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The Sea and the Sandbag

The Sea and the Sandbag

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The giant, dour-faced fellow next door can be quite helpful, serving us as a boundary more secure than any fence and as a patient waiter ferrying ships and their cargos to and from our continents. But then there are the times that our neighbor feels like stretching; with perhaps a touch of jealousy, it wishes to increase its domain. Having peered through our windows for years, it knows what it wishes to try out for itself. It breaches a doorway too narrow for it. It tries our stairs, but they collapse under its weight. It tries our bed, but being too heavy, flattens it.

Our neighbor may merely wish to share our home with us, not evict us. Yet water being the contradictory of land, such a two-state-solution on a single territory is doomed to failure. Inevitably, the brimming sea destroys, kills, conquers.

To prevent such an occurrence, a wall is erected to discourage the sea's ambition. And what if our levee is inadequately fortified and is breached by the watery tons? We must then painstakingly drop load after load of sandbags. One by one, the white bundles are inserted where the barrier once stood.

As they disappear beneath the waves, we wonder whether our efforts are futile. The first load of sandbags did not replace the wall, nor did the second or the third. But we keep on dropping them. Ten bags, twenty bags, thirty bags... still the ocean pours past. The helicopter pilot may be discouraged, thinking: I've released so many loads into that gap without closing the breach. It hasn't worked so far, so what's the point of continuing?

The engineer retorts: On the contrary! If you've dropped so many until now, then it will only take a few more to finish the job. Don't give up now, when you're almost there!


At the time of its creation, our newborn world contained no true evil.

There were "external forces" which are presently evil, yet at that pure point they were simply neutral. Our sages compare these forces to "a guard in the courtyard" and "a shell that protects the fruit within." Like an ocean that surrounds a continent and provides a natural defense.

The "external forces" also acted as a butler who serves and arranges; the Snake in Genesis has been described as "a great attendant," much like a sea carries cargo from port to port. The Midrash relates that the snake used to have two characteristics that elevated it above all other creatures, in order for it to attend to mankind: It walked upright on legs and had the power of speech. (When it failed in its function, it lost these two advantages, becoming the creature with no legs at all, nor can it speak, roar or bellow--just hiss.) Death, suffering, hatred and hardship did not exist to shape existence as it does nowadays.

Man changed all that. He activated the destructive potential that transformed the external forces into the evil forces. The floods of evil, the tides of misfortune, had been restrained by the command of G‑d: Do not eat from that tree! With but one mitzvah (divine commandment), G‑d granted man control of the wheel that sealed or opened the dam. He was told not to open it, lest death and destruction rush into the world. Man had but this one solitary wall with which to protect himself and his future generations; his wall was his obedience to the command of G‑d.

Yet this wall proved inadequate. Man did not built his obedience strong or high enough. His loyalty was compromised, his defense was lacking. No sooner did the forbidden fruit slide down his palate, when the levee tumbled down on the world. It was like inviting a rock band into the contemplation of a library, or inviting hordes of terrorists to live in your land.

Evil instantly swamped and overwhelmed the planet. Pain and grief invaded the very character of life itself. The solitary wall had been breached by the two lone humans on earth.

This empowerment of evil is analogous to a slave who rebels and enslaves his master. Or as the mast of a ship that was designed to hold its sails; yet should the mast snap and fall sideways, it will capsize the very ship it was made to support.

The slow process of draining the waters of evil and constructing a new and unshakable barrier that will return the ocean to its location and innocence has fallen to the descendants of that first couple. But this time, G‑d has not given us the luxury of a single commandment; that has proven too risky.

Instead, we must place load after load of "sandbags" into the gap. We have seven universal commandments to combat the invasion and to restore our dwellings. The Jewish people have received a different material for the same purpose of plugging the breach, comprised of six hundred and thirteen commandments. Every goodly act causes the ocean to recede.

Our tractors and helicopters have been active for generations, and the barrier is almost restored. Yet at times we may wonder: We've piled countless mitzvot into the breach, yet the breach still exists. If this vast amount of material has not done the job, my dropping another mitzvah or two will certainly not have any effect! Why bother?

The truth is, however, that if we already have so many bags in position, then we only need a few more to complete the task. These last mitzvahs are the ones that'll stop the flood.

Mankind has no reason to despair of ridding the world of polluted waters. Those many years of effort will be crowned with our positive actions and usher in the era of Moshiach. Then the "external forces" will once again become a "guard for our homes," for our universe. "There will be peace in your wall (and therefore) tranquility in your buildings" (Psalms 122:7). The very potential for evil and hurt will be forever purged from our lives, "And the spirit of impurity I shall remove from the earth" (Zechariah 13:2).

In its place, "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of G‑d, as the waters cover the ocean bed" (Isaiah 11:9).

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ephram shizgal montreal, quebec November 2, 2005

Great article
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