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Soul to soul – arhiva

NOT GUILTY

 

We read in this week’s haftorah (Melachim I, 7:51-8:21) that Shlomo HaMelech and the Jewish nation celebrated the dedication of the Bais HaMikdash in the month of Tishrei for fourteen days.

 

Our sages tell us (Mo’ed Katan 9a) that that year the Jewish nation did not observe Yom Kippur. Rashi explains that there was daily joyous celebration and feasting in honor of the dedication of the Bais HaMikdash beginning seven days before Succos. When Klal Yisroel became anxious that they had perhaps erred, a Bas Kol came forth and announced: All of you are destined for the life of the world to come.

The question arises: How could they possibly dispense with Yom Kippur? Our sages tell us that they argued a fortiori. If within the Mishkan, which had no eternal holiness, the Nesi’im brought personal sacrifices even on the holy day of Shabbos, which is ordinarily punishable by sekilah (stoning to death), the most severe punishment in the Torah; all the more conceivable that the dedication of the Bais HaMikdash, whose holiness is forever, with communal korbanos and festive meals, is permissible on Yom Kippur, whose desecration is punishable only by koreis.

Yet, after expounding the fortiori, the Jews began to get nervous that they had perhaps incurred Hashem’s wrath by rescinding the Yom Kippur fast. After all, the premise was questionable. The Nesi’im had brought their sacrifices for Hashem, whereas here the sacrifices were brought for themselves, i.e. the large portion of the korban was for the people. Perhaps they could have deferred partaking of any meat or drink, but there is no joyous celebration without eating and drinking.

The Chasam Sofer explains that the fortiori was true to Torah. At the time of the dedication of the Bais HaMikdash in honor of Hashem then even an ordinary seudah is in service of Hashem, no less than the sacrifices brought by the Nesi’im. The rejoicing in honor of the dedication of the House of Hashem is based upon a pasuk (Tehillim 100:2), “Serve Hashem with gladness, come before Him with joyous song.” Shlomo HaMelech knew that for this purpose it was necessary to have the people on an elevated spiritual level in thought and intention. Therefore, he initially only invited (Melachim I, 8:1) “the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, and the leaders of the ancestral families” to Yerushalayim.

However, the Jewish nation is holy and had a strong desire to participate in the dedication of the Bais HaMikdash. They therefore gathered on their own, as it says (Melachim I, 8:2), “They gathered before King Solomon – every man of Israel .,.. “

It was at that point in time that a concern arose that perhaps there had been an error in judgment. It was difficult to conceive that every member of Klal Yisroel was gathering l’shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven) and had the purest intentions. But then Heaven testified that even though they ate and drank for fourteen days, their thoughts and kavanah had been purely for the sake of Heaven without one measure of personal regard or consideration.

Our sages tell us (Kiddushin 40a) that if an individual had the intent to do a mitzvah, but was unable to do so, it is considered as if he had actually done the mitzvah, as it says (Malachi 3:16), “And a book of remembrance was written before Him …. for those who give thought to His Name.” The Divrei Yoel elaborates that this refers to those who, even though the mitzvah was only performed in the process of one’s thoughts, he is nevertheless credited with having executed the deed and it is so recorded in the book of remembrance.

A woman was facing difficult circumstances and in dire need of a yeshuah – Divine Assistance. Many suggested that she visit the renowned Noam Elimelech in Lizhensk, who had gained a well-earned reputation as a tzaddik who was able to invoke the mercy of Heaven, bringing salvation and blessings to many who came to him for help.

Unlearned in the concept of emunas chachamim, the woman was hesitant to travel to Lizhensk. However, when the situation deteriorated, she had no other recourse. She set out for Lizhensk and joined the numerous petitioners who were waiting to gain an audience with this tzaddik. Finally it was her turn. As is customary when visiting tzaddikim, a special note was written out for her with her name, her mother’s name, and the purpose of her visit. She also added the traditional donation and placed them both on the Rebbi’s table.

R’ Elimelech read the note, closed his eyes and prayed. When he opened his eyes he told the woman she would be helped. The woman was so excited she exclaimed, “Rebbi! Rebbi! Thank you so much.”

Upon hearing this, R’ Elimelech, who was extremely humble, said to her, “I am not a Rebbi.”

“You’re not?” exclaimed the woman in surprise. With that she took back the donation she had put down earlier and walked out of the study.

After witnessing this exchange, the Gabbai asked the tzaddik whether her salvation was still assured even though she had taken back her donation.

R’ Elimelech answered, “There is no question about it. She had such emunas chachamim – faith in the sages — when I told her I wasn’t a Rebbi. In that merit alone she will be saved.”

 

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WHAT A SHAME!

 

“You, Son of Man! Tell Bnai Yisroel about the Bais HaMikdash, and let them be ashamed of their iniquities and calculate the design of the Bais HaMIkdash (Yechezkel 43:10)

The haftorah of Parshas Tetzaveh declares that If the Jewish Nation is shamed by what they have done, then let them know the structure and the design of the Second Bais HaMikdash, its exits, its entrances, the buildings, its halachos, its teachings. Write it down before their eyes so that they will guard its form and its rules, and they will fulfill them.

Metzudas Dovid explains that when the Jewish Nation would be told about the Second Bais HaMIkdash they would recall the First Bais HaMIkdash that had been destroyed because of their aveiros and they will be ashamed of the sins they committed.

R’ Yechiel of Zhlotsov adds that the details of the Bais HaMikdash included the avodah, i.e. the korbanos that would atone for the sins of Bnei Yisroel. Had they not sinned there would be no need for sacrifices.

The Malbim comments that shame is a prerequisite for teshuvah and atonement, as our sages tell us (Brachos 12b), “One who does an aveiroh and is embarrassed is forgiven for all his sins.”

The Ohr HaMeir tells us that each one of a person’s limbs has a counterpart in the various components of the Bais HaMikdash. Thus, when a person sins, its representative element within the Bais HaMIkdash is desecrated. The realization that the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash resulted because of the sins of all of Klal Yisroel resonates strongly, and fosters feelings of shame and remorse, because no one wants to feel personally responsible for such ruination. This is the beginning of teshuvah. One has the capacity for an even deeper level of shame when he acknowledges his own shortcomings by conceding to his friend’s attributes. In effect, he loses his arrogance and recognizes that he has to reach higher.

We learn that after the Mabul, Cham did a despicable act in humiliating his own father. Rav Bentzion Firer asks: In what merit was Cham saved in the first place? He observes that before the Flood there were other people in the world, which was a deterrent to doing something wrong, as there was a possibility of shame. However, after the Flood there was no one left but Cham’s family. Unfortunately, in front of family there is no shame.

In homes where there is a lack of shalom bayis there is also no shame, and anything goes. At times, people are deterred from acting improperly when they’re embarrassed of what others will say. Our sages derive (Nedarim 20a) that “It is a good sign if one is shamefaced,” and that “One who has shame will not be quick to sin. The Talmud further tells us that one who is not abashed it is certain that his ancestors were not present at Har Sinai. The Ran says the revelation at Har Sinai served to inculcate the Jewish nation with the middah of shame, which was to be transmitted to the future generations, as it says (Devarim 29:14), “Whoever is here with us, standing today before Hashem, and whoever is not here with us today.”

R’ Tzadok HaCohen elaborates and notes that even at the moment a person does an aveiroh Hashem still protects the individual with Divine Providence. When the individual acknowledges that he has done something against Hashem’s will, and appreciates Hashem’s loving kindness notwithstanding his transgression, the person is shamed.

Accordingly, when Yechezkel HaNavi relates the particulars of the Bais HaMikdash, and exalts its holiness and majesty, each member of Klal Yisroel will be ashamed of his aveiros. The Kol Tzafayich says when they are presented with the unlimited potential and the true calling for which they are destined it evokes a different kind of humility.

The Alshich comments on the pasuk in Mishlei (1:10), “If sinners seduce you, do not be enticed,” and says this reference is not limited to being misled to sin. Even if one is lured to do a mitzvah he is forbidden to listen to the sinner for his intent is not good.

We read in the Torah that Moshe told Aharon to approach the Altar, and Rashi explains that Aharon was embarrassed and afraid to approach the Mizbei’ach. Our sages tell us that humility is very praiseworthy. Nevertheless, one must be careful, for often the yetzer hara will try to deter the person from doing a mitzvah by engendering misguided feelings of shame.

Moshe therefore told Aharon, “Don’t be ashamed. You specifically were chosen for the kehunah gedolah, and only you can bring the Shechinah to dwell amid Klal Yisroel. The Evil Inclination wishes to deter you from this mitzvah, therefore you must distance yourself from the shame you are feeling.”

The Satmar Rov was once present at a vort (an engagement party) for the son of a prominent family. As is the custom, the chosson got up to speak some divrei Torah in honor of the occasion. He had only said a few words when he was interrupted by the singing of those who were assembled. This, too, has become customary in order to allow the chosson to save face if he cannot speak.

The Satmar Rov, however, was surprised. He was a great and diligent scholar, and he really wanted to hear the chosson speak. He put up his hand and requested the crowd to stop singing. The group became quiet and the chosson began to speak again. Once again, those present began to sing even louder. The Rav again raised his hand to silence them.

An elderly chossid made his way to the Satmar Rov and said, “The Rav is aware that it is customary to interrupt the chosson so that he should not be embarrassed in case he doesn’t know his drasha.”

The venerable sage replied, “What you are saying is true. But there is no longer shame in America. Let him continue because he will not be embarrassed anyway.”

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“A” FOR EFFORT

 

“They shall make a Sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell among them” (Shemos 25:8)

The Medrash Rabbah tells us that Moshe asked Hashem how it could be possible to fulfill Hashem’s request, for it says (Melachim I, 8:27), “Behold the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain You, and surely not this Temple …”  Hashem told Moshe, though, that the request was subject to the ability of man and not His own omnipotence.

From the words of our sages it is apparent that Hashem only asks of each individual that which is within his ability to execute, explains the Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah.

This is similar to the concept expressed in Avos (2:16), “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it.”   Hashem seeks our efforts, not the end result.  Therefore, a person does not have the option to abandon his quest for spiritual growth because he is fearful of failure.  Rather, he is obligated to make the effort befitting his aptitude and capability, and then Hashem will do His measure.

Likewise, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains in the Sefer Mesilas Yesharim (Path of the Righteous), in the chapter on holiness, that attaining kedusha begins with avodah (work) and ends with reward. That means to say that one who does a little bit here in the lower world is helped from heaven.

Indeed, it was impossible for man to build the appropriate dwelling for Hashem, but that is not what Hashem sought.  He merely asked that man expend his potential and talent to the utmost to fulfill Hashem’s directive.

The Darkei HaShleimus asks why Moshe Rabbeinu waited for his father-in-law, Yisro, to come join the Jewish people in the desert?  Why didn’t Moshe Rabbeinu travel to his father-in-law’s home?

The Alter of Kelm explains that in order to be effective, one must make his preparations.  For example, when Eliyahu confronted the Jews at Har HaCarmel, he asked them first why they were vacillating in choosing between the false prophets of the Baal and Hashem.  Then he performed the great miracle, where the fire consumed everything, including the water in the trenches.  Why didn’t he do that right away? Because first the Jewish people had to be inspired, to recognize that there was a false ideology. Then they could be open to acknowledge assimilate open s come to the understanding.  But tey had to do theirs first.

So too Moshe waited until Yisro was inspired himself and approached him.  Then Moshe could came initiated then came to him, and then could indoctrinate him in the proper way.

In the hadran, the short prayer recited upon the completion of a tractate of Talmud, we say, “We labor and they labor, but we labor and receive a reward and they labor and do not receive a reward.”

The Chofetz Chaim notes that everyone who works gets paid.  The carpenter, the shoemaker and the tailor are all compensated when they finish their work, so why do we say they don’t receive reward?

The commentaries explain that the worker gets paid only when he presents a finished product.  For example, if the tailor sewed up a garment incorrectly he will not be compensated for all the hours that he worked in vain.  That is unlike one who learns Torah and is rewarded just for the effort he put forth.

The Mishnah in Avos (4:20) states, “One who studies Torah as a child … is likened to ink written on fresh paper, and one who studies Torah as an old man … is likened to ink written on smudged paper.”  Nevertheless, notes Rabbeinu Yonah, an old man should not be discouraged from learning Torah, for it does not matter how successful he is in his pursuit or how much he remembers of his learning.  His reward is predicated on his hard work.

The Medrash in Koheles (1:1) relates that when R’ Chanina ben Dosa saw all the people taking their contributions to Yerushalayim he felt badly because he had nothing to give.  He went far outside  the city and found one giant stone which he chiseled and polished to gleaming perfection.  Then he tried to hire five people to transport the heavy stone to Yerushalayim.

No one would take it without pay, and since R’ Chanina was penniless he could not find any help.

Hashem then sent five angels, who appeared as human beings. They too asked for money, but when R’ Chanina explained that he didn’t have any, they agreed to transport the stone if he would lend a hand.

R’ Chanina put out his hand to help them with the stone and immediately found himself standing alone in Yerushalayim with the stone.

One wonders what R’ Chanina was thinking when he undertook his mission.  He knew the stone was too heavy to carry by himself to Yerushalayim and he could not pay anyone to assist him. Furthermore, why didn’t Hashem send the angels immediately to help him?

This, in fact, teaches us an important lesson, says the Chofetz Chaim.  A person must take any and every action necessary in order to achieve his objective, regardless of assurance of success.  Only then can Hashem help him with a miracle.

One Friday afternoon a group of community people came to meet with the great Gaon Rav Shach concerning an urgent situation that had arisen with regard to Jewish education.  The Rosh Yeshiva sat and listened intently to the account that he was given, and then immediately went to call a contact who could possibly help.  The individual, however, could not promise that he would be able to come through for the Gaon.

Rav Shach hung up the phone and, turning to face the people there, he began to cry.  He lifted his two hands heavenward and called out:  “Master of the Universe, I have done mine.  Now please do Yours.”

Rav Schach writes in his sefer that Hashem will only help someone after that individual has done whatever is in his control to achieve.   The Rosh Yeshiva had executed his responsibility, and the situation was ultimately resolved.

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COMFORT ZONE

 

“If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep or goat, and slaughter it or sell it, he shall pay five cattle in place of the ox, and four sheep in place of the sheep” 

The Talmud (Bava Kamma 79b) cites R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai: How important is the dignity of man, for in the case of the ox which walks on its own the payment is five-fold, while in the case of the sheep which the thief must carry on his shoulder the payment is only four-fold.

The Torah mandated a greater penalty for the thief who stole the ox because it acknowledges the shame of the sheep thief who had to carry the animal on his shoulders. Thus in calculating his personal distress in committing this sin the Torah reduces the penalty of the thief who stole the sheep.

The Ben Ish Chai comments on the unconventionality of this halacha, for we do not find anywhere else in the Torah that consideration of the sinner’s efforts in transgressing constitutes the basis for determining his penalty. It would seem that the penalty should either be paying double for the theft of the sheep or threefold for the theft of the ox. How was the determination of a four-fold or five-fold payment derived? Moreover, the Shitah Mekubetzes notes that after differentiating between the theft of an ox or a sheep (or goat), the Torah also makes a distinction that the animal was slaughtered or sold.

The Ben Ish Chai posits that the four-fold and five-fold payment is not a penalty for the theft itself, for one does not pay more than double, as established by the Torah. The reason for paying double is because the individual stole something and he must make restitution for the stolen object as well as incur a penalty. Some of the commentaries explain that we believe with complete faith that Hashem provides each person with his needs. The thief, however, was dissatisfied with that which Heaven provided for him and wanted a double portion. Therefore he must pay double.

The reason this thief must pay four-fold or five-fold is because, in addition to stealing the animal and incurring the double penalty that every thief incurs, he has become enrooted in sin. He added insult to injury and further transgressed by slaughtering or selling the animal. For this iniquity the punishment is three-fold for stealing the ox, less one for stealing the sheep.

Rav Huna said in the name of Rav (Yuma 87) that when an individual repeats his transgression it becomes to him seemingly permissible. As he becomes more enmeshed in the aveiroh, he loses the inhibition that could prevent him from sinning. In truth, this is the yetzer hara’s modus operandi — to get the person so involved in what he is doing that he forgets what is the genuine derech of serving Hashem.

The Satmar Rov commented that in order for the yetzer hara to induce a person to lead a life filled with aveiros he hides his true intent. He initially introduces the person to the periphery of the sin, so that the individual does not even perceive that what he is doing is wrong. He does not discern the trickery of the yetzer hara and the dangerous path upon which he is embarking. In earlier generations, notes the Satmar Rov, the yetzer needed to strongly disguise his intent in order to mislead the individual to sin. In our generation, however, the lines have become blurred. True Torah perspective is not always dominant, and the yetzer barely has to camouflage his intent at all. We live in a generation of hester (hiddenness and darkness), so it is more difficult to perceive the truth. This makes it all the more challenging to avoid becoming accustomed to sin.

