Ki Teitzei 5768

This week's Dvar Torah is dedicated in honor of the engagement of our cousin Dov Oppeneheimer to Ana Lappe. May they merit building a beautiful Torah home together.

What's Supposed to Happen

            If an entire city were to worship idolatry, that city must be completely destroyed. Such a city is so destructive that it must have no place in this world, and therefore Hashem declares that it must be annihilated. But have any of us heard of such a city? When was the last time we heard of anyone going to the ruins of such a city? Being that there has been idolatry in the world, we would expect such a city to have been destroyed.

            However, the Gemara (Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 71a) explains that because Hashem made the laws governing destroying such a city so complicated, that every city will get off on a technicality. For example, one such technicality is that only a city of idol worshippers that does not have a single mezuzah affixed anywhere in the entire city may be destroyed. Even one mezuzah alone will save the entire city.

            It seems strange then that the Talmudic sage Rebbi Yochanan emphatically declares, "I saw such a city, and I stood on the mound of its ruins!" How can it be? Is Rebbi Yochanan disagreeing with the Gemara's declaration that no such city has ever been destroyed?

            Rav Shimon Schwab (Rav of the German Jewish community in Washington Heights, Manhattan, 1908-1995). sheds new light on Rebbi Yochanan's statement.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 37b) explains that although many years have passed since we have merited to have a fully functional Sanhedrin (Jewish superior court), and the capital punishments of the Torah can therefore not be administered, nonetheless, those who are deserving of such punishments will receive them. For example, one who is guilty of sins deserving of stoning, will fall off a roof or be crushed by an animal (creating similar results to the execution of the punishment of stoning).

            So too, explains Rav Schwab, a city that is guilty of idol worship will receive the punishment it deserves despite the lack of legal administration. In this light, Rav Schwab explains that Rebbi Yochanon was not saying that he had seen and stood on the rubble left from a city that fulfilled all the intricate details necessary to be destroyed. Rather, Rebbi Yochanon was saying that he came across a destroyed city. After inquiring about the history of the city, it turned out that the city had been full of idolatry. But because of technicalities, it could not be destroyed by the Jewish Court. Should we then think that the city will then be off the hook? Of course not, Rebbi Yochanon tells us. Once a city is deserving of annihilation it will be destroyed. How, is unclear. But if it is meant to be in ruins it will somehow be done. And that is exactly what happened.

Joanne Ness was working as a nutritionist and living in California. She had become a Ba'alat Teshuva (returnee to observant Judaism) and was growing in her religious observance.

She was invited to a nutritionists' conference in Philadelphia, and was interested in attending. Despite the conference being scheduled for the night before the holiday of Shavuot, she realized that with the three hour difference in time zones, she would be able to leave Philadelphia Thursday morning after the conference, and still make it back home with plenty of time to spare before Shavuot began that evening. She decided to attend, and made the necessary arrangements.  

The conference was informative and helpful, and now, on Thursday morning, Joanne began heading back home. But there was a terrible fog covering Philadelphia, and the airport was closed. Each passing minute seemed like an hour, and eventually it was announced that in 90 minutes the airport would be reopened.

Joanne was scheduled to fly through Pittsburgh on her way to Los Angeles, and began inquiring whether she would arrive in time for her connecting flight to L.A. She was informed she would miss her flight, but there was another one leaving Pittsburgh that could still get her into L.A. with time to spare.

When she finally arrived in Pittsburgh, she found out her connecting flight had been delayed due to mechanical reasons. Not knowing anyone in Pittsburgh, and also knowing she would not be able to risk the next flight to L.A., she began to panic. "What should I do? Who could I call? I don't know anyone in Pittsburgh!" Then she realized, that the book she was reading was authored by Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski, a resident of Pittsburgh! Surely if she could get in touch with him he would find her a place to stay for Yom Tov!

She looked up Rabbi Twerski's address in the phone book, got into a taxi and set off. After first incorrectly directing her cab to the address of the hospital where Rabbi Twerski worked, Joanne finally arrived at his home in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. It was arranged that she would stay with the Saks family, but would join the Twerskis for one of their meals.

Among the many other guests at the Tweski's table was Mr. Brad Perelman, who had been looking for a shidduch (marriage partner) for many years. After being set up with Joanne and dating for six weeks, they became engaged!

Joanne and Brad did not meet by chance; they were very clearly brought together. Our obligation is to pray and put in effort to find a job, shidduch etc. But at the same time we must remember that it is not in our hands, and once Hashem wills something to happen, nothing will stop it. We may put in proper efforts, but no matter how hard we try, nothing will happen unless it is meant to. Perhaps we can facilitate what happens with prayer for what we want, but unless He wills it, it will not happen. And once it is His will, nothing will stop it from coming.

The story can be found in Echoes of the Maggid, by Rabbi Pesach Krohn, pg. 110.

Shabbat Shalom,
Shuki