Note to the reader: I didn't realize until after I made this dvar Torah that Sunday is Rosh Chodesh Iyar so there is a special Haftorah read for machar chodesh. You can click here for the dvar Torah on machar chodesh from the previous time this happened.

Otherwise please enjoy this food for thought:

“If one is involved in the kingdom or government the service of the King Of Kings comes first before the service of the king, and don’t feel haughty because of the power of the monarchy” (Sefer HaYashar by Rabbeinu Tam in the 13th gate).

The Haftorah for this week’s Torah portion of Shemini is normally read from Shmuel Beis, perekim 6 and 7, which talk about King Dovid bringing the Holy Ark from Baalei Yehuda, where it was temporarily stored after being taken by the Plishtim, up to Yerushalayim. King Dovid then requested to build the Beis HaMikdash, but was informed by the prophet Nosson that his request was rejected by Hashem; however, his son will build it in his place.

The original procession was marred by an incident. Uzzah was killed by Hashem for reaching out to save the Holy Ark from falling off the wagon, for no one is allowed to touch the Ark itself. It was supposed to be carried via poles on the shoulders of men, but it was instead put onto a wagon. Without realizing that the Holy Ark carries itself, Uzzah stretched out his arm to catch the ark when it looked like it was falling off the wagon, and he was immediately punished. This is similar to when Nadav and Avihu were punished for bringing a strange offering in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion.

King Dovid took this event as an omen that Hashem was unhappy with him and he left the Holy Ark by Oved-edom the Gittite, a Levi who was from Gat, for three month. Oved-edom was greatly blessed during those months, so King Dovid took that as a sign to continue the procession to Yerushalayim.

The next scene in the Navi describes a joyous parade escorting the Holy Ark: “Whenever the bearers of the Ark walked six paces, he slaughtered an ox and a fattened ox. Dovid danced with all his strength before Hashem; Dovid was girded in a linen tunic. Dovid and the entire House of Israel brought up the Ark of Hashem with loud, joyous sound, and the sound of the shofar” (Shmuel Beis 6:13-15).

Rabbeinu Yeshaya
paints a picture of the event. The Leviim were carrying the Holy Ark on their shoulders. King Dovid was singing all sorts of praises to Hashem with all his might, while dancing in front of the Holy Ark. He was not wearing his royal clothing; rather he was dressed up in a white tunic which looked like what a kohen would wear when he did the service in front of the Holy Ark.(Click here for Hebrew text.)

When he entered Yerushalayim one of his wives, Michal the daughter of King Shaul, looked out the window and saw him dancing and singing with all his might in front of men and women, and she felt that King Dovid was making a spectacle of himself which was belittling for a king. He finished the parade, gave out bread, a flask of wine, and meat to every Jew present. Rabbeinu Yeshaya points out that the sages said each piece of meat was the size of a sixth of a cow. King Dovid then blessed the nation. As he made his way into his house to bless his family Michal came out and reprimanded King Dovid for not acting kingly like her father would have. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Navi concludes the perek: “Dovid answered Michal, ‘In the presence of Hashem, Who chose me over your father and over his entire house to appoint me as ruler over the people of Hashem, over Israel - before Hashem I shall rejoice! And I shall behave even more humbly than this, and I shall be lowly in my eyes; and among the maidservants of whom you spoke – among them I will be honored!’ Michal, daughter of Shaul, had no child until the day of her death” (Shmuel Beis 6:21-23).

Rabbeinu Yeshaya explains King Dovid’s response that ‘more than I was actually lenient with myself I am lenient and lowly in my eyes before The Creator because I can’t stand before him with haughtiness and honor rather with humility and submissiveness.’ The Rabbeinu Yeshaya concludes the perek by saying that the last pasuk is informing you that because of the sin of how Michal spoke to her husband, she did not merit to have children. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It would seem from this episode that King Dovid was acting appropriately. Dressing up in a “costume” while dancing and singing passionately, almost wildly, for everyone to see, for the sake of Hashem’s honor, is in fact a sign of humility and utmost lowliness, when channeled for the right reasons. Even though he was the king and a king is supposed to be dressed and act with proper respect for the sake of royalty and the kingdom, King Dovid understood and felt with all his heart that before the King Of All Kings he must subjugate himself and pour out his heart, for His sake, even in public. He was right as we see that Michal was punished for reprimanding him.

If this is the case then why didn’t he do more? Didn’t he tell Michal: “And I shall behave even more humbly than this, and I shall be lowly in my eyes,” which Rabbeinu Yeshaya explains means that as much as King Dovid was lenient with himself the feelings towards Hashem that he had inside him was of even more humility and subjugation. If that was true, then why didn’t he show it?

The answer must be that King Dovid, the tzadik, who was in control of all his faculties, also knew and understood that there has to be a balance. He was still a person, and he felt a sense of self-respect (gadlus ha’adam) and also understood that he was the king of an entire nation. Therefore, using all his faculties, he made a judgement call that he could let loose and show his true colors and feelings towards Hashem when escorting the Holy Ark to its new resting place, just like a hachnasas sefer Torah. But he also knew his exact boundaries, and when to draw the line.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

At the very end of our personal Shemone Esray we pray: “May it be Your will Hashem our G-D and the G-D of our forefathers, that the Beis HaMikdash be rebuilt, speedily in our days. Grant us our share in Your Torah, and may we serve You there with reverence, as in days of old and in former years. Then the offering of Yehuda and Yerushalayim will be pleasing to Hashem as in days of old and in former years.”

