Monday, May 14, 2018

Heads Held High - Rav Moshe Weinberger's Shabbos Drasha on Behar Bechukosai 5778

Below, please find this adaptation of Rav Weinberger's drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Behar-Bechukosai 5778. Rav Weinberger has reviewed this write-up and any corrections are incorporated herein. Enjoy!

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Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Behar-Bechukosai 5778
Heads Held High

If the opportunity arose to speak at the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy in Yerusahalyim on Monday, the below would be my message.

In this week’s parshah, we find a word which is only used once in all of Tanach. The culmination of the blessings in parshas Bechukosai contain the following statement: “I broke the staves of your yoke and led you komemius” (Vayikra 26:13). While the word komemius is based on the root word (קמה) meaning to arise, stand up, or be established, what exactly does it mean here? Let us study three different explanations.

Rashbam offers the simplest explanation: “Yokes of wood are called ‘staves’ [מוטות] because they bend [מטה] and bow the neck of the ox. Komemius is when the yolk is removed and one can straighten up his head.” According to Rashbam, komemius essentially means free or liberated. We were slaves in Egypt. But Hashem led us out toward the land of Israel as free men and women. Along these lines, Onkolus translates the phrase “led you komemius” as “led you with freedom.” Komemius therefore expresses our transition from being slaves, always looking down into the dirt, bent over, bowing down in submission to our human masters to a state of liberation, not subject to the whims of any man.

Rashi offers a second explanation of the word based on the Midrash in Toras Kohanim, “Komemius – with an upright posture.” This connotes more than simple freedom. It implies that when Hashem led us out of Egypt, we had a new attitude – a new state of mind. We felt courage and confidence. Similarly, he explains that when the passuk says, “And the children of Israel went out with an outstretched arm” (Shmos 14:8), it means with “great and public courage.”

While Chazal says, “Anyone who walks with an upright posture pushes away the legs of the Divine Presence (Kiddushin 31a), this is only with respect to an individual. On a national level, Hashem requires us to stand tall and unflinchingly uphold the honor and dignity of our people. As we say repeatedly in davening throughout Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, “And therefore place the glory of Hashem on Your nation.” Desecration of the honor of the Jewish people is a desecration of G-d’s name.

Commenting on the phrase in Birkas HaMazon, “May the Merciful One break the yoke of exile from upon our necks and lead us upright [komemius] into our land,” Rebbe Nosson zy’a, explains in Likutei Halachos (Birkas Hamazon 4:14):

For this verse is stated with respect to Eretz Yisroel, toward which the Jewish people were going. All travels, roads, and paths of the Jewish people were to conquer Eretz Yisroel…. This is what “led you komemius” means – with an upright posture, with brazenness and stubbornness, whereby we stand upright with great obstinance to be victorious in war and thereby come to Eretz Yisroel. This was the primary purpose of leaving Egypt…. It is impossible to enter Eretz Yisroel and to be victorious in this war, which is the primary war a Jewish person must fight, except through extremely great stubbornness, in the way of “led you komemius…” to our land.

But there is a third, and even deeper explanation of the word komemius. That is found in the Sfas Emes’s explanation of the word based on a mysterious Gemara which says, “Komemius means… like the two stories [קומות] of Adam HaRishon [who was two stories tall – i.e., twice the height of a ‘normal’ human being]” (Bava Basra 75a). The Sfas Emes in our parshah explains “The form of Adam was merely garment for the light of the soul of his life that was within him… So too, a Jew’s life has a hidden and a revealed element. By rectifying the revealed portion [through improvement of our character traits, by doing mitzvos, and by studying Torah], one merits the inner side, which is the hidden life of a person. This is komemius [the two stories of a person – the physical side and the deeper, hidden side].”

With this deeper explanation of komemius, we can now understand the source of the confidence, courage, and holy stubbornness that the Jewish people need in order to claim our rightful place in Eretz Yisroel. Where does it come from? How can we not be discouraged and broken by the fact that the whole world hates, condemns, and attempts to degrade us? Where do we find the wherewithal to throw of the yoke of the submissiveness of two thousand years of exile to reclaim our rightful place, standing tall in Hashem’s holy land?

