This Shabbos is the day before Rosh chodesh and we read a special haftorah for machar chodesh (the next day being Rosh Chodesh) from Shmuel Alef (perek 20). In this haftorah, King Shaul’s family’s reign was destined to be broken, because he committed the sin of not completely wiping out Amalek when he had the chance. The prophet Nosson had already proclaimed Dovid to one day become king. Shaul, in a jealous rage, wanted to murder Dovid (who happened to be son-in-law), so  Dovid went into hiding. Yonason, Shaul’s son, who was next in line to become king, was best friends with Dovid and accepted the fate of Dovid one day becoming king instead of him. One Rosh chodesh Dovid did not show up in his normal spot at the king’s feast both days of Rosh chodesh and Shaul was outraged. Dovid was hiding from Shaul and Yonason gave an excuse why he didn’t show up both days. Shaul didn’t hear of it.
The Navi relates: “And Shaul’s wrath was kindled against Yonason, and he said to him, ‘You son of a straying woman deserving of punishment! Did I not know that you choose the son of Yishai, to your shame and to the shame of your mother’s? For all the days that the son of Yishai is living on the earth, you and your kingdom will not be established. And now, send and take him to me, for he is condemned to death.’ And Yonanson answered Shaul his father, and said to him, ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ And Shaul cast the spear upon him to strike him; and Yonason knew that it had been decided upon by his father, to put Dovid to death. And Yonason arose from the table in fierce anger; and he did not eat any food on the second day of Rosh chodesh, for he was grieved concerning Dovid, for his father had put him to shame” (Shmuel Alef 20:30-34).
The Ralbag observes that there were two reasons why Yonason did not eat bread on the second day of Rosh chodesh. The first was because he was saddened for Dovid, that he was forced to separate from him out of fear of his father. This was the more compelling reason, and that is why it was mentioned first. The second reason was because his father disgraced him when he called him ‘You son of a straying woman deserving of punishment!’ (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
Yonason had an extremely close and loving relationship with Dovid. One could understand the first and main reason stopping him from eating; but if not for the second reason, it sounds from the Ralbag that Yonason might have taken at least a nibble of bread.
Why was Yonason affected by Shaul’s insult? On the contrary, Yonason was rebuking his father at the time, as we find in the Yalkut Shimone quoting the gemara in Erechin 16b. The pasuk says: ‘You shall surely rebuke your fellow’ (Vayikra 19:17). To what extent would one rebuke another? Rav says until he is about to strike you, Shmuel says until he curses you, and Rebbe Yochanan says until he is furious at you. Rav Nachman bar Yitzhak says all three opinions are based on the same passage as it writes: “And Shaul’s wrath was kindled against Yonason, and he said to him, ‘You son of a straying woman deserving of punishment!’” It then writes “And Shaul cast the spear upon him to strike him”. According to the opinion that you should rebuke one until he is ready to strike you that is what the pasuk is referring to when it says “to strike him”. According to the opinion that one should rebuke until he curses you it writes, ‘to your shame and to the shame of your mother’s.” According to the opinion that one should rebuke until he is furious, it write, “And Shaul’s wrath was kindled.” According to the opinion that one should rebuke his fellow until his fellow is furious at him why did Yonason go as far as Shaul cursing him and almost striking him? This case was different because of the extra love Yonason had for Dovid he gave of himself more. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see from this Chaza”l that Yonason should have been unfazed by his father’s comments, and on the contrary, he knew his father was wrong and deranged; so why did he feel insulted?

The answer is: “Sticks and stone MIGHT break my bones but words will ALWAYS harm me!”