Typically, an individual’s embroilment in an aveiroh is avoided because he is repulsed or troubled. For example, a person who was always careful to only eat kosher and then partakes of non-kosher food may initially enjoy the taste of the forbidden food. You can be sure, however, that as the food goes down his esophagus he will become disgusted and sickened by what he has just ingested. It takes a while for the individual to become accustomed to eating the non-kosher food; the danger lies in becoming acclimatized to the transgression and making peace with it.

Many years ago I was invited a couple of weeks before Purim to be a scholar in residence out of town for ten days, over two Shabbasos. The first Shabbos an older man sat down in the row behind me and struck up a conversation and over the week’s time he seemed interested in developing a kesher (connection). After davening on the second Shabbos, as I was about to bid him a Gut Shabbos and wish him well, he asked if he could discuss something with me in private.

We moved to the side, and once the congregants had left he began to tell me that when he had moved into the community he faced a great nisayon. The home that he owned was far from the shul, but he was still determined to attend shul as he was, after all, a religious man had done so throughout his lifetime. He decided that he would not drive himself but would hire a car service to take him back and forth, for which he paid before Shabbos. This arrangement worked very nicely for quite some time. One week, however, there was no driver for some reason. By that time he had become so accustomed to riding in a car on Shabbos that he really didn’t see much of a difference between being a passenger in the car and being the driver. He picked up his car keys and, for the first time, actually drove his car himself to shul that Shabobs and parked it a couple of blocks away from the shul.

He seemed to be very remorseful, as his eyes teared and with a lowered head he kept repeating, “I guess I just got used to it.” I wasn’t sure why he was telling me this. Did he merely want to confess, to share his dilemma, or was it a cry for help to do teshuvah? I decided it was probably all three. I told him that the severity of the challenge for him was very understandable. I then spoke to him about the G-d-given ability of each person to overcome his challenge. We spoke about teshuvah in general, and I told him that when a person does teshuvah his transgressions are transformed to mitzvos.

The old man listened very intently to what I had to say, although he didn’t respond. As I rose to leave, he leaned over to hug me tightly.

Before Purim, I sent him a gift of mishloach manos. On Purim day I received from him a special delivery of mishloach manos. Tucked into the package was an envelope containing a picture of his new Shabbos apartment.

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CLUELESS

“And it shall be a sign upon your arm, and an ornament between your eyes, for with a strong hand Hashem removed us from Egypt” (Shemos 13:16)

The Ramban tells us that the great wonders and miracles that Hashem performs are manifestations of Hashem’s omnipresence and sovereignty. Since miracles do not occur in every generation, Hashem commanded us to constantly commemorate the miracles we witnessed, and to transmit their remembrance to our children, for all generations.

This mitzvah demands strict adherence as evidenced by the fact, for example, that a person is liable excommunication if he eats chametz on Pesach or does not sacrifice a Korban Pesach. We are obligated to record these phenomena in writing (mezuzos) and place them on the doorposts of our homes. We are also instructed to verbally express these miracles, as it says (Devarim 16:3), “so that you will remember the day of your departure from Egypt all the days of your life,” to construct a sukkah every year, and many other mitzvos that commemorate our exodus from Egypt. All these acts bear testimony to the great wonders and miracles so that there is no opportunity to deny belief in Hashem .

The Satmar Rov comments on the pasuk in Tehillim (98:1) “Sing to Hashem for He has done wonders,” and notes that when an individual experiences a miracle, it is not always advantageous, as evidenced in the Talmud (Shabbos 53bn) concerning people for whom nature was changed.

Therefore, notes the Satmar Rov, when one praises Hashem upon a personal salvation or Divine assistance, he should not merely focus on the miracle itself. Rather, he should extol the greatness of Hashem so that His name is sanctified, as the psalm continues, “in the sight of the nations He revealed His righteousness. That is another reason why we recall the great miracles that Hashem performed for Klal Yisroel when we left Egypt. The commemoration and publicity of the miracle adds holiness to the world and increases recognition of Hashem’s greatness.

Sefer Tenuas HaMussar relates that once R’ Yisroel Salanter returned from his travels to his home city and stayed at the local inn. He was surprised to note that the innkeeper, who had once been his student, had become completely indifferent to religion and even ridiculed its tenets. When he inquired about the reason for this change of heart, the innkeeper explained that a non-believer had once stayed at the inn and spoke disparagingly of the concept of reward and punishment. To prove his point, the guest sent for some non-kosher food and, before partaking of the meal, announced, “If there is Divine Providence in the world, then let this forbidden food choke me as I eat it.”

The innkeeper remarked that he had recalled the Rebbi’s discussion about “G-d who has wrought miracles for our forefathers in those days,” but he had never seen any of those miracles. Indeed, the heretic ate the entire meal without incident, and the innkeeper’s emunah had subsequently diminished each day.

The innkeeper then noted that he was very proud of his daughter. For a moment R’ Yisroel Salanter thought that perhaps his daughter was a true daughter of Israel. That notion was quickly displaced when the innkeeper reported that his daughter was one of the most accomplished dancers in Europe.

R’ Yisroel Salanter looked at the innkeeper and realized how far he had strayed from Torah and mitzvos.

“Is that so?” responded R’ Salanter. “ I would very much like to see her dance. Perhaps she could come here so that I could see for myself,” he said.

The innkeeper was very excited and rushed home to convince his daughter to give a private performance for his Rebbi. She replied, “If he wants to see me perform, then he should go to one of the great halls in Europe and sit among the masses.”

The innkeeper returned to R’ Yisroel and apologized that his daughter would be unable to make it.

“Was there a reason? What did she say?” asked R’ Yisroel.

The innkeeper was embarrassed, but finally repeated his daughter’s comment.

R’ Yisroel smiled and said, “Your daughter’s answer is exactly what I anticipated. You argued with me that you wanted to witness Divine Providence for yourself. You wanted to see someone who intentionally ingests treifchoke on his food. That is like asking your daughter to perform for one person. If you want to witness Hashem’s miracles you have to sit among the masses and go back into the annals of Klal Yisroel’s history. But if you see with folded hands and wait for Hashem to perform a personal miracle for you, it is doubtful that Hashem will do so solely in your merit.”

We find a similar incident in Melachim (I, 16:29-34). Following the destruction of the city of Yericho, Yehoshua issued a warning that the city should never be rebuilt. Anyone doing so would risk the death of all his children. In the days of Achav’s reign, an individual named Chiel began to build Yericho. When he laid its foundations, his firstborn died. Chiel buried him and all his sons, until the youngest child died when he installed the doors of Yericho. Rashi explains that as he kept on building, his children continued to die.

The Malbim asks why this incident took place specifically during the reign of Achav and he explains the following. The Jewish people were worshipping idols even before Achav became king, yet they did not deny the very basic tenets of belief in Hashem and honored the oath of Yehoshua because they were fearful of Heavenly repercussion. Achav, however, introduced a multitude of abominations without any Divine retribution. In fact, he told Eliyahu that although there was no avodah zarah in the world he had not served, he and the people of his generation continued to enjoy all the bounty and richness of olam hazeh. This promoted the kefirah of Chiel and allayed the fear that had gripped previous generations. Then, even though he saw his firstborn die, he remained adamant, and was loathe to admit that he had made an error in judgment.

 

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THE DARKEST HOUR

 

Who is like You among the heavenly powers, Hashem! (Shemos 15:11)

The Talmud (Gittin 56b) cites Abba Chanan, “Who is a mighty one like You … that You hear the blaspheming and insults of that wicked man [Titus] and keep silent?” R’ Yishmoel interprets, “Who is like You among the mute ones?”

What is the connection of Hashem’s silence in the face of blasphemy to the song of Bnei Yisroel praising Hashem for the miracle of redemption and the splitting of the Yam Suf?

The Talmud (Makkos 24b) cites the famous incident of R’ Gamliel, R’ Elazar ben Azariah, R’ Yehoshua and R’ Akiva who were on the road to Yerushalayim, when they saw a fox emerging from the area of the Kodesh HaKadashim as they approached the Har HaBayis. R’ Gamliel, R’ Elazar ben Azariah, and R’ Yehoshua began to cry; R’ Akiva laughed.

They said to him: Why are you happy?

R’ Akiva, in turn, asked them why they were crying and they replied, “In the very place of which the Torah says that any stranger who comes close to it will die, we now see foxes, and we shouldn’t cry?”

R’ Akiva explained, “That is why I am happy, for now that I see that the dire prophecy of Uriah has been fulfilled I am certain that Zechariah’s prophecy [8:4], ‘Old men and old women will once again sit in the streets of Yerushalayim,’ shall also be fulfilled.”

They then responded, “Akiva, you have comforted us! Akiva, you have comforted us!”

The question arises: Did the Tanna’im truly have any doubt that Yerushalayim would be rebuilt?

We find in Medrash Tanchuma (end of Parshas Pekudei) that on the very day that Hashenm forgave Bnei Yisroel for the Sin of the Golden Calf, He also commanded them to make the Mishkan. Although the building of theMishkan was completed within three months, its inauguration was delayed to coincide with the birthday of Yitzchak Avinu.

Rabbeinu Yonah expounds on the pasuk (Micha 7:8), “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for though I have fallen I will rise; as I sit in darkness I know that the darkness will bring me great light,” that if one does not stumble or sink he cannot rise and if there is no blackness there is nothing to illuminate. We must experience the galus in order to merit the geulah.

Our sages derive here that the geulah (redemption) comes explicitly amid exile. The diaspora of the Jewish nation began with the birth of Yitzchak, which was preceded with Hashem’s pronouncement that “your offspring will be strangers in a land not their own… four hundred years” (Bereishis 15:13). That day marked the beginning of thegalus which would ultimately result in the geulah. The process of the geulah was not complete until the Jewish nation returned “home.” That is to say (as the Ramban writes at the end of Sefer Bereishis), that although the Jewish nation had left the physical land of Egypt they were still in exile as they wandered in the desert. It was only after the Bnei Yisroel came to Har Sinai and then built the Mishkan where the Divine Presence of Hashem established a resting place that their geulah was complete. With the date of the inauguration of the Mishkancorresponding to the birthdate of Yitzchak the galus was concluded and the redemption was absolute.

Similarly, in the narration of the Talmud, when the sages saw the fox, an unclean animal, emerging from the Holy of Holies, they could not help but cry, notwithstanding the certain fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. R’ Akiva, however, reminded them that the scene they were witnessing was representative of Hashem’s comportment vis-à-vis the Jewish nation. It was the model of “as I sit in darkness I know that the darkness will bring me great light.”

The blasphemy of Hashem and His silence, in fact, signifies the galus as well as the beginning of the Jewish nation’s redemption because it highlights Hashem’s conduct with Bnei Yisroel — to shine light into the darkness.

R’ Chaim Kreiswirth was a yeshiva bachur in Poland, who already in his late teens had begun to give a shiurbecause of his superior Torah learning. His excellent scholarship was only matched by his exceptional chesed.

A blind boy en route to Berlin to see a specialist had come to the yeshiva for a while. Since there were no accommodations for him he was given a mattress on the floor. He was called Shaya’le Mishnayos, because he knew mishnayos by heart.

One late night, as Rav Kreiswirth left the bais medrash he noticed Shaya’le sleeping on the floor. He gently lifted him up and carried him to his own bed. For the next two months R’ Chaim Kreiswirth slept on the floor.

When the Nazis invaded Poland, they marched into the yeshiva with a list of the students whom they called out one by one into the courtyard for execution. When R’ Chaim’s name was called he prepared to give up his life al Kiddush Hashem. During those last few moments as he walked into the courtyard, R’ Chaim contemplated the possibility of any zechus he could have that would spare his life, but could not think of anything. As suddenly as he thought of the possibility that his attentiveness and concern for Shaya’le’s comfort and wellbeing was noteworthy, he found himself standing in front of the executioner’s rifle. It was just the enemy and R’ Chaim up against the wall. The executioner slowly lowered his rifle and said softly, “What a pity to have such a beautiful face wasted by a bullet.” He told R’ Chaim that when he heard the gun fire he should immediately run off to the left. The executioner “missed” his target, and the future Rosh Yeshiva and gadol b’Yisroel escaped to the land of the living.

When all seems lost, when it is the darkest part of the night, we Yidden can be sure that there will be a new dawn – the dawn of the future redemption.

“Yaakov called for his sons and said, ‘Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days. Gather yourselves and listen …’” (Bereishis 49:1-2)

Many of our meforshim discuss in great detail Yaakov Avinu’s intention in gathering all the shevatim. Rashi states that Yaakov Avinu wanted to give his children some insight into the events of the future. However, Yaakov’s ability to see the future was enabled through the Divine Spirit (ruach hakodesh), and at that moment the Shechinahdeparted and he was unable to divulge any of that information. Our sages tell us that such an occurrence is usually an indication that whatever was going to be communicated was not meant to be revealed.

The Me’or V’Shemesh notes that one would think that Yaakov Avinu would call together his children in order to proffer guidance and sage advice for the future generations. Instead Yaakov dispensed brachos and reproach.

The Talmud states (Sanhedrin 98a), “if Bnei Yisroel are meritorious I will hasten it [the geulah]; if they are not meritorious, it will be in its time.” The Talmud continues that R’ Yehoshua ben Levi asked Eliyahu HaNavi when Moshiach would come and he told him to ask Moshiach personally. When he asked where he could find him, Eliyahu HaNavi replied that Moshiach was sitting in the marketplace among the sick people, and he is the one who unwraps his bandages one by one. When R’ Yehoshua asked him when he would come and he replied, “Today.”

In explaining this, HaGaon R’ Elchonon Wasserman cites the Navi Yeshayahu (60:22), “in its time I will hasten it,” and explains in his Sefer Kovetz Ma’amarim that the arrival of Moshiach is predicated on two different time limits. “In its time” indicates a predetermined time that is not conditional; there are no situations or circumstances that qualify the arrival of Moshiach. “I will hasten it” indicates that there is a rationale or a reason why the redemption will be hastened and Moshiach will arrive before the established time.

This was Yaakov’s intent when he called together his children. The Me’or V’Shemesh points out that the Torah uses two consecutive expressions for the gathering of the children – hai’asfu and hikavtzu. The first, he says, is like the words used in Melachim II (5:3), “az ye’esof oso mitzarato – then he will heal him from his leprosy.” That is to say, Yaakov Avinu wanted his children to purify themselves in anticipation of Moshiach’s coming. He wanted to inspire them to do teshuvah so that he would indeed be able to reveal to the assembled children the time of their redemption, but Hashem determined that this was not yet the time.

At this point, with all the shevatim present, Yaakov Avinu wanted to maximize the situation. The ultimate message that a tzaddik can convey to his children is the promulgation of the omnipotence of Hashem. He wants them to delve into understanding Hashem.

In fact, immediately at the outset Yaakov introduces the topic of teshuvah when he states to Reuven, “You are …yeser se’ais v’yeser az — foremost in rank and foremost in power.” The Me’or V’Shemesh points out that “se’ais”is also used to describe tzora’as, which must be completely eradicated before one can be declared pure. Similarly, says he, one must strive for perfection in his teshuvah and ensure that every trace of wrongdoing has been uprooted.

The king sent notice that he would be coming to review the troops on a certain day. Accordingly, the general made all the necessary preparations. On the designated day, all the troops were standing at attention in the plaza dressed in their crisply ironed uniforms, with polished boots, and their artillery gleaming in the sunlight. The general, as well, wore his ceremonial dress to receive this most honored guest.

The minutes ticked by, but the king did not arrive. The general kept glancing at his watch, impatiently noting the passage of time. After three hours had elapsed, the general had enough. He appointed one of the foot soldiers to stand guard, and instructed him to notify him when he saw the king’s entourage approaching. The general then strode off to the barracks to retire.

Shortly thereafter, the king suddenly rode up, and there was no time to warn the general of his arrival. The king was enraged not to find the general at his post. The general was duly censured and disgraced. The epaulettes marking his rank and high standing were removed from his uniform, and he was demoted. The officer who had stood in his place was promoted in his stead.

“You were a decorated officer, paid well and highly honored, yet you left your post,” the king scolded. “The simple soldier you appointed to take your place is unknown to me, but he was faithful and waited for me,” said the king.

