This week we begin with big mazel tov wishes to the Oisvorfer’s niece and nephew, Avigail and Moshe Azman upon the birth and arrival, two days ago, of a baby boy. A hearty mazel tov as well to the grandparents on both sides, Leon and Mina Bartfeld, to Dr. Tommy and Ruthie Azman of Baltimore, MD and to both extended families.
Raboyseyee and Raboyseyettes:
Divine reward and punishment
Because it follows Vo’eschanan which featured a second chance to hear the Aseres Hadibrois (Ten Commandments) and also the first paragraph of the Shema, Parshas Eikev, which we will read this coming shabbis, may at first glance seem a shtikel boring. That is not the case, not at all. In addition to the second paragraph of the Shema, in Eikev we will find one of the greatest lines ever uttered by Moishe to the Yiddin. Nu, zug shoin (tell me already), what did he say? Halt zich eyn (keep your pants on), we’ll address that in mamish one minute. Eikev, as we have mentioned previously (see archives at www.oisvorfer.com
) is also the source for bentching (reciting grace after meals) though avada not in the format as we know it today. And taka just yesterday, though it’s a weekday when most of you giferliche bums don’t even have a hava-mina (first thought) about benching, the Oisvorfer, uncharacteristically, not only washed for bread but also benched (parts) following the meal and readily admits that it wasn’t too many years ago when he first chapped that benching is a mitzvah D’oirayso (biblically commanded) whereas washing one’s hands before eating bread was only instituted by the rabbis. Of course the benching as we know it today does not at all resemble the under ten words the heylige Toirah uses to describe the mitzvah. Then again, few mitzvois resemble their first appearance in the heylige Toirah. Azoy iziz (that’s how it is).
The entire parsha is a continuation of one of Moishe’s last speeches, this the second of three; he will die immediately thereafter. The news appears to be pretty good. After 40 years of valgering in the midbar and after many shenanigans, many of which caused the RBSO to act out by thinning out the population considerably, the new generation of Yiddin, plus the women and children, were finally poised to cross the Jordan and make their way into the Promised Land. One medsirh will tells us that other than Miriam, not one woman died during the 40 year excursion. Ober, were they land worthy? Seemingly not!
Last shabbis, over in Westhampton Beach, while the shul was quietly listening to the laining of parshas Vo’eschanan, the Oisvorfer was, as he always does, looking ahead at the next parsha. Unfortunately, the older gentlemen who last popped into shul 45 years ago, and who was seated immediately to the left, was too embarrassed to ask what page the Baal koray(Torah reader) was on. Instead, he looked over to see what the Oisvorfer was reading and turned to the same page. We turned the pages together. Hence the expression loi habayshon loimed (an embarrassed person does not learn). In any event, though we have previously covered Eikev four different times, this one possik we’re about to read was never before noticed but is in focus this week. Its words jumped off the page and said read me; again and again. This, Raboyseyee, is a most amazing quote from no lesser a giant among men than Moishe Rabaynu himself. Said he to the Yiddin (Devorim 9:1-7) azoy: “Listen Israel, today you are about to cross the Jordan to conquer and inherit the land of the nations greater and stronger than you, cities enormous and fortified up to the heavens; a people big and tall, sons of giants whom you know (and who inspire fear in all around them);know that you will conquer them, but not because you deserve it! Remember; don’t forget how you angered the Lord in the desert.”
Did you hear that? The Yiddin were still not land worthy. Were they ever? Seemingly, though not land worthy, the news was still good! Moishe will go on to tell the Yiddin that though their behavior was at times less than admirable and at other times quite despicable, the nations that were at the time occupying that very land were much worse. Shoin! He continues and says: “It is not because of your virtues and rectitude that you will be able to possess their country; but it is because of their wickedness that the Lord your G-d is dispossessing those nations before you, and in order to fulfill the oath that the Lord made to your fathers… ” Moishe will then, as do our wives, become historical and remind the Yiddin of their various and frequent defiance in the RBSO’s ways. Seemingly, Moishe’s intent was to have the Yiddin acknowledge that they were taka not land worthy and that it was only due to the benevolence of the RBSO and His promise to our forefathers which was allowing them entry.
And with but two weeks to go before Choidesh Ellul rolls in and with Rosh Hashono and the ‘aseres yimay teshuva’ rapidly approaching, let’s keep that in mind: you are taka bad but there are many others who are much worse. Seemingly, when being judged it may all depend against whom. This may be your best defense. Are you and your myriad bad deeds standing alone in judgment or are you being compared to someone else? Ver veyst? And more good news: it can all be turned around before Yom Kippur gets here.