This week’s Haftorah for parshas Chayei Sarah takes place in the very beginning of Melachim Alef. King David is about to pass away, and he has already promises his wife Batsheva that Shlomo will become king. However, the pesukim say: “And Adoniahu the son of Hagit exalted himself saying; ‘I will be king,’ and he made for himself chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him. And his father had not angered him all his days saying, ‘Why have you done so?’ And he too was of very handsome appearance, and she bore him after Avshalom” (Melachim Alef 1:5, 6).
The pasuk seems to give three reasons why Adoniahu decided to declare himself king. The Radak elaborates on each one. The first one is that King David never angered Adoniahu when he did anything bad; King David would never reprimand or rebuked him, saying: ‘Why did you do this?’ Therefore he went on a bad path and rebelled against his father; for Adoniahu knew that King David said he was going to anoint Shlomo king. So even though King David did not officially proclaim an order of succession,  Adoniahu thought in his heart: ‘My father loves me, and never scolded me once in my life, I will announce my kingship while he is alive and if it doesn’t bother him I will know that I was destined to be king.’ The second reason Adoniahu declared himself king was because he was good looking just like Avshalom. He even put together a legion of chariots and horsemen just like Avshalom did, because he also wanted to be king. Their beauty caused both of them to be haughty and to rebel. The third reason was that his mother, Hagit, gave birth to him right after Avshalom was born to Ma’acha, making Avshalom  his older brother, as it is written: the third [son of King David] was Avshalom and the fourth was Adoniahu. Amnon, who was the first born, had already died, so maybe Daniel who was the second had also died, even though his death was never recorded. Therefore Adoniahu thought that he was next in line for the kingship. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It seems from the Radak that Adoniahu’s motivation which caused him to declare himself king was his haughtiness, but his excuse was that he was  next in the royal line of succession, and therefore  deserved to be king. However, it would seem that he would not have been so brazen to pronounce himself king if he knew his father would have stopped him and reprimanded him for trying to start a rebellion. One lesson that can be gleaned from here is that a trick to subdue one’s haughtiness is to always feel one has a boss that he has to answer to at all times.

If you think about it, this is quite amazing! Adoniahu saw Avshalom’s rebellion against his father squelched and he himself was killed. Also, one would think that if his father never rebuked him and showered him with so much love, then how could the  son rebel against such a father? Furthermore, what caused him to be haughty was his comeliness; what does that have to do with being a monarch or a leader? It didn’t say Adoniahu was haughty because he was intelligent, wealthy, or influential – all character traits of a potential leader ! We see from here the power of haughtiness; as illogical as it might seem, it can  still grab hold of you and cause you to make the most outlandish decisions.Yet this whole incident could have been stopped if King David would simply have raised him properly and rebuked him once in a while for his wrongdoings throughout his life. We see from this an incredible lesson  in parenting, that one should not pamper their children too much, because not only won’t they appreciate it, they might even one day rebel.

The Cheshbon Hanefesh by Rav Mendel from Satanov has a famous parable in the introduction of his sefer comparing one’s animal spirit to an elephant. One of the unique qualities of a human being is the ability to control nature and animals in order to use them for our own benefit. So too, we have animalistic instincts in our own body, that of eating, drinking, sleeping, etc. which we must control, in order not have our physical drives control us. The Cheshbon Hanefesh does say that we cannot be overly controlling. If a person overworks the elephant and deprives it of adequate sustenance then it will rise up and rebel against its master, trying to kill him, and the master would be forced to defend himself. So too if one deprives himself too much of food and sleep he can become sick.

Then the Cheshbon Hanefesh says the opposite is also true: “Some foolish masters go to the opposite extreme. They pamper their animals by underworking and overfeeding them. They demean themselves by playing with them and condition the animal to kick at their generosity. In the end, the animal subjugates it master to fill its stomach.” The same is true about our physical desires. If we overindulge in our eating or drinking habits, or are too lazy to get out of bed, this can control our lives –  instead of us controlling how we eat, drink, sleep, etc. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

I believe this can also be extended to our scenario in Melachim, and to parenting in general. Parents must strike a healthy balance of love and admonition with their children. If they go to one extreme of abuse and power or the other extreme of always looking the other way and letting their children do whatever they desire, it is very possible the child will rebel against their parents one day. We must achieve  a healthy median!

