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Lessons From the Road

August 31, 2015

Good Shabbos. This past week I spent a lot of time in the car with my children. A LOT OF TIME.   We drove from Baltimore to my father’s house in New Jersey. We then travelled to New Haven for my grandfather’s unveiling and back to Jersey. On Monday we went to Bel Harbor, New York (near Far Rockaway) to visit with my great aunt Betty who is 91 years old. Then Tuesday it was back in the car to return to Baltimore for a day and a half of running errands as we did our last minute back to school preparations. I deserve an extra medal for this week’s efforts because Toby abandoned me halfway through the trip to return back to Baltimore for “Teacher Orientation.”   I will readily admit that family car trips have become a million times more manageable since my father bought the kids a portable DVD player for Chanukah. Still, just the thought of a family road trip is enough to cause a panic attack.

With this in mind, it is interesting to note that there are five instance in our parsha where the word derech (path/road) is emphasized. Each of them teaches an important lesson, especially as we find ourselves in the month of Elul in the midst of our preparations for the Yamim Nora’im.

  1. טעינה

. כב:ד לֹא תִרְאֶה אֶת חֲמוֹר אָחִיךָ אוֹ שׁוֹרוֹ נֹפְלִים בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ מֵהֶם הָקֵם תָּקִים עִמּו

Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ass or his ox fallen down by the way, and hide thyself from them; thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again. (22:4)

The Sifre adds that though the Torah uses the phrase אחיך (your brother) the same rule holds true for שנאיך (your enemy).

Rashi explains that the verb והתעלמת (hide) means:

כובש עין כאילו אינו רואהו

To turn a blind eye, as if he doesn’t see.

We are not allowed to ignore the reality in front of us. If we see an injustice being done, or we see someone in need we have to help them out. We have an ethical responsibility to be aware of the world around us and do our share to make it a better place. We have an imperative to help those in need even when it is uncomfortable to do so.

Shiluach ha-Kan

. כב: ו כִּי יִקָּרֵא קַן צִפּוֹר לְפָנֶיךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּכָל עֵץ אוֹ עַל הָאָרֶץ אֶפְרֹחִים אוֹ בֵיצִים וְהָאֵם רֹבֶצֶת עַל הָאֶפְרֹחִים אוֹ עַל הַבֵּיצִים לֹא תִקַּח הָאֵם עַל הַבָּנִים:

If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not take the dam with the young;

thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, but the young thou mayest take unto thyself; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days. (22:6-7)

This is one of two mitzvot for which the Torah promises אריכות ימים, long days, if we observe it.

This gets into the question of our motivation for performing the mitzvot. Do we do them because of the reward we hope to get, or do we do them out of a genuine religious desire to fulfill God’s will.

This question is an important question that we all must ask ourselves: “Why do I do what I do?” Why do we observe the Torah? Why do we lead a religious lifestyle?

We must be able to explain to others who ask – and they will ask. Whether it is our children, our colleagues at work or random people on the street.  Most importantly, we must be able to answer the question for ourselves.

The prohibition against marrying people from Amon and Moav

. כג: ד-ה לֹא יָבֹא עַמּוֹנִי וּמוֹאָבִי בִּקְהַל יְקֹוָק גַּם דּוֹר עֲשִׂירִי לֹא יָבֹא לָהֶם בִּקְהַל יְקֹוָק עַד עוֹלָם: עַל דְּבַר אֲשֶׁר לֹא קִדְּמוּ אֶתְכֶם בַּלֶּחֶם וּבַמַּיִם בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם וַאֲשֶׁר שָׂכַר עָלֶיךָ אֶת בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר מִפְּתוֹר אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם לְקַלְלֶךָּ:

An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of HaShem; even to the tenth generation shall none of them enter into the assembly of HaShem for ever;because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Aram-naharaim, to curse thee. (23:4-5)

Rav Nisim Gaon asks an interesting question in his introduction to the Talmud: How could Amon and Moav be held accountable for not offering B’nei Yisrael water; they were never given the Torah. They can claim: “had they been commanded they would have performed the mitzvot and had they been warned they would have heeded and accepted the prohibitions just as the Jewish people.

Rav Nisim writes: Surely we can answer thes arguments and say that all the mitzvot that are based on reason and the heart’s understanding obligate all people from the day God created man on earth they obligate Adam and his descendants for all generations.

From this we see that we have to use common sense and be smart about things. There are basic morals and ethics that we should follow even without being told that it is the right thing to do.

Be’er Miriam

  1. ד:ט זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְמִרְיָם בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם:

Remember what HaShem thy G-d did unto Miriam, by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt. (24:9)

The Ramban maintains that this is a positive mitzvah, and it is included in our siddurim at the end of Shacharit as one of the six things we are required to remember daily.

Miriam was punished for speaking lashon ha-rah – gossip and slander against her brother Moshe. However, I think there is a deeper lesson. The Torah doesn’t say “Don’t speak lashon ha-rah.’ It says “remember what happened to Miriam.” From this we learn two things:

  1. The Torah’s message is that no one is above the law. Even someone as great as Miriam was punished when she transgressed. So too, we should never think that we are above the law – that our positions of leadership or stature or other circumstances in life excuse us from doing the right thing. The mitzvot apply to each person equally.
  2. The other lesson I derive from this is the fact that the Torah doesn’t say explicitly what happened to Miriam. It is sending a not so subtle reminder that we are expected to learn from life experiences. There are lots of stuff that happen in our lives. We are supposed to derive moral and spiritual lessons from it. Do not think that the only source of religious learning is the sefarim located in the Beit Midrash or a teacher from high school or a rebbe from yeshiva. We have to be open to the world around us and our experiences.

Amalek

כה:יז-יח   זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם: אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹהִים:

Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt;

how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not G-d. (25:17-18)

The Chizkuni explains:

היית עיף ויגע מטורח הדרך you were weak and tired from the burden of the road.  Amalek attached B’nei Yisrael when they were most vulnerable. They were still experiencing טורח הדרך the burden of the road; of life’s journey. They were at a moment of great transition and Amalek chose that precise moment to attack.

As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah in a few weeks, we too are at a point of transition. A new school year has just begun, and soon, please God, a new year in the Jewish calendar will begin as well. The parsha’s emphasis on the derech, the life journey that we are all on, and the transition points in that journey resonates with us.

Being on the derech – on a life journey – means that one will encounter all sorts of unexpected things. Some of those things will present opportunities for mitzvoth and spiritual growth. And some of those things will be dangers – physical and spiritual. We must be aware of what is happening around us: of the opportunities that present themselves, and of the dangers that lurk. We can never be so sure of ourselves that we know exactly where we are going and refuse to stray from the path that we think will take us there.

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