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Parsha Pearls: Parshas Lech Lecha

Lot: The First Zionist
We Have No Other Desire But You
Efes Biltecha Goaleinu

And Hashem said to Avram after Lot had separated from him: Lift up your eyes and see from the place where you are, north and south and east and west. (13:14)

Rashi comments that Hashem waited to speak to Avram until the wicked Lot had left. An editor of Rashi’s commentary adds in parentheses that at the beginning of the parsha Hashem did speak to Avram although Lot was with him, because at that time Lot was good. The question is: what did Lot do to become “wicked” in such a short time?

The Torah relates several pesukim earlier (13:7), “And there was a quarrel between the herdsmen of the Avram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle, and the Canaanite and the Perizite were then living in the land.” Rashi, quoting the Midrash, explains that Lot’s herdsmen were letting their cattle graze on other people’s land. When Avram’s herdsmen rebuked them for this, they replied that the land had already been given to Avram, and Lot was his heir. But the Torah tells us the truth: the Canaanite and the Perizite were still living in the land, and the time had not yet come for Avram to get it. Avram then said to Lot, “Separate from me,” and Lot went to live near Sodom. We must ask: why did Avraham, who was so wealthy, have to separate from his relative over such a petty monetary issue? The answer is, Avraham was not bothered by the money, but by Lot’s dangerous reasoning. Avraham knew that although Hashem had promised to give Eretz Yisroel to his seed, the actual fulfillment of the promise had to be prompted by a Divine command, given through a prophet. Yehoshua’s conquest, the building of the First Temple, and the return to the Second Temple in Ezra’s time were all mandated by specific prophecies. In our time as well, we must wait for Eliyahu Hanavi; until then any attempt to take the land is forbidden under the Oaths. Foreseeing all this, Avraham saw no alternative but to stay as far as possible from Lot and his wrong view, in order to set an example for his progeny in all times. This is why Hashem only spoke to Avraham after Lot had left him.

With this in mind, we can explain another difficulty. In the story of Eliezer going to betroth Rivka, Rashi mentions in two places (24:10,32) that Avraham’s camels wore muzzles so that they should not graze in other people’s fields. But in the Midrash, there is actually a dispute about this. One view held that Avraham’s camels did not need muzzles; they were careful on their own not to steal the grass. Weren’t Avraham Avinu’s camels at least as good as Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair’s famous donkey, who refused to eat forbidden food? The Midrash does not tell us what the other side of the dispute, who held that they did wear muzzles, replied to this argument. And Rashi prefers the opinion that they wore muzzles, so he must also have had a reply.

The answer is that certainly Avraham Avinu was greater than Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, and his animals would not eat forbidden food. But after the episode with Lot, Avraham realized that he lived in a dangerous time, when the yetzer hara to take possession of Eretz Yisroel before the time was especially strong. In such a time, one must take extra precautions, to stay as far as possible from anything that resembles taking the land from its current owners.

Chazal tell us (Avodah Zarah 14b) that Avraham Avinu had a tractate on idolatry that contained 400 chapters, while ours has only five. How did all those laws go lost? The answer is that in ancient times, the yetzer hara of idolatry was very strong; it was the main yetzer hara of the times. Therefore, it presented itself in many different forms, in order to tempt people. Avraham Avinu lived in a world full of idolatry. In whatever area of life one looked, there was always some connection to idolatry. In order to combat this, he needed many more laws. But when Chazal wrote our tractate Avodah Zarah, that inclination had been diminished by the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah to a shadow of its former size. There was not so much idolatry in the world, so it could be covered in only five chapters. In the same way, in our generation the yetzer hara to take possession of Eretz Yisroel before the proper time is the prevailing yetzer hara of the times. Wherever one looks – news, business, music, language, advertisements, yeshivos, Chassidus, seforim, mitzvos – one meets up with this yetzer hara. In such a time, one must follow Avraham Avinu’s example and take special precautions to stay far away from all such things. (Divrei Yoel, pp. 317-321)

