We are now in the midst of the Yomim Noraim, the Days of Awe; a time of heartfelt prayer between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Ironically, we can learn about a whole new dimension of prayer from this week’s Torah portion of Haazinu. The Torah says: “The Deeds of the [Mighty] Rock are perfect, for all His ways are just; a faithful G-D, without injustice He is righteous and upright” (Devarim 32:4).
The Medrish Tanchuma elaborates on this pasuk: “[Hashem] is righteous for he does righteousness with his children. When He sees a person who is poor but he has done good deeds and he prays before Him, and says, ‘Like Your Great Name do for me righteousness,’ Hashem would then open up the treasure houses and give to him, this is the proper judgement for he has done righteousness. And this is what King David meant in Tehillim 31:20 ‘How great is Your goodness that You have laid away for those who fear you etc.’ King David said before Hashem, ‘I know you have treasure houses of abundance of righteousness and if you don’t apportion any of it to me and my friends who need them what is the great goodness you have laid away’” (Medrish Tanchuma, Parshas Haazinu, paragraph 5).
One might mistakenly think that he or she should ask Hashem for the reward that he deserves for doing good deeds; it would enhance his trust in Hashem by acknowledging that Hashem is in charge of everything. Why else would the medrish mention the good deeds the poor man did? Either righteousness means that Hashem acts in the proper manner, which means he gives what people ask for which should be coming to them, or it can mean that he goes above and beyond what people deserve and acts kindly to everyone, regardless of the good deed he or she did. So why does the medrish mention the good deeds of the poor man?
Yet this is incorrect thinking, as the Etz Yosef points out: “Judgement refers to strict judgement and being straight and righteous refers to going above the letter of the law. So we find that if a person has done good deeds, is poor and asks from Hashem to give him in the form of tzedaka (charity), and Hashem gives him, this is strict judgement and charity together. It is strict judgement because the person has done good deeds but it is also charity but no person has anything against Hashem at all.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It is clear that this poor person is asking of Hashem to help him out of pure righteousness or charity; not because Hashem owes him something.  It would be a chutzpah to request reward for the good deeds a person has done. On the contrary, we say in the long Tachanun on Monday and Thursday mornings after shemoneh esrei: “For not because of our righteousness do we cast down our prayers before you, rather because of Your abundant compassion.”

One might ask: Why is it better to deny recognition of our good deeds and ask Hashem to help us out of pure charity? On the contrary; it makes sense to say that even Hashem specifically wants us to pray for our reward in order that He can give us even more reward for acknowledging that Hashem is the ultimate giver of everything. We must therefore ask for our reward within our prayers, and not expect it to just come to us. It is true that all our good deeds pale in comparison to what Hashem does for us – that is why we ask Hashem to have mercy on us and not simply look at our deeds, but judge us at our own level. There is worth to what we have done, which has value in Hashem’s eyes; so why can’t we ask for this reward?

However, the reality is that this attitude of faith in Hashem is flawed, because we should never feel that something should be coming to us, that we deserve it and could request from Hashem to take for what we have given – because that right there is a lack of humility. We have to recognize that what we do is insignificant compared to what Hashem does for us; that we are really undeserving of any reward, but we have to live somehow; so we must ask Hashem to help us out of pure righteousness.

One might then ask: what is the point of doing good deeds? But of course Hashem weighs each deed we do. The last mishna in the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avos says in the name of Bar Hei Hei: “According to our efforts is our reward.” We can’t just ask for it; Hashem out of his benevolence decides to reward us for what we have done even though it pales in comparison to what Hashem does for us.

We can gain a greater appreciation of Hashem by doing His will and acknowledging that whatever we can do is miniscule compared to what he does for us. But we have that drive to live, and to live wholeheartedly; therefore we must ask Hashem to please take care of us, not because we deserve it, but because He is righteous and we need His charity.

May everyone have a healthy, happy and prosperous new year and may we all be written into the Book of Good Life and Peace!

There is a famous Medrish in this week’s Torah portion of Netzavim, based on the pasuk: “For this mitzvah which I command you this day, is not too wondrous for you, nor is it far away” (Devarim 30:11). This Medrish assumes the mitzvah this pasuk is referring to is the learning of Torah, and anyone who puts their mind to it can accomplish a a tremendous amount in their learning.

