Vayelech – Comfort Zone

There are 613 mitzvos [commandments] in the Torah. The last of which  is taught in this week’s Torah portion of Vayelech: “And now write for you this Song and teach it to the Children of Israel” (Devarim 31:19). In this verse the Torah is commanding every Jewish man to ‘have’ a Torah. This is source of the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll. Practically, for those who are not trained scribes, one can fulfill this mitzvah simply by being involved in the writing of a Torah scroll, even just one letter..
The Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 613) discusses the root of this mitzvah: “Since it is known about mankind that the effort they put into doing something is based on the preparation needed for it, therefore Hashem commanded each and every Jew to have a Torah by him so he can constantly be reading it and he will not have to go to his friend’s house to find one. This is in order to learn to fear Hashem and to know and be enlightened in His dear and precious mitzvos which are like a great treasure of gold. It was commanded of every Jew to put in the effort to have one, even if his father bequeathed one to him in order so that there will be many Torah books amongst us and we can lend them out to those who cannot afford to buy their own. Another benefit to having new books is so that each Jew can read from them and not be disgusted [or turned off] from old prints that there father had left them. And you should know my son, that even though the main Torah obligation is only to have a Torah scroll, there is no doubt that other Torah books which were published as commentary on the Torah, one should acquire them if it is within his means for the reason we said above even if his father left him a collection. This is the way of any formidable person who is also G-D fearing who is able to establish a beis medrish in their house for authors to write many Torah books according to the blessing Hashem has given them.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
We learn from this Sefer HaChinuch that the final mitzvah of the Torah is not just to write a Torah scroll, but rather to have a large collection of sefarim, for example a Chumash and a Tanach, as well as the Talmud, other explanations on the Torah, and commentaries on the commentaries. Basically, whatever is needed to teach a fear of Hashem, and to appreciate fulfilling His Torah and mitzvos.

What is interesting to note is that even if one inherits a vast collection of sefarim, he still has a mitzvah to grow his own collection. One of the reasons for this is that in the event that the print is old or crumbly, the worn out conditions of the old sefarim might be displeasing for his heart’s content. Why should this be of a concern?

There is a gemara in Brachos 63b which states in the name of Reish Lakish: “How do we know that Torah can only survive within someone who kills himself over it? The Torah states: ‘This is the Torah, a person who dies in a tent’” (Bamidbar 19:14). The Torah Temimah (note 63) explains that this gemara is referring to a person who toils very hard to acquire Torah knowledge. What it means to kill oneself over Torah is to weaken oneself through his learning. (Click here for Hebrew text)

True Torah learning and delving into the profundities of the Torah can only be done through such grueling study that it could break a person and physically weaken his body through such diligent learning. One would think that if it takes such self-sacrifice to pummel the depths of Torah it should not make a difference what kind of book he is learning out of. Nothing should faze him or get in the way of attaining the truth of Torah; however we learn from this Sefer HaChinuch that in order to be successful in one’s learning a person should be attuned to his  comfort zone, and he must effectively sink into the depths of the Torah and submerge himself in its back breaking toil.

We even find in Pirkei Avos (6:4) that when it says “This is the way of Torah: bread with salt you shall eat, and water in measure to drink, and on the ground you shall sleep, and a life of suffering you shall live, and in Torah you shall toil. And if you do this happy you will be and good for you,” Rashi says on this Mishna that it is not referring to the rich. They do not need to suffer in order to learn Torah; rather, what it means is that even if a person only has bread and salt etc. and no mattress or pillow to sleep on, he still should not stop his involvement in Torah study, for in the end he will learn Torah in wealth. (Click here for Hebrew text)

We see from here that there is no concept of torturing oneself to learn Torah. A person must be in his comfort zone, and that will help him learn diligently. He has to be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of learning, but he still has to find his comfort zone to be successful. The litmus test is his diligence; the drive to keep on learning and getting clarity in Torah and mitzvos. Once one gets into the groove of learning then he will get so involved it could take a toll on him, but the feeling of elation and success will be overwhelming inside him and he will thirst for more.

