In Chapter 4 we meet Kain and Hevel. We are told in a cryptic sentence 4:3 “and it was the end of days and Kain brought the fruits of the ground as a gift to gd.”
What does the “end of days” mean. The torah is just beginning and we are already at end of days? According to Rabbi Allen Schwartz of OZ who spoke today that “the end of days” refers to discussion between the brothers . They were discussing existential topics, such as meaning of life, purpose of existence, what is important etc. Pursuant to that discussion, Kain on his own brings a gift to gd and does not invite or have Hevel join him. Hevel in turn brings a gift, and does not bother to point out to Kain that his gift is sub par. He lets him go wrong on the gift.
Where did they collectively go wrong that leads to murder? The SD would like to chime in. After this deep and heavy conversation about the meaning of life, they both concluded to do a ritual-bring a gift. They did not think of brotherhood, charity, chesed or the real things that the world needs. They focused on the ritual, and on top of that excluded the other or let the other fail at it.
The simple truth is that ritual is only real or spiritual if it inspires better behavior. Once cannot do ritual in a vacuum. Prayer and bringing sacrifices only has meaning in the context of good deeds towards others. During this conversation the brothers clearly missed the point of what is important in life.
The Shikkerdovid is struggling with Eruvin. It is hard. It theoretical. The The Talmud is discussing moving and carrying from you domain to the next. In 67B, it brings up a scenario of a rock sitting in the middle of the ocean. If the rock is larger that 4 x 10 amos one cannot carry from the rock into the ocean. Frankly, the whole thing was beyond me.
But all of a sudden, it brought back a great memory. When the SD was 22 years , he went with 5 other “not too bright” friends down to the Bahamas-Nassau. The whole junket was 4 nights for $285.00. That included flight from Miami to Nassau, ground transporation to the hotel and three nights. Five guys in one room-the place was the ultimate flea bag. I think they also had hourly rates.
One day we were walking along the beach and a guy with a strong “island accent” and a old boat that smelled from oil and fish approached us. He told us he knew a spot in the middle of the ocean with great snorkling. He said we should give him $20 and he would take us out. Stupidly we gave him the money and he drove us about one mile off shore to a rock about 40 feet wide and and 10 feet long about 4 feet above the water line. He dumped us off and drove away.
After an hour of sitting on the rock and snorkling with our plastic masks and snorkels, it started to rain. it got cold We were all wet and started to wonder if they guy was ever coming back. Someone said, “Why did we pay him up front? He is never coming to get us.” The rock grew slippery and colder. How stupid was that.
Finally, the guy showed after another half hour smiling and asking us if we saw the coral and the stuff around the rock. He seemed nice and had no intention of leaving us on the rock, but stupid us for being so trusting and naive.
I had not thought about that rock for years. Until yesterday when the Talmud discussed the rock in the ocean and carrying into the sea. I owe the Talmud for digging up a beautiful memory.
In the wind up of Moses’ long oration at the end of the Torah before his death there is a cryptic verse: “And Isreal Shall dwell in safety alone, blessings of Yakov, corn and oil,the heavens will drip dew.”
Why alone? Seforno says quoting the Book of Joshua that Israel will vanquish its enemies and there will be no more war. Ohr Hachaim says that Gd will direct Israel to destroy enemies and will leave them free and secure -alone without enemies.
Rashi has a whole radical different read. Rashi says each and every person shall be secure that he will be able to spread out and be alone by himself under a a vine and a date tree. and not necessary to gather to fight enemies. Where does Rashi get that this is talking about an individual? The Pasuk clearly refers to Israel. Furthermore, what is all this imagery of living alone under the vine and the date tree?
The SD has been racking his mind over this pasuk all day. How is alone good? Alone seems antithetical to everything Jewish. How can we feel secure alone? As we speak Jews in Crown Heights are defying the police to be in crowds to celebrate the holiday of Succos, or to go to a wedding, or to pray together. How is alone good?
Maybe there is a time for everything- including being alone. Alone is so hard. Alone is not what we have been taught. A person is rarely alone in Torah Judaism.
But why the vine and date tree? This simchas torah, there will be no dancing with a torah in a packed circle, no kiddush, no candy for the kids. We will be sitting under them, not sharing them.
Roads are a metaphor for progress through life or going through life. Looking to Robert Frost and his poem the “road less traveled” and on the heels of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur the daf gives some beautiful life lessons using “roads” as metaphors. Rabbi Joshua tells us three short stories, two of which includes lessons from roads. The most insightful is when Rabbi Joshua is crossing a field, a young girl tells him that he is crossing a private field. Rabbi Joshua corrects her and says, look there is path through it implying it is public. The girl responds: the path was made by other “robbers.” He took the musar and says the girl bested him.
The insight: we often look at other people and say: “well they do ….so it must be okay. It must be acceptable. It is wrong, but everyone does it. ” The lesson is that wrong is not acceptable. No matter who does it and however many people do it. The lesson after Rosh Hashana is that we should be strong in our beliefs, our convictions and our behavior that we don’t follow others; we follow the right path. Whatever other people do is their business. We should be strong enough in ourselves to do the right thing, despite thinking we have sanction from others.
Postscript to this thought. Robert Frost wrote another poem, that ends so beautifully and I think carries a deeper message for this time of year:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have miles to go before I sleep Miles to go before I sleep.
The message is that life is full of beautiful things and distractions, but we should never lose sight of where we are heading, our destination, our mission.
