1 Tammuz 5764
From the desk of Rabbi Doniel Baron
Tammuz: Galus, Galus Everywhere
We came. We prospered. We forgot the Torah. They killed some of us and threw the rest of us out. Occasionally we were saved, but as a nation we always survived. Downtrodden and crestfallen, we wandered onto a new foreign land. We rebuilt, revived our spirit. We prospered. We forgot the Torah… Sound familiar?
The repeated story of galus dominates our past. At the very inception of what would become the Jewish people, Hashem informed Avraham Avinu that his children would pass through galus en route to redemption. There are even hints to galus in the second pasuk in the Torah. Why is the painful cycle of galus and geulah so essential to the development of the Jewish people ?
Although we live in difficult times, most of us are not faced with the daily and imminent threat of death or explusion. As we begin the month of Tammuz in which we begin the saddest period of the year and focus on galus, we need to understand what galus is and what it should mean to us.
A fascinating medrash in Bereishis Rabba (parsha 8) offers a window into the secret of galus. Hashem considered creating man and consulted the angels. This caused a commotion above, and the angels divided into different camps. Some argued in favor of creating man; others argued against.
Different attributes of the manner in which Hashem interacts with the world joined the conference. Chessed (kindness) lobbied for creating man since he bestows kindness. Emes (truth), however, argued against creating man since he is full of lies. Tzedek (justice) argued in favor of creating man since he has the ability to perform just acts. Shalom (peace) argued against creating man since he is full of arguments.
The conclusion? Hashem cast emes to the ground (and created man). The angels responded in protest: “Master of all Worlds – how can you disrespect your very signature of truth ?” In an apparent reversal, Hashem raised Emes up from the ground, as the pasuk says Emes mearetz titzmach, truth shall grow from the ground.
Medrashim don’t just tell stories. We need to understand this Divine policy conference and its resolution, and find meaning in the reversal in which the angels seem to convince Hashem that disregarding emes contradicts who He is.
The answer is so deep that it touches the core of galus – and also our existence. The Maharal explains that when Hashem “threw” Emes to the ground, it was not an act of rejection of, or disregard for, emes. On the contrary, he planted emes in the ground to realize the goal of emes mearetz titzmach. In other words, Hashem planted emes in the earth in a manner that gives the impression of the total absence of emes – but only so that it would sprout into a greater and more far reaching emes. That means that throwing Emes on the ground is really sowing emes. One only takes the effort to plant if he believes his work will yield a harvest manifold. By definition, Hashem’s planting Emes must yield an exponentially high return. Therefore, when emes bursts forth from man, the emes is a deeper and more powerful emes than that which was originally planted. Similarly, galus yields a level of truth not otherwise attainable.
To understand this idea, imagine you are given the job of explaining the world to someone from another planet. You start with a farm and show him an egg for the first time. You explain how delicious scrambled eggs are for breakfast. His natural reaction would be to enjoy the egg as it is and assume that nothing more can come of it. Imagine telling your alien mentee that placing this egg beneath a chicken and waiting for it to smell and decompose to the point that it is not edible will result in a something better than the egg – something with potential to produce thousands of eggs and millions of chickens. You would likely be greeted with skepticism.
Moving on in the farm, you show him a sack of seeds and try explaining that if you place a seed in the ground, it first lays dormant, then rots and falls apart only to ultimately produce plants with the potential for thousands of additional seeds. Your confused audience would undoubtedly respond with disbelief.
Nonetheless, on many levels, that is how our world works. Hashem in his Infinite Wisdom programmed creation with a built in cycle of decomposition and regeneration. New and better life sprouts from the darkest moment when all seems forgotten, lost, and hopeless.
What is the difference between emes before it is planted in the ground and emes after it is planted ? The original form of emes couldn’t tolerate the presence of sheker or falsehood. It contended that Hashem should not create man because he is full of sheker, despite the potential for occasional truth. The emes that was “thrown to the ground” and planted germinates and sprouts from the ground and produces a higher level of emes. Our tefillos describe the process of geula as one of growth and say that Hashem is matzmiach yeshua – he makes redemption grow.
Nice message; the medrash finally makes sense. But what relevance does it all have for us? On a personal level, we are required to relate to that period in life during which we did not live the ideal Torah life – our individual galus – as a learning experience.
What should our reaction be to our secular colleagues and the western world as a whole ? The easiest thing to do would be to utter an emphatic “feh,” completely block out those negative influences and experiences, and move on. And, as is often the case with the easiest option available, it is exactly what the yetzer hora wants us to do. Our real job is to see the truth everywhere, not just in seforim, yeshiva or the classroom. We need to see truth even in the utter ridiculousness of the society around us –that’s why its there ! We need to personify that emes which grows. We should react to even everyday sound bites for what they are, and thereby arrive at a higher level of emes. Is a dog really man’s best friend ? Is the best part of waking up really Folgers in your cup?
We need to acknowledge the sheker that surrounds us every day and expose it for what it is – utter falsehood. By doing so, we reveal that greater level of emes that uses sheker to make its point. That is the message of galus and this is how we can be matzmiach yeshua.