The Chofetz Chaim says: “That in every Shemone Esray we pray to Hashem that He should send Moshiach and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash speedily in our days. The purpose for desiring the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash is to reveal the honor of Hashem like in the Temples of yesteryear and to bring offerings as written in the Torah” (Ma’amri HaChofetz Chaim, maamar 6).

The first part of the concluding paragraph of Shemone Esray is based on a mishna in Pirkay Avos: “[Yehuda ben Tema] used to say, ‘The brazen goes to Gehinnom, but the bashful goes to the Garden of Eden. May it be Your will, Hashem, our G-D and the G-D of our forefathers, that the Beis HaMikdash be rebuilt, speedily in our days, and grant us our share in Your Torah’” (Avos 5:24 in the siddur).

The Bartenura explains the connection between the first and second half of the Mishna: “Just as you graced us with this attribute, that the signs of the seed of Avraham are bashfulness, merciful, and do acts with kindness (Yevamos 79a), so to may it be Your will that Your city be rebuilt.” This means that just as the attribute of being shamefaced is one which is in the genetic makeup of every single Jew, Hashem made it part of our nature to act in this manner, so too the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and Yerushalayim should be a natural consequence of the world speedily in our days. This is what we pray for at least three times a day. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The last part of the paragraph in Shemone Esray is a quote from the beginning of this week’s Haftorah for Shabbos HaGadol: “Then the offering of Yehuda and Yerushalayim will be pleasing to Hashem as in days of old and in former years” (Malachi 3:4). The Yalkut Shemone, based on a Sifra says that “Days of old” refer to the days of Moshe Rabbeinu as it says by him: “And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces.” (Vayikra 9:24). “And in former years” refers to the days of Shlomo HaMelech as it says: “And all the Children of Israel saw the descent of the fire, and the glory of the Lord on the House, and they kneeled on their faces to the ground on the floor, and they prostrated themselves and [said]: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His loving-kindness is eternal’" (Divrei HaYamim Beis 7:3). Rebbe says “Days of old” refer to the days of Noach as it says, “For this is to Me [as] the waters of Noah, as I swore that the waters of Noah shall never again pass over the earth, so have I sworn neither to be wroth with you nor to rebuke you” (Yeshaya 54:9). “And in former years” refers to the days of Hevel when there were no idols in the world. (Yalkut Shimone within paragraph 589 and see Sefer Olas Tamid page 148.)

The Chofetz Chaim on the Sifra points out that by Noach’s offering after he came out of the ark it says: “And Hashem smelled the pleasant aroma” (Breishis 8:21) and about Hevel’s offering it says: “And Hashem turned to Hevel and to his offering” (Breishis 4:4). The Chofetz Chaim also points out that only by Hevel did the Sifra mention there were no idols because idolatry began in the days of Enosh (Toras Kohanim, mechilta dimiluim, paragraph 31 with biur of the Chofetz Chaim). (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

What is the difference between the first opinion and Rebbe? Also, why does the Chofetz Chaim say that there was no idolatry only in the days of Hevel? Wasn’t idolatry wiped off the face of the earth in the flood, and Noach brought his offering as soon as he left the ark when there was no idolatry in the world?

The difference between the two opinions is the relationship shown through the reaction of the giver of the sacrifice to Hashem versus the environment of when the offering was accepted by Hashem. By Moshe and Shlomo the awesome display of Hashem’s acceptance of the offerings, through fire coming down from heaven, generated great song and praise from the Jews, even though the rest of the world was flooded with idolatry. On the other hand, though we don’t see any reaction by Noach and Hevel, their offerings were given at a time when there was no idolatry in the world, an ideal state of existence. However, it would seem that even an imprint of idolatry, though non-existent, is not the most ideal, and that is why “when there were no idols in the world” was only mentioned by Hevel.

We should have in mind both opinions in our davening. That there should come a day, soon, when we will be able to sing praises to Hashem with the same excitement the Jewish people had in the times of Moshe and Shlomo, and also in an era where no idolatry exists, to the point that Hashem erases time and any imprint of idolatry in the world, may it come speedily in our days!

This week is another special portion before Pesach, Parshas HaChodesh. It always falls out on either Rosh Chodesh Nissan, like this year, or the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh. We read the maftir from the special Torah portion in Parshas Bo, which discusses the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh and also gets into the mitzvah of Korban Pesach (paschal lamb). The haftorah is in Yechezkel, perakim 45 and 46, which discusses the service in the Beis HaMikdash, when it will be rebuilt, may it come speedily in our days. It begins with the sacrifices that will be brought on Rosh Chodesh as well as discusses the offerings on Shabbos and Yom Tovim.
A part of the Holy Service on the three festivals of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos was the mitzvah of Re’iah, being seen in the Beis HaMikdash. This mitzvah was for all men to show their presence in the Beis HaMikdash. They would go through one entrance on the northern side and walk through the Area for Yisraelim, bow, and walk out the southern entrance, or vice versa. The Prophet, Yechezkel, describes it: “Now when the prince enters, by way of the hall of the gate is he to enter, and by the same way he is to leave. But when the people of the land come before Hashem, on the appointed days, whoever enters by way of the northern gate to worship is to leave by way of the southern gate, and whoever enters by way of the southern gate is to leave by way of the northern gate. He should not withdraw by way of the gate through which he entered; rather he is to leave by way of the opposite one. And as for the prince among them, as they shall enter is he to enter, and as they leave he is to leave” (Yechezkel 46:8-10). (Click here for a diagram of the Beis HaMikdash.)

