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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach 5773

Ein Ayah: Spiritual Dangers and Saving Graces

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 9:207-209)

Gemara:  It is better to walk after a lion than after a woman; [better] after a woman than after idol worship; [better] after idol worship than after a shul at a time people are praying. [The problem of walking outside a shul] is only when there is not another entrance, but if there is another entrance, it is not a problem. And it is only a problem when he is not riding on a donkey, or carrying a load, or wearing tefillin, for if he is doing one of these, it is not [a problem].


Ein Ayah:  [The simple understanding of the gemara is that walking outside a shul and not going in is a sign that he rejects the prayer going on, unless it appears that he does not go in because he is busy, or he shows allegiance to the ideals of Torah through tefillin. We will now see Rav Kook’s allegorical explanation.]

There are four categories of danger that a person has to be careful about. Three relate to him personally: physical damage, moral damage, and intellectual damage. The final one relates to possible danger to the community, and this critical danger must be avoided at all costs.

The lion hints at physical dangers, walking behind a woman hints at moral ones (immodest thoughts), and idol worship relates to intellectual deterioration, which can destroy every house to its foundation.

The matter of walking outside a shul is that one shows disdain for that which is holy in Israel even as he is in close proximity to Jews who are involved in service of Hashem. It destroys the foundations of the nation and that which is holy within it. We have, in our sins, many who fall into this latter category, and it causes great pain and loss in Israel as a nation when people separate themselves from the community and choose their own separate approaches. This causes hatred and animosity in Israel, harms our children’s fear of Hashem, and distorts matters.

While joining in with the community is important, there are exceptions to the rule. Sometimes a great man separates himself from the masses with proper intentions. This is hinted at by having a different entranceway, i.e., another way of getting to high levels of sanctity. He might not be able to pray with the community because his prayers take too long, because he spends all day on Torah study, or due to other important things. Under such circumstances, he cannot be considered one who separates himself from the community.

When referring to those who separate themselves from the ways of the community, we are referring only to the more severe offenders. After all, the gemara says that he is worse than one who follows idol worship. Such a person is likely to be so consumed with his physical desires that he separates himself from the community and its spiritual practices so that he can do that which his heart desires without inhibitions. However, if he is riding on top of a chamra (literally, a donkey, but a hint at the physicality of animalistic behavior), i.e., he is above the most offensive behavior. Then, even if he has mainly left the fold, there is hope he will return to the community.

The metaphor of carrying a load hints at one who is still involved in the needs of the community. While he seems to shun the community’s service of Hashem, he has a spark of sanctity and Jewish connection that can return to life when conditions are ripe; he is not totally lost. Certainly, if he is wearing tefillin, which contain the pasuk, “…so that the words of Hashem will be in your mouth,” then he must have hope. If a person has even one of these, a mitzva will lead to another mitzva, and there is hope that he or his offspring will return. He is considered part of the nation, with all the privilege that this brings.  
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