Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Va'eira, Shemos 6:12. The Heart and the Head


Moshe Rabbeinu asked the Ribono shel Olam, what is the point of talking to Pharaoh?  If the Jews did not listen to me, certainly Pharaoh will not listen to me.
Rebbi Yishmael in the Medrash (Rabbah Breishis 92)tells us that this is one of the ten kal vachomers in Tanach.  These are:


בראשית מד:     הן כסף וגו' השיבנו אליך   ק"ו   ואיך נגנב
שמות ו:     הן בני ישראל לא שמעו אלי   וק"ו   ואיך ישמעני פרעה
 במדבר יב:     ויאמר ה' אל משה ואביה ירוק ירק בפניה    ק"ו   לשכינה י"ד יום
דברים לא:     הן בעודני חי עמכם היום ממרים הייתם    ק"ו   ואף כי אחרי מותי
ירמיהו יב:     כי את רגלים רצתה וילאוך    ק"ו   ואיך תתחרה את הסוסים
שם:     ובארץ שלום אתה בוטח    וק"ו   ואיך תעשה בגאון הירדן
שמואל א כג:     הנה אנחנו פה ביהודה יראים    וק"ו   ואף כי נלך קעילה
משלי יא:     הן צדיק בארץ ישולם    ק"ו   ואף כי רשע וחוטא
אסתר ט:     ויאמר המלך לאסתר המלכה בשושן הבירה וגו'    וק"ו   בשאר מדינות המלך מה עשו
יחזקאל טו:     הנה בהיותו תמים לא יעשה למלאכה    ק"ו   אף כי אש אכלתהו ויחר

 (Obviously there are many more, starting with Breisihis 4:24,כי שבעתים יקם קין ולמך שבעים ושבעה.  The mefarshim there offer numerous explanations about what distinguishes these ten, but מקום הניחו לך להתגדר/להתגדל.)

Reb Elya Lopian, in the Lev Eliahu, addresses the question that everyone asks.  This kal vachomer does not seem to work.  The reason the Bnei Yisroel didn’t listen was (6:9) “מקוצר רוח ומעבודה קשה", because they were exhausted mentally and physically from their demeaning servitude and endless hard labor.  If so, the kal vachomer is not valid, because these problems did not apply to Pharaoh.  He answers that the Bnai Yisroel did accept Moshe Rabbeinu's nevu'ah when he told them about the geula (4:31.)  It was only when things got worse that they lost their faith (6:9)  when they suffered.  This shows that they did accept it intellectually, but that it did not penetrate their hearts.  If so, Moshe’s kal vachomer was good; if this lack of heartfelt faith ended their trust, then Pharaoh, with his wicked heart, certainly would not accept it at all, despite what his intellect would tell him.  When it comes to belief, to conviction, the heart is stronger than the mind.

                Reb Elya brings down a wonderful vort from Reb Yitzhock Blazer: the distance between וידעת היום, and והשבת אל לבבך is far greater than the distance between is far greater than the distance between לא ידעת and ידעת.    My father zatzal, a  talmid of Slabodka in Litteh, used to say this about the passuk in Krias Shma.   והיו הדברים האלה אשר אנכי מצוך היום על לבבך.  The most important thing is that after you hear and understand something intellectually, you must keep it on top of your heart.  Every Jew has a moment that his heart softens, and at that moment, what he knows will penetrate his heart and then he will truly know it.

This brings to mind R Yisroel Salanter’s advice to the person who asked what to learn in the only fifteen minutes he had available, because the point there is that the kotzer ru’ach will be come like earmuffs and blinders, and you won’t see what you otherwise would.  Mussar is the antidote to kotzer ru’ach and avoda kasha.

My son Shlomo sheyichyeh used this in a drasha in January ‘04/Shvat ‘64.  He said
                In Brisk once, a wealthy exporter put all his money into a shipment that was loaded on a boat.  The boat, unfortunately, sank not far from the port, and the man’s family was afraid to tell him the terrible news.  They came to the Beis Halevi, and he told them he would take care of it.  When the man came to the Beis Halevi’s shiur, he opened to the Gemora (Brachos 54) חייב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שמברך על הטובה.  and repeated it many times.  The man asked, rebbi, why are you repeating that?  The pshat is pashut— that a person has to know that no matter what happens to him, it is the retzon Hashem, and it is meant for his good, so he has to thank Hashem for it.  The Beis Halevi said, well, if you understand this, I have a little story to tell you.  When the man heard what happened, he fainted and didn’t recover for three days.  The Beis Halevi went to visit him, and asked him, Reb Yid, you said you understood the Mishneh, why did you faint?  Did you not really understand it?   He answered, Rebbi, I certainly did understand the Mishna completely.  But I understood it in my head, not in my heart.

