Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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27 Ellul 5760 - September 27, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
A Period in Time Viewed in the Mirror of the Torah

by L. Jungerman

In a letter to a disciple, Maran HaGaon R' Elchonon Wassermann Hy'd wrote: It is very worthwhile to gather all the holy writings and sayings from Chazal and the sources in Chumash, like Parshiyos Nitzovim and Ha'azinu, and to organize and register them just according to their obvious meaning, and then afterwards to review them in the light of historical events of the present day to see how they were fulfilled, indeed, to the letter. Anyone thus examining the text will find that he is gazing into an enlightening looking glass (aspaklaria mei'ira).

In a compilation of his essays, R' Elchonon quotes the following: "Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations. Ask your father and he will recount it to you, your elders and they will tell you" (Ha'azinu). He points to these verses as specific instructions for all generations. Whatever takes place in the world has a reason, and we must study the events to learn from them, just like a chapter in the Torah. This is based on the rule, "For throughout the earth are His laws." All current events are an edict of Hashem which emanates from the Torah. If so, then just as we must study and delve into the Torah in order to understand it, we are also bound to examine all of the events that take place in the world in the light of the laws of the Torah and to discover their causes and roots. Binu shenos dor vodor.

This study and quest is also included in the exhortation of the following posuk: "Ask your father and he will recount it to you, your elders and they will tell you."

One cannot make sense of a period in history by just studying the facts, just as one cannot fathom a subject in Torah without guidelines. In Torah one must resort to the rishonim and acharonim, commentaries that explain each topic with insight.

Similarly, puny man cannot fathom divine intellect. In order to understand the reasons governing earthly events, we must refer back to the commentaries: "our fathers and our elders, who will tell us." They will relay the message underlying the happening, for only they can interpret it correctly through their wisdom and experience.

HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l expands on this thought in Emes LeYaakov. He quotes the words of the gemora in Bovo Basra which states that Megillas Rus was written by Shmuel Hanovi.

He explains: The content of Megillas Rus is composed of two parts. The first describes the actual events as they occurred, while the second part interprets these events. They place a finger, so to speak, upon the reason behind them.

The Megilla does not go into the details of every single stage and scene, of what led to what. But the fact that the events are presented in a certain order which combine to form a single puzzle composed of various events, and the fact that they create a sequence and correlation between all of the components is, in and of itself, a clear commentary. Rashi and the commentaries offer their explanations based on the midroshim, intertwining all the details into a tightly woven fabric, showing how they determined the final outcome of all the isolated events that make up this Megilla.

In this same manner, says R' Yaakov, in order to explain the events that make up a period in history that spans many years, one needs to be a prophet. Only a prophet can join the signs and scattered events so that they become a single tapestry in his able hands. This is why it took a Shmuel Hanovi to write this work. A simple man is not permitted to postulate his own commentary on history or current events. One must "consider the years of many generations." How? By "asking your father, who will relate it to you, your elders, and they will tell you."

R' Elchonon himself, in his essays, serves as one of the great commentators of this topic, as he learned it from the holy mouth of the Chofetz Chaim. He reviews the entire length of Parshas Ha'azinu and focuses on the events of an eternal nation marching through the pages of history. He bases his commentary upon the motif of the ancients who taught that the song of Ha'azinu encompasses all of Jewish history in a nutshell, from its genesis to the final redemption.

"When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance; when He separated the sons of Adam. He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Yisrael. For Hashem's portion is His people; Yaakov is the lot of His inheritance (Ha'azinu)." In these verses, says R' Elchonon, the Torah provided us with a mighty key to know the axis upon which the providence of the world revolves. This is the Jewish people. For it is self-understood that all the creatures on this world are here to do Hashem's will. And of all creations, the choice, the select one, is Yisroel. They are Hashem's portion in this world.

Therefore, whatever happens anywhere on the globe is connected to Yisroel and is for their sake. An earthquake in Honolulu affects Yisroel; it is for their sake. "I have cut off nations; their pinnacles are desolate. I have made their streets waste so that none passes by, . . . I said: Surely you would fear Me, you would accept correction" (Tzefania 3:6-7). Chazal infer from this that "No disaster comes to the world if not because of Yisroel."

Every local battle and, to be sure, every global war, is followed by geographical changes in borders -- all for the sake of Yisroel. Even before the warring parties sit down to formulate the delineations of their new borders, these have already been signed and sealed by the Heavenly Court. "He establishes the borders of nations -- according to the numbers of Yisroel." Why? "Because His nation is Hashem's portion."

And only the Jewish people are considered His portion, His close possession. Therefore, all conduct of national issues, all manipulation of countries, is for the sake and needs of you, Yisroel. And if your understanding is limited and falls short of grasping what correlation there is between the needs of the Jewish people and the defined borders of islands at the farther end of the world, know that Hashem, Who determines the generations [history] before they come about, knows that those borders will apply to Israel at some time in the present or future.

R' Elchonon writes further: The Torah warns, "Lest there be amongst you a man . . . a root that bears gall and wormwood. And it comes to pass when he hears the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart saying: I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst. Hashem will not spare him" (Devorim- Nitzovim 29:17-19). In previous generations, sinners were ashamed of their deeds and sinned under cover while inventing excuses for their behavior. But now, not only are they not ashamed of their deeds, but they even exult and are proud of them, blatantly and brazenly going against the Torah. [They consider it heroic to "come out of the closet" and openly proclaim and identify their degenerate acts.] All this is even when the sinners have no illusory benefit from their deeds. They have banded together into gangs of freethinkers, hedonists, epicureans, deviants, crass atheists.

The Chofetz Chaim used to say that this is alluded to in Parshas Nitzovim: "For I shall walk in the stubbornness of my heart." [The word used here for stubbornness, shrirus, derives from the root to see, shur.] They base their sins upon false ideologies, what they see fit. They proclaim their degenerate deeds as an ideology. The Torah explains that if a person propounds a system, a shita, a rationale, for transgressing the Torah, Hashem will refuse to forgive him for it is much worse than any other sinner.

These are but a few examples but they show how our Sages look at world history and current or past events. Whoever looks at and contemplates them will find himself gazing upon an enlightening looking glass -- concludes R' Elchonon.

And these words exactly describe his own words, as well.

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