The answer lies in the passuk immediately preceding the one in which Hashem said, “I broke the staves of your yoke and led you komemius.” In it, Hashem tells us, “I will walk among you.” The Infinite One Himself lives within every Jew – within the Jewish nation. Unlike the other nations of the world, we, on a national level, have a “second story.” We are not merely our physical bodies. We are not merely intelligent beasts. While the rest of the world cannot tolerate this idea, it animates us and gives us the ability to stand up tall in the face of the millions and billions of people who hate and want to destroy us.

Last week, with the announcement that the United States was pulling out of the “Iran Deal,” Hashem was giving us a wink and a smile. It was obvious to anyone with eyes in their head that this deal was a horrible mistake. When the President of the United States broke the news to the world, England, France, and Germany expressed dismay. They could not understand why anyone would renege on such a great arrangement. How could the President not trust the Iranian terrorists? While one may not say this in polite company, the real reason these nations supported the Iran deal is because of their hatred of the Jewish people. They hoped, deep inside, that perhaps Iran might potentially be their agent to succeed in finishing the job they started seventy years ago.

We draw the courage to stand up to the world and defend our honor and rightful place in our land because the Torah says, “And all the nations of the earth shall see that the name of Hashem is called upon you and they shall fear you” (Devarim 28:10). Like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, about whom we sing on Lag BaOmer, “‘Let us create man’ was said because of you,” we know that by sanctifying Hashem’s name in Eretz Yisroel, we fulfill the purpose of Hashem’s creation of man. And this gives us confidence to face down the world, as the song continues, “Bar Yochai! You were girded with strength, and in the war of the fiery Torah up to the gate
You pulled a sword from its scabbard, you drew it against your enemies.”

Our place in Eretz Yisroel today is not the product of the fleeting kindness of the nations of the world during the brief period after the Holocaust when, because of their guilt for letting the Nazis slaughter us, that they “allowed” us to have a state simply as refuge for a poor and beleaguered minority. Our sovereignty over the land of Israel and the recognition of Yerushalayim as our eternal capital are not products of the world’s spirit of charity and pity. They are an outgrowth of the fact that we have returned to our home, upright, with confidence, brazenness, courage, and the knowledge that we bear the name of G-d within us.

Over a hundred years ago, even before the Holocaust, when some were already justifying the establishment of a Jewish state as a refuge for the pitiful Jewish people, Rav Kook said, “Do not listen to the voices of those who say that we, the most hated nation, are seeking a secure refuge from our pursuers… Rather, we are a holy nation, the choicest among the nations. ‘Judah is a lion cub’ awaking from its long slumber. And behold, it is returning to its inheritance, to the pride of Yaakov whom [Hashem] loves!”

This is the same Rav Kook who stood up to the British official, Charles Lock, who refused to act to stop the Chevron massacre in 1929. When Mr. Lock extended his hand to Rav Kook in front of the media at a reception shortly afterward, Rav Kook responded angrily, “I do not shake hands with someone whose hands are soaked in Jewish blood.” Rav Kook recognized that we need not bow our heads submissively. Rather, he showed us that Hashem is with us. We therefore return to Eretz Yisroel and to Yerushalayim with our heads held high, knowing that Hashem has returned His children to His land because He lives within and among us.


We therefore celebrate the beginning of the world’s recognition that Eretz Yisroel is our home and that Yerushalayim is the eternal heart of our holy nation – not as grateful serfs charitably thrown a bone – but as proud bearers of Hashem’s name in the world. Just like the degradation of the Jewish people was a degradation of Hashem’s name, the return of the honor of our nation return’s honor and prestige to Hashem’s name in the world. May Hashem cause the complete return of the revelation of His kingdom on earth with the advent of the complete redemption, may it come soon in our days.

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