In this week’s Haftorah for parshas Vayera we read from Melachim Beis, in which Elisha, the student of Eliyahu HaNavi, acts with faithful kindness towards a desolate widow and a barren but wealthy wife. At this time in history there was an enormously  evil King Achav of Yisrael who, with his queen, Izevel killed almost all of Hashem’s prophets because they only wanted false prophets to be left. The prophet Ovadia hid 100 prophets, Fifty in one cave and fifty in another, and he borrowed money from Yehoram, Achav’s son, to feed these prophets. Ovadia was eventually caught and killed. In the opening of the haftorah we find Ovadia’s widow screaming at Elisha the Prophet because Yehoram is coming after her to collect his debt and she has no way to pay him. Elisha gives her a blessing that if she sells oil in a jug of hers it will pay off the debt. The blessing came true and she did not have to wait for oil prices to rise. When Ovadia’s wife originally came to Elisha, she told him: “Your servant, my husband, passed away, and you know that your servant was a G-D fearing Jew…” (Melachim Beis 4:1). The Ralbag says the reason why she had to say this was because she was saying that Ovadia feared Hashem and did not engage in idolatry, for at the time most Jews were involved with idolatry. The Yalkut Shimone says that if not for Ovadia’s wife’s merit the Jews would have already been lost, G-D forbid.

Afterwards the Haftorah tells of Elisha’s travels and how he was put up by a couple in Shunam who were very well-to-do, and they built an attic for him to stay the night and gave him food to eat whenever he passed through. The couple never had children and were growing old, so Elisha blessed them with the promise of having a child the following season, out of gratitude for all they have done for him. The blessing came true and they had a son; but one day he went out to the field to meet his father and complained of major headaches. He was taken home and passed away in his mother’s lap. She ran to Elisha and told him what had happened, and said that he had promised her offspring to continue their line. So Elisha  went back to the house to see if he could revive the child from the dead.

The Navi depicts what happened next: “And Elisha came into the house, and behold the lad was dead, laid out on his bed. And he came and closed the door about both of them; and he prayed to Hashem. And he went up and lay on the child, and placed his mouth on his mouth, and his eyes on his eyes and his palms on his palms, and he prostrate himself upon him: and the child’s flesh became warm. And he returned and walked in the house once here and once there, and he went up and prostrated himself upon him: and the lad sneezed, up to seven times, and the lad opened his eyes” (Melachim Beis 4: 32-35).

The Ralbag depicts the scene: “He closed the door behind both of them. There was no one in the house except for the two of them (Elisha and the child). This is because Elisha did not want anyone around so that his prayers will be more complete and so that no person will see what he will be doing. When he placed his mouth on his mouth it was as if he wanted to flow life into the lad from Elisha’s limbs. Behold, he did this after he davened. He got up to continue to daven after this. He was pacing the house with all his heart and intent (kavana) in prayer. The movements of his legs were driven by the song of music which moved in dances which all flowed from his senses, just like one engrossed in thought whose soul is stirred by them one time driven one way another time driven another way, quick movement while meditating. He remembered after the prayer to go and prostrate onto the child. The child then sneezed. Elisha did this order of praying and to prostrate and stretch himself on top of the lad 7 times and then the child opened his eyes and the resurrection was complete.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The Radak, along the same lines as the Ralbag, adds that Elisha lay across the lad in order to heat him up, with the natural heat that comes out of his mouth, eyes, and body, because most miracles are done  through little tricks from the ways of the world. It is clear that the child was brought back to life through Hashem answering Elisha’s prayers, but the miracle was masked in a bit of worldly power, by him lying on the lad each time after he davened. If this is the case why did Elisha want to hide this from the public?

