August 7, 2019, Alberton, South Africa
The Torah/Bible is an endless source of wisdom and inspiration to those who take the time to listen.
This past Shabbat I had the great privilege of hearing Rabbi Tanzer speak. I had to listen carefully. I was sitting way in the back and the dear rabbi is quite advanced in years. As it was the Sabbath there was no microphone.
At first it appeared he was only making announcements, synagogue matters, but gradually I realized pearls of wisdom were coming forth.
When a wise man speaks one focuses, leans forward, and tries to grab every word.
Rabbi Tanzer spoke of the weekly Torah reading, the story of two tribes of Israel, Gad and Menashe, who were satisfied with the fertile lands of Moab. They wanted to stay there, graze their sheep and cattle, plant farms and raise their families. They were prepared to give up the dream of the Promised Land, the Land of Israel!
The dear rabbi shifted topics but focused on dreams. He touched upon the period after the war, the Holocaust, when rabbis tried to rescue Jewish children who were being held in monasteries. He touched upon his conversations with the late Rabbi Yaakov Herzog, I clung to every word.
I had the opportunity to chat with the rabbi for a few precious minutes, his humility and kindness permeate his very being. But his reputation as a great scholar proceeds him. Even in Israel he is well known and spoken of with reverence.
The rabbi spoke of the two tribes, they had approached Moshe with their request to stay behind in Moab, on the other side of the Jordan River. Moshe reacted with unusual harshness, totally disapproving of this request. Shall you sit here while your brethren go out to war!?
The two tribes did not at first want to participate in the fight, the struggle, for the land of Israel. What Rabbi Tanzer pointed out was that this was not just a shirking of military responsibilities, it was much more; it was turning away from a dream.
The language is harsh, God refers to them as a brood of sinners.
10 The Lord’s anger was aroused that day and he swore this oath: 11 ‘Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of those who were twenty years old or more when they came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— 12 not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.’ 13 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone.
14 “And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. 15 If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction.”
יא אִם-יִרְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים הָעֹלִים מִמִּצְרַיִם, מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, אֵת הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב: כִּי לֹא-מִלְאוּ, אַחֲרָי. יב בִּלְתִּי כָּלֵב בֶּן-יְפֻנֶּה, הַקְּנִזִּי, וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ, בִּן-נוּן: כִּי מִלְאוּ, אַחֲרֵי יְהוָה. יג וַיִּחַר-אַף יְהוָה, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיְנִעֵם בַּמִּדְבָּר, אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה--עַד-תֹּם, כָּל-הַדּוֹר, הָעֹשֶׂה הָרַע, בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה. יד וְהִנֵּה קַמְתֶּם, תַּחַת אֲבֹתֵיכֶם--תַּרְבּוּת, אֲנָשִׁים חַטָּאִים: לִסְפּוֹת עוֹד, עַל חֲרוֹן אַף-יְהוָה--אֶל-יִשְׂרָאֵל.
Rabbi Tanzer focused on one word in particular, Milu
כִּי לֹא-מִלְאוּ אַחֲרָי
(במדבר לב, יא)
They have not followed me wholeheartedly. The word in Hebrew does not translate exactly to English but it means roughly they have not been full, complete, in their desire to follow me and fulfill this dream.
When I was a brown belt and preparing for my black belt, our teacher Itay Gil, said, I want to see hunger. Only those who were hungry for the black belt would be considered as candidates. This meant total devotion to the dream, to the goal.
Moshe warns the people of Israel that those who did not have the full devotion were not only hurting themselves but they were bringing everyone else down. They were "melting the hearts of their brethren". There is no place for such people, and thus, as Rabbi Tanzer explained, the punishment was so harsh.
The men who did not want to enter the land are compared to the spies who did not want to enter the land 40 years earlier. And of these God warns:
Not one of these men shall live to see the dream fulfilled, we shall wander the desert for forty years until the last of this group has died out. We cannot coexist with such people for they are dream killers. They are termed the "Cause of destruction".
Rabbi Tanzer remembers the days of the Holocaust and the period after, he remembers the struggle of the establishment of the State of Israel, and he understands that one must be whole, complete, in following this dream. Those who are not complete in their devotion must be removed from this group, they are no longer part of the dream. Only those totally committed will see the light of day, the promised land, the redemption.
Moshe at the markings of the former walls of the Warsaw Ghetto; never forget the dream, the struggle and the goal.