Shemos – Power in Numbers

The haftorah for parshas Shemos takes place in Yeshayahu, within perakim 27-29. The majority of the haftorah deals with the decrepit spiritual state of the kingdoms of Yisrael and Yehuda before they were exiled. In it Yeshaya reprimands the Jewish people: “These, too, erred because of wine and strayed because of liquor; priest and prophet erred because of liquor, they became corrupt because of wine; they went astray because of liquor, they erred against the seer, they caused justice to stumble. For all tables were filled with vomit and ordure, without place” (Yeshayahu 28:7, 8).
Based on the second pasuk quoted, Rebbe Shimon, in Pirkei Avos says: “Three people who eat at a table and do speak words of Torah by it, it is as if they ate from dead sacrifices (i.e. offering brought for idolatry) as it says ‘For all tables were filled with vomit and ordure, without place’ (Yeshayahu 28:7, 8). However, three that ate at a table together and speak words of Torah is as if they ate at Hashem’s table, as it is written, ‘And he spoke to me, this is the table that is before Hashem. (Yechezkel 41:22). Rashi on Pirkei Avos points out that people generally fulfill this obligation of saying words of Torah at the table with birkas hamazon (Grace After the Meal).
The Rabbeinu Yona gives a sharp rebuke and lamentation when explaining the first half of this Mishna: “This means to say that all tables are as if they are filled with idolatrous offerings, which are considered like vomit and ordure, since words of Torah were not said by them. For when three people sit together they are called a group (chabura), they are able to create a zimun for birkas hamazon, and people should not get together only for their own enjoyment. So when there are no words of Torah amongst them, which is unlatching the yoke of Torah, and they are eating and drinking and enjoying themselves without thinking about the Torah in their hearts, woe to them and woe to their enjoyment!” (Click here for Hebrew text)
The Mishna is talking about a group of at least three people who come together to feast and have a fun time. While they might have even made brachos before eating, they did not say birkas hamazon at the end of the meal and they certainly did not speak any words of Torah during the meal; this the sages call lawlessness, and it is equated to idolatry. Why is there such a severe stance for a group eating together like this? There is no indication that they believe in another god; and why does this apply to three or more people eating together? Shouldn’t the same issue apply if an individual was not learning with a sefer (Torah book) while eating, or when two people are eating together?

It might be true that it is inappropriate to eat alone or with a friend without mentioning a word of Torah, and it is certainly wrong  not to bentch after the meal, but this setting does not cause such a severe aura of idolatry. However when coming together as a group to enjoy themselves with eating and drinking without any mention of Hashem when together that creates a setting of lawlessness; a feeling of being in there own bubble outside the world of Torah which is akin to idolatry.

We find the opposite extreme as well. Chazal teach us that our prayers are under much scrutiny when davening by ourselves but when ten or more men come together to make a minyan everyone is equal. There is also a concept of birov am hadras melech, the more people who come together to perform a mitzvah the more honor is given to the King Of All Kings, for example it is better to hear megilla on Purim in a larger congregation.

We see that there is sometimes a qualitative effect on the quantity of people that come together for good or for bad. Numbers set standards, create impressions, that’s the power in the numbers!

Vayechi – From Inside Out

The Yalkut Shimone says that Hashem gave three things  on condition: Eretz Yisrael, the Beis HaMikdash, and the kingship of the Davidic dynasty. The Torah and the covenant with Aharon, that his genealogy will always be Kohanim, were given as pure gifts, with no strings attached (Yalkut Shimone Melachim Alef, perek 2, paragraph 170.)
This week’s Torah portion of Vayechi concludes Sefer Breishis. We find Yaakov gathering together and giving blessings to all his children at the end of his life. In correlation, the Haftorah is read from Melachim Alef, perek 2, which discusses King David’s charge to his son Shlomo at the end of his life: “And the days of David drew near that he should die; and he charged Shlomo, his son, saying: ‘I go the way of all the earth; you shall be strong, and you shall be a man. And keep the charge of Hashem your G-D to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, and His mitzvos, His law, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Torah of Moshe, that you may be more intelligent in all that you do, and wherever you turn. That Hashem may continue His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your children take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you,’ said He, ‘a man on the throne of Israel” (Melachim Alef 2:1-4).