Based on these pesukim the Gemaras in Megilla 29a and Brachos 63a learns that there is a mitzvah, when one walks into shul to daven, to walk through one entrance and leave through another entrance in order to walk through the shul. The Korban Nesanel on the Rosh in Megilla asks how we learn this mitzvah by a shul from the pasuk in Yechezkel which only talks about every Jew coming three times a year to the Beis HaMikdash; how does the gemara apply it to a shul all year around? He answers that really if a Yisrael would come at any point of the year he should go through the side entrance either on the north or south side and leave on the opposite exit, but he only has a mitzvah to come up and show himself in the Beis HaMikdash 3 times a year.  In context , the pesukim were telling us that the Kohen in charge of the service who would normally go through the main entrance on the east side and leave from where he came throughout the year, should follow what everyone else is doing and enter from one side entrance and leave through the other side entrance (Rosh perek 4, paragraph 9, note shin).

Why is it a mitzvah to walk through the shul if you are coming to daven? The R”an in Megilla says “The reason is that it appears like you love it” (see Mishna Berura 151:5:21).

The R”an speaks in very peculiar terms. What does he mean when he says “The reason is that it appears like you love it,” Hashem looks into our hearts and knows whether we appreciate and love Him and His holy places. Isn’t coming to pray in front of Hashem a show of love for Him? Within the words of our prayers we express our love! Either we feel the love already and express it through our prayers or if we don’t really feel it and we are just giving lip service then what does walking through the shul which makes us appear that we love it do if Hashem really know what is in our hearts? We can’t fake Him out!

It must be that by walking through the shul and making it appear like you love it actually infuses more love inside ones heart, and whatever feeling of love one had before is intensified through the act of walking through the shul.

The Divrei Chamudos, a commentary on the Rosh in Brachos has another application of this halacha. When a person is called up for an aliyah he should go up to the Torah the shortest possible way and then when he is finished he should go back to his seat the long way (Divrei Chamudos on the Rosh Perek 9, paragraph 29, note 101). (Click Here for Hebrew Text.)

The message is clear. By walking up to the Torah as quickly as possible and then taking time to walk back to one’s seat he is showing his love for Hashem and His Torah. By expressing one’s feelings it increases his or her emotions in their heart. Actions don’t just show how one feels it also increases feelings.

There are people who do not acknowledge that the Jewish People as the chosen nation, the special children of Hashem; at least not anymore. There are even many who don’t even believe in G-d; they are atheists. However, back in the day, even after the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash, the whole world acknowledged Hashem as being all powerful, The King of Kings,  with the Jewish People as his beloved princes and princesses. So what happened?


This week is Parshas Para, one of the special Torah portions leading up to Pesach. We read about the para aduma, the red heifer, in the maftir Aliyah. The para aduma was used as part of the process of cleansing someone who had contact with the dead, which was necessary in order to partake in the korban Pesach. Consequently, there is a pasuk in the haftorah selected from Yechezkel which alludes to this spiritually cleansing process: “And I shall sprinkle pure water upon you, that you be cleansed” (perek 36, pasuk 25).

This pasuk in context is talking about the Jews’ return from the seventy year exile to rebuild the second Beis HaMikdash and resettle the Land of Israel. A few pesukim before it states: “And they came to the nations to which they came, and they desecrated My holy Name when it was said of them, ‘These are Hashem’s people but they departed His land.’ But I pitied My holy Name that the House of Israel desecrated among the nations to which they came. Therefore say to the House of Israel: ‘Thus says Hashem Elokim: for your sake do I act, O House of Israel, but for My holy Name that you have desecrated among the nations to which you came. And I will sanctify My great Name that was desecrated among the nations, that you desecrated among them. Then the nations shall know that I am Hashem the words of Hashem Elokim when I become sanctified through you in their sight” (Yechezkel 36:20-23).

