Parshat Re’eh 5779: The Detrimental Effects of Factions and Factionalization

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Re’eh is sponsored by Matis and Marla Sklar of Ramat Beit Shemesh and dedicated for Refuah Shleima for Matis’ parents, Shmuel Chaim ben Sheina and Devorah bat Toba. To the Sklar family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Re’eh 5779: The Detrimental Effects of Factions and Factionalization

by Moshe Burt

This author feels the need to repeat a theme in opening our Parshat Re’eh as it provides lessons which our generations seem to need to keep relearning — the hard way.

Sefer Shem Mishmuel (by R’ Shmuel Bornstein, as translated by R’ Zvi Belovski, page 392) provides a brief summary of Sefer Devarim, Perek 12, posukim 1-3 which Torah records near the beginning of our Parshat Re’eh:

…The sidrah describes the actions which Klal Yisrael were to take against the idols they would find in Eretz Yisrael. Hashem commanded them to utterly destroy them and to… uproot idolatry from the land.

The Artscroll Stone Chumash, early in our Parshat Re’eh, renders to English Sefer Devarim, Perek 12, posukim 1-3 detailing how to make the Land fit for the Jews to take up residence:

“These are the decrees and ordinances that you shall observe to perform in the Land that Hashem, Keilokecha [of your forefathers] has given you, to possess it, all the days that you live on the Land. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are driving away worshiped their gods; on the high mountains and on the hills, and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars; you shall smash their pillars; and their sacred trees shall you burn in the fire; their carved images shall you cut down; and you shall obliterate their names from that place.”

Our Parshat seems to reinforce a theme discussed previously in Parshat Masei:

“When you cross the Jordan to the land of Canaan, you shall drive out all of the inhabitants of the Land before you; and you shall destroy all their prostration stones; all of their molten images….” (Artscroll Stone Chumash, Sefer BaMidbar, Perek 33, posukim 51-52 and commentary, pages 922-923)

…Apparently, …the meaning here: If you allow the pagan inhabitants to remain in the Land, they will become a hedge [a guard, a protection] around their pagan practices; the nature of these practices will be concealed from your perception and insight, and you will not find fault with them. Tolerance toward the pagan inhabitants will beget tolerance toward paganism. If you tolerate paganism and find justification for it within Hashem’s Land, you will cease to belong to Hashem alone, and… you will be deprived of your right to exist in the Land, and you will not be worthy of protection …. When Hashem removes His protection of you…, those toward whom you have been so tolerant will become your enemies and will oppress you in your own land.

In this context, R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch z”l provides rendering to English and commentary on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 33, posuk 52 in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Rabbi Daniel Haberman, pages 666-667):

“You shall first clear out the land for occupancy and [only] then settle in it, for to you have I given the land to take possession of it.”

You must first make the Land fit to be your yerusha [inheritance] by removing all traces of polytheism, and only then will you be able to settle in it. You are not inheriting the Land by your own power and might; rather, Hashem’s will and Hashem’s power are giving you the Land…. Hence, you will not be able to avoid fulfilling the first basic condition on which Hashem makes the [this] gift of the Land dependent.

Going hand-in-hand with with destroying the nations’ avodah zoras and their places of “worship,” is the eradication of their pagan practices.
Sefer Shem Mishmuel (page 396) renders translation of Sefer Devarim, Perek 14, posukim 1-2 of our Parsha:

“You are children of Hashem your G’d. Do not slash yourselves nor make a bald patch between your eyes for the dead. For you are a holy people to Hashem your G’d.”

The Artscroll Stone Chumash (page 1011) cites Rashi on “You are children” and comments further:

Your special relationship with Hashem does not permit you to follow these detestable Amorite practices. ( Artscroll Stone Chumash citing Rashi) Alternatively, as “children of Hashem,” you should understand that with the end of the body’s earthly life, the soul remains intact and is gathered in by Hashem. Thus, despite the natural grief that we feel at the loss of a loved one, Jews should not be so terrified of death that they would mutilate their bodies.