The Medrish Rabba says: “This is what the pasuk in Mishlei (24:7) refers to when it says: ‘Wisdom is as pearls to the fool; in the gate he will not open his mouth.’ What does ‘Wisdom is as pearls to the fool’ mean? Rebbe Tanchuma says this fool walks into a shul and he sees them involved in learning the Talmud and he does not know what they are saying. He is embarrassed as it says, ‘in the gate he will not open his mouth’… Another thing, the Rabbis say that this fool enters a shul and sees them deeply involved in learning Torah and he says to them, ‘How does a person start learning Torah?’ They say to him, ‘First read from a megilla, and then learn from a book of the Torah, and after that Prophets, and after that Writings. One who finishes learning Tanach (Bible) starts learning the Talmud and after that Halachos (Jewish Law), and after that Agados (Stories that one can learn lessons from in Rabbinic literature.)’ When he hears this he says in his heart, ‘When will I learn all this?’ And he leaves the entrance, this is what ‘in the gate he will not open his mouth’ refers to. Rebbe Yannai said, to what is this comparable to? To a loaf of bread hanging in the air (on a branch). The fool says, ‘Who can bring this down?’ A clever person (פיקח) would say, ‘Wouldn’t the one who hung it there bring a ladder or stick and bring it down?’ So to anyone who is stupid says, ‘When will I be able to learn the entire Torah?’ And one who is clever what will he do? He will learn one chapter every day until he finishes the entire Torah. Hashem says, ‘It is not wondrous for you, and if it is too wondrous for you that you cannot get involved in it, then ‘For this mitzvah [which I command you this, is not too wondrous for you, nor is it far away’]” (Medrish Rabba, parshas Netzavim 8:3). (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Maharz”u comments on the step of the Medrish which describes how to start learning Torah, by starting with reading from a megillah: “That after one knows how to formulate the letters into words using vowels, then you start reading from a small book, which is a megillah.” For in their days there were  few books written other than the  Tanach (Bible), with the five megillas included. One would teach small children first with a small book, which is one of the five megillas, and then from one of the five books of the Torah, and so on and so forth.

The clever person looks at the breadth and depth of the entire Torah and strategizes. He figures that if he does “one chapter” a day he might actually get everything done and eventually learn the entire Torah. On the other hand, as the RaDa”L notes, the Torah is not really too wondrous for the fool; the fool is the one causing the Torah to be too overwhelming for himself.

Yet, is this really true? Especially in light of the Maharz”u, who says this order of learning is how a child used to begin to learn Torah. If so, the fool has a good point; for he is older and does not have as much time as a child has. A chapter a day might not accomplish learning the entire Torah by the end of his life, for he did not start as a child; so why isn’t it too overwhelming?

However, we are forced to say, based on this medrish, that the fool’s claim is only an excuse.I If a person  simply has the patience  and the foresight to see that if he does a little each day, with some schedule, he will accomplish a lot and Hashem will give him the ability to potentially complete the entire Torah.  Whether it will be the ability to learn more than just “one chapter” a day, or a longer lifespan to accomplish more in learning, whatever it might be, old age is only a challenge. But if one puts his mind to it, and patiently decides to take things step by step, then Hashem will give him the ability to succeed.

This is true about any challenge. If one  has ADHD and can’t sit still, that is still just a challenge. And one who is clever, not necessarily smart and intelligent,  but clever enough to have the patience and foresight to make the proper decision to create some system of success (which anyone, if he or she puts his or her mind to it could do), will ultimately be able to create a system that works, even in the face of ADHD.

On the other hand, the foolish individual has such little patience that when he sees others delving into the depths of gemara he is embarrassed and speechless. He caused the embarrassment on himself by not having the patience to develop a system to get to that level of learning. Imagine – embarrassing someone is akin to killing them in the eyes of Chaza”l; yet he is doing that to himself out of a lack of patience and an inability to sit down and try to learn a little bit each day! It is his fault that he is embarrassed; it is his fault that it is too overwhelming for him.
Ultimately it is in Hashem’s hands how long one lives, how smart one is, and how much Torah knowledge one will be able to learn in his lifetime. However, the medrish is referring to how much effort we put in to trying to accomplish everything. And that effort is up to us; to choose to put all our energies into it and not just walk away from the challenge because it is too much.

Does anyone really know the impact of one’s prayers? Hashem listens to everyone and weighs each person’s sincerity, and every prayer is answered, in some form or another. The Baal HaTurim gives us a glimpse into one aspect of the impact of prayer.

In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Savo, it is written:  “And Hashem has selected you on this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His mitzvos. And to make you supreme, above all the nations that He made, as praise, a name, and glory, and so that you will be a holy people to Hashem, your G-D as He spoke” (Devarim 26:18, 19).

The Baal HaTurim says that “as praise, a name and glory” means that when the Jews laud and give praises to Hashem, it is His glory. Indeed, this is what we say in Megilla 15b: ‘in the future Hashem will be a crown on the head of each righteous person,’ meaning the same crown that they crown Hashem with, their prayers will be returned to them. But one who speaks idle chatter in shul will have his body surrounded by thorns. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Our prayers, the praises we sing to Hashem everyday and at any time, are “crown jewels” on Hashem’s “Head.”  It follows, then, that the more kavana, enthusiasm, and excitement we put into praising Hashem, the shinier and more eloquent our eventual crown will be.