These pesukim refer to a chillul Hashem, a desecration of Hashem’s Name, which took place while the Jewish People were in exile. What was the chillul Hashem? The Mahar”i Kara explains that the chillul Hashem was exactly what the end of verse 20 said, namely: “when it was said of them, ‘These are Hashem’s people but they departed His land.’” The nations of the world were telling them that they are the nation of Hashem and beloved in His eyes, and if He had the ability He would help them; they would not have left their land. He would have made sure of that but His strength weakened. We find that because of their sins they were exiled and the nations of the world did not say that their sins caused that to happen, but that Hashem’s mighty hand was shortened from saving them. This desecration of Hashem’s Name was the Jewish People’s fault. Hashem would only have pity on the Jews to take them out of exile for the sake of His holy Name, which the House of Israel desecrated amongst the nations by going there. Not because of their good deeds is Hashem going to take them out of exile, rather only for the sake of His holy Name. Hashem will intensify the holiness of His Great Name when He takes them out from amongst the nations, as His Name will be sanctified because they will say ‘He is mighty.’ For until then they were saying ‘His power is weakened because the Jews lived amongst them’ but when they see the Jews leaving them against their will with great force then the nations will say ‘Hashem’s hand is not weakened from saving them’ and the reason why He didn’t save them until then is because of their sins. But if He wants to save them, He has much power to do that. (Click here for Hebrew translation.)
Everyone knew the Jews would be in exile for 70 years. They were all counting down. Some miscalculated, others, as we see here, just didn’t think it possible that if Hashem is our loving father he would allow His beloved children to be swallowed up by the other nations; therefore it must be that Hashem is weak. But it would seem that deep down they did not believe in that possibility either, for if they really thought that it was true, then the conclusion they should have arrived at once the Jews returned to their homeland in power and glory was that Hashem regained His power? It must be that deep down they knew the entire time that Hashem is the Master of the Universe, All Powerful, All Knowing and All Controlling, nothing can stop Him and He will never weaken. They simply wanted to find some excuse to make up some fault in G-D, so that they could justify their way of life. But they always knew that the Jewish people were the chosen people, designated to share the light upon all the other nations, and that Hashem was The Almighty. 

If this is the case, then why were the Jews blamed for the chillul Hashem? The non-Jews out of their own free will decided to deny Hashem’s infinite power and claim He was weak!

Therefore we must say that, in truth, this is the responsibility of being the Chosen Nation, Hashem’s children, a light to all the other nations, a priestly nation. Because we are prince and princesses of the Almighty King of all Kings, not only do we have advantages but we have a greater responsibility to make sure there is always a Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of Hashem’s holy Name. We are the ambassadors of Hashem; therefore even the slightest connotation of a chillul Hashem that could be connected to us is our responsibility. For that reason all the good deeds of the ones in the Babylonian exile, the Kiddush Hashem of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, the Rabbis who walked out alive from the fiery furnace, and the Purim story were not what returned them back to Israel, but rather the Kiddush Hashem of sending the message that the nations can’t fool themselves to thinking that Hashem is weak, is what brought the Jewish people back to Israel.

In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa we find the tragic sin of the golden calf, which includes Moshe breaking the tablets and calling to the Jewish people: “Who is for Hashem come to me!” Correspondingly, in the Haftorah, we read of the offensive dictatorship of King Achav over the Northern Kingdom of Israel, with his non-Jewish evil Queen Jezebel who sought to kill all the true prophets of Hashem and spread idolatry throughout the empire. Eliyahu HaNavi fought to stop this hostile takeover of the ten tribes with a similar challenge of ‘who would be answered by their G-d.’ Achav’s 850 false prophets of baal and asheira idols and Eliyahu each took turns bringing sacrifices on Mount Carmel in front of the whole nation. The false prophets did a service and offered sacrifices to their gods and were not answered. Eliyahu made an alter out of twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and made a trench around the alter. Then he poured enough water over the wood on the alter to soak it and  fill the trenches. “And it was when the evening sacrifice was offered that Eliyahu HaNavi came near and said, ‘Hashem, the G-D of Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yisrael, today let it be known that You are G-D in Israel and that I am Your servant, and at Your word have I done all these things. Answer me O Hashem, answer me, and this people shall know that You are Hashem G-d, and You have turned their hearts backwards’” (Melachim Alef 18:36, 37). A fire came down from Heaven, consumed the burnt offering, and licked up all the fire around it. The nation saw this and the haftorah concludes with the famous proclamation we announce at the end of our Yom Kippur davening every year: “Hashem hu HaElokim, Hashem hu HaElokim” (verse 39) – The Lord is G-D!
It would seem, looking from the outside, that Eliyahu was taking a tremendous risk, relying on an open miracle to turn the nation away from their idolatrous path. Rashi even points out that Eliyahu asked Hashem to make it evident to everyone that “at Your word have I done all these things,” because in fact he was bringing an offering to Hashem on an alter upon a mountain when it was prohibited by Jewish law to sacrifice anything outside the Beis HaMikdash. Rashi, quoting a rabbinic text, says that Eliyahu asked Hashem to answer him with fire and answer him in a fashion that they would not be able to  say that these actions were accomplished by magic, in order that they believe him when he speaks of an upcoming redemption. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

King David in his Tehillim proclaims: “A time to do for Hashem; they have made void Your Torah” (119:126). Rashi on this posuk says: “Our Rabbis, however, derive from this verse that we may transgress the words of the Torah in order to make a fence and a wall (or safeguard) for Israel… for example Eliyahu on Mount Carmel, who sacrificed on an alter outside of the Beis HaMikdash” (Brachos 63a). (Click here for Hebrew text.)

How does it make sense for any person to send a message about following the ways of Hashem, and for Hashem to go along with it, if he is transgressing the very word of Hashem, the Torah, the blueprints of creation and guidebook for mankind?

