Newsletter            May 17, 2012 - 25 Iyyar 5772

A Measure of Righteousness
Dedicated to the members of AKSE     

The Egyptians and the Assyrians were battling for supremacy, and Jerusalem in the midst of a spiritual renaissance under the leadership of their king, Yoshiayahu, stood between them. The Egyptians, unconcerned with militarily insignificant Judah, wanted to pass peacefully through the area to battle the Assyrians, but Yoshiyahu, having studied this week's portion, refused to grant permission. "And I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid; and I will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land, neither shall the sword go through your land (Leviticus 26:6)."

The king was justifiably proud of having led his nation in returning to God as had no one else in history. He was confident that his nation was righteous in the eyes of God and merited the promise that, "no sword shall pass through your land." Surely God would keep His promise and protect the land from even having the Egyptian sword pass through his land. Jeremiah warned him not to involve Jerusalem in this battle, but Yoshiyahu, confident in the righteousness of his people, stormed south to stop the Egyptians, only to be killed in the ensuing battle.

How odd that a man convinced that no sword shall pass through the land would lift his sword to stop the Egyptians! How odd that a man so confident in his nation's righteousness would ignore the warnings of a prophet! How sad that a man could be so blinded by his righteousness.

I recall the Friday night meal immediately after the Six Day War, when all witnessed numerous miracles, none more powerful than the reunification of Jerusalem. The many students who sat at our table and the family members were in a celebratory mood, critical of those who credited Israel's military strength rather than God, when I asked what most considered a 'mood killer' question; "Why did God make this happen? Did we do something to deserve it?"

"Anyone who believes that we deserved this miracle because of our righteousness is making the same mistake as Yoshiyahu," my father zt"l answered. "The people who fought and risked their lives earned the miracles." "Is that righteousness?" I asked. "Yoshiyahu risked his life to fight. Why was he not granted the same miracles?" "Someone who fights convinced of his righteousness is just as bad, if not worse than one who credits his military strategy and power. Beware of people who are convinced that they are righteous!"

"Thus says God: Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and whose heart departs from God (Jeremiah 17:5)," reads this week's Haftarah, perhaps alluding not only to those who trust in their military might, but to those who trust in their own righteousness, for that blinds us as it did Yoshiyahu.

There is an additional danger when we live in an environment in which many proclaim their righteousness; far too many are convinced of their sinfulness, that they are undeserving of God's miracles, help, or even listening to their prayers. The inevitable result is that "their hearts depart from God."
I have met many people who authoritatively stated that my grandfather and father were insufficiently righteous. I've met far more who believe they are unworthy. I've yet to find a righteousness thermometer. My favorite interactions are with those who, "Walk in My statutes," who measure themselves by how well they follow the path of Halacha, the path of walkers, those who look only to their own feet, committed to always walk forward, one step at a time.

I had the privilege to spend Shabbat with a congregation of walkers in Wilmington, Delaware. While many self proclaimed righteous people are critical of some of their customs, they remain focused only on remaining walkers, consistently moving forward closer to the only One in Whose righteousness is real; God. May He bless them with a vibrant and miraculous future.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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