Throughout their lives, the Prophets never had much “naches” from their people. Jeremiah, speaking in the name of G-d, chastises the Jewish masses: “From the day that your fathers came forth out of the Land of Egypt till this day, I have sent to you all My servants the Prophets, sending them from morning till night. Yet they did not hearken to Me, nor incline their ear, but stiffened their neck” (Jeremiah 7:25). What causes us thus to close our ears to the words of the Prophet, without considering that maybe, after all, his warning is worth heeding? One who is not willing to listen to rebuke has no shortage of excuses. In this article, we will concentrate on one excuse which is hinted at in Parshat VaEtchanan.
The Prophet Ezekiel describes how the people mocked his prophecies of doom: “The days are prolonged, and every vision fails!” (Ezekiel 2:22) -that is, you’ve been screaming out your warnings for years, but we’re still sitting pretty. The Metzudat David explains: “Since the Prophets spoke about the distant future, people would make fun of them saying: Look, it’s going to be such a long time before any of this happens, we’ll all have forgotten by then what you said anyway.” That is to say, you have already been prophesying the Destruction for many years, and nothing has yet happened, so apparently, nothing that you say will come about… The Prophet Isaiah quotes the nation verbatim as saying: “Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come, that we may know it!” (Isaiah 5:19). Here, the mockery reaches new heights: Nu, let’s see it happen already…
This mockery haunted the Prophets, and all those who saw the truth throughout the generations; and the Torah foresaw this problem in the verse in VaEtchanan, which we also read on the Ninth on Av: “When you shall beget children, and children’s children, and shall have remained long in the Land, and shall deal corruptly…” (Deut. 4:25). And the question is asked: What connection is there between “remaining long in the Land” and “dealing corruptly”? Did they not “deal corruptly” even when they had not yet been “long in the Land”?
The Kli Yakar gives this awesome explanation: “Since the foretold disaster does not come about quickly, therefore man’s heart becomes aroused to do evil.And he does not understand that the Almighty is slow to anger, and will punish him at the end of days. This is the meaning of the verse, ‘When you shall beget children…’ – in other words, in those very days when you shall deal corruptly, you shall beget children, and children’s children, which is the natural way of the world – and you will remain long in the Land; and thus you will mistakenly say: Had G-d wanted to smite us, He would not have waited for so long! Behold, our lives are continuing as normal, we’re having children, and dwelling securely in the Land for years on end. And this being the case, surely we are guiltless.”
The reason that G-d delays punishment for so long is that He, in His infinite mercy, wants to give us yet another chance and yet another period of grace in which to repent. However, instead of exploiting this extra time to do teshuvah, we use it for the opposite purpose: Look, we heard him say the same things twenty years ago – and what happened? – Almost nothing! The conclusion: We don’t have to take him all that seriously. And most importantly: I don’t have to change my ways…
And the truth? “Therefore say to them…The days are at hand, and the word [i.e. actualization] of every vision” (Ezekiel 12:23). That is to say, if you will mock in that way, then there is no purpose in any further periods of grace, and punishment will follow immediately. And how will this punishment come? Answering this, the Kli Yakar continues: “But if the Almighty delays His anger for a long time – then, at the end of days, He brings disaster after disaster in rapid succession”.
That is to say, when disaster eventually does strike, it will strike suddenly, hard and mercilessly, without even allowing time to understand what is happening.
Not for nothing did our teacher Rabbi Meir Kahane bring down this quote from the Kli Yakar in the introduction to the second edition of his book “Forty Years”. For the book “Forty Years” is a book of warning. And he, too, received similar reactions to his warnings to those described above. Since then, his warnings have – tragically – been verified by the harsh reality. And yet, even this has not moved us a bit. We have immersed ourselves more than ever in our own affairs, in order to avoid having to face what is happening – and what is about to happen! In the Rabbi’s eyes, the words of the Kli Yakar were a last-ditch effort to arouse the people.
All that he warned of is already happening. It is still in our power to change this reality; but this change starts by not closing our eyes to the truth – even if that truth is painful.