Staying Far from Danger
Pleasure from a Heretic’s Torah
Avshalom Was a Zionist
Amalek’s Attack on Emunah
When you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof, and you shall not place blood upon your house, if someone falls from it. (22:8)
The Gemora in Bava Kama 46a says that anyone who keeps a dangerous animal or a shaky ladder in his house violates the prohibition, “you shall not place blood upon your house.” The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 427:8) lays down the general principle: “And so too with any stumbling block that endangers human life, it is a positive commandment to get rid of it and keep away from it, as it says, ‘Take heed to yourself and guard your life strongly’ (Devarim 4:9). If he did not get rid of the stumbling blocks that lead to danger, he violates a positive commandment, as well as the negative commandment ‘you shall not place blood.’”
The Gemora also says in Taanis 20b, “A person should never go in a dangerous place and say, G-d will make a miracle for me. For perhaps G-d will not make a miracle for him, and even if He does, the cost of the miracle will be deducted from the person’s merits.” The Gemora relates that Rav Huna had some barrels of wine in a house that was falling apart. He did not want to go in and take them out, lest the house collapse on him. But when the great tzaddik Rav Adda bar Ahava came to visit him, Rav Huna deliberately brought him to this house and discussed Torah with him while he carried out the barrels. He trusted that because of the great merit of Rav Adda the house would not collapse. As soon as he finished taking out the last barrel, the house collapsed. Rav Adda then became angry at Rav Huna, because he understood that although G-d had protected him, it had cost him merits.
The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. sections 9-10) continues and states that the Sages went a step further and prohibited things that contain a small possibility of danger: “The Sages prohibited many things because of danger to life. Some of them are listed in Yoreh Deah… Anyone who transgresses these things and the like, saying, ‘I am endangering only myself – why should anyone care?’ or ‘I am not worried’ – is given the punishment of lashes for violating the words of the Sages. And whoever is careful about these things, may the blessing of good come upon him.” The Rema in Yoreh Deah 116:5 says, “And so too a person must avoid anything that leads to danger, for danger is more serious than a prohibition, and we must be more afraid of a possible danger than of a possible prohibition.”
Rabbi Moshe Rivkes, in his commentary Be’er Hagolah at the end of Choshen Mishpat, explains: “In my humble opinion the reason why the Torah commands us to guard our lives is because the Holy One, blessed is He, created the world in His kindness to bestow good upon His creations, so that they might recognize His greatness and do His service, fulfilling His mitzvos and Torah, as Scripture states, ‘All that is called in My name, I created for My honor’ (Yishaya 43:7), and to give them reward for their effort. When someone puts himself in danger, it is as if he is rejecting the will of his Creator, as if he desires neither His service nor His reward, and there is no greater dishonor and impudence than this.”
Rabbi Avigdor Miller explained, “The Gemora says that a man should never go where there’s danger, because maybe a miracle won’t happen. So what if it won’t happen? He’s willing to take the risk! The answer is, if something does happen then he is a murderer, because his body is not his property. That’s the point. It’s like sending a little boy to run across the street in the middle of traffic and buy a pack of cigarettes. What would they say about him? The sender says, ‘I don’t mind.’ So he’s a murderer if he sends himself.” (Tape #167)
The Brisker Rov said already in 1937, when England’s Peel Commission proposed to partition the Holy Land and designate a piece for a Jewish state: “The Arabs will not let the partition happen quietly and peacefully; there will be bloodshed. And it is forbidden that even one Jew be killed in order to found a Jewish state. Even if all the laws of the state would be according to Torah, and the prime minister would be Reb Chaim Ozer, this does not take away from the prohibition to found a state through the spilling of Jewish blood.” And early in 1948, he wrote a letter pleading with other gedolim to find some way to intercede in the negotiations and prevent the founding of a state. “In general,” he wrote, “a Jewish state will mean a constant situation of warfare, and who knows what its end will be?” (Peninei Rabbeinu Hagriz, p. 148) History has shown how bitterly true his prediction was. The Zionist state has brought the Jewish people into seven wars, costing 27,000 Jewish lives, in addition to the thousands killed and wounded in random terrorist attacks. It is clearly the most dangerous place in the world for a Jew to be. Let us fulfill the command of the Torah to stay far from danger, and merit the words of the Shulchan Aruch, “May the blessing of good come upon him!”
