Thursday, July 15, 2010

Parshas Devarim: What Does Kibbud Av Have To Do With Tisha Ba'av?

This was first posted in 07.

In this week's Parsha, we are told that Hashem enjoined the Bnei Yisroel from any infringement upon the territory of Eisav, the land of Sei'ir, because, the passuk says, their land was granted to them as an inviolable heritage-- and we had no right to take it from them.

The Medrash Rabbah 1:15 here explains how Eisav merited this unique divine protection: Rav Shimon Ben Gamliel says that it was Eisav's exemplary "Kibud Av Ve'eim - the honor Eisav showed his parents, that protected his lands from being conquered. When serving and caring for his parents, Eisav would wear the same regal garments that he wore when he went out in public in his capacity as King of Sei’ir and when he conducted his business. This illustrated Eisav’s philosophy: that his behavior and appearance when he served his parents should express the same meticulous focus, respectfulness, and stateliness as he expected from his supplicants-- and as was expected from him-- when he held court in his royal chambers.

Note that Eisav’s kibbud was most likely, to some extent, duplicitous or self-serving, and Eisav’s legacy is primarily one of strife and imperialistic war.  But the fact remains that he honored and brought happiness to Yitzchak.

One thing is evident from this Medrash. The specific Zechus of Kibbud Av Ve'eim strengthens one's bond to his ancestral land. It was because of Eisov's mitzvas Kibbud that Hashem told us to leave his descendants alone, to let them remain at peace in their homeland.

Now, see the Gemora in Kiddushin 31b that discusses the gentile Dama ben Nesina: his mother, who evidently was demented, used to publicly assault him, and he would just say “Da’yeich, Imi,” enough, my mother. The same gemora brings the story that Dama’s father was sleeping on top of a key that would give him access to a gem he could have sold for a vast profit, but he refused to wake his father, and so he missed the fleeting opportunity for the great profit. The next year, Dama was rewarded with a unique opportunity for an even greater profit.

Harav Rabinovich za’l, of Chicago, once pointed out that everyone knows the story on amud aleph, that Dama got a reward of a great fortune, but nobody remembers the Gemara on amud beis that talks about R’ Avimi bar Avuha.

R’ Avimi bar Avuha was another exemplar of perfect kibud av ve’eim. His reward was the divine inspiration to understand the meaning of “Mizmor Le’asaf, Elohim, ba’u goyim benachalasecha....”

R' Avimi's reward of an insight into a chapter of Tehillim may seem much less exciting than Dama's reward of great wealth. In fact, however, the story of R' Avimi is far more important and, indeed, teaches a lesson that is relevant to our unbearably long Galus.

Rashi says that R Avimi's inspired pshat was the one which is brought in the Medrash in Eicha Perek 4. The Medrash asks, this perek of Tehillim talks of the churban, “Elokim ba’u goyim b’nachalasecha, tim’u es heichal kodshecha, samu es Yerushalyaim l’iyim.” Hashem, the nations have trespassed upon Your heritage, they have profaned Your holy edifice, they have turned Jerusalem into furrowed land.  Mizmor means "song of gratitude"; why say a mizmor on the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh? It should say “Kina (Elegy) Le’asof”! But the explanation is that Hashem expended his anger on earth and wood, on inanimate objects, and thereby allowed Klal Yisrael to exist and have another chance to achieve their (our!) sublime national destiny.

Tosfos says that it was a different pshat that R' Avimi understood: he brings a different Medrash that 'Asaf' was a descendant of Korach, and Asaf was happy when he saw that the gates of Yerushalayim sank into the ground, because he then realized that just as we know that ultimately the ground will open up again and the gates of Yerushalyim will reappear, his ancestor, Korach, will also be brought back.

The Mahrsha says that according to Tosfos’ pshat, we see a connection between R' Avimi's mitzva of kibbud Av and the pshat he was given to understand, since Asaf was concerned about the kavod of his ancestor. But according to Rashi’s pshat, it seems that R' Avimi's interpretation has no thematic connection with his kibbud Av. However, with the Medrash on this week's parshah, we can say that Rashi’s pshat is also connected to kibbud av: As we see in the Medrash with Eisav, kibbud strengthens a nation's bond with their ancestral land. R’ Avimi was shown a pshat that illustrates our unseverable bond to the land of Israel. Despite the terrible churban, our national identity and our connection to Eretz Yisroel remains firm. Hashem expended His anger on the Beis Hamikdash, but the time will come that we return forever to the land and rebuild an even greater Bayis Shlishi.

