Parashas Vaeschanan

In this week’s parashah, Moshe continues with the discourse he delivered to the Jewish People just before his death, with the people on the verge of entering Eretz Yisrael under Yehoshua’s leadership. Moshe warns the people that if they stray from the proper path, and engage in idol worship and other evildoing, Hashem will expel them from the land and scatter them among the nations. Moshe then continues (Devarim 4:30): “In your distress (בצר לך), when all these things come upon you, in the end of days, you shall return up to Hashem your God and you shall hearken unto His voice.” I present here two of the Maggid’s explanations of this statement, which deal the same theme from two very different angles.
1. Sometimes Hashem casts at us only one form of affliction, such as exclusively famine or exclusively violent attacks. At other times, He surrounds us with multiple forms of afflictions, such as famine, violent attacks, and disease all at the same time. This state of multiple afflictions is referred to by the term distress – צרה – related to the term צר, meaning narrow. It is a state of being boxed in by afflictions. Regarding this state of affairs, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 142:3-5):
I pour out my supplication before Him, I relate before Him my distress (צרתי). When my spirit faints within me, You know my path: On this road that I walk they have laid a snare for me. Look to the right and see that I have no friend; escape is lost to me, no one seeks to save my life.
Now, suffering can come upon us for two purposes. One purpose is to cleanse us of our sins, as the Gemara says (Berachos 5a): “Just as salt improves the taste of the meat, so, too, afflictions cleanse away a person’s sins.” The other purpose is to induce us to pray to Hashem to gather us in from the four corners of the earth and return us to Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim. The Maggid presents a sign we can use to discern the purpose of a specific bout of afflictions. If Hashem casts at us only one form of affliction, then the reason for the suffering is probably to cleanse us of sin. If, however, He surrounds us with multiple forms of affliction, then the reason for the suffering is probably to induce us to pray to have Him redeem us from exile.
The Maggid draws an analogy to a person chasing after a slave who has fled from him. If the master approaches the slave from the front and tries to stop him from going further, he will not succeed, for the slave will turn to the right or to the left and keep running. The only way to force the slave to turn back is to get a group of people to surround him on all three sides, front, right, and left. Similarly, when Hashem wants us to turn back toward Eretz Yisrael, He surrounds us with a multitude of afflictions. Moshe’s statement reflects this idea. When we are in a state of צרה, in a state of being boxed in on all sides, then we can figure that Hashem is trying to get us to return to Him and yearn for the day when we will be resettled in Eretz Yisrael, basking in His Presence.
2. The Maggid’s second explanation is based on an analogy to the practices of produce merchants. Usually a produce merchant keeps the different kinds of produce separate and sells each kind in its own specific way with its own specific price. But when the end of the day comes, and the merchant has left only a small amount of each kind – a few apples, a few handfuls of nuts, and so on – he puts everything in one basket and sells it all to a child at a cheap price, in order to clear out all the leftovers and empty out all his bins.
Similarly, usually Hashem sends specific types of afflictions for specific sets of circumstances; as Shlomo HaMelech puts it in Koheles 3:1, “everything has its season, and there is a time for everything under the heavens.” In this vein, the Gemara in Shabbos 145b describes Hashem complaining: “It is not enough for the Bnei Yisrael that they sin before Me, but they trouble Me to know which evil decree I am going to bring upon them.” But in the end of days, Hashem will clear out His storehouse of afflictions. Moshe’s statement hints at this idea. When we see that Hashem is casting at us a conglomeration of many types of afflictions, it is a sign that clearing-out time has come and we are nearing the end of days, when Hashem will gather us all in and bring us back to Him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.