Her first husband who divorced her may not go back and take her… and you shall not make sinful the land which Hashem your G-d gives you as an inheritance. (24:4)
The Rambam, in his introduction to Sefer Hamitzvos, establishes rules for what is to be counted in the list of 613 commandments and what is not to be counted. He says (shoresh 5) that when the Torah states a commandment and then adds “you shall not make sinful the land” or “you shall not defile the land” that this is not a separate commandment but a reason for the commandment. The Ramban asks that if so, it should only be forbidden to violate these commandments in Eretz Yisroel. The Megillas Esther answers that we have an established rule that any commandment that has nothing to do with produce of the land applies anywhere in the world; this general rule overrides any possible inference we could make from the verses in one particular place. In any case, the dispute between the Rambam and the Ramban is only over what should be counted in the list of 613. All agree that violating these mitzvos in Eretz Yisroel is a much more serious offense.
Forty he shall lash him, no more, for if he lashes him more than these, your brother will be degraded before your eyes. (25:3)
The Mishnah in Makos 22a says, based on the orally transmitted interpretation of the Torah, that a person gets 39 lashes and not 40. The Talmudic sage Rava commented, “How foolish are most people, who stand up before a Torah scroll but not before a Torah scholar! For in the Torah it says forty, but the Rabbis came and deducted one.” Rabbi Chaim of Brisk once quoted this Gemora and then commented, “It seems that the main accomplishment of a rabbi is to save a Jew one beating!” (Nesivos Raboseinu, p. 235)
The religious proponents of Zionism claim that their beliefs and practices are true to the Torah, and bring proofs. But the Torah is not open to all to interpret, only to the great poskim of the generation (see Korach, p. ??). And none of the great poskim ever issued an halachic ruling permitting the establishment of a state. Who knows how many beatings the Jews could have been saved, had they listened faithfully to the poskim?
You shall not bring the hire of a harlot nor the price of a dog to the house of Hashem your G-d for any vow, for both are an abomination to Hashem your G-d. (Devarim 23:19)
The Gemora in Avodah Zarah (16b) relates: Once Rabbi Eliezer was arrested for heresy. At that time, the Romans were persecuting the early Christians, and they accused Rabbi Eliezer of being a Christian. They brought him up to the tiered platform to be judged. The judge said, “A sage like you engages in such empty matters?” Rabbi Eliezer replied, “I trust the judge.” The judge thought he was referring respectfully to him, but in reality he meant that G-d, the true judge, must have brought this accusation upon him as punishment for some past sin. The judge said, “Since you trusted me, by the idol Deimus you are exempt from punishment!”
When Rabbi Eliezer came home, he was terribly upset, for the Sages teach that a person is only suspected of a sin if he in some way committed a shadow of that sin, or at least thought about committing it, or at least was happy when he saw others committing it (Moed Katan 18b).
His students came to comfort him, but he refused to accept their comfort. Rabbi Akiva said, “My teacher, permit me to say something that you once taught me.”
“Say it,” said Rabbi Eliezer.
“My teacher, perhaps you heard some Christian teaching and it gave you pleasure, and that is why you were arrested?” said Rabbi Akiva.
Rabbi Eliezer said, “Akiva, you have reminded me! Once I was walking in the upper marketplace of Sepphoris, and I met one of the Nazarene’s disciples, named Jacob of Kfar Sechania. He said to me, ‘It is written in your Torah, You shall not bring the hire of a harlot to the house of Hashem. What about using it to make a toilet for the Kohein Gadol?’ I did not reply. He then said, ‘This is what the Nazarene taught me: The prophet Micha says (1:7), “For they gathered it from a harlot’s hire, and to a harlot’s hire they will return.” The money came from a dirty place and it should go to a dirty place.’ I had pleasure from this, and therefore I was arrested for heresy, because I transgressed what is written in the book of Mishlei (5:8), ‘Keep your path far from it.’” (We have translated the Gemora according to the Netziv and the uncensored text.)
