Sunday, October 26, 2014

Week 6 (Book 2): Being Pressed to Perform, Yehoshua and Awe

HAAZINU: Is this how you repay the Lord, you disgraceful, unwise people?! Is He not your Father, your Master? He has made you and established you. (Deuteronomy 32:6)
HAFTARAH: Bands of [those that shall inherit] the nether world have surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me (II Samuel 22:6)
PROPHET: Yehoshua
On Week Six, the second week of Cheshvan, Haazinu’s verse continues the same theme of the previous week: the people’s ungratefulness and disgraceful behavior, after everything that G-d had done for them. This again appears to be a reference to the Flood, when people showed enormous ungratefulness, and seemed to forget that G-d was the Creator.
The Haftarah’s verse also continues the same theme of the previous week, speaking of being being surrounded by the netherworld, and being confronted by the snares of death, like in the times of the Flood.
The quality for this week is awe. After the flood, Noah felt a tremendous awe and fear of G-d, as he saw the entire world be destroyed. Awe is also a feeling inspired by the Temple itself. It is also important to be able to differentiate between awe (Eimah) and fear (Yirah), next week’s quality:
The second quality above, fear ("yirah"), is the more generic term for fear. It is typically used for the fear one has of an immediate threat. The first quality, awe ("aimah"), is typically translated as awe or dread. It implies a low-grade or long-term fear -- of something not as visible or impending. Yirah implies the fear or fright one feels in the presence of danger -- or when going into that job interview. Aimah is the dull but gnawing sense of dread or foreboding one has for a distant yet lurking danger, such as one has when marching into war or, tragically, the citizens of the State of Israel often experience today.
When studying Torah one likewise experiences this same combination of fear and awe. The Machzor Vitri (a commentary on the Siddur (prayerbook) authored by Rabbeinu Simcha of 11th Century France) explains that one feels a more direct fear for his Torah teacher in whose presence he sits, and a more general sense of awe realizing he is ultimately in G-d's presence --and that it is G-d's Torah he must not misunderstand. We may also explain that the sense of awe stems from the realization we are attempting to fathom G-d's infinite wisdom, while the fear is for the more immediate -- that we may not understand what we study or that we allow the Torah's lessons to be neglected and forgotten.[1]
Yirah is a feeling described when Yaakov rested at the place that would later come to be the site of the Temple. After waking from his sleep, the Torah states that Yaakov “was frightened, and he said, ‘How awesome (Norah) is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d, and this is the gate of heaven.’” (Genesis 28:17) Moshe also experienced similar fear when G-d spoke with him at the site of the burning bush, on Mount Horeb (Sinai):
5. And He said, "Do not draw near here. Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy soil."
6. And He said, "I am the G-d of your father, the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac, and the G-d of Jacob." And Moses hid his face because he was afraid [yareh] to look toward G-d. (Exodus 3:5-6)
Right before beginning the conquest of the Land of Israel, Yehoshua, the prophet linked to this week, also has an experience similar to that of his master and teacher, Moshe:
And it was when Joshua was in Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and saw, and, behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand; and Joshua went to him, and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
And he said,“No, but I am the captain of the host of the Lord; I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and prostrated himself, and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”
And the captain of the Lord's host said to Joshua, “Remove your shoe from your feet; for the place upon which you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Yehoshua’s reaction is considerably different than Moshe’s. Yehoshua had this feeling of impending danger, as he was literally about to march into war. Yet, when encountered with the Divine, the Torah does not state that Yehoshua was afraid, like Yaakov and Moshe had been, even though the angel had a sword in his hand. Perhaps this is because Yehoshua’s encounter is not nearly as intense or as surprising as Moshe’s. In Moshe’s encounter, it is G-d Himself that appears to Him at the site of the burning bush, while to Joshua it was the archangel Michael. Moshe’s encounter was prior to the giving of the Torah, and G-d’s first open revelation to a prophet since Yaakov’s times. Yehoshua, being Moshe’s main disciple as well as his successor, was accustomed to Divine revelation.
Perhaps, (on Yehoshuah’s level of course, which is something we cannot even begin to fathom), he still required some additional yirah. The Talmud (Megillah3a; Eruvin 63a) teaches that one of the reasons why the angel in Joshua’s story appeared to him was because Joshua was neglecting Torah study at night, when he was not in active battle. [2] Perhaps that is also why the angel Michael appeared with a sword. The Talmud (Eruvin 63a)[3] also states that previously, Yehoshua was punished severely for asking a halachik question in front of his teacher, Moshe. Elazar is similarly punished for answering in front of Moshe. Perhaps that is why the following prophet is Pinchas and not Elazar. Pinchas did show tremendous fear, and also specifically asked Moshe before killing Zimri.
This week’s levitical city is Gath-Rimmon. Gath-Rimmon means winepress of pomegranites; in Cheshvan we are pressed to do as much as we can to fill ourselves with good deeds (like the pomegranite that is filled with seeds). It is a time of immense personal effort in changing the world for the better.

An important lesson we learn from this week's quality to acquire the Torah is to realize that sometimes it is not enough simply “to go with the flow.” We have to press ourselves – realize that there is so much more we can be accomplishing. This is done in part by focusing a bit more on our of awe of G-d.


Blog Archive