UPDATE

5754 - Number 2

 

 

INQUIRY

Rhythm and Flow

DVAR TORAH

VENAHAFOCH HU: Purim, Israeli Politics and the Orthodox Community

INQUIRY

WITH RABBI BENJAMIN HECHT

Rhythm and Flow

Human beings develop a rhythm to their lifestyles that reflects the connection and reaction of their inner selves to the world that surrounds them. Some have precise daily schedules, eating and sleeping at very definite times. The beat of others may be looser but no less audible as creative energies peak and fall with definite tides. When one's self fully connects with the rhythm of one's lifestyle, the feeling is of a natural flow; there is a sense of peace between one's self and one's world. Yet when the connection does not exist, there is a sense of choppiness, of discomfort; the flow seems unnatural, at least in part.

Many Jews find within Judaism a method by which to express their personal wishes for life rhythms. If one wishes to include in their yearly cycle times for family gatherings, then the Jewish holidays provide a beat to that rhythm - in fact, a Jewish beat. Shabbat provides the weekly chance for family togetherness; the ages of significance provide a beat to the process of growing up. It is no wonder that these very topics - the holidays and the lifecycle - have formed the basis of the "Hebrew School" curriculum; it presented the Jewish way to mark a rhythm that many people wanted. This Judaism of choice was comfortable for it meshed, even enhanced, the natural flow of one's life.

Yet, Torah, truthfully, is not a document of such choice. Its purpose is not to provide instruction on how to include a Jewish beat in the natural flow of life simply craved by one's inner self. Torah commands. It sets its rhythm and demands compliance. The weekly cycle of Shabbat, the yearly cycle of the holidays, are not simply available if they integrate with the beat of one's inner being. They are part of the imposed rhythm of Torah. The question is: how does this beat of Torah connect with the rhythm of our inner selves?

The immediate answer is to project the Torah rhythm as the natural ideal, to declare that our goal should be to flow with the Torah beat and to find naturalness, and inner peace, within it. To many, this indeed does occur even to the extent of affecting us physically as sleeping and eating patterns naturally change with the weekly Shabbat flow. Many individuals have so integrated this weekly tide of Shabbat that they wonder how not only they but anyone could exist without it.

This is not true for all, though. Many feel in their observance of Torah the imposition of a foreign beat. Is this a weakness, a continuing impediment to the full synthesis of Torah? Are we to feel natural about the Torah lifestyle? Is there value in the feeling of unnaturalness?

The natural emotion of the niddah period, when husband and wife are forbidden physical contact, is that of sadness (see T.B. Niddah 31b).The rhythm of niddah is not one that generally would be independently undertaken. In fact, there is deemed to be value in taking all halachic steps possible to limit the niddah intrusion (see T.B. Berachot 4a). But that does not mean that the rhythm of niddah when observed, with its troughs of sadness and peaks of joy (see again T.B. Niddah 31b), is not to be eventually perceived as natural. Implicit in the words of many sources, however, is the idea that the niddah cycle is unnatural. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Zaayonos LeParshas HaShovua, Parshas Metzora, states that niddah is not mi'derech hatevah, is inherently unnatural. Rabbi Norman Lamm, Hedge of Roses quotes Midrash Tehillim number 215 which re-iterates the theme of how remarkable it is - because it is so unnatural - that husband and wife follow this Torah law. What, though, is the meaning of this unnaturalness? Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Shiurei HaRav, The Dual Aspects of Jewish Morality gives value in the very tension of the imposed rhythm of niddah on the natural rhythm of love. One may also wish to consider Tosfot, Kiddushin 31a that sees value in the tension of observance in general, albeit for different reasons.

Derache'cha darchei noam, her ways are ways of pleasantness (Mishlei 3:17), is more than a concept but has halachic force. There is value in the integration of the Torah rhythm with the beat of the inner self. Yet there also seems to be virtue in the challenge created by the non-ability of the Torah rhythm to integrate, in the tension of following the external beat. The Lubavitcher Rebbe in declaring niddah as unnatural brings as proof the connection of niddah to the "sin" of Adam and Chava (T.B. Eruvin 100b). Are individual mitzvot to be approached differently with accompanying peace or tension a result of its roots? Ultimately, though, our natural and/or unnatural reaction to the flow of Torah, may be an outgrowth of our own personality and effort to integrate or understand the non-integration. There is a vast chasm between an attitude to Torah built simply on first reaction, and a personal perspective and response built on a knowledge of self and of Torah - with an understanding of the purpose of peace and tension in practice. This should be our goal and the personal work necessary to understand how our inner beat is to connect with the external beat of Torah must be a priority.

