OUR FATHER AND OUR KING
The month of Ellul arrives with a Shofar call and the tone of each day becomes more serious and indeed awesome. Rosh HaShona, the Yom Ha Din is just around the corner. It feels a lot like school and the approach of an important exam. That’s exactly what it is. And many of us intuitively perceive that we have not put in enough preparation. The examiner is the King of Kings and the image HaSh-m employs of a King judging his people makes our uncertainty as to the outcome seem even worse. The Mitzvo of Teshuva seems hopeless and unattainable and if you think you are going to fail, you’ll probably fulfill your expectations.
But the truth is that Teshuva is not a difficult Mitzvo at all!
In last week’s Sedra the Torah tells us about the soldier who carries off a non-Jewish woman as a captive. The soldier’s ambition is to make her his wife. Surprisingly, HaSh-m does not prohibit his actions; he merely demands certain preconditions. She is to be taken into his house. Her hair is cut off and her nails grown. Her beautiful clothes are replaced by plain ones. She must cry for her parents for an entire month. After this he may marry her.
The Alshich HaKodesh wonders, how can the Torah demand that she cries for her parents? You can force her to do the rest but suppose she doesn’t like her parents. They will be Idolaters, they might not be “English gentlemen”. She may think being kidnapped by a Jewish soldier is the best thing that has ever happened to her.
There are two enemies and two conflicts the Torah has in mind whenever it refers to us battling our enemies. One battle is with other nations; the second is our personal adversary, the Yetzer Ha Ra. HaSh-m promises that we need not worry about the first, HaSh-m Ish Milchomo HaSh-m Shmo. As long as we go to war with Achdus, then He guarantees a victory. At that time however when HaSh-m is keeping his promise and fighting for us, we are exposed to our own battle when we see the Aishias Yefas Tor. Ha Sh-m knows we will not fight for Him! The first temptation of the Yetzer Ho Ra sees our surrender.
But here we see the reaction of the Melech Malchei Ha Melochim to our revolt. The Yetzer may have won a battle but the Aibishter doesn’t want him to win the war. So we are allowed to commit this act even though it is (rachmoneh Latzlon) a “Patch in Ponim” to the Riboneh Shel Olom…as long as we follow certain conditions.
The Alshich analyses the psychological state of the soldier, which led him to this act.
He was confronted by a person the likes of which he had never seen before. Jewish women would be the paradigms of Tznius. This woman would be the opposite.
She would be dressed as attractively as possible. He was experiencing a feeling of serenity and tranquillity at having survived a battle when he saw her. He was feeling great Simcha at the victory.
The Torah’s prescription is “Counter-therapy”. He must take her into his house. He will see her; night and day, her novelty will disappear. She will no longer be helped by her beauty aids. But what of his feelings of serenity and simcha? The Alshich notices that she is to be taken to his house. He has a house. He is already married!
His Jewish wife will greet him and this woman in a way, which will make him prefer “death to life”. There will be a conflict greater than that of Gog and Magog. She will say to her husband, (and it is informative to note that the script has not changed in three and a half thousand years) “What is this that you have brought into my house. Is this the piece of jewellery that you told me you would bring me from the war?” etc. etc.
There is no difficulty in engineering that she cries for her parents for a month. No matter how bad they were, they will have been far preferable to what she will be made to suffer at the hands of the Balas Ha Bayis.
The Posuk concludes with a beautiful example of understatement and irony. “And it will be, if you no longer desire to go ahead with this”.
If we had been as insulted as the insult we delivered to the Aibishter we would want to have nothing to do with the perpetrator again. The Ribone Shel Olom’s concern is instead leading us back to him, despite our mutiny, ingratitude and insult.
Several years ago I was giving a shiur in London. After I finished the large audience dispersed and some people waited to ask questions. After everyone was gone one man remained. “You’re from Manchester?” he asked. I told him I was. “Do you know someone called………..”. I replied that I did. “How is he getting on?” he asked. I replied that I thought he was doing well. “How many children does he have” he enquired and I answered three. “What does he do for a living and I answered that too. Then it was my turn to ask a question, “How do you know him?” The man looked uncomfortable and looked down at the floor, “He’s my son” he said.
The father explained that as a teenager his son had gone off the rails in a major way. His wife and he, had tried everything to bring him back, bribery, threats, third party intervention. Eventually, one night in exasperation, the father screamed at the son,”Get out! Get out and never come back.” His son left and never came back.
I told the father that from what I knew of his son I’d be surprised if he didn’t want to see his father again. The father replied that too much water had flowed under the bridge and that it was too late. I tried another approach. I offered to give him regular reports on what was happening in his son’s life. The father liked this and gave me his phone number and address so Icould keep in touch.
When I returned I “bumped” into his son. “I’ve just returned from London” I said “and I met someone who knows you and was asking after you.” The son asked who it was and I told him it was his father. “How is he getting on?” asked the son. I told the son that I was sure that his father wanted to see him and strangely he replied using the same words as his father, “No, too much water has flowed under the bridge”. I told the son that I was going down to London in two days time ” How about if I took you to see your father?” I asked. After much persuasion it was arranged. I phoned the father to inform him that we were coming and when. We found the house straight away. I rang the doorbell and the son looked embarrassed and uncomfortable as seconds ticked away. The door opened and there stood the man I had met a few days before. The son looked at the father with tears streaming down his cheeks. The father too was crying. The son took one step towards his father and the father moved towards his son and they folded each other in an embrace. They walked through the door of the house and I slipped quietly away. Six months later the son and his family moved to London to be near his dad.
Reb Leib Gurwicz Ztl says that HaSh-m being our King need not inspire fear. It should inspire confidence. How else could we think of asking HaSh-m to change his Gzar Din for what we have done. Who are we to ask? The judgement will be accurate and 100% fair, we deserve it.
But if Ha Kodosh Boruch Hu tells us He is our King; then we are His subjects! A subject can petition a King to be forgiven. HaSh-m chose the image of King, to encourage us to do exactly that.
No father wants his son to stay away. So we need have no reluctance to attempt Teshuva. It is not a difficult mitzvo at all, the examiner is on our side, he is Avinu Malkeinu our Father and our King.