Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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17 Adar I 5760 - February 23 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Hashem's Battle

by L. Jungerman

The parsha which describes Moshe Rabbeinu's reaction to the making of the eigel is explained in depth in Ha'emeik Dovor by the Netziv of Volozhin zt'l with a message that rings true and sharp.

When the Torah depicts the tableau that was revealed to Moshe, and which evoked his cry of "Mi laShem eilai -- Whoever is for Hashem, rally unto me," it says, "And Moshe saw that the people were in disorder, for Aharon had made them disorderly, to the scandal of their leaders." Moshe Rabbenu took in the scene and analyzed the situation as including two basic failings:

First he saw the people acting wildly, each one pursuing his own evil inclination. Second, he also saw that the leaders of the people tried to protest and prevent them from sinning but here they overcame them. It is generally the rule amongst Jews that they submit to the will of their leaders. Here, however, they argued with Aharon and verily forced him to capitulate despite the fact that he knew they were sinning. Thereby he dealt wildly with komeihem -- with those who normally rise against the people to show them what is true and right.

It was not only a removal of the yoke of propriety and responsibility, says the Netziv, not only a question of each person doing what he desired. It was the total rejection of a higher authority. Instead of submitting to their elders and leaders who protested and sought to restrain them, they reversed the roles and attempted to impose their will upon the leaders. This severe breach demanded an extraordinary reaction, a repercussion not anchored in routine justice.

This was that "Moshe did something extreme and dangerous which he should not have done had he not seen a drastic need for such a measure." Moshe's reaction was unusual in two ways: first, in his commanding the Leviim to kill with their own hands those whom they believed to have worshiped the eigel. Generally, a king who seeks to subjugate a nation and sends his soldiers to surround the country and punish its inhabitants, does not allow the army to kill wantonly, but sends officers to hold a court martial and to investigate the extent of the treason or the offenses on a personal basis. Here, however, Moshe permitted the Leviim to range freely with swords bared to kill.

Second, even if a king decides to allow his soldiers free rein to kill, he will not dispatch a small army to a large, belligerent population which can easily overcome it and wipe it out. He would, rather, send a strong battalion, well armed and trained to quash the rebellion. All Moshe did was command the Leviim, the smallest of the tribes, armed only with swords, to a camp of six hundred thousand able bodied, sensually aroused men. Why? Because the situation called for such a move!

"For he saw that the people was disorderly. He saw that even those who had not yet worshiped the Calf were in a state of unruliness, of savage arousal, having cast off all fear of Heaven and fear of judicial authority. This is already a giant step towards actually practicing idolatry and indulging in any other abomination that lust dictates."

What to do? "It was necessary to do something radical, to slay a large number in one day so as to impose the fear of beis din upon them."

"A similar situation arose in the time of the Tana Shimon ben Shetach. He hanged eighty witches in one day to make a tremendous impact upon the people. The circumstances dictated such a drastic measure."

This was not enough. "Moshe also saw that the people were usurping the authority from their leaders. They would have killed them, had they protested." Here the Netziv declares incisive words that ring out from one end of the world to the other. "Moshe sought to show in this act that those loyal to Hashem have no fear of the rabble, even if they are greatly outnumbered by it. They need not fear it. No one dared touch the Leviim, who risked their lives in obeying Moshe, and they learned the lesson that one does not reject or resist the authority of the people's true leaders. They came to realize that `The name of Hashem is a fortress of strength; the righteous runs into it and is safe' (Mishlei 18:10)."

Upon whom did Moshe Rabbenu impose this mission? To demonstrate the fact that the loyal servants of Hashem do not fear the roused masses? Who was chosen to uphold the authority and fear of the beis din? Moshe did not hesitate. He declared: "Whoever is unto Hashem: rally to me!" Whoever is totally dedicated to Hashem will naturally gravitate and come to me of his own.

The Netziv explains who is included in this declaration: "Mi laShem eilai" does not necessarily refer to one who did not worship idols, for by the eigel, the majority of the people did not actually sin. This clarion call was directed to each person, to whomever knew in his heart that he was totally loyal to Hashem and was prepared to lay down his very life and all of his possessions for the sake of his love for Hashem and His honor. Moshe was unable to endanger the lives of the slayers against such an incensed rabble. However, one who is already on such a level that he has no will of his own outside that of serving Hashem, is, similarly, not afraid of laying down his life for Him. He is fearless. He in unfazed even by a real, imminent threat of a roused mob.

Aside from the light which he sheds upon this stormy chapter, the Netziv also teaches us what are the motives that move the faithful and from where the leaders of our people have drawn the strength to fearlessly fight the battle of Hashem, tooth and nail, for all they were worth, risking their very lives.

Here, then, is the answer to this question. When the very spiritual authority of the nation is in danger, when forces attempt to distort it or to impose their own authority in its stead, then it is necessary to publicly demonstrate the fearlessness of the servants of Hashem, their disregard for their own safety in the face of the masses. The loyal are staunch and stalwart.

Who are those standing in the front lines? Those who knew in their hearts that they are purely and solely for Hashem. They have no separate will of their own. How moving is the conclusion of the Netziv: "When all of Israel shall reach this state and recognize that they are divested of all personal will, they will also project such strength that no one will be able to stand up to them. All will acknowledge that they are like the veritable angels."

Incredible. Those sentenced to death, they and their relatives and colleagues will, in the end, sense the truth and will raise their hands in surrender for they will realize that they cannot tamper with angels.

Thus does one fight the battle of Hashem!

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