The Chofetz Chaim notes that we all await the ultimate redeemer, Moshiach Tzidkeinu. We are obligated to remain steadfast in our faith that he will come, and to prepare for his arrival with teshuvah and maasim tovim. We cannot greet Moshiach without the requisite maasim tovim, nor can we become weary of waiting for him. Our conviction and allegiance must remain steadfast. We are accountable to the King of kings, and we cannot abandon our stations. We must continue our tefillos and prepare to receive pnei Moshiach, may he come speedily in our days.

*   *   *

REVIEWING THE TROOPS

“Yaakov called for his sons and said, ‘Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days. Gather yourselves and listen …’” (Bereishis 49:1-2)

Many of our meforshim discuss in great detail Yaakov Avinu’s intention in gathering all the shevatim. Rashi states that Yaakov Avinu wanted to give his children some insight into the events of the future. However, Yaakov’s ability to see the future was enabled through the Divine Spirit (ruach hakodesh), and at that moment the Shechinah departed and he was unable to divulge any of that information. Our sages tell us that such an occurrence is usually an indication that whatever was going to be communicated was not meant to be revealed.

The Me’or V’Shemesh notes that one would think that Yaakov Avinu would call together his children in order to proffer guidance and sage advice for the future generations. Instead Yaakov dispensed brachos and reproach.

The Talmud states (Sanhedrin 98a), “if Bnei Yisroel are meritorious I will hasten it [the geulah]; if they are not meritorious, it will be in its time.” The Talmud continues that R’ Yehoshua ben Levi asked Eliyahu HaNavi when Moshiach would come and he told him to ask Moshiach personally. When he asked where he could find him, Eliyahu HaNavi replied that Moshiach was sitting in the marketplace among the sick people, and he is the one who unwraps his bandages one by one. When R’ Yehoshua asked him when he would come and he replied, “Today.”

In explaining this, HaGaon R’ Elchonon Wasserman cites the Navi Yeshayahu (60:22), “in its time I will hasten it,” and explains in his Sefer Kovetz Ma’amarim that the arrival of Moshiach is predicated on two different time limits. “In its time” indicates a predetermined time that is not conditional; there are no situations or circumstances that qualify the arrival of Moshiach. “I will hasten it” indicates that there is a rationale or a reason why the redemption will be hastened and Moshiach will arrive before the established time.

This was Yaakov’s intent when he called together his children. The Me’or V’Shemesh points out that the Torah uses two consecutive expressions for the gathering of the children – hai’asfu and hikavtzu. The first, he says, is like the words used in Melachim II (5:3), “az ye’esof oso mitzarato – then he will heal him from his leprosy.” That is to say, Yaakov Avinu wanted his children to purify themselves in anticipation of Moshiach’s coming. He wanted to inspire them to do teshuvah so that he would indeed be able to reveal to the assembled children the time of their redemption, but Hashem determined that this was not yet the time.

At this point, with all the shevatim present, Yaakov Avinu wanted to maximize the situation. The ultimate message that a tzaddik can convey to his children is the promulgation of the omnipotence of Hashem. He wants them to delve into understanding Hashem.

In fact, immediately at the outset Yaakov introduces the topic of teshuvah when he states to Reuven, “You are …yeser se’ais v’yeser az — foremost in rank and foremost in power.” The Me’or V’Shemesh points out that “se’ais”is also used to describe tzora’as, which must be completely eradicated before one can be declared pure. Similarly, says he, one must strive for perfection in his teshuvah and ensure that every trace of wrongdoing has been uprooted.

The king sent notice that he would be coming to review the troops on a certain day. Accordingly, the general made all the necessary preparations. On the designated day, all the troops were standing at attention in the plaza dressed in their crisply ironed uniforms, with polished boots, and their artillery gleaming in the sunlight. The general, as well, wore his ceremonial dress to receive this most honored guest.

The minutes ticked by, but the king did not arrive. The general kept glancing at his watch, impatiently noting the passage of time. After three hours had elapsed, the general had enough. He appointed one of the foot soldiers to stand guard, and instructed him to notify him when he saw the king’s entourage approaching. The general then strode off to the barracks to retire.

Shortly thereafter, the king suddenly rode up, and there was no time to warn the general of his arrival. The king was enraged not to find the general at his post. The general was duly censured and disgraced. The epaulettes marking his rank and high standing were removed from his uniform, and he was demoted. The officer who had stood in his place was promoted in his stead.

“You were a decorated officer, paid well and highly honored, yet you left your post,” the king scolded. “The simple soldier you appointed to take your place is unknown to me, but he was faithful and waited for me,” said the king.

The Chofetz Chaim notes that we all await the ultimate redeemer, Moshiach Tzidkeinu. We are obligated to remain steadfast in our faith that he will come, and to prepare for his arrival with teshuvah and maasim tovim. We cannot greet Moshiach without the requisite maasim tovim, nor can we become weary of waiting for him. Our conviction and allegiance must remain steadfast. We are accountable to the King of kings, and we cannot abandon our stations. We must continue our tefillos and prepare to receive pnei Moshiach, may he come speedily in our days.

*  *  *

 

SUPERNATURAL

Chanukah and Purim are two similar yomim tovim in that they are both not m’doraysa (Torah commandments) and they are both performed in public. The Talmud tells us (Shabbos 21b) that it is incumbent to place the Chanukah lamp by the door of one’s house on the outside. Rashi explains that this is for the purpose of publicizing the miracle. We likewise learn (Shabbos 22b) that “if one was standing and holding the Chanukah candle, he does nothing,” i.e. he has not fulfilled the mitzvah because an observer might think he is holding it for his own purposes, and the essence of the mitzvah of Chanukah is pirsumei nisa. In a similar vein, Rashi notes(Megillah 5a) that the Megillah must be read in the company of ten people for the purpose of pirsumei nisa – advertising the miracle.

On Pesach and Succos, though, there is no specific mandate to perform any of the mitzvos in public. We don’t have to eat the k’zayis matzoh b’tzibbur (communally), and we don’t have to eat in the succah b’tzibbur. If one wants to eat by himself in a pop-up succah, he can certainly do so. In light of the fact that these two yomim tovimare intended to commemorate and recall the great miracles that Hashem performed for the Jewish nation when we left Mitzrayim, why is there no public manifestation? The miracles that took place at that time are even greater than those displayed at the time of Mordechai and Esther and the time of the Chashmonaim, yet the halachos do not include any requirement of pirsumei nisa. Why is this so?

Rav Bentzion Firer points out that the process of the miracles dictates the halachos with regard to pirsumei nisa.

The miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim, for example, did not implicate any human intervention, as we read in Tehillim (136:4), “To Him Who alone performs great wonders.” Thus, when Moshe and Aharon raised their hand it was only to show the staff in their hand. It was not used physically to smite the Egyptians. These yomim tovim are, in fact, meant to inspire OUR belief in Hashem. The celebrations of Pesach and Succos call for US to accept themitzvos and ol malchus Shamayim. A public manifestation of the mitzvos of these yomim tovim will not foster this awareness.

In contradistinction, the pirsumei nisa of Chanukah and Purim is intended to heighten our perception of the importance of the tzibbur . The miracles of Chanukah and Purim involved human effort. Every member of Klal Yisroel was required to give of himself, as little as it may have been, for the sake of Hashem and His Torah. The lighting of the menorah on Chanukah and the reading of the Megillah on Purim serve as an inspiration to remind us that we are part of a community, part of a klal. In each of these two periods in history, the Jews had to become actively involved, to exert physical efforts to annihilate their enemies. They were successful, though, because of Divine Assistance.

In fact, when we light the Chanukah candles each night, we invoke the reference to the siyata d’shmaya (Divine Assistance), in our recitation of HaNeiros Halalu, “These lights we kindle upon the miracles and the wonders, the salvations, and the battles which You performed …” for Hashem blessed our minimal efforts with great siyata d’shmaya.

The Michtav M’Eliyahu notes that it would take a person hundreds of years of uninterrupted effort to make minimal progress in his quest for spiritual growth were it not for Divine Assistance. That is why our sages tell us (Shir HaShirim Rabbah) “Hashem says to Bnei Yisroel: Present Me with an opening like the eye of a needle, and I will open for you entrances through which wagons and carriages can pass.”

R’ Yechezkel Levenstein talks about how one merits siyata d’shmaya. He explains that in order to be worthy of Divine Assistance one must accept how Hashem conducts His world and submit to His rule. R’ Levenstein cautions, though, that if one deviates from the will of Hashem, he cannot rely on Divine Assistance.

Both Chanukah and Purim reflect this mindset and philosophy. When Antiochus issued his harsh decrees against the Jewish people, they continued to meticulously observe all the mitzvos. When Bnei Yisroel had to wage war against the Greeks they didn’t contemplate the odds that were not in their favor and the mortal danger that they faced. They placed their fate and their hearts with Hashem, and as a result they merited great siyata d’shmaya.

Similarly, when the evil decree of Haman was issued, Mordechai went every day to sit at the gates of the king’s palace in sackcloth and ashes. This would be comparable to someone waiting outside the gates of the White House and expecting a personal audience with the president. The Yalkut Mei’am Lo’ez questions Mordechai’s intent, and he notes that every individual is obligated to make maximum hishtadlus (effort) so that he can merit Divine Assistance. That is what Mordechai did. Although he would not get further than the gates, he did his utmost and, indeed, the Jewish nation triumphed with great siyata d’shmaya.

This is the message of both Chanukah and Purim, a lesson to be reviewed every day of our lives so that we can merit Divine Assistance.

During the last few months that the great Gaon HaRav Shach, Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh, was still receiving visitors, a group of talmidei chachamim came to ask him about opening a yeshiva elementary school. They presented a number of halachic questions, technical considerations and the challenges that would be involved in this undertaking.

Rav Shach answered each of their questions. At the end, he suddenly rose from his chair and enthusiastically proclaimed, “You should know that these days siyata d’shmaya is in the streets as never before. If you open a Torah institution l’shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven) and for the honor of Torah, you will merit to see outstanding success to a degree that in earlier years would have required a lot of sweat, toil and exertion.

Rav Shach continued, “I know of a child who emigrated from Russia and came to learn in the Kollel Bais Dovid in Cholon. Before he entered the bais medrash, this boy had been brought up by atheists. He knew nothing of Judaism or the Creator, and had certainly never heard of the Tanna’im and Amora’im. However, within a short time he succeeded in making great progress and was learning gemara with a Kollel fellow, exchanging deep philosophical and logical arguments. If not for the siyata d’shmaya that is in the streets how else would we explain the phenomenal rise of a ten-year-old boy who had been so ignorant of Judaism and the Torah?” concluded Rav Shach.

*  *  *

 

SPEECHLESS

 

His brothers could not answer him because they were confused.” (Bereishis 45:3)

The Medrash (Bereishis Rabba 93) states that Yosef was the youngest of the brothers and, yet, his brothers could not endure his censure. The Medrash then cites Abba Cohen Bardella, “Woe to us from the day of judgment; woe to us from the day of reproach.” How will we human beings face the rebuke of HaKadosh Baruch Hu in the future when Hashem will “rebuke you and lay it clearly before your eyes” (Tehillim 50:21)?

There are some difficulties presented here. First of all, the Torah does not narrate any rebuke of Yosef. All he said was, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” In fact, Yosef’s question seems puzzling. After all, when Yosef initially demanded that the brothers bring Binyamin, Yehuda had explained that they have a father who will be deeply pained to part from this one living son after he had already lost the other one. And then when Yosef demanded that they leave Binyamin behind, Yehuda once again pleaded that their father would certainly die if they returned without him. Obviously, only a living person can experience pain.

The Bais HaLevi explains that the most effortless way to facilitate the teshuvah process and the admission of wrongdoing is to have an individual perceive his deeds and actions being done by someone else. It is only when he judges the offense objectively and without any personal bias, and then realizes he is guilty of the same misbehavior, that he is able to admit it.

When the prophet Nosson came to rebuke Dovid HaMelech for taking the wife of Uriah HaChiti he did so by way of a parable. He spoke of two men in a city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many sheep and cattle, but the poor man had but one small sheep. Once when the rich man had a guest upon whom he wished to lavish a good meal, he was reluctant to kill one of his own animals, so the rich man slaughtered the sheep of the poor man. Dovid immediately exclaimed, “Any man who does this deserves to die!” Nosson responded, “You are that man!” and Dovid promptly confessed his sin.

Similarly, when Yosef asked, “Is my father still alive?” he was responding to Yehuda’s plea that the loss of Yaakov’s first son, i.e. Yosef, had already caused him so much pain. Yosef’s intent with that question was, “You are concerned about the tzaar you will be causing for Yaakov now. Why weren’t you troubled by the tzaar you were causing Yaakov when you sold me twenty-two years ago?” This was a very sharp rebuke, and that is why the brothers were unable to respond to Yosef’s query. And, indeed, Yosef did not wait for a response, for his question was merely intended to be challenging so that they could appreciate the full implication of what they had done.

Similarly, the concept of “Woe to us from the day of reproach” can only be understood when it is clarified from an outsider’s perspective.

We learn in the Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu Zuta that Eliyahu HaNavi relates he was once traveling from town to town and encountered an individual who could learn neither Torah nor Mishnah, but he derided the Navi.

The prophet asked him, “My son, what will you answer your Father in Heaven on the day of judgment?”

He said, “Rebbi, I will answer that I was not given the knowledge or ability from Heaven to be able to learn.”

“What do you do for a living?” asked the prophet.

“I am a fisherman,” responded the man.

“Who taught you how to weave nets and cast them to the sea?” Eliyahu HaNavi asked him.

“That knowledge I attained from Heaven,” answered the man.

So the prophet said to him, “If Hashem gave you that intelligence would He not give you the ability to learn His Torah?”

Upon hearing this, the man began to cry bitterly. Eliyahu HaNavi told him, “My son, don’t feel badly. You also have the power to learn.”

On his travels selling his sefarim, the Chofetz Chaim once arrived in Vilna. As he sat in the corner of the inn to have something to eat, he observed a Jew who had just ordered a sumptuous meal. When his food arrived, the man immediately began to eat, not washing for the bread nor making any brachos.

The Chofetz Chaim was shocked, and thoughtfully considered how he should speak to this individual to correct his ways.

The innkeeper noticed the Chofetz Chaim’s dismay and immediately forewarned him about the inadvisability of his concern. He explained that the individual had been taken by the Cantonists at the age of seven and sent to Siberia where he remained till the age of eighteen. After that the Jew had served Nikolai for twenty-five years. He had never learned anything and surely nothing would be accomplished by any censure.

“That’s the kind of Yid he is?” commented the Chofetz Chaim. “Then I already know how to speak to him and I hope I will be successful in my attempts.”

The Chofetz Chaim walked over, extended his hand with a warm Shalom Aleichem and gently said to him, “I hear that you were taken away as a little boy with other children and sent to Siberia for many years. I understand that you never had the privilege to learn even one letter from the Torah. You obviously experienced gehennom in this world. You had to give up your religion and partake of forbidden foods, yet you remained a Jew and didn’t give up.

“Like Chananyah, Misho’el and Azaryah, you withstood many trials and tribulations for the honor of heaven for so many tens of years. What a zechus it would be for me to have a portion in the next world like you. Your place in theolam ha’emes will be among the great tzaddikim, for your self-sacrifice was not a simple deed.”

The Jew was deeply moved by the heartfelt words of the Chofetz Chaim and tears began to well up in the man’s eyes. He was inspired and his soul stirred within him.

When one of the guests at the inn ran over to tell him who the Chofetz Chaim was, the Jew began to cry. He embraced and hugged the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim held him tightly and added, “If you will undertake to conduct yourself in the ways of our fathers for the rest of your days there will be no one in this world who could compare to you.”

The Jew tearfully clung to the Chofetz Chaim as he wholeheartedly and eagerly accepted the ol malchus Shamayim.

*  *  *

NATURE VS. NURTURE

 

“… If Eisav comes to one camp and strikes it, then the remaining camp shall survive” (Berishis 32:9) Rashi tells us that in anticipation of his meeting with Eisav, Yaakov lay the groundwork in three ways. He prayed to Hashem, he prepared for battle, and gathered gifts for him.

The great Gaon HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein, Mashgiach of Ponovezh, notes that each aspect of Yaakov’s strategy seems to be diametrically opposed to the others. A present is used to draw someone closer and to make peace with him. Battle generates fear and creates a distance between the two parties. Tefillah, or prayer, is out of the realm of the other two because it is not a physical effort; it is spiritual. It would seem counterintuitive to use all three methods.

The Gaon explains that tzaddikim are not dominated by nature. They have complete mastery over themselves, their natural tendencies, feelings, and character. Their actions are governed by the needs of the hour, the time, and the place in which they find themselves.

As we find in the Torah, the pasuk tells us that Yaakov was “an innocent man, sitting in tents,” connoting that he was not deceitful or conniving. Yet, when Yaakov met Rochel he told her (Bereishis 29:12), “he was her father’s relative,” implying that he was Lavan’s kin in duplicity.

The Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaBechinah, Chapter One) writes that the elements of the world, such as fire and water, were each created with their own unique characteristic, and each can only exercise that quality that is innately its. Water cannot choose to burn and fire cannot determine to extinguish flames.

This is contrasted with Shaul HaMelech’s failure to implicitly follow Hashem’s command to annihilate the nation of Amalek. We find that he took pity on Agag, their king and let him live and Shaul is faulted for this lapse. As commendable as the characteristic of rachmanus is, our sages tell us, his mercy was misplaced at the time because the situation called for measured judgment in order to uproot the evil of Amalek.

Similarly, there is, in fact, no paradox in Yaakov’s preparations for meeting Eisav. Each of Yaakov’s preparations addressed the unique approach that was necessary at the time.

Going against one’s natural inclinations is one of the greatest challenges man faces in life. Each person has unique tendencies and characteristics developed from a young age however, in order to fulfill the will of Hashem, a person may sometimes find it necessary to resist his nature.

Rav Levenstein points out that just as Hashem is master over all attributes, inclinations, and tendencies, man must likewise emulate his Creator and rule over his nature and emotions.  For example, an individual who is afraid of the dark but must accomplish a specific mission will force himself to go where it’s dark. He has not lost his fear of the dark; rather, he perseveres and does not allow nature to interfere with the success of his mission.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller comments on the Tehillim (150), Praise Hashem … with the blast of the shofar … with lyre and harp, … with drum and dance …..” and notes that they are all arouse different emotions in the person — humility, sadness, joy, determination, yearning, etc. The chapter concludes, “Kol haneshamah tehallel Kah,” and Rav Miller translates “kol” as “all,” rather than “every,” that is to say, let all of the person, all his different emotions, praise Hashem, each in its unique time and place.

HaGaon Rav Hillel Lichtenstein, one of the famous talmidim of the Chasam Sofer, was well known for his skill in appropriately dispensing reproach to those who had sinned. Whenever there was a breach of faith within the community, he would be invited to inspire the denizens to rectify and improve their ways. An outstanding speaker, he would travel from city to city, drawing the hearts of the Jewish nation to their Father in heaven.

Once, R’ Hillel was invited for Shabbos where a simcha was simultaneously being celebrated. Additional aliyos had been added to Krias HaTorah in order to honor the various guests who were in attendance and, in order to save some time, the guests who would be honored were handed out cards in advance so that they would be ready.

R’ Hillel did not approve of this practice and ascended the bimah to admonish the congregation. He repeated his words of mussar a number of times throughout the Shabbos.

A few weeks later, the city had the privilege of hosting the great tzaddik, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Friedman of Blisk. The tone of his Shabbos addresses to the congregation was in sharp contrast to that of R’ Hillel. He was very soft-spoken and gentle, praising the community for all their good work and deeds.

After Shabbos, one of the congregants approached R’ Tzvi Hirsch and questioned the difference between the two distinguished rabbis who had come to speak to the people of the city. “R’ Hillel,” he said, “sternly reprimanded us and lectured us on how we could improve and rectify many of our practices. You, on the other hand, highly commended our accomplishments and were very encouraging. How is that possible?”

R’ Tzvi Hirsch responded, “Both are appropriate for Klal Yisroel. There are those who lead with an iron fist and strictly guide their followers, and then there are those who are very gentle and sensitive who inspire their klal for avodas Hashem in another way. Since R’ Hillel is more heavy-handed he was brought here when the hour demanded it, and there was need for rectification. This week, however,” continued the tzaddik, “called for a different approach.”

*  *  *

 

TEST OF FAITH

 

Our sages tell us that the directive to Avraham Avinu to depart from Charan to an unknown destination determined by Hashem – “lech lecha” — was one of the ten nisyonos (tests of faith) to which Avraham was subjected.

Why is this deemed a test of his faith?  Hashem personally guaranteed Avraham Avinu that he would become a great nation and would be blessed with riches and honors.

As we know, Avraham Avinu was the son of Terach, an idol worshipper of the highest order who owned a shop with all kinds of idols.  People came to offer sacrifices to these idols or to buy them.  Once, Terach assigned Avraham to be in charge of the shop.  Avraham could not understand how people could serve stone and wood that has no life at all.

When an elderly widow entered the store with a sacrifice of fine flour for one of the idols, Avraham chided her, “Foolish woman!  Does the idol eat or drink?”

After she left, Avraham smashed most of the idols in the shop with an axe and then tied the tool to the hand of a very large statue that he had left intact.

When Terach returned and saw the place in shambles, he bellowed, “What have you done?”

“I didn’t do anything at all,” said Avraham.  He explained that a woman had brought an offering for one of the idols but when she left they began to fight amongst themselves.  Ultimately, the large statue took affront and demolished them.

“Do these idols know how to fight?  They can’t even move!” responded Terach.

When Avraham Avinu heard this, he said, “Your ears should listen to what your mouth is saying.  If they can’t even move, why are you persuading the multitudes to sin and dispensing false ideology?”

Highly angered by Avraham’s mussar and reprimand, Terach took him to Nimrod, the king of Babylon, for punishment.

Nimrod tried to influence Avraham Avinu to worship idols, however Avraham remained unmoved.  Nimrod then suggested that Avraham serve him.  “You are but flesh and blood,” responded Avraham, refusing to be moved from his faith in Hashem.

Nimrod then ordered that Avraham Avinu be thrown into a fiery furnace.  The Angel Gavriel came forward to save him, but Hashem said, “I and he are unique in this world.  It is more proper that the one and only be saved by the One and Only.”  (For his good intention, Gavriel was rewarded with the rescue of the three tzaddikim, Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah, who were thrown into a burning furnace later in history by Nevuchadnezzar.)

When Avraham Avinu emerged unscathed from the blazing furnace, a tremendous Kiddush Hashem was created.  All who had witnessed the miracle recognized the righteousness of Avraham Avinu, and the multitudes were more inclined to come under the wings of the Shechinah.

HaGaon Rav Ovadiah Yosef shlita explains that it was at this time, in the midst of Avraham Avinu’s total dedication and immersion in this most significant undertaking, that Hashem directed, “Lech lecha mei’artzecha – go from your land.”  Avraham Avinu was commanded to go to another land where he was unknown and the people had not been present when the miracle took place and could not attest to any Kiddush Hashem.   Avraham Avinu’snisayon (challenge) was to influence others to derive their faith in Hashem with reason, judgment and intellect, rather than as a result of witnessing a miracle.

R’ Eliyuahu Dessler writes that the primary mitzvah we have is Kiddush Hashem, because the objective of all themitzvos and all matters concerning servitude of Hashem is Kiddush Hashem, as it says (Yeshayah 43:7), “Everyone who is called by My Name, I have created for My glory …”  That is not to say that Hashem needs the honor; rather, it is our merit, for our benefit, that we are able to honor and sanctify the Name of Hashem above all the creations.

R’ Chaim Volozhiner, in commenting on the mishnah in Pirkei Avos (2:4) “Nullify your will before His will, so that He will nullify the will of others before your will,”  notes that when one makes Hashem’s preferences his own, he is effectively setting aside his personal intentions.  An even higher level is attained when the individual totally abandons his personal dreams and desires and allows himself to be completely guided by the will of Hashem.  Such an individual, says R’ Chaim Volozhiner, will be successful in quashing the resolve of his enemies and even to bring them near.  This is as it says (Mishlei 16:7), “When Hashem approves a man’s ways, even his enemies will make peace with him.”

When R’ Yehoshua Leib Diskind was chosen to be the rabbi of the city of Brisk he found that there were certain practices in effect that were not acceptable to him.

For example, when a Jew was required to swear in the secular court, a sefer Torah was used.  An officer of the court would come to the shul to bring one of the Torah scrolls to court so that the Jew could swear holding a sefer Torah.

R’ Yehoshua Leib felt this was an affront to the honor of the Torah and decreed an end to the precedent.  Before long, two Jewish people were in court and the officer of the court came to the shul to get a sefer Torah as was his wont. However, he was informed that the sefer Torah could no longer leave the premises by order of the rabbi.  The officer of the court returned empty-handed and informed the judge of R’ Leib’s edict.

R’ Yehoshua Leib was immediately summoned to court.  The Rav confirmed that, indeed, the sefer Torah could no longer be taken to court as had been the practice until then. He explained to the judge, “We try to guard this precious treasure which has been inordinately costly.”

“What do you mean?” asked the judge.

“This sefer,” said R’ Yehoshua Leib, “has been salvaged and preserved by thousands of Jewish souls.  Much blood has been spilled because of it.  Thousands have sacrificed their lives, been burned and afflicted in its defense.”

The moving explanation greatly impressed the judge, and he promised to annul the decree.  In fact, the judge was so struck by his sagacity and astuteness that he invited R’ Yehoshua Leib to preside over the case at hand.   Moreover, from that day on, the most difficult court cases were referred to R’ Yehoshua Leib for adjudication.

 

* * *

THE PROPOSAL

 

The RMA writes in Shulchan Aruch that the last day of Yom Tov is called Simchas Torah because we rejoice and make a seudah in honor of the completion of the Torah.

The Tur says adds that we also begin the Torah again at Bereishis in order that the Soton should not have any opportunity to say that the Jewish nation has completed the Torah and do not want to read it anymore.

In the Talmud (Shabbos 118b), Abaye states:  “May I be rewarded for that when I saw that a disciple had completed his tractate I made it a festive day for the scholars.”

The Kaf HaChaim notes that the source for this minhag is found in the beginning of Medrash Rabbah Koheles.   The Medrash cites the incident (Melachim I, 3, 5-15) when Hashem appeared in a dream to Shlomo HaMelech at Givon and said, “Request what I should give to you.”

Shlomo asked for “an understanding heart,” and because he did not ask for riches or long life, Hashem responded, “I have acted in accordance with your words … I have given you a wise and understanding heart such that there has never been anyone like you before, nor will anyone like you ever arise …”   The narrative continues that Shlomo awoke from his dream and when he came to Yerushalayim he stood before the aron and brought sacrifices and make a feast for all of his servants.

R’ Yitzchok comments that a dream stands on its essence.  A donkey neighs and knows why he’s neighing; the bird chirps and knows what it is chirping about.  From here we learn, states R’ Yitzchok, that one makes a seudah upon the completion of the Torah.

The Netziv asks:  The Torah only tells us that Shlomo HaMelech received wisdom.  Where do we find that he made a party upon the completion of the Torah?

The Netziv explains that when Shlomo HaMelech requested an understanding heart, Hashem gave him the wisdom to comprehend the character and disposition of all the creatures, derived from the hidden allusions in the letters of the Torah.  Thus, Shlomo was in the league of those who have completed the Torah, because Hashem transmitted to him all the Torah and its secrets so that Shlomo would have the ability to expound every letter, its shape, and its written form.

Shlomo HaMelech, with his mere request, search and desire for knowledge of Torah acquired all of the Torah, its secrets and mysteries, and was able to celebrate his completion of the Torah.  The merit and value lies in the craving and yearning for Torah’s wisdom, which the chosson Bereishis, who has barely even started the Torah, demonstrates when he requisitions this honor.

The Vilna Gaon writes that one has to be extremely careful to hold dear every word of Torah.  There is a rule that one who is involved in a mitzvah is exempt from doing another, but this does not apply to one who is learning Torah.  The Gaon explains that this is so because each and every word of learning is its own mitzvah, and therefore one is never actually in the “middle” of learning Torah.

Our sages also tell us that “Talmud Torah k’neged kulam – the learning of Torah is equivalent to all the other mitzvos together, because the reward of learning Torah is greater than the reward of all the other mitzvos.

Dovid HaMelech tells us (Tehillim 105:4), “Search out Hashem and His might; seek His Presence always.”   We pray every day for success in our Torah endeavors, and our sages have instructed us to pay particularly close attention to the tefillah of Ahavah Rabbah or Ahavas Olam, at which time we should specifically pray for ourselves and our children to have a strong desire to learn and to flourish in our Torah study.  Many Torah leaders have shed tears, reciting this prayer with great devotion and kavanah.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller has pointed out that this tefillah focuses specifically on our request to Hashem to grant us the wisdom, insight and desire to learn and understand the Torah and to be able to fulfill its commandments.

The yeshiva of R’ Chaim Volozhin was known far and wide for its top-notch students, and anyone seeking a learned talmid chacham for his daughter would come to the yeshiva to find a shidduch.

One day a wealthy businessman arrived in town.  After the first seder he came to the yeshiva and made an announcement in the bais medrash that he was looking for a suitable shidduch for his daughter, who was a baalas middos and would appreciate a husband who was a learned man.

The businessman proposed to present a perplexing conundrum in the Talmud, and the young man who would be able to offer an answer would become his son-in-law and be supported for his lifetime.

Having gained the attention of all those present, the businessman gave a lengthy discourse and then posed his question.  He repeated the question, and then stated that he would be staying at the inn in town for a day or two to await a response.

After he left, the bais medrash was abuzz with discussion, as each bachur tried to find the answer.  However, the issue was indeed puzzling, and no one was able to come up with an answer.

The wealthy man gave them another day, but not one of the bachurim approached him with any solution.

The businessman came to the yeshiva to check one more time whether anyone wanted to talk to him, thanked them for their time, got into his carriage and set out on the road home.

Suddenly the businessman heard someone running after the carriage, calling out, “Wait.  Please wait.”

The businessman looked down the road and saw one of the young men from the yeshiva chasing his carriage.  He immediately stopped. When the young man breathlessly reached him, the businessman asked, “Do you have the answer?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer,” replied the young man.

“You don’t have the answer, and you expect to marry my daughter?”

“Not at all,” replied the young man.  “I never dared to hope to marry your daughter.  However, I spent all this time learning, trying to find the answer, and before you leave I must find out the answer to the question you posed.”

The businessman enthusiastically embraced the bachur.  “.  I see you have a sincere and burning desire to learn and delve into the Torah’s secrets.  You are, indeed, worthy of being my son-in-law.”

Best wishes for a freilichen Yom Tov!

 

*   *   *

FOR YOUR SAKE

 

It is interesting to note that the Yom Tov of Succos seems to focus on the mitzvah of succah – it is called Chag HaSuccos – rather than highlighting the mitzvah of the Arba Minim, the Four Species. In truth, both mitzvos are the underpinnings of this yom tov.

The Alshich explains that the concept of tikkun olam is dependent on the righteousness and the goodness of Bnei Yisroel and is based on the recognition that an individual has angel-like qualities because his soul comes from G-d, from the Heavens. That is the source of the neshamah, and the place where it feels at home.

When the neshamah descends into this world it leaves its permanent residence to dwell in a temporary place. As it goes through life, the neshamah gathers the Torah and the mitzvos it needs and seeks its spiritual fulfillment so that in the future it will be able to return to its heavenly home and enjoy the rewards of its existence in this world. The individual who keeps this thought in mind will inherit both worlds.

The Alshich illustrates this by comparing it to the situation of a person who leaves home to seek work in order to support his family. He doesn’t need the finest clothing, the best food and drink or luxurious accommodations. He just needs somewhere to eat his meals and a place to rest his head at the end of the day, because he has all that at home when he returns. This is in consonance with the mishnah (Avos 6:4), “Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground …but toil in Torah.”

This world is a temporal world where we have been sent by Hashem to do many mitzvos and learn Torah in order to reap the rewards for eternity. It is not necessary for us to have all the luxuries and conveniences because we are on the road, and not in our permanent home.

Succos is also a time of kapparah (atonement) for the Sin of the Golden Calf. The sin was incurred when the Jewish people miscalculated the day of Moshe’s descent from Shamayim. Seeking instant gratification, they created in his stead the Golden Calf.

By focusing on the intent and meaning of life, which is to attain a part in the World-to-Come, the person is able to achieve the greatest kapparah possible.

The succah’s essence is the antithesis of the Golden Calf. The temporal nature of the succah reminds us that our presence in this world is transitory and there is no instant gratification. If the individual invests his time well in this world, accruing Torah and mitzvos, then he will ultimately enjoy a world that is all good. For that reason, the Torah calls it Chag HaSuccos, and not Chag HaArba Minim. The succah sets the tone for the year ahead and represents the concept of what is important in life.

The Yalkut Shimoni offers another interesting explanation for leaving the security of our homes to sit in the shaky and flimsy succah. He points out that on Rosh Hashanah Hashem judges the entire world, and on Yom Kippur He seals the judgment. Since there is the possibility, G-d forbid, that the Jewish nation was sentenced to exile on Yom Kippur, we hope that our temporary exile into the succah which immediately follows Yom Kippur will be accepted by Hashem in place of actual expulsion.

