Category Archives: Re'eh

Prophetic Frauds

Ohr Hachayim Deuteronomy: Re’eh

Prophetic Frauds

 “The wisest prophets make sure of the event first.” –Horace Walpole

In the summer of 1503, over the course of his fourth and last voyage, Christopher Columbus and his crew found themselves stranded on the island of Jamaica. His ships were damaged by a major storm and no help was forthcoming. After six months of native hospitality, Columbus’ crewmen had overstayed their welcome and the locals refused to provide the Europeans with any more food.

[the rest of this Torah Insight is at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/prophetic-frauds/]

Wear Sunscreen

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Re’eh

Wear Sunscreen

“If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.” Mary Schmich

There is a story of a man who is shown a vision of Hell. It is a roomful of people with their elbows locked straight. They have forks in their outstretched arms and tables brimming over with all the food they would want to eat. But their forks can’t reach their mouths and so they live in eternal torment and hunger, not being able to feed themselves, though surrounded by food.

The room next door is Heaven. The people in Heaven have their elbows equally locked and are also surrounded by food, yet they’re eating merrily. One person feeds his friend. Simple and effective, yet a solution those relegated to Hell can either never think of or bring themselves to do so.

The Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 11:26) quotes a similar interpretation as to the equivalence between Heaven and Hell (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nedarim 8b). According to the Talmud, Heaven and Hell are exactly the same “place” (not even separate rooms). In that common afterlife, the spiritual strength of the sun will be released. The wicked will be burned by it, while the righteous will rejoice in its splendor.

Somehow our actions in this world build a sort of ‘spiritual sunscreen’. Those that develop it will enjoy the spiritual sun of the afterlife. Those that don’t build up such a sunscreen will suffer in the world-to-come.

May we figure out how to get that sunscreen, and put it on.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To conventional sunscreen that lets us enjoy the summer sun (in the northern hemisphere — though the southern hemisphere gets its fair share of the sun even in their winters).

Stone Hunters

Deuteronomy Fiction: Re’eh

Stone Hunters

“You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are driving away worshipped their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars, you shall smash their pillars, and their sacred trees shall you burn in fire, their carved images shall you cut down and you shall obliterate their names from that place.” Deuteronomy 12:2-3

“He (Hezekiah) did what was proper in the eyes of the Lord, just as his forefather David had done. He removed the high places, shattered the pillars, and cut down the Asherah-trees.” Kings II, 18:3-4

Peluf gripped his grey beard as he sat on his stallion of the same color. He waited in the middle of the castle courtyard. His mounted troops entered through the arched stone gate, trotting loudly on the cobblestones, dispelling the early morning mist. The finest horsemen from the Jerusalem province had answered his call. Not his call. The new king’s call. Hezekiah son of Ahaz.

Peluf did not miss King Ahaz. He did not mourn the untimely death. His son, Prince – no, no longer Prince, but King, King Hezekiah was a different breed of man. Hezekiah was more like his grandfather, King Yotham. Both men of God. Hezekiah was untried though. A young man of twenty five years. Young and untried.

Ahaz on the other hand, that link between grandfather and grandson had been unlike either. Ahaz had embraced the local idol worship and dragged many of Israel with him. Peluf himself was ambivalent about idol worship. He was a career soldier – now commander of the King’s cavalry. He did as he was ordered whether he believed in it or not. Distasteful or not. It was usually distasteful.

King Hezekiah had declared himself on a mission. He was a firebrand with bright short red hair and a fiery long beard to match. Less than a month after his father’s death, Hezekiah proclaimed he would rid the land of idols. The veteran soldiers had laughed at the idea. The idols had stood since the days of Solomon son of David. The people, both Israelites and the ancient tribes loved their idols. For over two hundred years idols had graced almost every valley and every mountain of Canaan.

Peluf’s battalion was ready. Hezekiah had insisted on a majority of new recruits. It was clear Hezekiah wanted as many green soldiers as possible. He knew the older soldiers were cynical. Experienced, but still cynical. He hoped the new blood would turn the tide.

Peluf couldn’t recall the last time he had seen such energy amongst the King’s troops. The horses champed at their bits, eager to gallop. Young Hezekiah addressed the mounted battalion.

