Parsha Mitzvot-Vaetchanan-Mitzvot 426-7 – Concepts 57 & 164
Transcribed and unedited: Mitzvah/Concept number fifty seven – (Mitzvah 426-Parashat Vaetchanan) is that you may not do favors for idol worshippers. Question, is this only idol worshippers or is this non-jews as well? Number fifty eight, you may not allow idol worshippers to live in your land, meaning Israel, lest they corrupt you and cause you to worship idols as well. Again the question is asked, does this mean only pure idol worshippers or as there are times when avodat cochavim is used as a general ambiguous term for all non-jews. So everyone believes that it refers only to idol worshippers.
You may not make a covenant with idol worshippers, you cannot allow them to live in Israel and you cannot do a favor for an idol worshipper and I will tell you how it develops in halacha.
So the Rambam says that if there is an idol worshiper who wants to live in Israel, so you must tell this person either you give up worshiping your idols or I will kill you, because they law is you destroy anyone in Israel who is an idol worshipper or you leave the country. The one who sees an idol worshipper drowning in the river should not save him, he is an idol worshipper.
You are not allowed to sell them fields or homes inside of Israel. However, there is a concept called mipnei darchei shalom, because of ways of peace; the Torah is a very nice theoretical document, it is not a very practical document.
For example, it is impossible to administer the death penalty, it is impossible to administer half the mitzvoth and laws the way they function, society could not function, society cannot function with non-interest bearing laws, right, society would not function, there is no business. You, if you would not have any competition which you really could not have because you are not allowed to hurt someone else’s business, so the Torah sets certain standards, moral standards, and of course we call the follow the law as well as possible, but even the Gemara admits that it is not a functional law, and that you have to develop the law on your own. So there are certain laws that are taken to be statements but are not taken on face value. Meaning that we understand that in our society it is not a functional law.
The primary example is probably this examples of the way we have to treat idol worshippers, because there are definitely people who hold that Christians are idol worshippers. So does this mean that if you saw a Christian drowning in the sea, that you would not be allowed to save the Christian? Does it mean that you are not allowed to give charity to a Christian, if a Catholic is really considered an idol worshipper, you would not be allowed to give Charity, you would not be allowed to make a peace treaty, excuse me, so Israel could never have Diplomatic relations with the Vatican, without any political statements, whether we want it or not, but how limited, it just would not work. So there is a concept called mipnei darchei shalom, and this concept is, in order for Jews to be able to coexist with non-jews certain laws are suspended, and this is of a primary concern, and that includes mipnei darchei shalom is applied to all three. The only time it is not applied is to an out and out pure idol worshipper. And this was part of the debate over the Mormons building, the, remember, is it a, it is not a tabernacle, it is a school, it is not a tabernacle, it is not a place of worship, I think it is specifically not a place of worship on top of the mountain, right outside, or in Yerushalayim, the Judean hills. So this was part of the debate, the Torah says you are not allowed to allow such people to live in Israel, especially the Torah says pen yachti’u otecha lih, because there is always the possibility that they will corrupt you, and we know that that is exactly the mission of these people, they want to go out, missionize, and that is considered corruption as far as Judaism is concerned, and it became a major halachic debate. Of course the decisions were not based on halacha but it was more … So you say like this, the law as it is now is as follows, the way the Rambam paskins, is that bizman sheyad yisrael takipha, as long as the hands of the Jews are more powerful, asur lehaniach akum, you are not allowed to allow, you may not allow an idol worshipper to remain, aphilu yosheiv yeshivat array, even if it is only temporary. He could not have a lay-over in Ben Gurion airport, or if he did, you could not let him off the plane. You have your idol with you, you have to stay on the plane. Ad sheyekabel zayin mitzvoth bnei noach, until the person would accept the seven Noachide laws. The Chinuch says that this includes, you are not allowed to go and say, how beautiful is that idol. And I think we already discussed when you are allowed to go into a museum and you see ancient idols that are not worshipped by anyone anymore, can you go and then see the Mayans or the Aztecs or the right Incas, how much can you see, are you allowed to admire it, or are you not allowed to admire it, would it fall under this law? The Chinuch would hold you are not allowed to. The Rambam would probably hold that you can because there is no one worshipping it now. If it was not idol worship now you could.