We invite you to submit your thoughts and comments, on the issues presented in INQUIRY, for possible inclusion in future NISHMA UPDATES.Your suggestions for INQUIRY topics and questions are also most welcome. Your involvement is a necessary part of our combined learning objective.

DVAR TORAH

VENAHAFOCH HU:

Purim, Israeli Politics, and the Orthodox Community

Rabbi Dr. Marty Lockshin, Toronto, Ontario

One of the central ideas of the story of Purim is the idea of the reversal of fortune. The enemies of the Jews expected to overpower them and ve'nahaphoch hu-- the opposite happened!" (Esther 9:1). The theme of reversal can also be found in the megillah in the verse that tells us that Adar "was transformed (nahaphoch) for the Jews from a month of grief and mourning to one of festive joy." (9:22)

But the megillah doesn't just tell us about the idea of reversal; the megillah demonstrates it, too. The twelfth century French Biblical commentator, Rav Yosef Kara, Commentary to Megillat Esther, was the first to point out that structural parallelism was an important stylistic feature of the megillah.

"Then Mordechai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white: Just as it says above "and Mordechai learned all that had been done and Mordechai rent his clothes and put on a sackcloth and ashes and went out into the midst of the city" (4:1), in the same language he now says "he went out from the presence of the king in royal robes." Similarly for the whole affair, the author made a point of writing (natan da'ato lichtov) about the joy of the Jews when they were saved in the same language that he wrote about their punishment. Just as it says above "and the city of Shushan was perplexed" (3:15) he repeats and says "and the city Shushan shouted and rejoiced." Just as it says above "there was great mourning among the Jews" (4:3), he repeats and says "there was gladness and joy among the Jews" (8:17). Just as it says above "many of them (rabim) lay in sackcloth and ashes" (4:3), now he says "and many (rabim) of the people of the land professed to be Jews" (8:17)." Other great Rabbis of medieval times also added to Rav Yosef Kara's list of literary parallels. (See Barry Walfish, Esther in Medieval Garb: Jewish Interpretations of Esther in the Middle Ages, pp. 63-65.)

We now are living in a new era of ve'nahaphoch hu-, an era of constant, almost daily reversals. The government of Israel has reversed the direction in which it had been proceeding. And the standards of behaviour in our shuls have also changed radically.

Just a few years ago it was perfectly clear that Orthodox synagogues in Toronto would not give an audience to leftist speakers who came here to Canada to criticize the so-called "irresponsible" policies of the Israeli government. Today those same Orthodox synagogues are the sponsors of such speakers, albeit criticizing from the right wing. The bulletin board of our Orthodox shuls were, to the best of my recollection, never covered with flyers from leftists who called the State of Israel "undemocratic." Today they are covered with such declarations from the pens of the radical Israeli right. To the best of my knowledge, no left-leaning members of the shul where I daven ever phoned the U.J.A to make impassioned statements that they were cutting back their donations because of "immoral" government policies. We have now lived long enough to see right-wing members of my shul boasting that they have done that very thing.

In the circles of anshe' shelomenu, of us "friends of the State," of committed Canadian Zionists, there always used to be an understanding. Maybe we would discuss among ourselves in hushed voices, bechadre chadarim, some policy of the Israeli government whose morality troubled us (e.g. administrative detention of Arabs without trial or even charges). But to express any such criticisms out loud, to use the adjective "immoral" or "undemocratic" to modify the State of Israel, we would never have done that. But now we discover that when the other side's ox is being gored, the rules have changed! The vitriolic criticism of the radical right is now deemed appropriate for our shuls.

When Yitchak Rabin suggested a few years ago that Israeli soldiers should "break the arms" of Arab children who throw stones and a number of Israeli soldiers took him quite literally, an outcry was heard in some circles in Israel. People like me here in Canada who were troubled by Rabin's behaviour just kept our mouths shut. Who am I here in the comfort of galut to criticize an Israeli minister who was clearly trying to save Jewish lives? Now the very same Yitchak Rabin has tried a different method of trying to save Jewish lives -- pursuing peace. He is roundly and openly criticized in the Orthodox community for doing that. This time I felt that finally I did not have to remain silent -- finally I agreed with a policy of the Israeli government! -- and I signed a public statement wishing Prime Minister Rabin yashir koach for trying this option. Quite a number of members of the Orthodox community have expressed to me their surprise (and some have expressed their "outrage") that I would support his efforts. It's hard to figure that one out.

