June 25, 2024
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Looking Forward to the Original Days of Greatness

Two years ago, I was in Eretz Yisrael the week before Parshas Masei. I took my son, Naftoli, for a jeep ride and tour of the Judean Desert. Our veteran tour guide, Benzie, drove us over the dunes to the top of a hill. The view was breathtaking. “Look below,’’ said Bentzie, “and you’ll see the city of Yericho and beyond that the Yam Hamelach (Dead Sea). Past Yericho over the Jordan River, that’s Arvos Moav, the place where the Bnei Yisrael camped and Moshe taught them Sefer Devarim, right before Yehoshua led them into Eretz Yisrael.’’ It was amazing to see the events of the Torah come to life.

The Yam Hamelach is mentioned in Parshas Masei as one of the borders of Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, mashgiach of Torah Vodaas, asks why the Torah starts marking the borders of Eretz Yisrael with the Yam Hamelach? Why is it the only border mentioned twice as the starting and ending point in drawing the borders?

Rav Wolfson explains that the region of the Yam Hamelach was originally a plush land, indeed the most fertile in the region. However, Hashem destroyed this prosperous area, turning it into sulfur and salt because of the decadence of the people. This region was Sodom and Gomorrah, known for their total decadence. The destruction occurred during the life of Avraham. Yet, the navi says Hashem will turn the desert into Eden and the Arava (the region of Sodom) into the garden of Hashem in the time of Moshiach.

Further, the Midrash indicated that David Hamelech is associated with the area of Sodom, since he was a descendant of Rus, who was from Moav. Moav was the child born to the daughter of Lot after they escaped the destruction of Sodom.

The fate and future of the Yam Hamelach region can be compared to the time of bein hametzarim—the time of dire straits—that begins with a calamity on Shiva Asar B’Tamuz, the 17th of Tamuz, and ends after three weeks of mourning, on Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of Av.

Shiva Asar B’Tamuz was supposed to be the day the Bnei Yisrael would receive the luchos, but they sinned with the golden calf, causing Moshe to smash the luchos. This was the first of several calamities the Mishna lists as occurring on the 17th of Tamuz. Then there’s Tisha B’Av, the day the spies returned from scouting out Eretz Yisrael. It was supposed to be a time of rejoicing upon hearing about the greatness of Eretz Yisrael and then starting to enter Eretz Yisrael. However, the Bnei Yisrael accepted the adverse report of the spies, which transformed this time into a day of death and destruction. First, the whole nation perished in the desert, and later, the two Batei Mikdash would be destroyed on Tisha B’Av, in addition to many other calamities.

Our consolation is that in the time of Moshiach, these tragic days will turn into holidays. These dates were originally destined for greatness and will eventually revert back to their originally intended purpose, just like the region of the Yam Hamelach.

So where did we go wrong, causing us to lose the incredible opportunities of those special days? The first precious luchos were destroyed when the Bnei Yisrael built the eigel (golden calf). The nation miscalculated Moshe’s return by a day and panicked. Aharon stalled for time, but by the next morning, the people arose early to serve the eigel. The tribe of Levi was patient; the rest were not.

A similar error occurred in accepting the slanderous report of the meraglim (spies). The spies saw people dying but failed to realize that the death was caused by Hashem to preoccupy the locals so the spies would go unnoticed. Instead, the spies jumped to negative conclusions and lost faith.

Today, we can view our Three Weeks as a sad and tragic time, but if we take a more penetrating look, we can see it as an opportune time to get closer to Hashem. The same is true in all aspects of our lives. Each challenge is really an opportunity…if we open our eyes to see the positive possibilities.

The marking of the borders of Eretz Yisrael by the Yam Hamelach is a signal that even if everything looks abandoned and destroyed, a deeper look will allow us to see the transformation of this area into the Garden of Eden at the time of Moshiach.

We conclude the reciting of Kinos on Tisha B’Av with this pasuk in Yeshaya: “Hashem comforts Zion that He will transform the desert into plush pastures like Eden and the area of Yam Hamelach into a garden of Hashem and will transform the times of sadness into times of joy and gladness.”

We have Hashem’s promise that these days, which were rooted in greatness, will once again revert to their original destiny to be holidays filled with simcha in the time of Moshiach.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic


Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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