Dedicated in loving memory of Rabbi Moshe Freedman, Shliach of the Rebbe to Bahía Blanca, Argentina. Yartzeit 22 Tammuz

By his children, Rabbi Kuty Rochel Kalmenson

Matos – Masei: Don’t Force it

July 6, 2023

Should you force the kids to go to synagogue? Strict parenting might produce quick results, but guiding with the powers of persuasion is more effective and durable. History proves it.

(משיחת אור ליום ג’ דחול המועד סוכות, י”ט תשרי, שמחת בית השואבה, ה’תשכ”ד)

A. The Sanctity of the Land of Israel

In this week’s Torah reading, we learn about the borders of the Promised Land (Source 1). The mitzvah of shemitah only applies in areas that were conquered by the Jews, but after they were exiled to Babylon, the obligation ceased (Source 2).

When the Babylonian exiles returned, the mitzvah of shemitah was binding once more. But this time the mitzvah endured after they were exiled again. Why?

Maimonides explains that Joshua sanctified the land through mass conquest, and when the conquest was over, so was the sanctity. Ezra, however, sanctified the land through asserting ownership over it (chazakah), and that is everlasting (Source 3).

B. The Difference

The Rebbe asks:

Why is chazakah  stronger than conquest? Moreover, Joshua’s conquest was followed by chazakah too!

Maimonides stresses that during Ezra’s time there was no conquest, only a chazakah. This implies that not only does conquest not help, it hinders. What is Maimonides alluding to?

The primary question: When the Jews entered the land during Joshua’s time, they were on a spiritual high; they carried the Ark of the Covenant, they blew the shofar, and the walls fell by themselves. They also had five things which symbolized G-d’s presence resting among them. Ezra’s group, however, was far quieter and restrained, and they were lacking the five symbols. How is it possible that Joshua’s sanctification was short-lived, while Ezra’s endured?

Interpreting a verse from Chagai, the Talmud derives that the Ark of the Covenant, the Urim Vetumim, the Divine Presence, etc, were lacking in the second Temple (Source 4). As a result, those who lived during the first Temple cried when they saw the second Temple, which didn’t have G-d’s presence openly on display (Source 5).

C. Within Natural Means

The Rebbe explains that the first conquest of Israel was a one-sided affair. There were no negotiations with the local rulers, and no effort to influence them positively. Therefore, the resulting sanctity did not endure. The same happened to the first tablets. They were given at Sinai in a grand event, but because there was no attempt to influence the negativity that persisted in the world, it ended with the sin of the Golden Calf and the shattering of the tablets.

The second aliyah to Israel was completely different. It was made possible by Cyrus, the Persian ruler, and had the support of the nations of the world. It wasn’t a one-sided heavenly revelation, and so the sanctity lived on, even when the Jews were again exiled.

Story: The boat that stopped

A similar idea is found in a letter the Alter Rebbe wrote after being freed from prison, in which he notes that his liberation was the decision of the Czar’s officials (Source 6). The Rebbe explains that the Alter Rebbe stressed this fact because that’s the crux of the matter, that the nations of the world support the spreading of Chassidut.

The takeaway: If we want to imbue our children with a love for Judaism, tradition, Torah and mitzvot, we need to remember that education must be done in an understanding way, with gentle persuasion, not by force. This may take longer to achieve, but its effects will remain with the child forever.



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