Even in times of spiritual hardship, when the Jewish people unite as one, God helps us defeat our enemies * However, the more complete our unity based on shared religious and national values, the greater the victory we will merit * There is great reward for those who come early to synagogue prayer and are among the first ten worshippers. Even greater reward comes from praying in a synagogue filled with many worshippers * In the past, before clocks, gathering the prayer quorum was difficult. Those who hurried without knowing how long they’d wait for the quorum, merited great reward. But even today, when the time is known, the merit of coming early before the set prayer time, approaches the merit of being among the first ten
In this week’s Torah portion ‘Bo’ we read about the Passover holiday, with the Korban Pesach (Pascal sacrifice), which expresses our faith in God, and Israel’s segulah (unique virtues) as one. The holiday names reflect this. “Chag Ha-Matzot” (“Festival of Matzot”) – because our forefathers’ dough did not have time to rise before the holy Supreme King of kings revealed Himself to them and redeemed them. “Chag Ha-Pesach” (“Passover Festival”) – God ‘pasach’ (passed over) Jewish homes, saving us. Today, national identity expresses Israel’s unique virtue.
The Pascal sacrifice also expresses Israel’s unique virtue, and faith in God. Virtue – the Exodus goal was for Israel to enter, conquer, and settle the Land, as mentioned a number of times in the Torah portion. Consequently, an uncircumcised male was not permitted to eat the sacrifice (Exodus 12:48). Faith – Israel offered this sacrifice to God with mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), despite it being an Egyptian idol.
Similarly, the righteous King Josiah told the Levites: “See now to the service of the LORD your God, and His people, Israel” (Chronicles 2 35:3).
Complete Faith Unites Us
When the Jewish nation is united, even amidst spiritual troubles, God helps Israel defeat its enemies. Unity can also exist around national ideas. Due to the peace between the wicked King Ahab and King Jehoshaphat, though Ahab sinned more in avodah zara (idolatry) than all the other kings before him, together, they waged successful war. As our Sages said: “Great is peace, for even if the idolaters live in peace, the Holy One, as it were, does not “touch” them (with the Satan), as it is written (Hoshea 4:17) “Ephraim (Yisrael) has bound himself (in friendship to serve) idols — Let him be.” Our Sages also said that they did not sin in lashon ha-ra (defamation) in the days of Ahab, and therefore, were victorious in war (Yerushalmi Pe’ah 1:1).
However, unity lacking faith in God, cannot endure. Thus, Yehuda and Israel eventually separated, and fell before enemies.
Today as well, our unity level correlates to defeating our enemies, and flaws in unity impede victory. In other words, for now, even partial unity around national or religious values helps. But since it is partial unity, for example, only around faith in mitzvot between man and God, or only in Israel’s destiny to settle the Land, it brings partial success.
Thus we find that greatly nationalistic Ahab pursued alliances with neighboring nations through intermarriage and idol worship, gaining partial success. And religious kings like Hezekiah, lacking the national aspect, also achieved partial success.
The more we understand religious and national values as one, the more we’ll unite, and gain greater victory.
Viewing the Enemy as Dependent on the Leader
One expression of the concepsia (worldview) that has not properly changed, is analysts viewing the enemy as identical to the organization’s leader – Hamas, or Hezbollah. You’ll hear from all analysts that the question is what Nasrallah will decide, and similarly for Hamas, what Sinwar will decide. And in the past, the PLO, as if it solely depended on its founder, Arafat.
This style expresses the analysts’ fundamental lack of understanding of the enemy’s beliefs and motivations. Strategically, it almost doesn’t matter who leads them – the deep hatred of Jews and the State of Israel, is the deciding factor. As long as analysts, influenced by security and intelligence agencies, place great weight on the leader’s thoughts and considerations, but little weight on the ideological infrastructure driving Hamas and Hezbollah supporters, it is a sign they completely fail to understand the enemy and threat, with disastrous results.
The point is not to claim that understanding the enemy means the chance of Hezbollah initiating an attack soon is greater or smaller, but rather, that the enemy’s considerations are far broader and deeper, primarily, long-term considerations. Unfortunately, I have not heard a single military or political analyst, who does not err in this.
The Significance of Speech and Language
On the surface, it is difficult to understand – God’s plan was to take Israel out of Egypt, and bring them to the Land of Israel, as the Torah says:
“I have remembered you, and what was done to you in Egypt. And I said I will take you out of the misery of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Prizites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17-18).
If so, why in all his appeals to Pharaoh does Moshe Rabbeinu only demand he let Israel go to the desert for three days to worship God? (Exodus 3:18, 5:1-3, 6:6-8, 6:11, 7:2-5, 7:26, 7:16, 7:23, 9:1, 10:3, 10:9-11, 10:24, 10:25-26).