In the gemara in Megilla it says that only righteous people will be crowned with this crown made from their prayers in the World to Come, because they humbled themselves. As an extension, it would make sense to add that part of the quality of the crown is from whom it is being given. The more righteous the person is, the more it adds to the beauty of the crown.

However, it seems from the Baal HaTurim, that anyone is able to crown Hashem with his or her praises, but that not everyone gets that crown back in the future, since everyone is not a tzadik, righteous. One might ask: why it is fair? As long as a person gives acclaim to Hashem, what difference does it make about his or her status? So what if I am not so righteous, and I make mistakes, and am haughty most of the time; I still praised Hashem! So why don’t I get back the crown I made, at the right time, just like the righteous?

Obviously, that is the wrong approach. We should praise Hashem with all our energy and might whenever we can, and we should also have the attitude throughout life that we have the potential and ability to be righteous. We can then strive to get there and G-D willing in the future we will all be deserving of being bestowed with the precious crowns we adorned Hashem with through our prayers.

The Torah commands that six events be remembered always: (1) Remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, (2) Remembrance of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai, (3) Remembrance of the golden calf, (4) Remembrance of the Shabbos, (5) Remembrance of Miriam, (6) Remembrance of Amalek’s attack. The last two are in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei; the last one begins: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, as you departed from Egypt” (Devarim 25:17). Why must this episode always be remembered? What is the lesson we can take from it?
The Rosh quotes a Medrish Tanchuma (paragraph 9) in the name of Rebbe Levi who proposes a novel approach in the name of Rebbe Nosson: “[The Amalekites] came from the road like bandits. They had traveled 400 parsah from Mount Seir to Refidim. Hashem warned us to remember this matter. This is compared to a king who has a vineyard surrounded by a fence with a guard dog. The king said, ‘Whoever tries to break through the fence will be bitten by the dog.’ The son of the king came, broke through the fence, and the dog bit him. Whenever the king wanted to remind his son of his sin that he broke through the fence he would tell him about the dog biting him. So to whenever Hashem wanted to remind the Jews what they did in Refidim as it says ‘Is Hashem amongst us’ (Shemos 17:7), He would mention the bite of the dog, i.e. ‘Remember what Amalek did to you on the way.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Jews had a weakening of faith in Hashem right after He took them out of Egypt, when they traveled without water for three days. Hashem punished them with the attack of Amalek. The mitzvah to remember Amalek, according to this medrish, is to remind ourselves to strengthen our faith when we feel we are becoming lax. If one is waning in faith, or has any difficulty, wouldn’t it be more practical to be reminded, as clearly as possible, to get back on the right track?  Why not simply say: ‘Remember to strengthen your trust in Hashem when you feel you are losing it!?

Based on the context of the Rosh, we are not dealing with a onetime mistake but rather a problem with some level of frequency. The Rosh says the best way to handle it is to set a reminder of the original punishment given for the mistake. This has a greater impact on a person, to help him correct his ways, rather than to constantly be spelling out what he or she did wrong. In this case, we have a mitzvah to always remember what Amalek did to us. Some people even recite this paragraph every day with the five other events. That would seem to mean that it is very easy to lose one’s trust in Hashem and we need constant reminders to build our faith.

However, there is another practical lesson we can learn from here, which is that, as parents and teachers, the proper way to redirect children who  are continuously slipping in some area is to remind them of the original punishment they received for the mishap, and that will reinforce the notion to do the right thing.

There is a mitzvah upon all of humanity to set up court systems. Even non-Jewish nations are commanded to do so as part of the Seven Noahide Laws; yet there is something special about a Jewish Court, run by Torah Law.
The Torah commands us in this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim: “Judges and police you shall give within all your gates that Hashem your G-D has given to you to your tribes and they will judge the nation righteous judgement” (Devarim 16:18).

The Medrish Rabba (Shoftim 5:7) quotes a parable by Rebbi Levi: “What is this compared to? To a king who had many children but he loved the smallest one more than the other. He also had a garden and he loved that more than anything else he owned. The king said, ‘I will give this garden which I love the most to my smallest son who I love the most.’ So to Hashem said, ‘From all the nations I have created I only love the Jews,’ as it says ‘For the Jews are young and are His loved ones,’(Hoshea chapter 11). ‘From all I have created I only love judgement’ as it says I am Hashem who loves justice,’ (Yeshaya chaper 61). Hashem said, ‘I am going to give what I love to the nation whom I love, this is the intention of the pasuk ‘Judges and police…’ Hashem said to the Jews, ‘My children, I swear on your life, in the merit of you observing proper judgement I will become elevated.’ How do we know this? As it says, ‘And Hashem the G-D of Legions will be elevated through justice’ (Yeshaya chapter 5). ‘And because you elevate me through judgement I will in turn do righteousness and rest My holiness amongst you.’ How do we know this? As it says, ‘And the Holy G-D will be sanctified through righteousness’ (Yeshaya chapter 5).  ‘And if you observe both the righteousness and judgement immediately I will redeem you with complete redemption.’ How do we know this? As it says, ‘Thus said Hashem if they keep justice and do righteousness, for my salvation is close to come and my righteousness to redeem’(Yeshaya chapter 56).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Maharz”u commenting on this parable says: “That it is the nature of the world to love the youngest child for even though one has older children and he loves all of them, but all his fun and entertainment is with the youngest child. So to by the garden, even though one might have a lot more, more expensive property, still in all, all his fun and entertainment is in the garden.”