Previously the Ralbag had mentioned two reasons why Elisha kept himself alone with the boy. One was so that his prayers would be more complete, and the second was that no one would know what he was doing. We depicted before, the gravity of the times: Hashem’s prophets were being slain, most of the Jews worshiped idols, and if not for Ovadia’s widow the Jewish people would have deserved destruction at that time. So wouldn’t it have been a tremendous Kiddush Hashem if Elisha had brought the lad back to life through Hashem answering his prayers even if it was done in public for all to see, with ‘cameras rolling?’ If he was worried about his prayers not being as complete in public, then in the merit of the impact this would have on the crowd, to stir them towards repentance, Hashem would have  answered Elisha’s prayers. How could they have not been inspired after seeing Hashem bringing a poor defenseless child back to life?! The open miracle would be so touching and inspiring; how could anyone have denied it! They would see Elisha deep in prayer towards Hashem, and  his prostration on the limp body would obviously be a very minor element towards bringing him back to life, as everyone knows blowing into the mouth of a dead person and warming him up won’t bring him back to life. It is an undeniably obvious miracle from Hashem. So why didn’t Elisha use this moment to sanctify Hashem’s Holy Name?

We see from here how important it is to act with modesty even at the expense of the potential impact  that not doing so might have. This was a private miracle, done for the child and his family. It did not impact anyone else and therefore no one has to know miracles were performed through Elisha. That is what modesty and humility are all about. One can’t feel because he can potentially change the world that he has the right to flaunt the abilities or influence he has. If it is not the right time and place to teach everyone a lesson, then the individual’s responsibility is to work on his or herself, or on the task at hand, and not to worry about others; that is Hashem’s job.

This week’s Haftorah is within chapter 40 and 41 of Yeshaya. We find the connection to this week’s Torah portion of Lech Lecha in the beginning of the 41st perek: “Who aroused from the east, the one whom righteousness accompanied? He placed nations before him and over kings He gave him dominion; He makes his sword like dust, his bow like wind-blown stubble. He pursues them and passes on safely, on a path upon which he had not come with his feet. Who worked and did, who calls the generations from the beginning; I Hashem, am first, and with the last ones I am He. The islands shall see and fear; the ends of the earth shall quake; they have approached and come. Each one shall aid his fellow, and to his brother he shall say, ‘Strengthen yourself’” (Yeshaya 41:2-4).
The Radak says these pesukim refer to Avraham Avinu: “’Who aroused from the east,’ refers to Avraham Avinu who Hashem instructed to leave his homeland in the east which was a place of idolatry. Where ever he went Avraham proclaimed Hashem’s righteousness and truth. He would say to them, leave your idols for they have no substance and serve The One Who Created The World, and he would teach them the ways of faith. Isn’t this amazing! One person amongst the whole world who were all idolaters and he rebuked them about their faith and he was not afraid of them and they even made him ruler over them. Who inspired his heart to do this, isn’t it I, Hashem?! Who gave before him nations and caused kings to fall in his midst. They were the four kings, Kedarlaomer and the rest of them which Avraham chased with 318 men, smote them and save the prisoners of war (which included his nephew, Lot.) He also took all the spoils. This was all done with much trust in Me (Hashem).” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Avraham Avinu had an unbreakable faith and trust in Hashem which led him to embark upon  a spiritual war against the world  of idolatry, and a physical war against the four kings and there mighty armies (in order to save Lot). He was successful in both endevours, but it was all Hashem’s will, which he believed in and sacrificed his life for.

The Radak says that when the heads of faraway lands  heard of this great thing that  had been done, they feared and trembled; even those at the ends of the earth  heard the legend of what had happened, and were stirred by the matter. They then traveled and came close to meet Avraham, just as the king of Sodom did, who went out to meet him. Nevertheless, each one  helped the others  to build idols, and  would not place upon their hearts either knowledge or insight into how this matter with Avraham actually came about –that with just 318 men he was victorious over 4 great kings. This was an incredible feet, for one cannot say that these  4 kings were weak, as they  were the four who were first victorious over 5 kings (which included Sodom), and struck at the whole entire land! If so, they should have paid attention to why this amazing thing happened through Avraham. Rather the truth is that his faith is different than the faith of all the nations. And The Almighty who he clung to and served Him helped him over these kings. Not only did these other rulers not admit this, but they strengthened themselves more in their idol worship and  said with fear and trepidation from the great act they were privy to, that: ‘We should strengthen ourselves and reinforce our allegiance to our gods.’ Each one to their idol, and they even helped each other do it. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Avraham actually helped save the king of Sodom and his people from the four kings. The king of Sodom was an eyewitness to all the miracles that happened. He saw the hand of G-D bring salvation to him and his nation; yet we all know what happened to Sodom in the end. It was destroyed by Hashem for their evil ways. Yeshaya speaks of other nations who heard firsthand reports of Avraham’s steadfast belief in his G-D and the miracles his G-D did for him and they stood in fear and wanted to see what was going on, who is this person, who is this G-D of his; but in the end they were uninspired. Not only did they not change, they helped each other and encouraged each other to hold firm  to their old ways, strengthening their grip on their idols.

