Category Archives: Netziv

Gentle Strength

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/chukat-gentle-strength/

Netziv Numbers: Chukat

Gentle Strength

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.”  -Eric Hoffer

“Rotund” was the simplest way to describe the smiling, mild mannered professor who lectured us regarding ancient Near East archeology. However, what belied that gentle exterior was a martial arts master who could pulverize bricks with a single blow. During one particularly disruptive class the professor warned in a deceptively mild tone, which I remember decades later: “Don’t confuse niceness with weakness.” The class immediately quieted down.

Ancient enemies of Israel did confuse politeness with feebleness. Moses and the Israelites asked permission of the nations in their path in the desert to pass peacefully through their territory on their way to the Promised Land. According to the Netziv on Numbers 21:1, these nations assumed that Israel was nicely asking for permission because they didn’t have the strength to pass by force of arms. The nations saw such politeness as a sign of weakness and marched to war upon the presumably feeble Israel. What ensued was a massacre. Israel completely destroyed the entire armies and leadership of the two attacking kings of Sichon and Og and conquered their entire territory in a swift decisive victory that caused the entire region to tremble in fear of the approaching Israelites.

May our enemies learn to fear us and may we show strength to people who don’t understand gentleness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Israel’s army and security forces. May God protect them during their search for our sons: Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.

Too Holy

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/korach-too-holy/

Netziv Numbers: Korach

Too Holy 

“Fanatical religion driven to a certain point is almost as bad as none at all, but not quite.” -Will Rogers

My Talmud instructor (Rebbe) at Yeshiva University (YU), Rabbi Shimon Romm of blessed memory, had a lasting impact on me. Since his childhood he was considered a Torah prodigy. He was an alumnus of the famed Mir Yeshiva that escaped the Nazis and ended up for a time in Shanghai. After Shanghai, he spent a number of years in Israel and subsequently moved to New York. At YU he was one of the only Rabbis that gave his classes in Hebrew. He had a photographic memory and a sharp sense of humor.

A line I heard from him often was “don’t be too religious”. He was particularly acerbic against the growing movement of Jews who continually sought greater levels of strictures in the name of religion. In that sense, he mirrored the thoughts of the Netziv on the episode of Korach and his supporters.

In this week’s Torah reading, two hundred and fifty men of ostensibly high religious standing join Korach’s desert rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Korach and his supporters are killed by very clear divine intervention, with the two hundred and fifty men being burned by divine fire when they bring incense as part of their effort to reach an even higher level than what they were at.

The Netziv warns in Numbers 16:1 that an attempt to reach too high in ones holiness can actually lead a person to go against basic commandments that God does demand we perform. It becomes ironic that a person seeking to become holier ends up failing in basic principles. The Netziv claims that though the person may get some credit for good intentions, they are nonetheless punished by God for their wrong-headed, holier-than-thou, anti-Torah acts.

As something else that Rabbi Romm would say: “Be a mentsch (well-behaved man) before trying to be a tzaddik (a holy man).”

May we aim for high levels of holiness, without forgetting the more fundamental commandments that are the basis of good, proper human relationships.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

 

Dedication

To the safe and speedy return of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.

Mazal Tov to our Akiva on his graduation from high school.

Coward’s Failure

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shelach-cowards-failure/

Netziv Numbers: Shelach

Coward’s Failure

“He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.”  -Napoleon Bonaparte

Experience shows a direct correlation between courage and success on one hand and fear and failure on the other. That is not to say that fear is not normal or doesn’t have its place, but it certainly worsens the odds of any victory.

Shortly before what was meant to be the historic and divinely-assisted conquest of the Promised Land, Moses sends twelve princes of Israel, a representative of each tribe, to spy out the land of Canaan, Ten weak-hearted amongst them see giants in the land and are terror-stricken.

When these spies return to Moses and the Jewish people to report the results of their mission, they make a curious remark: “We were in our eyes as grasshoppers and so we were in their eyes.”

As poorly as they thought of themselves, that is how the fearful spies appeared in the eyes of their enemies. Their fear became their reality and redefined them, not only in their own perception, but in the perception of the world. The Netziv on Numbers 13:33 explains that with fear it is impossible to win. So while the spies’ attitude was unfortunate and led to the punishment of forty years of wandering, in a sense they were correct that the young Jewish nation could not win. Their fear insured that there was no chance they would conquer the land in their time.

May we overcome our fears, take courage and experience victory.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the athletic warriors competing in the World Cup. Good luck!

 

The Final Battle

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/behaalotcha-the-final-battle/

Netziv Numbers: Behaalotcha

 The Final Battle

 “Men are at war with each other because each man is at war with himself.” -Francis Meehan

Armed conflict has been a part of history since the birth of brothers. Any differences, be it of ideology, territory or possessions has too often led to war between peoples and groups. When cursing the people of Israel for disobedience, God declares that the Jewish people will lose their wars, as we witnessed 2,000 years ago and before.