What should Rabbi Eliezer have done when he encountered the Christian disciple? The Maharsha says that he should have kept away from him and not listened to his answer at all. The Shvus Yaakov in his commentary Iyun Yaakov says that his pleasure from the heretic’s explanation of the verse was considered a sin of the thoughts, and therefore he was arrested for heresy.
We see from here the obligation to stay far from heretics and not have pleasure even from an innocent remark made by them, even if the remark itself is true. All the more so that one should not deliberately put himself in a place conquered by the heretics such as the Western Wall or Hebron, where he will derive pleasure from their conquest.
In the Midrash on Koheles (1:8) we read: “Chanina the nephew of Rabbi Yehoshua was going toward Capernaum, when the heretics cast a spell on him and brought him into town, riding a donkey on Shabbos. He came to Rabbi Yehoshua his uncle, who cured him by rubbing oil on him. Rabbi Yehoshua said to Chanina, ‘Since that wicked man’s donkey brayed at you, you can no longer stay in Eretz Yisroel.’ So he went down to Babylonia and lived out his life in peace.”
From here we see what great damage comes from having benefit from heretics and their activities. Because Chanina came to Eretz Yisroel on a donkey belonging to heretics and thus benefited from them, although it happened against his will, and although he came afterwards to Rabbi Yehoshua who could surely have healed him spiritually and physically, still there was no solution for him except to leave Eretz Yisroel and live in Babylonia. If one has benefit from heretics, it is impossible that none of their poison will enter him, and there is almost no cure for this. (Al Hageulah V’al Hatemurah, Chapter 91)
“If a man has a wayward and rebellious son, who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they chastise him, but he does not listen to them.” (21:18)
The Parsha begins with the law that a Jewish soldier may take a captive woman as his wife. Next comes the law that if a man has two wives, one beloved and one hated, he may not take the birthright away from the hated wife’s son and give it to the beloved wife’s son. Then comes the law of the rebellious son. Rashi says (on 21:11) that the Torah places the laws in this order to teach us that although the taking of the captive woman is permitted, it is not the best thing to do, and no good will come of it. The husband will eventually come to hate the captive wife, and the son she bears him will be rebellious.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 107a) says that Dovid Hamelech’s life was a living example of this. He married the captive woman Maacha, and she bore him Avshalom, who rebelled against him. The Gemara says that when Dovid was fleeing from Avshalom and realized that Avshalom was planning to kill him, he decided to commit idolatry, so that his punishment would be just. “Otherwise,” he argued, “why should a righteous king like me be killed by his own son?” Chushai the Archite, however, came and explained to Dovid that this was happening because of his marriage to a captive woman. We must ask: why was Dovid so surprised that Avshalom wanted to kill him? Hadn’t Nosson the Prophet foretold (Shmuel II 12:11) that Avshalom’s rebellion would take place as a punishment for the sin of Bas Sheva?
Furthermore, Chazal (Berachos 7b) question the opening line of Tehillim 3: “A song of Dovid, when he fled from his son Avshalom.” Why is this called a “song” – it should be called a “lamentation”! Chazal answer that when Dovid heard from the prophet that a rebellion would arise from within his own house, he feared that it would be a slave or bastard who would not have mercy on him. When he found out that the rebel was his own son Avshalom, he rejoiced in song. The obvious question is: Avshalom did not have mercy on Dovid either – he wanted to kill him. So why did Dovid rejoice?
The answer is that Dovid knew that his punishment would be a rebellion, but did not think that the rebellion would automatically lead to his death. That would depend on who the rebel would be. When he saw that the rebel was Avshalom, he at first rejoiced, thinking that a son would certainly not kill his own father. But then he heard that Avshalom indeed planned to kill him, and he was shocked. Dovid did not understand why he deserved such a severe punishment. Superficially, it happened because Avshalom was born from a captive woman, but why did Dovid deserve this? Moreover, we know that Hashem punishes measure for measure. How was the rebellion of Avshalom measure for measure for Dovid’s sin in taking Bas Sheva?
It seems that not only Dovid but Chazal as well were perplexed at the severity of this punishment. The Gemara (Berachos 10a) explains that the third chapter of Tehillim, which is about Avshalom, was juxtaposed to the second, which is about Gog and Magog, so that in case someone asks, “Is there such a thing as a servant rebelling against his master?” – one can reply to him, “Is there such a thing as a son rebelling against his father? Indeed there was, so this too can be.” Chazal are saying that there is something unbelievable about the rebellion of Avshalom, and that same unbelievable aspect is present in the rebellion of Gog and Magog. But what is that unbelievable aspect? And what exactly is the rebellion of Gog and Magog?
