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ב"ה

HOW MUCH DO YOU CARE?

Friday, 18 January, 2019 - 9:00 am

We do not care how much you know until we know how much you care.

The opening of our portion Beshalach related how Pharaoh had a change of heart right after he let the Jewish people go. "He said to the Children of Israel: They are lost in the land, the desert closed in on them."

Yonatan ben Uziel was one of the 80 sages who studied under Hillel the Elder during the century before the destruction of the Second Temple. He is the author of Targum Yonatan, an Aramaic translation and elucidation of the Torah, and a book of Kabbalah known as Megadnim. The Talmud describes his holiness by saying that when he studied Torah, any bird that flew over him was “burnt up.”

The Targum Yonatan interprets the verse literally. Pharaoh was actually addressing Jews. But which Jews?

There were two Jews, Dathan, and Aviram, who remained in Egypt. They refused to leave. Pharaoh spoke to them, reassuring them that the Jews are lost, stranded, and stuck in the desert. Their choice to flee the country was an ill-conceived one. Who were these two Jews who chose to remain in Egypt?

We know quite a lot about them. The Bible reports four incidents about them, sufficient material to capture the nature of their relationship to the Jewish people and to Moses.

Incident No. 1, at the beginning of Shemot.

"Moses saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

"He went out on the second day, and behold, two Hebrew men were quarreling, and he said to the wicked one, 'Why are you going to strike your friend?' And the man retorted, 'Who made you a man, a prince, and a judge over us? Do you plan to slay me as you have slain the Egyptian?' Moses became frightened and said, 'Indeed, the matter has become known!'

Who was the two Hebrew's quarreling with each other? The Talmud and the Midrash explain they were none-other than Dathan and Aviram.

Incident No. 2 occurs shortly after the Exodus when the heavenly Manna begins falling daily in the desert to nourish the wandering Jews in this week’s portion:

"Moses said 'Let no one leave over any of it until morning.' But some men did not obey Moses and left over some of it until morning, and it bred worms and became putrid. Moses became angry with them."

Who were these men that betrayed Moses' instruction? The Midrash deduces from the wording, that it was Dathan and Aviram.

Incident No. 3 occurs one year later when the spies returned from the Holy Land and dissuaded their brethren from the motivation and willingness to conquer and settle the Land of Israel:

"The people wept that night. All the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the entire community said to them: 'If only we had died in the land of Egypt… Why is G-d bringing us to this Land to die by the sword?'

"And one man said to his brother, 'Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!"

Who exactly was this man who spoke these words to his brother? Here again, tradition teaches that it was a conversation between Dathan and Aviram.

Incident No. 4 tells the dramatic, tragic story of the Korach mutiny. Four individuals -- Korach, Dathan, Abiram, and On -- lead a mass mutiny against Moses, and his brother Aaron, the High Priest…

"Then Moses sent word to summon Dathan and Aviram," the Bible records. "But they said, 'We won't come! Clearly, Dathan and Aviram won't surrender. They are determined, together with Korach, to overthrow Moses and Aaron. Dathan and Aviram not only rejected Moses' plea that they come to see him but even went so far as to call him a killer.

These four incidents paint a fairly accurate picture of Dathan and Aviram's characters. They were determined to undermine Moses and his authority.

Is it then a surprise that they refused to leave Egypt? Even after observing the ten plagues, they decided to remain with Pharaoh. They did not believe in the promise of Moses that the Jews had a bright future as an independent people under G-d.

Yet here is where the story becomes mind staggering. If they chose to stay in Egypt, how do we discover them journeying with the Jews in the desert – complaining about the manna, revolting with Korach?

The answer is plain if absurd. They must have tagged along with Pharaoh when he went to pursue the Jews by the sea. And when the sea split, they too were spared. They too crossed along with the Jews and got to the other side safe and sound.

This is absurd. These two fellows who were absolute atheists, it seems, fighting Moses and G-d at every step of the way, choosing to remain in Egypt, are saved with their brethren.

Why? They have linked their fate and destiny to Egypt, not to the Hebrews. Why were they spared at the red sea while all of the Egyptians drowned?

What is more, the Midrash teaches that many Jews who did not want to leave Egypt died during the three days of darkness. Yet Dathan and Aviram who also did not want to leave remained intact. Why?

It was Rabbi Diskin, who offered an amazing answer.

In 1878, Rabbi Diskin left his rabbinical position in Brisk and moved to the Holy Land, where he became recognized as the leading Rabininic figure for the Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem. The persecution and disease from which the Jews of the Holy Land suffered moved Rabbi Diskin to open a home for orphans in the Old City, after bringing needy children into his own home. 

