Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

"And Zion said, 'God Has Abandoned Me!'"

It is forbidden to use arrogance in a contemptuous manner, placing oneself above others, yet there are certain situations in which one has to be bold, not reserved, and to know one's self-worth. Our sages teach that in the generation of the messiah chutzpah will abound.


Rabbi Chaim Katz

tamuz 5755
1. Zion Accuses God of Abandoning Her
2. God's Response - First You Need Malchut (Kingdom)
3. Malchut demands Yirat Shamayim (Fear of Heaven).
4. Concerning the Nature of Yirat Shamayim
5. Malchut Also Demands a Bit of Chutzpah
6. Returning to God's Answer

Zion Accuses God of Abandoning Her
In chapter forty-nine of the Book of Isaiah, our prophet describes the future geula (redemption) as follows:
"So says God, the redeemer of Israel... here, they (the returning children of Israel) will come from afar... Sing, O heavens and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing O mountains, for God has comforted his people and shown kindness to his afflicted ones."

Yet somewhat later in the same chapter we read:
"And Zion (The City of Jerusalem) says, 'God has abandoned me! God has forgotten me!'"

How is it possible to understand this? It would seem that things are backwards here. We would have expected to first hear Zion's claim that God has abandoned her, and only then, in response, scripture's moving description of the geula .
Our sages, sensing this difficulty, explained Isaiah's prophecy as follows: "When Zion saw that the exiles were being in-gathered, and that the entire Jewish People along with the heavens and the earth were joyful - while she went unremembered - she began to complain, 'God has abandoned me, God has forgotten me!'" According to the sages of the Midrash , God responded: "[Forgotten you? Of course not! Yet] who has ever heard of a bride without a canopy?"
In what sense was Zion not remembered? What did God mean by "a bride without a canopy?" It is to these questions which we now turn.

God's Response - First You Need Malchut (Kingdom)
In order to answer the above questions let us take a look at another famous prophecy in chapter fifty-four of Isaiah - also a wonderful portrayal of the future geula:
"Sing O barren one (the Land of Israel), you who did not give birth; break forth singing and cry aloud, you who did not travail with child... widen the place of your tent...for you shall break forth on the right and on the left..."

And then:
"[Still, Zion is] afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted..."

Once again God appeases Zion:
"Behold, I will set your bedrock with anthrax stones, and lay your foundations with sapphires."

In his monumental, analytic commentary on the Bible, the Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael Weiser) explains this once-again puzzling sequence of verses in the following manner:
"After prophesizing concerning the barren one that she would mother many children - an obvious reference to the ingathering of the exiles - Isaiah informs us that at that time... Zion, will still be 'tossed with tempest' because she has not been comforted. This is similar to what he (Isaiah) prophesized above when he said: 'Here, they will come from afar...and Zion says, 'God has abandoned me', that at the time of the ingathering of the exiles Zion will continue to sit in ruins.

Concerning the words "afflicted, tossed with tempest" the Midrash comments "afflicted by the lack of righteous individuals, afflicted by the lack of Torah, afflicted by the lack of Mitzvot and good deeds." And how does God respond? "Behold, I will set your bedrock with anthrax stones, and lay your foundations with sapphires."

The Malbim explains that the sequence in this passage is significant; first, "I will set your bedrock with anthrax stones," and only afterwards "lay your foundations with sapphires." Just what exactly is the significance of these anthrax stones, and the foundation which rests upon them? Says the Malbim, anthrax is the stone of the tribe of Judah and indicative of Israel's malchut (kingdom); sapphire is the stone of the tribe of Yissachar, and represents Torah and wisdom. Upon the two of these - the crown of the malchut and the crown of the Torah - rested the Holy Temple. The sequence here is important, first come the stones of the malchut, the kingdom; and then, upon them, the foundation is laid - Torah.

We have seen that the Malbim, in explaining the significance of Zion's affliction here in chapter Fifty-four, equates our two prophecies. Let us, then, based upon God's response here, return to the answer given by God in chapter forty-nine. There Zion complains that God has abandoned her, i.e. she remains "empty of Torah." God, as noted above, responds by informing the distressed Zion that, while he has certainly not forgotten her, she is like a bride with no canopy; and "Who has ever heard of a bride with no canopy?" What does the midrash mean by canopy? According to the Malbim, before there can be Torah there must be malchut. The canopy which our bride, Zion, lacks is malchut- the Kingdom of Israel.

We have answered the questions we set out to answer. We asked: "In what sense was Zion forgotten and abandoned?" answering that, despite the in-gathering of exiles, she was afflicted by lack of Torah and mitzvot in her midst. In addition we asked: "What did God mean when He compared her to a bride without a canopy? Now we can answer by explaining that He meant that she was devoid of malchut, and that without first establishing Zion as the seat of the Kingdom of Israel she had no choice but to remain without Torah.