Avshalom’s rebellion ended with a war between Dovid’s men and the rest of the Jewish people, who followed Avshalom. This war took place in a forest. The main body of the Jewish people, although vastly superior in manpower, lost the war because “the forest ate more of them than did the sword on that day” (Shmuel II 18:8). The Targum Yonasan, quoted by Rashi, explains this to mean that the animals of the forest ate them. Why did the animals eat Avshalom’s men and not Dovid’s men? And why did this happen in the war between Avshalom and Dovid, and not in any other war in history?
To answer all these questions, let us go back and study the sin of Bas Sheva. How could Dovid Hamelech, the great tzaddik, steal another man’s wife? Of course, Dovid made sure that she was technically not married (Shabbos 56a), but that does not explain why he would do such a thing. As Nosson the Prophet said, Dovid was comparable to a rich man who steals a poor man’s only sheep. Dovid already had many wives; why did he have to take away a man’s only wife and have that man killed, merely because he was attracted to her? Is this what we would expect of a tzaddik?
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 107a) provides the answer: “Bas Sheva was destined for David from the six days of Creation…but he ate her unripe.” When Dovid looked at Bas Sheva, he immediately realized that she was destined to be his wife, and that Shlomo Hamelech, the entire dynasty and, eventually, moshiach would come out of her. He therefore took steps to marry her as soon as possible. His sin was that he made too much effort and married her too soon. He violated the oath against “forcing the end” by taking physical steps to bring the moshiach and the redemption too soon. Had he waited, Hashem would have brought Bas Sheva to him in the right time.
Now we understand why Avshalom’s rebellion was the appropriate punishment for this. Avshalom attempted an even more serious violation of the oaths. He was the oldest remaining son of the king, yet the king had promised the kingdom to his baby son Shlomo, son of Bas Sheva. Avshalom wanted to usurp the throne from his father in his lifetime so that Shlomo would not inherit it. Since the dynasty of Dovid leading to moshiach could only come through Shlomo, Avshalom was really rebelling against moshiach and attempting to take over his role. This is analogous to the oath that prohibits the Jewish people from “going up as a wall” – taking over Eretz Yisroel before moshiach comes, an act that usurps and displaces the role of moshiach. This explains why the people who followed Avshalom were consumed by wild animals – the exact punishment prescribed by the Gemara (Kesubos 111a), based on Shir Hashirim 2:7, for violating the oaths.
Although Dovid was also guilty of violating one of the oaths, the men who defended him had no part in this violation, so they were not eaten by the animals. Had Dovid himself participated in the battle, he might have been in danger; therefore Hashem arranged that he should stay behind (Shmuel II 18:3). But Avshalom’s followers all shared in the violation of the oath, since they wanted to establish him as king in replacement of the dynasty of Dovid, Shlomo and moshiach.
In passing, this explains another enigma: why was Shlomo Hamelech, of all the prophets of Tanach, the one who expressed the Three Oaths? According to what we are saying now, Shlomo realized that he had sparked the entire rebellion of Avshalom. When he, as a baby, was declared Dovid’s successor, Avshalom and the people rebelled, and they were punished with wild animals. Shlomo looked at the history of his own life and said, “I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, not to usurp the role of my descendent, moshiach, or else you will meet the same fate that befell those who attempted to prevent me from inheriting the kingdom – you will be eaten like the gazelles and deer of the field!”
Now let us return to the Gemara’s comparison in Berachos 10a between Avshalom’s rebellion and that of Gog and Magog. Tehillim Chapter 2 begins as follows: “Why do the nations make noise, and the peoples speak vainly? The kings of the earth stand up, and leaders meet together, against Hashem and against his moshiach. Let us cut off their reins and throw off from us their ropes. He Who sits in heaven laughs, Hashem mocks them.” These verses are usually understood as describing a war waged by the gentile nations, led by a king named Gog, against the Jewish people, led by moshiach. But it is known that in November 1947, when the United Nations voted to establish a Jewish state, the Brisker Rov paced back and forth in his room and said these verses over and over (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk v. 4 p. 207, based on the testimony of Rabbi Dovid Soloveitchik).