Shlomo was 12 years of age when his father, King David, anointed him king. The Ralbag says that when King David charged Shlomo with “you shall be strong and you shall be a man,” he meant that “your actions should not be actions of a young lad but should be actions of a great man. But this would only happen if he sought out advice.” King David was giving a very important lesson to his son Shlomo; that no matter how powerful you are or how smart you are you should always seek advice, which is the key to greatness.

Then the Ralbag explains King David’s next charge: “That [Shlomo] should safeguard with his heart that which Hashem commands him to keep, however this is only possible through learning the Torah. This learning should be with focus for the purpose of walking in the ways of Hashem from that which is mentioned in the Torah and to keep all the statutes and mitzvos and laws and testimonies that are written in the Torah of Moshe. For with this learning you will become more intelligent and you will know all that you are supposed to do in all circumstances that come your way. You will also become more intelligent and you will know all that is befitting wherever you turn. A parable [to understand this] is if a person does not know that he is obligated to sit in a sukkah on Sukkos he will turn from putting any effort in making one, and this will be a reason to not fulfill this mitzvah.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Shlomo was a child prodigy chosen by Hashem through the prophet Nosson to inherit the throne from his father, King David. The continuation of the throne through the Davidic line is contingent on the devotion King David’s lineage has for Hashem. One would think King David would give more specific advice similar to “always seek advice from others,” instead of just the generic “if you learn Torah and abide by the Torah you will be successful.” Is that all he was saying in his second piece of advice? And if that was all that King David was saying, why does the Ralbag need a parable to explain the lesson? Furthermore, isn’t it obvious that if one does not know he has to sit in the sukkah then he won’t fulfill the mitzvah? What does it mean “this will be a reason to not fulfill this mitzvah?” That implies that there could be other reasons why the mitzvah would not be fulfilled; isn’t the fact that he does not know what the mitzvah is is the greatest reason not to fulfill it?

If you look closely into what the Ralbag says you’ll see an incredibly deep message King David was delivering to Shlomo. He knew that Shlomo was highly intelligent even before Shlomo was given the gift from Hashem of becoming the smartest person in the world. He also knew the power Shlomo would be getting himself into. It is very easy to use one’s intellect and power to manipulate decisions, and even such a great person like Shlomo, who was destined to write Koheles and Mishlei, might potentially succumb to his own great power and intellect, claiming that he was simply serving Hashem with a full heart, whereas in actuality he would be doing his own thing. To this King David said: “However this is only possible through learning the Torah.” King David was telling Shlomo that he must first delve into the depth of Torah with the attitude and focus of trying to figure out what Hashem wants him to do now, applying his in-depth Torah-analysis to fulfilling mitzvos, applying it to everyday life and to the outside world, instead of applying the outside world to understanding the Torah. In this way, King David assured Shlomo that he won’t have any hesitations and that he will have the resolve to figure out any situations that comes his way, as long as that is the way he approaches the situation. By applying the Torah to life and not applying the outside world to his understanding of the Torah, he will become the perfect servant of Hashem, and a successful monarch.

Now we can understand the need for the parable and what the parable was saying. Imagine if Shlomo, with his intellect and power, got together the greatest architects in the world and told them he wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah on Sukkos but he did not know he is supposed to sit inside it. So they build this marvelous edifice for him which is gorgeous and he is excited to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah but he doesn’t know that he’s supposed to sit inside it; as much as he wanted to fulfill the mitzvah and as beautiful of a creation he has built  for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah, he still can’t do it if he does not realize he was supposed to make something to sit in.

