HEROES IN THE SAND
And gave us the Torah, and brought us into the Land of Israel” (Dayeinu, Pesach Hagaddah)
There is a famous question, asked year after year at almost every Seder table. Why did the Holy One, Blessed is He, give us the Torah in the desert? Why did He not give it to us after He brought us to the Land of Israel? I mean, don’t get me wrong – I like sand. And I like sun. But if you’re going to receive the 10 commandments, wouldn’t you rather be in Herzeliyah Pituach?
Rav Yosef Haim from Baghdad, otherwise known as the Ben Ish Chai, spins us a wonderful yarn, as only he could do. The hero of our story is a young man who came from a rich family. As soon as he came of age, his family tried to set up a shidduch for him with a girl from a wealthy home. But the young man saw that she was foolish and stupid. He refused to marry her and fled to a different town, to avoid being pressured by his relatives into an arranged marriage [some things never change].
When he arrived in the new town, the word spread that there was a single man who had arrived who was a big catch for any girl of marriageable age. He was offered all sorts of potential matches. Ignoring all requests, our hero hears about a girl from a poor home, who was said to be wise, talented and gifted with every virtue. He went to her father and asked permission to meet with his daughter, adding, “If she is suitable for me, I will marry her and make her very rich!”
The father agreed, the two met, and the daughter pleased the young man greatly with her appearance and grace, her wisdom and her intelligence.
He told her father, “Let me marry your daughter, and she will lack for nothing. You too can come with us, and we will support you with dignity in your old age!”
The father silenced him, saying, “Your relatives will never agree to let you marry the daughter of poor people, nor to let you bring me to your estate!”
The young man declared, “If that is so, I will agree to abandon all my wealth and property, and to live together with you in your simple hut!”
The father responded, “Let’s see if you really are ready to do so. Take off your expensive clothes and wear simple garments like ours, and be satisfied with our modest meals.”
The young man hurried to do as he was bid, and stayed with the family for a week. The father conversed with him at length, and found him to be a wise young man of refined character. At the week’s end, he took the young man to the shed outside his house, whereupon he opened the door. Sitting in the corner, full of cobwebs and looking as old as Methuselah, was a rusty old chest. ‘Since you chose to be with us and to be counted as one of our family, take this key and open the case that stands there.”
The young man approached the case, opened it, and to his utter surprise, found it to be overflowing with diamonds!
The father said to him, “In truth, I am hugely rich. All of these jewels now belong to you. Take them all, and marry my daughter! All my money is reserved for my only daughter. But I concealed my wealth, so that no greedy suitor would pursue her because of her fortune. But you, who valued her true qualities, and were prepared to live a life of poverty for her sake — you deserve to marry her and to gain all of her riches!”
The parable can be explained as follows: The nation of Israel was in Egypt, which was the hub of materialism, secularism, and idolatry. But Israel separated herself from Egyptian culture, refusing to cling to it.
Hashem wished to bestow his holy Torah upon his beloved Klal Yisrael. It is of course well known, that the Torah brings every good blessing of happiness and wealth. But Hashem first wished to test the children of Israel, to see if they desired the Torah for its own sake or for its accompanying blessings.
Therefore, He gave the Torah in the desolate wilderness, where the children of Israel were tent-dwellers without a homeland. When they showed their willingness to accept the Torah and to cling to it with all their heart and soul – then Hashem brought them to the Land of Israel and bestowed upon them every blessing! (Ben Ish Chayil, Section 1, 319)
During this holy festival of freedom, may we all feel gratitude to Hashem Yitbarach, which is the ultimate message of the Seder. When drinking the Four Cups, bear in mind a wonderful saying that I heard recently: Don’t worry about whether your cup is half full or half empty – just be grateful that you have a cup, and that you have something in it!
Chag kasher vesameach!