Friday, July 16, 2010

Parshat D'varim and Tish'a B'av

רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לִפְנֵיכֶם, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; בֹּאוּ, וּרְשׁוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב לָתֵת לָהֶם, וּלְזַרְעָם אַחֲרֵיהֶם. – Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and inherit the land which Hashem swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.'
(דברים א:ח)

One of the principal beliefs in Judaism is that there is nothing in this world that can stop a person who really wants something; "אין דבר העומד בפני הרצון - There's nothing that can stand before one's will."

As Jews, we believe in a all-powerful God, One who is Master of the entire universe and who can turn anything to His will. We believe that if we can tune ourself in to this spiritual energy, we may access huge amounts of power. Given this belief, we may in turn better understand some of the events to occur in Jewish history; how it is that we have seen off multiple great nations and empires including the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Assyrians, the Babylonians. We have witnessed them all come, leave their impression and then go. But the Jews still live on.

More recently, in 1967, Israel won the Six-Day war when the odds were stacked against us. It is said that the American military has a computer that processes all the recorded wars in history in an attempt to determine why the winning side was victorious and to gain insight as to what strategies and tactics can be used in the future. Apparently, this computer can "understand" all the wars put in its system, but for one. The 1967 Six-Day war is said to be incomprehensible; there was simply no way that the Jews should have won. There were thousands more troops fighting against Israel than for it. And yet we won.

The main idea to be understood is that part of being Jewish is to not be limited by nature. All the things described above are highly unlikely events in their own right. At the height of the Greek empire, who would have bet that the meek Jews would outlast the Greeks? And when the Roman empire was at its pomp, who would have cared to wager that the downtrodden Jews would be around long after they had disappeared? One lucky escape can be attribbuted to luck. But for this phenomenon to occur over and over again indicates something deeper at play; that the Jewish nation is not bound by nature's laws. If something has to happen; it will.

In the quote above from this week's Parsha, D'varim, Hashem shows B'nei Yisrael the land of Israel, telling them to behold it. Rashi explains here that if the Jews had gone in at that very moment, there would have been no need to fight to claim the land. But since they insisted on spying out the land, they were forced to take up arms and wage battle against the hostile people who were then residing in the promised land.

One of the things we learn is that if God wants something to happen, it makes no difference what the situation is - it will happen. If God wanted these hostile peoples residing in the land of Israel to quietly accept the arrival of the Jewish people, then that's precisely what would have happened.

Touching on the forthcoming fast of Tish'a B'Av, we know that the reason for the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash is because of Sin'at Chinam, baseless hatred, most clearly expressed in the Kamtza/Bar-Kamtza incident. This is the reason that is universally given for the resulting destruction, but Rav Ya'akov Chaim Sofer explains that if we look in the Talmud, we see that another reason is recorded in Masechet Gitin.

The account of one Yosef ben Matityahu, who lived through the time of this destruction, is recorded there. His account is completely different to the standard one, and he claims that the Roman army was large and strong, with healthy and well-armed soldiers. Standing against them, on the other hand, was the weak Jewish military. The Jews lacked food and arms. It was a total mismatch. Our would-be historian doesn't mention the Kamtza/Bar-Kamtza episode once. How can this be?

The answer is simple enough. As Jews, we don't care how it is that we lost in physical terms. We are more interested as to the spiritual causes of such events. As described above, there have been enough events over the course of history for us to know that our military disadvantage is wholly irellevant to the outcome of such a situation. If we could outlast all these other foes, there is no reason why we should suddenly capitulate in this battle. If you want to know how we lost the battle against the Romans and how the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed, refer to the words of Yosef ben Matityahu. But we don't want to know how, we need to knowwhy.

The message remains clear and relevant to this day. We need not worry about external threats. When it comes down to it, we need not fear at all. What we need to worry about is ourselves and how we relate to one another. If we really want to bring peace upon ourselves, we can do it.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and an easy fast next week.

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