Some religious Jews also rejoiced over the U.N. resolution. The faithful Jews of Jerusalem were very troubled by this, and they decided to post signs describing the Torah view on the current situation. They came to ask the Brisker Rov how they should word the signs. Right away, he opened up a Tehillim to Chapter 2 and said, “Here Dovid Hamelech describes our situation: ‘The kings of the earth stand up, and leaders meet together, against Hashem and against His moshiach.’ We must strengthen ourselves in our belief that the exile was decreed upon us by Hashem Yisborach, and we must wait patiently for Him to redeem us and save us through moshiach. We must pass the tests. Then we will merit to see Hashem’s laughter at the wicked and their false redemption, as Dovid Hamelech continues, “He Who sits in heaven will laugh, Hashem will mock them.” (ibid. p. 195)
Clearly, the Brisker Rov understood that the war of the nations of the world against moshiach, as described in this chapter of Tehillim, does not mean an actual war, but rather an attempt to usurp moshiach’s role by establishing a Jewish state. Gog and Magog – the United Nations – rebelled against Hashem by interfering in the history of the Jewish people, replacing their long-awaited messianic redemption with something else.
Therefore, centuries before the era of Zionism, Chazal said: Perhaps someone will wonder at this chapter of Tehillim and say, “Is there such a thing as a servant rebelling against his master?” Of course servants sometimes rebel against their masters, but the question is: Could it really be that the nations of the world, who are called the servants of Hashem, would rebel against their Master in this particular way – by giving moshiach’s role away to someone else? The next chapter of Tehillim answers this question: Just as Avshalom rebelled against his father and attempted to take away moshiach’s role, so too the nations of the world will one day try to do this.
Now we can answer the first question, asked by Dovid himself: why did he deserve such a severe punishment – that his own son should try to kill him? The answer is that if the rebellion had been a minor one, leaving Dovid alive to bequeath his throne to Shlomo, it would not have interfered with the coming of moshiach or violated the oaths, and this would not have been a measure-for-measure punishment.
There is another parallel here to Zionism. Just as Dovid Hamelech’s minor sin of making an effort to bring moshiach too soon by taking Bas Sheva led to Avshalom’s major sin of completely displacing moshiach, the history of Zionism took a similar course. It began with Rabbi Hirsch Kalischer and the Chovevei Tzion, who wanted to settle Eretz Yisroel with the goal of bringing moshiach closer. They said clearly that they did not desire a state, an army or wars, merely to farm the land and hasten the redemption. But this led to the Zionist movement, whose goal was not to hasten moshiach’s coming but to replace it entirely with a political and military movement.
Achisofel became Avshalom’s adviser, and had his advice been followed, perhaps Avshalom would have succeeded in thwarting the coming of moshiach. When Achisofel saw that his advice was not followed, he went home and hanged himself. This story had an echo in our time, but in the opposite direction. James Forrestal was Secretary of Defense under President Truman, and he advised Truman again and again to oppose the creation of a Jewish state. Eventually Truman fired him and he went home and hanged himself (on May 22, 1949).
Just as Dovid Hamelech triumphed in the end, we believe with complete faith in the coming of moshiach, and we are confident that the Zionist replacement will not endure.
You shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the Heavens; do not forget. (25:19)
Why does the Torah command us to destroy Amalek, while in Parshas Beshalach (Shemos 17:14) Hashem promises that He Himself will do the job? Rabbi Yaakov Teitelbaum explained that certainly, Hashem will help us. But since the war against Amalek is essentially a spiritual war against those who deny Hashem, we cannot sit with our hands folded and simply pray for Amalek’s downfall. We must take the initiative ourselves, and then Hashem guarantees that we will be successful. The knowledge of our guaranteed success, since “Hashem has sworn that His name will not be complete and His throne will not be complete until Amalek’s name is wiped out,” will boost our morale as we begin the battle ourselves.