The Maharz”u explains the application gleaned from the parable as follows: What it means when it says that the Jews are ‘a lad and his beloved’ is that we are the ‘fewest amongst all the nations,’ as is written in the end of the Torah portion of Vaeschanan. This means that Hashem’s love for the Jewish people is due to our humbling of  ourselves; therefore Hashem loves us, and therefore he commanded us regarding justice. What it means when it says that Hashem will be elevated, is that if there is judgement on earth there is no need for judgement in Heaven; so for having judges and police on earth [enforcing justice] there is no judgement and punishment [needed] to come from Heaven rather there is only righteousness.Everyone will then praise Hashem, and this is what it means when the pasuk in Yeshaya says: “And Hashem the G-D of Legions will be elevated through justice and the Holy G-D will be sanctified through righteousness.” The more you guard the righteous,  the closer they will come to the true redemption.
There are a lot of observations that could be made from this Medrish, and the Maharz”u’s explanation of it. First off, the parable says that the king loved his youngest child more than the rest of his children, whom he also loves, but in application the Medrish says Hashem only loves the Jews. Secondly, according to the Maharz”u, the youngest isn’t meant literally; rather, it means ‘the most humble,’ or, literally, the nation which belittles itself the most. Thirdly, why and how is judgement and humbling ourselves Hashem’s entertainment and fun?  Finally: what is the connection between all of this and the final redemption; why hasn’t it yet come? The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:18) that Rebbe Akiva used to say: “Beloved is man for he was created in G-D’s image; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in G-D’s image, as it is said: ‘For in the image of G-D He made man.” This means that all of mankind is loved by Hashem – but we must say that the love of Hashem towards the Jewish people is so immense that the love towards the rest of the nation are, in contrast, like nothing.  But this Mishna in fact goes on to point out how Hashem loves the Jewish people on two accounts: “Beloved are the people of Israel, for they are described as children of the Omnipresent, as it says ‘You are children to Hashem our G-D.’ Beloved are the people of Israel, for a cherished utensil was given to them; it is indicative of a greater love that it was made known to them that they were given a cherished utensil, as it said: ‘ For I have given you a good teaching; do not forsake my Torah.”

Hashem accepted us as His beloved children and gave us the treasured gift of the Torah because we humbled ourselves by subjugating our life to Him when we said naaseh vinishma [”We will do and then we will listen”] before accepting the Torah. And what is justice? It is arriving at and enforcing the truth. Hashem’s truth is not subjective; it is objective. My Rosh HaYeshiva zt”l used to say that one of the most important character traits one must perfect and live by is honesty, truth. No wonder justice is Hashem’s fun and entertainment; he is totally honest – since there is no falsehood by Him, the enforcement of truth is His delight! So Hashem gave this enforcement of honesty, “His fun,” to those who humbled themselves and were willing to abide by this objective truth.  That is why we are more beloved than any other nation by Hashem. Now, if we are able to enforce law and order and hand out punishment according to the truthful way of the Torah, then people could be properly atoning for their sins in this world and would be able to go straight to heaven if they went through the process of repentance, in the Next World. This gives Hashem the opportunity to imbue holiness into the world, which is His way of acting righteously (instead of needing to punish man in Gehinom when they sin). If we would just keep pure and keep up proper judgement, this would be one formula for bringing the complete redemption of ultimate truth to the world, may it come speedily in our days.

Obviously not contaminating the holy, and even constantly enforcing strict and proper judgement, seems not to be that easy. Yet that is one possibility why the coming of Moshiach and the final redemption have not yet arrived. What we as individuals can do is to work on humbling ourselves, to be open and accepting of understanding Hashem’s objective truth, the only real truth – the Torah.  In that way we can properly observe the Torah and Hashem can spread more holiness on earth, so one day, in our lifetime, we will be redeemed back to Zion forever.