Even in the end, after the plague of the firstborn, there is no mention of leaving to freedom, only:
“And Pharaoh got up at night…and he called Moshe and Aaron at night, and he said, get up and leave from among my people, both you and the children of Israel, and go worship the Lord as you have spoken” (Exodus 12:30-31), with nothing said about Israel leaving to freedom, and ascending to the Land of Israel.
Perhaps it can be said that Pharaoh well knew Moshe’s intention was to take Israel out of Egypt to freedom. But according to diplomatic language, it was improper to propose that a great king like Pharaoh, surrender and give up 600,000 slaves. Moreover, if that were the demand, it would essentially mean asking him to give up his kingdom, for after such a humiliating surrender, all of Egypt would rebel against him. Therefore, the departure is described as going to worship God – a religious decree, not directed against Pharaoh’s reign. This way he could agree to the demand to release Israel without undergoing severe humiliation, since he could always claim he intended to honor God, and release them for a few days, with the assumption they planned to return to work in Egypt.
According to this, when Pharaoh agreed to let them go work in the desert without women and children, in diplomatic language he replied that despite all the plagues he suffered, he would not accept their demand, but was willing to slightly ease the servitude, so they could leave from time to time to worship God, but in general, remain enslaved in Egypt.
Also, when he surrendered after the plague of the firstborn, by saying go worship God, even though everyone understood he had agreed to release them, the sophisticated diplomatic language still left him room to reconsider. And indeed, after God hardened his heart, he succeeded in harnessing his soldiers to chase after Israel until the Sea of Reeds claiming betrayal, in order to return them to servitude.
Depicting the Tablets with a Rounded Top
Q: Rabbi, the cover image of your books ‘Peninei Halakha’ is of the Tablets with a rounded top, but I heard one shouldn’t do this, since the Tablets were square, and the rounded image was adopted from Christian illustrations.
A: For many generations it was the custom of Jews in synagogues worldwide to decorate the Holy Ark or parochet with an image of the two Tablets with a rounded top.
It is true that in the last generation, two Rabbis objected to the practice of rounding the Tablets’ top – first in 1963 Rabbi Eliyahu Katz (Debrot Eliyahu OC 1:96), and after him, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (in a talk in 1981). They claimed this practice derived from Christian Gentiles, whereas the Tablets in the Ark of the Covenant, were rectangular.
However, according to Jewish law, one must not malign the widespread practice of generations, since there is no need to make the Tablets as they were in the Beit Ha-Mikdash (Holy Temple), neither in shape, nor size. On the contrary, we find those making vessels modeled after the Tabernacle vessels must alter the size from the Temple, as it is forbidden to make outside the Temple, vessels in the form of those within it (see Avoda Zara 43b, Shulchan Aruch YD 141:8).
And in practice, even after hearing the aforementioned Rabbis’ claim, the common practice in tens of thousands of synagogues worldwide did not change, and they continued making the Tablets with a rounded top. This was effectively written by the Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu (Responsa of the Chief Rabbi 1988-1989, section 198), and was also conveyed in the name of Rabbi Elyashiv (Yisa Yosef OC 3:36). It was also written in Responsa Mishne Halachot (15:169) and Even Yisrael 8:57. They further argued there is doubt whether the Temple Tablets were in fact square, as one can learn from the Zohar (Vol. 2 84:2), that the top was round, since they were formed from two dew drops, as Rabbi Avraham Azulai wrote in his commentary ‘Chessed Le’Avraham’ on the Zohar ‘Or HaChama’, that the Tablets were partially rounded, and partially square.
The Virtue of the First Ten Worshippers
It is a great virtue for those who come early to pray in the synagogue.
“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One should always rise early to go to the synagogue in order to have the privilege and be counted among the first ten to complete the minyan (quorum), as even if one hundred people arrive after him, he receives the reward of them all”(Berachot 47b).
This is because he participated in establishing the minyan, and all those who arrive after him, join the minyan that the first ten established.
Q: In order to qualify to be among the first ten, is it better to pray in small synagogues, where the chance of being among the first ten is higher?
A: It is a greater virtue to pray in a synagogue that has many worshipers, because “b’rov am, hadrat melech” [‘a numerous people, is the glory of a king’] (MB 90:28). Meaning, the glory of Heaven, is greater in a large congregation.
The Virtue of Worshippers Who Come Before Prayer Time
A chiddush (innovation) can be added, that today, when everyone has watches, and the prayer time is fixed, everyone who comes to the synagogue before prayer time, is not far off from the virtue of being counted in the first ten. In the past, when there were no clocks, it was difficult to gather the minyan, and therefore, those who hurried, without knowing how long they would have to wait until the minyan was gathered, merited a large reward. But even today, when the time is known, the virtue of those who are quick to come before prayer time, is close to the virtue of the first ten.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.