It would seem that Avraham, the king of Sodom, and the other leaders in the world, all had some revelation or some degree of clarity that there must be some Omnipotent being in the world. But whereas Avraham’s reaction was to seek out the source of the Omnipresence and to try to get as close to it as he could, everyone else not only ignored the flashing lights and signals, but ultimately went in the opposite direction, strengthening their old beliefs and helping each other stick to their old ways. It is obvious that Avraham, with his realization and insight into Hashem, had an incredibly deep sense and feeling of fear of Hashem. Why did Avraham’s fear of Hashem have different results than the leaders’ fears and trepidation of Hashem?

It would seem that the difference between Avraham and everyone else was that Avraham had a system to channel his realized fears and trepidation of The Almighty One. Avraham realized from the age of three that there must be an Almighty, All Powerful, Master of the Universe who created and sustains everything. With that knowledge he built a very strong base of faith and trust in Hashem, to the point that he was able to look around Hashem’s world and figure out Hashem’s will; i.e. all the mitzvos; even before Hashem officially gave the Torah. However, everyone else did not have a system to channel their fear and trepidation over the awesome effects and miracles they heard or saw.They were curious, but they did not know what to do with themselves. Their faith was different, and so when left lawless with no system to channel it,they violently moved as far from the proper path as they could, with the result being that Sodom and the other nations helped each other to grow there ideologies. The reason why they did not come to the same realization and recognition as Avraham did was due to their lack of trying to gain knowledge and insight into the ultimate truth.

The Radak, with his keen eye points out that in pasuk 3 Yeshaya is speaking in the future tense, the message being that whatever Hashem did with Avraham, He will do the same with all the righteous in every generation who have  a love for Hashem as Avraham had. In fact in pesukim 8-10  Yeshaya says: “But you, Israel my servant, Yaakov whom I have chosen, the seed of Avraham, who loved Me. Whom I grasped from the end of the earth, and from its nobles I called you, and I said to you, ‘You are My servant’, I chose you and I did not despise you. Do not fear I am with you; be not discouraged for I am your G-D: I encouraged you, I also helped you, I also supported you with My righteous hand.”

The Radak says we, the children of Avraham, who chose to cling to Hashem and leave idolatry to become His servant, we are also his servants. And He will redeem us from exile; therefore we should not be afraid, for He is with us and will save us in due time. May it come speedily in our days!

This Shabbos is Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan on which we read a special haftorah from the last chapter of Yeshaya. Most of the haftorah depicts the end of days, after Moshiach reveals himself and Yerushalayim  is rebuilt with the Beis HaMikdash, and many non-Jews will bring the Jewish people back from exile, with honor, up to Yerushalayim. However, there will be one f(r)action who will rise up to attack the Jewish people in Yerushalayim, who will then fall in a blazing storm of fire and brimstone as a show of Hashem’s awesome might and power. The war, the war of Gog and Magog, is depicted in a number of places in Navi including Zecharya, Yechezkel, and the last chapter of Yeshaya.
After the great fall of Gog and Magog, the survivors of the war will spread out to the corners of the earth to publicize Hashem’s sovereignty and bring everyone else, including lost, assimilated Jews, up to Yerushalayim to proclaim Hashem’s Majesty and Oneness over the entire world. Yeshaya says: “And they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a tribute to the Lord, with horses and chariots, and with covered wagons and with mules, and with joyous songs upon My holy mount, Yerushalayim, says the Lord, as the Children of Israel bring the offering in a pure vessel to the house of the Lord. And from them too will I take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord” (Yeshaya 66:20, 21).