I am sure that the right-wing critics of the government are motivated by a desire to save Jewish lives. But the rules of behaviour seem to have changed radically and public criticism that was once unthinkable is today commonplace.

Aside from the question of behaviour, of the limits of reasonable public criticism, we also have to consider the question of attitude. In other words, even if we agree on adjusting the volume of our criticism, we should still ask ourselves what constitutes a reasonable private attitude for a frum Jew when thinking about the latest developments in Israel.

Our thoughts often go to the uncompromising attitude of halakhah to Amalek. The evil of Amalek must be totally eradicated. But the Arabs are not Amalek. Any student of halakhah knows that Amalek is not a binyan av -- it is not a paradigm for all enemies of Israel.

And what should our attitude be to enemies that are not Amalek? I ask myself whether the Arabs of today are worse than Sichon the king of the Emorim in the Torah. We are told in the Torah that the Kadosh Barukh Hu told Moshe to go attack Sichon. "Begin the occupation; engage him in battle" (Devarim 2:24). And what did Moshe do? He didn't listen. He didn't start the battle. Despite clear instructions to the contrary (from the Kadosh Barukh Hu!), he tried to make peace with Sichon. Two verses later Moshe writes: "I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemot to Sichon King of Cheshbon with an offer of peace" (Devarim 2:26).

The Midrash (Bemidbar Rabba 19:27) notices Moshe's behaviour and comments: [The following text is prepared for reading with a Hebrew font ]

rjt <usrk vruwv vspe tk .uvpsru ouka aec hf" ,"gdpw hf" ,"rupm ie treh hf" tkt wumnv
orfc tcw hf" ,"lwhz yucjw hf" ,"runj vtrw
<usrk tku ovhkg vuumn wt lshk utc ot ".lgr
ouenc "uvpsru ouka aec" oukav kct .ovhrjt
.rjt

The Torah does not generally require that we pursue opportunities for mitzvot. For example, "If along the road you chance along a bird's nest [...let the mother go...]" (Devarim 22:6), of "If you encounter you enemy's ox [...you must take it back to him]" (Shemot 23:4). Such mitzvot require a "window of opportunity". Seeking peace, according to Chazal, does not. We are commanded to "seek peace and pursue it" (Tehillim 34:15) wherever that quest may lead us.

Many intelligent people have asked whether there really is anyone in the Arab world with whom to be talking peace. The concern is a real one. But when the Rabin government goes and pursues peace even when the chances of success are slim, I think that it is simply following the example set by Moshe Rabbenu. It deserves our support and our admiration.

Let us hope that this year will truly be a year of ve'nahaphoch hu -- a year that will be transformed "from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy," (Esther 9:2) a year where we will begin to see real benefits for the Jewish people and the Jewish state from Rabin's bold peace initiative.

Study Thoughts - Maintaining Nishma's belief in stimulating Torah investigation through the presentation of a halachic and hashkafic spectrum, a variance of opinion on the peace treaty in Israel has been presented in Nishma publications. What is your view on the issue? More significantly from a learning perspective, how was your view developed? Did you investigate the sources before venturing an opinion or did you have an immediate reaction then, perhaps, looking in the sources to substantiate your view? If you had a natural reaction, was that an outgrowth of personal perception or the result of an internalized general Torah attitude from years of study? What role did the opinion of various significant Rabbis and poskim play in the development of your viewpoint? How Torah interacts with the individual is a subject demanding further investigation especially in areas where one has strong personal opinions. Rabbi Lockshin also identifies the sometimes forgotten difficulty of conflicting personal values. It is easy to accept a value that Diaspora Jewry should not publicly criticize the Israeli government when this government acts in a way that generally one supports. What happens, though, to this value when this government acts in a way that is contrary to another value? How do we reconcile conflicting values and pursuant to what yardstick do we choose between values? Is the truth really that some values are only presented in debate as foils in battle? What are the ethics of using values one ultimately does not believe in to gain advantage?

The NISHMA UPDATE DVAR TORAH section offers a platform for the presentation of original Torah lessons or ideas. Study Thoughts follow each DVAR TORAH, raising issues and questions for further investigation. We invite you to participate.


Return to top

2002 NISHMA