Malchut demands Yirat Shamayim (Fear of Heaven).
King Solomon says in the book of Proverbs: "My son, fear the Lord and the king..." Our sages explain this passage in a number of ways. According to one interpretation the intention of this passage is to teach us that one must make the Lord his king. A second understanding says that 'fearing the Lord and the King' means making your virtuous inclinations king over your contemptible ones. A third interpretation goes that if you fear Him, you become king; through fear of God one becomes, in a sense, king. It's possible that these differing interpretations are not at all contradictory to one another; rather, each one represents a separate stage on the road to what Judaism refers to as yirat shamayim (fear of heaven).

To begin with, a person who is interested in attaining yirat shamayim must appoint God king over his inner drives. One must surrender all of his energies and all of his desires - everything - to the realm of God. "Fear the Lord and the king..." Make the Lord your king.
Secondly, one must recognize the fact that a man stores within himself contemptible impulses. This is not for naught; these impulses are part of God's plan. Still, there's no need to despair; to the contrary, man is obligated to surrender his animal impulses to the authority of his virtuous self. If these base drives are given proper direction by one's purer inclinations they will cease to be contemptible. "Fear the Lord and the king..." Make your good inclinations king over your evil ones.

Finally, after the two previous stages, once one has reached a level where his good inclinations rule over his bad ones, he himself can be called king. Only the sort of person who is capable of controlling himself - who rules over his desires and is not himself ruled by his desires - can be king. One who cannot control himself, or manages to control only a portion of his urges while the rest run free, cannot control an entire kingdom. "My son, fear the Lord and the king," If you are capable of truly fearing heaven, you are capable of being king; you are worthy of malchut.

According to our sages, then, yirat shamayim is the foundation of the Malchut of Israel. "Through what merit," inquire the sages, "did Judah receive the malchut?" They were not satisfied with the mere fact that G-d had chosen him; they wanted to know what it was about his character that made him specially suited to rule. They concluded that, indeed, it was due to his ability to control himself, to rule over himself. By grace of the fact that he was capable of ruling over himself he was given the malchut, the responsibility of ruling over the nation.

Concerning the Nature of Yirat Shamayim
There is a well known portion of the Talmud, in the Tractate of Shabbat, where it says that when a person is finally brought before the 'heavenly-court' he is asked all sorts of questions. The Talmud concludes by declaring: "If [his good deeds were done out of] fear-of-heaven... yes, but if not, no." That is, after all of one's good qualities are taken into consideration, the final decision is based on one's fear of heaven. The Talmud continues,
"This may be compared to a man who appointed a servant, saying: 'Take this load of wheat up to my attic.' When the work was complete the owner asked: 'Did you mix the wheat with some homtin (a kind of natural preservative) before taking it up?' 'No', answered the servant,' to which the owner responded: 'It would have been better had you not taken them up at all!'"

The question which begs to be asked is why, once the load of wheat was placed in the attic, was it too late to add it's preservative? Rabbi Haim of Volozhin explains in his classic work Nefesh Hahaim that when the servant took up the wheat without first mixing it with 'homtin' decay, in a sense, had already set in; now it would be of no use to add the substance. The wheat, being even slightly rotted, would eventually make rotten whatever is mixed with it.
What are we meant to learn from all this? Where there is yirat shamayim there is essential value in all of the spiritual feats one accomplishes; but where it is lacking, all of the Torah which one learns and everything which one does lack true worth. True, no negative act was performed, yet the essential ingredient was missing - yirat shamayim.
"My son, fear the Lord and the king," without fear of heaven there is no malchut, no kingdom.

Malchut Also Demands a Bit of Chutzpah
In the book Shem MiShemuel an interesting point is made in the name of the Rebbe of Kotzk . We have mentioned that the Malchut of Israel belongs to the tribe of Judah, the house of David. Yet the malchut stems not only from the tribe of Judah; it also comes from the nation of Moab, for King David was a descendent of the convert Ruth the Moabite. What was the purpose of mixing Moab into the Kingdom of Israel? Why couldn't the Malchut of Israel come from a pure seed?

According to the Rebbe of Kotzk , the concept of malchut is quite foreign to the nature of the Nation of Israel; it therefore had to be grafted, as it were, from some other source. Shem MiShemuel elucidates the Rebbe of Kotzk's words explaining that "since the Jewish People are like one large unified organism it makes no sense to have one portion ruling over another; just like it's not fitting for one body organ to dominate another." Israel is one organic system, and in a unified system you cannot have one part ruling over another.

"Therefore," continues Shem MiShemuel, "Israel had to adopt malchut from the Moabites [in particular, as opposed to some other nation;] for Moab's character is of a conceited nature." The Nation of Moab was a nation known for its haughtiness and arrogance," as it says in the book of Isaiah: "We have heard about the haughtiness of Moab; he is exceedingly proud".

It is for this reason that the soul of King David absorbed... the character of Moab: in order to extract this attribute of arrogance from the Moabite character and to infuse it with kedusha (holiness). [This is what enabled David] to rise up and rule with the fear-of-heaven." That is, though haughtiness and arrogance are foreign to the Jewish character in its natural state, they became necessary for the sake of establishing Israel's malchut. Therefore there had to be this mixing with Moab, in order to infuse Israel's malchut with a sense of domination. In Moab there existed a coarse and repulsive sort of pride, which, when adopted by Israel, became clear and refined.

