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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Devarim

Parshat Devarim

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Devarim/ Tisha B'av                                                          Print Version
9th of Av, 5778 | July 21, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein 
The Candle and Kayak

It was the long-anticipated ninetieth birthday of the king. As the beloved leader of a large country, he decided to invite every citizen from near and far to participate in the festive and elaborate celebration. As news spread about the great festivity, men, women and children lined up outside the king’s ornate ballroom, their excitement peeked and curiosity sparked at the grand time they were about to have. One by one, they entered inside and took a seat at the elegantly arranged table. What most acutely attracted all eyes, though, was the magnificent chandelier overhanging above, which cast a shine to all corners of the room.

Before each guest stepped foot inside the majestic ballroom, however, they were handed a candle and a box of matches. It appeared to be a souvenir in gratitude of attendance, but it meant little to nearly everyone. Why would a little candle and matchbox be of use inside a brightly lit room? And if it were meant to be a take-home gift, why was it given at the beginning of the event and not the end? Word circulated about the candle and matches, though rather quickly died down after no rhyme or reason could be attributed to them.

As all the guests piled into the room and oriented themselves, soft, harmonious music played in the background. It was a delightful scene, full of men and women and children in between, all shining with happy faces. Chit-chat continued being heard around until…the chandelier lights went out and the room turned pitch black. Smiles turned into frowns and elated cheering accompanied by toasts turned into jarring distress. Chaos broke loose, with everyone turning to each other for instructions as what to do. But then, all of a sudden, a booming voice was heard. It was the king. The room quickly fell into a hush.

“There is no need to panic,” the king said softly and comfortingly. “Take the candle out of your pocket, strike the match, and light the candle.” Amidst the pandemonium, just about everyone had forgotten about what was in their pocket. Moments later, the whole room was filled with light, even more than had been provided before by the chandelier.

With no more darkness in the room, the king continued, “One day, I am no longer go to be here. My time will come to leave this world and pass on. When that happens, though, the worst reaction this country can have will be to become panicked and frightened. Instead, each and every one of you must personally contribute to the prosperity of us all. Each of you ought to light your own candle, which will cast away the darkness. The chandelier will have gone out, but your candle will take its place, and in fact provide even more light and benefit to yourselves, your families and your country.”

As we find ourselves today amidst the exile and at the footsteps of another Tisha B’av, we must remember that even though the chandelier is out and we grope in great darkness, if everyone of us would just light our own candle, we would together cast away the night of exile and usher in the morning of redemption. Our collective light and strength which forms from our individual candles possesses all the potential we need.

But, to continue with the analogy, what is the match from which we can light our own candle? What is it which will enable us to help bring the redemption that much closer?

For one man, a unique relationship was shared with each of his three children. With the eldest, he had little to do. Little communication existed and not much was done to bridge the gap. The middle son shared a closer relationship with his father, though mediocre at most. The youngest son, though, was very close to his father and took extraordinary care of him.

Living life on an island for the father and his children had always gone well. Except now, as the father was getting on in years, he advised his children to head to the mainland where he had stored away a treasure trove. “The child who gets there first,” he told them, “will be the one to keep all that it contains.” Calling over his eldest son, he placed his hand on his shoulder and said, “Son, I prepared a boat for you to get to the mainland. If you arrive there first, you will be entitled to all of my treasures.”

The son was delightedly surprised, only wondering what type of boat his father had prepared for him. “I have never been good to my father. I wish I would have…” Heading down to the seashore, he noticed a large and gorgeous yacht docked. It was a marvelous yacht, the perfect venue for large parties with friends. “Wow Dad!” the son exclaimed. “If only I would have treated my father better… I wonder what my younger brothers will get…” And with that, the son boarded the yacht and began sailing.

Bringing close his second son, the father repeated the same message as he did to his older son, after which he pointed to the sailboat awaiting. The son gasped in astonishment seeing what his father provided him for free, and kindly thanked him for his largess. Yet he could not help but wonder what his younger brother would receive.

Alas, the youngest brother approached his father, a smile extending across his face. Upon hearing the message regarding the treasure trove, the son returned his father a big hug and appreciative thank you. The youngest son proceeded to make his way to the seashore, anticipating a beautiful boat arranged to carry him to the mainland. Yet he was startled to see a simple kayak with one seat. “My two brothers have first-class boats and I have a tiny boat with a little paddle?” he wondered. But he didn’t question his father and instead settled himself inside and began to row.

His brothers could not help but laugh at the sore predicament of their younger brother, who was supposedly the most beloved to their father. “This is what our father gave him?” they both cackled. “We are so much better off!” The excoriating heat only caused the youngest brother to break out in a profuse sweat and form blisters on his hands, as his other brothers circled around and caused waves to capsize his little kayak again and again.

The youngest brother was at a loss to understand why he was given the weakest and worst of all boats. “Father, why did you do this to me? You gave my eldest brother a gorgeous yacht and my other brother a fantastic sailboat, and to me you gave a mere kayak?” But the youngest brother loved his father and could not part ways with the certainty that he meant well and had his best interests in mind. And so, despite the travails experienced, he continued rowing and rowing.

The next morning, as the youngest brother awoke sprawled out on the kayak, he heard cries reminiscent of a familiar sound. Rubbing his eyes, he looked up and saw his eldest brother just feet away, motioning for help. “Could you do me a favor? I didn’t realize, but there was only a small amount of gas left in the tank and we ran out. Would I be able to join you in going to the mainland?” “I wish I could help you,” replied the youngest brother, “but there is only room for one.”

