Friday, August 20, 2010

"And you see among the captives... "

"And you see among the captives... "
(Deuteronomy 21:11)
Elul 10, 5770/August 19, 2010

This week's Torah reading opens with a scenario of war, in the case of the captured woman, and it concludes similarly with a scenario of war, this time the generations-old war of Amalek against the children of Israel. The closing verses concerning Amalek begin with the exhortation, "You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt..." (ibid 24:17) and end with the unequivocal commandment, "You shall not forget!" (ibid 24:19) What message connects these two theaters of war, and how does it impact on our Elul preparations for the upcoming days of Awe?
As we have learned from our previous run-in with Amalek, in Exodus 17: 8-16, his particular WMD, (weapon of mass destruction), is his ability to penetrate our hearts with doubt and despair. In fact, even the name Amalek, in Hebrew, shares the numerical value of the Hebrew word for doubt, safek. And with what sophisticated mechanism does he release his deadly payload? Again, Torah subtly reveals this as well: "You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way..." (Deuteronomy 24:17) The Hebrew for "did to you on the way" is karcha baderech. The word karcha can be understood in two ways. Literally it means "happened," meaning, by coincidence, without rhyme or reason, no rationale or justification. And this leads us to the second meaning of karcha, which is,"and you grew cold." In other words, Torah is teaching us, the illusion of the very purposeless of it all, that Amalek is spreading like a trap, leaves us bewildered and shaken in our belief, leaving us cooler and more distant from the central Torah message of purpose and meaning in this world.
This is the very battle that is being waged against Israel today, by land, by sea, and via the air waves, twenty-four hours a day. The battle to undermine, unnerve, delegitimize and cast doubt in our eyes, blinding us to our Torah mission to declare the unity of G-d and spread the light of His truth to the four corners of the world. This is the common thread that ties the Goldstone commission to the flotilla invasion, the rockets being fired from Gaza to the bullets being fired from Lebanon. It is all in the name of Amalek, in the name of snuffing out the light of G-d in the world by hijacking justice and hurling invective against G-d's chosen ones.
Ki Teitzei begins with the story of the warrior, victorious in battle, who sees and desires a captive woman. Torah lays out a series of steps designed to cool the warrior's ardor and test the purity of his intentions. The great commentator Rashi understands this to be the Torah's way of putting a check on man's understandable but nevertheless problematic confrontation with his baser instincts. After all, this is an Amalek attack, even after the heat of battle has subsided, for who but Amalek has cast doubt before our warrior, causing him to temporarily forget and not remember His covenant with G-d. The Torah's "remedy" is a prescription designed to ease him back into G-d's moral imperative, thereby robbing Amalek of a victory.
The saintly commentator, the Ohr HaChaim, views the incident of the captive woman in a very different light. As he teaches, our warrior is a very righteous man, as witnessed by the fact that he is risking life and soul for the performance of a perilous and dangerous commandment, defending his people and G-d's land against the enemy. In the intense heat of battle he doesn't forget his purpose, but, on the contrary, his unparalleled focus on fulfilling the commandment has bestowed upon him a heightened consciousness. In his elevated state, the beauty that he perceives and desires within the captive woman is the holiness possessed within her soul. There is no happenstance here, no wavering of the spirit, tottering between good and evil impulses. By successfully vanquishing the doubt and despair of Amalek he has revealed the purpose of all that G-d has set out before him, and Torah's prescription for him is again, a cooling off period, but this time to test whether he can live up to his own greatest potential, and remain forever certain of the captive woman's holiness, and of the sanctity of his attachment to her.
Two very different interpretations, but each one comes to express the same truth: We must remember, and never forget our purpose as human beings created in the image of G-d. We must remember and never forget that our presence on this earth has meaning. Every day of our lives we are engaged in a battle to maintain our own sense of self worth. Whenever we turn on the TV, go to the mall, open up the newspaper, or tune into the evening news we are being relentlessly shelled with a message that we have got nothing to win and nothing to lose, there is no sense in trying. Amalek whispers in our ear, and lays in wait outside our door. In this Elul month of stocktaking and introspection, of girding ourselves spiritually for the upcoming year, we must make it our job to vanquish the Amalek from within and the Amalek from without. We can begin this task by reexamining and rededicating ourselves to a purposeful life, leaving no room for doubt, granting no quarter to uncertainty.

Temple TalkTune in to this week's Temple Talk as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven along with special guest, the famed Egyptologist, film maker, author of "Riddle of the Exodus," and noted Noahide, Jim Long, engage in a lively discussion on the universal dimensions of Elul and the ramifications of the "King in the Field" for the whole world.
As the rumblings of war dominate the news in Israel and the shofar-blasts of Elul herald the war against the Evil Inclination, this week's Torah portion of Ki Tetzei begins and ends with the concept of war: From the scenario of the "captive woman" to the attack of Amalek. What's the connection between the beginning and the end? What's Amalek's secret weapon, and how can Elul neutralize it? Tune in to this week's Temple Talk for answers!

Where Are You?This week features the new Bat Melech video teaching with Rabbanit Rena Richman, entitled, "Where Are You?: Elul is a month that demands to be lived in every sense of the word. This is the month for recalibrating our souls, for being accountable to ourselves, and for becoming viable reflections of G-d's presence in the world." Click here to view.

Who Bears Our BurdenToday also features the new Light to the Nations teaching by Rabbi Chaim Richman, entitled, "Who Bears Our Burden: We have been bestowed with the ability to change. Whatever burden we have created for ourselves, it will not crush us if we only remember that G-d helps us to shoulder our responsibilities the moment we determine to take steps toward realizing our true potential as His children." Click here to view.

Parashat Hashavua"For you go out to war against your enemies, and HaShem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hands..." (Deut. 21:10) Some wars are guaranteed victories, while others, ("If you go to war in your land against an adversary that oppresses you..." Numbers 10:9) threaten to be unmitigated disasters. What basic military doctrines is Torah teaching us, and what basic attributes of love for the land and faith in G-d are required of our leaders? Click here to view Rabbi Richman's short teaching on parashat Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19).

Blessings from the holy city of Jerusalem,
  Yitzchak Reuven
  The Temple Institute

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