“We go today to cleanse the land,” Hezekiah declared from atop his white steed. “We must remove ourselves from the worship of these false gods. There is only one true God. And he is not of the handiwork of man. We must destroy the idols – all the idols. There must not remain a shred of their pollution in our land.”

The younger soldiers raptly followed Hezekiah’s words. Some of the older soldiers snickered quietly.

“Men, soldiers of Judeah, grab your swords.” Hezekiah unsheathed his. “Any idol we encounter we must smash, destroy. If anyone gets in our way, we shall rid the world of them and their idols. We have given warning. We have given the blatant worshippers a chance. Any that stand in our way have brought a death sentence on their heads. I wish to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but we shall not allow this evil worship any longer.”

Hezekiah raised his sword and trotted towards the gate and the front of the battalion. Peluf rode to the right of his new lord. “We march!” Hezekiah shouted. A hundred horses and their riders followed Hezekiah, all with raised swords.

The troop quickly reached the Valley of Geihinom. Hundreds of people were assembled in the valley. They were all Judeans. They clustered around dozens of idols spread out through the length of the valley. Thin wooden idols, fat clay idols and a few imposing stone idols stood out. Men, women and children of all ages stood around the idols. They had not believed Hezekiah’s threats.

“People of Judeah,” Hezekiah called to them sword still in hand. “Give up this worship, move away from this abomination or perish with it.”

An old woman, next to the idol closest to Hezekiah called back to him.

“Leave us alone. These are the gods of Israel. We shall die before forsaking them.”

“It is the Law of Moses that you have forsaken. How can you betray him and our God?” Hezekiah called out.

“Moses?” the old woman barked a laugh. “That was hundreds of years ago. What relevance does his Law have to our lives? He was a desert dweller, a nomad from a backwards era. We are sophisticated mountain folk. We need the gods of the mountains. It is you Hezekiah who is the fool. You should have followed in your father’s footsteps. King Ahaz knew the value of our gods.”

Hezekiah charged her and stabbed her through the stomach with his sword. He dismounted and smashed the large clay statue she had been defending. The broken pottery fell into the pool of blood oozing from the dead woman. The cavalry followed suit and attacked people and statues. Most of the people fled, now convinced that Hezekiah would carry through with the destruction. A few of the elderly did not move and stood bravely in front of their idols, protecting their gods. Others hugged the statues to depart this world together with them. Clay statues were smashed, wooden ones burned and stone ones defaced and broken. After a few hours the Valley of Geihinom became a wasteland of broken gods.

Peluf was pleased and impressed. He was pleased that his young soldiers had destroyed the idols efficiently. None of them showed bloodlust. Hezekiah’s orders had been to let the people run away. Only those standing by their false gods were to be struck down and that is what happened.

But he was mostly impressed with the young King. Hezekiah set his mind on this destruction and had thoroughly wiped out the idols in this stronghold of the false gods. The next target would not be so easy.

“To the Pillar of Baal,” Hezekiah shouted to his soldiers. “Let us make haste.”

Hezekiah’s army rode northeast. The green lush hills surrounding Jerusalem gave way to sparser, drier land. They followed the ancient road down towards Jericho. The thorny bushes showed themselves less frequently until they reached the Judean desert. All they could see were rolling, dead yellow hills. In the distance through the summer haze they could glimpse the palm trees around the broken walls of Jericho. To the south they saw the lip of the Sea of Salt, where nothing lived.

A hint of green peaked out from between two mountains. Hezekiah’s troops followed the trail entering a narrow valley. Chalky red sandstone formed a wall to their right and left. In the middle of the Wadi a stream of fresh water trickled through. Thick green vegetation hugged the stream. The troops cantered on either side of the stream raising a thick cloud of dust that filled the Wadi.

“Let us send scouts ahead and above, your Majesty,” Peluf gestured. “We will not take the Pillar as easily as the Valley and this Wadi is too easy to ambush.”

Hezekiah nodded his agreement, eyes looking up and ahead.

Peluf motioned to his captains. Three pairs of soldiers trotted forward. Each twosome had an older soldier paired with a younger one. One pair went further down the Wadi, the other two pairs scrambled up the sides of the Wadi to scout from above. The rest of the cavalry proceeded along the Wadi.

The pair that went down the Wadi returned less than an hour later. The younger soldier was panting, the older one, Shaku, scratched his short beard as they approached Peluf and Hezekiah.

