Parsha Pearls: Parshas Devarim

Why do you show yourselves?
What Should We Pray During a War?
Mass Immigration
Stopping the Spread of Heresy
The Power of the Holy Tongue

“You have circled this mountain long enough; turn yourselves northward.” (Devarim 2:2)

The Klei Yakar writes:

Many say that this verse contains a penetrating lesson. It refers to both the immediate context and to future generations. Circling the mountain is a prophecy that the Jewish people will circle around, not coming close to the vineyard of Hashem Tzevaos (Eretz Yisroel). For a long time Israel will wander around it, and they will not be given even a footstep of power over it, until Hashem comes and plants His feet on the Mount of Olives.

And during all the time that Israel is wandering around, the Torah says, “Turn yourselves northward.” Tzafonah (northward) also means “hidden”; thus when it is Esav’s time to rule, we must keep a low profile. If a Jew achieves any success during exile, he should hide it from Esav, for there is no nation that is as jealous of the Jews as Esav. They consider everything we have as stolen, since Yaakov Avinu took the blessings away from Esav. And so Yaakov commanded his children, “Why do you show yourselves?” Rashi explains, “Why do you flaunt your prosperity In front of Yishmael and Esav?” In their eyes, Yitzchak stole the success of Yishmael and Yaakov stole the success of Esav. That is why this command to hide our success is written specifically regarding Esav. This is the opposite of what Jews do in our time in the lands of their enemies: any Jew who has a little money walks around in high-class garments and a beautiful house, as if he were a millionaire. With this they arouse the non-Jews against them, and transgress this verse. This is the way of most of our people, and it is the cause of all the troubles that have befallen us. Let the wise understand and learn their lesson.

The establishment of the State of Israel violates both of these principles: it brought back a large part of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel before the end of exile, when they were supposed to continue circling the vineyard of Hashem; and it flaunts its power in front of Yishmael and Esav, arousing their jealousy and anger.

A small community of Jews is permitted to live in Eretz Yisroel during exile, keeping a low profile, living in peace and loyalty to the non-Jewish nation ruling the land. This community was powerless to stop the Zionists from establishing a state, but at least until now the Zionists allowed this community to continue living their exilic life, independent of the state. It was unimaginable that they should join the Zionist army and actually help maintain the state.

But the Zionists have long wished that the Orthodox would be part of their state and society, in order to lend them Jewish legitimacy. They started by offering subsidies to religious schools that followed their recommended curriculum. Later they offered money even to schools that taught only Torah. Gedolim with wisdom and foresight, such as the Brisker Rav and the Satmar Rav, warned against taking their money. “No one gives away money for nothing,” they said. “Even if the Zionists are not asking for anything in return now, they surely will later.” However, some communities ignored the warning and accepted the money to ease their dire circumstances.

Now this prediction has come true: they are demanding that we serve in their army, claiming that it is not right for us to take and not give anything in return. The proper reaction for us should be to cry out, “Then stop giving us!” And if they argue that we have no right to live in their country at all, even without taking their money, if we don’t share the burden, our reaction must be, “We were living here before you came! It is not right to make us leave just because we don’t want to help you violate the Torah.” And if they still refuse to give in, we must proudly go to jail or else leave the state and find other places to live, rather than assist in a rebellion against Hashem’s decree of exile.

But the Hamodia newspaper (June 26, 2013) has taken a different tactic in “answering the heretic.” They answer the fool according to his folly, saying, “We are just as good economic supporters of the state as anyone else.” It may be that most Orthodox men in the state do not work, but that is because they are supported by their counterparts in the Orthodox community of America, says the Hamodia. Their wealthy relatives send them money and thus invest in the Israeli economy.

American Orthodox families send their sons and daughters to study in Israeli institutions, putting thousands into tuition that goes to pay the salaries of the Orthodox there, plus money for airfare and other expenses while there. They pour $17,000 into the Israeli economy for each boy and $24,000 for each girl. American families travel often to the state to visit their children or to tour. They buy apartments there, contributing over $120 million in state taxes. Of all food products exported by the Israelis to North America, 75% are purchased by the Orthodox, totaling $205 million.

This Hamodia article avoids the question of why we don’t join the army (after all, even those who work and contribute to the economy have to serve). More importantly, the article raises serious questions about why American Jews are helping the state exist, thrive and flaunt its success in front of Yishmael and Esav, when they should be looking for safe ways to end the state. Instead of sending our children there, we should be using our money to help the yeshivos and seminaries move to safer places.

