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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Ki Tavo

Parshat Ki Tavo

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Ki Tavo                                                                                     Print Version
21st of Elul, 5776 | September 1, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Asaf Haimoff 
Me and My Uncle

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי

I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me (Shir HaShirim 6:3)

One of the most well-known allusions embedded within the word Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, is that of the verse, “Ani Le’Dodi V’Dodi Li – I am to my Beloved, and my Beloved is to me” (Shir HaShirim 6:3). As a month of closeness, connection and courtship with Hashem, Elul prepares the way for a deeper relationship to form between us and our beloved Father in Heaven.

But often overlooked is the nuanced implication of the word Dodi. Typically rendered as beloved, we generally attribute the month of Elul to a time wherein we focus on our symbiotic love for Hashem and from Hashem. Yet, dodi has another, very obvious meaning to it in the Hebrew language. Dod also refers to an uncle. Were we to apply this meaning to the above verse, it would be expressing that “I am to my uncle, and my uncle is to me.” What message, if any, is meant to be conveyed with such a phrase? With the word dodused in this context, what other subliminal lesson underlies the relationship in question?

While many relationships in life bring two people close together, perhaps the greatest of them all is that of marriage. A husband and wife share the most personal and intimate matters with one another, the likes of which no one else is privy to. They as well share children together and jointly build a home and family unit. There is nothing any closer or more private than that.

Yet, in an unfortunate event of divorce, the married couple can sever the relationship and break apart the bond. Something that was so close can become so far and estranged. There is no blood relation, and the ties can be untied.

But there is another type of relationship where such severance is impossible. And that is the parent to child relationship between mother and father to son and daughter. No matter the distance they grow from each other, a father or mother remains as such to their children forever. The blood relation remains and nothing can alter it. Family is family.

In this sense, we tell Hashem that we share a relationship with Him that mirrors that of a husband and wife. We are so ever close to Him and our love is limitless. Yet, despite that closeness, it can also end in separation. But not so is a relationship shared by blood relatives. We want that kind of relationship as well, for that can never be broken. What then do we do?

We call our relationship with Hashem an avuncular, or uncle-niece, relationship. We cannot be married as brother or sister blood relatives, for the Torah proscribes such a marital union. What we can share, though, is an uncle to niece relationship. Of the few permitted marriages, an uncle and niece can marry, and that is what we wish to have with Hashem.

In this regard, we can never end our marriage with Hashem. And that is because we are not simply married to each other, where the option is always available to separate at some point. Nor is our relationship simply a blood-related, familial one. Rather, we are in fact both blood-related and married. We are an uncle and niece connected both by blood and marital ties. And such a union can never, ever be broken.

And so, as we enter the month of Elul, we reinstate our unique relationship with Hashem. No matter what we have done or where we are in our lives, we are still married to Hashem in the most connected and intimate of ways. Our relationship is for keeps. All we must do if our marriage has moved to the backburner at any time during the past year is turn up the flame. Because, in truth, it has never gone out and will never go out.

Mrs. Toba Schiffren 
Pinned Down

Carefully reading through Tanach and the words of Chazal, we are left with what appears to be a differing description of two categories of people. Shlomo HaMelech tells us, “For though the righteous one may fall seven times, he will rise” (Mishlei 24:16). On the other hand, our Sages say, “The wicked are full of regret” (see Shevet Mussar, Ch. 25).

As implied by these two phrases, notes Rav Nosson Wachtfogel zt”l, what ultimately differentiates righteous and wicked people is not how they fall and fail, but how they get back up. Both the tzaddik and rasha struggle in life and make mistakes. Part and parcel of the human condition is that errors are made, as Shlomo HaMelech expresses elsewhere, “For there is no man so totally righteous on earth that he always does good and never sins” (Koheles 7:20). No human being is impeccable and completely free of sin.

What does distinguish the tzaddik and rasha from one another is what happens after the sin is done. For the tzaddik, he doesn’t become deterred by his failures, but rather picks himself up, dusts himself off and moves forward with even greater conviction and determination to improve and become better. The rasha, however, feels so beyond help and hopeless that he sees no chance of improvement, but only more deteriorating doom and devastation. His regret continuously festers and leaves him in an everlasting frustrating state of self-loathing and self-pity.

We would be wise to follow the way of the tzaddik. But there is more.

As the Alter of Novardok once walked down the street with his students, he noticed two men who appeared to be pushing each other around. Before long, it became clear that they were street wrestling, aggressively trying to pin each other to the ground. In a moment of insight, the Alter turned to his students and remarked, “Now I understand how the yetzer hara (evil inclination) works. It is just like the two street wrestlers. They are not trying to knock out each other, but pin down each other. The goal is not merely to have the opponent fall, but disable them from getting up. Once one competitor cannot stand back up and stabilize himself, the match is over.

