פרשת דברים - Parashat Devarim
"Honest" rather than "Religious"?
Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein
This year we will mourn and fast on the Ninth of Av, as we do every year. But this year, the fasting and mourning will begin immediately after Shabbat, while the words of the Prophet Isaiah (Yeshayahu) from this week's Haftarah will still be ringing in our ears.
שִׁמְעוּ דְבַר ה' קְצִינֵי סְדֹם הַאֲזִינוּ תּוֹרַת אֱלֹהֵינוּ עַם עֲמֹרָה: לָמָּה לִּי רֹב זִבְחֵיכֶם יֹאמַר ה' שָׂבַעְתִּי עֹלוֹת אֵילִים וְחֵלֶב מְרִיאִים וְדַם פָּרִים וּכְבָשִׂים וְעַתּוּדִים לֹא חָפָצְתִּי: כִּי תָבֹאוּ לֵרָאוֹת פָּנָי מִי בִקֵּשׁ זֹאת מִיֶּדְכֶם רְמֹס חֲצֵרָי: לֹא תוֹסִיפוּ הָבִיא מִנְחַת שָׁוְא קְטֹרֶת תּוֹעֵבָה הִיא לִי חֹדֶשׁ וְשַׁבָּת קְרֹא מִקְרָא לֹא אוּכַל אָוֶן וַעֲצָרָה: חָדְשֵׁיכֶם וּמוֹעֲדֵיכֶם שָׂנְאָה נַפְשִׁי הָיוּ עָלַי לָטֹרַח נִלְאֵיתִי נְשֹׂא: וּבְפָרִשְׂכֶם כַּפֵּיכֶם אַעְלִים עֵינַי מִכֶּם גַּם כִּי תַרְבּוּ תְפִלָּה אֵינֶנִּי שֹׁמֵעַ יְדֵיכֶם דָּמִים מָלֵאוּ: ...
Hear the word of Hashem, rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? says Hashem: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required this of you, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination to me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. My soul hates your new moons and your appointed feasts, they are a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even when you pray many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood…
Hashem placed this harsh prophecy in Isaiah's mouth, whereby the Bnei Israel's entire "religious" world – sacrifices, prayers, Sabbath keeping and Holiday observing – are worthless against the backdrop of the conduct and behavior preva lent outside the Temple, and the recurrence of lust, murder and idolatry. As the Talmud tells us: "Why was the first temple destroyed? Because three things were preva lent in it: idolatry, incest and bloodshed". Therefore, offering a sacrifice hours after murdering, or praying moments after practicing idolatry, is meaningless to G-d.
A harsh prophecy indeed! How, then , Can one repent? Isaiah shows us the way.
רַחֲצוּ הִזַּכּוּ הָסִירוּ רֹעַ מַעַלְלֵיכֶם מִנֶּגֶד עֵינָי חִדְלוּ הָרֵעַ: לִמְדוּ הֵיטֵב דִּרְשׁוּ מִשְׁפָּט אַשְּׁרוּ חָמוֹץ שִׁפְטוּ יָתוֹם רִיבוּ אַלְמָנָה: ... אִם תֹּאבוּ וּשְׁמַעְתֶּם טוּב הָאָרֶץ תֹּאכֵלוּ: ... צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה וְשָׁבֶיהָ בִּצְדָקָה:
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil. Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge orphans, plead for the widow. … If you will be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. … Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and its converts with righteousness.
Clearly the way back has nothing to do with calendric Mitzvot, also known as Orach Chayim laws, but is rather associated with honesty and justice – these are the milestones leading to Teshuva, repentance.
But this is not the first time! It is not the rebuilding of the Temple alone that depends on social justice being practiced and the preva lence of integrity and honesty among men, and between man and his Creator. On the annual day of atonement, in which we say:
מֶלֶךְ מוֹחֵל וְסוֹלֵחַ לַעֲווֹנוֹתֵינוּ וְלַעֲווֹנוֹת עַמּוֹ בֵית יִשְֹרָאֵל וּמַעֲבִיר אַֹשְמוֹתֵינוּ בְּכֹל ֹשָנָה וְֹשָנָה
Forgiving King who pardons our sins and the sins of his people, the House of Israel, and erases our faults each and every year
Jewish Law clearly states that sins committed between man and his fellow man are not atoned for until he is appeased, and the Haftarah we all read on that holy day is:
כִּי כֹה אָמַר רָם וְנִשָּׂא שֹׁכֵן עַד וְקָדוֹשׁ שְׁמוֹ מָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ אֶשְׁכּוֹן וְאֶת דַּכָּא וּשְׁפַל רוּחַ לְהַחֲיוֹת רוּחַ שְׁפָלִים וּלְהַחֲיוֹת לֵב נִדְכָּאִים: ... וְאוֹתִי יוֹם יוֹם יִדְרֹשׁוּן וְדַעַת דְּרָכַי יֶחְפָּצוּן כְּגוֹי אֲשֶׁר צְדָקָה עָשָׂה וּמִשְׁפַּט אֱלֹהָיו לֹא עָזָב יִשְׁאָלוּנִי מִשְׁפְּטֵי צֶדֶק קִרְבַת אֱלֹהִים יֶחְפָּצוּן:
For thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. … Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching God.
Full repentance before Hashem does not amount to observing the Sabbath more strictly or uttering blessings or permitting this and forbidding that. There must also be a central pillar of doing justice and providing for the poor, and most importantly – to refrain from ignoring basic integrity and honesty between man and his fellow man, and between man and his Creator.
On the day on which we mourn the destruction of the Temple, and all that we have lost; on the holy day on which we strive to become closer to G-d, our Rabbis seem to have determined that a Haftarah that speaks of justice and honesty both between men, and between man and his Creator, indiscriminately, should resonate within us.
As Reb Hirsch Leib Berlin, also known as the Netziv, wrote in his introduction to the book of Genesis: this Humash is also called Sefer Hayashar – book of the upright or honest man – because our forefathers, besides being righteous and pious, were also honest. They treated the other nations, even the hideous idol worshippers, in a kind and loving manner.
May we all be comforted by the comfort of Jerusalem soon… and justly!
Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein is the Director of Training and Placements at the Straus-Amiel Institute and a rabbi at Singer Kolel.