The Midrash Rabba has a question like this. The Midrash Rabba points out you know it is very nice to say, do not make a covenant with the non-jews, except Avraham did it, Yitzchak did it, they made covenants with Avimelech, the King of the Plishtim.
So the Midrash Rabba points out that if you look in Jewish history, those two peace treaties, those covenants that were made between Abraham and Isaac and Avimelech King of the Plishtim led to tremendous trouble, because Shimshon, Samson, was limited in how much he could fight back to protect the Jews because of the covenant. And even David if you remember when he wanted to capture the city of David which was then the city of the Yevusi, a Yevusi fortress, and I do not know if you have ever gone to the city of David, but they have the Yevusite, the Jebusite stones, you know what I am talking about? On the side of the hill. So that was a Plishti city. A Philistine city. So the question was, was he allowed to attack or not. And if you look in the verses it says that there was a statue of a blind one and lame one, who is the blind one and the lame one? The blind one, who is the blind one, Isaac, remember he got blind, and it was when Isaac got old, that is how Yaakov fooled him and stole the blessing, because Isaac was blind, and who was the lame one? Yaakov. So they had a statue to remind the Jews, your grandparents made a peace treaty with us, you cannot attack.
And so David said, whoever who can go in and steal those two idols and get them out of the way so that I will feel comfortable attacking I will give him a nice reward, so that is what happened.
So the Midrash points out, so you see obviously that it is a … you cannot make a peace treaty with an idol worshipper, you cannot.
So then the Gemara asks, well actually it is a tosafot in Yevamot, asks that we find that Solomon made a peace treaty with Chiram, King of Tzor, Sidon, Southern part of Lebanon, we know that he made a peace treaty with him, so the Tosafot offers a number of answers. One is that this prohibition against peace treaties with non-jews is limited to the seven nations, the Canaani Yevusi Chiti Emori Prizi. And Chiram was not one of those. Another answer he gives is that Chiram accepted the seven Noachide laws, once he accepted the seven Noachide laws, then the prohibition was suspended. And the other is, tosafos first answer which he rejects, is that perhaps the prohibition is only when it includes the name of the idol in the peace treaty, but if it does not then it is not prohibited. But meaning that the intention is, whenever there is a peace treaty made with non jews, or with another nation, especially a nation of idol worshippers, it has to be done in such a way to protect ourselves from their influences. And they are not only peace treaties, but also agreements, when you live in a society, basically you have a peace treaty with that society, you have articles of agreement that are unstated. Correct? Just as in a marriage, two people are living together, you basically have agreed, you do not have it written out, carved in stone, about what each one is supposed to be doing for the other, unless you have a really bad marriage, or you have a weird marriage counselor, but otherwise you do not have it carved out in stone, but it is some type of agreement, a peace treaty between the two people. We have a peace treaty with the American society and we have to be careful that we know where to draw the line so that at least we do not allow ourselves to be corrupted by certain things. And the Sefer Yeraim says you can never make a covenant. It is not a peace treaty, it is a covenant, because covenant is used only with G-d. With Torah, the torah is called sefer habrit, the book of the covenant, and that it just means that when we make a peace treaty, we have to make sure it is not called a covenant, that is all.
The, R. Hirsch says like this, Hirsch says, listen, what is the story with Yitzchak and Yishmael, the story with Yitzchak and Yishmael is that when Yitzchak was weaned, his mother looked around, Sarah looked around, and she saw Yishmael and she told Avraham, “Throw him out.” And Avraham obviously was a kind man, he did not want to throw his son out, and Sarah’s argument is, was, that she did not want Yishmael to influence Isaac. Avraham’s argument was, well perhaps Isaac will influence Yishmael. G-d’s response was in favor of Sarah, and he said kol asher tomar Sarah shema B’kola. Whatever Sarah says you have to listen to her. She is right. That means that it was more apt for Yishmael to influence Yitzchak in a destructive way then the other way. Which is really you know a powerful idea, that the power of evil is always considered more powerful in influence than the power of good. And you have a number of laws like this in the Torah.
For example, do you know that if you are going out to certain wars, which is to expand the boundaries of Israel, not to defend yourself, and not to kill idol worshippers, so the cohen, a cohen stands up and makes certain announcements. Which we will learn about in probably twenty years from now if we ever get to that mitzvah. And one of the announcements the cohen makes is that whoever is frightened should go home. Why? Because one person who is frightened will hurt more people than twenty people who are courageous will help other people be courageous.
