Ki Seitzei 5782: Here Comes the Sun
Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 )
GOOD MORNING! Have you ever wondered where the expression “every cloud has a silver lining” came from? While it seems to have been around for several centuries (1634 is the earliest recorded instance of it appearing in a literary work), its popularity is undoubtedly attributable to American writer Fanny Fern.
In the 1850's Fanny Fern (a pseudonym) was commissioned by the editor of the Home Journal magazine to write a weekly motivational essay, which became wildly successful. In 1853 a collection of her essays sold 70,000 copies; an astonishing number in those days. By 1855 she was the highest paid columnist in the United States.
The exact quote from one of her essay reads, “Every cloud has a silver lining; and He who wove it knows when to turn it out. So, after every night, however long or dark, there shall yet come a golden morning."
Essentially, in Fern’s essay “silver lining” implies a slightly different notion than what is now commonly understood by the phrase. In general, we see a “silver lining” as a positive outcome amidst a difficult situation. However, Fern refers to it as a promise of better times that inevitably follow difficult ones; just as a bright and cheery dawn follows a dark and lonely night.
It is fascinating to note that the Torah doesn’t explicitly say that God created darkness – it just “appears” in the first chapter of Genesis (1:2). Yet we say in our everyday prayers the following blessing: “Blessed are you Hashem […] who forms light and creates darkness.” In other words, darkness isn’t merely the absence of light, but an independently created phenomena.
Why is this ongoing creation of darkness so significant? Because, believe it or not, this is one of the most important foundational concepts of a God-directed universe.
Digressing to the concept of a silver lining, as catastrophic as the pandemic was in terms of human suffering and loss, there were some positive outcomes that should be acknowledged: The entire world recognized the interconnectivity of humanity – what happens to some affects us all. We also became aware that we are ultimately very dependent on one another and we need each other. We learned a deep appreciation for medical personnel and support staff. We learned new skills and adapted our work lives to be productive outside of the office. The list goes on and on.
My personal silver lining was that, while circumstances dictated that I be away from my family for a few months, it gave me the time to write and complete a book on my dad’s brilliant insights into one of the most important books in the Bible – the Book of Esther. In fact, based on a statement in the Jerusalem Talmud Maimonides rules that at the “end of days” the only books of the Bible that will remain relevant forever are the Five Books of Moses and the Book of Esther (Megilla 2:18). Why? What is so crucial about the Book of Esther?
The answer can be found in this week’s Torah reading: Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you came forth out of Egypt; how he “happened” upon you by the way, and struck at your rear all who were feeble, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).
The sages are bothered by the fact that the nation of Amalek purposefully targeted and attacked the Jewish nation after they left Egypt, and yet the Torah portrays it as happenstance – as if they had just come across the Jewish people by chance.
The sages explain that this concept of “happened upon you” is meant to be the very definition of the essence of the Amalekite nation and it describes their antipathy towards the Jewish people.
Abraham, who is both the actual father and the spiritual father of the Jewish people, recognized at an early age that there is a God who created and constantly guides the physical world. This, in and of itself, did not make him unique; after all God had previously spoken with Adam, Noah, and others.
The difference between Abraham and all those who had come before him lay in the mission to which Abraham had dedicated his life; that of bringing the awareness of God to all of humanity. Abraham explained to anyone and everyone who would listen that there is a God who created everything and, more importantly, this being also desires a relationship with mankind.
The Jewish people represent the essence of God’s presence in the world. They have taken on their forebear’s mission of bringing an awareness of God to humanity. The exodus from Egypt was supposed to culminate with their receiving of the Torah, entering the land of Israel, and building the Temple – a permanent home for the presence of God in this world.
The Amalekites represent the exact opposite philosophy. Their mission is to show that God plays no role in the universe and that everything happens by “chance” and “happenstance.” Thus, they are the mortal enemy of the Jewish people. As the sages teach, Amalek knew they had no chance of success in defeating the Jewish people who had just escaped Egypt and in the process destroyed the most powerful army in the world. But they waged a war on the Jewish nation anyway because they couldn’t bear to live in a world in which God’s kingdom was manifest. Amalek chose to embark on a suicide mission because they believed that living in a God centered universe was not a life worth living.
