Simchas Torah/V’zos Habracha: The South-Indian Monkey Trap

By BJLife/Rabbi Moshe Pruzansky

Posted on 09/27/21

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In the final pasukim in the Torah, the pasuk that we read on Simchas Torah, Hashem Himself provides the ultimate eulogy for the greatest Navi of all time - Moshe Rabbeinu.

In the very final pasuk of the Torah, Hashem states Moshe’s final praise “& by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Yisroel” (34:12).

What is Hashem referring to in the conclusion of the pasuk “before the eyes of all Yisroel”?

Rashi there explains that, in the final words of the Torah, Hashem was praising the fact that Moshe broke the first set of luchos (“she’nosei li’bo lishbar ha’luchos le’eneihem”).

Is this the greatest accomplishment of Moshe, one of the greatest men in the entire universe’s history? The man who lead Klal Yisroel out of Mitzrayim through the 10 makkos, who was involved with Kriyas Yam Suf, the giving of the Torah, who went up to Shamayim for 40 days and 40 nights to receive the Torah, etc? Why would Hashem conclude the ultimate eulogy that He was giving, and conclude the entire Torah, with praising the breaking of the luchos of all things, one of the lowest days of our nation’s history?

Additionally, chazal teach us that there is always a connection between the weekly parshah and the time of the year that it is being read. This Parshah is always read on Simchas Torah. What connection could there possibly be between Moshe being praised by Hashem for the breaking of the luchos, and, Simchas Torah?

Monkeys are fast and agile creatures – it’s nearly impossible to catch them. The clever hunters in South-India (apparently this is done in other areas of the world as well) designed a monkey trap based on monkeys’ behavior patterns:

The simple but ingenious traps they devised is known as “The South-Indian Monkey Trap”. It consists of a coconut that has been carefully hollowed out at one end and chained to a pole in the ground. The coconut’s opening is narrow; it is slightly bigger than a monkey’s hand. The hunter then puts food, such as bananas, inside the coconut.

When a monkey sees one of the coconuts, its hand would reach inside and grab the food, and the hand is now turned into a fist. It then tries to withdraw its hand, only to realize that the hand is now stuck. No matter how hard it tries, its hand cannot be freed from the coconut. The opening of the coconut is simply not large enough for a closed fist around food to get out. The only way the monkey can free its hand, is to let go of the food. Oddly enough, as you may have picked up, there is no actual physical barrier preventing a monkey from escaping the trap – it could just let go of the food and they would be free. However, despite possessing the means to escape the trap, the monkey simply can’t, or more accurately won’t, let go - as it grips the food ever so tightly. The happy hunters then throw a net over the monkey and it’s game over, simply because the monkey could not bring itself to let go. This trap has been used throughout the world, for many centuries.  

The hardest thing in the world to accomplish is to let go of something that you have invested yourself into. With this insight, R’ Yassacher Frand offers a wonderful answer: Let’s, for a moment, consider what Moshe Rabbeinu had to invest in order to attain that first set of luchos:

From the moment that Moshe had come face to face with Hashem by the burning bush, Moshe had devoted his entire life to getting the Torah, and the unbreakable connection to Hashem that the Torah affords – which was all represented by the luchos. That was the whole purpose of everything he had done for over the past 40 years. That was the purpose of yetzias mitzrayim, the makkos that he was involved with performing, the traveling through the barren desert, etc – it was all to get the Torah/luchos. The Torah is quite literally the lifeblood of our nation, and Moshe was willing to, and virtually did, sacrifice everything to get it. He even, on a personal level, went through the physical selflessness of going 40 days and 40 nights without food or water to acquire the luchos. Have you ever devoted yourself fully to something and then watched it get destroyed*? Moshe had literally invested his blood, sweat, and tears into getting the luchos, and the incredible connection to Hashem that having them afforded.

Yet, when Moshe saw that destroying his life’s work would get Klal Yisroel’s attention, and perhaps cause them to be meharher b’teshuva from the cheit ha’eigel, without a moment’s hesitation, he sacrificed it all and destroyed them with his own two hands. He was willing to let it all go, everything he had invested so much into attaining, for Hashem’s sake. As Hashem attested in the very final words of the Torah, NOTHING is more impressive of a human achievement, than this.

Living Inspired

The days following Yomim No’rayim, can be the hardest avodah. The reason for this is due to the fact that, either intentionally or unintentionally, we have spent so much time investing ourselves into becoming the person we were before Elul and the Yomim No’rayim. Then, Rosh Hashanah comes around, followed by Yom Kippur, and hopefully, we have committed ourselves to turning ourselves around.

Which brings us to these day’s monumental challenges: we must now, LET GO, of our bad habits – no matter how much they may have become a part of us, and forge ahead.

It’s not easy to let go. We have spent lots of time becoming who we have become, including the parts of us that are flawed. We can sometimes, in a sense, relate to that monkey being trapped by the South-Indian Monkey Trap; we know that we have to let go of our bad habits, but we it can be just SO difficult to do so. But, as Hashem is showing us in the final, climatic pasuk in the Torah, if we can do so, if we can let it all go for Hashem’s sake, no matter how much a part of us it has become, it very well may be our life’s greatest and proudest accomplishment.

May we all merit to do so, one step at a time.


*- As a small parable, consider the fact that when someone spends hours to assemble a large puzzle, and spends hours upon hours doing so, think about the indescribable frustration one feels if someone breaks that puzzle? Even if one offered to buy a new assembled puzzle to make it up to that person, it wouldn’t make a difference; he or she had invested themselves into it. Le’havdil, Moshe had literally invested his blood, sweat, and tears into getting the luchos, and the incredible connection to Hashem that having them afforded.