Baruch Hashem, Rav Moshe Weinberger has reviewed this write-up of his drasha from this Shabbos, Parshas Ki Seitze. Rav Weinberger gave an expanded version of this drasha at YU last week at the Sichas Mussar, which is available here, where it is entitled "Noseh Ba'ol Im Chaveiro." See here for past write-ups. Also, thousands of Rav Weinberger's shiurim are available online here. You can also go to YUTorah.org's website to hear Rav Weinberger's shiurim as mashgiach/mashpia at YU or click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. My son suggested (credit where it is due!) that if you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.
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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Ki Seitze 5774
The Empathy of Elul
Elul and the Root of Yibum
We are in the midst of our efforts to prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur throughout the month of Elul. Our sages have found a number of allusions to the month of Elul in the Torah, including in the mitzva of yibum, levirate marriage, in which one brother marries the widow of his childless, deceased brother. In this week’s parsha, the Torah tells us that the purpose of the surviving brother’s yibum marriage is that “the firstborn son who will be born [of the yibum relationship] will uphold the name of his brother, and his name will not be erased from the Jewish people” (Devarim 25:6).
This is made even clearer the first time this mitzva is mentioned in the Torah, when Yehuda instructed his son Onan to marry his brother Er’s widow Tamar (Bereishis 38:8). Yehuda told him, “Come to [marry] the wife of your brother and perform yibum with her to establish progeny for your brother.” Establishing a Jewish person’s name and legacy among the Jewish people is really what we are celebrating at every joyous occasion, whether it is an engagement, marriage, birth, bris, or bar or bas mitzva. But Onan did not want to participate in that. The pasuk says about Onan (ibid. 9), “And Onan knew that the children would not be his [לא לו]…” Our sages see in the words “לא לו, not his,” as an allusion to the month of Elul (אלול), which shares the same letters. But what is the connection between the month of Elul and the mitzva of yibum, and, more particularly, Onan’s desire not to do a mitzva to uphold his deceased brother’s name in the Jewish people?
During Elul, there is a custom to study the sefer Tomer Devorah by Rav Moshe Cordovero, zt”l, the “Ramak.” Tomer Devorah explains we can work to emulate G-d’s thirteen attributes of mercy which we read at Tashlich on Rosh Hashana, and by doing so, draw down a manifestation of those attributes from Above. The fourth attribute is “The remnant [שארית] of His inheritance.” The Ramak points out that the word “שארית, remnant” is connected to the word “שאר, blood relative.” The Ramak writes:
The Holy One Blessed is He conducts Himself with the Jewish people in the following way: He says, “How will I act with the Jewish people when they are my relatives, I have a blood relationship with them?” They are G-d’s match and He calls them “My daughter,” “My sister,” and “My mother.” As Chazal explain, the pasuk “Yisroel, nation which is his relative,” means that He is literally a relative with them and they are His children. That is what “The remnant [שארית] of His inheritance” means, which is an expression of a blood relationship. In the end, they are His inheritance. That is why the pasuk says “If I punish them, it will hurt Me…”
The Ramak continues that the pasuk in Yeshaya 63:9 is written one way, but read differently. It is read, “In all of their pain, it pained Him [לו צר],” but it is written “לא צר, it did not trouble Him.” Hashem feels our pain because we are so close to Him. This pasuk also alludes to the month of Elul because the two ways of reading the pasuk (לא/לו) are the same as the letters that spell Elul (אלול).
The Ramak then continues by explaining what this attribute of G-d’s means for us: “This is how a person must conduct himself with his friend. All Jews are blood relatives to one another because all souls are part of one totality. Each one has a portion in the other… This is why all Jews are responsible for one another, because each one contains part of everyone else within him.
The fact that Hashem considers us “blood relatives,” as it were, His “empathy” for us is the root of our ability to rejoice in each other’s simchahs and cry for each other’s suffering. That is why, whenever a Jew suffers, even one who is far from being a tzadik, Hashem says (Sanhedrin 46a), “My head hurts, My arm hurts.” We are so intimately connected to Hashem, that He considers us part of his “body,” so to speak. We all know the story that Reb Areye Levin, zt”l, told the doctor, “My wife’s foot is hurting us.” The real trick is living with the consciousness that this is not simply a beautiful idea or a nice slogan. The fact that we are intimately connected to our Father Above, and, by extension, other Jews, is a reality that must inform the way we relate to Hashem and other Jews.