The Mitzvah of Kibbud Av, in the Aseres Hadibros, is followed by "le'maan ya'arichun yomecha...ahl ha'adama asher nishba Hashem la'avoseichem...." so that your days will be long upon the land Hashem promised your fathers.  The Netziv asks, why is "ahl ha'adamah" appended to the guarantee of arichus yamim? Why would kibbud be tied to the land of Israel?  He answers that although kibbud is a mitzvah sichlis, the Torah teaches us that it, like all mitzvos, should be fulfilled not because of the sichli aspect, but instead because it is a divine commandment, and this is underlined by stating that the primary locus of even this mitzvah is in the land of Israel, as is the case with all mitzvos. According to the Netziv, Kibbud is dependent on Ha'adamah. However, with this Medrash, we can give a new answer to the Netziv's question. The reason the Torah says "ahl ha'adamah" is because the Mitzva of Kibbud is directly tied to our ability to safely and confidently dwell in the land of Israel. According to the Netziv, Kibbud is talui on Ahl Ha'adama. According to this pshat, Ahl Ha'adama is talui, dependent, on Kibbud!

On the most basic level, the relationship between the inviolable right to a homeland and kibbud av is straightforward: The most fundamental patrimony is ancestral land. If one properly respects his parents and their legacy, he is entitled to enjoy their patrimony, the land they made their own for themselves and their children. If one disrespects one's parents, he undermines the legitimacy of his own claim to a heritage.

Perhaps there is a deeper relationship between kibbud Av and deserving Eretz Yisroel. The underlying middos of Kibbud Av are hakkaras hatov and anivus. In Yeshi’ah 47:8, Klal Yisroel were called “adinah...ha’omeres Ani v’afsi ohd,” I, and nothing else- the sin of solipsism.  The idea of “Ani v’afsi ohd” as a yesod of the Churbon bayis rishon, might also underlie the sin’as chinom of the times of the bayis sheini. A person who thinks “Ani v’afsi ohd” will not even perceive what others have done for him, and he certainly will not be makir tov for it, whether through kibud ahv or ahavas Hashem or ahavas Yisrael, and he is also fundamentally incapable of doing chesed for other people.

And perhaps we can also add another point. What is the midda k’neged midda for Kibbud Av? The answer is, if you treat your father like a father, you will be treated like a son. So the Ribbono shel Olam told R Avimi, since you showed gadlus in Kibbud Ahv, I’m going to show you how my relationship with Klal Yisrael is like that of a father to a son. When I had to punish them, I made sure to do it in a way that inflicted the least possible permanent damage on them, and I did it by destroying eitzim v’avonim. This is because I am their father, and I am treating them like a son.

During the Nine Days that culminate in Tisha Ba'av, it is very important to remember the lesson taught by the Medrash and the Gemara of R' Avimi. They illustrate that along with the other things we need to do to end the galus, honoring our parents is essential to our claim to a homeland. On Tisha Ba'av, perhaps we should think about our personal relationship with our parents, and our relationship with the tradition they represent. Kibbud Av Ve'eim is the bedrock of our claim and our bond to Eretz Yisroel. It protects against Golus and it can hasten the coming of Moshiach.


This week, Chicago mourned the death of one of its benefactors, Moshe Menora.  He was a benefactor both in that he was a founder and supporter of many chesed organizations, and also in that he raised children who are ehrliche yidden and role models in the communities they live in.  The compound tragedy of his death and the death of three of his granddaughters is of a scope far beyond what any family is capable of bearing.  

Several thoughts occurred to me, none of which is adequate to address this horrible event.
One: we do not have to wait for the death of innocents to remember that we care for them.  Let this be a reminder that there are fellow Jews who suffer every day, who are in desperation for lack of medical care or food or shelter.  Some are depressed, almost suicidal, out of the shame of failure.  Others are just hungry and in pain.  We need  to seek out and sympathize with all those that need our help-- even if they're still alive.  Don't wait for them to die before you cry for them.
Two:  Mourning is a privilege earned by loving someone.  One who is indifferent never mourns; it is only when you care for someone does his absence cause pain.  In the balance, the privilege of having known and loved someone more than outweighs the pain of his passing.
Three:   Even Malachei Hashareis cannot understand such terrible tragedies.  The holocaust was followed by the establishment of the State of Israel, and it is beyond us to even faintly perceive the relationship between the two events.    Still, one thing we do know: that a korban Olah Temimah involves pain and redemption, and sometimes several Olos are brought on the mizbei'ach together.


  1. Yasher koach - this went down really well at the table!


    Please join us to discuss how we can convince the Agudath Israel of America to bring The Jewish Observer back into print. Even if you don't have any ideas to share, your joining the group is tantamount to signing a petition to see the JO brought back to life!

  3. Mah Licha NIRDAM?

  4. Todays Rabbonim?

  5. Has the Blog ended?

  6. "Nirdam," "ended"... just on vacation. There's a certain "geshmak" or enjoyment threshold that I have to cross that draws me to the keyboard, and for various reasons I haven't experienced it in the last few weeks.