Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Learning Disaster Management from the Shvatim

One of the most important lessons I learned early in my transition to Orthodoxy Judaism was how to view ishei tanach.  As one of my rabaim put it, "Did HaShem put your story in the Tanach?  No.  So think very carefully before criticizing their behaviour."  Basically, if Chazal didn't report a criticism, then you best determine where your misunderstanding lies rather then theirs.  The incidents from Yaakov's return to Eretz Kana'an till his exile to Mitzrayim certainly bear much analysis.

Case in point: The 10 brothers go to Mitzrayim to buy food and look for Yosef.  They are hauled in front of Yosef (whom they do not recognize), are accused of being spies, and are informed the only way to prove their innocence is to bring Binyamin.  The brothers are completely subdued in their behaviour and admit to each other that they deserve this because they did not act more mercifully to Yosef when they saw how distressed he was in the pit.  (Ummm... but nothing wrong with throwing him into a pit of snakes and scorpions in the first place?!?)  Then Reuvein answers (who asked a question??), "Isn't this what I told you when I said don't sin against the boy?"  (And exactly how is playing "I told you so" going to help this situation?)  As the story continues, the brother remain humbled before Yosef, always seeing that as Yad HaShem and mida k'neged mida.  Until, that is, the first valid charge (as far as Yehuda knows) is levied against them (the theft of the magic mug), when Yehuda suddenly springs into action, ready to fight Yosef to the death.

The key is to realize that the Shvatim seriously lived every moment in this world in front of HaShem; His presence was not an philosophical concept, but a tangible reality.  They felt no regret at sentencing Yosef to death and executing that sentence.  They had convened a bais din and found him to be a rodef (pursuer) and gave the appropriate sentence.  Only now that they are being treated so roughly do they go back and consider their lives to this point.  There is only one time in their entire lives that they did not act with extreme mercy and kindness -- those moments while Yosef was in the pit.  Therefore, they reasoned, that must the reason for the rough treatment they are now receiving.  Of course they accept punishment with love; it is directly from HaKadosh Baruch Hu, after all.  But one thing still disturbs them: this is worse that rough treatment, their lives are in danger.  After much thought, Reuvein answers, "Ah!  This is what I told you --- he was a boy and so did not consider the full repercussions of his actions.  He was not a rodef!  We were wrong in our p'sak."  The brothers concur and so continue to accept this punishment with humility.  That is, until Binyamin is threatened.  Since Binyamin was not involved, this is no longer mida k'neged mida and it is time to fight.  Again, Yehuda's decision is not affected by the personal cost to himself; HaShem is running the show and this is the clearly demanded course of action.

Life is lived differently when the Creator is a tangible reality.  Of course that's not how we live (yet), but the Avos and Shvatim certainly did.  The least we can do when learning Tanach is to be intellectually honest enough to project our faulty perception of the world on our illustrious ancestors.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…

Thought for the Day: Prayer II -- How?

Now that we know that the obligation to pray is nothing more (nor less!) than a divine decree, we are going to also need instructions from heaven on how to implement that decree.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to have instruction from heaven how to implement heavenly decrees.  One only needs to look at the shambles that one modern ism has made of the very important Torah principle of תיקון עולם/improving and fixing the world.  They have taken words out of context and used them to support their own nefarious schemes.  (To the point that Google Translate actually translates -- not transliterates -- תיקון עולם as Tikkun Olam.  Amelia Bedelia would be proud; we are not amused.

The Torah teaches us how to pray in two complementary fashions.  One is the way in which the concept is presented as an obligation, the other is by giving us examples of how to practically implement those instructions.

The obligation is introduced in the second paragraph of "sh'ma" -- וּלְ…