Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


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Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk 


My wife and I were leaving Rabbi Chaim Brovender's weekly shiur at Yakar recently, and, walking home, Rivka casually asked, 'What did you think of this evening's shiur.' 'It was fabulous,' I gushed. She was a bit perplexed, because there really hadn't been fireworks during the lecture. We love fireworks. I was born on the Fourth of July, after all. My explanation was simple: I got an idea for an article. When you write every week for 20 years (Yes, that's over a 1000 of these modest efforts.), you're always on the prowl for an idea or insight which can be converted into a 1,000-word essay. What happened? Rabbi Brovender quoted from a Pri Zadik (Reb Zadok of Lublin, 1823-1900) which explained that during the first day of Creation the light was 'good' because God looked at it. The act of looking at the item changes that thing forever. Sitting in the shiur was long-time student of Rav Brovender, Dr. Gerald Shroeder, the noted physicist, who excitedly added, 'That's the Copenhagen interpretation!' And my understanding of the structure of the book of Devarim was changed forever, because these perceptive scholars looked at it. 

Let me explain. My previous assumption about how Devarim is organized can be understood from a comment by the Chizkuni (Chizkiyau bar Manoach, 13th Century France). At the beginning of this week's Torah reading, he observes, 'Until this point, Moshe chastised the Jews concerning the awe of God. From here on, he begins to lay out before them the mitzvot (Devarim 11:24).' In other words, the beginning of Devarim contains Moshe's exhortation to be true to God's Torah, combining reminiscences from the forty years in the desert with philosophic material. The operative word in this opening section is 'hear' (like SHEMA YISROEL and V"HAYAH IM SHAMOA). From here in chapter 11 until chapter 27, the magic word is 'see'. We begin our initiation into the world of Jewish law by listening to the previous generation. At some point we begin to look at the world for ourselves and apply all the instructions we have heard. Hearing, generally, is the absorption of material from another, while seeing applies to the individual becoming intellectually independent. The end of the book, which is also the end of Moshe's life, returns to words of encouragementagain employs listening carefully to Moshe's exhortation (HA"AZINU). 

That all changed with Rav Brovender's quote from Reb Zadok and Dr. Shroeder's reference to the Copenhagen Interpretation. That's the name for the work done by Niels Bohr and his assistant, Werner Heisenberg in the 1920's and comes from a series of lectures given by Dr. Heisenberg in 1955 called 'The Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics'. Now, I'm an expert on Werner Heisenberg because I've just seen the movie 'The Catcher was a Spy'. In which former Jewish catcher for the Boston Red Sox (YeahSox!), Moe Berg, became a spy during World War II, and had to decide whether or not to assassinate Dr. Heisenberg, who was working on Hitler's A-Bomb. He didn't. In any case, I haven't got a clue about most of this stuff, but part of the theory is that observation of a particle changes it. You can't look at a particle without the measuring device interacting with it and changing it irrevocably. This isn't to be confused with the famous Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that you can't precisely know both the location and velocity of an object. This phenomenon is instead called the 'observer effect'. Well, as I've discussed before, we're observers, too. 

Previous to the exchange between Rav Brovender and Dr. Shroeder, I had assumed that RE'EH in our parsha meant that we acquired the mitzva. Our observance of a mitzva makes it ours. We can't help but change the performance, if only in tiny modifications. Then, through repetition, we repeat the precept in that slightly altered way. This makes the mitzva ours and we pass it on that way to our progeny. This new approach in which we alter the mitzva is subtly different. Now I can say that the slight change to the mitzva is absolutely part of the process. It's a necessary corollary to the observance (double entendre) of the precept. It must be changed by the perpetrator's mere act of looking at it. 

Rav Brovender began by asking why Eleazar the Cohen Gadol and son of Aharon is mentioned before Yehoshua in the description of the distribution of tribal portions (Bamidbar 34:17). The cohen really had no role in the conquest of the Holy Land or the assignment of territory. Well, not quite so. Reb Zadok compared this to the participation of the cohen during the ceremony of preparing the purifying waters of the Red Heifer (PARA ADUMABamidbar 19:3). It says that the cow is slaughtered in front of Eleazer (L'FANAV). The cohen gadol doesn't do anything in the killing of the heifer, even a non-cohen can do the slaughtering. However, the cohen gadol just has to watch. His oversight at that crucial moment is compared by Reb Zadok to God's looking at the light on the first day of Creation, and making it TOV.  

Just the looking, observing, supervising of the endeavor makes a difference. Let me tell you, there were many times in my life when my performance was radically changed by someone, a boss or teacher, watching me do it. When Miss Crotty watched me write in the first grade, it was a lot neater than when she was torturing another with her STARE, much like Paddington's Aunt Lucy. 

Moshe spends the middle chapters of Devarim relating the mitzvot the Jewish nation will need upon entry into the Land of Israel. When he tells us to SEE these performances as make or break for our future in the Land, he means that we can make these mitzvot relevant to their time and every future time by taking careful note of the act. Seeing isn't just believing; seeing is changing, adjusting, perfecting. And that can really make things GOOD!