The original dispute between the Amalekites and the Jewish nation took place 3500 years ago. It was then repeated in the time of Queen Esther (2500 years ago) when she was confronted with the archetypal Amalekite, the murderous Haman. However, to this very day, the conflict rages on between those who believe in a theocentric world and those who choose to believe that God has no role in the world or their lives. This is evidenced by a growing segment of society that chooses to ignore the sanctity of life or give credence to the fact that some ideals are sacred. Instead, they choose to promote a “moral” system that caters to the lowest common denominator.
According to the Talmud (Chullin 139b), the actual source for the possible existence of someone like Haman originates from the Tree of Knowledge – the very same one through which Adam and Eve sinned and brought death into the world. The concept of free will, the ability to act against the wishes of God, was exercised and brought death and darkness to the world.
This is similar to the concept that the darkness of night brings the promise of a bright dawn. Just as we wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the light without first experiencing the dark and lonely night, in a very real way it is death that gives life meaning – for death gives us perspective on what it means to be alive. It’s this ability to see the contrast from dark to light and life to death that makes life so much more meaningful. It’s the struggles in our lives that crystallize what we have accomplished and helps us appreciate what we have achieved.
Obviously, a world without a God and creator would be one of no real purpose or deep meaning – it would all be an “accident.” The sole purpose in life would be for us to experience as much pleasure as possible and to avoid pain and difficulties at all cost. This would not be unlike the challenge presented by the movie “The Matrix” (1999). Essentially, do you want to live in a made up reality that focuses on giving you everything you desire even though it’s not real or do you want to exist in a real world – albeit one that comes with real pain and constant struggle?
The villain in the movie chooses the “pretend” world created by the Matrix – he merely desires every pleasure all the while knowing that it’s not substantive; he refers to it as “ignorance is a bliss.” In an extraordinary example of life imitating art, our world today faces the very same challenge.
In the movie, the machines that created and maintained the Matrix were giving the humans a pretend world because they wanted to keep them captive and harness the electrical impulses generated by their physical bodies to provide the power necessary to maintain the machines.
Is that any different than the goal of every social media outlet that gives its users “free” usage of an incredible array of services and creates a mesmerizing world for its users that swallows them into never ending rabbit holes? These outlets then package and sell the users as the end product to corporations around the world.
It reminds me of the cartoon of two pigs talking to each other. “Can you believe that the farmer gives us all the food we can eat, a warm place to sleep, sows with which to breed, and it’s all for free? It’s AMAZING!” Bottom line, if something is free then you aren’t the customer you’re the product that’s being sold.
We live in a world that, in many ways, seems to be devolving into chaos and turmoil. In an upcoming column I will explore the difference between the 20th century’s two great predictors of how the world will devolve into a dystopian society – George Orwell and Aldous Huxely. Scarily, in some ways they were both pretty much on target, though Huxely may have a slight lead.
But we must have hope, after all living in a theocentric universe reminds us that it is God’s creation of darkness that also informs us that ultimately there will be a profound light. We are all duty bound to do our part to help lift the veil of gloom and hasten the arrival of the dawn.
Ki Seitzei, Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
Topics in this week’s portion include: Women Captives, First-Born’s Share, The Rebellious Son, Hanging and Burial, Returning Lost Articles, The Fallen Animal, Transvestitism, The Bird’s Nest, Guard-Rails, Mixed Agriculture, Forbidden Combinations, Bound Tassels, Defamed Wife, Penalty for Adultery, Betrothed Maiden, Rape, Unmarried Girl, Mutilated Genitals, Mamzer, Ammonites and Moabites, Edomites and Egyptians, The Army Camp, Sheltering Slaves, Prostitution, Deducted Interest, Keeping Vows, Worker in a Vineyard, Field Worker, Divorce and Remarriage, New Bridegroom, Kidnapping, Leprosy, Security for Loans, Paying Wages on Time, Testimony of Close Relatives, Widows and Orphans, Forgotten Sheaves, Leftover Fruit, Flogging, The Childless Brother-in-Law, Weights and Measures, and Remembering What Amalek Did to Us.
The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.
— attributed to Abraham Lincoln