Rabbi Tzvi Abrahams
Vayelech: The Good, The Bad, & The Beautiful ~ Tzvi Abrahams
The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful
רָעָה: evil, bad
תְּרוּעָה: teruah, sound of the shofar
רֵעַ: friend, companion
הָרִיעוּ לַה’: singing to Hashem, calling out to Hashem
וְאָנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא עַל כָּל הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה כִּי פָנָה אֶל אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים And I will surely hide my face on that day on all the evil that was done in turning to other gods.
What is the definition of evil? Turning our backs on Hashem and serving other gods.
When we abandon the רוֹעֶה/shepherd, we do רָע/evil in the eyes of Hashem. רָע is a life without G-d. Instead of allowing ourselves to be directed like sheep, we desire to be like the shepherd and be in charge of our own life, a life where I know best, where I am the director, where everything that happens is up to me. This is the serving of false gods, i.e., ourselves, which is evil in the eyes of Hashem. Instead of worshipping the shepherd, Egypt worshipped the sheep. The sheep was one of their gods, and for this reason they despised the עִבְרִים/Hebrews who were a nation led by shepherds, the seven shepherds Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon, and David. Man must recognize his place in the world and recognize who is the sheep and who is the shepherd.
אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי הָרֹעֶה בַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me the shepherd of roses.
מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד ה’ רֹעִי לֹא אֶחְסָר בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵנִי עַל מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי A Psalm of David: Hashem is my Shepherd, I will not lack; in pleasant fields He will lay me down, by calm waters he will lead me.
The children of Israel are often compared to sheep who are guided by the loving hand of Hashem, their Shepherd.
A רוֹעֶה/shepherd looks after the flock to make sure they come to no רָע/harm.
There is a wonderful children’s storybook about Dasi the sheep whose friends try to flee from the restrictive life under the shepherd. They want to be free, but the grass is not always greener on the other side. They run away and are attacked by wolves. Without the רוֹעֶה/shepherd, one is open to רָע/harm.
To turn one’s back on the רוֹעֶה/shepherd is inherently רָע/evil in the eyes of Hashem. Hashem gave us Eretz Yisrael with beautiful מַרְעֶה/pastures to graze on, however we became fat and rejected G-d, as it says: וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט שָׁמַנְתָּ עָבִיתָ כָּשִׂיתָ וַיִּטֹּשׁ אֱ-לוֹהַ.
Eretz Yisrael is the land of the Shepherd, the land of Hashem. As long as the sheep listen to the sound of the Shepherd the land will produce, but if the sheep abandon the Shepherd, then Hashem hides himself and in turn the land rejects its nature to produce, the pastures/מַרְעֶה dry up, and the nation starves. There is no longer any Divine protection. The wolves are sent in to devour the sheep. The song of הַאַזִינוּ testifies to what will be:
וְאָעִידָה בָּם אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ…. וְקָרָאת אֶתְכֶם הָרָעָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים And I will testify in them, the Heaven and the Earth…and it will happen to you the evil in the end of days, where the purpose of all the רָעוֹת/evils that will befall the Jewish Nation is in order to cause us to return to the Shepherd and to realize that our very survival is inherent on His protection and guidance.
תְּרוּעָה / קוֹל הַשׁוֹפָר: Teruah, the Sound of the Shofar
אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם יוֹדְעֵי תְרוּעָה/Happy are the people who know the teruah, who know how to connect to Hashem.
The shofar is sounded when we move camps, to gather us together, to announce that the King is coming (as on Har Sinai), and to accompany the daily tamid sacrifices.
The sound of the תְּרוּעָה in war is to confound the enemy, causing him to disperse, and has the power to break down walls (e.g., the walls of Yericho).
The תְּרוּעָה therefore has the duality to gather together and to disperse.
תְּקַע בְּשֹׁפָר גָדוֹל לְחֵרוּתֵינוּ/on that great day, Hashem will gather us in and confound our enemies — good for one and bad for the other. Sharp, piercing sounds can really shatter and confound someone, even though the person who blows it is not troubled.