The Radak explains that even those Jews who will be entrenched in the ways of the gentiles, living on far off islands to the point that they forgot their roots and did not return from exile with the rest of the Jewish people -  still in all Hashem will take them to be Kohanim and Leviim for they are already from the family of Koheins and Levis. He will take the Koheins to serve as kohanim before Him and the Levis to serve as Leviim to sing and play musical instruments. The Radak goes on to quote from our sages that when Hashem says “I will also take from amongst them…” They [the gentiles] will bring them and their gifts, amongst them will be a Yisrael, a Kohen, and a Levi.For example, if they were sold into slavery and  forgot their roots, and were forced to be assimilated amongst the gentiles, Rebbe Eliezer says that also from them I will take. For they will bring them to the King Moshiach anyone who had amongst them a Yisrael, Kohen or Levi, I will also take them from amongst. those who came and who were brought. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Metzudas Dovid points out that these Jews must have some proof that they are Jewish, having come from a Jewish mother. Whether they are aware of this or someone else knows that their mother’s mother was Jewish, whatever the case,  they  must be authentic Jews. However, once that is determinedand Eliyahu HaNavi identifies that they have Kohen or Levite lineage (which means their father was a Kohen or Levi), they will then  serve in the Beis Hamikdash like any other devout Kohen or Levi.

Imagine Zeeks, the heavy metal rock star from Australia, with piercings all over his body, totally assimilated into the Australian pop culture, dragged to Jerusalem, being told he was not only a Jew but a Levite and his Jewish nation just became rulers of the entire world with The King Moshiach at their helm, with everyone bowing down to The King Almighty Master of the Universe. He now has the chance to sing praises to Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash with all the other Leviim. Or imagine Jonathan the fisherman, who has a knife collection and loves to hunt and fish off the shores of Alaska. Living amongst the Alaskan Eskimos whom he befriended, living off of fresh bear meat and fish. Now he is told he is Jewish and is brought to Jerusalem, bringing gifts before Hashem andsanctifying His Holy Name. Eliyahu HaNavi identifies him as a Kohen and he is now assigned to be part of the rotation to serve in the Beis HaMikdash.

The Beis HaMikdash, a place which one could be executed for stepping into in a state of  impurity. It is a place of the highest degree of holiness, the focal point of where Hashem’s Divine Presence will rest, speedily in our days. The service in the Beis HaMikdash must be done with the utmost of purity and to the most minute degrees of perfection, with not even  a wayward thought crossing one’s mind, lest it affect  the offering. Certainly every action must be meticulous and done with the utmost concentration and fear of Hashem; yet, a Kohen or Levi who until now has been totally assimilated into the gentile physical world, the antithesis of purity and Jewish Law, will now come and serve in the Beis HaMikdash, either to sing and play instruments amongst the Leviim if he is a Levi, or to perform the services like bringing the offerings in the Beis Hamikdash, on the alter itself (of course after he is purified and taught what to do)? One would think these services would only be reserved for those of utmost holiness, those who spent their whole life yearning for this day to come! The ones who looked forward to and prepared themselves for the Final Redemption and the rebuilding of Beis HaMikdash. Once Moshiach comes, only people ingrained with deep levels of fear in Hashem and a lifelong wealth of knowledge of how to serve Him should be deserving of participating in such pristine holiness and divine service.Yet we are taught here that even one who was totally lost from the guild and engrossed in a mode of life far from holiness will be accepted with open arms to play his role in serving Hashem as anyone else in the Beis HaMikdash. How can this be?

We see from here that no matter how far gone a Jew is from Judaism he is still a Jew, and if he is a Levi or a Kohen he is still a Levi or a Kohen, and nothing can take that away. No matter what he has done in his life he still has the potential to reach the greatest heights and to reconnect with Hashem on the highest levels. No matter how delicate and sensitive the service, he has the potential to perform that service just as well as anyone who grew up preparing and working on themselves for that very opportunity. This is what he was born to do, it’s inside him. It just has to be unleashed or revealed. G-D willing, may all Jews come together and witness this incredible experience speedily in our days!

