Esor Ben-Sorek

The Thorns and Thistles of Life: ‘Tov LICHYOT b’ad Artzeinu’

The Jerusalem born rabbi and scholar, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz the greatest in the 20th-21st centuries, was once hailed as “a once-in-a-millennium-scholar” by an international journal which proclaimed him as the greatest Jewish scholar and Talmudist in the past one thousand years.

No tribute could be greater to a man who had written sixty books, thousands of articles and translated all the many volumes of the ancient Babylonian Talmud from Aramaic into Hebrew and later into English for the benefit of the millions of Jews who could not understand the original Aramaic language.

He began his life-long mission in 1965 to translate the Talmud in order to make it accessible to Jews in modern Hebrew, Russian, French and English. Working day and night for 45 years his mission was completed in the year 2010, forty-five years after he first began. It became the largest translation of Talmud in history.

The Talmud, written in ancient Babylonia, has 20 large volumes, 517 chapters, all on 2,711 double-sided pages. It is said that it can take a scholar almost five years to complete the entire reading. Rabbi Steinsaltz finished earlier.

Hopefully it gave him time to enjoy with his 3 children and many grandchildren. He died in August 2020 and was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Because of the coronavirus, his funeral was limited only to his immediate family. It was said that more than 50,000 viewers watched the burial on television paying tribute to the greatest master and scholar of our time. Blessed is his name. Blessed be his memory.

In his English masterpiece, “Talks on the Parasha”, Rabbi Steinsaltz examines every one of the Bible’s chapters in each of the Five Books of Moses (The Torah), Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy ,and provides the genius of his interpretations in all of the fifty-seven chapters of Torah.

In one of his interpretations on the creation of the world in the book of Genesis, he wrote:
“When the Torah says ‘which God created to do’, this means that the world is full of imperfect things. As the Midrash puts it, ‘Everything created during the six days of Creation requires rectification’ (Pesikta Rabbati 23:2).

“One can always question whether the ‘imperfections’ we encounter in life result from a defect in Creation or from the sins of human beings. But once it is clear that the thorns and thistles of life—for whatever reason—do exist, we must not abide them. We must fight them, destroy them, and try to grow other things in their place”.

“Life is full of problems. This reality is an essential and built-in part of life… if we believe that ‘God created to do’, then our duty is to improve and perfect the work of God in the world. God says, ‘I have finished My work; now it is your turn’.”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was born in Jerusalem in 1937 to a secular family and died in Jerusalem in 2020 at the age of 83. He was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in mathematics and at some point he became deeply interested in Jewish and rabbinical studies. So much so that he became the greatest Jewish scholar of times before him, of his lifetime and the years following his death.

As an Israeli born citizen he was very aware of the political system, much of which he found distasteful and corrupt.

His interpretation of the creation story in the Book of Genesis as mentioned above can definitely and most assuredly be applied to our present day political circus of lies, defamations, threats of assassinations, verbal abuse to young innocent children and so many other sickening aspects in the Likud-Netanyahu organization. I rejoice that Rabbi Steinsaltz did not have to bear witness to the thorns and thistles which he predicted.

Our present government is an over-run jungle of weeds, rotten grass, thorns and thistles breeding entrapment and disease. Like any overgrown garden they must be completely removed and re-planted with good seeds to produce good quality. It is the #1 thing we need and demand before any other.

For the past twelve years in the center of beautiful Jerusalem one notable family has lived in a spacious mansion, once pure and dignified, but now unclean by verbal filth, public lies, betrayal and criminality.

The thorns and thistles overpower colorful flowers, blossoming trees and the purest of Jerusalem’s air.

The flowers must not be plucked. The trees must not be cut down. Only the three who created the stench in the mansion and beyond must be uprooted and discarded like Rabbi Steinsaltz’s brilliant interpretation of the beauty that once was intended for Eden… a garden to be forever free of prickly thorns and rotten thistles. The rectification of which he wrote and preached has not yet seen the light of good days in our national political diseased system. We are still waiting for it.

May the memory of our greatest teacher and scholar in one thousand years be a blessing for every good citizen in the blessed land of Israel, promised to us by the Lord our Eternal God.

The chapter in his book which follows after the story of creation tells the history of Abraham’s departure from his pagan home to the place where God had intended for him. And God commanded Abraham with the same words which we shout at Binyamin Netanyahu: “Lech L’cha” Get out of here. Now! But leave by your own decision without any force or violence.

But in spite of our millions of wishes it is extremely important that we listen to and heed the warnings of the distinguished head of our Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman. In his concern and wisdom he has warned us against all incitement and violence which can only lead to dreadful and dastardly results.

It is imperative to recall the incitement which led to the assassination of our prime minister Yitzchak Rabin. Now, as in that tragic time, it takes only one madman to pull a trigger and to end a life.

God forbid that we should see a repetition of the Rabin assassination.

Nadav Argaman understands the unhappiness of many. But he urges refraint from any word or deed which can remove a life. Let us make personal promises to follow his wise suggestions and hold our tongues and hands to keep the peace we so desperately need and for which we yearn.

To paraphrase the dying words of Yosef Trumpeldor: “Tov LICHYOT b’ad artzeinu”. Lo Lamut.

It is good to LIVE for our country. Not to die.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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