Parashas Pekudei

In his commentary on this week’s parashah, in the course of explaining a Midrash, the Maggid analyzes the following verse (Yeshayah 5:20): “Woe to those who speak of bad as good and of good as bad, who regard darkness as light and light as darkness, who regard the bitter as sweet and the sweet as bitter.” The Maggid asks why Yeshayah had to speak both of regarding the negative as positive and of regarding the positive as negative. Seemingly, it would have been enough for Yeshayah to rebuke the people for regarding the negative as positive: the bad as good, the darkness as light, and the bitter as sweet.
The Maggid develops an answer through a parable. A certain pauper had a relative who was very rich. This relative was making a wedding for his son, and clearly the wedding meal was going to be lavish. The pauper expected that, as a relative, he would be invited to the wedding. [Unlike nowadays, when formal wedding invitations are sent in advance, it was apparently the practice in those times simply to send messengers to people on the wedding day and tell them to come.] He prepared himself for this event by refraining from eating on the day before the wedding and the day of the wedding itself, so that he would be able to eat a lot of the choice food that was going to be served at the wedding meal.
As the evening of the wedding day approached, he felt very faint, and he looked out the window to see if his relative’s servants had begun approaching people to invite them to come to the wedding. He saw that all the servants were passing by his door without calling him, and he was bitterly upset. Finally, he could hold out no longer, and he asked his wife to prepare him a meal from what they had in the house. She gave him some bread and some radishes and onions. Out of his great hunger, he ate a huge amount. Shortly afterward, one of his relative’s servants came to him and said: “My master wishes you to come to the wedding he is making.” The pauper went to the wedding in bitter spirits, and took his place at the table. The first course was fish; the pauper partook, but since he was already stuffed, he did not enjoy the food. Afterward, soup and roast meat was served. The pauper had some of the hot soup, and experienced a reflux of the onions and radishes, making the soup taste bitter and sour. His hope to enjoy a sumptuous meal had turned into a mirage.
The pauper sat through the entire meal without eating any of the delicious food. Eventually the wedding celebration ended, and people began to head back home. On the way, the pauper heard people praising the food enthusiastically. He said jokingly: “You all must be kidding. I also ate at the meal, and I found the food absolutely horrible.” The people were astounded that someone could speak badly of such a wonderful meal. Finally, one of them said: “I’ll explain to all of you what happened. Before the wedding, I saw this guy eating a large amount of onions and radishes. Because of that, he couldn’t taste the delicious flavor of the food – the bitterness of the onions and radishes was still in his system.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem invited us to “partake” of His Torah and mitzvos, which are, as Dovid HaMelech says (Tehillim 19:11), sweeter than honey. Anyone could sense their sweetness, if his soul were pure. But some people fill themselves up with coarse and bitter worldly pleasures. This being so, how could they possibly sense the Torah’s sweetness? The Torah is the exact opposite of what they have accustomed themselves to and pine for. And so they conclude that the Torah is bad and bitter. This is the message behind Yeshayah’s words. He is saying that since the strayers have regarded the bad as good and filled themselves up with junk, it is inevitable that they will regard the good as bad. As the Midrash puts it [cf. Yalkut Shimoni, Torah, 830 and 391, and Tosefos, Kesuvos 104a, s.v. I did not take pleasure], Hashem tells us: “Before you pray that words of Torah enter your innards, ask that banalities be purged from your innards.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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