Analyzing this pasuk in tehillim carefully, the gemara in Brachos 63a observes: “Rava said, this pasuk, from beginning to end could be expounded and from the end to the beginning could be expounded.” Rashi says this means that if one wants to expound on this pasuk it can properly be expounded the way it was written, as well as the opposite way. The Maharsha adds that there are in fact two lessons that can be expounded.

The Gemara continue:, “From the beginning to the end they can expound, ‘A time to do for Hashem’ For what reason? Because, ‘They have made void your Torah.’” Rashi explains that there is a time to do for Hashem because they have made void your Torah. There are also times for Hashem to exact his judgement and punishment to those who transgress His will because they are making the Torah void.

On the other hand, the Gemara concludes: “From the end to the beginning the pasuk can be expounded, ‘They have made Your Torah void.’ For what reason? Because, ‘A time to do for Hashem.’” Rashi explains that those who do Hashem’s will by breaking His Torah, for example Eliyahu on Mount Carmel who brought an offering on an alter outside the Beis HaMikdash when it is normally prohibited, because it was a time to act and make a fence and safeguard amongst the Jews for the sake of Hashem.

To explain this phenomenon the Anaf Yosef elucidates that there are those who fulfill mitzvos for they feel forced to, without giving of their soul, and  think the mitzvah was fulfilled properly. Imagine if a person did a favor for someone in need even if he did it begrudgingly, not wholeheartedly; it is still a favor for that other person. But this is only true for man to his fellow man, since the one receiving the favor needs it; even if the giver feels forced, the receiver gets what he needs. However, Hashem does not need anything; he only wants us to do His will, as it says: ‘and he will be brought closer to doing His will.’ If it is not His will it is not good. To this, we are commanded at the proper time to break the mitzvos of the Torah temporarily because there is no need for the mitzvah itself, rather what is important is the will and giving of our souls.  herefore the mitzvah is temporarily pushed off.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Eliyahu HaNavi in his time, and also Rebbe Yehuda HaNasi, for example, in his time when he published the Mishna putting the Oral Torah to writing, were allowed to temporarily transgress the Torah because they understood what was the will of Hashem at that moment, and gave their lives for the sake of Hashem and His Torah. This decision is obviously not a simple task to decide, and if messed up then the opposite side of the coin, the posuk from beginning to end, would apply; strict judgement and punishment.

It is very easy to be extra strict and even too lenient, but a real leader has no bias whatsoever, and knows how to make clear-cut decisions purely for the sake of doing Hashem’s will, giving his whole self for the sake of the Torah, even if it looks like it defies the Torah. For he or she understands that  that is a time to act to save the Torah. Indeed, this is what Hashem in facts wants to be done, for ultimately all Hashem wants is for us to give of ourselves for His sake.

For this reason we must always follow His mitzvos… and sometimes we are forced to transgress them.

This week, the Shabbos before Purim, is Shabbos Zachor, on which we fulfill the Torah-level mitzvah of Remembering Amalek. We do this during the maftir Aliyah where we read about King Shaul’s command to fulfill the mitzvah of wiping out Amalek, which he himself failed to do  by having too much mercy and saving the king of Amalek, Agag’s, life, as well as by giving in to the people’s demands for keeping their livestock. For this folly King Shaul lost the opportunity to bequeath the kingship to his children.
The Ralbag in fact says: “It appears to him that the intention when wiping out Amalek was in a fashion that Hashem commanded the Jews not to get any benefit at all from their possessions in this way to show that Hashem’s intent was to exact revenge on what Amalek did to the Jews on the way out from Egypt, when he struck from behind those who were the weakest in order to show others who want to come and do the same bad thing. The intention of this war was not to take booty and benefit from their possessions. Now when Shaul and the Jews did take the booty they showed that their intentions were not for the sake of revenge but for their own benefits and this was the opposite of Hashem’s intent. It would seem for this reason the Jews had to restrain themselves in the times of Mordechai and Esther from the spoils of their enemy who were Amalek as the megila tells us, that they didn’t take any of the spoils.”

Amalek confronted us from behind, at our weakest point, in order to cause us harm on the way out of Egypt; therefore they are deserving of revenge and total annihilation, down to the last man, woman, and child, as well as all their possessions. On the flip side, Yisro went out to pay homage to Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader, and the rest of the Jewish people for their great escape from Egypt and Amalek. For this the Navi says in our haftorah: “Shaul said to the Kennim, ‘Go withdraw, descend from among the Amelekim lest I destroy you with them; for you performed kindness with all the children of Israel when they went up from Egypt.’ The Kennim withdrew from among Amalek” (Shmuel Alef 15:6).
It would seem that if not for the kindness the Kennim did for the Jewish people as they left Egypt, they too might have deserved to be wiped out along with Amalek, for the sin of living with them many years later. What kindness did the Kennim do to the Jewish People to deserve to be saved?

The Ralbag answers: “This kindness was when Yisro (The ancestor of the Kennim) came to Moshe in the desert and showed that he was overjoyed over the success of the Jews and he also gave advice to Moshe to set up judges over the nation as described in the Torah portion of Yisro.” (CLICK here, here, here and here for Hebrew text.)