Two very powerful examples in the Bible. Do you remember the story with Yisro, how he convinced Moshe to appoint all these judges because it just was not good. Did any of the Jews complain before Yisro complained? No one. Yisro complained, all of the sudden everyone was miserable.
Listen to this other story. This is a story in Kings II, with Elisha, the King of Aram decided that he would lay ambush to the Jewish army. So being that the Jews had a prophet, Elisha, he saw through his spirit of prophecy that this ambush was laid and Elisha sent a message to the Jewish King, do not pass between those two mountains, go around. So the Jewish King was marching and he stopped and went around the two mountains, and the King of Aram began to suspect, or perhaps the Jews have a spy somewhere in my camp, how did they find out? So his officers assured him, there is no spy, his name was Ames or something, do not worry there are no spies here, you do not have to worry, give them a lie detector test. There were jerks then too. And they said the Jews have a prophet, it is a secret weapon, and there is no way you will be able to attack them by surprise as long as they have a prophet, the only thing to do is kill him.
So in the middle of the night, they found out that Elisha was in the city of Dotan, and in the middle of the night they came and they lay siege to the city of Dotan. So no one knows about it, it is still dark out, and Elisha’s servant boy was helping him, got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and so the way they would go to the bathroom in a walled city is they would stand on the wall and they would go, the men, they would stand on the wall, and then they would go over the wall. So he is going and he looks out and he sees that the entire city is surrounded by this massive army. Massive army. And he panics and he runs to Elisha and he wakes up and he says, “You have got to get up, You have got to get up, we are in big trouble, we have got to get out of here, I do not know what we are going to do, this is terrible, help me, help me, help me.”
And Elisha says, “Calm down now, calm down.” “You come upstairs and you will see, you will be as nervous as I am.” And he drags Elisha upstairs, he says, “Look at this, what are we going to do, we are going to die and I never got married, I never had any fun, I never got to Disney world, anything, what am I going to do.” So Elisha said, calm down, and he said, “G-d, open up this boys eyes.” So, a miracle happened, and the boys eyes open up, and surrounding the army of Aram, this massive army of Aram which is laying siege to Dotan is an even larger army of angels of fire. And the boy said, “Oh, thank you,” and he was not scared anymore.
So now, what does the boy expect? How is the war going to be fought? Tomorrow? You have some angels of fire attack these people you are going to have a great show, right, angels of fire attack.
How is the war won the next day? Elisha prays, and all the soldiers of Aram become confused, and they lose their sense of direction entirely, and Elisha leads them, says here, follow me, and because they are all confused they follow him, and he leads them right into the middle of the Jewish camp, and the Jewish army surrounds them and then they let them all go free.
Now, first of all, why did Elisha need a miracle for this boy. Why did he not just say, “Wait till tomorrow morning.” Secondly, he lied to him, why did he not explain to him, Sanverim, I am going to send this thing which is this confusing type of blindness and he went out of his way to prove that it was not what he told the boy because he made sure that the soldiers were allowed to go home. So it was not angels of fire, so he lied to him, why did he lie to him? And I think the reason is simple. One little boy who is petrified can bring down the entire city. You cannot say wait until tomorrow, because one negative person, right, you know, and anyone who has ever worked in an organization knows that is exactly the way it is. One person complaining, one person unhappy, I cannot tell you how many times people come up and say, “Rabbi, everybody is upset.” Really, how many people is everybody? I had this with one of the Presidents in a shul, “Rabbi I am telling you everyone is upset.” And I would say, so-and-so, how many people have called you? He would say, “I am telling you, I cannot even begin to tell you how many people.” So I would always say, “Tell me five and I will be you,” and he never got past his wife. (Laughter)
One negative person, influence, evil destructive influence is far more insidious than good influence can have an effect. And Hirsch says that is why it is so important, we brings things into our home all the time, we bring in magazines and books and records and articles and television shows and we do not pay attention to what we are bringing into our homes. And then the home loses some of its sanctity.
You can protect it as much as you want, which is, you know one of the major debates for those students in Yeshiva who want to go into outreach is should you expose yourself and your children to such people who doubt G-d’s existence, who doubt that the Torah is given on Sinai, because you are going to be exposing your kids to this. What do you do? And that is why the original response to outreach is that it is absolutely prohibited. Obviously, you know, you have to make a judgment call. But just this idea of being careful of what we expose ourselves to