Post Archive for October 2017

Sukkos – Megillas Koheles and Parashas V’Zos HaBerachah

Megillas Koheles
In Koheles 8:8 it is written (rendered according to the Maggid’s commentary): “A man cannot control the spirit [of desire] to confine it, yet it has no power on the day of death. Nor is there discharge in war, and wickedness cannot save the wrongdoer.” The opening phrase of this verse teaches how Hashem granted man the freedom to choose between good and evil, with both options placed before him on equal footing. Hashem proceeded like an agent apportioning the contents of a house on an equal basis to several people. If one of them strongly desires a specific item and decides to take it, each of the others will take other items of the same value. In this way, all take an equal share, with no one getting an edge over the others. 
Hashem invested our physical drives with great power. Even if a person attains the wisdom to know that he should spurn evil and disdain all the vanities of this world, he cannot attain sufficient control over his physical drives to neutralize them completely. Indeed, Hashem did not create our physical drives for nothing: A certain degree of physical desire is necessary for a person to be prompted to take care of his bodily needs. In parallel, Hashem invested the intellect with comparable power, so that even if a person lives his entire life as a fool, the inclination for foolishness will have no hold on him on the day of his death. Thus, at the end of this book of wisdom, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Koheles 12:13): “The matter has ended, all has been heard.” Let us elaborate on what this statement means. 
At the beginning of the book, Shlomo declares (ibid. 1:3): “What gain does a man achieve from all his labor that he will labor beneath the sun?” Note that Shlomo does not say “that he labored,” but rather “that he will labor.” Here Shlomo is teaching us an important idea. As a person approaches death, he becomes like a man who is giddy with wine, and recoils from the thought of drinking. Not only does such a man regret his past drinking, but he has no desire to drink now. Even if he were given a free bottle of wine, he would not want to drink. It is the same with worldly pursuits. When a person nears his end, his eyes open up, and he sees that these pursuits have no substance: Not only is he left with nothing from his past labors, but he will gain nothing from future ones. He thus becomes disgusted with worldly pursuits, and loses all interest in them.
Parashas V’zos HaBerachah
In blessing the tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar, Moshe said (Devarim 33:18-19):
Rejoice, Zevulun, in your excursions, and, Yissachar in your tents. Peoples will be called to the mountain, there they will slaughter offerings of righteousness, for they [Zevulun] will be nourished by the abundance of the sea and the treasures sunken in the sand.
We can interpret this passage as follows. The Gemara in Yevamos 75a states that during the days of David HaMelech and Shlomo HaMelech converts were not accepted, because the Jewish People were very prosperous during that period and there was a concern that people might want to convert in order to get a share in this prosperity rather than solely out of a desire to serve Hashem faithfully according to the Torah. Now, the region of the tribe of Zevulun was a prosperous commercial center for an extended period. We can therefore surmise that gentiles in this region who sought to convert were handled with extra caution. Rather than being converted locally, they would be sent to Yerushalayim where they could be examined by the Kohanim and the prophets to determine whether their motivation for converting was pure or admixed with material considerations. This procedure is reflected in the Moshe’s statement that Zevulun would call peoples to the mountain. Here, the mountain referred to is the Temple Mount. The members of the tribe of Zevulun would have to send potential converts to the Temple Mount because they were blessed with great wealth, “the abundance of the seas and the treasures sunken in the sand.”
An additional homiletical interpretation was put forward by Rav Baruch Mordechai Lipshitz in the name of his father, Rav Yaakov Lipshitz. [It is not clear whether this segment is part of the Maggid’s commentary or was added by Rav Flamm, the redactor of the Maggid’s commentaries.] The Hebrew term used for treasures in this passage is שפוני, related to the word ספון. The word ספון means covered, as in the phrase roofed with cedar in Melachim Alef 7:3 and the phrase paneled houses in Chaggai 1:4. From this reason, the Hebrew word for ship is ספינה, since a ship must be coated on the outside by waterproof and airtight sealing material. Now, usually when a merchant ship goes out to convey merchandise from City A to City B, it takes other merchandise back from City B to City A; Hashem, in His wisdom, arranged for different commodities to be available in different areas in order to provide opportunity for commerce. Sometimes, though, a merchant ship does not take back other merchandise on the return trip. In this case, in order to maintain the weight necessary for the ship to travel safely across the sea, the ship will be loaded with sand, dirt, or stones.  Now, Moshe gave the tribe of Zevulun the blessing that they would nourished with the abundance of the seas. They would be blessed with all kinds of assets, lacking nothing. Thus, they would send out ships with merchandise to other lands, but would not take merchandise back. Instead, their ships, their ספינות, would be appropriately sunken partly into the sea by means of sand [rendering שפוני טמוני חול, treasures sunken in the sand, as ships {partly} sunken via sand].