Empathy and the Foundation of the Exodus
Rav Yosef Albo, zt”l, in his Sefer Haikarim (2:14), explains that G-d feels “pain” when we suffer. He took the Jewish people out of Egypt using this trait when He said (Shmos 3:7-8), “I have surely seen the suffering of my nation which is in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of their slave drivers, for I know their pains and I descended to save them from the hands of Egypt…”
Rav Elyah Lopian, zt”l, as recorded in the sefer Lev Eliyahu (Vol. 1, p. 98), teaches that Hashem wanted to infuse this ability to empathize and identify with others into the DNA of our nation. He therefore redeemed us with that trait. Hashem even chose a redeemer who possessed that quality. The first thing Moshe did when he grew up was to exhibit this ultimate marker of maturity and responsibility, as the pasuk (Shmos 2:11) says, “Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and saw their burdens…” Rashi explains that this means “he directed his eyes and his heart to be pained for them.”
And the Jewish officers the Egyptians used as enforcers over the Jewish slaves exhibited this remarkable trait as well. The pasuk says that after Pharaoh increased the Jewish people’s workload by forcing them to collect their own straw (Shmos 5:14), “And the officers of the Jewish people who Pharaoh’s taskmasters had appointed over them were beaten…” According to the Midrash (Shmos Raba 5), “They sacrificed themselves for the Jewish people and they endured beatings in order to lighten their [the Jewish people’s] load.” Hundreds of them were killed because they did whatever they could to lighten their brothers’ burdens.
Because these Jewish officers could not live a life of relative ease while their fellow Jews suffered, they awakened the attribute of “The remnant [שארית] of His inheritance” Above. By caring about their brothers’ pain, they brought down Hashem’s mercy, and, consequently, the redemption itself. That is why Hashem first revealed Himself to Moshe in a burning bush, which Rashi explains (Shmos 3:2) was meant to convey “I am with them in their pain.” Hashem said (Rashi on ibid. at 7), “I set My heart to contemplate and to know their pain and I did not cover my eyes, nor did I conceal My ears from their cries.”
When Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali were kidnapped over two months ago, was there any Jew anywhere in the world who did not hope and pray for them and their parents during those eighteen days during which their fate was unknown? During the past two months of war in Eretz Yisroel, when thousands of rockets were fired at Jews all over Eretz Yisroel and terrorists emerged from tunnels by kibbutzim and towns, was there anyone who did not feel that their brothers and sisters, their own flesh and blood, were in danger? Perhaps one rectification that came about through these harrowing times was some healing from the hatred that became particularly vicious these past two years between the chareidi and non-chareidi communities in Eretz Yisroel. We were reminded that regardless of our differences, we are brothers, flesh and blood.
The mitzva of yibum in this week’s parsha, whereby a brother does the selfless act of bringing Jewish souls in the world not for his own sake, but to uphold his childless brother’s name among the Jewish people, reminds us not to be like Onan, who felt “the children would not be his [לא לו] …” Rather, Hashem calls on us to recognize that not only are we His “flesh and blood,” so to speak, but that the Jewish people are literally one corpus. We must turn around the letters “לא לו” to spell “אלול, Elul,” by rejoicing in other Jews’ successes, mourning for their tragedies, and not turning a blind eye to their needs.
Rav Chaim Volozhiner z”l’s son, in his introduction to Nefesh Hachaim, said in Rav Chaim’s name that he repeatedly reminded his children that the purpose of their lives is to do good things for other people. We do not live for own sake. Rather, we live for other Jews’ sake.
Rav Kook, zt”l, teaches about a person who has internalized this attitude as follows (Oros Hakodesh 30):
There are those who sing the song of the nation. A person in that category goes out of the sphere of his own private concerns, which he finds to be insufficiently broad, in which idealism does not dwell. He longs for mighty heights and cleaves, with a refined love, to the totality of the Jewish people. He sings its songs, feels its pain, delights in its rectification, and delves into the pure, supernal depths of its past and future. He investigates, with love and wisdom, the depths of its inner spiritual heart.
The Chozeh and the Barber
The beauty of a Jew who puts others’ concerns over his own is illustrated by a story told by Reb Shlomo Carlebach, zt”l, about the Chozeh, the Seer, of Lublin: The Chozeh needed a haircut before Yom Tov like anyone else. But everyone knew about the Chozeh’s spiritual sensitivity and were afraid to touch the Chozeh’s head, lest he be unworthy and somehow disturb the Rebbe’s holiness. All of the barbers in Lublin spent several days before each Yom Tov fasting, praying, and doing teshuva in the hopes that whoever the Chozeh chose for his haircut would be worthy enough for the Chozeh to tolerate his haircut.
Just before one particular Yom Tov, the Chozeh’s assistants, as usual, gave notice to the barbers to begin preparing themselves to cut the Rebbe’s hair. When the day arrived, the barbers lined up outside of the Chozeh’s room. The first barber approached the Rebbe’s chair. But when he touched the Rebbe’s head, although the Rebbe did not intend to insult him, he cried out in pain. He quickly left the room, feeling horrible that he had hurt the Rebbe. The other barbers saw how quickly he left, without giving a haircut, and they became even more afraid. The second barber went into the room and the same thing happened. As soon as he touched the Rebbe’s head, the Rebbe screamed out in pain. The process repeated itself until they ran out of barbers. They did not know what to do in order to arrange a haircut for the Rebbe for Yom Tov.
