Devar Torah - Eikev

Wednesday, 28 July, 2021 - 7:00 pm

Living Above the Influences of the Great and Awesome Desert,
the Secular World, Every Day

By Rabbi Shimon Raichik

In this week’s parsha of Eikev, Moshe Rabbenu reminds the Jewish people not to forget Hashem, His commandments and all the  miracles. In this narrative (Devarim 8:15) Moshe Rabbenu says: 

“[Hashem] Who led you through that great and awesome desert, [in which were] snakes, vipers and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought water for you out of solid rock..”

The Jewish people’s travels through the desert was a forerunner and an example of the  state of galus, which is followed by the redemption and entry into Eretz Yisroel. The Torah here describes the stages through which both the Jewish people as a whole can descend into galus and we as individuals can descend into our own personal galus.

The first error lies in overestimating the power of the secular, mundane world and underestimating the power of kedusha. True, the G-dly soul and the Jewish people in general often seem to be at a disadvantage in every way, but the truth is that nothing can really oppose kedusha. Deluding ourselves into thinking that anything can oppose kedusha is the first psychological descent into the mentality of galus.

Exaggerating the power of the uncivilized and unpurified parts of this world leads us to granting it power over the Torah observance parts of life as well. We become so afraid of the world’s power, we consider the desert so awesome, that we are scared to appear too religious, even in private.

This leads us to replace our natural enthusiasm for Judaism with enthusiasm for worldly pursuits. This is symbolized by the snake, whose venom is hot. Eventually, our enthusiasm for worldly things will consume our fervor for Judaism altogether; this is symbolized by the burning sting of the serpent.

Ultimately however, devotion to worldly pursuits leaves us jaded and our enthusiasm for them spent. This leaves us cold and deadened to any kind of stimulation, just as the scorpion’s venom is cold.

When Hashem tries to arouse us from this state with a thirst for true life, we will not be able to recognize what we are thirsting for. We will “thirst” but remain “parched.”

The way to avoid all of this, is not to begin this process altogether, by making the mistake of overestimating the weight of the world around us. By fostering our awareness of the power of kedusha within us, we can avoid the pitfalls of galus and live up to our true destiny. 

The Rebbe brings two stories from the Rebbe Maharash which illustrate the enthusiasm and pride we have from being chosen to serve Hashem through learning the Torah and doing mitzvos. 

There were many occasions when the Rebbe Maharash would have to leave the country  on special missions to help others and to avoid pogroms. On one occasion the Rebbe took his coach to catch a train in the nearby town of Rudnia on a specific mission and was running a few minutes late. Although the person in charge knew the Rebbe was coming he nevertheless sent the train out on time. The Rebbe Maharash was upset. A few weeks later this man received his pink slip from Petersburg. He was fired even though Petersburg wasn’t aware of what happened with the Rebbe. This is because his purpose of facilitating the Rebbe’s travels wasn’t fulfilled;  he was let go. 

Another story occurred on the way home from one of the Rebbe Maharash’s journeys as he passed through a village. The non Jewish townsfolk heard about the Rebbe’s arrival and went out to greet him with bread and salt. When the Rebbe’s head emerged from the wagon they all kneeled and bowed down. The Rebbe was travelling with his nephew who said to look what they're doing. The Rebbe answered that he should not be foolish saying; by whom do you think it was said that you will be blessed by the nations of the world? They recognised this and therefore bowed down. 

This is who we really are. We may not Rabbeim but we are Jews and this is what it means to be a Jew.

About a month or so ago the past President of the State of Israel, President Rivlin was visiting President Biden at the White House in Washington DC. He came with his head of staff, Mrs. Ravitz, a religious woman who had worked with him for over 23 years. When President Biden heard that this religious woman had 12 children, he kneed and bowed down to her. It is a fulfillment of the verse that their kings will serve you and their experts will be nursemaids. This applies to each and everyone of us not to be influenced by values of the secular world. When we go above the limitations that the world sets for us, the world respects and honors us.  

By living beyond both our personal and collective galus we merit to experience the  complete revelation in our personal lives and in the entire world the geula ha’amitis v’hashleima now.

A Good Shabbos 

(Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 2, pp. 372-375)

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