The Pele Yoetz cites the Talmud (Makkos 2b) that banishment atones for sin, and remarks that one should bear this in mind and pray that his displacement from the comfort of his home to dwell in the succah should be regarded as an atonement for his sins. This is the meaning of the Medrash in Koheles Rabbah, “What do I care if it’s all; what do I care if it’s part? So too what does it matter if it’s a major exile or if it’s just a small exile?” It is all calculated, as long as the individual has the proper kavanah in his heart.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Horowitz relates that during the Holocaust, in the year 5703, he was sitting in a succah in the forest, on the third day of Chol Hamoed, with other Jews who were in hiding. They knew that if they were discovered they would be subject to instant death.

Suddenly the marching of storm troopers could be heard in the distance. Those who could quickly ran to their hiding places. R’ Shlomo Zalman and some of the others, however, were unable to escape because their hiding place was too far. R’ Shlomo Zalman decided that it would be best to just remain in the succah and place his trust in Hashem. He had never committed himself to such a deep level of faith as he did that day. He said to himself that if Hashem willed this to be last Succos he was prepared to accept the judgment. However, he thought, what a great Kiddush Hashem it would be if he survived and he could then publicize that in the merit of sitting in thesuccah he was saved from death. The veracity of the pasuk in Koheles (8:5), “He who obeys the commandment will know no evil,” would be firmly established.

R’ Shlomo Zalman prayed “Aseh l’maancha – Do it for Your sake, that Your name be sanctified before everyone.” He recited Tehillim and invoked the names of all his ancestors going back to the Baal Shem Tov.

The people hiding in the succah heard the Nazi beasts approaching. They then heard them walking back and forth in front of the succah, but surprisingly no one entered. As they peered between the boards, they suddenly saw one of the troopers point towards the distance, as if he had seen something, and the soldiers took off in that direction.

All the people in the succah thanked Hashem that the succah had sheltered and protected them from death.

When others heard about this incident they were astonished, and all agreed that an open and revealed miracle had definitely occurred. Even the skeptics admitted that the Hand of Providence had been at work.

As Dovid HaMelech said (Tehillim 27:5), “He will hide me in His succah on the evil day.”

 

*   *   *

REDEEMED

 

“Rabbi Akiva said: Happy are you Israel! Before Whom do you become clean? And Who makes you clean? Your father who is in Heaven …” (Yuma 85b)

Although the Imrei Emes notes that the Talmud is referring to the era of the World-to-Come when our sins will be completely cleansed it can, in fact, be associated with Yom Kippur as well. Each year, on Yom Kippur, theShabbos Shabbason, when we do not partake of food or drink, the yetzer hara is suppressed, and we are compared to angels, we experience a “taste of the world-to-come.”

In this context, HaGaon R’ Aharon Kotler asks: We can understand the significance and greatness of being purified before Hashem. However, what is the comfort or gratification in troubling Hashem to cleanse and wash us from our iniquity, as it says in Yeshayah (4:4), “Hashem will have washed the filth of the daughters of Zion …” Rather, it would be humiliating.

This could be comparable to one who is hosted by a very wealthy individual and then dirties the table. It would be very embarrassing if the dignified host would then personally get up to clean the mess. How much more humiliating, if one were dining at the table of the king in the royal palace, and the king would personally scrub away the filth the guest had made.

Such a reference is made in Yirmiyahu (3:25), when Hashem calls the Jewish nation to repent. In the recommended teshuvah process, the prophet presents the expression, “We lie down in our shame and our humiliation covers us, for we have sinned to Hashem our G-d.”

The RM”K in the first chapter of Tomer Devorah similarly explains that an individual should be filled with shame when he does teshuvah, for Hashem is personally, so to speak, cleansing the individual from sin.

If our aveiros are comparable to the filth in the palace of the king, why should we be happy?

But our situation is, in fact, radically different. We are not guest in the palace of the king; we are his children. The merciful father, even if he is king, would gladly clean the grime and impurity of his child. So too, we should not be ashamed for Hashem rejoices in the purification of His beloved children.

Similarly, the Medrash Rabba cites R’ Shmuel Pagrita in the name of R’ Meir on the words, “V’shavta ad Hashem Elokecha – Return to Hashem,” that this is like the son of the king who rebels and his father sends his mentor to encourage him to return home. The son responds, “How can I ask forgiveness? I am ashamed.” The father answers, “Is a son discomfited in front of his father?”

During our tefillos of Yomim Nora’im we constantly refer to Hashem as avinu malkeinu, our father, our king. R’ Avigdor Miller underscores the fact that we are Hashem’s children, as it says (Shemos 4:22), “My firstborn son is Israel.” Moreover, Hashem especially created us to be His children, as it says (Yeshayah 43:21), “This people which I fashioned for Myself.”

The Hebrew word for father, av, is related to ahav, to love and yahav, to give. Rav Miller explains that a father has a special love for his children that also provides unique benefits. With the words avinu malkeinu, we are describing how Hashem directs His love for the Jewish nation as a father, and as a king He manages the affairs of the world for us.

Our sages tell us that we can be cleansed and purified from our sins, and nullify any evil decrees G-d forbid, through teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah.

Once, as the Ari HaKadosh was learning with his disciples, expounding on the hidden aspects of Torah in a field where the great prophet Hoshe’a ben Be’ari lay buried, he suddenly interrupted himself.

“For Hashem’s sake,” he cried, “hurry and gather charity together and give it to the poor R’ Yaakov Altras who sits and cries because of his dire poverty. His pleas are breaking through all the heavens and entering the Sanctum Sanctorum. Hashem is upset, as it were, with all the inhabitants of the city and its suburbs because of the people’s lack of mercy. I hear the declaration of a harsh edict, decreeing a plague of locusts over the land, which will not leave any crops standing in the fields. Let us try to annul this terrible judgment.”

Immediately each individual contributed whatever he could. The Ari zl. entrusted the sum of money to his student R’ Yitzchok HaCohen with instructions to quickly take the funds to the house of R’ Yaakov. R’ Yitzchok found the poor man crying and supplicating in the doorway of his small hut.

“Rebbi, why are you crying?” he asked.

R’ Yaakov explained that his poverty pained him deeply. He had possessed a small cask of water which broke, and he didn’t have even one penny to replace it.

R’ Yitzchok immediately gave him the money, and the poor man’s happiness was boundless.

Upon his return, as R’ Yitzchok was describing what had taken place, the disciples were astounded by the sight of huge swarms of locusts blowing across the sky, driven by unusually strong winds.

“Do not be afraid,” the Ari HaKadosh called out. “All the locusts are flying out over the ocean, and not one will be left. The decree has been annulled in heaven.”

What a strong illustration of the power of tzedakah. Today, too, we can ensure a favorable judgment for blessings and success for ourselves and for the klal with the mitzvah of tzedakah.

 

*   *   *

THE SECRET KEY

 

We ask Hashem in the selichos, “Remember for us today the Covenant of the Thirteen [Attributes],” suggesting that this invocation will enable us to emerge victorious in judgment.

Indeed, the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 17b), says that Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu:   Whenever Klal Yisroel sin, let them carry out this service before Me and I will forgive them.  The Talmud cites the pasuk in Shemos (34:6),“And Hashem passed before Moshe Rabbeinu and proclaimed [The Thirteen Attributes]” and R’ Yochanan said were it not written in the text it would be impossible for us to say such a thing.  This teaches us that Hashem wrapped His robe like a chazzan and showed Moshe the order of prayer.

The Sefer Me’ein HaMoed notes that in the past we have petitioned with The Thirteen Attributes yet our year was not filled with joy.  Why?  He explains that there is a secret, magical key that facilitates the release of the effusion of The Thirteen Attributes, which can best be illustrated in this way.

A destitute widow had only one son whom she loved dearly.  The two lived in such abject poverty that at a young age the boy began to seek work every day in the streets.  When he was not successful, he would ask for handouts in order to put some food on the table.  His only concern was that he could get sick. He would be unable to earn any money, nor would he have any money to visit the doctor.

One rainy cold day, when he could not find any work, he began to knock on doors for alms.  He knocked on the door of a wealthy, but parsimonious, individual who nastily said, “A young man like you should be working, not collecting charity.”

The boy humbly replied, ”I looked for work but nobody would hire me.”

Seeking some entertainment, the wealthy man said, “Okay, I’ll hire you.  If you stand in the water at the river’s edge up to your neck all night I’ll give you ten gold pieces.”

The young man agreed and returned home to tell his mother about the deal.  The woman was understandably concerned about her son’s wellbeing.  It was bitter cold outside and the boy could become very ill.  However, the son convinced her that their survival depended on this money.

The mother reluctantly agreed and accompanied him to the water’s edge.   As he prepared to go into the water, the woman gathered some twigs to make a fire, soon extinguished by the strong winds, however.  The miser too came down to the river, wrapped in a heavy warm coat, to ascertain that the boy was abiding by the deal.

In the morning, after standing all night in the freezing river, the young man waded out of the water, put his coat on, and knocked on the door of the wealthy man’s home.

“What do you want here at such an early hour?” the wealthy man growled.

“I came to get my ten pieces of gold,” said the young man.

The miser arrogantly retorted, “You are not getting anything.  You did not fulfill the agreement. Your mother lit a fire to keep you warm.  That was not a smart thing to do!”

Horrified, the young man immediately ran to the magistrate of the village and related his tale of woe.  The official summoned the wealthy man who confidently responded to the summons, feeling that he had a valid argument that could not be contested.

After hearing the two sides, the magistrate had his attendant bring in some water for a coffee.  “We will take a break to boil the water and have a drink, and then I will render my decision,” declared the magistrate.  The attendant duly put the pot of water near the fire.

Fifteen minutes later the water had still not boiled.  Impatiently, the wealthy man berated the man, “This water will never heat up.  If you want the water to boil you have to put it directly on the fire, not near it.”

“Is that so?” said the magistrate.  “And you think the tiny fire on the sand was warming up the man standing up to his neck in the icy water all night?

“Not only am I ruling that you should give him the ten golden coins that you promised him initially, but I am doubling the amount because of the anguish to which you subjected him,” stated the magistrate.

The Thirteen Attributes are rays of light and heat, but their potency only affects the individual who embraces them.  After the Jewish nation sinned with the Golden Calf, it seemed that all was lost.  Yet Hashem promised Klal Yisroel that “doing the service of The Thirteen Attributes,” not merely saying them, will always bring about blessing and salvation.  This is defined in the Talmud (Shabbos 133b), “Be like Him:  Just as He is gracious and compassionate, so you be gracious and compassionate, or (Shababos 151b), “He who is merciful to others, mercy is shown to him by Heaven.”

Our sages note that in general one is not permitted to petition Hashem on Yom Tov, which would preclude the prayer of The Thirteen Attributes.  It is explained, however, that we are not directly asking Hashem for forgiveness; rather, we are expressing our cognizance that one can achieve teshuvah and atonement by emulating the ways of Hashem.

Note:  Rabbi Goldwasser will once again be addressing the community with his annual Shabbos Shuvah Drasha. The Drasha will take place at Shulamis School(1277 E. 14th Street, between Avenues L & M) in Midwood, at 5:30 on Shabbos, September 7th   (Parshas Haazinu). The Drasha is open to the entire community, men and women, and will be followed by Mincha.

*  *  *

MOONLESS NIGHT

 

In this week’s parsha we read (Devarim 28:47) that Hashem’s anger is aroused when the Jewish Nation does not serve Him with pleasure and joyousness.

The great Kabbalist R’ Chaim Vital cites the passage in Talmud (Kiddushin 39b), “Whoever does one mitzvah is well rewarded, his days are prolonged and he inherits the land,” and notes that there are many people who are very meticulous in their performance of the mitzvos yet we do not see the fulfillment of this promise.

R’ Chaim Vital explains that the essence of the Torah’s exhortation is that one’s performance of mitzvos cannot be perfunctory, burdensome, or something which one wishes to dispense with as soon as possible.  Rather, one should contemplate the boundless happiness he will merit, as if he would be showered with thousands of golden coins, so that he performs each mitzvah with great joy and enthusiasm.  Furthermore, says the great R’ Vital, the ardor and fervor should not be limited to the time when one actually does the mitzvah, but should also infuse his being with the desire to attain that mitzvah so that he can do the will of Hashem and serve Him with devotion. The reward for a mitzvah that is stated in the Talmud, concludes R’ Vital, is predicated on the joy that inspires themitzvah.

The Talmud relates (Brachos 9b) that one day Rav Bruna “said the blessing of redemption immediately before the Amidah and a smile did not leave his lips the entire day,” i.e. he was rewarded according to the effort and intention that he had put into the performance of this particular mitzvah.

The Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu was once asked by his disciple why the Prophet Yeshayah was different than the other prophets in that he prophesized much more good and consolation for the Jewish nation than the others.  The Tanna replied it was because he had accepted the Yoke of Heaven with greater joy than the others as it says(Yeshayah 6:8-9), “I heard the voice of Hashem saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?’ and I said, ‘Here I am!  Send me!’”

In fact, the Rambam writes in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, based upon the Talmud in Pesachim (117a), that theNevi’im could not prophesize at will, because the Divine Spirit only rests upon man when he is joyful.  When Elisha became upset, the prophetic spirit departed and the pasuk tells us (Kings 2, 3:15), that he ordered a musician and “It happened that as the musician played, the hand of Hashem came upon him.”

The Ye’oras D’vash writes, in the name of the Ari HaKadosh, that the major reason this bitter exile has lasted so long is because we do not fulfill the mitzvos with joy.

The Ari HaKadosh also says that simcha is a necessary factor in all of our avodas Hashem, as it says (ibid.)“Because you did not serve Hashem with gladness and goodness of heart when everything was abundant.”  This is understood to mean that one should derive greater happiness from his avodas Hashem than from any other worldly source of enjoyment.

The Sfas Emes adds that even if a person experiences happiness from various materialistic pursuits, he should achieve the ultimate joy from his service of Hashem, because that is the happiness of the soul.   If one is destined to be in galus, one’s primary concern should be the inadequacies in his avodas Hashem and not what he is lacking in material comforts.

Our sages tell us (Brachos 17a), “You should see your world in your lifetime,” and it is explained that “your world” refers to olam haba.  The great R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk suggests that it is possible to experience the joy of the World-to-Come through the service of Hashem.  Such simcha is not relevant to any physical or material enjoyment.  Rather, one who is successful in seeing his “world” in his lifetime has learned to incorporate thesimcha of avodas Hashem into his daily life.

There is no greater character trait than simchas hachaim – being satisfied and content with one’s circumstances – for that is the path to growth in Torah and prayer, concludes the Sfas Emes.

One Motzoei Yom Tov, a disciple with a very difficult court case came to R’ Dovid of Chortkov greatly distressed.  Since everyone who had joined the Chortkover over Yom Tov was now rejoicing in the outer courtyard, the tzaddikinvited the petitioner to join them.

The man was taken aback by this suggestion, and the Chortkover related the following:

One Motzoei Yom Kippur the moon remained behind the clouds and the Baal Shem Tov and his followers were distressed at their inability to be mekadesh levanah (sanctify the New Moon).  The Baal Shem discerned that if they would be unable to fulfill this mitzvah it would not be a good sign.  However, despite all his holy thoughts,tefillos and prayers the moon did not reappear and the sky remained covered with thick clouds.

Although they had all lost hope, the people who had gathered began to dance and sing with great enthusiasm as was their custom after the avodah of the holy day of Yom Kippur.  Soon the momentum picked up and the crowd spread into the room where the Baal Shem Tov was sitting.  One disciple then had the gumption to ask the Baal Shem to join their circle.

At that moment, some people came running in to announce that the moon could be seen in the clearing sky.  Everybody rushed out to be mekadesh levanah.

The Baal Shem Tov noted afterwards that all his prayers and entreaties could not accomplish what the simcha of the people had been able to achieve.

One must always be infused with joy in his performance of mitzvos, for even at a time of tzarrah salvation can be effectuated with simcha, explained R’ Dovid of Cherkov.

 

*  *  *

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

 

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a) states that, in fact, there never has been and never will be a ben sorer umoreh. The only reason the Torah writes about the wayward son is so that we should learn this chapter and receive our reward.

R’ Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the mussar movement, in the Sefer Moser Derech, refers to the above Talmudic statement and notes that even if one lived to be a thousand years old there is surely enough Torah to learn for which one could be rewarded, without including the subject of the ben sorer umoreh. However, explains Rav Salanter, this is meant to teach us that the obligation to learn Torah is not limited to those topics and matters which have a practical application. The Torah learning itself is the mitzvah, even if the matter has no relevance in one’s life and will not be implemented in any way.