This week an exasperated Moishe, having tried every other tactic known to man, will resort to bribing the Yiddin to do the right thing and to believe in the RBSO. Is bribery allowed? Seemingly it is. Though he has tried and (mostly) failed miserably to reign in their erratic behavior toward the RBSO, he doesn’t give up and this week he’s back with a shtikel new tactic. He will bribe the Yiddin ober not with cash. Instead, he will offer brochos (blessings,) and why not? Seemingly it worked, for a while anyway and ever since, the promise of brochos has become a real enterprise. It’s big business mamish with little risk. There’s no inventory and not much overhead. And bazman hazeh (in our times) many taka do this for a living. Rebbes and Mikubolim (Kabbalists who accept/demand lots of money for blessings), are aplenty and can today be found practicing their craft in all corners of the world. Some have specialties like baby making, and curing various illnesses, even cancer, while others specialize in business opportunities. Some are general practitioners. You just need to believe. Ober says the Oisvorfer that it’s efsher better to rely on the RBSO. His track record is better. It’s also a cheaper option.
Moishe, representing the RBSO, will make all sorts of promises of good tidings to the Yiddin. And to be the recipients of these good tidings, all the Yiddin need to do is listen to the RBSO, have faith in him and do the right thing. Doing the right thing seems to have been problematic for the Yiddin, what else is new? At the same time, like a true leader, he will remind them by delineating their checkered past of the mostly undeserved rewards they already received these past 40 years. No one enjoys these reminders, if you chap. Moishe will remind them that the RBSO redeemed the from slavery, provided them with food in the form of Munn that fell for 40 years, gave them clothing that never wore out or got dirty, and provided water. Of course Moishe will remind the Yiddin how they also helped themselves to some R&R in the form of war booty, hot shiksas they took as slaves, and the Midianite and Moabite mydlich they went to town and worshipped with.
In Eikev Moishe will introduce a concept since followed in Hollywood in the form of a very successful show by the name of Let’s Make a Deal, which featured Monty Hall and Carol Merrill. If you don’t remember the show, efsher you recall Carol. In fact, efsher you imagined yourself behind door #2 with her, chazir that you are. Said Moishe azoy: If the nation observes the RBSO’s laws and remains faithful to His Covenant, the RBSO will favor the people in very specific ways: with human, animal, and agricultural fertility; with health; and with protection against disease and enemies. Nu, protection against disease is zicher a good thing if you chap. Moreover, the RBSO will bless us, our produce and our possessions beyond natural expectations. Not an infertile man or woman nor animal in all Israel! “Hashem will remove every illness and all the bad maladies of Egypt that you knew!” sounds quite amazing.
Ober, if not, all hell will break loose: if the nation is unfaithful, the rains will not fall at the times they are needed, the produce will wither, and the people will “perish from the land.” Has that mamish happened? Is the global warming or climate change we’ve been hearing about and even experiencing efsher related to our bad behavior? Esken zeyn, gantz myglich (quite possibly)! Was Moishe bribing the Yiddin, threatening them or offering some magic? All of the above, efsher? Are we to take these blessings and threats literally or do the various commentators find hidden messages in all these threatened calamities and even brochos? Ver veyst, let’s go veyter.
Ober before we do, efsher you’re klerring (thinking) azoy: will all these rewards and punishments come our way if but one of us is bad or does the entire nation need to behave or violate? Can one bad apple ruin it for the entire batch? How many have to go bad? Efsher you’re thinking…can I alone bring down the entire nation? Says Rashi (and others) azoy. Avada you recall that last week’s parsha contained the first paragraph of the Shema and we already discussed that this week’s contains the second paragraph. And what does the Shema have to do with this concept of reward and punishments and whether or not good or bad tidings are based on individual or the entire communities’ good or bad behavior? Taka and excellent kasha ober listen to this even better and gishmake answer. And to chap this, let’s examine the relationship between the first paragraph of the Shema (last week- perek 6) and the second paragraph of the Shema, found as we said above, in this week’s parsha. Though at first glance they are seemingly repetitive, they do taka deliver a similar message, ober upon closer examination, not quite. Given that you recite the Shema several times daily and a few might even recite a paragraph just before bedtime (people still do that?), you may have noticed that the first chapter- that of the Ve’ohavto (You shall love)…is written in the singular tense, while the second- Vi’hoyoh (And it will be)… is in the plural. It’s the second that speaks of reward and punishment and efsher we can kler that the behavior of one single individual cannot bring or withhold rain. Ober when as a group, were the gantze (entire) community follows and obeys the Covenant, then the rains will come in their due time and the ground will be fertile. In Eikev, Moishe will make it abundantly clear over and again: there will be great reward for us if we are but faithful to the commandments. Do mitzvois come with rewards?