But Sefer Shem Mishmuel (page 396) presents another understanding:

Chazal see another, completely different Halacha in this verse (meaning Sefer Devarim, Perek 14, posukim 1-2): Do not slash yourselves — do not form factions. (Sefer Shem Mishmuel citing Yevamos 13b)

The word in the verse which prompts discussion is “sisgodadu.” The simple understanding of this is “to slash oneself.” This word is similar to the word “agudah”, meaning “group” or “faction.” Hence the rule that forming factions is prohibited…. [i.e.] that one should not allow two batei dinim to rule in one town — one which rules in accordance with the view of Beis Hillel and the other in accordance with Beis Shammai.

Sefer Shem Mishmuel (page 398) discusses the law derived from the verse (again meaning Sefer Devarim, Perek 14, posukim 1-2) further:

…The other law which Chazal have derived from our verse — [is] the prohibition of forming factions within the halachic system. This error stems from dispute and a lack of unity, where each person or group tries to assert his viewpoint to the exclusion of others. …We are supposed to realize that at some level the souls of every member of Klal Yisrael are from the same root; we are all part of one spiritual entity. It is only the physical characteristics of our existence which differ from person to person. These physical differences give rise to diverse attitudes and needs, which can manifest themselves as dispute and factionalization. …When one focuses inappropriately on the physical side of existence, the differences between people are emphasized and this leads to factionalization. If one focuses on the spiritual side of things, then one will gain a growing appreciation of the similarities between people and their very substantial common ground. This will automatically lead to unity.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim (page 142) recounts, and provides commentary on a personal, family experience which serves as a manifestation of contemporary factions and factionalization:

Close to twenty years ago, as Rav Goldin and his family stood on line at the airport, waiting to board a …flight to Israel, I was approached by a fellow Orthodox passenger who was waiting to board the same flight.

…He asked, “…Would you like to sit in the mehadrin section? (Rav Goldin renders “mehadrin” = to beautify and conveys the obligation to beautify the mitzvot through meaningful practice and observance.)

“The mehadrin section?” Rav Goldin responded, “What’s the mehadrin section?” “No movies and no… [immodest attire],” he replied, apparently referring to the dress of many female passengers. [Rav Goldin’s] twins, the youngest of the children, who at that time were about six years old, immediately exclaimed: “No movies and no pizzas? We want the pizzas!”

…[Rav Goldin] turned down the offer to sit in the mehadrin section that day, saddened by the realization that we Jews are fast becoming a people who could no longer even sit together on an airplane. The attitudes and behaviors at both ends of the religious spectrum had pushed us so far apart that we were no longer comfortable associating with each other, even in passing.

…Stark internal divisions have continually marred our long… history. The Kingdom of Yehudah versus the Kingdom of Israel, Sadducees versus Pharisees, Loyalists versus Hellenizers, Chassidim versus Misnagdim, Haskalists versus Traditionalists — the list goes on and on.

….One might have hoped that the age-old vision of Jerusalem in its prime, nearer to reality now than it has been for centuries, would have brought us together.

To this author’s understanding, this does not mean that, in the name of unity, we need embrace movies and television, immodest attire, bitul Shabbos and countless other secular attitudes. On the flip side, unity also does not mean verbal disparagement and physical abuse and violence toward those religious men who, for whatever reason, join the IDF. Surely, Jews of various stripes ought to at least sit together and act civilly towards each other on various modes of public transportation, including on airlines. But this attitude and mindset of factionalization leads to violent rivalries between factions as well as hate and mutual disdain between factions of observant Jews as well as between observant and secular Jews.

Sefer Shem Mishmuel (page 398) comments further:

We have discovered that Chazal did not arbitrarily connect the… prohibition of forming factions to the verse forbidding self-mutilation. The two issues are linked, as both stem from the same basic flaw. …Focus[ing] on the physical aspects of life… may lead to self-mutilation at the time of bereavement and to factionalization in the legal system. Conversely, focusing on the spiritual aims of life will help us put bereavement in its proper perspective and to avoid the pitfalls of a divided legal system.

Rav Goldin cocludes (page 143):

The divisions [among] the… world[‘s] Jews are wide and reconciliation will require real effort. If the vision of a rebuilt Jerusalem, however, does not inspire us to work diligently towards the social unity that the rebuilding itself is meant to produce, our nation’s journey towards Jerusalem will, tragically, be much longer than it needs to be.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos! Chodesh Tov!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.