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R' Feldman's Derasha - Parashat Bereshit (October 26, 2019)

10/29/2019 09:30:08 AM


The Creation story at the beginning of the Chumash is a universal story.  It doesn’t take us more than 20 generations to get to Avraham Avinu, but it’s still a universal story.  

The remarkable thing is how much it remains a universal story.  More than half of the world takes its religious orientation from these stories because Christians and Moslems make up more than half of humanity.  After them, the next biggest group, just a drop smaller than Islam, is “none of the above,” or those who have no religion. Hindus don’t even come to a billion people.  

The world has ended up anchored in these stories.  For centuries, both Christianity and Islam sought to either succeed Judaism or to supplant it.  When one comes afterward, that is the choice -- either to claim succession or to supplant. Lately, at least the Catholic church has officially abandoned this claim.  When the popes now acknowledge Judaism as the older brother, they are actually echoing the view of the Midrash in explaining the phrase Bni Bechori, Israel -- “my son, my first-born, is Israel.”

But over the centuries, even as they were vying with Judaism, they did at times show a deep understanding of the these stories and what they mean, and they often expressed a relationship with Hashem.  

I found a startling comment in the Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin -- 1816 - 1893), who was the Rosh Hayeshiva in Volozhin.  He is commenting on a verse early in Shir HaShirim, a verse which says Alomot Ehavucha -- that young ladies love you.  We know that Shir Hashirim is couched in the metaphor of a couple.  So who are these other young ladies? Using a Midrash in Vayikra, the Netziv says that the verse is referring to those who become close to Hashem through hard work in understanding the Torah.  They are women other than Hashem’s wife, who, in the metaphor, represents the Jews. So the ladies, who are further away, are non-Jews. Their souls are not bound up in Hashem, like the Jewish people are; but despite the distance they still love Hashem.   

This is talking about a long tradition of G-d-centered, Torah-centered non-Jews.  Some Church fathers, who obsessed over how to translate the Torah accurately, and then how to explain it, are among them.  They were nurtured by the Torah.  
And that love continues.  Early last summer, a prominent Talmid Chacham was in touch because he needed a place to Daven on a Friday morning.  He was off to a retreat of sorts for Shabbat. He didn’t share anything about who he was joining, but I figured I’d hear something about a Shabbaton on the central coast.  I heard nothing, however.  

I had occasion to speak to him a few months later, and he told me more about it.  He was the only Jew at a weekend of 1000 Hispanic Bible enthusiasts. I call them that because they can’t really be called Evangelicals.  Their leader told my friend that they are non-Trinitarians, which means they aren’t really Christians anymore. It’s probably closer to the truth to call them Bnei Noach, but they are not yet asking for speicifc instruction as Bnei Noach, at least not yet..  

How big was their appetite to learn?  My friend told me he spoke for two hours at a time each time.  The head minister said he regularly goes 4-5 hours. At my friend’s request, it was kept quiet, so only 1000 came.  With publicity, the leader said the crowd would have been 10,000.    

But I don’t say this in order to be triumphant.  It’s just to show that the universal thirst continues. And here also the thirst should continue.  The Chagim are finished, but the enthusiasm on SImchat Torah should translate into a thirst to learn more and more, and to take advantage of every opportunity.  To look for classes and Chavrutot that fit, and to make them frequent and regular parts of the schedule.

Fri, April 10 2020 16 Nisan 5780