People today are looking to become more spiritual, to get closer to G-D, but in their own way. However, that is missing the point. Hashem gave us an instruction booklet on how to get close to him with very fine details. Why don’t we learn it, examine it, and get clarity in it. But don’t try to apply other philosophies or sciences to the Torah; rather, use the Torah to try to understand the world around you. If one does that, it is guaranteed that his or her decisions in life will be made easier.

Vayigash – Messengers of Hashem’s Love

Did you ever wonder why Judaism is not into proselytizing but does engage in what we call “outreach” (but is really inreach?)
One of the answers lies towards the end of this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Vayigash which takes place in Sefer Yechezkel perek 37.

The Gemara in Kiddushin 70b quotes Rabba bar Rav Huna saying: “The following is an advantage one [born] Jewish has over converts. For by one [born] Jewish it writes, ‘I will be G-D to them and they will be a people to me.’ (This is in our Haftorah, Yechezkel 37:27). Whereas a convert it writes, ‘Who is he that has pledged his heart to draw near to me? Says Hashem. You will be a people to Me, and I will be G-D to you’ (Yirmiyahu 30:21, 22).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What does it matter how one is Jewish? Why should one born Jewish have any advantages over a person who converted to Judaism? On the contrary we say in the first Hallelukah in pesukai dizimra every morning: “Hashem protects strangers” (Tehillim 146:9), and the Radak there says that Hashem is the Protector of all weak and defenseless strangers, whether uprooted Jews or gentile converts?!

In truth Rashi on this gemara sheds light on Rabba bar Rav Huna’s statement, “By one born Jewish it writes “’And I will be G-D to them’ even though they aren’t acting as a nation to me.  And through Me bringing them close they will be to me a nation. But when it comes to converts, they are not brought close from Heaven unless they first come close by themselves to be good.”

Rashi is explaining to us the difference between one born Jewish and a convert. Hashem, out of his immense fatherly love, is actively taking care of His children and is always running after them to bring them back to His palace and way of life ,no matter how far they have strayed. Whereas a convert had to find his own way to Hashem, but once he is there he has the same protexiaas any other Jew.  This is a tremendous advantage of one born Jewish over a convert; he always has that eternal love radiated on him, from the time he is born, no matter how rebellious he is;whereas a non-Jew could wonder around in darkness all his life, never finding the light, if he does not truly search for it.

How does Hashem search out and bring back those that are far away? He does not drop pamphlets from Heaven, neither does He speak to them individually. How does Hashem express His love and care for every single Jew?

The answer is that, that is why there are so many kiruv professionals in the world today. There is a kiruv movement because that is the way Hashem is bringing His children back to Him; they are the messengers of Hashem. But in truth ,anyone could be a messenger of Hashem. You don’t have to be a professional. Any person who brings his fellow Jew closer to Hashem, showing him or her the proper way of performing His mitzvos and teaching him or her Torah, are messengers of Hashem, to bring them back to His Palace.

If every Jew would realize the love and affection Hashem has for them, they would be running home to His Palace, or at least be seeking Hashem’s messengers for proper guidance. But alas, we have to be appreciative that we have the honor to act as the King of all King’s messengers to search out and bring home His princes and princesses. May we all come Home speedily in our days.

Shabbos Chanukah – Not by Might and Not by Power but Spirit Alone!

There is an optional prayer one can say towards the end of “Shema Koleinu” in shemoneh esrei, for one’s livelihood. Asking Hashem for financial support so that one can do Hashem’s will, engage in learning His Torah and fulfilling His mitzvos, and not needing (or being dependent on) the gift of flesh and blood. The question that comes to mind is: how does one expect to earn his livelihood? From money growing on trees, or falling from heaven?