At the end of one of the pasukim in this week’s Torah portion of Re’eh, we find the following: “And Hashem your G-D will bless you in all you do” (Devarim 15:18). The Ralbag in lesson 10 teaches us a lesson in character development: “This is to inform us that it is not becoming for a person to stand idle not doing anything to be sure to keep the mitzvos of the Torah and to rely on Hashem that He will provide for his needs. This will lead to a loss and possibly with that a diminishing in faith in Hashem. For this reason the pasuk says ‘Hashem will bless you in all you do’ to teach us that one has to earn his blessing from Hashem by not sitting around idle, but rather doing actions which will spur upon him His blessing, and then Hashem will bring to him [blessing] in all that he does.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It is possible that a person can choose to dedicate his entire life towards performing Torah and mitzvos, which in theory means he will be learning Torah all day and all night, and performing all the other mitzvos, including davening, chesed, etc. when they are required.  But he will then be unable to work for his livelihood,  and would rather   completely trust in Hashem that He will provide for His dedicated servant. That person, the Ralbag says, will lose everything and might even lose his faith in Hashem. How can that be? Isn’t one supposed to have a tremendous level of undaunting faith in Hashem and, in turn, dedicate himself  towards the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos? Isn’t this the ideal state?  How can it be counterproductive? It seems obvious from this Ralbag,  however, based on the pasuk, that Hashem also wants us to do some work. Built into our very existence is the need to work; only then does Hashem shower us with his blessing, and shower us with the fruits of our efforts.

That does not, necessarily, mean that one must have a profession in order to live. The pasuk does not say that Hashem will bless you in the profession (אומנות) you choose to go into; rather, every person has to have some type of plan, some  means to support themselves. Even at its minimum, Hashem will bless the actions one takes on behalf of his livelihood.

This does not mean that everyone should be learning in kollel their whole life on some minimal system of support. Not everyone can do that, and there is a need to spread the Torah that one has learnt to the world. Indeed, not everyone is cut out to be a full-time learner or teacher. There are many types of positions that must be filled in the world: doctors, lawyers, accountants, salesmen, plumbers, electricians, psychologists; the list goes on and on. Everyone has their own purpose in life and they  must figure out what that purpose is, and integrate it into their observance of Torah and mitzvos.

The attitude one should have is not that I am a full-time learner, or a teacheror a doctor, but rather I am an eved Hashem[servant of Hashem]. And one must constantly ask him or herself what is the best way, at that very moment, to serve Hashem.

My Rosh HaYeshiva zt”l, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, used to say that there is a sixth volume of Shulchan Aruch which deals with middos, one’s character development, and we only have to look into chaza”l to learn how to be a mentche, to act with proper derech eretz and manners, to improve our character, and to be normal. The means   accomplishing this is to constantly be asking ourselves: ‘What is Hashem’s will for me at this moment,’ and to maintain the  attitude that I am simply a servant of Hashem. Only then will He  bless you in all your endeavors.

Sefer Devarim is Moshe’s final discourse to his people. It is primarily made up of rebuke, in which he scolds  the Jewish people with great scrutiny and precision. In the middle of this week’s Torah portion of Eikev, while rebuking them about sin of the golden calf, Moshe throws in Aharon’s death: “The Children of Israel traveled from Be’eiros Bnei Ya’akon to Moseirah. There Aharon dies and was buried there; And his son Elazar took over the priesthood” (Devarim 10:6). Rashi has a whole slew of questions on this pasuk: (1) “Why is this relevant here, (the sin of the golden calf which prompted the smashing of the tablets and Aharon’s death was almost 40 years apart.)?... (3) Also ‘There Aharon died’ didn’t he die on Mount Hor…?”  Rather, Rashi answer, this is part of the rebuke  (see Rashi there).
The Ralbag in his commentary, which happens to address Rashi’s third question, says: “Everyone knows that Aharon did not die in Moseirah or B’nei Ya’akon, rather he died on Mount Hor and was buried there. [Mount Hor] was one of the travels of whence they left Bnei Ya’akon as mentioned in the Torah portion of Massei. The intention here is to tell us that during the travels that ensued he died and was buried there because of what happened at Mei Merivah. This is the way the story was told over about the bitterness of the Jews. [For the Jewish people fought with Moshe and Aharon, and their lack of faith in Hashem was the reason why Moshe and Aharon had to pass away as the Ralbag explained in the Torah portion of Chukas (20:13), so that they won’t be able to inherit the land of Israel in a complete fashion.] This is why the pasuk here says “Be’eiros” (wells) of Bnei Ya’akon as if to explain that all the places they passed through until now when they arrived in Kadesh they had water to drink and now the Jews complained for no good reason by Mei Merivah which resulted in this loss.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Ralbag in his lessons on this Torah portion, lesson 16, learns from the pasuk that it is not right for one who is giving rebuke to tell over something which would make it possible for those being rebuked not to accept the message. For this reason, Moshe did not want to reveal the place about which he was rebuking the Jews, that as a result of what happened at Mei Merivah (which literally means the waters of strife) Aharon died and death was decreed upon Moshe himself.  This is because the sin had been forgotten and they could have said there is no point to guard oneself from sin because they (Moshe and Aharon) died without sin, with all there greatness in stature.  For this reason as well, Moshe did not want to mention the incident with Korach, because of how great his stature was in their eyes; in order that they wouldn’t be able to have any room to dodge his rebuke. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Moshe Rabbeinu was an admonisher par excellence. He specifically chose to admonish the Jewish people right before his death for four reasons, as explained in the Sifri at the beginning of the Book of Devarim: (1) So that he does not admonish them again and again. (2) So that they won’t be ashamed when they see him. (3) So that the sinners do not bear a grudge against him. (4) So that they won’t defend their innocence belligerently, leading to altercation. Yet Moshe spoke in a very twisted, roundabout manner, not mentioning the place of Mei Meriva when reminding them about Aharon’s death, and not being allowed to enter the land of Israel, which was ultimately the nation’s fault, for having had a lack of trust in Hashem and fighting over water. Moshe felt it was counterproductive to mention Mei Meriva because they seemed to have forgotten their part in not allowing Moshe and Aharon to enter the Land, and it would not help by mentioning it, for they would claim that there is no point  in avoiding sin because Moshe and Aharon passed away even though they were people of such tremendous stature who obviously did nothing wrong. Indeed, they would think that if they died anyways, what is the difference whether we are careful from sin or not?

