Sunday, November 25, 2007

Short Vort Vayishlach

I recorded the 'Short Vort' this past week for Darche Noam. The only rules are that it has to be on the parsha, and has to be 2 minutes long.

Here is the recording of the vort:

Listen to the Short Vort as streaming audio

Download the Short Vort

On Friday someone told me that he was concerned that people would be offended by it, because I was saying that someone who followed baseball and the world series was not-Jewish and an idolater.

That had not been my intent when I wrote or said the vort, nor do I really see how someone could get that message.

But, as usual, when in doubt, blog it out. What do you think? Could this be misunderstood as an 'antibaseball' (or substitute any other Western cultural norm) d'var Torah? Do you find it offensive?

If you haven't got a spare 2 minutes and 9 seconds to listen to the vort, here is the text of the short vort (before I edited it and shortened it to fit into the allotted 2 minutes:

In the middle of this week’s parsha we find a very strange event. In chapter 34 G-d tells Yaakov to go back to Bet El to fulfil his vow. Yaakov tells his family to prepare for the return to Israel. He says to them, “remove the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, change your clothes. Let us arise, and go up to Bet El.”

He collects all the idols, and the verse continues “Yaakov buried them there under the oak tree” (Bereishis 35: 4).

Why did Yaakov’s family have idols with them at all? And what is the significance of Yaakov burying them under an oak tree?

Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains that the preparations for Yaakov’s return were similar to the preparations before B’nei Yisrael received the Torah at Mount Sinai. In Shemos 19 we read that “the people purified themselves and cleansed their clothes”. Coming back to Israel was not a physical journey for Yaakov as much as a spiritual one.

Rav Hirsch goes a step further and says that the foreign gods represent the foreignness of Chutz La’Aretz. Removing these gods represents the rejection of the non-Jewish world’s values and ideals. Returning to Israel and to Torah can only occur once those ‘Western’ values have been discarded and buried.

Shechem, where Yaakov made these final preparations, eventually became home to a group of people called Kutim, who were brought there by Sancheriv after he exiled the Ten Tribes, and who converted by force to Judaism. Throughout the period of the Mishnah they have an ambivalent status as not fully Jewish, but not non-Jewish.

The Talmud in Chullin, daf vav, tells us that the final reason that the Rabbis decreed that the Kutim were to be considered not Jewish was that they found a statue of a dove on the top of the mountain that the Kutim were worshipping.

Tosefot there brings a Midrash which says that this idol was made from the idols that Yaakov buried there many centuries earlier, under the oak tree.

Using the explanation of Rav Hirsch we can say that the Kutim not only built a physical statue, but rediscovered the alien values of Shechem that Yaakov had rejected and buried there.

We see then the difference between someone who is coming to Israel with the right intentions, to fulfil G-d’s word, and someone who has other motives. Yaakov prepared for Israel by removing any last vestiges of non-Jewish thinking from himself and his family.

The Kutim, even when they were in Israel, managed to dig up the rejected values of a previous era, and began worshipping them, rejecting G-d and Torah in the process.

May we all strive to be like Yaakov, and prepare ourselves for the spiritual journey we all make of coming closer to G-d.

Shabbat Shalom

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