Shem MiShemuel adds that the reason for King Saul's kingdom not lasting is evidenced by the words of Samuel the Prophet when, in addressing King Saul, he said: "Don't be so humble, for you are the leader of the Tribes of Israel!" Samuel pointed to the fact that Saul tried, unsuccessfully, to be a humble king. A king cannot be humble. A king needs a certain degree of pride, a sense of domination, and that's what was lacking in Saul. "And because of that" says Shem MiShemuel "he lost the malchut," as Saul himself admits in the First Book of Samuel, chapter fifteen: "For I feared the people, and I listened to their voice."

Returning to God's Answer
Regarding the passage we started out with: "And Zion said 'God has abandoned me!'" the Sages comment elsewhere that God responded as follows:
"You complaining descendents of complainers! When I was busy arranging a match for Adam... he complained saying: 'The woman that you presented me, she gave me from the tree and I ate. '
With Jacob, I busied myself making his son king over Egypt, and he complained before me saying: 'My way is hidden from God.'
Jacob's sons [the Children of Israel, while wandering] in the desert, did the same; I busied myself preparing for them soft bread like that which kings are accustomed to eating so that nobody fall sick and die, and they complained before me saying: 'we're sick and tired of this rotten bread!'
Now, here, even Zion is complaining. I busy myself dethroning one great empire after another. I've already dethroned Babylon, Greece, and Media, and I'm about to dethrone the fourth [and final] kingdom, and along comes Zion complaining: 'God has abandoned me, God has forgotten me!'"

This midrash sheds new light on our inquiry. Let us take a closer look by examining the first of the four cases mentioned here - that of Adam. Actually, Adam appears to be quite straightforward and honest: Eve did persuade him. She was the cause of his sin. So what is God all up-in-arms about?
True, she coerced him; but in essence woman was given to man for the purpose of helping and assisting him. In fact, everything which God gives us can be either beneficial or not, depending on how we relate to it. The very same force which is used for positive and constructive purposes, can be used to destroy and wreak havoc. Adam related the woman in a manner contrary to that for which she was intended, and then hurled accusations at God, "The woman that you presented me..."
The same is true here, in the case of Zion : "And Zion says: 'God has abandoned me, God has forgotten me!'" God's reply, "I busy myself dethroning one great empire after another," may be understood on two levels. In a plain sense He says: 'I'm in the middle of something, I'm busy at the moment, can't you see?'

But when we look more closely we discover that there's more than that here. In every great kingdom there are talents and strengths which have to be passed on in some form or another to the Nation of Israel, like the point we spoke about earlier: the arrogance of Moab which reached Israel through Ruth. Each of the Four Kingdoms is endowed with a particular purpose. They don't exist in the word simply by chance.

Yet it's not enough that these attributes are simply passed on to Israel; Israel has to know how to use them, how to relate to them. The Jewish People have to be ripe to receive these strengths and to know how to harness them effectively.

"And Zion said, God has abandoned me!'" What is she complaining about? We said earlier "afflicted, tossed with tempest, she will not be comforted." The midrash says: "Afflicted for want of righteous individuals, afflicted for want of Torah, afflicted for want of mitzvot and good deeds!" Now we can understand. She comes complaining to God: "True, you've gathered-in the exiles, but look what it's brought me! I used to be a cozy city of Torah, inhabited by a handful of righteous people and doers of good deeds. Now look at me, a hustling and bustling metropolis, full of arrogance and haughtiness!"
And God answers her: "You're not the first to come to me with these sorts of complaints! Know, that everything which I create can be used either for good or for bad. I gave woman to man, with the intention that he benefit from her. Similarly, I put arrogance into Israel by way of Moab. It's possible to benefit from these gifts, but it's also possible, heaven forbid, to be burned through them. The force of malchut , together with its yirat shamayim , demand arrogance. Yes, even fear-of-heaven requires arrogance. There are situations in which one who fears heaven needs some conceit; needs to feel no self-consciousness whatsoever - even in the face of ridicule and mockery. It's forbidden to use arrogance in a contemptuous manner, placing oneself above others, yet there are certain situations in which one has to be bold, not reserved; to know ones self-worth. Our sages teach that in the generation of the messiah chutzpah will abound.

Zion comes complaining: "God has abandoned me! God has forgotten me!" We've seen God reply in two different ways: a) "Complaining descendents of complainers!" To the Holy City of Jerusalem upset by the intrusion of arrogant masses in her midst, the Almighty replies: "I've brought you a blessing in disguise; you have to know how to relate to it properly. b) "Who has ever heard of a bride without a canopy?" One step at a time; first - "Behold, I will set thy bedrock with anthrax stones..." - you need to establish a sturdy kingdom, complete with fear-of-heaven; and then, only afterwards, "...lay thy foundations with sapphires," - wisdom and Torah.

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