Why couldn’t Moshe, with all his expertise, explain the problem in such a way that the Jewish People could learn the proper lesson? Also, weren’t  Aharon and Moshe punished for not instilling a high enough level of faith in Hashem by hitting the rock twice instead of also speaking to it (Bamidbar 20:12, 13)?

It would seem though, from the Ralbag, that the Children of Israel were held accountable for getting Aharon and Moshe into this position because they should not have started the fight to begin with. However, when rebuking them about the matter, Moshe felt it was not useful to mention it outright, because they had forgotten that they were the ultimate cause of Aharon and Moshe’s deaths, and there would be no point in reminding them of what happened, because in their minds nothing wrong was done either by them or by Moshe and Aharon. By explicitly reminding them about Mei Meriva, not only would they not learn their lesson but it would in fact be counterproductive, and they would find an excuse to sin because everyone dies, even great leaders like Moshe and Aharon who never sinned.

We see from here that Moshe and Aharon were so great that the generation wandering in the desert  viewed them as having done nothing wrong, which means the mistake Moshe and Aharon did by the hitting of the rock must have been so insignificant and so minute that it was not even a blip on the radar screen of the Jewish people. And for that reason, they would mistakenly think that people die for no reason and that there is no point in avoiding sin.

What is even worse, the Ralbag points out, is that Moshe did not even bother mentioning Korach’s revolt, which seemed to have been an outright attack on Moshe and Aharon’s leadership. But upon further reflection,  it would seem that in the eyes of the generation of the Jews in the desert Korach might not have been such a bad guy; albeit he and his family were swallowed alive by the earth and he was burnt up by a heavenly fire, but that must be taken into perspective. Korach was third in command behind Moshe and Aharon. He must have been a pretty righteous individual, at least in the eyes of the Jewish people, in order to gain such high stature. We know  Korach argued with Moshe in Jewish law about putting tzitzis on curtains, for example, and he might have had some leadership argument – but, in all, he still seemed like quite an amazing person. Imagine two great sages from the previous generation like Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Aharon Kotler arguing with each other. No one would suspects that they were evil people (and they  weren’t). But deep down inside, because Korach’s argument stemmed from jealousy, Hashem, who knows what is in the depths of a person’s heart, punished Korach as severely as he did, which he deserved. But it is possible that in the Jewish people’s view he might have done something wrong but have been  judged according to the high level he was on – but that does not mean that they, on their lower spiritual level, could possibly learn anything from this incident. Therefore, since he was on such a different playing field, Moshe did not bother mentioning Korach in his rebuke to the Jewish people.

When teaching the important lesson  of avoiding argumentation, which was the lesson of Mei Meriva and Korach, Moshe left them out because he felt mentioning them would only make things worse, because the Jewish people in the desert viewed Aharon and Moshe as perfect, and  had forgotten what they did wrong. Indeed, Korach, even if he had done something wrong, it was so infinitesimal in their eyes, as they knew that the more righteous you are the more strict Hashem judges you. Therefore, even from the rebellion of Korach there would not have been a significant lesson that could have been learnt by the Jewish people.

At the very least the lesson we should  take from here is to appreciate the greatness of the earlier generations. It is unfathomable!

In this week’s Torah portion of Vaeschanan we find the repetition of the Aseres Hadibros (Ten Commandments). These are the same ten mitzvos specified in the Torah portion of Yisro in the book of Shemos; however there are some textual differences in the delivery of many of the mitzvos.

By the mitzvah of Shabbos, it says here: “And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and Hashem took you out from there with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, therefore Hashem your G-D commanded you to make the day of Shabbos” (Devarim, 5:15).

