Category Archives: Netziv

Unusual Success

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ekev-unusual-success/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Ekev

Unusual Success

“The supernatural is the natural not yet understood.” -Elbert Hubbard

As modern men of science, we are in love with the laws of cause and effect. This is true not only in the physical laws, but also in the social and economic laws. This linear thinking certainly dominates the world of business, where one expects that thorough research, good planning, intelligent decisions, skilled personnel and hard work should ostensibly lead to success.

While all these things are generally prerequisites, we are still witnesses to abysmal failures of well executed and well funded ventures as well as the uncommon successes of businesses that one can only say that extreme “luck” was on their side.

The Netziv on Deuteronomy 7:13 introduces another unusual source of success. According to the Netziv the study of Torah, the daily encounter and familiarization with Jewish law and tradition is an uncommon source of blessings. He states that by learning Torah, God bestows blessings over and above the laws of nature. There is some supernatural power in the study of the Torah that can have an influence beyond the rational.

Let’s take advantage and reach for those supernatural blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Robin Williams. You were an uncommon success who made us laugh. We will miss you.

For a speedy recovery of Jackeline Denise Eliana bat Ana Osnat.

Seeing is Doing

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vaetchanan-seeing-is-doing/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Vaetchanan

Seeing is Doing

“To perceive means to immobilize… we seize, in the act of perception, something which outruns perception itself.” -Henri Bergson

The Observer Effect is a physical phenomenon that posits that the act of observation affects in some fashion whatever is being observed. This has been confused with the related Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which makes different but related claims.

At the end of his life, Moses begs God to allow him to enter the Promised Land and retract the punishment prohibiting him from entering Canaan. God remains adamant, but as some type of consolation grants Moses the privilege of seeing the land of Israel.

The Netziv on 3:27 claims that God granted Moses the ability to “sense” the land with more than just his eyes. That somehow his vision enhanced his other senses and that Moses perceived the land in some fashion as if he were walking on it. Furthermore, Moses’ viewing of the land was so powerful and had such an effect, that it actually ensured that Joshua’s conquest of the land would be successful.

May all those who come to view the land of Israel and walk on it, may all those who come to support its soldiers, merit to see the success, security and safety of all our people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the bereaved families of the fallen soldiers. To the mothers, fathers, wives, fiancées, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. We are with you in your mourning.

Striking While Hot

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/dvarim-striking-while-hot/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Dvarim

Striking While Hot

“There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.” -Niccolo Machiavelli

Millennia ago, perhaps the first technological profession, blacksmithing, taught us to strike iron while it’s hot. If you wait too long, if you wait until the red-hot metal has cooled down, your blows will be ineffective, your effort wasted, your resources spent, your time lost.

On the retelling of the journey of the tribes of Israel from Egypt towards Canaan, there is a curious statement which claims that the Jewish nation was only eleven days away from their destination, if they crossed into Canaan from the south. For a journey that eventually took forty years, it is an unusually short amount of time, making the decades-long trek particularly tragic, especially to an entire generation of soldiers that died in the desert and never merited to see the Promised Land. Furthermore, the direction the Israelite people finally entered Canaan was from the eastern border and not the southern one. So why does the Torah include this ironic and geographically misleading reminder of our wasted opportunity?

The Netziv on Deuteronmy 1:2 explains that at the time of the Exodus, the nations of the world were terrified of Israel. They had all heard of the ten plagues, the parting of the sea and the miraculous and complete destruction of the armed forces of the Egyptian Empire, the mightiest nation on the planet. The countries on the border of Canaan, specifically the nation of Seir on the southern border, would have scattered out of the way to let the Children of Israel cross through their territory. However, forty years later, Israel was no longer feared. Seir stood fearlessly in the path of Israel. Israel had to take the long road. They needed to march all the way around, eastward and northward and then to head back west towards the Jordan River and only then start their long withheld conquest of the land.

May our leadership and our soldiers strike well, strike hard, strike fast, and may all enemies of our people be destroyed quickly and thoroughly.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Captain Roni Kaplan for his own work against the media terrorists, to all our troops and to the entire family of Israel that supports them.

It’s not the journey, it’s the purpose

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/masai-its-not-the-journey-its-the-purpose/

Netziv Numbers: Masai

It’s not the journey, it’s the purpose

There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but only one view.  -Harry Millner

In my mad rush to book a last minute flight to Israel, I had to study multiple itineraries, websites, schedules and jump through too many web hoops. Flights that I finally managed to reserve suddenly changed prices and eventually disappeared altogether. Reservations that were made were then canceled by the airline. Finally, I got a flight which, as of this writing, I hope will still see me through on my journey to the Holy Land.

Netziv on Numbers 33:1 notes that the term “their journeys” is repeated three times at the introduction of the summary of the stops which Israel made since leaving Egypt until they were about to enter Canaan. He explains that each repetition represents a different purpose for the journey, that the purpose defines the journey and each journey or path requires a separate introduction.