You have encircled this mountain long enough; turn yourselves northward, and command the people, saying: You are passing through the border of your brethren, the children of Esav…do not start a fight against them…" (2:3-5)

The Midrash Tanchuma associates these verses with the Three Oaths with which G-d bound the Jewish people in Shir Hashirim. According to the Tanchuma, the Three Oaths are: not to reveal the end, not to force the end, and not to rebel against the governments. The Tanchuma adds an ominous version of the punishment for violating the oaths: "If you keep the oaths, good, but if not, I will permit your flesh like the gazelles and deer, which have no one to avenge or seek out [their killers] – so too I will not avenge your blood."

The Buber edition of the Tanchuma, first printed in 1885, contains an additional paragraph that is not in the standard text. This paragraph counts four oaths instead of three, because it considers Shir Hashirim 5:8 to be one of the oaths. The four oaths are: not to force the end, not to ascend from exile in great numbers ("hamonim hamonim"), not to rebel against the governments, and not to reveal their secrets.

In the Talmud (Kesubos 111a), the oath against going up from exile is expressed with the words "going up as a wall". Most understand this to mean any mass immigration, even with permission from the ruling power. There is a minority opinion (Avnei Nezer) that the oath only prohibits military conquest or immigration against the will of the ruling power. This parallel text in the Buber Tanchuma, which was compiled before the closing of the Talmud, indicates that the majority opinion is correct and any mass immigration is forbidden. Of course, the Zionist state with its military conquest violates the oath according to all opinions.

Bring forth for yourselves wise, understanding well-known men for your tribes, and I will place them at your head.” (1:13)

Rashi says that the word va’asimem (“and I will place them”) is without a yud, indicating that it could be read va’ashamam berasheichem (“and their guilt will be on your heads”). The blame for wrong done by the Jewish people will be placed upon the heads of their judges, who should have rebuked them and steered them back on the right path. (Probably Rashi does not mean that it is actually written without a yud, which would conflict with our mesorah, only that it could be read without a yud, as the Sifri says, “Do not read va’asimem but va’ashamam.”)

And let them report back to us about the approach we should take and the cities we should attack. (Devarim 1:22)

The Sifri says that the Jews wanted the spies to report back to them as to what language the Canaanites spoke. The Satmar Rebbe, speaking in Jerusalem in 1959, asked: What difference did it make what language the Canaanites spoke? Seemingly, all the spies needed to find out was the military strength of the people.

He answered based on the Zohar (Bereishis 75b): "Why did Hashem have to confound the languages [of the builders of the tower]? Because they were all speaking the Holy Tongue, and that language gave them help, for these things depend on actions and words of the mouth…Once their language was changed, their actions had no success. For the powers above do not know or recognize any language but the Holy Tongue, so when their language was confounded their power was weakened and their strength was broken. Come and see that whenever a word is spoken below in the Holy Tongue, all the powers of heaven know about it and are strengthened through it, but if it is spoken in another language, they do not know or recognize it. Therefore, as soon as their language was confounded, 'they stopped building the city.' For their power had been broken and they did not know how to carry out any of their plans."

Accordingly, the Jews needed to know whether the Canaanites spoke the Holy Tongue, for if so they would have help from above and it would be harder to defeat them. The spies reported back, "The cities are great and fortified in the heavens" (v. 28). Rashi, based on Tamid 29a, says that this was an exaggeration. But with the above Zohar in mind, we can explain that the spies meant that the Canaanites did indeed speak the Holy Tongue, as the Ramban says on Bereishis 45:12. Their language thus fortified them "in the heavens" - by bringing down heavenly power to assist them.