The youngest brother continued along, until he came across another familiar face. “Help!” came the frantic call. It was the other brother with the sailboat. “I’m stuck!” he cried out. “There is no wind and I can’t move anywhere! Can I join you?”

And then, finally, the youngest brother understood. His father was indeed wise and gave him the best boat of them all. And that was because it was powered by none other than himself. Not gas, not wind, but himself. With that being the case, no matter the circumstances he would find himself, he would have the tools to be successful and make it to his destination. The other boats may have looked much bigger and the brothers much happier, but that wouldn’t last long. What would meet the greatest success was his own little kayak.

And so, if you ever wonder, what is the match which will light up our candle? It is ourselves. It is we who power forward and paddle on and on, despite our broken spirits and painful blisters, that will herald the final redemption. Hashem has provided us the means to achieve – the “candle and the kayak”; all we are asked to do is strike the match and push ahead with our paddle. For when we do so, we will surely one day reach the mainland of Jerusalem and find awaiting us the most precious treasure of all, the Third Beis Hamikdash.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn 
A Walking, Talking Sanctuary

As the legendary story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza cited in the Gemara (Gittin 55b-56a) goes, after being evicted from the grand party he was mistakenly invited to, Bar Kamtza reported back to the Caesar that the Jews were rebelling. In the interest of substantiating such a claim, Bar Kamtza devised the plan of having a sacrifice be sent to the Beis Hamikdash and see if it would be accepted by the Jews to be offered. The Caesar gave his authorization, though Bar Kamtza schemed to frame the Jews. Discreetly blemishing the calf’s upper lip, or as some say the white of its eye, he then presented it as a sacrifice coming from none other than the Caesar himself.

But there was one problem. Bar Kamtza blemished the animal in a place which deemed the animal unfit and invalid as a sacrifice for Jews, but not for non-Jews. The dilemma thus arose as to whether it should or should not be offered for the sake of peace with the Roman government. With a heavy discussion ensuing among the sages, it was eventually decided not to offer the animal. But such a decision led to a demoralizing effect. Word got back to the Caesar of what had resulted from his offering, infuriating him and setting into motion what would eventually lead to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

While the Gemara details this sad and calamitous episode in Jewish history, one particularly noteworthy point is that which Bar Kamtza did to the animal. He blemished it specifically in the lip, or as others say, the eye. What significance is there to this fact the Gemara shares with us?

It is a simple yet profound lesson. As the Gemara words it, a so-called “flaw in the eyes and lips of a Jew is a blemish” and leaves rippling effects. We must be cognizant of what we allow ourselves to look at and how we view other people. Is everything we see appropriate and do we try our best to have a good eye and judge others favorably? Or do we sometimes say things that are hurtful or insulting? Our eyes and lips can be vehicles for holiness and uplifting other people, or G-d forbid, just the opposite. For us as Jews, these matters are not mere trivialities, but rather bona fide indications of who we are individually and collectively.

During the month of Tammuz 1809, Napoleon surrounded the city of Pressburg, Hungary, with cannons ready to fire any minute. Many Jews stood to lose their lives and remained paralyzed with fear. But at that pivotal moment, the Chasam Sofer, preeminent leader of the city, offered words of wisdom and encouragement. As recorded (Derashos Chasam Sofer, Vol. 2, 8th Day of Tammuz), all Jewish residents of Pressburg gathered together, whereupon the Chasam Sofer remarked:

“Ever since we have become a nation, the gentiles have been shooting devastating arrows at us. Now, Napoleon is before us. If we wish to avoid the piercing strike of his arrows so they not hurt us, we must ensure that foremost our own arrows do not hurt anyone. It is middah k’negged middah, measure for measure. Our words are akin to arrows, as the Pasuk says, “Their tongue is like a drawn arrow, speaking deceit; with his mouth one speaks peace with his fellow, but inside of him he lays ambush” (Yirmiyah 9:7-8). If we are careful not to hurt anyone with our arrows of speech, their arrows of man-made material will not hurt us.”

Our lips are so ever-powerful, as are our eyes. But there is more. The Malbim commenting on latter phrase of the Pasuk, “And they shall make for me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell within them” (Vayikra 25:8) explains that we are to make a Beis Hamikdash within the chambers of our heart. Each of us is a walking, talking sanctuary wherein Hashem resides. In fact, notes the Malbim, our bodies are structured similar to the Mishkan. Our brain parallels the Aron Kodesh (Ark) which housed the Luchos. Our intellectual minds are filled with Torah wisdom and knowledge as was the Aron. Our hearts as well. It is an organ which we cannot exist without, akin to the Lechem HaPanim (twelve Showbreads) which symbolized the life sustaining offering brought before Hashem. Likewise, our stomach which consumes food parallels the Mizbeach, which consumed the sacrifices as they were offered.

If we would all understand that we are a walking Aron, Lechem HaPanim and Mizbeach, just imagine how different our lives would be. We would be changed people and lead more elevated lives. With our minds, eyes, and lips, we would be more cognizant of what we thought, what we saw and what we said; with our hearts, we would be more compassionate and sensitive towards others; and with our stomachs, we would adopt higher levels of kashrus and be more scrupulous in food-related laws and practices. We would ultimately make ourselves into holier human beings who house Hashem’s presence within our very own body and soul. It is through this that we will merit the rebuilding of the Third Beis Hamikdash, for we will have proven that we are doing no less than leading lives filled with G-d’s presence embedded within every part and parcel of our lives.

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