Parashas Vaeschanan 5781 – True Love

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Our Parasha always follows the fast of Tisha Beav. Based on the Haftara first words; “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God” this Shabbos is named “Shabbos of comforting”. The Beis Hamikdash has been destroyed, our might and subhuman powers have left us. We became regular mortals, and our enemies are taking advantage and spare no effort to annihilate even our memory from the face of earth. What consolation does the Torah has for us? To be a consolation it must be in direct proportion with the disaster we lived. The Parasha begins with Moshe pleading to Hashem to let him enter the land of Israel, but Hashem firmly refuses. Moshe does not give up and will plead 515 equaling the numerical value of “Vaeschanan” [ואתחנן ,[which is also the numerical value of “Tefila”. Despite this unbelievable effort Hashem will not change His decision. Instead, Hashem requests that he stops otherwise He will have no choice than eradicating the worlds. This is surely not the expected consolation, as the Midrash informs us, that the reason Moshe wanted at all costs to enter the land of Israel was for our safeguard. As due to his sanctity, had he entered, never any enemy would have been able to take it from us. This adds salt to our wounds, as there was a way to prevent all the disasters that occurred on Tisha Beav. On the other hand, our Parasha features the flagship anthem of the Jewish people, going back as far as the Patriarchs, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad”. The Zohar teaches that when a Jew declares the Oneness of Hashem a tremor goes through the worlds, and even angels tremble out of fear. This phrase pierces the skies and immediately bounds Hashem with His children. Any Jew saying the “Shema” with the correct intention is answered. We can assume that Moshe also used it in his pleas, so why were they rejected? The answer lies in the following verse: “You shall love Hashem your God, with all your hearts, with all your soul, and with all your resources.” A person has only one heart so why is Hashem requesting to love Him with our “Hearts”, insinuating we have more than one? Besides, love is a feeling, how can we be ordered to love, that is not how the human intellect works? Rashi explains that the commandment, “with all your hearts” refers to the two inclinations: the good and the bad, which both reside in the heart. It is already difficult to command love to the good instinct, but to the bad instinct it is plainly undoable. Why are we given a commandment that is humanely impossible? Let us reflect on the Mitzva and see what will be revealed. Indeed, it is understandable that it is difficult to serve Hashem with the “Yetzer Hara” since a bad instinct wants to only do bad. This implies that the good inclination wants to do only good. So, what is the necessity to order us to love Hashem with the “Yetzer Hatov” as this should be natural?

Rav Moshe Feinstein elucidates beautifully the subject. Only through the Torah guidance can one guide his “good feelings” in the right direction. The only true source of morality and goodness is taught in the Torah. Without learning, the feelings that seem righteous could be poisonous to the person and his family and even to the entire nation. The “good inclination” wants to produce good deeds, but as long as it is not taught the right from the wrong, it is incapable to define what is “good”. One usually defines “good” or “just” as something that make him feel good. Stealing the rich to feed the poor is a misguided goodness. Rav Feinstein provides an example of foolish “goodness”. Mercy for evil people, which ended the kingship of King Shaul. As described in the Talmud [Yoma 22b]: Shaul was ordered to destroy all the Amalekites “Saul came to the city of Amalek and he strove in the valley” [I Samuel 15:5]. Rabbi Mani said: This means that Saul strove with God, regarding the matter of the valley. At the time when Hashem said to Shaul: “Now go and attack Amalek and proscribe all that belongs to him; do not pity him” [I Samuel 15:3], Saul countered and said: Now, if in a case where a slain person’s body is found and the murderer is unknown, the Torah said to bring a heifer whose neck is broken, to a barren valley, [the atonement ritual described in Deuteronomy 6:1–9] all the more so must I have pity and to not kill all the Amalekites. His misplaced feelings of mercy cost him his Kingship and millions of lives of Jewish people that will be slaughtered at the hand of the Amalekites through the ages. Agag begot offspring and one of his descendants was Haman, that due to Shaul’s act of mistaken ‘mercy’ nearly led to the destruction of the entire Jewish nation. Another example is at the beginning of our Parasha when Hashem refused to allow Moshe to enter the Land of Israel. As described above, Moshe insisted but Hashem stood firm. The reason being that Hashem is the infinite goodness would expiate our sins on properties and land rather than on ourselves. Had Moshe got in Israel it would have been impossible to destroy the Temple or to lose the Land of Israel, so we would have to carry, in our flesh, the burden of our sins. If even Moshe the dedicated Shepherd, which love for the Jews knew no boundary, was blinded by his love for us, how much more so us, that our emotions and personal bias dictate what is supposed to be “right” and “good”. Hashem is the only source of true love and only His Torah can define what is “good”! Hereafter is a story to illustrate the point: A businessman, whose affairs had gone downhill, came to see his rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta. His daughter was of marriageable age, he explained, and he could not see how he would come up with the dowry needed to marry her off. The rebbe asked him how much money he had on him. “My pockets are practically empty,” the man replied. “I only have one coin left.” “Go home,” the rebbe advised, “and accept the first business proposition which presents itself to you. Through it, you will obtain the means to marry off your daughter.”