The Chizkuni explains: “The reason why it says here that one’s non-Jewish servant and maid servant shall rest, for through you and them working six days a week and resting on Shabbos you will remember that you were a slave like him in Egypt and Hashem redeemed you. But in the first set of commandments the reason was not explained because Hashem did not want to mention there humiliation at a time of their joyfulness (when the Torah was given at Har Sinai). And even though it writes by the first mitzvah in the first set of commandments “that I took you out of Egypt” (Shemos 20:2), but that was mentioned in a respectful manner.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Chizkuni is pointing out the reason why non-Jewish slaves who belong to Jews must rest on Shabbos with us Jews – is for our own sake; in order to strengthen our belief in Hashem, and that he redeemed us from Egypt. This seems to be a very fundamental belief in our religion which must be reiterated many times in order to become inculcated into our lives. Even though it should have been stated in the first set of Ten Commandments, it was left out in order to not shter [deter] the simcha of accepting the Torah. It was therefore better for Moshe to give the explanation at  his culminating discourse  which he gave to his nation at the end of his life.

If inculcating this aspect of faith in Hashem is so incredibly important, then why wasn’t it written in a respectful manner in the first set of commandments, just as it wrote “that I took you out of Egypt?”  That reference also alludes to their slavery, but does so in a nicer tone, to remind them in the first commandment of belief of Hashem’s oneness.

We must therefore say, that by speaking in a more respectful manner by the mitzvah of Shabbos, and not stating: “And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt,” it would not have  had the same impact, to strengthen this particular aspect of belief in Hashem.  The connection of one’s servant resting on Shabbos to us being slaves in Egypt and being redeemed by Hashem would not have been clearly articulated, and the impression would not have been a worthwhile impression, which would make enough of a difference to inculcate  this lesson into our lives.Therefore, even if it is an extremely important lesson to be repeated, and it could be taught in a more respectful but more subtle manner, then it is still not worth teaching it at that time since its full impact is not there.

We see how important it is to weigh our words and be sure what comes out of our mouth is the most effective message at the present time, even if it comes at the expense of delaying and not repeating a central message that  must be delivered.

This week we start reading the fifth and final book of the Torah, Devarim. The Rabbeinu Bachye has a very deep and profound insight into the connection between all five books. As complex and lengthy as it is, it is worth translating for its importance. There is also a specific lesson, out of many, I have gleaned and would like to share from this monumental piece.
The Rabbeinu Bachye observes: “that because this is the fifth volume and last of the Five Books of Torah therefore I want to enlighten you here about the order of the Five Books of the Torah, why they are specifically placed one after the other in the order it is in. It is a known fact that even though there are five books but, as intended and hinted to in the Book of Breishis, they are all connected building up to one idea. The reason why it starts with the Book of Breishis is because the nuance of the world (that it was created from nothing to something) is the root of faith. Through faith of The Nuance it is self-explanatory how Hashem is constantly involved in all aspects of the world, and through Hashem’s involvement in the world we can understand the concept of reward and punishment. Since these [three] topics are the central tenants of the Torah, therefore the Book of Breishis was set aside to discuss the nuance of the world, and His involvement with Adam which He gave positive and negative mitzvahs, and the reward of placing Adam in Gan Eden, and punishment when he was banished from there. Also the story of the flood is greatly apparent and clear proof about The Nuance, Hashem’s constant involvement, as well as reward and punishment, for the righteous Noach and his children escaped the flood out of their merits and their generation was destroyed for they deserved punishment. After Sefer Brieshis is Sefer Shemos, which discusses the story of our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchokand Yaakov who strengthened themselves in faith and are the root of understanding Hashem’s oneness. This is why Sefer Breishis is next to Sefer Shemos because faith in The Nuance of the World leads a person to faith in Hashem’s oneness. (Parenthetically, the Rabbeinu Bachye seemingly says Sefer Shemos starts with the stories of our forefathers, which really start in the Torah portion of Lech Licha in Sefer Breishis, not the slavery of their grandchildren in Egypt. I don’t know what to make of this but the message is still clear.) After that is Sefer Vayikra which is the story of the sacrifices, it is known that the main oneness and unity with Hashem is through the sacrifices which harness all the powers in the world together towards one purpose, the Almighty. A righteous person, through his offering is unified with the Almighty who created everything. After Sefer Vayikra comes Sefer Bamidbar, which talks about going into the Land of Israel. They are placed next to each other to explain to us that the main location for the sacrifices was intended to be in Israel, for immediately after the Jews received the Torah on Har Sinai they were supposed to enter the Land of Israel if not for the sin of the spies which kept them in the desert for forty years. After Sefer Bamidbar comes this book of Devarim, and because the Jews were not permanently settled in the land during the period of both Bais Hamikdashes, rather it will only come in the final redemption where there will be no more exile, therefore Hashem wanted to conclude the Torah with this book which discusses in the end (Torah portion of Ha’azinu) the final redemption which in itself will be a nuance in the world and is the whole purpose of world’s existence. Similar to Sefer Breishis which began by way of inserting the end in the beginning so too is the connection of all five books of the Torah one after the other, for The Nuance is the reason for the Oneness, and the Oneness is fully experienced through the sacrifices, and the sacrifices are mainly designated for the Land of Israel, and the Jews only reach their perfection in time by the final redemption when there will not be any more exile.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In summary, The Five books of the Torah share one theme, which is building up towards the ultimate purpose of creation – to be unified with The Creator. As it says in the beginning of Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Just, Chapter 1): “The purpose of creation is to bask and delight in Hashem’s presence.” It takes five steps to meet this goal: The first two are intellectual and emotional levels of believing; that Hashem created the world out of nothing, constantly taking care of its upkeep, and belief in reward and punishment, as well as believing in Hashem’s oneness and unity with Hashem. This is all discussed in the first two books of the Torah, Breishis and Shemos, which relate the story of creation, Adam and Chava, Noah and the flood, as well as the stories of our forefathers, the Jewish people in slavery, redemption, being given the Torah, and the building of the mishkan. The third book of Vayikra takes this intellectual and emotional belief to a physical level, with the korbanos [offerings], which are used to unify ourselves with our Creator. The fourth book, Bamidbar, adds the place; this unification with the One Almighty takes place, for the most part, in the Land of Israel. Finally, the fifth step, in Devarim, is time. The perfect or ultimate place and time for this unification with Hashem is in the final redemption, may it come speedily in our days.

