Thursday, July 10, 2008

Occasional Vort IV

by Netanel Livni

The Gemara teaches (in Berachos 12b) that Hazal considered including the portion of Balak to the recitation of Sh'ma Yisrael. In fact, the only reason they did not include it is that it's length would be too cumbersome for the public. The Gemara then proceeds to ask why Hazal felt that it should be included. The answer is that the sole reason was the verse (במדבר כד:ט):

כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו

"He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall rouse him up?"

How does this fit into the rest of the themes of the Sh'ma Yisrael? The first chapter's theme is the generic acceptance of Hashem's Unity and His kingship over ourselves and the world while the second chapter's theme is acceptance of the mitzvot of Hashem. These are concepts we must repeat daily since they keep us conscious of the very purpose of creation – that Hashem's kingdom be realized on Earth.

Click here to read moreRav Kook, in Ein Aya, explains that the pasuk in Balak comes to teach us that that there is another component which we must realize daily. We must realize that Hashem's Unity can only be realized in the world through a nation which takes on as its mission to keep Hashem's commandments. The Jewish people are thus the link between the first two themes of Sh'ma. The verse is thus saying that the very existence of the Jewish people, in defiance of all the laws of History is a necessary part of creation! A link without which God's plan can not be realized. Even in exile, even when we are sleeping and unaware of our Godly mission, we serve a function which is central to the very fabric of creation. Jewish nationalism is thus an ideal worthy of mention in the Sh'ma!

Why then, asks rav Kook, were Hazal hesitant to simple include the verse by itself and leave out the rest of the portion? The answer the Gemara gives is that we may not divide a portion which has not been divided by Moshe Rabbeinu. This is of course a difficult answer since our liturgy is filled with verses which stand alone. Rav Kook answers that it is dangerous to include this verse by itself. By itself, the verse can lead people to believe that Jewish nationalism has value outside of the universal mission of the Jewish people. Jewish nationalism has worth when it is used to further the mission that was entrusted to the Jewish nation. By itself, it can lead to the same evils that other self-centered national movements have shown us.

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