The man headed home, wondering how he would possibly procure such a sum with only a single coin to invest. On his way, he stopped at an inn where he happened to observe a group of diamond merchants discussing business. One turned to him and asked, “Why are you looking at us? Would you like to buy a diamond?” Remembering that the rebbe had told him to accept the first business proposal he received, he said yes. When the merchant asked how much the man was able to spend, he proffered his single coin, which was all he had. The diamond merchant began to laugh. “With one coin, he thinks he can buy a diamond!” “You know what,” he said, “I do have something I can sell you for that amount. I can sell you my olam habah—my place in the World to Come—for a ruble.” A contract was written up, and all the assembled merchants had a good laugh. When the diamond merchant arrived home and told his wife the humorous story his wife was less than pleased. “Why would I remain married to someone without a place in the World to Come?!” she fumed. “Who will I be with there? “If you have no olam habah, divorce me,” she said. “If you wish to remain married, go right back to that man and reclaim your olam habah.” So, he went back to the inn where he found the destitute Chassid. “I’ll give you back your coin if you give me back the contract,” he offered. “Let’s arrange a refund.” The Chassid refused. “OK, I’ll give you more than what you paid, just give me back my portion in the World to Come!” Still the Chassid refused. “How much do you want?” “One thousand coins,” the man finally replied, based on the rebbe’s promise that this transaction would procure the funds he needed for his daughter’s wedding. He explained as much to the desperate mechant standing in front of him. The merchant tried bargaining, but to no avail. The Chassid stuck to his guns. The sum was delivered, and the contract annulled, restoring the merchant’s share in the World to Come. A while later, the merchant’s wife came to see the Rebbe of Apta. “Is it true that my husband’s olam habah was worth one thosand coins?! Was such a great share of olam habah awaiting him? Or was it worth the single coin it was originally bought for?” The rebbe responded using her phrasing: “When your husband sold it, his olam habah was truly only worth one coin. But, when he bought it back through giving the other man the money he needed to marry off his daughter, his olam habah absolutely became worth one thousand coins—if not more.”

How much is our olam habah worth? How true “good” are we doing? Or maybe we strive only for the misguided “good”, the one dictated by our emotions and personal bias that make us feel good? Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur come every year to teach us that one day we will have to stand before Hashem and answer for all our actions and every word uttered during our lifetime. There will be no one to pad our ego and tell us we do good. Excuses too will not help. These misguided feelings caused the destruction of the temples. It is time to start rebuilding, each should deserve the merit to rebuild the house of Hashem by doing true “good” as described in the Torah. A good place to start is by having true love for one another, Hashem will then guide us on the right path!

By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann – Din Torah Of North Miami Beach

305.399.0393 * rabbifridmann@badatzmiami.com