Ober can we take all of his words literally? Is it taka emes that there is a direct correlation between how many mitzvois a person does and his financial and physical well-being? Do we not have very good and pious people who are constantly struggling and are not necessarily the richest in the community? And do we not have a plethora of sinners that are always prospering? Indeed we do ober those topics are way above the Oisvorfer’s pay scale. Many good books have been written on this topic, consult one of them.
Is the reward for being a good and observant person tied to a rewards program here on this earth? Ober don’t the good rabbis teach us that the sechar (reward) for doing a mitzvah, is another mitzvah – meaning that we get to do another mitzvah? Indeed they do and what’s taka pshat? Is there or isn’t there a rewards program associated with mitzvah observance?
And doesn’t the heylige Gemora teach us that one should not do mitzvois like a servant expecting a reward from his master? Rather we should run to do them like a servant who loves his master and just wants to please him. And taka said Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, he famous for chasiddim who hand you free motivational booklets and then shake you down for a hefty donation, azoy: we should serve the RBSO with so much joy that we don’t even want any reward other than the opportunity to do another mitzvah.
And said the Ishbitzer Rebbe, (19th century) azoy: there is a correlation between doing mitzvois and getting a reward and it’s taka found in the opening word of this week’s parsha. Though our parsha is called Eikev, the very first word of the parsha, the word that introduces Eikev, isv’hoyoa (it will be). And pshat is like this; rewards will Eikev, (follow because of). When? Later. In other words: do them now, In the future we will better understand their purpose. Do them now whether you like them or don’t, whether you understand them or not. Later on we will be rewarded with the understanding of why we observe them; they will suddenly all make sense. Gishmak.
Ober says the Rambam (introduction of Mishnah Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek) azoy: there may be as many as four approaches to this question of Divine reward and punishment. Let’s quickly review them.
Some rabbis suggest that rewards for good deeds and generally following in the path of the RBSO will only come our way once we get to Gan Eden (heaven). Be good here on earth, your reward awaits you in Gan Eden. As to the sinners, they will get theirs in Gehenim (hell). And taka says the heylige Gemora: this is why righteous people sometimes suffer and wicked people sometimes prosper in this world: the righteous get whatever punishment they deserve for minor transgressions in this world. Upon arrival to the next world, their slates are clean and nothing but reward in the next world. The bad guys get whatever rewards they’ve earned in this world and upon their arrival, nothing but punishment. In other words: while alive on this world, you are free to roam about the cabin, if you chap. Life will only catch up with you after death, if that makes sense to you.
Others suggest that good clean living and being observant in mitzvois will bring you the following reward: When the Moshiach makes an appearance; you will merit to be resurrected. Ober if you live a chazerish lifestyle, your resurrections and other…tions, if you chap, will have run their course; you’ll be dead and buried for eternity. Others suggest that living a good life will be rewarded in the future; you’ll be resurrected and restored to your family.
Still others are off the notion and belief that reward and punishment in this world are literal. Keep the mitzvois, claim your reward, no waiting for the next world. Another group suggests that we Yiddin should keep the mitzvois for all the above mentioned reasons; it’s none of our business which of the theories are correct. Our job is to believe and act accordingly.
And his own view? Said he azoy: Reward and punishment for doing the mitzvois is really for people who are at a simple level of development, like children who will only learn their lessons because the teacher or their parents promise them treats. They don’t appreciate the intrinsic value of their studies. Similarly, when it comes to mitzvah observance. Eikev talks about reward and punishment for those who need an external motivating force to do the right thing. Moishe’s message was for those Yiddin getting ready to enter the land: we know they were no land worthy and were seemingly not yet spiritually ready to appreciate that mitzvah observance is not tied to physical rewards. What to do? Moishe offered them a reward package. Ober said the RambaN (Nachmanidies): the miracle of the RBSO providing timely rain doesn’t always happen. It’s not a slam dunk and not necessarily guaranteed. Efsher he is saying that by doing the right thing, we give ourselves the best chance of being rewarded and blessed by the RBSO. Let’s hope.
A gittin Shabbis
The Oisvorfer Ruv
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