HaGaon R’ Simcha Wasserman expounds on this concept further to highlight the value of learning Torah. He cites the mishnah in Pirkei Avos (4:7) which adjures us, “Do not make the Torah … a spade with which to dig,” i.e. that one should not seek solely to achieve a practical outcome from his learning. Rather, the mitzvah of Talmud Torahis intrinsically priceless and has no bearing on its actual fulfillment. Similarly, learning about the karbanos and/orhalachos that do not apply to every member of Klal Yisroel is performed simply for the mitzvah, which brings us closer to Hashem and ushers the Divine Presence into our midst.

Torah is also Hashem’s way of revealing His will to us, enabling us to cleave to Him Simply put, the learning of Torah breathes into our neshamos the Divine spirit of eternity.

Elisha ben Avuyah states (Pirkei Avos 4:25), “One who studies Torah as a child … can be compared to ink written on fresh paper; one who studies Torah as an old man … can be likened to ink written on smudged paper.” This means to say that unlike the Torah that one learns when he is young and is retained for a long time, that which one learns when he is old is quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, writes Rabbeinu Yonah, one should never think, “Behold I am a shriveled tree,” and why learn and toil for naught.

R’ Simcha continues that the mitzvah of learning Torah is rewarded whether or not the individual is able to retain that which he studied or not. He compares it to two individuals who are assigned to draw water from a well with a pail that has a hole. The foolish person says, “Why bother?”; the smart person says, “What do I care? I am getting paid to do this job.” So too, as long as one learns Torah for the sake of Heaven he is rewarded for the act of learning itself. So great is the mitzvah of learning Torah.

As we approach the days of Selichos and the Yomim Norai’m, every one of us seeks to fulfill those mitzvos that will tip the scales in our favor for the Yom HaDin. The mishnah in Pei’ah (1:1) tells us that the learning of Torah is equal to all the other mitzvos.” Our sages tell us that every word of Torah one learns is equivalent to his fulfillment of all 613 mitzvos.

The Chofetz Chaim notes that a person can speak 200 words a minute. In one minute, then, a person could fulfill 200 mitzvos, each mitzvah of limud Torah being equivalent to 613 mitzvos. This totals an astounding of 122,600mitzvos per minute. How many mitzvos can a person then accrue if he learns Torah for an hour, or a day? We’re considering the attainment of an infinite number of mitzvos.

Thus we could say that the most effective way of accruing merit is with Torah learning. In this way we will merit to be included in the Book of the Righteous for the new year.

When a fundraiser for the Navardok Yeshiva came to Karlin Pinsk, he first visited the home of one of the gedolei hador, the famous Bais Dovid. At that time the gadol was already over 90. His memory was rapidly failing and his eyesight was weak, however, he reviewed Shas daily from memory.

The Bais Dovid gave the fundraiser a warm shalom Aleichem, and asked what he could do for him.

The fundraiser replied, “I came to collect needed funds for the Yeshiva of Navardok as I do every year.”

The Bais Dovid asked, “How much do I give you every year?”

The fundraiser told him, and the Bais Dovid took out his wallet, gave him his contribution, and immediately resumed his learning by heart.

Inspired in the presence of the Bais Dovid, the fundraiser did not immediately leave but took a seat to observe thegadol’s shining face as he learned, and to listen to his voice reviewing the Gemara, Rashi and the commentaries as he amazingly proceeded from page to page.

At one point the Bais Dovid looked up and noticed him. He asked, “Can I help you?”

The fundraiser realized that the Bais Dovid did not remember that he had just given him money so he gently reminded him of his contribution and noted that he just wanted to bask in the gadol’s presence for a while.

The Bais Dovid remarked, “My forgetfulness is getting worse each day – something no one should experience — but I do remember the entire Talmud as if I were still a young man.”

The fundraiser was astounded and when he encountered the Chofetz Chaim, he related what had happened. Shortly thereafter, the Bais Dovid passed away, and the Chofetz Chaim requested that the fundraiser recount this incident when he was eulogized in Radin.

“Who am I to eulogize the Bais Dovid in the presence of the Chofetz Chaim?” said the fundraiser.

The Chofetz Chaim conceded and agreed to be maspid the Bais Dovid, but stipulated that the fundraiser must first describe his experience so that the hesped would be even more meaningful.

 

*   *   *

RETURN TO ME

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 17a) relates that R’ Elazar ben Dordaya had transgressed every aveiroh in the world.   Once he heard that there was a renowned woman of ill repute very far away, so he traversed the seven seas in order to reach her.  When he met her, she blew out air from her mouth and said, “Just as this breath of air cannot return to its original place, so too Elazar ben Dordaya will never be received in teshuvah.”

R’ Elazar then sat between the mountains and hills and cried out,  “Plead for mercy for me that my teshuvahshould be accepted.” They answered him, “Before we could pray for you we have to pray for ourselves.”

He called to the heaven and earth, “Please pray for mercy for me,” and they too answered, “Before we could pray for you we have to pray for ourselves.”

He ran to the sun and moon, “Please pray for mercy for me,” and they replied, “We can be destroyed because of your transgressions.  Before we could pray for you we have to pray for ourselves.”

He cried to the stars and constellations, “Please pray for me that my teshuvah should be accepted.”  The stars and constellations said, “How can we pray for you?   We need to pray for ourselves that we should not be harmed.”

Finally R’ Elazar realized that he would have to take responsibility for himself.  He put his head between his knees and wept so violently that his neshamah left him.  At that moment a Heavenly Voice proclaimed:  “R’ Elazar ben Dordaya has acquired a place in Olam Haba.”

When R’ Yehudah HaNasi heard this, he exclaimed,  “One may acquire eternal life after many years, another in an hour!”

Why did R’ Elazar appeal to the mountains, to heaven and earth, to the constellations to ask for mercy?  The Sefer Hirhurei Teshuvah  tells us that R’ Elazar understood that when man transgresses he not only adversely affects his soul, but he corrupts the entire creation, as noted in Mesilas Yesharim (Chapter 1), “Upon analysis, one will see that the world was created to serve mankind.  However the world stands in the balance.  If one is drawn to this world and distances himself from his Creator, he will be corrupted and he will corrupt the world with him.”

It was only after he heard that they have to beg for mercy for their own existence because they had failed to fulfill the will of the Creator as they should, that R’ Elazar understood that the obligation to achieve mercy was solely his.

Rabbeinu Chananel cites the pesukim (Devarim 30:11-14), “For this commandment … it is not distant.  It is not in heaven … nor is it across the sea … rather, the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and your heart …”  The Ramban explains that this refers to the mitzvah of teshuvah.  Since man’s transgression causes an adverse reaction in heaven, it would be entirely justifiable to expect that true teshuvah could not be achieved unless one could rectify his corruption in heaven.  Yet the Torah tells us, “it is not in heaven,” i.e. one does not have to go to heaven.

One should always perceive himself as equally wrong and meritorious.  The entire world, likewise, is equally culpable and right.  One transgression can effect punishment across the world.  Yet the Torah tells us that one does not have to do teshuvah across the sea.  He can correct his wrongdoing where he is by following the appropriate steps of the teshuvah process.

This is where R’ Elazar initially erred.  He thought he could only achieve atonement by appealing for mercy to the creations of the world that had become corrupted through his transgressions.  But then he realized the kindness of Hashem which allow His creations to do teshuvah wherever they are, i.e. “it is very near to you – in your mouth and your heart.”

When the month of Elul arrives, we are inspired with thoughts of doing teshuvah, correcting our deeds in anticipation of the upcoming Yomim Nora’im.  However, the yetzer, fully aware of the power of teshuvah and driven by a strong desire for self-preservation, exerts every effort to dissuade us from pursuing any such intents.  He argues that the individual has too many sins, his teshuvah will not suffice, or his sin is unforgivable – simply put, doing teshuvah is a difficult process which defies success.

This incident from the Talmud, however, serves to allay that premise.  We realize that, obviously, R’ Elazar ben Dardai sinned much more than we can even imagine.  Moreover, we are told about his conversations with the various creations concerning his teshuvah.  Yet, despite the magnitude of his sins, R’ Elazar ben Dardai was able to achieve full atonement and merited olam haba.   This is a chizuk and encouragement for us all that teshuvah is neither beyond the sea nor in heaven.  It is, indeed, close at hand; we just have to reach out.

The following anecdote is related in Around the Maggid’s Table.  A little boy was playing by himself at the edge of the water, while his friends played further inland in the sand.

Curious, an older person asked why he doesn’t join his friends.

“I am waiting for a ship to pass by so I can wave my flag to the captain,” replied the child.

“It is true that large ships travel in these waters, but one will never come so close to the shore or even notice you,” the man told him.

“No,” the boy said emphatically.  “I am waiting for that ship so I can wave my flag at the captain, and he will wave his flag back at me.”

“Do you think that the captain of such a big ship will even be able to see you from so far away? Why should he even be looking in your direction?” the man laughed.

“I am sure that the captain will look for me,” replied the boy.  “And I am also sure that when he sees me waving my flag he will be very happy, because he will know that I miss him.  He will rejoice, and wave his flag back to let me know he feels the same.”

“How are you so sure about this?” asked the man in amazement.

With a clear expression of joy on his face, the boy replied with a smile, “Because the captain is my father.”

Hashem, with His great goodness and kindness, searches for us, His children and waits in the Heavens for us to express our closeness to Him.  He waits for us to wave our flag, an expression that we wish to do teshuvah shleimah.   If one would only demonstrate his love for Hashem, and lift his eyes to Hashem, He would immediately wave His flag in response to His children and accept them with love and joy.

This is the meaning of the pasuk in Malachi (3:7), “Return to Me and I will return to you, says Hashem.”

*   *   *

SHALOM BAYIS

 

“You shall tithe the entire crop of your planting …” (Devarim 14:22)

Our sages tell us (Taanis 9a) that R’ Yochanan met his nephew, the son of Resh Lakish, and said to him: “Recite to me the pasuk you learned today.”

The lad replied, “Thou shalt surely tithe,” and immediately asked the meaning of the words.

R’ Yochanan said, “Tithe so that you should become wealthy.”

“How do you know to expound it this way?” asked the young boy.

R’ Yochanan replied, “Go test it for yourself.”

“Is it permissible to test Hashem? It is written (Devarim 6:16), “You shall not test Hashem.”

R’ Yochanan cited R’ Oshaia who excluded giving ma’aser from this prohibition, as it says (Malachi 3:10), “Bring all the tithes into the storage house … test Me with this, says Hashem, and see if I do not open up for you the windows of the heavens and pour out upon you blessing without end.”

What makes this mitzvah of ma’aser different than all the other mitzvos? All the other mitzvos must be performed completely l’shem shamayim, for the sake of Heaven, without any other considerations.

Furthermore, our sages tell us that one never attains the maximum of his heart’s desire – if someone has one hundred he wants two hundred.

The Shivim Panim L’Torah explains that the Torah mandates each individual to appropriate one-tenth of his revenue for tzedakah. Some interpret the words “aser bishvil shetis’asher” to mean a double tithing, and will even give a fifth of their earnings for tzedakah.

There is the tzaddik, though, who gives everything he has to the poor, even though the Talmud tells us (Kesubos 50a), that in Usha it was ordained that if one wishes to be generous in his tzedakah he may not expend more than one-fifth of his income.

The righteous person, notes the commentary, prays to the One who bestows riches in the world and beseeches His mercy so that he will be able to give charity without limit. Since we know that Hashem greatly desires the prayers of tzaddikim, He fulfills his request and blesses him with so much wealth that the recipients of his beneficence are incessantly helped.

Rabbeinu Chananel makes a similar observation in Taanis, that one should distribute a lot of money for tzedakahso that he will increase his wealth as a result, and be able to give even more tzedakah.

The Nesivos Shalom adds that one is limited to giving one-fifth of his wealth to tzedakah with regard to the fulfillment of the mitzvah itself. However, if the individual seeks cleansing from his sins then he should give even more, for the sake of his soul. We find that the righteous would give more than they had without any assessment.

Tosfos (Taanis 9a) relates that a rich man owned a field that yielded 1000 kur, from which he tithed 100 kur each and every year. When he became ill, he bequeathed the field to his son with instructions to continue this practice. The following year, the son set aside 100 kur as his father had directed. However, when he saw how much this actually was, he decided that he would no longer continue to tithe. The second year, the field only produced 100kur and the son was greatly upset. When his relatives heard of his plight they came to celebrate, dressed in white. The young man said, “It looks like you are rejoicing in my misery.”

They replied: You brought this suffering on yourself. Initially you gave ma’aser in the proper way. You were the landowner and Hashem was the Kohen who received the ma’aser. However, now, when you didn’t tithe to Hashem, He became the landowner and you are the Kohen and you only receive 100 kur. That is the meaning of the pasuk (Bamidbar 5:10), “A man’s holies shall be his,” i.e. if one does not tithe properly only the holies will be his.

When the Chofetz Chaim was in Vien to participate in the First Knessia Gedola of Agudas Yisroel, he was hosted by the distinguished R’ Akiva Schreiber. In order to ensure the comfort of the Chofetz Chaim, only dignitaries and prominent individuals were given an audience with the gadol.

One day a well-known Torah askan from England came to the home of R’ Schreiber and requested a meeting with the Chofetz for only a few minutes in order to discuss with him a very important matter that would impact him and his family for a lifetime.

The host acquiesced and brought him in to wait while the Chofetz Chaim finished eating. In the middle of the meal, as was the Chofetz Chaim’s custom, he began to recite the Mizmor L’David (Tehillim 23:1). After concluding, “May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the House of Hashem for long days,” he turned to the guest who was waiting and remarked: How could Dovid HaMelech describe goodness and kindness as stalkers? We call a murderer or a violent person a pursuer, but tov v’chesed– goodness and kindness?

The Chofetz Chaim continued: It often appears to us that goodness and kindness are pursuing us as they interrupt our life, steal our precious time, and infringe on our shalom bayis. The yetzer hara then steps in and convinces us to abandon the good deeds and kind acts. Dovid HaMelech is telling us that if it seems that goodness and kindness are chasing you, do not relinquish them. Pray to Hashem that they – only goodness and kindness and not others — should continue to stalk you. Tov v’chesed will never harm you; they will only ensure that you “dwell in the House of Hashem for long days.”

At that point, the guest rose, thanked the host and wished him farewell. The host, surprised to see him leaving without speaking to the Chofetz Chaim, asked him what had happened.

With a smile, the askan explained that the gadol had answered his question without ever hearing it.

The guest said: I established a yeshiva and a gemilas chesed organization which I manage. They are both doing very well, although the work is very time-consuming and is becoming an issue in our shalom bayis. I had wanted to ask the Chofetz Chaim if I could allocate some of the responsibilities to others. However, as soon as I heard the words of the Chofetz Chaim I realized what a zechus I have been granted. I must hurry back home to relate theteshuvah of the Chofetz Chaim to my wife.

*   *   *

HOME SCHOOLING

 

“You shall teach them to your children to discuss them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way … ” (Devarim 11:19)

The Chasam Sofer observes that the Torah’s obligation on parents to imbue one’s children with a Torah education is not merely a mitzvah in the moment. Their obligation is to ensure that the Torah education is enduring and permanent, one that lasts them a lifetime. This is derived from the pasuk which states: Teach them to your children [not only] when they are still at home [but even] when they grow up and walk on the way, i.e. leave home. They should recall the chinuch they received at home and conduct themselves accordingly.

The Medrash relates a fascinating story about R’ Kahane. When his son, Sulik, turned five, he wanted to take him to learn Torah.

His mother asked, “Where are you taking my son?”

R’ Kahane answered, “I am taking him to a Rebbi to learn Torah.”

The mother said, “I would rather die than see the light of my life depart. Let him remain at home.”

R’ Kahane replied, “If so, please hurry and bring me your kesubah so that I can pay you whatever sum is demanded,” i.e. he would give her a divorce.

“What deficiency have you found that is grounds for divorce?” she asked. “The Torah states (Devarim 24:1), “If he found in her a matter of immorality he will write her a bill of divorce.”

R’ Kahana explained, “There is no greater shortcoming than to withhold water from my son. Torah is water, as it says (Mishlei 4:22), “For they are life to he who finds them.”

So the woman suggested a compromise. “Go to the marketplace and find an expert Rebbi and stipulate that he will teach our son Torah in our home for a number of years without leaving the house. I will do anything that is necessary to ensure that this arrangement works out.”

At the marketplace, R’ Kahane encountered a chacham. He greeted him and asked his name. The chachamintroduced himself as Eliezer Ze’iri.

Then R’ Kahana asked, “Do you have a wife and children?”

He answered, “My wife is the Torah and my children are the disciples.”