“The yetzer hara functions in the same way. Aside from enticing an individual to sin, its main tactic lies in the little whisper which comes afterwards. ‘You are not going to get any better… Look, you blew it again…’ That little demoralizing voice is what holds us down and out.”

But, we must remember, life is all about challenges and ups and downs. The yetzer hara is a messenger of Hashem to test us, challenge us and make us into bigger and better people. And that is how it will always be. Life is akin to an EKG monitor. As long as we are alive, there will be lines ascending up and descending down. We will fall and be pinned down, challenged to get back on our feet. It will only be over when our heart stops beating and there is a flat line. As long as it is beating, though, expect to fall time and again.

And so, what can we do in the face of such highs and lows? Commit to never getting discouraged when you reach a down point of difficulty and disappointment. Because, never forget, your greatest triumph is not in never falling, but in getting up every time you do.

Rebbetzin Sarah Feldbrand 
Perfect Calibration

You may have heard the question or even asked it yourself some time. Why do things happen in the world as they do? It’s certainly a penetrating and existential question which crosses our mind at various times for various reasons.

As for the answer, there is no one who can provide it except Hashem. Only One who knows all that is going on in the world and can precisely calculate what should happen, who it should happen to, where it should occur and when can answer such a question.

But one thing we can appreciate is that, at times, events happen which send us a wake-up call. They prompt us to think, reflect and probe into our lives and see what we can take away and learn.

Let me give you an example.

During the 1948 War of Independence in Israel, Jordanian missiles hailed overhead towards Jerusalem. In one unfortunate case, one missile fell on a residential building and exploded, causing a fire to break out. All those in the building immediately began panicking, frozen with fear and anxiety.

Just moments later, a second missile hit the building. If the story would stop here, you would probably think it ended in untold tragedy, injuring, if not taking, the lives of those inside. But there is an important piece of the story that was just left out.

Incredibly, the second missile hit the building’s water tank. Water began gushing forth, and within seconds, the fire which began due to the first missile was doused. Now, why did Hashem send the first missile to start a fire only to send the second missile and put it out?

As for the answer, as we said, we cannot know. But what we can do is take a moment and think what we can take away from the experience. “What does Hashem want me to learn? What can I do because of that?” Those few moments of dread experienced by the occupants before the loving hand of Hashem was seen in the fire’s extinguishing was not for naught.

Hashem sends us wake-up calls at times throughout our lives, and it is our job to respond. But we must realize that Hashem first calls us and the phone rings … and rings some more … and some more… In His infinite compassion, G-d waits and waits for us to pick up. Only when we fail to pick up does He leave a message. If the call is picked up and responded to quickly, then the purpose of the call has been accomplished and nothing more is needed. The discomfort is meant to evoke a response, and so long as we respond, the trouble is no longer needed and can disappear. As Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt”l once remarked, “The purpose of prayer is not to get us out of trouble; the purpose of trouble is to get us into prayer.”

Hashem carefully controls the volume of the calls and never gives us beyond what is needed. It is not unnecessary to send a first missile only for a second missile to remove its effects. That was just what was needed for the exact amount of time needed. Most certainly, everything was precisely calibrated. We may not know why, but we can hear the phone ring, pick up and begin thinking how we can change our lives.

Rabbi Label Lam 
Blue Skies, Blue Eyes

We may have been asked some time in our lives, or perhaps even asked ourselves, “How can I experience G-d? How can I know that He exists?” It’s most certainly an important question to ask and an even more important question to answer. But, for a moment, consider the following thought.

Hashem, figuratively, has blue eyes. They are not the exact same blue eyes you or I might have, but they are blue. The blue skies are really the blue eyes of Hashem, and He is observing you from that close. Everything is as clear as day to Him.

It may sound strange, but the sentiment is certainly true. Hashem knows everything that goes on across the globe. Nothing is beyond His sight. The sky spans the entire expanse of the world and views everything at every moment of the day.

But what then happens at night, when the sun sets and the sky becomes pitch black? You wonder again, “Now where is Hashem? Has He closed His eyes?” The answer is exactly to the contrary. The black sky is really the pupil of Hashem’s eyes. It is not that He closed His eyes, but that you are even closer to the center. During the densest and deepest times of darkness, G-d is not only not farther away, but He is that much closer and nearer to us.

And so, whether it be day or night, light or dark, fortunate times or unfortunate times, G-d is always there looking down at us with His big and beautiful eyes. And every day He gives us a shining smile and every night He lights for us a candle. How beloved we are by our dear Father in Heaven.

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