Beit Midrash

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Making Aliyah Is a Matter of Will-Power

In this week's Torah portion, which we read every year just before the fast of Tisha B'Av, Moshe Rabbeinu reminds Israel that they 'didn't want to' enter the Land of Israel, following the Sin of the Spies. Bnei Yisrael did not see it that way: 'How can we go up [to the Land]?' they said, as if to say that it was not within their ability to do so.

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Rabbi Yosef Nave

Av 8 5782
Translated by Hillel Fendel

In this week's Torah portion, which we read every year just before the fast of Tisha B'Av, Moshe Rabbeinu reminds Israel that they "didn't want to" enter the Land of Israel, following the Sin of the Spies. Bnei Yisrael did not see it that way: "How can we go up [to the Land]?" they said, as if to say that it was not within their ability to do so.

It is told about the famous Reb Zusha that he was traveling with a Gentile wagon driver when suddenly the wagon, filled with hay, overturned. The Gentile asked Reb Zusha if he could help him gather the hay, and Reb Zusha replied, "I'm so sorry, but I cannot." The goy said, "You certainly can, but you just don't want to."

Reb Zushe took this very much to heart, and realized that these words were a tremendous lesson regarding man's power of will in his service of G-d. He understood that a lack in one's "willpower" will necessarily lead to a lack in his actual fulfillment of the commandments. Therefore, Reb Zushe reasoned, a man's primary obligation is to develop and strengthen his will, so that he will fulfill the mitzvot in the most complete manner.

This is not the end of that story. The Imrei Emet, the fourth Gerrer Rebbe, used it to explain the above exchange between Moshe Rabbeinu and Israel. When Bnei Yisrael told Moshe, "How can we go up?" he specifically said to them that this was not true; rather, "you didn't really want to go up!"

The Chida, Rav Chaim Yosef David Azulai, stated famously, "Nothing stands in the way of the will." The Imrei Emet explained that this means that nothing can prevent one from at least holding on to his desire to do that which is necessary to come close to his Father in Heaven. And although in our everyday reality a Jew faces obstacles that do not allow him to implement his desires in holiness, in any case a person can always want what is needed; no obstacle prevents one from having a desire for good.

At the end of one of the two major passages of rebuke and punishment in the Torah, we read this famous verse of comfort: "And with all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not revile them to the point of destroying them" (Vayikra 26,44). The last word stems from the Hebrew root kaf-lamed-heh, which means "to destroy" – but the Hassidic leader Rabbe Naftali of Rupshitz explained that the same root could also refer to passion and desires of the soul. As such, the verse means that even during the tribulations of the Exile, G-d does not ignore the passions and longings of Israel towards Him – for this power of passion is the key to the Redemption.

That is, even if the Exile hinders us from carrying out our true desires, nevertheless the very desire and passion to be good is something with which G-d is not displeased. This is man's job: to desire good. 

Rabbe Nachman of Breslov also wrote on this topic, shining a light on the force of one's true desires: "The Israelite man who truly wants the truth, and does not want to fool himself – then even when [negative] passions and inhibitors overcome him, as they often do, and place themselves before him in all directions to the point that he cannot withstand them – even then, no matter how far he [has been taken], he still longs and yearns all the time for the blessed G-d, and never abandons this will and longing; it is very, very precious in the eyes of G-d, and He praises Israel for this, and it is because of this that they merit what they merit."

This approaching Sabbath is called Shabbat Hazon, which literally means "the Sabbath of vision" (it is named after the "vision" of the Prophet Isaiah of which we read in the Haftarah).

The righteous ones say, and show various signs, that this Sabbath is the holiest one of the year. 

Our Sages taught that whoever mourns for Jerusalem, "merits and sees its [future] happiness." Why is this stated in the present tense, and not the future tense? 

The answer has to do with the fact that we don’t mourn on the Sabbath, not even for the Holy Temple. Our Sabbath Grace After Meals includes the words, "may there not be tribulation and sadness on our day of rest." For the main asset and positive feature of the Beit HaMikdash is having the Shechina (Divine Presence) in our midst – and on the Sabbath, the Shechina is with us even in the Exile. 

We know this from the well-known fact that we may not perform any Sanctuary-related work activities on the Sabbath – for on the Sabbath we do not need Sanctuary activities, because the Shechina is present then regardless. On the contrary, the Sages teach that whoever makes sure to have Sabbath enjoyment, receives "boundless inheritance." That is, the most genuine enjoyment occurs when one believes that G-d is in our midst – and this is a "boundless inheritance."

Taking this a bit further, we can understand that on these Sabbaths of the Three Weeks of mourning, and particularly this final one coming up this week, the sensation of G-d's presence reaches its height – because during these weeks we mourn more intensely for Jerusalem and the loss of Divine honor with the loss of the Temples. As such, if on a regular Sabbath we have "boundless inheritance," how much more so right now, on the Sabbaths that are intertwined with mourning for the Temple - and especially on Shabbat Hazon! 

That is, these very days help us to mourn for Jerusalem, and therefore in the present – these very Sabbaths – we get to see and feel the splendor of the Temple and G-d's honor in the world even more than usual.

We must therefore make sure specifically this Sabbath to beautify the Sabbath and enjoy it, and thus be worthy of "boundless inheritance," to see the great light that is present on Shabbat Hazon, leading us to the Full Redemption. 


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