When a shepherd wants to gather in his flock, he can use sounds and whistles. When a shepherd herds together, it is a time of רֵיעוּת/connection, which is לָשׁוֹן חִיבָּה/a closeness in coming together. But if, chas v’shalom, we choose to disband, to walk away and turn our back on the Shepherd, it will be bad for us — we will be open to attack from the seventy wolves. We will lose our protection, as the pasuk says: רָעוֹת רַבּוֹת וְצָרוֹת/troubled times will befall us.
As a nation, the goal of the shofar blast is to disperse our enemies and gather us in. On an individual level, the goal of the shofar is to wake us up and shatter our קְלִיפּוֹת/blockages and cause them to flee. When we see that we can overcome our enemies, then we can come forward without fear and be gathered in (because fear is one of our blockages).
רֵעַ: Friend, Companion
In the verse quoted above, אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם יוֹדְעֵי תְרוּעָה, תְּרוּעָה means the ones who know how to connect to and be bonded with Hashem. תְּרוּעָה, as we have seen, is the sound of the shepherd calling us through the shofar, which has the power to break down walls and connect us to our source.
רֵעַ/friend is therefore someone whom we are connected to and whom we feel closer to.
וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵיעַךָ כְּמוֹךָ/and you shall love your friend like yourself. A man’s wife is called רֵיעוּתוֹ/his friend, the one whom he is most connected to, to the point where the mitzvah of וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵיעַךָ כְּמוֹךָ is best fulfilled through loving one’s wife, to the point they are called רֵעִים אַהוּבִים/beloved companions.
וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵיעַךָ כְּמוֹךָ אַנִי ה’ To accept with love our רָע/problems and to recognize that they all come from Hashem with love. This is the meaning of יִסוּרִין מֵאַהַבָה, where our problems do not come about because Hashem hates us or wants to punish us, but rather from His love, as a father acts towards his son.
One of the reasons our forefathers were shepherds was in order to draw closer to Hashem through being alone in the fields, away from society, which enhanced contemplation. קוֹל דְמָמָה דַקָה/Hashem is heard in the silence, and when our minds are connected to a higher place (to the רוֹעֶה), we are able to receive his רַעְיוֹנוֹת/ideas.
הָרִיעוּ לַה’: Singing to Hashem, Calling Out to Hashem לְכוּ נְרַנְּנָה לַה’ נָרִיעָה לְצוּר יִשְׁעֵנוּ.
Come let us sing to Hashem, let us call out to the Rock of our salvation.
If, chas v’shalom, we distance ourselves from Hashem and we find ourselves in a pit, how do we get out? We have to call out to Hashem, to the Shepherd, to come, save us, and gather us in, like kittens crying out for their mother, “Here I am — please help me!” So too when a baby calls out, it wants its mother to come. If we don’t call out, though, no one is going to come. Hashem is looking to us to see if we want Him. What will it take for us to get to the point when we can cry out to Hashem and say הִנֵנִי/here I am?
As children it was easy to cry; we were more in tune with our emotions. As time passed, with our growth into adults, we built walls and barriers to stop us from getting hurt, and so we distanced ourselves from our emotions. We forgot how to cry.
Just like a mother whose baby’s cries become unbearable to the point where nothing can stop her from coming close to comfort her child, so too Hashem cannot bear to hear our cries and do nothing. Crying is the language of the soul.
The job of the תְּרוּעָה is to break down our walls and make us into a שֶׁבֶר כְּלִי/a broken vessel where we are able to break through to the point of הִנֵנִי, of crying out and saying “here I am!”
On the other hand, when we sin and become unaware of Hashem, then Hashem says to us, like he said to Adam, “אַיֶכָּה/where are you?”
Elul, when this parshah is normally read, is the special time of year that Hashem gives us to return from being lost from the place of אַיֶכָּה/where are you, to the place of הִנֵנִי/here I am.
Hashem is now gathering us in, because soon there will be nowhere else to go. Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head again; the wolves are closing in.