The modern Hebrew spoken today contains many non-Hebrew words and hybrid constructions. Still, there is enough real Hebrew in it to give its speakers this supernatural power of which the Zohar speaks. It is the greatest misfortune when wicked men speak the Holy Tongue, as we see that this was the only way the builders of the tower were able to succeed in leading the entire world to rebellion against Hashem, bringing bitter punishments upon the world. (Divrei Yoel v. 9 p. 34)

Stop bringing vain offerings; it is abominable incense to Me. On Rosh Chodesh and Shabbos you call an assembly, but I cannot bear sin and a prayer gathering. (Yishaya 1:13)

Rashi explains: "I cannot stand when your hearts are sinful, leaning toward idolatry, and at the same time you hold a prayer gathering, for the two things cannot go together – to call a prayer gathering to come together before Me, while the sin of idolatry is in your hearts, and you do not remove it from your hearts." In these difficult times, as we pray for the safety of our brethren in Eretz Yisroel, we must be careful to remove the idolatry of Zionism from our hearts. We must know how to pray and what to pray for.

The Zionists organize gatherings to pray for the success of the Zionist state and its army But we, who recognize that their state is a great sin and is actually the root cause of all this danger, must not join their gatherings, lest we seem to be supporting their position. This point was explained by the Satmar Rov. When the children of Israel stood at the shore of the sea and the Egyptian army approached from behind, the Torah says, "The children of Israel cried out to Hashem. And they said to Moshe, was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the desert? What is this you have done to us, to take us out of Egypt?" (Shemos 14:10-11) The Ramban asks: How could they cry out to Hashem for help and at the same time reject the help He had already given them by saving them from Egypt? He answers that there were actually two separate groups of Jews. The righteous cried out to Hashem, while the wicked rejected Him and said it would have been better if He had never saved them from Egypt.

But if so, why did Moshe Rabbeinu answer them, "Hashem will fight for you, and you will be silent"? Why should they have been silent? At least the righteous group should have continued to pray for help! The Satmar Rov explains that when the wicked cry out with blasphemy, we must be silent and not join them, even if we are going to say proper prayers. Although the words we are saying are completely different, yet when our voices join with theirs we give them support. The bystander who listens may not notice the difference, and it may appear to him that everyone has in mind the same sin. Therefore, although Hashem loves the prayer of the righteous, He does not want it to be said together with the blasphemy and insults of the wicked. (Al Hageulah V'al Hatemurah, Chapter 10)

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What should our prayers be? In 1956 during the Zionist war in Sinai, the Satmar Rov said: "We see now the fulfillment of the Gemora in Chagiga 5a: Rabbi Yochanan would cry when reading the following verse (Devarim 31:21): 'And it shall come to pass when great and competing evils come upon them…' What is the meaning of 'great and competing evils'? Rav said: Evils that become competitors to each other, like the hornet and the scorpion. Rashi explains that the cure for a scorpion bite is hot water, and for a hornet bite cold water. Switching the cures will lead to danger. Thus, when one is bitten by both a hornet and a scorpion, the bites become competitors, and there is no cure. So too today in the Holy Land: whichever path we choose, the Jewish people will be in danger. If the gentiles win the war, there will be danger for the Jewish people. And if the heretics win, the danger is even greater, for who knows what will come next? For whoever believes in Hashem Yisborach and His Torah knows that every step of the way is forbidden, and Moshe Rabbeinu told the Jewish people, "Why do you transgress the word of Hashem? And it will not succeed." (Bamidbar 14:41) And the Ibn Ezra says that any transgression of the word of Hashem will not succeed. Besides the danger to life, the honor of the heretics will be uplifted, as they have tested G-d and escaped. And this is a worse danger, as Chazal say: One who causes his fellow to sin is worse than one who kills him (Rashi on Devarim 23:9). We have no other option but to merit immediately the coming of Moshiach, and he will nullify them like the dust of the ground. Since it will happen through the king Moshiach, it will certainly happen with mercy and kindness. Let us fall into the hands of Hashem, not into the hands of men! We have no other solution to the problem of the hornet and the scorpion. Neither of the two paths is good. The only thing to do is to stand between the oven and the stove and cry to Hashem Yisborach, that He shine a little bit of emunah into the hearts of the Jewish people. The Creator is capable of anything, and He has the power to save. Let us not make any plans or counsel, only ask of Hashem Yisborach." (Chiddushei Torah, Parshas Vayishlach, 5717)

In another place, the Satmar Rov writes: "The Gemora in Sanhedrin 98a says: The son of Dovid will not come until the low kingdom is gone from Israel. Rashi explains that the Jewish people will have no political regime, even a weak and poor one. So we see that before the coming of Moshiach that low state will have to disappear, otherwise it is impossible for Moshiach to come. The existence of the state is thus preventing the redemption. A similar statement is made by the Rambam in his Letter to Yemen. But we need the mercy of Heaven, that the state disappear only through some Heavenly force, through Hashem Yisborach, not through the gentiles, for if, G-d forbid, it happens through the gentiles there will obviously be a great danger to Jews. May Hashem Yisborach have mercy on us and on all His people Israel." (Introduction to Vayoel Moshe, p. 8)