And Avram said to the king of Sodom: I have raised my hand to Hashem, the supreme G-d, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take anything from you, even a string or a shoestrap. (14:22-23)

Once the head of a school in Jerusalem came to the Satmar Rav and said, “Until now I have withstood the trial and refused all government funding. But expenses are growing higher, the institution is going into debt, and so the trial gets harder and harder all the time. How can I know if I will always be able to withstand the temptation?” The Rebbe replied, “You must constantly pray to Hashem that you should not take money from them. Perhaps you think it strange to pray for something that is your own choice. But we find that Avraham Avinu offered just such a prayer. When he refused money from the king of Sodom, he said, ‘I have raised my hand to Hashem.’ The Targum of Onkelos explains, ‘I have raised my hand in prayer before Hashem.’” Many years later, the head of that school said, “Ever since I heard those words from the Rebbe, I have been praying that I should withstand the trial, and my tefillos have been answered.” (Toros V’uvdos Mibeis Raboseinu)

And the birds came down on the carcasses, but Avram chased them away. (15:11)

Rashi explains that the birds symbolized David ben Yishai, and the carcasses symbolized the kingdoms of the nations of the world who, Avraham Avinu saw in this vision, would someday rule over the Jewish people during their exile. David ben Yishai would come to destroy those nations, but Hashem would not let him until the king moshiach comes. Avraham acted this out by not letting the birds devour the carcasses.

It seems that Rashi means David ben Yishai literally: that during his reign he would try to destroy the nations that would one day rule over the Jewish people. But we do not find that King David fought any nations besides the ones in his immediate surroundings – the Phillistines, the Amonites, the Aramites and so on. The nations that subjugated the Jewish people in exile – Bavel, Madai, Yavan, and Rome – were not powerful at that time. Furthermore, why should King David have thought that by fighting the nations in his time, he would prevent the Jewish people from going into exile years later? Surely David knew that if they would someday deserve exile, Hashem would find a nation to carry out the task of exiling them. The Torah warns, “Hashem will bring upon you a nation from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you do not understand.”

The Abarbanel explains that Rashi means not King David, but his descendant, the moshiach. Moshiach will come and try to destroy the nations, but Hashem will not let him until the time comes. Actually, preventing moshiach from coming too early was Avraham’s own initiative. In the Abarbanel’s own words: “Avraham foresaw the length of this exile and the great misfortunes it brought, and he feared that his descendants would rise up to leave the exile before the time set by Hashem, just as the children of Ephraim left the Egyptian exile before the time, whereupon Hashem became angry at them and killed thousands of their best. So Avraham, knowing the time of the End, chased away the birds – the son of David – preventing them from coming down on the carcasses – the nations – until evening, i.e. the time of redemption and the end of exile, as it says, ‘And at the time of evening there will be light.’

“And there is no doubt that it was in reference to this that Shlomo said (Shir Hashirim 2:7), ‘I have adjured you, daughters of Jerusalem, with the deer and the hinds of the field, that you not awaken nor arouse the love before it desires.’ And in Kesubos 111a, ‘Rabbi Yossi bar Chanina said: To what to these three oaths refer? One, that Israel should not go up as a wall. One, that the Holy One, blessed is He, adjured Israel not to rebel against the nations of the world. One, that the Holy One, blessed is He, adjured the nations not to subjugate Israel too much.’ The prohibition on ‘rebelling against the nations’ means that we must bear the yoke of the exile and live under them until the time of the End, when they will pass on. And this is what the prophet Tzefaniah meant when he said (3:8), ‘Therefore wait for Me, said Hashem, for the day when I arise,’ i.e. He commands them to wait until the time of the End, and not rebel and leave the exile before the time set by Him.” (Yeshuos Meshicho v. 1, p. 11b)

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The second chapter of Tehillim speaks of the nations who will plot against the Jewish people: “Why have the peoples made an uproar, and the nations speak vainly? The kings of the earth stand, the leaders have met together, against Hashem and his moshiach: ‘Let us cut their reins and cast off their ropes.’ He Who sits in heaven will laugh, Hashem will mock them. Then He will speak to them in His anger, and in His rage He will confound them: ‘And I appointed My king on Zion, My holy mountain.’” What is the meaning of this last verse and what is its connection with the foregoing verses?