“Report,” Peluf commanded.

“Your majesty, Commander Peluf,” Shaku bowed. “This Wadi spills out into an open plain facing the Pillar. There are perhaps a thousand people standing in front of the Pillar. They have been warned of our approach and the destruction in the Valley. They are prepared for battle.”

“Weapons?” Peluf asked.

“Axes, shovels, pitchforks and some rusty swords. There are a handful of archers too,” Shaku answered.

“Estimation?” Peluf asked.

“Most of them are on foot. We can defeat them, but we would suffer great losses.”

“Your Majesty?” Peluf asked.

“Is there an obvious leader?” Hezekiah asked the soldier.

“Yes, your Majesty. There was a priest of Baal in his white robe riding a horse in front of the crowd, warning them how the Davidic line was a threat to their lives. He is accompanied by armed guards.”

“I see. What do you suggest Peluf?” Hezekiah asked.

“If you still wish to attack, I would hit them with two columns. One straight on and the other hitting them from the west. Never corner your prey. If we can hit them hard and fast enough, perhaps they will flee towards the east. That way we can minimize losses on both sides. If they become desperate or hold fast there will be few people standing at the end, on either side.”

“We may have to risk it,” Hezekiah held on to his long red beard, “but I just had another thought. Let us call for a parley.”

“A parley?” Peluf’s eyebrows shot up. “For what? What will you negotiate? They will never agree to anything.”

“I know,” Hezekiah smiled. “But perhaps a little deception can save much bloodshed. You, I and Shaku shall call for parley. We shall bring the troops to the mouth of the Wadi and then we shall proceed and seek their leader. Shaku, prepare a flag.”

The other pairs of scouts returned and confirmed Shaku’s report. Peluf sent them back to wait for the main force by the mouth of the Wadi. Hezekiah, Peluf and Shaku entered the plain leaving the main force behind them. The threesome trotted slowly. Shaku carried a spear with a white cloth tied to its head.

Past the plain was an imposing cliff face. Sculpted into the cliff was an immense statue standing the height of ten men.  The Pillar of Baal.

Peluf had never seen the Pillar before. An irrational desire to get off his horse and genuflect to the Baal overcame him. He looked at his King. Hezekiah’s face contorted. He seemed angry and fearful and desperate at the same time.  Hezekiah paused for a moment and closed his eyes. When he opened them, Peluf could only see the anger that remained.

The priest of Baal noticed the delegation. He assembled two of his guards and they trotted forward on their horses. The two parties met midway between the large crowd of Baal-worshipers and the mouth of the Wadi.

“King Hezekiah,” the priest sneered. “I expected you to come charging through the Wadi, sword raised high, cutting us down like wheat under the scythe. I received reports of your carnage in Geihinom.”

“I may yet do that,” Hezekiah answered.

“So why do you seek parley?”

“You have assembled a powerful force, Priest. I wish to make my life easier.”

“I can believe that, though do not expect me to cooperate.”

“Do you know the history of the Pillar?” Hezekiah asked.

“The Pillar goes back to antiquity. It is one of the strongest gods. We serve and obey.”

“We are not sure when the Pillar first came into existence,” Hezekiah stated. “But I do know it was refurbished in the day of my ancestor, King Solomon, by one of his wives.”

“See,” the priest pointed at it gleefully, “even wise Solomon approved of the idols.”

“I don’t know what he approved or how wise he was on these matters,” Hezekiah whispered to Peluf.

“There is a secret and a power to the Pillar that has been handed down from father to son, since Solomon’s day,” Hezekiah declared to the priest.

“Is that why you would destroy it?” the priest asked.

“Yes, but not for the reasons you think.”

“Will you tell me the secret?” the priest questioned.

“Let us talk privately,” Hezekiah suggested.

“I shall speak with you only with my guards,” the priest answered.

“As you wish, though you may regret it.” Hezekiah dismounted but motioned to Peluf and Shaku to stay.

Hezekiah walked slowly away from Peluf and Shaku. The priest walked with him. They were surrounded on either side by the priest’s guards.

“Your Majesty,” Peluf called.

“Stay,” Hezekiah answered. “This discussion is not for your ears.”