Yisro’s descendants were saved from being destroyed by Shaul when he fought against Amalek because of the two acts of kindness Yisro performed for Moshe and the Jewish people many years before. It is understandable why the kindness of giving advice to set up a court system to unburden Moshe from all the daily questions and cases that came to him is a tremendous chesed. Also, the Jews didn’t have to wait in long lines to be answered by one Judge. That’s an incredible chesed (kindness) that obviously affected everyone. But what was the big deal about showing joy over the success of the Jewish people? What did it add? They were already ecstatic about leaving the clutches of Egyptian bondage. What does congratulating them on their success do for an already joyful group of people?

We see from here how important it is to share in the joy and success of another. It is a chesed which adds to the recipients’ joy, and makes for a difference. It deserve reward no less than the impact of relieving the burdens of responsibility on others. Indeed, it resulted in saving the lives of his descendants.

We can’t underestimate the impact we can have on a person when giving them a hearty yasher koach or mazal tov after one got an aliyah to the Torah, davened, or just had a baby, wedding, bar mitzvah or even a birthday. Congratulating someone is a chesed! It’s an opportunity to enhance someone’s joy. That, like any other kindness is one of the pillars of the world which deserves much reward.

Just as our Torah portion of Teruma discusses the collection of material needed to build the Mishkan, our haftorah discusses the collection and building of the first Beis HaMikdash by King Shlomo. The haftorah begins: “Hashem gave wisdom to Shlomo, as He had told him, and there was peace between Hiram and Shlomo, and the two of them made a peace pact” (Melachim Alef 5:26).
The Haftorah goes on to relate that Shlomo sent 30,000 Jews to Lebanon, where Hiram was king, as part of an effort to cut down cedar trees and haul them to Yerushalayim for the building of the Beis HaMikdash. In addition, they hew stone from mountains to bring back for the foundation of the Beis HaMikdash.

What does Shlomo’s wisdom have to do with this collection? Why is it relevant at this point? The Ralbag answers: “[The pasuk is] telling us that the abundance of wisdom which Shlomo had was the reason why there was peace amongst Shlomo and Hiram, for because of his wisdom Hiram loved him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Hiram, King of Lebonan, had every right to be suspicious of King Shlomo and at the best make a flimsy peace treaty based on bribes or power. This is because King Shlomo’s father, King Dovid, was a mighty warrior who even conquered Syria, which was neighbors with Lebanon. Therefore, Hiram would have a right to suspect that his country would be next, especially if King Shlomo were to send 30,000 men into his country to, apparently, tear it apart, knocking down forests of the strongest wood and carving out mountains. Why wouldn’t Hiram be afraid of a plot to conquer the country?

Yet the pasuk relates that Hiram wholeheartedly made a peace treaty with King Shlomo, which was altruistic, out of pure love and friendship. Why? Because he was very impressed with Shlomo’s wisdom. Not his knowledge of facts, but his ability to think, to express himself in a very logical and profound manner.

Shlomo’s wisdom was the charm that Hiram identified and fell in love with, to the extent that he was not suspicious at all of bad intent on King Shlomo’s part. For this he and his country merited to have a special part in the building of the Beis HaMikdash.

Wisdom is not unique to Shlomo. His level of wisdom, being one of the smartest people in the history of mankind, was G-D given; but anyone can work on their wisdom, exercise their brains and strengthen their thinking muscles. Not only in Torah, but in worldly matters, math, physics, Sudoku, anything that makes a person think. And the deeper one has to think and the more precise and clear ones thoughts get, the smarter one becomes. People enjoy and appreciate wisdom; it is a way to make friends, and it can bring peace to the world. Ignorance is not bliss - wisdom is bliss!

This week is the first of the special Shabboses that leads up to Pesach, called Shabbos Shekalim. On this Shabbos we read the maftir from parshas Ki Sisa which talks about the donation of the half-shekel to the Mishkan. In the Haftorah we read from Melachim Beis, perek 12, which discusses the revamping of the donation process to the Beis HaMikdash in the days of King Yehoash. The Navi relates that the money collected was firstly used to pay the workers and for material needed for the upkeep of the foundation, and structural repairs for the Beis HaMikdash.

The Ralbag observes that we can learn a lesson, which is actually mentioned in the Mishna in Shekalim; namely, that we should not enforce or put authority over money handling for tzedakah with less than two people. We see this in the Haftorah, for when they had kohanim watching over the money chest there were two, and when they took the money out of the chest once it was filled the Kohen gadol and scribe of the king was in charge of that. They also appointed more than one person to hand out the money to workers as payments for doing their job in the upkeep of the Holy Temple. The Kehati, commentary on the Mishna, says the reason why at least two people should be appointed for authority over money is because of the honor of the congregation. It would be a lack of respect to the public if only one person would be in charge of tzedaka (See Ralbag toeles 35 in our haftorah and Kehati on Mishnayos Shekalim 5:2).

We don’t find anywhere in the Talmud and its commentaries that these treasurers and money collectors need to be set up in pairs of two or more in order to avoid dishonesty and pocketing money. It is also not indicated that only very righteous people, who are known to be absolutely honest with no lust for money, are allowed to take the job. So why are they trusted?

