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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Parshas Shoftim 5769
STAM TORAH: "Too Wise"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Dr. Raphael Moller was a legend in the German-Jewish community. Not only was he an exceptional doctor, but he was also a person of great moral character, devoted to Klal Yisroel wholeheartedly[1].

On November 10, 1938 Dr. Moller arrived in shul for shacharis, only to find the building engulfed in flames. It was the morning after Kristallnacht. He returned home looking ashen and pale.

Later that day two SS officers came to Dr. Moller’s home and arrested him. He was sent to a Concentration Camp for eight weeks. When he returned home, his beard and hair were gone, and his feet were frostbitten.

Shortly after, with the help of Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt’l, the Moller family escaped to England and from there to America.

During the horrific eight weeks he spent in the Concentration Camp, Dr. Moller did all he could to assist his fellow prisoners. On one occasion he assisted a prisoner who had been beaten by an SS officer. When the officer saw Dr. Moller helping the man to his feet he barked to him, “Leave him alone or you’ll get the same treatment.” Dr. Moller looked at the Nazi and replied, “You do your job and I’ll do mine!”

The prophet Yirmiyahu lived a very tragic and difficult life. During the period just prior to the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash, Yirmiyahu futilely tried to warn his people about the impending doom that was imminently going to befall them if they would not repent and heed the word of G-d. But the nation did not want to hear his message, and they scorned and ridiculed him. Despite the fierce resistance he encountered, the righteous prophet continued to preach his message, until he was incarcerated by his own nation.

Eventually they all realized that Yirmiyahu had spoken words of truth, but by that time it was too late. The Bais Hamikdash was no more than a pile of smoldering ruins and the nation was ignobly being led into the Babylonian exile. Yirmiyahu was left to mourn the obstinacy of Klal Yisroel and to live with the painful awareness that if only the nation would have heeded his call the catastrophe could have been averted.

The AriZal explained that Yirmiyahu was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Shlomo Hamelech. King Solomon, the wisest of men, had lived a life of regality and affluence. The entire world was subject to his benevolent dominion, and Klal Yisroel enjoyed a period of utopian prominence, such that will not be repeated until the advent of Moshiach. It was in that period of august grandeur that Shlomo commissioned the construction of the first Bais Hamikdash in Jerusalem.

The beauty that was Jerusalem under the tutelage of Shlomo eventually became the destruction that was Jerusalem after the prophecies of Yirmiyahu went unheeded. But the greatest irony was that the soul of the person who had built the Bais Hamikdash in all its beauty returned to witness its calumnious destruction in shame and ignominy.

The most glaring question is why should Yirmiyahu have been subject to seeing the undoing and destruction of his lifelong efforts? Why was he chosen to be the prophet who would be maligned and ignored?

The Melo Ha’omer[2] explains that the verse in Koheles (7:16) – written by Shlomo Hamelech - states, “Do not be exceedingly righteous or excessively wise; why be left desolate?” In truth, Shlomo wrote these words based on his own personal experience.

The Torah delineates specific guidelines that a Jewish king must follow. Although a king has an elevated status and enjoys certain added privileges and benefits not granted to the common man, he too is bound to certain restrictions. “You shall surely set over yourself a king whom Hashem, your G-d, shall choose…Only he shall not have too many horses for himself, so that he will not return the people to Egypt in order to increase horses… And he shall not have too many wives, so that his heart not turns astray; and he shall not greatly increase silver and gold for himself.[3]

Shlomo reasoned that as king over the entire world he would be able to influence all of mankind to serve G-d and believe in the veracity of the Torah. In so doing Shlomo hoped to usher in the Messianic era when the world would unequivocally recognize that, “G-d is One and His Name is One.” He felt that the best way to expedite that transition was for him to marry a princess from every nationality. Then, after he had forged such strong connections with all of the world’s rulers and kings, he would be able to accomplish his goals for ‘world unification under G-d’.

Thus, Shlomo felt he was justified in taking more wives than the Torah allows. He was confident that he was above the Torah’s admonishments. He reasoned that the Torah feared that if a king took too many wives they would mislead him. He however, was an exception and many wives would not affect him.

The day that the Bais Hamikdash was built was a day of unparalleled joy. Yet, regarding that same day, the gemara[4] applies the verse[5], “For this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and of My fury, from the day they built it until today.” The gemara explains that the reason for G-d’s anger was because on that day Shlomo married the daughter of Pharoah.

The gemara[6] also notes that on the day when the Bais Hamikdash was completed and Shlomo married the daughter of Pharaoh, the angel Gavriel thrust a reed into the sea, around which mud gathered and eventually grew into ‘Rome of Italia’ which would one day destroy the Bais Hamikdash. In other words, on the very day when Klal Yisroel was celebrating the completion of the Bais Hamikdash, the seeds of its destruction were sown.

What was the ultimate root-cause of the destruction? Because Shlomo felt he was ‘wiser than the Torah’. He felt that a commandment in the Torah did not apply to him because he was above it. In so doing he dug his own grave, as it were. The wives he married were clandestinely faithful to their idolatry, and eventually became the bane of Shlomo.

Shlomo was compelled to return as Yirmiyahu to witness the destruction that he himself had unwittingly - and with the noblest of intentions – caused. Therefore, when he authored Koheles, Shlomo exhorted, “Do not be exceedingly righteous or excessively wise; why be left desolate?” It is a lesson that the wisest of men himself learned from personal experience: Never think that you are wiser than the Torah! Never think that you are above the guidelines and protective fences that the Sages enacted! If you do you may end up as Shlomo did; “why be left desolate?”[7]

The month of Elul and the days of repentance are upon us. These are days when we seek to reconnect ourselves with our Creator and the true purpose of life. One of the most important components of connecting ourselves with G-d is to subjugate ourselves to His Will, which is taught to us through the Torah.

At times we feel that our brilliant ideas and schemes allow us to be above the restrictions of the Torah. We feel confident that some of the prohibitions of the Sages do not apply to us and we can ignore their safeguards and still not transgress the Torah. Shlomo Hamelech warns us that no one is above the Torah.

It is not our job to save the world as much as it is to do what is incumbent upon us. In a sense the month of Elul is a time when we look heavenward and humbly proclaim, “You do your job and I’ll do mine!” Ultimately G-d will run the world as He sees fit. In the meantime our role is merely to adhere to the injunctions and commandments of His holy eternal Torah.

“And he shall not have too many wives”

“Do not be exceedingly righteous… why be left desolate?”

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[1] A story involving the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zt’l, demonstrates the esteem that the Rebbe had for Dr. Moller. On one occasion a Satmar chossid approached the Rebbe to ask his advice regarding a medical issue, and the Rebbe directed him to Dr. Moller. The chossid replied that it was very difficult to get into Dr. Moller because of the long lines of people waiting to speak with him. The Rebbe replied, “It’s true that you may have to wait a long time to speak with him. But you better do so now, because in the next world the lines will be much longer and it will be that much harder to get into him there.”

[2] Rabbi Aryeh Leib Tzintz zt’l – in his commentary on Koheles

[3] Devorim 17:15-17

[4] Niddah 70b

[5] Yirmiyahu 32:31

[6] Shabbos 56b

[7] This thought was adapted from a discourse given by the Mashgiach, Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman shlita, on Tisha B’av 5769, in Camp Dora Golding.

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