Shabbat-Table Talks: Perashat Nisabim
By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <email@example.com>
Value: React to evil by rooting it out, destroying it; and by teaching and doing good. The Shabbat table could provide a forum for discussing at length the tragic events of the last week. This probably was done at school as well, and perhaps you have already discussed this at home with your children. The few days provides the distance for a more thorough investigation of your children’s feeling concerning the events, and a chance to deeply imbue the above value.
Background: The idea of rooting out and destroying evil is what God does in some of the Tenakh’s stories. The story of Sedom provides a very palpable example. One can retell the story of Sedom. Our perasha also has an example of how Hashem destroys the society and even the person that does not carry out His will. (Notice that the text also cites Sedom as an example of how Hashem destroys evil.)
Text: Deuteronomy 29:17-22
Perhaps there is among you some man or woman, or some clan or tribe, whose heart is even now turning away from Hashem our God to go and worship the gods of those nations—perhaps there is among you a stock sprouting poison weed and wormwood. When such a one hears the words of these sanctions, he may fancy himself immune, thinking, “I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart” — to the utter ruin of the moist and the dry alike. Hashem will never forgive him; rather will Hashem’s anger and passion rage against that man, till every sanction recorded in this book comes down upon him, and Hashem blots out his name from under heaven.
Hashem will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for misfortune, in accordance with all the sanctions of the covenant recorded in this Book of Teaching. And later generations will ask—the children who succeed you, and foreigners who come from distant lands and see the plagues and diseases that Hashem has inflicted upon that land, all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing, no grass growing in it, just like the upheaval of Sedom and ‘Amorah, Admah and Seboim, which Hashem overthrew in His fierce anger—all nations will ask, “Why did Hashem do thus to this land? Because of what is this awful wrath? They will be told, “Because they forsook the covenant that Hashem, God of their fathers, made with them when He freed them from the land of Egypt; they turned to the service of other Gods…."
Discussion: Why did Hashem destroy Sedom and ‘Amorah? (If you have ever visited Israel with your children and went to the “Dead Sea” area, remind them of the barren and arid land.) Tell the story of Sedom and Amorah (see Bereshit chapter 19 - especially verses 4-12), reflecting on how evil the people were, that they would not even allow Lot to treat the two travelers (angels) well. Hashem destroys those who are evil and want to harm innocent, vulnerable people.
After reading the above text, point out that Hashem does that even to Jewish people who do very bad things, breaking the agreement (covenant) with Hashem.
[The point of this section of the discussion is to make it clear that Hashem eventually destroys evil in the world.]
[Try to elicit the following question from your children. You can do it by saying the above point and asking: Does anyone have any questions about this? Or by saying—I thought that you would all ask me something after I said this. I can’t believe you’re just sitting there after what happened this week.]
But what about the evil people that killed and wounded so many innocent people in the world trade center and the pentagon? Why didn’t Hashem destroy them before they murdered so many? (Answer: Hashem does not prevent evil. He ultimately destroys it—if we don’t. Preventing evil, rooting it out and destroying it is up to us.)
This can be seen from several texts. Many times in various contexts (including murder, kidnapping and sexual licentiousness), the book of Debarim commands Israel to: “Burn out the evil from your midst!” (See Debarim 24:7 and 19:11-13). We are commanded to create a society that teaches the path of life and the good path. However, if there are evil people in our society, we are responsible for creating the system (judicial, police etc.) for destroying those evil people.
Right now, there are evil people in the world. They want to use violence against innocent people to scare the world into doing what they want. They are the bad people that flew the planes into the buildings and the very bad people who trained them, paid them and sent them to do these terrible things. We live in a country that will fight these bad people.
In Israel now there are also some very bad people that shoot at children and their parents who are driving in their cars. They send people to blow themselves up in pizza places. They have killed and injured many innocent people. The Israeli people have been fighting these bad people for many years.
Let’s pray to Hashem that He helps the good people find the bad people and destroy them.
[Your children might ask: “But why doesn’t Hashem destroy the evil people?” This is a great question. We do not really know why Hashem does or doesn’t do anything. One idea is that he wants the good people of the world to be His partners in making a good world. If he would do all the work then we would have nothing to do to be His partner.
According to Rabbi S. D. Sassoon, z”l, that is Iyob’s main question to Hashem in the Biblical book of Iyob (Job). Iyob wondered why Hashem allowed the wicked people to prosper and perpetuate their evil. Hashem answered Iyob:
Then Hashem replied to Iyob out of the tempest and said:
Gird your loins like a man;
I will ask, and you will inform Me.
Would you condemn Me that you may be right?
Have you an arm like God’s?
Can you thunder like Him?
Then deck yourself now with grandeur and eminence;
clothe yourself in glory and majesty.
Scatter wide your raging anger;
See every proud man and bring him low.
See every proud man and humble him,
And bring them down where they stand.
Bury them all in the earth;
Hide their faces in obscurity.
Then even I would praise you
For the triumph your right hand won you. (Iyob 40:7-14)
Hashem told Iyob that if he is so strong that he could argue with God, then he should use his strength and fearlessness in rooting out and destroying evil. God wants man not to complain about evil in the world, but to act to purge out the evil.
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