However, when God blesses the Jewish nation, He promises that they will win their battles. But there is another statement – they need not fear future battles.

The Netziv on Numbers 10:9 explains that this can only be referring to the final battle at the prophesied “end of days”, known in Hebrew as the battle of Gog u’Magog. That will be the battle to end all battles and will usher in an era of everlasting peace. But the Netziv expands that this final battle will only end when people resolve the conflicts within their own beings and specifically when they believe in and accept God in their lives.

May we find ways to resolve our internal battles and be spared the travails of the external ones.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our son, Eitan, on his acceptance to the Israeli Navy. We hope he will spend more time fishing than fighting. 

Nearby Exile

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/naso-nearby-exile/

Netziv Numbers: Naso

Nearby Exile

“Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family; but to a solitary and an exile, his friends are everything.” -Willa Cather

Solitary confinement is known as one of the harshest punishments prisoners are given. There is something in being alone for too long that is of greater anguish than physical pain. However, being alone is not only a function of physical separation. There is a social exclusion that can be just as damaging, if not more so, than being the sole occupant of a cell.

For a person that became ritually impure during the sojourn of the tribes of Israel in the desert, the prescription was a temporary exile from the camp. The Netziv on Numbers 5:4 warns however, that when the unfortunate person was exiled, they needed to make sure they did not stray too far away.

The simplest reason is for physical protection. Being outside, yet in close proximity to the camp, afforded some shelter from external forces that may seek to harm the isolated member of the group. For an outsider, from a distance, it would be hard to distinguish the exiled from the tribe.

However, there is a more practical reason. Remaining close, even while in exile, makes it easier to return.

May we keep ourselves and those we have exiled from our lives within reach of the core of our tribe.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

 

Dedication

To Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay, for a wonderful and meaningful visit to his old community.

 

 

Overqualified

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/bamidbar-overqualified/

Netziv Numbers: Bamidbar

Overqualified

“Few men during their lifetime come anywhere near exhausting the resources dwelling within them. There are deep wells of strength that are never used.” -Richard E. Byrd

The beginning of the Book of Numbers reintroduces us to Aaron the High Priest and to his sons. His two eldest, Nadav and Avihu, we are reminded, died while bringing the unauthorized “strange” fire during the consecration of the Tabernacle, where they were immediately struck by divine fire.

Aaron’s two remaining sons, Elazar and Itamar, are introduced with an unusual phraseology, “and they served as priests, Elazar and Itamar, over the face of Aaron their father.”

The Netziv on the verse (Numbers 3:4) explains that by mentioning Elazar and Itamar in this fashion, the Torah is telling us that in fact, these two sons were already at a high enough level of sanctity and devotion that they were each worthy of serving as High Priest. However, Elazar needs to wait almost forty years to take over his father’s role and we have no account of Itamar, the youngest son, ever filling that prestigious position, even though he was qualified. Instead, we see Itamar having secondary managerial roles in the Tabernacle, always in the shadow of his illustrious father and his more honored older brother – though Itamar is not any less qualified for the important tasks.

Each person has hidden strengths, talents and potential that their current circumstances don’t give them the freedom to develop or use. That does not diminish the individual, nor are they free to ignore such attributes. One must seek where they can best use their strengths for the tasks at hand.

May we have opportunities to use as much of our potential as possible.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the upcoming Hebrew Studies teachers of Integral whom I’ve had the great privilege of teaching. May they fulfill their teaching potential and pass on our heritage to many students.

 

 

 

Self-punishment

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/behukotai-self-punishment/

Netziv Leviticus: Behukotai

Self-punishment

“A human being fashions his consequences as surely as he fashions his goods or his dwelling. Nothing that he says, thinks or does is without consequences.” -Norman Cousins

The Torah is as harsh with its punishments as it is generous with its rewards. Some people, while happy to receive rewards for good acts, believe it unjust for us to be punished for going against the directives of God.

The Netziv on Leviticus 26:3 explains that God’s list of punishments shouldn’t be seen as capricious intervention on His part against those who ignore Him. Rather it is a list of warnings, much like a doctor’s health warning, that if a person chooses to follow an unhealthy path, then the inevitable consequence is the pain and suffering that will ensue.

The “punishments” then are not necessarily some special response on God’s part, but rather it is the natural result of the actions we take. God is merely warning us to avoid such paths in order to be spared from the resultant outcome.

So for our own selfish interest and self-preservation, there may be some wisdom in following God’s directives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

 

Dedication

To the good Rabbis of Buenos Aires for such a warm welcome.