R’ Kahana immediately wrote up a contract for R’ Eliezer stipulating the payment he would give him in exchange for teaching his son, Sulik, Torah. R’ Eliezer, in turn, wrote up a contract agreeing to his responsibilities to teach Sulik at home.

R’ Eliezer did not leave the home of R’ Kahana for 25 years, and was paid a total of one thousand golden pieces.

There are a number of significant insights to be gained from this narrative.

The mesiras nefesh of a mother who wanted to protect her child from all outside influences by keeping him at home was only matched by R’ Kahana’s desire to enroll him in the finest yeshiva where he would likewise be ensconced in the holiness of Torah.

The love of the mother for her child was so overwhelming that it surmounted the reality of having to remain at home with the young child for an additional span of time.

Also, the chinuch of his son was of paramount importance to R’ Kahana, and he would not allow any interference to stand in the way of ensuring his son’s growth as a ben Torah, even if it meant his marriage.

We see the intervention of Divine Providence for one who wishes to fulfill Hashem’s mitzvos. R’ Kahana goes to the marketplace and immediately meets just the right person to be the proper mentor and guide for his son, and R’ Eliezer accepts the offer.

On the day of his father’s yahrzeit, when the great Ridvaz began the chazzan’s repetition of the mincha Shemone Esrei, he emitted a loud groan.

After the tefillah, the people in shul wanted to know why he had cried.

He told them that his father was a worker who eked out a meager living, from which he set aside monies to pay an exceptional rebbi for his son. This rebbi was noted for his skills as an educator, who only accepted a select number of talmidim, and therefore his fees were steep.

“Once,” continued the Ridvaz, “there was a major snowstorm and all the traffic in and out of the city came to a halt. My father did not have any work and was unable to pay the tuition. After a couple of weeks, the melamed told my father that he would have to get another student who did have the money. The news was devastating to my parents, as their whole life was devoted to the education of their son, Yaakov Dovid.

“When my father went to mincha that afternoon, the president of the kehillah announced that his daughter was getting married shortly, but there was no oven in her apartment. He was looking for someone who could do the work without delay. Since the city was completely snowed in, no one was able to accept the job.

“My father, however, approached the president of the shul and undertook the assignment. The president advanced him the money, which my father immediately handed over the melamed, ensuring his services for a number of weeks.”

That night the Ridvaz woke up to loud banging as his father painstakingly took apart the oven in their home piece by piece so that he could reassemble it in the apartment of the new couple.

“In the coming days,” said the Ridvaz, “as the temperatures kept dropping we all suffered in the cold without the stove. That was the self-sacrifice of my father for learning.

“Today I was considering whether to go to shul in such bitterly cold weather, but ultimately I decided to go. As I began to repeat the Shemone Esrei I recalled this incident and I thought to myself: How could you even contemplate not going to shul to pray for the neshamah of your father because of the cold? My father agonized and struggled in the brutally cold weather just so that I could continue to learn. That is when I cried,” concluded the Ridvaz.

*  *  *

PURE INTENTIONS

“And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart” (Devarim 6:6).

 

Rashi expounds that the Torah should not be like an antiquated ordinance which no one heeds, but it should be like a novel mandate which everyone practices.

Habituation, explains R’ Eliyahu Dessler, can be a positive condition or a negative one. For example, if one develops positive character attributes by conditioning that is good. However if one becomes accustomed to routine it may no longer inspire him.

Imagine a person takes a seed and plants it in the ground. He waters it daily until it begins to sprout. Soon there are signs of life, and small leaves can be seen. A stalk grows and ultimately becomes a mature plant with many of its own seeds. Is that not a wondrous sight? We call it nature. Why don’t we see this as a miracle? Why doesn’t that inspire us and strengthen our emunah?

The reason is, of course, because we are accustomed to this process and it no longer impresses us. In truth, though, there is no difference between miracle and nature, for nature is actually a miracle.

R’ Simcha Wasserman cites the story in the Talmud (Taanis 25a) where one Erev Shabbos R’ Chanina ben Dosa saw that his daughter was sad. When he asked her the reason, she explained that she inadvertently prepared the Shabbos lights with vinegar instead of oil. “Why should this trouble you?” remarked R’ Chanina. “He who has commanded the oil to burn will also command the vinegar to burn.” Indeed, the Shabbos lights burned all day.

R’ Simcha explains that although we do not know why oil has the capacity to burn, and vinegar does not, we do not question that. It is a wondrous aspect of creation, which we routinely accept. If vinegar would burn one day we would consider it a miracle because it is not natural.

That is the meaning of our statement in Shemone Esrei: “We gratefully thank You … for Your miracles that are with us every day, and for Your wonders and favors …” Miracles are the inconceivable occurrences that everyone easily acknowledges as coming from Hashem. Wonders are the daily phenomenon which we have grown accustomed to and therefore do not regard as miracles.

The Shivim Panim L’Torah asks: Why are we obliged to recite the Krias Shema, established by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) twice daily? Wouldn’t it have been better to reserve the prayer for special occasions so that it could make a deeper impression?

On the contrary, observes the commentary, that is the essence of the words, “these matters that I command you today.” Each day should be marked as a new day, as if it is the first time that we are reciting the prayer.

In a similar vein, it is noted that the main component of the teshuvah process is the viduy – confession – which is recited on Yom Kippur and usually elicits tears. However, there are many who recite the viduy daily throughout the year and, as a result, they are not necessarily brought to tears when they recite this prayer on Yom Kippur. They may weep with the recitation of V’al Chet, which is only said on Yom Kippur and lists the various aveiros that an individual may have transgressed throughout the year.

Likewise, we ask Hashem in the morning prayers, “accustom us to Your Torah.” The intent is that we should become familiar with the Torah, but not that its mitzvos should become routine.

The Chasam Sofer notes that halacha in Shulchan Aruch is incumbent upon us all, including the directive that the mitzvos cannot be performed in a perfunctory manner. One of the reasons he cites is that the mitzvah forms a connection between the individual and Hashem. If one is lacking the proper kavanah or feeling when he is fulfilling the mitzvah then his relationship with Hashem is deficient. Moreover, even though the emotion and fervor of any two people is not alike, their mitzvah with the proper kavanah becomes a joint effort. This is especially true of mitzvos that are performed b’tzibbur. The lack of one’s person’s kavanah may directly impact on the rest of the community.

The Chasam Sofer then focuses on the mitzvah of Krias Shema, and states that the essence of the tefillah is a clear testimony of our relationship with Hashem. One who performs this mitzvah superficially is inherently presenting weak testimony. It is interesting to note that Shema is the only tefillah which must be repeated in its entirety if one did not have the proper kavanah during its recitation. This would seem to be consistent with the importance of the words contained therein.

In truth, it is not an easy task to regard the mitzvos as novel and contemporary each and every day.

After the passing of the great tzaddik R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk, his followers set out on a quest to find a new Rav who could continue to guide them. A group of individuals decided to travel to Anipoli to evaluate whether his brother, R’ Zishe, would be suitable. It was a long and arduous journey and they had to stay overnight in the village’s only inn.

Before they settled in for the night, the men requested water to prepare near their beds for washing in the morning. In those days water was drawn from the well, usually located a considerable distance from the home. The guest were informed that there was no water available, and the group decided that, in accordance with the ruling of the Talmud, they were exempt under these extenuating circumstances, until they would reach a place where they could wash.

However, one individual was not content with this dispensation and was considering not sleeping at all, when he realized he had another alternative. Although a bottle of beer was expensive and he had very little money with him, he decided to use the beer for washing the next morning.

When they greeted R’ Zishe later that day, he turned to those who had not washed their hands at their bedside and said: “I want you to know that all of the impurity that my brother R’ Elimelech was able to remove from you over the years that he served as your leader has now returned because you were not scrupulous in the mitzvah of netilas yadayim.”

The group was amazed at R’ Zishe’s incredible ability to discern the difference between the one individual who had washed his hands immediately after rising that morning and the others who had washed later in the day when they had water.

From that day on they became his most loyal and steadfast followers.

 

*   *   *

 

FORGOTTEN TREASURE

 

During the period of the Three Weeks we read the haftorahs of retribution from Yirmiyahu and Yeshayah, the prophets who foretold the destruction of the Holy Temple. There are also specific halachos in Shulchan Aruch that guide our conduct, both practically and philosophically, to guide our conduct during this period of mourning.

HaGaon HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz portrays these days as a time that obligates every individual to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the function and objective of mitzvos. It is a time to take possession of themitzvos with deep feeling and strong determination, rather than just performing the mitzvos in a perfunctory, robotic, manner, for their fulfillment is intended to imbue us with holiness. Our sages tell us that the impact of themitzvos is only realized when they are performed in accordance with halacha and hashkafah.

The Three Weeks and the Nine Days have been designated as days of mourning, and our responsibility is to appreciate the gravity of our loss and why we are grieving. We are familiar with the persecutions, the conflicts, the Biryonim, and the sinas chinam. We know the history. But we must also recognize how destruction of the Bais HaMikdash is directly linked to the present-day tzarros which challenge our generation.

We read (Eichah 1:2), “She weeps bitterly in the night,” and Rashi explains that when one weeps at night, those who hear him cry together with her. The Medrash relates that when one cries at night the walls of the house and the Heavens cry with him. A woman who lived in the neighborhood of Rabban Gamliel lost two of her sons for whom she cried every night for seven years. When Rabban Gamliel heard her weeping, he recalled the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and he cried together with her until his eyelashes fell out.

HaGaon Rav Mordechai Gifter asks: What was it about the woman’s weeping that caused him to recall thechurban? Rav Gifter explains that although this woman was crying about her particular pain, Rabban Gamliel understood that the true core of her distress and of all affliction in the world, derives from the destruction of the Holy Temple and the ensuing exile of the Jewish nation. As long as this principle is not perceived and understood, we have not attained the spiritual level that will assure the building of the Third and final Bais HaMikdash, and that was the reason for Rabban Gamliel’s tears.

The Talmud states (Berachos 3a), “The night has three watches, and at each watch the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and roars like a lion and says: Woe to the children, on account of whose sins I destroyed My house and burned My Temple and exiled them among the nations of the world …. When the Jewish people go into the batei kenesiyos and batei midrash and call out Yehei Shemei Rabba – may His great name be blessed – the Holy One, blessed be He, shakes His head and says: Happy is the king who is praised in His house. Woe to the father who has exiled His children, and woe to the children who had to be banished from the table of their father.”

HaRav Lefkowitz explains that children who are at the “table of their father,” live in his house, and if he is a great person, they learn to emulate his ways. The Jewish nation is like a child who lives with his father. However, with the destruction of the HolyTemple, the Shechinah was forced to depart from our midst, distancing us from the true source of life. The shaking of the head is a metaphor that Hashem Yisborach shakes His head in sorrow and anger at what He has been forced to do. It is this recognition and awareness that we must internalize, for it is the basis of our bereavement.

Our existence today in galus is not bona fide and authentic when compared to our quality of life at the time when the Bais HaMikdash was standing. The institution of the Bais HaMikdash – the avodah of the Kohanim and Leviyim, the grandeur and holiness of the edifice, the spiritual power that dwelled within, the atonement that it provided for Klal Yisroel – is our essence and it has been destroyed.

A man suffered severe financial setbacks in his business. He ultimately became a pauper who couldn’t feed his family. His wife reminded him that she still had a few pieces of expensive jewelry from the better days, worth a small fortune. She suggested that he put them up as collateral so that he could borrow money and try to rebuild his business.

Heeding his wife’s sage advice, the husband advanced his wife’s jewelry as collateral, borrowed a large sum of money and undertook a new business venture. Over time, the business began to turn a small profit, and the man was able to put food on the table once again and provide for his family.

One day the husband joyfully exclaimed to his wife, “Baruch Hashem, we now have parnassah. We have not been able to regain our former financial status, but at least we are no longer lacking for anything.”

The wife, however, broke down in tears and cried, “It sounds like you have completely forgotten that I agreed to collateralize my jewelry. From your words it is apparent that you have no intention of redeeming my jewelry. You are happy with the little that we have gained and you are not driven to achieve any greater success in business so that my jewelry can be retrieved. I am deeply pained.”

R’ Avraham Berish Flam, a student of the Dubno Maggid, explains that when Klal Yisroel had the Mishkan and theBais HaMikdash, the Shechinah dwelt in their midst, and they were able to serve Hashem on an exalted level. However, the Mishkan and the Temple were collateralized for the sins of the Jewish nation, as Rashi states(Shemos 38:21), where the word Mishkan is written twice in succession, and were ultimately destroyed. Initially, Bnei Yisroel prayed, learned and longed to regain their former exalted spiritual level. As the years of galus became prolonged, the memories of the Bais HaMikdash, our former spiritual wealth and privileged close connection to Hashem dimmed, and our ardor waned.

Let us strive to rekindle our fervor and devotion, to double our efforts to increase our merits so that we can see the rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdash b’karov.

 

*   *   *

NO LAUGHING MATTER

Tehillim79 begins with the words, “A song of Assaf.” Rashi (Kiddushin 31b) notes that it would have, perhaps, been more appropriate to begin the psalm, “A dirge of Assaf,” as it mostly describes the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. He explains that Assaf sang because Hashem, in His mercy, poured His wrath on stones and wood and not on Klal Yisroel.

Rashi also offers this explanation (Shemos 35:21) where the word Mishkan is repeated, and observes that it alludes to the fact that the destruction of each of the two Temples was collateral for the sins of the Jewish nation.

In a similar vein, the Sefer Menachem Tzion states that the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash is a paean because Klal Yisroel was saved from destruction and this is an expression of hakaras hatov, gratitude.

In Devarim (3:26), Moshe tells Bnei Yisroel, “Hashem became angry with me because of you.” The Vilna Gaon reveals that the exalted spiritual level of Moshe Rabbeinu would have brought down an indestructible Bais HaMikdash to Bnei Yisroel when they entered Eretz Yisroel. There would then be no hope for the Jewish nation if they sinned because there would be no collateral in place. Thus, the anger of Hashem was diverted after the Sin of the Spies and Moshe was not allowed to enter Eretz Yisroel with the Jewish nation.

The Siddur Bais Yaakov likewise corroborates this position by pointing out the words in the Dayeinu of the Pesach Haggadah, “He built the Temple for us to atone for all our sins.”

The Chofetz Chaim points out that as a result of the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash, the number of mitzvos that are relevant to us today are less than half of the 613 mitzvos cited in the Torah. Instead of 365 lo sa’aseh (negative precepts), we only have 194, a reduction of 171 mitzvos. Instead of 248 mitzvos aseh (positive precepts), we only have 77, a reduction of another 171 mitzvos. Our sages tell us (Makkos 23b), “Hashem wished to confer merit upon Klal Yisroel and He therefore gave them Torah and mitzvos in abundance.” Yet, here we have recounted a major loss in the mitzvos we can perform, resulting in a decreased ability to purify our souls through the fulfillment of those mitzvos, and a diminution in the merits we can accrue.

The Vilna Gaon adds that each one of the 613 mitzvos consists of a specific act with unique kavanos. mitzvahwithout the proper kavanah is like a guf (body) without a neshamah (soul). After the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash, continues the Vilna Gaon, the wellsprings of wisdom have become obstructed and we cannot perceive the true kavanah that must accompany the performance of each mitzvah.

The Dubno Maggid presents an interesting situation to illustrate the appropriate mindset that is demanded vis-à-vis the Bais HaMikdash and its destruction.

A woman who hadn’t had any children for many years finally was with child. When it was time to give birth, however, the doctor told her that it would be impossible to ensure the life of both mother and child in the birthing process and he recommended terminating the pregnancy in order to save the mother’s life.

The woman replied, “I have no desire for life if you choose to do that. It would therefore be better that I die and the child should live.” And so the child was born and the woman passed away.

When the boy grew older, he was taken to the gravesite on the day of the yahrzeit in order to recite the Kaddish. Those in attendance noticed that the boy was neither contemplative nor grave; he seemed rather lighthearted and irreverent.

The people who had accompanied the young boy explained to him that his mother had given up her own life for his and, in fact, deserved much better from him. The son was overwhelmed, for he had not been aware of the true circumstances of his birth.

So it is with us. Can we possibly say that we are like that young boy who didn’t realize what his mother had done for him? Do we mourn over the loss of the Bais HaMikdash? Do we “say Kaddish” for it with reverence, being cognizant of the immensity of the loss we have suffered, and acknowledging the kapparah that we attained as a result? Or is there is an air of levity and diversion amidst our mourning over the loss of the Bais HaMikdash?

Additionally, we must be mindful that there is cause for concern for we now no longer have a Bais HaMikdash as collateral to atone for our sins.