What is fascinating to note is that one would think that something of such importance, the purpose of all of creation, should happen all at once. Why take such a long time? It has been thousands of years; why the rigmarole?

We must therefore say that order and process  are integral parts of the ultimate perfection, and without it, it’s not ultimately perfect. Meaning, Hashem, in his infinite wisdom, understands that part of creating this world with its ultimate purpose is to do  so with a process  Without that process, then, there is something incomplete or imperfect.

If that is the case, then the process for creating a state of perfection must be very profound and complex, with an abundance of subtleties and minute differences that must be ironed out throughout history, in order to ultimately arrive at the final state of perfection and unity with Hashem.

In any event, we see from here the utmost importance any process and order must have in our lives. One must not think that he or she  can go out of order or just skip the line.

This week’s double Torah portions of Mattos and Massei conclude the Book of Bamidbar. The Ramban discusses the juxtaposition between these two Torah portion(s)s. There are a couple of events in Mattos, such as the battle against Midian and the division of the land of Sichon and Og amongst the two-and-a-half tribes of Reuvain, Gad and half of Menashe. The beginning of Massei discusses the travels and stops made by the Jewish people in the desert.
The Ramban explains: “After revenge against Midian, where Hashem said to Moshe that after this ‘you will be gathered into your nation’, [i.e. he was decreed to pass away after defeating Midian (Bamidbar 31:2),] and after he split up the land of Sichon and Og and built the cities that were mentioned [at the end of the Torah Portion], he [Moshe] thought about writing up all the travels. His intention was to inform everyone about all the kindness Hashem did with them, that even though it was decreed upon them that they will be traveling and wandering through the desert, don’t think they were constantly traveling and wandering through the desert and they didn’t have any respite. Rather in this long span of time they only traveled to 42 places as Rashi writes in the name of Rebbi Moshe HaDarshan.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
One can ask a simple question on this Ramban: What is the connection between the last two major events of Moshe’s life and the travels of the Jewish People throughout there forty years of wondering in the desert?

The Ramban seems to be pointing out a very important lesson in relationships. The Medrish says everyone knew Moshe would pass away after revenging Midian. The Baal HaTurim says Moshe’s death was contingent on the revenge of Midian because he himself did not act zealously to stop the episode with Zimri the head of the Tribe of Shimon and Cozbi the Midianite Princess which subsequesntly resulted in 24,000 Jews dying. The events of revenging Midian and splitting the land of Sichon and Og amongst the two and a half tribes of Reuvain, Gad and half of Menashe were pretty much the last in Moshe’s life. He realized that he had to part ways from his people and that it would not be so easy for them to part. At the moment of that realization, he felt that in order to ease the process of saying goodbye it would be appropriate to mention all the good times, the positive events they went through together in the desert. This would make closure easier for everyone.

This lesson is true in all situations in when one will be leaving and not seeing someone for a while; not only in the event of death, and not only with a leader and his followers – but if one visits family and then must go back home or visits friends who they won’t see again for a long while, it is hard to say goodbye when the trip is over, or the visit is done. In order to make it easier for everyone it would seem appropriate to recap the events of the trip and remind each other about all the good times that were had.

The fact the Ramban points this out seems to indicate that it is not just a nice or cute thing to do, but is mentchlikeit, or the derech eretz way to act. This means that proper manners dictate that one should be sensitive towards the feelings of others, and try to ease the sad feeling of leaving as best as possible.