May 25, 2024
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May 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.

This week we learned Avoda Zara 25. These are some highlights.

Avoda Zara 25: Why is Bereishit the Book of the Straight?

Our Gemara teaches that the book of Bereishit is also called Sefer Hayashar, the Book of the Straight. Rav Yochanan explains the meaning of this name. This is the book that tells of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, who were called “straight ones.” Wicked Bilaam was the person who identified our patriarchs as being the ones who were straight when he said, “Tamot nafshi mot yesharim, May my soul die like the death of the straight ones.” Why did Bilaam call them yesharim? Why didn’t he call them tzadikim or chassidim?

Netziv explains that in the song of Ha’azinu, Moshe says about Hashem, “Hatzur tamim pe’alo … tzadik veyashar Hu.” According to our sages, this line is an acceptance of Hashem’s judgment to destroy the Second Temple. In the times of the Second Temple, Jews were Torah scholars. Many were observant of ritual law. But, they were deficient in elemental human decency. People did not like each other. People were not nice to each other. People suspected each other. If a man saw his friend acting a bit differently in regard to fear of Heaven, he accused his friend of being a heretic and a non-believer. Our forefathers were different. Avraham Avinu hated Sedom and its king. He hated the behaviors of cruelty that filled Sedom. Despite such opposition, Avraham risked his life and prayed passionately that the people of Sedom not be killed. Avraham loved all people. He knew God had made the people of Sedom. He knew creation rests on the shoulders of the creations. Avraham’s love of humanity led him to pray to Hashem for the people of Sedom. Avraham was filled with a desire to help all of mankind. Bereishit is also the book of creation. A man who loves Hashem’s creation wants the creation to continue. He tries to help all human beings just because they were created by Hashem. Such a man is a yashar. We lost the Second Temple when we ceased being yesharim. Moshe decries our negativity. Hashem is a yashar. We should have radiated kindness to other human beings just as He loves all for He created all; then we would never have lost the Second Temple. Even after Lavan mistreats our father Yaakov, Yaakov quickly forgives Lavan and makes peace with him. Yaakov was a yasher. His deep inner love of mankind would assert itself quickly. Yitzchak acted the same way; when Avimelech apologizes for his mistreatment of Yitzchak, Yitzchak quickly forgives. When Bilaam was filled with prophecy, he realized all that he was missing.

Bilaam realized that he was missing deep, inner human decency. Bilaam sought to curse the Jews and wipe them out. Hashem forced him to say nice things about the Jews. At that moment, Bilaam realized the difference between the patriarchs and himself. He accepted that he would be an opponent of the Jews. He was linked to impurity. The Jews are linked to holiness. But, he thought of Avraham and Sedom. Avraham was an opponent of Sedom. Avraham was kind, they were cruel. Yet, Avraham had an underlying love of creation and human beings. This underlying love led him to seek the welfare of the people of Sedom. Bilaam realized that he did not act this way. He sought to wipe the Jews out. He felt terrible shame. He called out, “I wish I would love all human beings. I wish I would be someone who would seek out their welfare, even when I oppose their actions. May my ending be like the yesharim—Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.” According to Netziv, we are to learn from our ancestors. Even when we oppose the actions of others, we should love them as creations of Hashem. We should seek to benefit all (Ha’ameik Davar Bereishit).

 

By Rabbi Zev Reichman

Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.

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