The first leg of the Israelite journey was the Exodus from Egypt with a stopover at Mount Sinai to receive the divine revelation of the Torah, with the final purpose of entering the land of Canaan. However, the mission of the spies went awry and doomed the tribes of Israel to wander in the desert for forty years. The wandering was the second leg of their journey. The third and final leg of the journey was the resumption of the initial purpose – to enter the land of Israel.

Sometimes the journey is defined by its purpose, and to fulfill it, you have to reach the destination. The journey itself becomes secondary.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Dani Baruch of Adventour, for helping me with my journey.

After the Foxhole

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/matot-after-the-foxhole/

Netziv Numbers: Matot

After the Foxhole

Vows are made in storms and forgotten in calm weather.” -Thomas Fuller

We understand the concept of there being no atheists in a foxhole, of the rediscovery of God in the midst of danger. However, what is curious is our attitudes once the threat or need has passed. There is an example of a man late for an important meeting, urgently seeking a parking spot. He prays to God: “God, please help me find a spot and I promise I’ll give a thousand dollars to charity.” He keeps looking and prays even more fervently. “God! Help me with a spot and I’ll give two thousand dollars to charity!” Suddenly, a spot opens up. The man parks and then calls out to God: “God, don’t worry about it. I found a spot on my own!”

The instinctive search for God in times of distress seems to be counterbalanced by the just as natural tendency to forget about God once things are on an even keel. The Netziv on 30:2 warns about this phenomena when the Torah discusses the theme of vows. He explains that it is normal to make vows when distressed and just as normal for those earnest, heartfelt vows to slip our minds just moments later.

But God remembers the vow. According to Jewish law, the promises we make are binding. It has the weight and strength of a contract. We are morally obliged to fulfill our word even if it was uttered in a time of crisis. We must beware of oath-breaking.

May we feel free to call out to God in need, be careful with what we say, and have the perception, memory and will to deliver on our promises.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the victims of the AMIA terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires, twenty years ago, this week. And to the continued safety and protection of all those under threat in Israel.

Purposeful Reward

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/pinchas-purposeful-reward/

Netziv Numbers: Pinchas

Purposeful Reward

Each of our acts makes a statement as to our purpose.” -Leo Buscaglia

It is one of the more violently graphic scenes in the Torah. Pinchas, grandson of Aaron the High Priest, takes a spear and in one blow kills a prince of Israel as well as a Moabite princess as they are being publicly intimate. The scene of this gruesome double murder is in front of the otherwise unresponsive leadership of Israel.

This fierce act is credited with stopping a sudden plague that killed 24,000 people in Israel for the sin of illicit relations. In what is perhaps the most surprising and ironic outcome of Pinchas’ vigilantism is that God bestows Pinchas with a “Covenant of Peace” and includes him in the prestigious caste of the Priesthood (to be a Kohen).

The Netziv on Numbers 25:13 explains that Pinchas’ reward is a natural outcome of his act. What Pinchas was in essence doing when he killed the overly affectionate lovers was protecting the Jewish people from a virulent licentiousness that had reached so far and with such fervor that a prince of Israel was ready to perform such an act publicly in front of the leaders of the nation. Pinchas stops the decadence dead in its tracks (literally).

For taking such a principled stand and for being ready to protect the nation of Israel from such immorality Pinchas is rewarded with the charge of continuing to protect the Jewish people. That was the classical task of the Kohen; to educate the nation of Israel as to God’s laws and traditions, to serve as role models of service of God and to thereby protect the Jewish people from the danger and damage of immorality.

May we each have the good fortune of finding our purposes and the reward of being able to fulfill that purpose.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the many and varied protectors of Israel and to our son Eitan who joined their forces this week.

Beware the Curse

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/balak-beware-the-curse/

Netziv Numbers: Balak

Beware the Curse

“An orphan’s curse would drag to hell, a spirit from on high; but oh! more horrible than that, is a curse in a dead man’s eye!” -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

An enemy with a slightly greater understanding of God’s relationship to the Jewish people rises up against us. Balak the King of Moab, fears the Israelite approach to his kingdom. Though Israel merely wants to pass by peacefully and God has ordered Moses not to fight the Moabites, Balak nonetheless hires a powerful man to help with his struggle against Israel.

Balak understands that physical force cannot prevail against the Jewish nation. Therefore, he hires the sorcerer Bilaam, who is reputed to have the power to effectively curse whom he wants. What follows is an ironic, comical and embarrassing tale of Bilaam attempting to curse Israel and in three successive attempts, with God’s direct involvement – blessings come out of Bilaam’s mouth to the great chagrin of Balak.

The Netziv on Numbers 22:11 explains that the plan of this diabolical duo was faulty in its spiritual understanding. The Netziv states that curses only work where there is sin. At that moment in the desert when Bilaam set out to curse Israel, he could not see or find any sin. His attempts to curse would prove ineffective because there was no negative spiritual act for it to take a hold off.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali for whom we mourn deeply.