“Rebbe Chananya ben Akashya said: HaKadosh Baruch Hu wanted to give merit to the Jewish people, therefore he gave them a lot of Torah and mitzvos, as it says: ‘Hashem desires for the sake of His righteousness, that the Torah be made great and glorious’ (Yeshaya 42:21)” (Last Mishna in the tractate of Makkos).
This famous verse in Yeshaya is said in our prayers every day at the end of U’va Litzion. It is also in the haftorah for the Torah portion of Breishis. The pasuk before states: “There is much to see but you do not observe, to open the ears but no one listens” (Yeshaya 42:20). Yeshaya then says, in the very next pasuk:  “Hashem desires for the sake of His righteousness, that the Torah be made great and glorious.” Rashi over there comments that Yeshaya is telling the Jews: “You see a lot of things before you but you don’t watch to concentrate on My deeds and to return (do teshuva) to Me. I am actively opening your ears through My prophets and no wise person is listening to My word.  Hashem desires to show you and to open your ears for the sake of His righteousness; therefore He makes great and makes more splendorous Torah for you.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Hashem’s will can potentially be seen all around us, simply by looking around at the world. The medrish relates that Avraham Avinu figured out how to observe the entire Torah simply by opening up his eyes and ears to what was around him, with the express intent to try and figure out what the Almighty wanted from him. This is obviously not an easy task; the people in the times of Yeshaya were not even listening to the prophets Hashem sent them (in order to return them onto the right path). Eventually, the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed and the Jewish People were exiled.

Hashem said that out of his pure righteousness and love for his people, he set down on a silver platter the means to follow His will and to make this world a better place. That is why He gave us the Torah on Har Sinai – because He knew it would not be easy to figure it out all by ourselves. The Torah, with all its depth, breadth, and minutia, is still not out of our reach. It will also be with us forever. However, we still have to willingly open our eyes, ears, and hearts, in order to find it, and to live a life of merit.

The concluding Torah portion of Vezos HaBracha is read on Simchas Torah. In this Torah portion we are at the very end of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life, during which he blessed all the tribes. In Levi’s blessing he says: “They shall teach Your ordinances to Yaakov, and Your Torah to Yisrael; they shall place incense before You, and burnt offerings upon Your alter” (Devarim 33:10).
The Ralbag learns a very important lesson from this pasuk: “It is befitting for anyone who has a part of the perfection of man to perfect his fellow man. For this is the way Hashem ensures the perfection of those around in a fashion that they will not be cut short from reaching as much perfection as they can accept. This is why it states, “They shall teach Your ordinances to Yaakov, and Your Torah to Yisrael,” as if to say they shall know Your ordinances and Your Torah to instruct them, meaning after they know it they are obligated to teach it to Klal Yisrael.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The teaching and dissemination of Torah is perfecting oneself and his fellow man because the Torah, being the blueprints of creation, is also the handbook or guide for life itself. Imagine you were a doctor and you walk onto a battlefield strewn with injured men, and worse. Some are sick, some have lost limbs, all are in pain and agony for not being in a healthy state. You are pained and sickened at the sight but you can’t turn away. If you have the ability and tools to help them recover, you must tend to them. You must heal them. You should feel empowered to do whatever it takes to get them back to perfect health when you can.

This is all the more true for one who has the wealth of Torah under his belt. The Torah is what brings us to perfection since it was created by the Almighty, and any part of the Torah which one learns brings one closer to perfection. Therefore, living in the battlefield of life, among others who are more and less perfect than you, one must feel compelled to perfect oneself and, in turn, perfect others, when he or she has the tools and ability to do so.

The Ralbag said this is the method that Hashem uses to spread the instruction booklet of life. Not with humongous billboards or pamphlets dropping from heaven, but with teachers teaching what they were taught from their  instructors, going back for generations from when Moshe received the Torah from Hashem. Since this is the method to perfect humanity, anyone who has the proper means to contribute to the perfection of the world should feel, and is, obligated to do so.

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.