In fact our Haftorah says: “They did not make an accounting with the men into whose charge they gave the money to expend for the workmen, for they acted with integrity” (Melachim Beis 12:16). The Ralbag comments on this pasuk: “That the people giving out the money to the workers, should not be questioned whether they gave all the money to the workers or not, for they definitely did their job faithfully because holy matters separated them from it (pocketing the money.)” The Ralbag later state as his 36th lesson (which he learns from this portion) is to inform us that we shouldn’t make an accounting on those who are appointed over hekdesh (holy contributions) and the like, for they do their job honestly, since dealing with hekdesh is very serious to them. This is what the above pasuk is referring to, and the Ralbag concludes that he thinks this rule even applies to any gabbai tzedaka [tzedaka collector for a worthy cause]. (click here, here, and here for the Hebrew text.)

Nowadays, we hear a lot about the need for transparency. Records should be scrupulously taken and open to the public to make sure people are not pocketing money, whether in business, charities, government, etc. However we see from here that when it comes to tzedaka collections and other holy matters that we aren’t allowed to suspect the collectors of embezzlement. The reason being is not because they got the job for being super honest and righteous; they could have been normal people who enjoy living, who have to take care of a family, who need to make a living themselves. But, being cognizant of what they are dealing with and appreciating the severity and unique holiness of a mitzvah, will presumably keep them away from trouble to the point that one cannot suspect him or her of any dishonesty. If anything is found out to be misappropriated it must be that the person was not focusing on or cognizant of the severity of what he or she was dealing with.

This is the magnitude of a mitzvah and holiness. It has the power to distance a person from any lust towards the natural pull of money and wealth.

This week’s Haftorah of Yisro begins with Yeshayahu having a revelation of the Heavenly Court: “In the year of the death of King Uzziah, I saw Hashem sitting on a high and exalted throne, and His lower extremity filled the Temple. Seraphim (angels) stood above for Him, six wings, six wings to each one; with two he would cover his face, and with two he would cover his legs, and with two he would fly” (Yeshayahu 6:1, 2).
The next pasuk is one of the most famous verses in all of Na”ch; we say it at least four times a day in our prayers, and it is one of the ultimate sanctification of Hashem’s Name: “And one will call another and say: Holy, holy, holy is Hashem, Master of Legions, the whole world is filled with His glory” (Yeshayahu 6, 3).There are many explanations of why the word “holy” is said three times. The Targum Yonasan, which we say every day in Uva Litzion, says that the first holy refers to: “Holy in the most exalted heaven, the abode of His Presence.” The second holy refers to: “Holy on earth, product of His strength.” The third holy refers to: “Holy forever and ever is Hashem, Master of Legions, the entire world is filled with radiance of His glory.” Another interpretation listed by the Radak is that each holy refers to three worlds: The upper world which is comprised of angels and souls, the outer world, which is comprised of the planets and stars, and the lower world which is this world. The most honorable in this world is man, and this is saying that Hashem who is holy, exalted, and elevated above all three worlds, is sanctified and exalted in the two upper worlds as well as in the lower world by man.

There is a medrish which says that the angels say kadosh all at the same time, for if one would start before the rest he would immediately be burnt up from the heat of his mouth. The Chofetz Chaim points out that there is no mention of the one who starts late. He says it must be that because of all the drive the angels have to sanctify Hashem’s Holy Name in the celestial sphere then there is only an issue of starting early; no one would start late. Angels act with zeal (zrizus) and there is a deep moral lesson (mussar haskel) we can take away from them.

Along these lines we find a very simple but profound understanding of this pasuk in the first interpretation of the Radak. The Radak says: “I heard that each saraf (angel) would call to each other and they would speak to each other in a motivating manner (derech ziruz). They would call each other ‘Kadosh, Kadosh’ like a person would say to his friend ‘sir, sir’ and they would announce ‘sanctify Hashem’s name together.’ Then they would say, ‘Holy is Hashem, Master of Legions, for He is the master of legions on high and the legions below. The whole world is filled with His glory, for He created everything and upon everything any logical thinking being shall glorify Him.’” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

There is a misnomer that zrizus refers to performing mitzvos quickly, with zeal, without wasting time. That is not entirely accurate. Zrizus is better defined as alacrity, doing something in a timely and optimal manner not too slow but not too fast, just at the right time in a manner which is thorough and accurate. This takes motivation, whether self-motivation or motivation by others to be sure it is done correctly.

In our case we find that the angels motivate each other to act in unison to praise Hashem. Angels are intelligent beings who are simply so close to Hashem that their fear of Hashem is so constant that they realize, as clear as day, that they should always be doing the right thing. It would seem, though, that with their zeal to want to do the right thing there are times when a false start might happen and consequences are paid. In order to motivate each other to start in unison, a call to attention before they start praising Hashem, they first call each other and announce that the time has come to praise Hashem.

If one looks closely at how this is done, the angels don’t say to each other ‘Michoel, Gavriel, Rephael get ready get set go!’ Rather, they speak to each other with respect, calling each other “Kadosh” (Holy). This seems to be an extra added motivator to act with zrizus and start in unison.