When they were out of earshot, Hezekiah spoke to the priest earnestly. He pointed at the Pillar. He pointed at the mouth of the Wadi where the concentrated force of his cavalry could be seen. He pointed at the afternoon sun creeping towards the mountains to the west.

The priest’s eyes opened wide. He looked at his guards with distaste. He nodded slowly towards Hezekiah and then, as if realizing his action stop abruptly and stood straight. He excused himself from Hezekiah and walked back to his horse in a barely controlled run. His guards caught up with him, both of them with tight smiles on their faces. The priests and the guards galloped back to the Pillar, with the priest yelling and waving his hands at both guards.

Hezekiah walked calmly to his white horse with a smile on his face.

As he mounted, Peluf asked, “What did you say to them?”

“It’s a secret,” Hezekiah winked at him and turned his horse back to the Wadi. “Now we will see how long it lasts.”

From the mouth of the Wadi they saw the priest and his guards return to the mass of people and dismount. The priest took out a knife and stabbed one of the guards. The guard fell. The priest stabbed repeatedly. The other guard ran yelling towards the base of the Pillar. A crowd followed him. The priest, with blood on his hands, demanded an ax from a nearby farmer and chased the other guard. The entire mass of Baal-worshippers converged on the Pillar. Further away, yet still in the shadow of the Pillar, the dead guard remained alone in a pool of his own blood.

The surviving guard climbed the side of the Pillar with his sword in hand. Others followed. He climbed higher and higher until he reached the top of the Pillar’s head. More people climbed up the Pillar until the statue was covered with bodies like ants encasing an overripe fig just fallen from a tree.

The guard swung his sword and hacked at the sandstone. A piece of stone fell off, knocking a young man off the statue. Baal-worshipers stepped and climbed on the fallen body to get closer to the statue. Axes were swinging and rocks were crumbling. The falling rocks hurled many of the climbers to the ground. Those who remained clamored for space, flinging off neighboring climbers at will. The space was quickly filled by other eager climbers.

“What is happening?” Peluf asked Hezekiah.

“They are seeking gold,” Hezekiah answered.

More bodies piled up at the foot of the Pillar. The head, torso, arms and legs of the statue were no longer recognizable. Dust and rock joined the growing pyramid of carcasses. The hungry Baal-worshipers ate away at the mountain stone like a swarm of locust.

“What gold? I never heard of any gold there,” Peluf turned to Hezekiah.

“It is an ancient secret, handed down from King to King since the time of Solomon,” Hezekiah smirked.

“Truly?” Peluf’s mouth hung open.

”No,” Hezekiah answered. “I made it up. But it is curious that fervent Baal-worshipers would kill themselves and destroy their precious idol for it.”

“You told him there was gold behind the idol?”

“Yes. I revealed to them the ancient secret that one of Solomon’s wives, during the refurbishment of the Pillar, placed half of Solomon’s wealth, gold, silver, diamonds, rubies and endless precious stones behind the Pillar. That is what gave it special power and attraction. I told him I had come to take that wealth. That my troops were here to secure the area and the treasure before my engineers arrived to dig and scrape it out. I offered to share the treasure with him if he made way for us.”

“You lied.” Peluf accused.

“Yes, would you have preferred a frontal attack?”

“No. It was brilliant, my liege.” Peluf bowed low from the seat of his horse. “Should we attack now? We can clean up this mess easily ourselves.”

“No. Let us go home. We have caused enough damage for one day.”

As they departed, Peluf saw more bodies falling. The head of the Pillar was obliterated. In the light of the setting sun, something seemed to shine where the head had been. Peluf kept riding away.

* * * * * *

Staking Eternity

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita Update: He is breathing on his own and is completely off sedation. He is considered conscious, is completely responsive to pain stimulus and somewhat responsive to commands. He is able to open his eyes and follow things and people across the room. The hope is to move him from the hospital to a rehabilitation clinic where we pray for further progress and good developments.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Re’eh

Staking Eternity

There are few things as heinous to the Torah as Idol Worship. We are repeatedly warned away from the worship of strange and foreign gods. The Talmud tells how the sages from more than two millennia ago prayed to God to take away the pervasive and unrelenting desire for this strange worship. God acceded to the demand. The burning desire was removed from humanity. As such we are told we can no longer even imagine the pressure and the passion of that particularly major sin.

