I was lost without that book,” she said. The next Friday she came back with a huge bouquet of flowers with a note attached. She explained the reason for the gift.
“Five years ago,” she began, “I returned to Judaism. My mother found it difficult to accept my new life, and the relationship between us became strained. When you called her long distance and explained all you were doing to try and locate me, she was overwhelmed. She called me and said, ‘If this is the type of people you are trying to be like, then I understand now where you are coming from and why you want to be that way.’ All week long she has been telling her non-religious friends about you, and we are speaking more often and with more warmth then we have in years!” (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Beshalach 5771
Is sponsored by Yosef and Esti Balakirsky in loving memory of Yosef’s dear mother, Chana Bas Eli Moshe ob”m
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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