The Alshich explains this based on the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 44:21), which teaches that Avraham Avinu chose exile for his descendents in order to save them from Gehinom: “Hashem showed Avraham four things: Gehinom, the exiles, the giving of the Torah and the Temple. He said to him, “As long as your descendents are busy with the last two, they will be spared the first two. But if they leave the last two, they will get the first two. [Since the Temple will one day be destroyed, they will have to get one of the punishments.] Which punishment do you choose for them?” Rabbi Chanina bar Papa said: Avraham chose the exiles. Rabbi Yudan, Rabbi Idi and Rabbi Chama bar Chanina said: Avraham chose Gehinom, but Hashem chose for him the exiles…” (See Behaaloscha, p. ??, and Vezos Habracha, p. ??.) When Avraham did not let the birds devour the carcasses, i.e. did not let King David destroy the nations, this means that he chose exile for his descendents and therefore the nations had to be in existence in order to carry out the decree of exile.

The Talmud says that Avraham called the Temple a mountain, Yitzchok called it a field, and Yaakov called it a house (Pesachim 88a). The Alshich explains that Avraham spoke about the First Temple, and foresaw that it would be destroyed and become a mere mountain. Yitzchok spoke about the Second Temple and foresaw that it would be plowed over like a field. Yaakov spoke about the Third Temple, which will never be destroyed.

Now we can explain the verse in Tehillim: “And I have appointed My king…” The word is “nasachti” – I appointed as a prince – rather than “himlachti” – I appointed as a king. Hashem is speaking here and explaining why He allowed the nations to make an uproar and speak against the Jewish people. He says: “I took My king, David, and appointed him as a mere prince over his own small kingdom rather than a king over the whole world as he should have been. Why did I do this? “On Zion My holy mountain” – because Zion must be a mountain, as Avraham called it. In other words, the Temple must eventually be destroyed and there must be an exile, when the nations rule over the Jewish people, as Avraham chose. Therefore the nations must remain in the world and David cannot be permitted to subdue them. (Romemos Keil, Tehillim 2)

And He said to Avraham, “Surely know that your seed will be a stranger in a land not theirs, and they will serve them, and they will afflict them, four hundred years.” (15:13)

The Rambam writes in his letter to Yemen: The Egyptian exile was foretold to last 400 years, and yet the way these years were to be counted was unclear. We did not know the end had come until Moshe and Aharon came and said the words ‘pakod pakadti’ which proved that they were the redeemers sent by Hashem. (And the children of Ephraim, who miscalculated the end and did not wait for Moshe and Aharon, were punished. See Bo, p. ??.) All the more so in this present exile, which has no foretold number of years, that we cannot claim to know anything about when its end will be until moshiach is revealed.

After Avram had lived in the Land of Canaan for ten years, Sarai, wife of Avram, took Hagar the Egyptian her handmaid and gave her to Avram her husband as a wife. (16:3)

The Gemora (Yevamos 64a) explains that this is a reference to the halacha that if a man is married for ten years and has no children, he must marry a different wife in order to fulfill the mitzvah “be fruitful and multiply” (Bereishis 1:28). In connection with this rule, the Midrash tells the follows story: Once there was a couple in Sidon who were married for ten years and had no children. They came to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and asked him to arrange a divorce. He said, “By your life, just as you got married with food and drink, so too you will separate with food and drink.” They followed his advice and made a great feast. She induced him to drink too much, and then he said to her, “My daughter, choose whatever good thing of mine you want in the house, take it and go to your father’s house.” After he fell asleep, she told her servants to lift him on a bed and carry him to her father’s house. In the middle of the night he awoke and the drink had worn off. “Where am I, my daughter?” he asked. “In my father’s house,” she said. “What am I doing in your father’s house?” “Didn’t you tell me to choose any good thing I wanted from your house? There is nothing better in the world for me than you!” They went to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, he prayed for them and they were blessed with a child.