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There are some Jews who understand that Zionism is wrong, yet feel that now there is no option but to support the Zionist army in their fight against the Arab enemy. They are forgetting that the Zionists are actually causing all this aggression by stubbornly holding onto their state. As another example of this, in 1967 most people were under the impression that the Zionists went to war only in self-defense. But the Satmar Rov said at that time, “I heard that the religious Zionists announced that this war was necessary and obligatory according to Torah [in order to save the Jewish people from danger]. But it is obvious and known to all who see truth that all these troubles, including the danger of the war, came upon us only as a result of the existence of that Zionist state…it is the Zionist government that aroused the anger of the Arabs by provoking them in various ways, and if not for the stubbornness of its wicked leaders the danger of the war would never have been. And even now, if they were to give up their state and their government, there is no doubt that they would take Hashem’s anger away from the Jewish people. Had they done this, the entire calamity – the danger of the war and the loss of Jewish lives – would not have come upon them. And for every minute that they hold on to their power they are offending the Creator, blessed be He, with violation of the oaths and rebellion against the nations, which the holy Torah has forbidden and for which we have been warned of a severe punishment… And even naturally speaking, if they were to give up their government and Zionist state, there is no doubt that the United Nations would be able to find some way to prevent war, bloodshed and loss of Jewish lives.” (Al Hageulah V’al Hatemurah, Chapter 44)

During the Roman siege of Jerusalem, there were among the Jews some biryonim (zealots). Rashi says that the zealots were warmongering empty people. The rabbis said to them: “Let us go out and make peace with the Romans.” But the zealots did not allow them to do that, saying instead, “Let us make war with them!” The rabbis said, “It will not be successful.” (Gittin 56a)

The Gemara later tells that when Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai smuggled himself out of Jerusalem and came before the Roman general Vespasian, Vespasian said to him: “If a poisonous serpent coils itself around a keg of honey, do we not break the keg in the process of killing the serpent?” He meant that despite Rabbi Yochanan’s desire for peace, he could not call off the war because he had to defeat the zealots, and it would be impossible to do so without destroying Jerusalem and the Temple. We see from this that Vespasian did not really want to destroy the city and the Temple, and only did so to defeat the zealots. Had these zealots joined Rabbi Yochanan in surrendering, the Temple would never have been destroyed.

This point is made by the Sforno on Bereishis 33:4. He says that although Esav had originally been coming to destroy Yaakov and his family, his heart was turned around by the humble approach Yaakov took. If only the zealots of the Second Temple had followed this example, the Temple would not have been destroyed, as Rabbi Yochanan testified when he said, “The zealots among us did not allow it.”

The Satmar Rebbe once compared the Zionists to the biryonim at the time of the Second Temple: "At the time of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, there were also biryonim, but the difference was that then, all the holy Tannaim were on Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai's side; the biryonim were a fringe group. Today, however, most rabbis unfortunately support the biryonim." (Rabbi Yishai Buchinger, p. 23)

Titus took a sword and stabbed the curtain of the Holy of Holies. A miracle happened and blood came gushing out... (Gittin 56b)

When the Satmar Rebbe visited Eretz Yisroel in 1959, he spoke in public for two and a half hours in reference to the Sinai War, bringing proofs from the Bavli, Yerushalmi and Midrashim that Hashem does not make miracles for the wicked. Afterwards, a rosh yeshiva asked the Rebbe, “Doesn’t the Gemara in Gittin say that when Titus entered the Holy of Holies and stuck his sword into the paroches, a miracle happened and blood came gushing out?” The Rebbe replied, “The Shlah Hakadosh (Taanis, Inyanei Tisha B’av) says that this was not a miracle; it was the absence of a miracle. Every year on Yom Kippur, the Kohein Gadol would sprinkle blood on the paroches, and it would miraculously be absorbed in the floor. Now that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, that miracle stopped, and all the blood that was in the floor came gushing out.” (Tiferes Yoel v. 3 pp. 66-67)