Angels are constantly self-motivated to serve Hashem with alacrity, through their fear of the awesomeness of Hashem’s Glory. Being that they are so close to Him, it is undeniable; but it would seem that added motivation is needed when praising Hashem to do it in unison, and the best motivation is positive reinforcement, treating one another with respect.

All the more so we can learn from the angels that when we want someone to do something for us or we want to motivate others to serve Hashem properly we should show proper respect to them. Refer to them as Mr., Mrs., Dr., Rabbi, or My Brother or My Sister, etc.; by speaking to them in a formal manner they will be more attentive and moved to listen to what you have to say.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Rebbetzin Miriam Guttman, Miriam Devorah bas Shaul Chaim a"h. May her neshama have an aliyah.

The haftorah of this week’s Torah portion of Bishalach depicts a leader of the Jewish people equated with Moshe Rabbeinu, who even sang her own song just like Moshe did after the defeat of the enemy and the salvation of the Jewish people. Her name was Devora.

The beginning of the haftorah relates: “Now Devora was a woman prophetess, the wife of Lapidot; she judged Israel at that time. And she sat under the palm tree of Devora, between Ramah and Bet-El, in the mountain of Ephraim; and the children of Israel came up to her for judgement. And she sent for and called Barak the son of Avinoam out of Kedesh-Naftali. And she said to him, ‘Indeed Hashem, G-D of Israel, commanded, Go and draw towards Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men of the children of Naftali and of the children of Zevulun. And I shall draw to you, to the brook of Kishon, Sisera, the chieftain of Yavin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will give him into your hand’” (Shoftim 4:4-7).

The Medrish asks: Why was Devora the Judge and prophet at the time if the great zealot, Pinchas ben Elazar, Aharon’s grandson, was alive and the Kohen Gadol? The medrish answers: “May heaven and earth testify about me (referring to Hashem) that whether it is a non-Jew or Jew, man or woman, servant or maidservant, anyone according to a person’s deeds shall the Holy Spirit rest upon them.” The Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu says that Devora’s husband was an am ha’aretz, an ignoramus, who probably had learning disabilities, which made it hard for him to be knowledgeable. In fact, his given name was Barak, but he was also called by two other names: Lapidot and Michael. The Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu relates that he merited marrying Devora because since he served Yehoshua and the Elders when they were alive, he therefore merited continuing to serve the leaders of the generation by marrying her. However, before Devora became a prophet, she was worried about her husband’s share in the World to Come since he was a simpleton. She therefore told her husband that she would make wicks for the mishkan in Shiloh and he would go up and donate them there; in this way he would have a share amongst the worthy people which would bring him to eternal life in The Next World. The medrish continued to relate that Devora focused all of her attention on how to make the wicks, and figured that by making thick wicks the light would be brighter. Hashem, who looks into the depths of one’s heart, saw the purest intention of Devora to “Enlarge His light” and therefore Hashem said He would spread her light in Yehuda, Yerushalayim, and amongst all the twelve tribes. All this because she helped her husband gain his share in the World to Come through honoring Hashem’s dwelling place, (see Yalkut Shimone on Shoftim perek 4).

The medrish goes on to relate that Devorah used to judge court cases for the Jewish people and teach them Torah under a palm tree because “it is not the way of a woman to be alone with another man in a house so she sat under the shade of a palm tree to teach Torah to the public.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Devora was a very righteous woman who dedicated her life to the sanctification of Hashem’s Holy Name. The Ralbag even relates that she was a woman of valor and her level of prophesy reached a point where one could see torches of light coming from the area where she prophesied, just like the Torah relates about Moshe Rabbeinu. The Ralbag also relates that Devorah had separated from her husband when she started to prophesize, just as Moshe Rabbeinu did with his spouse, which is why the posuk says: “And she sent for and called Barak.” Rashi also points out that according to the Targum Yonasan, Devora was a wealthy woman and from these places listed in the pasuk above, she earned a livelihood and dwelt in the city of Atarot. Hence, she had palm trees in Yericho, vineyards in Ramah, olives in the plain of Bet-El where oil was abundant, and white earth in the mountain of Ephraim in Tur Malka, which Rashi thinks must have been sold to potter.

We see from all this that Devora was a rich and powerful woman who seemed to have everything she needed, and well beyond that. She was a woman of valor and of utmost holiness, being a prophetess and leader for the entire Jewish people, which Hashem gave to her as a gift for being totally dedicated to spreading His light. She had a very serious job of judging the Jewish people and spreading the light of Hashem’s Torah. Yet she did this all under a palm tree, a tree which is very tall and in fact does not give off too much shade because its branches are so high up. It was probably hot for most of the year, and it certainly does not protect from the rain too well, but still in all, for the sake of the laws of yichud (seclusion in a private area of a man and a woman who are not married to each other or a close relative), she “set up tent” under a palm tree to lead and teach the people instead of in a formal building. Why does she have to do this if clearly the reasons for the mitzvah of yichud most probably do not apply to her circumstances?

The unequivocal answer must be that no matter what spiritual level a woman (or man) is on and no matter how removed she (or he) is from worldly matters halacha is halacha and applies in all circumstances. Devora’s tenacity towards observance of Jewish Law no matter what the circumstance, showed a very high regard of modesty on her part.