The Midrash concludes, “One human being said to another human being, ‘There is nothing better in the world for me than you,’ and then they were answered. Then the Jewish people, who are waiting for the redemption of the Holy One blessed is He every day, and saying, ‘We have no other desire in this world but You,’ all the more so!” (Midrash Rabbah on Shir Hashirim 1:4)

The woman had waited many years to have children and was now ready to give up and go marry someone else. But once she expressed her true thoughts that she wanted nothing other than her husband and she refused to give up, G-d answered her. In the same way, the Jewish people have waited hundreds of years for G-d’s redemption. Now some of them are ready to give up and go look elsewhere for their redemption. In this difficult time we must remain faithful, express our true dedication to G-d and declare that we want no substitute, nothing else but Him. Then and only then will our redemption come.

And He said to Avram, “Know you shall know that your descendents will be strangers in a land not theirs and they will enslave them and afflict them for four hundred years.” (15:13)

The Midrash comments on the double expression “know you shall know”: “Know that I scatter them, you shall know that I will gather them. Know that I pledge them, you shall know that I will redeem them. Know that I enslave them, you shall know that I will save them.” (Bereishis Rabbah 44:18)

The Satmar Rav asked: What is so unique about this? Every believer knows that all things in the world are done by G-d. That is one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith: that G-d alone did, does and will do all things. And the Ramban writes at the end of Parshas Bo that a person has no portion in the Torah of Moshe unless he believes that all events, public or private, are miracles, not natural. And the Rambam in his Laws of Fasts (1:3) explains that that is the meaning of the Torah’s warning, “And if you walk with Me with chance” (Vayikra 26:27) – that if G-d brings a punishment upon us and we say it was just a chance occurrence, He will be doubly angry at us. We must believe that nothing is just chance. If so, there was no need for G-d to tell Avraham that when enslavement and redemption occur, he must know that G-d is behind it. Of course He is!

The answer is that the Midrash is not coming to say that when enslavement and redemption occur, G-d is behind it. It is coming to say that we are forbidden to take enslavement and redemption into our own hands. “You shall know that I will redeem them” – and not you on your own; you may not make any efforts toward redemption.

This is indeed a unique prohibition, because in all other areas of life, although G-d does everything, the Torah tells us to make efforts: “So that Hashem your G-d may bless you in all the works of your hands that you do” (Devarim 14:29). We do not sit back and wait for G-d to give us food, clothing and good health. It is well-known that “one must not rely on a miracle” (Taanis 20b). The Ramban (Devarim 11:13) writes, “Know that miracles, for the good or for the bad, are performed only for completely righteous people or completely wicked people, but average people are treated by G-d through the medium of nature, in accordance with their deeds.” When the Ramban states in Parshas Bo that all events are miracles, he means miracles disguised as nature. Since things happen in an apparently natural way, G-d wants us to make our own efforts. Not so when it comes to redemption, where only G-d has the right to act, and we have no permission to make any efforts other than repentance and good deeds. (Vayoel Moshe 1:45)

In a letter sent in 1939 to all the towns of Hungary, the Satmar Rav similarly explains the words of the Shabbos morning prayer: “There is none besides You, our Redeemer, in the days of the moshiach.” Why is it necessary to say this? How could one think that there will be another redeemer besides G-d? The answer is that in the previous redemptions from Babylonia, Media and Greece, there was a certain amount of human effort involved. G-d hid His presence and did not communicate directly with Mordechai, Esther, Ezra, and the Hasmoneans. Thus although G-d ultimately makes everything happen, humans were considered partners in the act, just as it says, “There are three partners in a man: G-d, his father and his mother” (Kiddushin 30b). But the future redemption will be accomplished only by G-d Himself, without any human action. (Moshian Shel Yisroel v. 7, p. 142).