He then quoted Rabbi Neuman, a Rebbi in Yeshiva of Staten Island, who said that the lesson of tefillin is that the Torah has to go from from your head, to your heart, to your hand.


Just knowing something is not at all the same as full emotional understanding. We have all experienced the difference: This is like when a person tells his best friend, or a father tells a son, close your eyes, lean back, and fall into my arms. Even if you absolutely trust the person behind you, it will be very hard to actually fall and depend on the person to catch you. Only after a few false starts can you convince your body to let go and fall into the other’s arms. It’s not enough that you know— your body has to be convinced.

Rav Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav Mei’Eliahu Vol. 5, on the avoda of Rosh Hashanna.) stresses this difference, which he categorizes as the difference between rational awareness and ‘dveikus’. He says that this journey is the avoda of Rosh Hashanna: if you properly say Malchios, Zichronos, and Shofros, you will come to devykus, which will make teshuva a foregone conclusion. If the dveykus does not lead to remorse and full teshuva for past sins, then your enthusiasm and kavana is just an ephemeral caprice, a delusion.

This applies just as well to negative or destructive beliefs or behaviors. In the Haftorah of Devorim the Navi talks about sins that are Kashanim and sins that are Katola. Both shanim and tola refer to red-dyed wool Despite their similar appearance to an observer, there is an very important difference between them. R’ Meir Simcha says that Shanim is wool that is only dyed on the surface, so teshuva can result in brilliant white like snow, whereas Tola is red through and through, and teshuva can only result in the less pristine white of Tzemer. This illustrates the difference between an act or behavior that is superficial and one that saturates the personality.

The Darash Moshe and the Ramban observe that the Meraglim in Shemos Shlach 13:3, were listed lefi gedulasam, in the order of their spiritual achievements. But strangely, we find that Yehoshua and Kaleiv are in middle of the pack. Despite the apparent superior tzidkus of the others over Yehoshua and Kalev, what mattered in the end, when faced with nisayon, was the depth of conviction, the emotional saturation, the dveikus— the hasheivosa el levavecha.

What really is the difference between yedi’ah of the mind and yedi’ah of the heart? One example: a woman may know absolutely that married women cannot go outdoors with her hair uncovered. But she might sit in mixed company and talk about private matters that concern only her and her husband. Or, strangely enough (and I’m not making this up), swim in a bathing suit at a mixed pool– with a snood covering her head to preserve her standards of modesty. People who never miss davenning in shul can let years go by without one Shmoneh Esrei in which they pour their hearts out to Hashem. What the heck are they doing there? The only possible explanation is that simply knowing something means that you know the thing and nothing more. Knowing it in your heart means that you understand and feel the underlying concept and you have made it a part of your emotional and intellectual essence. When a person has reached that level, then everything he does will subconsciously be checked for consistency with his essential belief.

And how can you tell who is a tzadik misafa v’lachutz and who is a tzadik in his pnimiyus? You can’t. Not only can’t you tell in other people, you can’t even tell in yourself. It’s like courage— you never know what you are until you are tested, as is well illustrated in Stephan Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. Not only can’t you tell, it is almost unknowable; the Torah (and Sefer Iyov) is full of stories of people who were tested, after which Hashem says “Atta yadati” that you are a real ba’al bitachon. Appearances mean little. Only after being put to the test can one know who he is.

When we put on our tefillin, let us remember this important idea, perfectly symbolized by the Shel Rosh on our head, the straps of the shel rosh that go down to our heart, the Shel Yad next to the heart, with the straps that go down to our hands: it is not enough to 'know'. Torah has has to go from your Head to your Heart to your Hands.

6 comments:

  1. בית ועד לחכמים: כשמו כן הוא.

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  2. Thank you; you yourself have contributed very good things in the past, and I hope that you will continue to participate in and enhance our project.

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  3. Wow, this is a lot of food for thought. I frequently have these sorts of ideas percolating in my head, but you write it so well.

    On another note, I look forward to sharing your thoughts on hakoras hatov on this week's parsha again in a shiur tomorrow. It was well-received last year.

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  4. Thank you very much, Michael. I sincerely appreciate that you took the time to write and let me know that these words reach receptive and thoughtful readers.

    I am makir tov for your hakaras hatov.

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  5. lots of hatzlacha on the new site.
    on the piece about hakaras hatov, you have so many tirutzim but none really satisfy the question of why a favor relates to the doer and thus requires hakaras hatov, any more than a avlah

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  6. The way I understand it is that the instrument of Hashem's Ratzon is connected to that middah in the same way that tashmishei mitzva relate to a mitzva. The same way tashmishei mitzva have some of the kedusha of the mitzva, the instrument of Hashem's chesed and rachamim has to be shown love and respect. But the instrument of Hashem's din does not have to be loved. As I said, a lulav should be shown kavod, but the whip that Beis Din uses to give malkos doesn't need geniza and doesn't even have to be burned with the chametz.

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