Torah Fax 

Friday, September 19, 2008 - 19 Elul, 5768


Torah Reading: Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 - 29:8)
Candle Lighting: 6:39 PM
Shabbat ends: 7:37 PM
Pirkei Avot Chapter 3 - 4  

Life in the Suburbs


This week's parsha tells of Moses communicating the blessings G‑d was to shower on the people for their compliance with the teachings of the Torah.
One of the blessings reads: "Blessed are you in the city and blessed are you in the field."
R. Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, one of the great Iraqi Jewish sages of the 19th century in his work "Aderet Eliyahu" explains that this "twin blessing" is a remarkable one. A blessing in the city, he explains, can be a problem for the field. Conversely, a blessing for the field can pose problems for the city. In an agrarian society, rain that is crucial for the crops that are in the field can be a problem for life and the resources one has in the city. To pray for rain can be a curse for one's urban interests, and to pray for no rain will bring disaster for one's interests in the field.
And here G‑d promises that when we follow His commands we will be blessed simultaneously in the field as well as in the city. G‑d's blessing will not be a double-edged sword. What is good for one will be good for all.
Humans are limited as to how they can balance two conflicting emotions, approaches, interests and blessings. Only G‑d can unify opposite forces and enable us to enjoy their fruits.
On a different level we can say that the words "city" and “field" are actually metaphors (in addition to their simple meaning) for the two modes of behavior we display in our lives, in our relationships with others and with G‑d.
The city is where there is a structured and institutionalized form of life as opposed to the field where there is more openness; less formality and structure.
When we deal with others, we relate to them in two distinct ways: There are formal ways of connecting to others. There are proper things to say and do in the presence of to others. There are rules of etiquette. But, we all recognize, as important as these societal conventions are, a wholesome relationship requires spontaneity and informality.
A simple illustration will show how these two forms of communication are crucial for a healthy relationship. When we meet someone we know, society expects of us to exchange greetings. We say "hello" "how are you?" and the like. And even though there is generally little feeling invested into these greetings, they are nonetheless important. If we wouldn't say them it would create resentment and make us appear to be anti-social and uncouth.
We all understand, however, that as important as these niceties are, they do not suffice. We must express ourselves in less formal ways towards others, where our feelings show. Being blessed with the knowledge of all the rules of etiquette ("Blessed in the city") is commendable, but it is a turn off if it is restricted to simply following these conventions. It is important that we complement the "Blessings in the city" with an approach that is looser, warmer and more human—"Blessings in the field."
When we try to incorporate the informal mode into our lives, we often discover that the informalities quickly become conventions and lose their meaning. The challenge then becomes to find ways of injecting feeling and sensitivity into those existing norms even as we discover new and creative ways of transcending the conventions.
On a deeper spiritual level, the field and the city are expressive of the two months of Elul and Tishrei.
We are now in the month of Elul, the last month of the year, preparing for the New Year that begins on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the month of Tishrei.
Rabbi Shcnur Zalman (the founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement, whose birthday, on the 18th of Elul was celebrated yesterday) in his classic work, Likkutei Torah explains that the month of Elul relative to the month of Tishrei is analogous to the "King in the [informal setting of the] field" (Elul) and the king in his palace (Tishrei). A king who is aloof and inaccessible to most of his nation will occasionally travel outside his capital. On his return to the palace he will go through the fields, unadorned by his royal robes, at which time, everyone can approach him and make requests of him. He greets them graciously and smiles to all without regard to their station in life. Afterwards they follow him to the capital and to his palace where they then have an opportunity to meet the king in all his glory and majesty.
The month of Elul, Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains is a month in which there are no Holy Days. And yet G‑d is more accessible to everyone, precisely, because the relationship in this month is highly informal. It is also the prelude for the more formal and august relationship we have with G‑d in the month of Tishrei.
To be "Blessed in the city" (on Rosh Hashanah), when we find ourselves in G‑d's palace, requires that we prepare for that role in the month of Elul, when "the King is in the field." This enables us to reconnect to G‑d and usher in a good and sweet New Year.
The city is also a metaphor for the city of Jerusalem, G‑d's eternal city. In the imminent Messianic Age, G‑d's glory will be fully revealed there—and from there the light will radiate to the rest of the world. In that setting we will see the complete fulfillment of "Blessed are you in the city."
Presently, we are in the field; we are still in exile, praying, hoping, waiting and expecting any moment for our entry into the majestic city to be with the King in His Palace (the Holy Temple in Jerusalem).
But even as we wait, we must realize that the King is accessible to us, albeit in simple garb; we are "Blessed in the field" as well. We must look for and see the multitude of opportunities to approach Him and ask for all of our needs—particularly, the need to get out of exile and be one with our G‑d, our people, our Land and ourselves, and through that with the rest of humanity as well.


Moshiach Matters 

Rabbi Shimon states: "[Elijah the Prophet will come] to heal dissension." The Sages state: "[He will come] not to include or to exclude [families], but rather to establish peace, as it is written, 'Behold, I am sending you Elijah the prophet.... He will bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.'" (Talmud, Tractate Eduyot) Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit  

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