The entire story of Amalek’s attack on Israel is a very strange one. Usually wars are fought over territory, but here Israel had never threatened Amalek’s territory in any way. As the Ramban says, “The reason why Amalek was sentenced to a punishment worse than all the other nations is that at that time, all the nations heard about the parting of the sea and they trembled. The Philistines, Edom, Moav and the Canaanites melted away with fear of Hashem and His glorious majesty. Amalek, on the other hand, came specially from afar, as if to fight against Hashem. As the Torah describes it, ‘He did not fear G-d.’ Furthermore, he should have known better since he was a descendent of Esav, closely related to the Jewish people. Yet he got involved in a fight that was not his own.” And the fact that Hashem swore that His name and throne depend on the destruction of Amalek shows clearly this was not a simple war between two nations; it was a war and a rebellion against Hashem’s kingdom, a war of defilement against holiness, of kefirah against emunah.
This is why our response to Amalek has to be so strong. When the battleground is any other aspect of Torah, there is sometimes room for compromise; human life supercedes most mitzvos. But for our emunah we must fight with mesirus nefesh.
This is the meaning of the Gemara in Makos 23b: “Rabbi Simlai expounded: 613 mitzvos were given to Moshe… Dovid came and reduced them to 11… Yishaya came reduced them to 6… Chavakuk (2:4) came and reduced them to one: The tzaddik lives on his emunah.” Of course the Gemara does not mean that these prophets actually reduced the Torah – we know that the Torah can never change. Rather, it means that our strategy for maintaining the Torah in the face of adversity is comparable to military strategy. In battle, sometimes the smartest thing to do is to retreat to save lives, but there are certain crucial positions that an army simply cannot afford to lose, and will therefore put everything on the line to maintain them. So too, Chavakuk saw that in future generations, and especially in the time immediately preceding the arrival of moshiach, Jews will have difficulty keeping all the mitzvos, and he declared, “Always remember that the one mitzvah you must maintain at any price is emunah.” All mitzvos have meaning only through emunah, as the Ramban (on Shemos 13:16) says, “The purpose of all the mitzvos is that we should believe in our G-d and acknowledge that He created us.” And the Chofetz Chaim used to say, “Without emunah, all the mitzvos are just mud.”
Amalek aimed his arrows chiefly at Israel’s emunah in Hashem and in Moshe. That is why Moshe’s arms grew heavy (Shemos 17:12) but he kept them faithful (emunah) until the setting of the sun. The Ramban (Shemos 17:9) quotes the Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer’s description of the battle: “All of Israel left their tents and saw Moshe kneeling and they kneeled; they saw him fall on his face and they fell on their faces; they saw him spread out his hands heavenward and they spread out their hands heavenward. Whatever prayers Moshe, the shliach tzibbur, recited, they repeated after him. Then the Holy One, blessed is He, defeated Amalek under the hand of Yehoshua.” Since Amalek’s purpose was to weaken emunah, they defeated him by strengthening their emunah.
The outcome of the war was that “Yehoshua weakened Amalek” – it was not a decisive victory, only a temporary one. The war against Amalek will continue from generation to generation (Shemos 17:16). (Kol Yaakov, pp. 26-33)
Now that we understand that Amalek’s attack was essentially an attack on emunah, we can understand what Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman writes: “The Torah teaches here that this war against Amalek exists in all generations until the coming of Moshiach. However, the Amalek is not always the same. In the olden days when the Jewish people was ruled only by Torah, the enemies were the descendants of Amalek in the gentile world. But ever since we have thrown off the yoke of the Torah, the seed of Amalek thrives in our midst.” He goes on to say that the Zionist leaders are today’s Amalek. (Omer Ani Maasai Lemelech, paragraphs 5-6)
Indeed, Zionism is the only movement ever faced by the Jewish people that has been an attack chiefly on emunah and not on the observance of mitzvos. We have suffered under governments that forbade mitzvos and forced Jews to abandon the Torah in favor of another religion, or no religion at all. But the Zionist state allows Jews to keep mitzvos – knowing that mitzvos contribute to their Jewish image in the world – while deviously weaning Jews away from their emunah in Hashem as the only One who can dictate when Jews should be in exile and when they should be redeemed.
When faced with this trial, we must remember that the Torah commands us to take action in initiating the battle against Amalek. Only then can we rely on Hashem’s promise to come to our aid and grant us success.