The Medrash Rabbah states (at the end of Parshas Terumah) that Moshe asked HaKadosh Baruch Hu how the sins of Bnei Yisroel would be atoned in the future when they would no longer have a Mishkan or a Bais HaMikdash. Hashem told Moshe that He would take a tzaddik from among them who would be collateral and akapparah. Our sages explain that “He killed all who were pleasant to the eye,” (Eichah 2:4) refers to the tzaddikim,the righteous people. Metzudas Dovid notes (Zechariah 7:5) that the death of tzaddikim is equivalent to the burning of the Bais HaMikdash.

Obviously, it behooves us to do some deeper thinking and to reflect on the events of history. The Mishnah in Avos (2:13) states, “Do not make your prayer a set routine, but rather beg for compassion and supplication before Hashem …” Hashem does not forgive our sins because of our righteousness. We must beseech His kindness so that our sins do not bring about devastation and ruin. It is incumbent upon us to comprehend the extent of our loss, to be distressed and pained by the destruction that was wrought, and to plead and implore for the rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdash speedily in our days.

The prophet Micha states (7:8), “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for though I fell I will rise.” The Medrash elaborates, “Had I not fallen I would not rise.” This is to say that there are times when one cannot attain a higher level of spirituality unless it is preceded by a downfall. Though the Three Week period commemorates a time of destruction and defeat, and highlights our inferiority in galus, we are reminded of the prophetic words of Micha that we will rise to even greater heights because we have fallen so low. Bkarov!

In essence, do not know Vilna Gaon explains as well in name of chacham harazim that after hter churban hashem said don’t bring me korban of lo sakriv li … v’ez ki im nafshos hatzaddikim v’tinokos shelo chatu and tey will be areiach nichoach.

In a fascinating interpretation the sefer toras chaim says on pasuk bayom hahu okim es sukas dovid hanofeles that nofeles means the tzadidkim and talmidei chachamim that depart before their time in order to be mechaper on the generation.

Vilna Gaon says each one of taryag mitzvos is specific maaseh and each one has particular kavanos. And from time bhmk was destroyed, the wellsprings of wisdom were stopped up and we were left like a body without a soul. It seems to say that those mitzvos we are able to do today is almost a situation of a body without a soul bec we do not know the proper kavanah that we should have in doing the mitzvah.

A mitzvah without kavanah is like guf without neshamah.

*  *  *

DRESSED FOR SUCCESS

 

Hashem demands of us only that which is within our capacity to fulfill. He does not require of us that which would be expected from a prophet or a Tanna, nor does Hashem obligate us to make burdensome sacrifices. We are simply charged, as the pasuk states in this week’s haftorah (Micha 6:8), “What does Hashem require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with Hashem, your G-d.”

HaGaon Rav Shach notes that these words in no way contradict that which is stated in Devarim (10:12), “What does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem … to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve Hashem … with all your heart and … soul.” Micha was merely explaining that the entire Torah and all of itsmitzvos and statutes were given to us so that we could do justice and love chesed, as we learn (Avos 6:11),“Hashem wished to confer merit upon Israel, therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvos in abundance.” The learning of Torah and the performance of mitzvos cleanses and purifies the soul. A righteous soul understands the truth and does not transgress the Torah; rather, he guards Hashem’s mitzvos. For example, one who fulfills the mitzvah of “love your fellow man as yourself” is inherently not self-absorbed. An egotistical person is unaware of the next person, and is ultimately unaware of Hashem. That is the Talmudic reference (Sotah 5a), that Hashem cannot dwell together with one who is haughty. We are commanded to give ma’aser to remind us that the wealth we possess is not ours but on loan from Hashem. The Torah laws govern every aspect of our lives, proclaiming that we are servants of Hashem who strive to serve Him. Conversely, if a person transgresses, and eats forbidden food for example, he “closes his heart,” for one that has partaken of such food is no longer pure and clean.

Rav Shach writes that people who are not refined by mitzvos are typically flawed in character and possess negative personality traits, essentially believing that they are more important than anyone else, even the Creator Himself.

The three mitzvos Micha gave are connected to each other, and are the foundation of the entire Torah. We learn(Sotah 14a) that the Torah begins with an act of benevolence – Hashem made the wedding arrangements for Adam and Chava, and ends with an act of benevolence – Hashem buried Moshe Rabbeinu, to teach us thatchesed refines one’s character.

The Mishnah (Avos 5:23) states, “Whoever has these three characteristics is a disciple of Avraham Avinu: a positive eye, a humble soul, and an undemanding soul,” meaning that the individual distances himself from the various pleasures and luxuries of this world. Conversely, those who have “an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a greedy soul are disciples of Bilaam… The disciples of Bilaam acquire gehennom; the disciples of Avraham Avinu obtain olam haba.”

Rabbeinu Yonah clarifies the unique lesson that is derived from this particular Mishnah. He notes, it would seem unlikely that one could merit olam haba, or be punished with gehennom, solely for these three attributes. But it is, in fact, so these three characteristics are the basis of the entire Torah, for there is no distinction separatingmitzvos between man and his fellow and man and Hashem.

HaRav Yechezel Levenstein states that middos are paramount for man’s development. Middos facilitate one’s understanding of the ratzon Hashem and promote the mastery of his impulses so that he can properly assess the need of the hour and benefit others, such as knowing which situation requires a display of mercy or a measure of strictness. On the other hand, the lack of proper middos can invalidate one’s judgment, like a fire that burns out of control, destroying everything in its path without discrimination. There is no difference whether one is righteous or evil; middos that remain uncorrected have the ability to destroy an individual.

A wealthy man who lived on a large estate appointed someone to guard his front gate and direct each visitor to their destination. This could be determined, explained the aristocrat, by assessing the individual’s clothing. For example, if a man came dressed like a mailman with parcels and letters in his hands, he would know that he needs to go to the mail room. If an individual in dirty black clothing knocked, he would know that he came to clean the ovens. If someone came in torn clothes, he had obviously come to collect charity. If a well-dressed person came to the gate, he was probably a merchant, and he should be introduced to the master himself.

A poor, but very astute, man wanted to obtain a substantial donation from this man. Knowing that only wealthy individuals could gain an audience with the homeowner, he borrowed extravagant clothing from a wealthy merchant who wore the same size, donned them and came to the gate of the estate. When the guard saw him dressed in the merchant’s finery he immediately ushered him into his master’s office.

“What can I do for you?” asked the wealthy man.

“I am very poor. I have a daughter who is getting married and I have to provide a proper dowry,” explained the poor man. The owner could not just dismiss him, so he gave the poor man a substantial gift.

After the poor man had left, the agitated aristocrat summoned the guard and censured him for allowing the poor man to gain entry.

“As you instructed me to judge people according to their manner of dress,” explained the guard, “I conducted myself accordingly, as he wore fine clothes like the wealthy merchants who come to visit you.”

Similarly, notes the Sefer L’Horos Nosson, there are people who ostensibly fulfill the mitzvos, but in truth do not have the proper kavanah, and are not dedicated l’shem Shamayim. Of course, this is not the ideal way to perform the mitzvos, as the intent is to aspire to reach a level of shleimus, pure perfection. Yet, this is a way for an individual to possibly gain entry into the palace of Hashem.

When the neshamah reaches the Kingdom of Heaven, the angels must determine whether to direct him to Gan Eden or to gehennom. Although the person’s external manner of dress typify an individual adorned with Torah,mitzvos and maasim tovim and suggest that he should be allowed entry into Gan Eden, the angels will scrutinize the individual’s deeds to see if they were performed with the proper kavanah, for the sake of Heaven. Albeit a person may make the effort to at least “wear the proper clothing,” i.e. fulfill the mitzvos for all intents and purposes, our true goal in life is to perfect our middos, and to perform every mitzvah to the ultimate degree.

 

*   *  *

INFORMANT

 

“Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem” (Bamidbar 16:3)

HaGaon R’ Yehuda Leib Chasman notes that people tend to focus on the negative qualities of others and he cites two reasons for this predisposition – either he forgets about Hashem, or he forgets about himself.

One who keeps Hashem in mind knows that Hashem has mercy on each and every living creature, and we are charged with the mitzvah of uvo sidbak – to cling to Hashem, i.e. to emulate His ways.In fulfilling this Torah commandment an individual would be required to be merciful and overlook his fellow man’s negative traits.By failing to do so, one is, in effect, not thinking of Hashem.

One who maintains a self-awareness will instantly realize that the negative traits he recognizes in his fellow man are his own, as our sages tell us (KIddushin 70b), “With his own fault he stigmatizes others …”The Shela HaKadosh cites the pasuk in Vayikra (13:45), “He [the leper] is to call out, ‘Contaminated, contaminated,’” which is intended to alert others to stay away from him because he is unclear, and notes that, in fact, the leper was labeling others as “contaminated.” He explains that one who points out the shortcomings of others is in reality projecting his own failings on others.

The Bais Avraham says, similarly, that when one sees a weakness in another person, it is as if he is looking in a mirror, for the weakness he perceives is really his own.The Baal Shem elaborates that this revelation is Divinely initiated in order to prompt the individual to do teshuvah.

R’ Yehuda Leib Chasman presents the Talmud (Nedarim 39a) on the pasuk (Chabakuk 3:11), “The sun and moon stood still in their abodes.”It is pointed out that when Korach rebelled against Moshe Rabbeinu, the sun and the moon left their usual place and protested to Hashem.“Master of the universe, if You will punish Korach and his cohorts and defend Moshe’s honor, we will illuminate the earth. Otherwise, we will not shine.”At that moment, Hashem shot arrows and spears at the sun and moon and said, “Every day people worship you [asavodah zarah] and yet you give your light.For My honor you do not protest, yet you protest for the honor of flesh and blood.”Since then, the sun and moon do not consent to shine because of the insult to Hashem’s glory until they are forced to do so by the spears and arrows that are shot at them daily.

The Rashba explains that the world was created so that people would learn Torah and do mitzvos, for if Bnai Yisroel would not have accepted the Torah, we know that the world would have returned to its original null and void state.Furthermore, Hashem needed a prophet to relay the Torah to Bnai Yisroel and that was Moshe Rabbeinu.When Korach disputed Moshe’s leadership, he was in effect attacking the Torah.His victory would eradicate Torah from among Bnai Yisroel and there would be no further need for Hashem’s world and His creations.

The focus of the luminaries on the negative actions of Korach and his group are in consonance with R’ Leib Chasman’s fundamental principle.The sun and the moon must recognize that just as all of the creations perform their tasks in the world despite the offense to Hashem’s honor, so too the sun and moon should find merit in mankind’s efforts in working to improve their traits and nature and continue to illuminate the world. Secondly, just as Hashem continues to support and sustain the world with mercy and loving kindness, despite all the people’s wrongdoings, so too the sun and moon should emulate His ways and avert their attention from individuals like Korach and his cohorts who transgress and are insubordinate.

Korach was from among the great people of his generation, but he forgot his position of responsibility, making him vulnerable to the commission of a serious, even fatal, mistake.Korach believed he had reached the point of perfection and that the entire congregation of Israel was holy.He therefore argued, “Why do you [Moshe and Aharon] exalt yourselves above them?”But he failed to analyze the motives for his complaint, which stemmed from his own jealousy of Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership.

The great Imrei Chaim, the Vishnitzer Rebbe, was highly revered throughout the Jewish community.At one point, the authorities discovered that the Imrei Emes had a son who was of age to be drafted and they immediately took him in.Word spread that an informant within the community had been instrumental in this development and that individual was blacklisted and shunned by everyone in the community.

Once, when the Vishnitzer Rebbe was celebrating a personal simcha, the entire community was invited and they came to participate in the festivities.Suddenly, to everyone’s shock and dismay, the informant (moser) showed up.People could not believe that he had the audacity to actually make an appearance at the Vishnitzer’ssimcha. As many were contemplating how to deal with the situation, the Imrei Emes personally approached him and invited him to join him at the head table. All those present could not understand what had happened, especially in light of this individual’s treachery.

At the end of the evening, someone approached the Vishnitzer Rebbe and asked how he could honor this man and allow him to sit beside him.The Imrei Chaim looked at him in astonishment and asked, “Why not?”

The inquirer responded that this man was the one who had informed the authorities about the Vishnitzer Rebbe’s son.The Imrei Chaim looked him straight in the eye and said, “Informed on him?Were there any witnesses?Was there a Jewish court of law that rendered a decision that he is an informant?No.This is just lashon hara and the Rebbe does not listen to any lashon hara.”

 

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AN UNEDUCATED GUESS

 

In this week’s haftorah we read that before Yiftach departed for battle against the nation of Ammon, he made a vow that if he would be victorious he would offer a korban to Hashem of “whatever emerges from the doors of my house toward me when I return in peace.” When Yiftach returned to his home in Mitzpah, “Behold, his daughter was coming out toward him with drums and dances, and she was an only child.” When Yiftach saw her he tore his garments and cried, “I have opened my mouth to Hashem and I cannot retract [my words].” (Shoftim 11:30-35)

Yiftach was a righteous individual who made a vow at a time of distress, as is often done. Although he had been victorious, he did not forget the vow that he had made, nor did he seek any dispensation to exempt him from fulfilling the vow he had made under duress. He fulfilled his vow fully even though it caused him great personal sorrow and anguish.

Initial analysis of this incident would lead us to believe that Yiftach’s act was commendable. However, our sages note their disapproval and see this otherwise. The Medrash Tanchuma relates that Yiftach’s loss of his daughter was a result of his lack of Torah scholarship. In the moment that he made his vow Yiftach angered Hashem, for what would he have done if an unclean animal would have greeted him. And so, his daughter was the one who came out of the house.

Our sages teach us that anyone who desires to make a vow should first learn all the laws concerning this issue so that such an error in judgment should never occur. A vow, or neder, is not inappropriate, especially in a personal moment of danger. We learn that Yaakov Avinu also made a neder (Bereishis 28:22), “Whatever You give me I shall tithe to You.” But one must be well-versed in how a vow is made, when a vow can be annulled, what one should vow to do, and so on.

The Medrash also faults Yiftach for not going to Pinchas, the Kohen Gadol, to have his vow annulled. Yiftach believed that since he was a leader of the judges and head of the officers he, like a king, was forbidden to waive his honor, and therefore he did not want to defer to Pinchas. The Maadanei Shmuel explains how flawed his thinking was because only an actual king may not relinquish the respect that is due to him. Yiftach wasn’t a king. Not being a ben Torah, and not understanding the halacha properly, Yiftach did not go to Pinchas. In fact, he posited that he was humbling himself by fulfilling the vow that he had made.

How careful one must be to constantly immerse himself in Torah learning so that he can properly understand the halachos and avoid any egregious errors in judgment, as we learn in Pirkei Avos (2:5), “A boor cannot be fearful of sin, and an unlearned person cannot be pious.”

The Ramchal states in Mesilas Yesharim (the fifth chapter) that Torah learning makes one careful and meticulous in his deeds and, he concludes, “one who remains unlearned in Torah law cannot be a chassid.”

R’ Yecheskel Sarna questions this pronouncement, for one would think that a person who remains unlearned would, conversely, not be careful and meticulous in his deeds. Why is there a reference to chassidus?

R’ Sarna answers that, in reality, the Ramchal is saying that not only will that individual be lacking the middah of zehirus (the quality of being careful and meticulous in his deeds), but he will also never be able to attain the middah of chassidus. Torah knowledge is crucial for the development of self in all areas of life. When one deems his own Torah education not of primary importance, he not only precludes any possibility of becoming a talmid chacham, but he sets himself up for grievous troubles in his life.

The Ben Yehoyada writes of an incident of a simpleton who lived directly across the road from the local Rov.

One Shabbos, as the unlearned individual looked out into the street, he noticed through the window that a fire was being kindled in the home of the Rov.

He immediately set out to reproach the Rov about his chilul Shabbos (desecration of the Shabbos day). It was a stormy day with torrential downpours, so the simpleton grabbed his umbrella and opened it as he stepped out of his house.

He ran across the road and knocked on the Rov’s door. When the door was opened, the man quickly closed his umbrella and ran in to avoid the soaking rains. He then yelled at the Rov, “How can you desecrate the Shabbos day and light a fire in your home?”

The Rov gently explained to him that his daughter-in-law was about to give birth and the nurse had requested that a fire be lit to assure the wellbeing of the mother-to-be. “I told my family to immediately do as they had been requested because a matter of pikuach nefesh (the obligation to save a life in jeopardy) overrides the laws of Shabbos,” said the Rov.

“But in coming to my house,” continued the Rov, “you have transgressed, among others, the prohibitions of opening the umbrella, closing the umbrella and carrying where there is no eruv (enclosure). If you would learn Torah you would know that extenuating circumstances, such as pikuach nefesh, allow one to light the fire on Shabbos, and you would have judged me meritoriously that someone in the house might be ill.”