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20 Iyar 5762 - May 2, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Concern for "Inyonim" and "Segulos" but Disregard for the Basics

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

"And I shall bring upon you a vengeful sword... and I shall send pestilence in your midst . . . " (Vayikro 26:25)

Rashi comments on "I shall send pestilence: It is through the pestilence that you will be delivered into the hands of the enemies that lay siege upon you, for one is not supposed to leave a body unburied overnight in Jerusalem, and when they removed the dead for burial, they were delivered into the hands of the enemy."

In his work, Nesiv Refoel, HaRav Refoel Wechselbaum dwells upon a fascinating point. These verses deal with a period in Jewish history when the Jews sinned and descended seven levels: They did not study, they did not practice, they despised others who kept the Torah, they despised Torah scholars, they prevented others (from observing the commandments), they denied the commandments and finally they denied the basic tenets of faith!

And yet, wonder of wonders, these very apostates against Hashem and the Torah scrupulously observed a mere custom of not letting a corpse remain in Jerusalem overnight. How can we begin to understand this strange contradiction?

Furthermore, we must realize that certainly overall the punishments they suffered came because they had forsaken the Torah. If so, it is very puzzling that davka a mitzvah, that of burying the dead within the same day, one of the few vestiges of all the commandments they had already abandoned, should be used by Shomayim to bring about their downfall. Punishment is visited upon a person so that he will learn to abandon his wicked ways. But what happened here is the very opposite: it would seem as if they were being punished for keeping a mitzvah! The effect might be exactly the opposite of bringing them to improve.

Generally, when things are headed downwards, if a person, or a nation, were to realize how rapidly they were deteriorating at headlong speed, and if they were to see how far they had fallen and how low they truly are, they might possibly arrest the plunge. But Satan is too clever to let a person see how far he has gone, how lowly and base he has become.

Rather Satan wants to fool the person (or nation) into thinking that he is still worthy. To do this, he urges and encourages him to keep customs and practices that are not part of the real core of the Torah, that is, they are not basic, integral features. Sometimes these customs are even foolish ones without any actual basis or roots in the Torah. But Satan deceives the person into thinking that they are even more important, and the rest are just subsidiary.

This approach leads a person to be cavalier about all of the really important commandments on the one hand, and/or to sacrifice his very life for those he deems important, even if they are not fundamental to Torah. Satan gains since that person sanctimoniously considers himself righteous and perfect because of the trivial things that he does at great sacrifice, and therefore does not gauge the situation properly, nor acknowledge his accelerated descent.

The gemora in Bovo Kamo (82) enumerates a list of ten customs and practices kept in regard to Jerusalem, some of which are derived from the Torah and some from rabbinical sources, which have an evident reason. The very last one listed is the one of interest to us: "One does not allow the dead to remain in [Jerusalem] overnight." It is stated there that this is considered `gemora,' and Rashi comments that this means that it is a tradition we have, which has no evident reason or basis!

It is written there in the Mesores Hashas that the Zohar does bring a reason for this in parshas Nosso, which is that leaving the dead in the city overnight draws impurity, and one must be very careful about doing so in the Holy City.

So we see: on the one hand heresy against the fundamental tenets, as explained above regarding the seven graded descents, and on the other hand, ultimate sacrifice for something that has no grounded basis in the gemora, but only al pi nistar.

The very evil power which urges a person to sin and pushes him towards heresy, is the same power which propels him to envelop himself in "self righteous" acts and to invest the brunt of his spiritual efforts in matters that are peripheral. In this way, even a low, contaminated person is able to regard himself as holy and perfect, as a person of spiritual stature, one who serves Hashem through great self- sacrifice.

So we see that through this excessive zeal about this practice, Jews were caught by the enemy and put to death. But had they let the dead remain overnight in the city and buried them only the following day, without panic and rush, they would not have been delivered into the hands of the enemy.

We see, thus, that they subjected themselves, by their own hands, to a situation of mortal risk, something which is altogether forbidden according to halochoh. Indeed, they had no moral obligation to do so; they were not fulfilling the will of Hashem through this practice. In fact, it was counter to His will and forbidden.

This is why they were purposely punished through the performance of an apparent mitzvah. For one thing it was their extra caution in these matters that caused them to deteriorate in the real, fundamental aspects of Torah, and for another, what they believed to be worthy and good in this case was in reality forbidden and completely counter to the will of Hashem -- not a mitzvah at all!

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