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Friday, July 20

The Weekly Shtikle - Devarim / Chazon / Tish'ah B'Av

In a shiur on the haggadah earlier this year I heard an interesting perspective on vehi she'amdah. Part of the retribution meted out upon those who seek to destroy us is that they endure a legacy of association with evil more so than others who might be guilty of equally nefarious deeds. This is not a concrete rule but consider, as an example, the liberal use of the word Nazi in association with anything evil. Conversely, how much of the general population are even aware of more recent perpetrators of similar heinous crimes such as Pol Pot or Slobodan Milošević.

However, earlier on in our history, before many of our brutal persecutors came to be, there was a single paradigm of evil – Sedom and its neighbouring cities. Moshe Rabbeinu first references Sedom in the rebuke at the beginning of parshas Nitzavim. In this week's haftarah of chazon, the navi Yeshayahu makes a sharp comparison between the wickedness of the generation and that of Sedom. But in a passage we will read tomorrow night in Eichah, Yirmiyahu takes it one step further in exclaiming (4:6) that the crimes perpetrated by our nation were even greater than those of Sedom.

As related by R' Moshe Hauer on Tish'ah B'Av last year, R' Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, author of Eim HaBanim Semeichah, in his work on Tanach, addresses this shocking charge. Can it really be said that the generation at the end of the first Beis HaMikdash was more evil than Sedom? There were definitely significant sins which warranted the destruction, but it was still a nation of generally decent upstanding people. Sedom, on the other hand was pure evil through and through. Wickedness was the societal norm.

He explains that the continuation of the pasuk must be considered in order to understand what Yirmiyahu is trying to convey. The sin was greater than that of Sedom – which was overturned in an instant. The actual deeds of Sedom and its neighbours were surely far greater than that of the generation of the churban. But Sedom met its fate in the blink of an eye without any warning. There was no navi coming to proclaim (as Yonah did for Nineveh,) that their doom was impending. It is in this regard that the sins of the generation exceeded those of Sedom. For generation after generation, navi after navi, we were warned repeatedly to change our ways. We were given the opportunity to reverse course but to no avail.

In a related passage in Eim HaBanim Semeichah, R' Teichtal explains that it is difficult to forge a way forward and to know what we need to do in our time. However, he relates a parable of a man wandering the desert, searching for a way out until he happens upon another individual in the same predicament. The other man tells him that he doesn't know the way out but they should still stick together, because from what he has tried he knows what is not the way out. If we do not know the clear path to geulah, we must at least be able to learn from previous generations and failures what it is that gets us in trouble over and over again.

May we merit the ultimate geulah speedily in our day!

I highly recommend listening to the original audio – only 5½ minutes – available here.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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