Sunday, July 8, 2012

Insights From This Shabbat

May this post/d'var be a z'chut to my grandmother's, Yulia bat Berta's return to health.

Jerusalem, 7/8/12: Shabbat Parshat Balak was one of the more spiritual Shabbatot I've experienced thus far in Israel. Friday night dinner at the R. home was exceptional. Mr. R's brilliant recap of the parsha was the focal point. He made an emphasis on Bilam's blessing to the Jewish people which states: "How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel..." aluding, as he stated, to the modesty of the Children of Israel. This modesty, coupled with our upkeep of tradition, according to Mr. R., is what has allowed the Jews to maintain our national character, and persevere in the face of overwhelming odds while in the Diaspora.

The high point of Shabbat came just before Mincha/Arvit at a nearby Sephardic synagogue I've made a point of frequenting. The Rabbi there is a very soft-spoken, learned man whom I've come to appreciate. The d'var he gave touched on the merit of being able to be grateful for the bad along with the good and accepting both as Divine providence.

He told us of King David's biggest sin: when he sent Uriah, who had been Goliath's arms carrier, and who had provided the young David Goliath's sword so that the latter could slay him in return for "whatever he asked" to certain death on the battlefield. David had agreed to grant Uriah his wish and Uriah had asked for Batsheva's (by some accounts, the most beautiful woman depicted in the Mikrah) hand in marriage. Batsheva had been "designated" for King David and while Uriah gave the king reason enough to sentence him to death (Uriah at one point alluded to David's nemesis as "my lord" in the king's presence, thus, in fact, openly rebelling against the king), this death should have come at the hands of the Sanhedrin--not an enemy army. David ended up marrying Batsheva when she was three-months pregnant with Uriah's child. He thus pre-empted Divine will.

David ended up sending not only Uriah, but his entire brigade (Uriah had been appointed the equivalent of a modern-day general, second only to the "Chief of Staff,") into a trap layed by the enemy in which they were all slain. Shmuel visited King David and produced one of the most powerful monologues in Nach, in which he compared Uriah to a shepherd whose one "little sheep" has been stolen from him by a rich man. He asked David what the punishment for this crime should be and David's ready answer was that the rich man should be sentenced to death. Shmuel then disclosed to David that he, himself, was the "rich man" who'd stolen Uriah's "sheep."

The Rabbi related to us how David would suffer greatly due to his sin. He'd lose 16 children and Avshalom would sleep with his concubines (only the king was allowed to have concubines after revelation of the Torah at Sinai) while he was away. Avshalom would also claim the throne and pursue David and his flock of loyalists till he, himself, died a painful death when his hair got tangled in a tree and he ended up hung upside down). But while being pursued by his own son, David composed a psalm that reads: "A song to David in his fleeing his son Avshalom."

The quesition of "Why is the word 'son' emphasized here begs to be asked and may be answered as follows: David preferred to be pursued by his son rather than by a more "natural" enemy. Why? Because the fact that his own son was trying to kill him allowed David to realize that G-d was behind the action--no one but G-d, and that a decree from Above was being carried out (and how much better to be in the hands of G-d than mortal man?, as David, himself, stipulates in another psalm).

What's the lesson to be learned here? When something bad happens that's within the realm of the "natural," we may be prone to be angry and upset, but when we know G-d is behind our troubles, we should have the strength (and this is far from easy) to be grateful to Him for providing us trials in this world and not the world to come. This is an important principle in halacha.

Shavua tov and may you have a meaningful (not necessarily easy) fast! May we all merit the pure faith to be grateful to our Creator for the good along with the bad!

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