Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ki Teitzei

Balance the balance
The balance of our life's work
Balanced by G-d's hand

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way (BADERECH) when you were leaving Egypt,
and how he happened upon you/cooled you down on the way (BADERECH)” – Devarim 25:17. Why two references to DERECH in one line?

Rabbi Bernard Weinberger in his sefer Shemen HaTov asks and answers this question: Amalek lives inside us, it is the yetzer hara. It attacks us using two techniques, which are both alluded to in this pasuk by the double mention of the path on which we encountered Amalek. When we’re up high and feeling great the negative force inside us pushes us too far, toward haughtiness and beyond. And when we’re (rachmanah litzlan) in dire straits and feeling a bit down, the Amalek within pulls us into depression and inaction.

This ties in with an explanation that I heard from Rabbi Ephrayim Polyakkof. Why is it that immediately preceding the pasuk we just cited is the ruling that we must have even weights and measures? If we consider Amalek to be the Yetzer HaRa, the emphasis here on balance becomes more clear. The Amalek inside us thrives on extremes and waits to pounce on any trace of imbalance inside us. When we gravitate too far toward one side we run the risk of having our Amalek pull or push us down to the depths or up over the edge.

This is one explanation of our appeal to G-d (in Hashkiveinu) to remove the Satan from before us and behind us. Sometimes our Amalek pushes us too far up, and sometimes he pulls us too far down. Our only hope is to monitor our own balance and pray to G-d for help.

A Chassidic Rebbe was once imprisoned and his roommate was a circus performer - a tightrope walker. The Rebbe asked the fellow what the secret was behind his success. The man explained that the key was looking forward, not back, and not to the sides. As long as he moved evenly forward without being distracted by other directions, he did not fall. The Rebbe later said that it was to learn this life lesson that he had needed to be in that jail at that time.

Rabbi Weinberger ends his comments on this pasuk observing that we read these lines imploring the remembrance of Amalek twice annually - before Pesach and before Rosh HaShana (this parsha ). As Pesach approaches, the world is experiencing the joyous rebirth of spring, and we are celebrating our freedom and our nation’s birth. At this time we must be wary of Amalek, lest we carry our elation too far. And now fall with its looming darkness and deterioration approaches, along with our days of awe and the judgement of all. At this time we must work to not allow our Amalek to drag us into despair.

May we be blessed with a meaningful Shabbos and Ellul. Ketivah Vechatimah Tovah.


rr said...

Thanks for the post. Good, solid thoughts to go into Shabbat and Elul with. K'tivah V'chatimah tovah to you and your loved ones too!

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

RR - your comment is greatly appreciated, as is your appreciation and your warm wishes. I wish the best for you and your family.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

After posting this on line here, I prepared it as a sheet and gave it out to my Friday classes and whoever else I saw who wanted it. Before printing it out I added a haiku. Right before Shabbos I decided on the version that now appears on the blog. I like it better than the one I handed out, which had a different third line:

Balance the balance
The balance of out life's work
Otherwise, it's faith?

If you're reading this - let me know which you like better.

I share a room with a math teacher who one day last year saw that I give my classed these sheets about the parsha on Fridays. She asked for one and brought it home and connected with the style and shared it with her family at their Shabbos table. Now, upon her request I leave her one every week.

Last week I gave one out to my classes but forgot to leave one for her and she was rushing anyway and it didn't work out.

This week as she was setting up and I was clearing out she saw that I did my trademark move of leaving the sheet sticking out of her top desk drawer. She shrieked in excitement (maybe I'm exagerating, but as Descarte said right before he disappeared, I think not).

Then some of the honors math students started asking for the sheets. One boy who was in my class for a brief while at the start of last year and then moved up a track told me something on the spot.

He said matter of factly that when he moved up his parents (who had very much wanted him to move up) told him that they very much missed the sheets that he came home with weekly from my class. He said this very seriuosly and sincerely and naturally.

Maybe I have to learn to be better at cherishing such truths. Maybe I have to learn how to keep these kinds of things between me on G-d and the people who are appreciaive recipients. Maybe I have to learn how to send emails about these things to my supervisors/bosses, or to save such comments in a folder after getting them in writing, or have the appreciative people pass on word.

Maybe I just need to breathe.