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Parshas VaEschanan - There's No Reward in Ice Cream      14 Av 5781

07/22/2021 06:38:16 PM


It did not take me long to decide what the theme of this week’s message would be. It was nineteen months since visiting with my father, parents’ in-law and other relatives. Although we speak and video chat quite often there is nothing that replaces being in person. Perhaps there is another significant approach to this recent trip to Israel was being in Eretz Yisrael itself. Rabbi Wein (who I had the opportunity to visit with) quite often described how previous generations would have tracked across Europe in the snow, barefoot, to merit stepping onto the holy soil of Eretz Yisrael, while we just must buy a ticket and fly. Well, Hashem has a sense of humor and that which we all took for granted was swept away with Covid. The hurdles we faced today to get into Israel are possible, but they do not make it easy. As a result, the past two weeks that I spent there was not taken for granted, and every moment was measured and treasured.

 The degree of appreciation of visiting was magnified by the fact there were very few tourists in Israel. Our entry point was having a first degree relative with an important reason to visit them. By and large there was very little English to be heard even in areas typically would have more English speakers than native Hebrew speakers. Nevertheless, the country is thriving in dealing with ever-changing Covid rules and restrictions on a social level, the BDS movement on a political level, rockets and terrorists on a safety and security level, and the existential threat of annihilation from its enemies in the region. Baruch Hashem, during our visit there was truly little “noise” from any rocket attack on our physical safety. On the other hand, interestingly enough, there were two news-worthy events; one that affects “Orthodoxy” both in Israel and abroad while the other is an attempt and an attack on Jews worldwide who live in and outside of Israel. The first was the disgusting attack on orthodoxy by a woman who made a choice to leave her orthodox lifestyle and bash it with a broad stroke against a tyrannical picture and description of an orthodox led life by women and a system that does not allow freedom for an orthodox woman in today’s modern age. This news event primarily created a lot of noise and reaction from Orthodox Jews in America and the enclave of Anglos in Israel. But the greater and more significant issue that left a bad taste was the announcement by Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling their product by the end of 2022 in areas of Israel pre 1967 borders. This decision is a political maneuver to hurt Israel in the world politically and in Israel financially. I am not going to discuss all the legal points and why this BDS attempt is false and hurts and backfires against the people it is supposed to help, namely the Arabs in Israel. I do want to comment and connect these two recent events how Jews from different parts of the Orthodox umbrella in one story line and religious and non-religious Jews throughout the world become galvanized to defend Eretz Yisrael.

There are too many reasons why Israel and Eretz Yisrael are important and critical for the Jewish people. Is it the fact that one who is careful to only eat Cholov Yisrael (milk products made with milking supervision by a Jew) be deprived of Ben & Jerry’s? Perhaps it is because Ben & Jerry’s is the only real ice cream made in Israel compared to the Israeli version Gelida? The answer of course is no. Israel will continue to exist with or without our former friends Ben and Jerry. The only reason to make a stink about the issue is because of its anti-Semitic undertones. But our love comes from the spiritual and holy essence of Eretz Yisrael that for Jews creates a stronger bond and connection to Hashem. The Mitzvos that are dependent on the land can only be performed there and we can only receive reward for those Mitzvos in Israel. This point is highlighted in a dramatic plea by Moshe Rabbeinu to enter and access Eretz Yisrael.  

In this week’s Parsha VaEschanan the Torah states in Devarim 3:25 אעברה נא ואראה את הארץ הטובה אשר בעבר הירדן ההר הטוב הזה והלבנון"  “Please let me [Moshe] cross over and see this good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and Lebanon”. As difficult as it may be to enter Israel today, it pales in comparison to Moshe being denied entry, end of story. One can ask, what was the main reason Moshe wanted to go in? The Gemara Sotah 14a relates the following: Was Moshe’s desire to enter the land of Israel due to the fact he desired the delicious tasty juicy fruits of Israel, and to satisfy himself in a physical manner? Rather, Moshe argued “there are many Mitzvos the Jewish people are commanded and can only be fulfilled in Eretz Yisrael. Let me in so that I can fulfill those Mitzvos and receive its reward”. God responds to Moshe “Is that all you are seeking is the Schar/reward, if that is the case, by your desire alone I will consider it as if you have done so and receive the reward”.

Reb Chaim of Volozhin in his work Ruach HaChaim 1:3 raises the question; do we think Moshe was only interested in the reward and not in the actual performance of the Mitzva? Clearly, Moshe’s attempt is to do the Mitzos not a means to get reward. If it is true Moshe’s intent is only to do the Mitzvos, why would God leave him off the hook and just offer him the reward? Reb Chaim explains Hashem’s response through a psychological insight to human behavior. Take for example a parent who wants to give a reward, gift, or present to their child. Since they love their child they just want to give, give and give. By giving a child the opportunity to do something the parent wants is a pretext to allow the parent to reward the child. So too our Father in Heaven uses the method of Mitzvos in order to five us reward. In essence Moshe was willing to do those commandments to get the reward while Hashem said you [Moshe] do not need to do them in your case I will consider it sone and I want to give you the reward. From Moshe’s perspective he wanted to give that nachas ruach the good feeling to Hashem so Hashem in turn would give the reward. Ultimately, the child in the case of a parent or a Jew in relationship to Hashem wants to do the Mitzvos so that He will have the reason and ability to continue showering us with good.

Eretz Yisrael in multi-dimensional and speaks to and for the entire spectrum of Klal Yisrael. From young to old, rich and poor, observant to non-observant and everyone in between Israel is a spiritual oasis and a land promised to our forefathers, given to the Jewish people. Eretz Yisrael is larger than just ice cream, it is the place that we yearn for the complete redemption and return not only to the physical growth and safety of Jews but to the spiritual connection it has for our people.    

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Wed, January 19 2022 17 Shevat 5782