But someone told one of the Rebbe’s assistants that he saw a strange looking Jew on the streets of Lublin, a traveler, who carried a sign around his neck that said, “I’m a barber and a little bit of a doctor.” After discussing the matter among themselves, they concluded that it was worthwhile to at least try to determine whether this Jew could cut the Rebbe’s hair. Perhaps he was an upright person. When they approached the man about cutting the Chozeh’s hair, they asked him whether he would cut the Rebbe’s hair. Once they assured him that it was a paying job, they asked him if he knew whose hair he was about to cut. He said that he did not but that it did not matter. He was capable of cutting anyone’s hair. They told him that they were about to bring him to cut the hair of the Chozeh of Lublin. Unfazed, he answered, “Okay, everyone needs a haircut. So does the rabbi. And I’m a barber. No problem. Please bring me to him.” He entered the Rebbe’s room without any preparation.
The man and the Chozeh looked at one another and the Rebbe saw the barber’s little sign and smiled. It seemed the Chozeh already liked this barber. He took out his old scissors and the Rebbe’s assistants began covering their eyes, not relishing the scream they were about to hear. But when the barber touched the Rebbe’s head, he sighed and said, “A mechaya, a pleasure!” And with every single snip, the Rebbe continued to enjoy himself, repeatedly saying, “a mechaya!” As soon as the haircut was over, the man simply left.
The Rebbe’s assistants followed him, “Sir, sir! Can we ask who you are? Where are you from?” But he simply answered, “You can see on my sign. I am a barber.” Apparently, he did not want to say anything about himself. They formulated a plan, however, to find out more about him. They invited him to a local establishment that served alcoholic beverages. Once he had enjoyed a couple of drinks and they saw that he was in a good mood, they asked him again, “Tell us who you are. When every other barber in Lublin touched the Rebbe’s hair, he screamed out in pain, but when you cut his hair, it was a mechaya. We have never seen anything like that. What is your story?
Even with a couple of drinks, however, he did not want to talk about himself. But they persisted and asked him repeatedly, “Tell us about yourself. Who are you?” Finally, the barber told them that he had done one that that may be able to explain why the Rebbe was able to tolerate his haircut. He stood up, pulled up the back of his shirt, and they saw that his entire back was covered with horrible, disgusting welts. They chassidim recoiled and asked him, “What happened? What is that?” So he told them the following story:
I travel from place to place. I am a barber and a little bit of a doctor. I cut people’s hair and do what I can for them. In one town, I saw some sort of commotion. When I approached, I saw that the non-Jewish authorities were dragging a man away from his family and his wife and children were screaming. I asked someone standing there what happened and they told me that something had been stolen in the town. And as the authorities always did, they blamed the Jews and grabbed the first Yid they found. They were going to take him away and give him 100 lashes for his “crime.” The man was so skinny and small that I realized he would die. He would not be able to survive.
And because I am a little bit of a doctor, I figured that I am healthy and somewhat stronger so that I would probably survive 100 lashes. Also, no one would marry me anyway. I have no wife or children. And even if I am wrong and I die of my injuries, at least I would not leave behind a widow and orphans as this man would. So I walked over to the police and told them, “You have the wrong man. I did it.” I was a strong man and I truly thought I could handle it. But those wicked people beat me with such strength that after ten lashes I was sure that I was going to die. I cried out to Hashem, “You know I am not doing this for myself. I am doing it for this man, his wife, and children. I accepted these lashes only because that man is a Jew and I am a Jew and one must help another Jew. So please Hashem, have mercy and let me not die.”
And I do not know how I survived. Every blow felt harder than the one before. But somehow, I endured one hundred lashes. And that is why I walk with a limp and why my back looks this way. But thank G-d, I am alive.
When the Chozeh saw this Jew, he saw someone who did not turn away from other Jews. This Jew had every reason to run. But he took a beating for another Jew. The Chozeh felt that in the deepest way. His hands and his entire existence were filled with sacrifice for other Jews.
Just like Hashem says “I am with them in their pain,” “My head hurts, my arm hurts,” and calls us His “blood relative, may we also merit to see other Jews in this way. Let us dance at their weddings like the bride and groom are our own children, sisters, or brothers. Let us cry and daven for other Jews’ pain like we ourselves are suffering. And let us not turn away from other Jews when they are in a time of need. And in that merit, may we see the final redemption just like we did in Egypt in the merit of Moshe’s and the Jewish officers’ acts of self-sacrifice for other Jews.
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