The Shikkerdovid’s all time favorite pasuk is the taken from the Rebukes. (It should have been the name of a rock group in the early 60’s). The pasuk says: In the morning you shall say, give me the evening and the evening you shall say, give me the morning as the because of the fear in your heart. I believe the expression “being happy in the moment” is an outgrowth of this pasuk.
Rashi says this refers to growing fear and distress which will make you wish for earlier times. He quotes the Talmud in Sota. The mishna states “Rabbi Gamliel that says since the destruction of the Temple there is no day without a curse.” The Talmud interprets this to mean that every day will feel progressively worse.
The SD would like to weigh in. There are people in the world that despite all the gifts, pleasures, and benefits they have are never happy. Whatever they have, wherever they are, whatever they are doing.. they simply want something else. They cannot be happy “in them moment”. As this pasuk infers, in the morning these people think they will be happier in the evening.
The curse is that despite all you have, you cannot appreciate it or enjoy it. Wherever you are, or whatever time it is, you long for something else. As Rabban Gamliel says in the Mishna, since the destruction of the Temple, there is no day without a curse means that without a spiritual center or nexus, we can never be fully satisfied, understand or appreciate the gifts gd gave us.
The ultimate curse to humanity is never being happy or satisifed “in the moment.”
Parsha Ki Tetzi opens with, when you go to your war with your enemy and you see a beautiful captive woman, and you desire her and you take her. You bring her to your house, cut her nails, have her cry for her mother and father. After a month, you can take her.
The Ramban asks the Jewish question: “What if she is ugly”. The Ramban says the key is that you have to desire her. In your eyes. Even further, he notes that you cannot take her for your father or brother. She is yours if you desire her.
How strange. Does this not contradict all tenets of the Torah. The tenet of virtue, morality, not taking advantage, overcoming your inclination?
The SD would like to comment. Whether or not she is pretty. YOU desire her. If you truly desire her, Torah gives you a process to manage your desires. But it has to be yours, you cannot cheapen her life by passing her on to someone else. In essence, the Torah recognizes the baser part of our humanity. We love and want what we want, pretty or not. We want it. The Torah, gives us a mechanism to control it and reign it in.
As Jews we sometimes think that we “own” Hashem. That we are his chosen people and that somehow he values us higher than others. This always bothered the SD. Since Hashem runs and rules the world, he also controls , rules and watches over the Hindus sitting along the Ganges, the buddhist in the cold of the Himayalas and the Italians eating great pasta along the canal of Venice.
Eruvin 19a tells us that Gehinnom (hell) has seven names. Gehinnom itself is the the “low place” where people who fall because of the weaknesses. The Talmud tells of three opening or places to enter Gehinnom. One place is in Jerusalem, another is in the ocean and another in the desert. The Talmud then asks, What about Gan Eden? Where are the places to enter Gan Eden. The Talmud answers that there are three places. 1. Beit Shaan in Israel 2. Arvavia 3. Between the 2 rivers (Euphrates)
The SD would like to use this as a proof that all people, regardless if they put on Tfillin, eat cholent, sit in a succa have a connection to Hashem. The world has multiple openings to Gan Eden, the same way there are multiple entering to Gehinnom.
Hashem rules all creatures.. whether they eat cholent or not.
Sometimes you get the feeling that the Talmud has something on its mind it wants to explore. Page 152 of Shabbos is about old age and references from Ecclesiates and Rabbinic statements about aging. Near the bottom of the page, Reb Yitzchak quotes Ecclesiatsts which states: ” All things in childhood are and youth are vanity” According to Reb Yitzchak it means the “things he does in his youth blacken his face”
This immediately reminded me of all the rock stars from 50-60 years ago. In their youth they were sleek, muscular, with flowing hair and great complexions. Think of Mick Jagger, James Taylor and the list goes on. These guys lived hard. They played hard. Think of all the drugs, late nights, wild parties. But when we see them now…. its a little scary. The faces are sunken, ashen or bloated and disfigured. The Rabbis must have been to a Dead Concert of the Talmudic times when they composed this page.
The Talmud has a discussion whether one can wrap or wear felt to bring out of the house into a public area. Rav allows and Shmuel prohibits. The Talmud then retracts that attribution that Rav prohibited. The Talmud brings a story that Rav was in a town and was about to give a class outside and they brought him a felt pad to sit on. He refused the pad and everyone assumed it was because he did not permit carrying a felt pad into a public domain. His answer is precious: Rav did not sit because two other Rabbis- Rav Kahana and Rav Assi were present and they did not sit. Out of respect for them he did not sit on the felt pad.
What a beautiful story. The beautiful part is that halacha was a springboard to demonstrate a concept of respect, admirations and sensitivity. All things which are the whole point of halacha to being with.
Parsha Devarim starts in the first sentence with veiled criticism of the past behavior of Israel mentioning the places where they failed. Rashi says he places mentioned are references to the sins such as the golden calf, the sin of bal peor etc.
R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner-the Ishbitzher Rav who was made famous by the teachings of Shlomo Carlebach turns this on its head. The Isbitzer remarks on the sentence: ‘the Arava plains, opposite Suf”
The locations are mentioned, not the sin is because the text is telling you that the sins were avoidable. By connecting the place to the sin, the reader should understand that the people of israel could not avoid the sin, as there was nowhere else to go.
This is classic antinomian thought(against Torah law). Free will is a pillar of Jewish thought. Free will makes us empowered as humans. Frankly, The SD always thought free will on the part of a human was presumptuous and arrogant.
People like to think we have free will, the will to avoid mistakes or bad behavior. This idea by the Izbitzer turns it on its head. By referencing “the place”, rather than the sin, the Torah is telling you that on your journey in life, mistakes, sins and failures are inevitable.