One of the main wolves at Hashem’s disposal is יִשְׁמָעֵאֵל /Yishmael, which literally means “Hashem will hear,” and is called so because at the end of days, they will be the nation that will get us to the point where we cry out to Hashem, to get us to the point whereאֶלָא עַל מִי לָנוּ לְהִשְׁעֹן עַל אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָׁמַיִם /we have no one to lean on except our Father in Heaven, and just like in Egypt Hashem answered our cries, מִן הַמֵצָר קָרָאתִי יָ-הּ, so too Hashem will answer our cries in the future.
זִבְחֵי תְרוּעָה/ Lambs to the Slaughter
Hashem doesn’t create evil, He only created the potential for evil. We have the choice to turn our backs on Hashem. The bad that returns upon us is not bad, it is really for our good. The analogy of lambs being led to the slaughter is therefore not bad. The wolves brought them back to Hashem (just like Amalek) and they returned to Hashem with the words שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל on their lips. The Nazis were therefore just instruments in the hands of Hashem. While Yishmael was still young, the angels told Hashem to kill him now. But Yishmael, like Hitler and Pharaoh, were all puppets in the hand of Hashem in order to cause us to cry out שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל, to recognize that ה’ הוּא אֶ-לֹהִים/Hashem is G-d, and that אֵין אֶלֹהִים אַחֵרִים/there are no other gods. But what about the tzaddikim in the Holocaust? What did they do wrong that they had to die? If the only way to save your brother was to give him your kidney, would you not save him?! So too here — if the only solution, the “final solution,” to get our brothers to return was through a Holocaust, then would we not give up our lives in order to save them?
And why in such a way, with death camps, as lambs to the slaughter? Why didn’t they fight back? Because Hashem stripped away their self-esteem — through prisoner clothing and shaved hair — only then could they reach the פְּנִימִיוֹת/the inner world of the pintele yid.
Like sheep being led to the slaughter, which is our purpose — to be צֹאן קָדָשִׁים/holy sheep, to sacrifice our will and our lives to the רוֹעֶה/Shepherd (where “will” in Aramaic is רַעַוָא), to מְבַטֵל /nullify ourselves and to offer ourselves up on the מִזְבֵּחַ ה’/altar of Hashem.
“Lambs to the slaughter” was the accolade given to Rabi Akiva and his friends. It was Rabi Akiva who willingly went from this temporal life to eternal life with the words Shema Yisrael on his lips. This is the acclaimed accolade of being a קָרְבַּן עוֹלָה תְּמִימָה/a perfected sheep, where we have elevated ourselves to be free of blemish and can now be drawn close to Hashem.
This is the good, this is the bad, and this is the beautiful. This is the beauty of Hashem’s creation — that everything is measured out precisely in order for us to recognize that we are the sheep and Hashem is the Shepherd.
כְּצֹאן קָדָשִׁים כְּצֹאן יְרוּשָׁלִַם בְּמוֹעֲדֶיהָ כֵּן תִּהְיֶינָה הֶעָרִים הֶחֳרֵבוֹת מְלֵאוֹת צֹאן אָדָם וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ Like holy sheep, like sheep of Yerushalayim in its time, so will the destroyed cities be filled with sheep-men, and they shall know that I am Hashem.
In conclusion, the sound of the תְּרוּעָה is to blast down the walls, to extricate the רָע/bad that blocks us from seeing the רוֹעֶה/Shepherd and from hearing Him in the קוֹל דְמָמָה דַקָה/silence. When we break through, we are reunited in רֵעוּת/companionship, the cries of heartache turn to cries of joy, and we are now ready for Succos.
1 Devarim 31:18.
2 Shir HaShirim 6:3.
3 Tehillim 23:1.
4 Gadi Pollack, A Tale of Seven Sheep (New York: Feldheim Publishers).
5 Devarim 32:15.
6 Ibid., 31:28.
7 Tehillim 89:16.
8 Metzudas David to Tehillim ibid.
9 Devarim 31:17.
10 Vayikra 19:18.
11 Sheva Brachos.
12 Likkutei Moharan, 1:165.
13 Tehillim 95:1.
14 See Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 5:4.
15 Yechezkel 36:38.