The answer he gives is this. After Moses demands for the first time from Pharaoh to let the people go, the king decided to increase the burden and torture. He stops providing the straw for the Jewish slaves to form bricks. They must gather the straw themselves and still deliver the identical quote of bricks daily. The Jewish police, chosen to oversee the labor, did not have the heart to force the Jews to do the impossible. So the police were beaten by the Egyptian officers who were in charge of them. 

The Egyptian slave state had a hierarchy. Pharaoh assigned the job of enslaving the Jews to Egyptian taskmasters. The taskmasters identified Jewish policemen and forced these policemen to make the Jewish slaves produce their quota of work. The taskmasters beat the policemen and the policemen beat the Jewish slaves.

Who were these Jewish policemen who met Moses and Aaron and blamed THEM for all of the evil Pharaoh was doing to them? Who were the Jews who let their anger out on Moses rather than on the king?

Our Rabbis explained: It is a reference to Dathan and Aviram, about whom it is said: “came out and stood upright” The same good old Dathan and Aviram—they were part of the Jewish police force.

At last, a picture unfolds. Dathan and Aviram may have been atheists, who would revolt against Moses, Aaron, and G-d. Yet, they were beaten protecting other Jews!

This merit caused their lives to be spared during the days of Darkness and to be saved by the sea. A person who accepts suffering on himself to save the suffering of a fellow Jew has infinite merit -- neither the Red Sea nor the Angel of Death can touch him.

Rabbi S. Z. Auerbach once shared a story:

The Baruch Taam, Rabbi Boruch Frankel  (1760–1828) was a well-known rabbi in Galicia. He once arranged for the marriage of his son to the daughter of a very wealthy family. The families got together some months before the wedding to talk about the details of the marriage. The mother of the bride saw that the great Rabbi was distressed. She went to him privately and asked him what he was so distressed about. "Is there anything wrong with the shidduch?" she wanted to know. The Great Rabbi told her that he was upset because the "water carrier" in the city was very sick.

The Rabbi felt great empathy for the water carrier, who was sick and could not enjoy the engagement party of his own son.

The mother of the bride told the Rabbi, "Get over it! What does that have to do with you? Don't let this sickness spoil what should be a happy day for you!" He is just a water carrier, and he is not even related to you.

The Rabbi came out of the room and announced that the engagement was off. "Anyone who could not empathize with the suffering of another Jew is not the type of family I want my son to marry into, regardless of how much money they have." If one is not seriously bothered by the fact that someone else is hurting, one lacks the sensitivity required of a caring member of the Jewish people.

Dathan and Aviram were perhaps sworn atheists and had many flaws and sins. But they cared for their people! They did not sit in an ivory tower, as some other Jews in Egypt who became buddies with the Egyptians. They took beatings for their brothers. They were in the trenches! And G-d never forgot that. Hence their lives were spared and they joined their brethren in their voyage to freedom.

This past Wednesday, Jan 16, 10 Shevat, was the 69th yartzeit of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1880-1950). He was famed for his undiscriminating love and concern for all Jews.

Thursday, Jan 17, 11 Shevat, is also the day when his son-in-law, the Rebbe assumed leadership of the Chabad movement, in 1951. I wish to share with you a story of the Rebbe that so captures the above message.

A Head of a yeshiva in Jerusalem visited the Rebbe in 1975. During their meeting, the Rebbe urged him to get more involved in influencing others outside of his own community—of reaching out to care and help all types of Jews.

As the conversation got more intense and involved, the Rebbe finally turned to him and said:

I have a question. Which is the most important limb after the brain?

--“The heart,” he said.

And which is the more important side in Judaism? Right or left?

For sure the right, he said. The right is associated with more love, closeness, and vigor.

So, asked the Rebbe, why is the heart on the left side of the body?

The head of the yeshiva remains silent.

I will tell you the answer, said the Rebbe. The heart is really to the right, not to the left.

You see, the heart of a person is made to feel, to connect, for another Jew. My heart was given to me to feel your pain, your needs, and your concerns. My heart is here for you. And from your vantage point, my heart is on your right!…

My heart is not only about me. It is also about you—and from your perspective, it is on the right!

This sums up so much of the Rebbe’s life, perspective, and mandate to each of us. Do not shut your eyes to the pain of your people. Do not turn a deaf ear to the cry of a child, of a teenager, of a man, woman or child who can use your love, your help, your gesture, your wisdom, your kindness. Even Dathan and Aviram were spared because they CARED. And they took a beating for their fellow Jews.

For the Rebbe, the worst thing was not to care. He could not fathom the notion of not caring.

Because if you have a heart, it was meant to care, to reach out, to do something, for our people, for our homeland, for our world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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