Parshas Ki Sisa; The Historical Perspective : Moshe and Yehoshua both relate the history of the Bnei Yisrael to the people before their deaths. We also find that Kings of Bnei Yisrael employed people to write down the history of their reign as king. Why did they do this, and , what is the role and benefit of [our] history? There are many answers to suggest here, but we shall put forward 3 main points.

Firstly, Rav Hutner writes that there is a general rule that us and the Torah are one entity; we reflect the Torah and we are sourced in it (‘Yisrael’ stands for ‘yesh shishim rivvos osios latorah’- ‘there are 600,000 letters in the Torah,’ our numbers at the Exodus; Zohar). Consequently, studying

our history is like studying the Torah itself. He adds that people seem not to study Jewish history in great detail for the fear of mistakes due to lack of clear accurate commentary on history. As he puts it, ‘there is no commentary of Rashi on history.’

This fear of inaccuracy, comments Rabbi Reisman, applies much less in our days - when we have good Jewish history books written by religious authors. A second benefit of knowing our history is simply to know where are roots lie. To not know that we were taken out of Egypt, given the Torah, had a Beis Hamikdash, etc. is to be unaware of who we are and of our relationship with our Creator, and is tragic. Rav Aharon from Karlin was asked by his chassidim what the biggest sin is, and, after a few minutes of intense consideration, responded that it is to forget that one is the son of the King. But, the aspect we shall focus on is the third aspect, and this is where our sedra comes in… The Sfas Emes raises a contradiction in our shmoneh esrei; we say 'elokeinu velokei avoseinu; ‘our G-D and the G-D of our fathers’ - we go chronologically backwards in time from us to our fathers. But then we say 'G-D of Avraham, G-D of Yitzchak, and G-D of Yaakov - going chronologically forwards in time? The Sfas Emes answers beautifully that some Jews are inspired by looking at the present; at HaShem's wonderful world of nature, whilst other Jews are inspired by looking at the past; at our amazing history. The contrast of these two phrases in our amidah are so that both of these Jews may gain inspiration.

In fact, these mirror the two (of 3) ways the Rambam details as means of achieving love of HaShem - delving into His creations and deeds [as well as into His Mitzvos] (sefer hamitzvos asei 3, yesodei hatorah 2;2). And one can definitely appreciate personal attraction to these two poles. We are wowed by the amazing ‘natural’ world.

For example, that there are a thousand million million connections in the brain's mere 1300-1400g, we breathe in what plants produce and visa versa, or that a human’s 60 trillion cells (240,000 times more than people in the world) get their supply of different materials by the bloodstream many times a day, etc. And we are impressed by our historical facts; that we are the only nation in world history to have returned to its homeland three times, or that we occupy a mere 0.22% of the world’s population, yet there is no nation who has influenced world history to such an extent.

[HaShem’s blessing to Avraham Avinu that ‘I will make you into a great nation…those who bless you will be blessed and those who curse you, I shall curse’ (12;2-3) is evident to the objective eye and mind. “…Western civilization was born in the Middle East, and the Jews were at its crossroads.

In the heyday of Rome, the Jews were close to the Empire’s centre. When power shifted eastward, the Jewish centre was in Babylon; when it skipped to Spain, there again were the Jews. When in the Middle Ages the centre of civilization moved into Central Europe, the Jews were waiting for it in Germany and Poland. The rise of the United States to the leading world power found Judaism focused there. And now, today, when the pendulum seems to be swinging back towards the Old World and the East rises to renewed importance, there again are the Jews in Israel…” (Prof. Huston Smith’s ‘The Religions of Man.’)

And the ‘those who curse you I shall curse’ part is also manifest. Our persecution under the Roman Empire matched the start of Rome’s permanent demise from centre stage. Jewish life in Babylonia became unbearable by 1000ce, and Babylonia’s fall began.

Spain too, initially welcomed the Jews, rose to world power, and under a century after our 9th Av expulsion from Spain in 1492, Spain had fallen into decay. Europe was then the power focus, and after the holocaust - which was preceded by mass Jewish immigration, predominantly to America, the USA is currently the world superpower.

And let’s not forget our modern-day miracles too; in 1967 Israel defeated three armies, all many times it size, in just six days, leaving military experts dumfounded. And in the 1991 gulf war, the same scud missiles were fired into Israel which had caused much loss of life in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. A total of 39 missiles were fired into Israel, with the result of just one direct fatality; many miraculously missed, went off course, or did not cause harm. And just in case we were in need of a further hint that this was ‘hidden’

Divine Providence, the day Saddam Hussein surrendered was none other than Purim; the day we celebrate being saved from our enemies by HaShem’s Controlling hand acting ‘behind the scenes,’ as it were.]

In other words, history allows us to put events in a series/sequence, via which we can see HaShem’s Control over events. This is referred to brilliantly by a comment of the Kotzker Rebbe on our sedra (had to fit our sedra in somewhere!) on the last pasuk of perek 33. The pasuk relates that HaShem told Moshe ‘you shall see my back, but not my front.’

The literal sense of the pasuk needs explanation here, but the Kotzker Rav says that the pasuk hints at the key to viewing our history; that HaShem can be seen when we look backwards in time with hindsight [and appreciate events as a series] but not so clearly when living life forwards, as we do.

This is further reflected in a law about reading the megilla. One may not read the megillah in the wrong order (mishna megillah 2;1), for, as the me’iri explains, one can only realise the full extent of HaShem’s miracle at Purim when one relates the events in their proper order and thus sees how all the events came together to save us.

Moreover, the Targum Onkelus’s word for joining is ‘veyachedun,’ (Shemos 28;28) which is the same word for simcha (the Shabbes zemer kah ribon describes the mikdash as ‘asar di yechedun ruchin venafshin;‘the place of people’s spiritual happiness’), which again touches the theme of simcha of true perspective coming from joining up the dots of the disparate parts (in this case, parts of history) to form one picture of a Divinely-manipulated plan.

Lastly, this forms an answer to the question asked regarding the shir hama’alos we say before birkas hamazon. It says ‘…when we return to Zion we have been (hayinu) like dreamers.’ Why does it say 'we were dreaming' in the past tense if the entire paragraph is referring to the future event of redemption? Since after the redemption comes, we will see that all the past pains were not really pains at all – they were steps necessary to bring about the redemption. And just like someone in a deep dream doesn't feel physical pain but can imagine pain in his dream, we will see that the previous pain that we felt was not really the pure pain that we thought it was – it was a step to redemption. And ‘then our mouths will be full of laughter’ (‘az yimalei tzchok pinu’) - this greater understanding of our past pains is why we will be laughing fully. (R’ Neventzal)

The concept is summed up acutely by the fact that some Rabbis were rather unhappy at the modern Hebrew spelling of the word history (‘historiah’) with a tes. Instead, they said, it should be spelled with a taf which would origin from hester kah - the ‘hiddenness’ of HaShem, for, after all, it’s not just history -

it is His Story. Have a great Shabbes,

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