Torah Fax

Friday, August , 2007 - 10 Elul, 5767 

Torah Reading: Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19)
Candle Lighting: 7:33 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:34 PM
Pirkei Avot Chapter 1 

Better Than Better-Than-Nothing

In this week's parshah of Ki Teitzei we read that we are prohibited from marrying converts from the nations of Ammon and Moav “because they did not greet you with bread and water… when you were leaving Egypt, and because they hired Bilam, the son of Be'or … to curse you. But G‑d… transformed the curse into a blessing."  


It seems that the main crime of these two nations was simply a lack of compassion by not providing us with food and drink. Why should that have prompted such a harsh reaction from the Torah when there is no prohibition against marrying converts from seemingly much worse nations, even nations that tried to annihilate the Jewish people?


True, the Torah also adds that they had hired Bilam to curse the Jewish people. However, cursing is not the same as killing them, as did so many other Biblical nations. Yet, nowhere does the Torah tell us not to marry members of these nations once they convert. Why is not providing us with bread and water and asking Bilam to curse us a reason not to marry a member of these nations?


One answer is that it was the combination of the two that demonstrated how evil they truly were. On the one hand, they were too cheap to provide bread and water to the Jews. Yet, on the other hand, they did not spare any expense when they hired Bilam to curse the Jews. Had they simply failed to show hospitality they could have argued that they could not afford to feed the Jews. But if that was true how could they afford to hire Bilam?


But even if they did show that they were willing to spend their money for evil purposes and not for good ones, it still does not compare to actually going out and physically harming others. Why then did these two nations singled out for condemnation and banned from the Jewish community?


Perhaps the answer to this question is that to become part of the "congregation of G‑d" one must have at least one redeeming virtue. There are some people whose faith in G‑d is lacking, but at least, they know how to get along well with others. They show compassion and kindness. And even if their display of kindness is because of social convention, good behavior is a positive trait that could eventually lead to a genuine sense of kindness.


On the other hand, there are some people who are not very good to others, but they have a deep spiritual side to them, in that they have strong faith in and reverence for G‑d. Without going in to the debate as to the value of the emphasis on one without the other-for surely Judaism demands that we excel in both domains-it is clear that doing one is better than nothing. It is actually better than better-than-nothing, because a person of faith will eventually come to realize that the G‑d he or she believes in wants him or her to relate well with others. Likewise, the person who is good to others shows a level of refinement that will make him or her ultimately receptive to the spiritual side of existence.


However, when a person lacks both of these characteristics in the extreme there is little hope that they will ever change.


By virtue of the Amonites and Moabites not offering bread and water they demonstrated that they lacked even the most minimal measure of kindness or compassion that would normally have been shown for people who were so oppressed. And even if they were inwardly insensitive, they could have, at least, feigned some measure of social consciousness by providing them with a token, one time, gift of bread and water.


The fact that they could not even get themselves to perform a one-time act of kindness that was the socially accepted norm demonstrated that they were bereft of even a scintilla of kindness and compassion, inward or outward.


That alone would not have sufficed for the Torah to ban marrying an Amonite or Moabite. If they would have had a small measure of respect for G‑d, it could have been the redeeming feature that would have made them eligible for marrying into the Jewish fold.  


But, by hiring Bilam to curse the Jews they demonstrated that they had no respect for G‑d as well. They were asking Bilam to invoke a curse upon those whom they knew were G‑d's chosen people. They were thus demonstrating that they had no regard for G‑d's choice and the people whom He loved.


And the fact that they were devoid of both traits meant that they did not have any redeeming qualities. People who were so socially and spiritually compromised thus could not be allowed to enter into the family of a people whose mission is precisely the opposite: to provide others with their needs and to have a healthy respect for G‑d's creatures and particularly the ones whom He goes out of His way for.


We learn from this that the two traits of caring for others and respecting G‑d are two intertwined characteristics that are crucial for our survival as a nation and the key for our future.


When we lost our respect for our G‑d in the first Temple era we lost that Temple. And with the loss of the Temple the Babylonian exile commenced. When we as a nation failed to show sensitivity to one another, the Talmud states, we lost the Second Temple. And with the loss of that Temple we were driven into exile and endured close to two thousand years of suffering.


The means to bring the redemption we need to  reinforce our concern for others as well as enhancing our relationship with G‑d.


Moshiach Matters       

Three times a day we pray in the Shemoneh Esreh, "Speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish," and likewise we ask, "May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy." When any Jew says these words, and means what he says, he no doubt asks himself: "What have I done today in this direction?" Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 384

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