I have a theory that we have found many other things we worship and are fanatical about that have taken the place of statues, but that is a topic for another day.

In any case, Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) points out some curious laws relating to idols and specifically to their destruction.

Idols are considered so evil and so corrosive, that the Torah demands they be destroyed completely and one may not gain any benefit whatsoever, whether direct or tangential from the worship or the material of idols.

Man however has the ability to ‘nullify’ the power and the status of an idol. If an idol-worshiper somehow defaces, shows disrespect or in any way demonstrates that the object he formerly worshiped is no longer worthy of such tribute – that act according to Jewish law can remove the status of ‘idol’ from the object.

Hizkuni points out an exception to this rule. Jewish idols.

An idol that is bought, owned, used or somehow attached to a Jew can never be nullified (which is another reason it needs to be destroyed completely). The spiritual energy, the spiritual bond and importance that a Jew gives to an idol has eternal power. Nothing (save destruction) can remove that eternal, spiritual link and the importance and status of the idol.

The sages like to say: “If that is the case for bad, imagine how much more so for good.”

If for the most odious crimes a piece of (bad) eternity is created, then how much more so for doing what’s right. The corollary is that for every good deed, kind word and thoughtful act we create another piece of eternity. It follows that the positive bonds of friendship, of family, of community will last forever.

May it always be so.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To Pinhas Lustig on the occasion of his Bar-Mitzvah. To his parents, family and the wider Lustig and Geller families on this happy occasion. May our eternal bonds only be positive and joyous.

Death by Mediocrity

Death by Mediocrity

“Moderation? It’s mediocrity, fear, and confusion in disguise. It’s the devil’s dilemma. It’s neither doing nor not doing. It’s the wobbling compromise that makes no one happy. Moderation is for the bland, the apologetic, for the fence-sitters of the world afraid to take a stand. It’s for those afraid to laugh or cry, for those afraid to live or die. Moderation…is lukewarm tea, the devil’s own brew.“ Dan Millman, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior

In a world striving for ‘normalcy’ there is a certain comfort in moderation. To fit in, to be part of the crowd, to go with the flow is safe and uncomplicated. To dissent is to ask for trouble. To have a unique opinion or outlook puts you in danger of being ostracized.

However, mediocrity in thought or deed is really the equivalent of a living death.

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno makes a radical claim that people would say is both elitist and genetically untenable: Jews are by nature never mediocre.

The very first line of this week’s reading (Deuteronomy 11:26) boldly states:

“Behold! I place before you today a blessing and a curse.”

The Bible then continues here and elsewhere as to the various and bountiful blessings that occur as a result of following God’s commandments as well as the horrible curses that will befall those that ignore God’s commands.

Sforno comments that the Bible, by exclaiming “Behold!” is purposely bringing our attention to a new realization. Namely, that the conduct of the Jewish people is not like that of the other nations. The rest of the world is content with the middle road, with “sufficient”, “average” or even “mediocre” results. Sforno contends that Jews on the other hand tend to go to extremes – for better or worse.

He claims that when a Jew pursues success, he pursues it beyond the sufficient and strives for the utmost in excellence. Conversely, when a Jew is drawn to sin, rebellion or ungodly pursuits, he will aim for the deepest levels possible.

One doesn’t have to look far for some evidence to this thesis. Jews have a highly disproportional number of extremely successful scientists, philosophers, authors, sages and Noble Prize winners, as well as equally notorious gangsters, scam artists, criminals and revolutionaries. Individual members of the Jewish tribe manage to go to both positive and negative extremes of society. This extremism, this escape from mediocrity, has placed many of them in the limelight of history.

Mediocrity has never been a Jewish value. God asks for and demands extreme excellence from us (in blessed pursuits). May we live up to His expectations.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To my mother.  Not only does she not have a bad bone in her body – she doesn’t have a mediocre one either. Every action, every movement of hers, is in pursuit of excellence. This is perhaps most obvious in her brushstrokes and in the ensuing artistic masterpieces that emerge.

To get a first hand experience of her artwork, you are personally invited to a gala event: The opening night of her first solo exhibition, this coming Thursday night, August 20, at the Jerusalem Theatre. Please see details below. You can visit her website to see a sampling of her paintings at www.niraspitz.com

NiraArtExhibition