In a similar vein, it says  we find at the end of this week’s haftorah for Shabbos Chanukah, in the fourth perek of Zechariah it says:

“And the angel who spoke with me returned, and he awakened me as a man who wakes up from his sleep. And he said to me, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I saw, and behold [there was] a menorah all of gold, with its oil-bowl on top of it, and its seven lamps thereon; seven tubes each to the lamps that were on top of it. And [there were] two olive trees near it; one on the right of the bowl, and one on its left. So I answered and spoke to the angel who talked with me, saying, ‘What are these, my master?’ And the angel who spoke with me answered, and he said to me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ And I said, ‘No, my master.’ And he answered and spoke to me, saying, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbavel, saying: ‘Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:1-6).

Rashi there says that the olive trees next to the menorah crushed and made oil by themselves, which would and then would flow through a pipe into the lamps of the menorah. This was a sign for Zechariah to assure Zerubbavel  that just as the olive produces oil totally by themselves so to, not with your might nor with your power will you build the second Beis HaMikdash. Rather, I will bestow My Spirit on Darius and he will let you (or really command you) to build and make all the needs for the construction of the Beis HaMikdash from his assets. He will help you with wheat, wine, oil, and wood as explained in Sefer Ezra, and you will not need the help of man. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Zechariah was shown how a menorah was being fueled by a pipeline from trees which produced their own oil. The message being that just as the menorah was filled by itself without any human intervention so too the Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt without any Human intervention. The obvious question is that Rashi himself just finished saying that there will be Human intervention because King Darius, (who was the son of Queen Esther) will spearhead and provide for the rebuilding of the Second Beis HaMikdash. Granted Zerubbavel, the Davidic leader of the Jews, would not have to force Darius or use any convincing whatsoever to be allowed to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash because Hashem will implant within Darius the idea to make it happen; but how can one say , “and you will not need the help of man?”

Zerubbavel was the grandson of Yehoyachin, King of Yehudah, before the Babylonian exile. Zerubbavel was also a minister in the palace of King Darius. He had clout and royal lineage but Hashem said: id ‘you won’t have to use any of that, no valor or strength to regain permission to build the Beis HaMikdash for I will plant My Holy Spirit on Darius and he will not only let you, but command you and even help you rebuild the Beis HaMikdash.’  This is called not getting any help from mankind because no one had to use force or to verbally convince anyone to help rebuild the Beis HaMikdash;  rather, Hashem instilled in King Darius’ thoughts to go about getting it done. King Darius was like a puppet in a puppeteer’s hands with Hashem pulling the strings.

When serving Hashem we believe that we have to put in our best efforts and Hashem produces the results. Hashem has, though He has the ability to always create open miracles, something from nothing, bringing the house down from heaven.  However, most of the time He chooses to work within the confines of nature which Hashem Himself created.  Therefore not getting help from mankind does not mean the Beis HaMikdash would appear out of nowhere; , rather,  what it means is that no effort would be needed to ensure that others will help you produce the desired results, rather and instead the help will come by themselves itself out of Divine Inspiration, like a puppet and a puppeteer.

This should be our attitudes about our livelihood as well. Not that we should expect money to appear out of nowhere, right at our door steps or in our bank accounts, but rather we should strive and pray for the ability to serve Hashem, focusing on delving into the depths of His Torah and performing His mitzvos without needing to run around searching for a means of support or spending too much time using our powers and skills to make money. Rather instead  we should be asking Hashem to create situations where us and our families’ sustenance will all come into place with an easy means, a quick but lucrative business deal or some supporter who would like to see us excel, or the like, so that we can put all our focus and energy into Torah and mitzvos, walking in the ways of Hashem, instead of also needing to allocate much of the effort and energy into making a living.

 

Vayeshev – Under Achievers

In this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Vayeshev we read from the Book of Amos. Amos, rebuking the ten tribe of Israel, says: “And I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and some of your young men for Nazirites. Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel? But you made the nazarites drink wine and commanded the prophets saying, ‘You shall not prophesy’” (Amos 2:11, 12).
The Ibn Ezra says that Hashem, through Amos, is telling Israel: “I also placed My Spirit on your children and they gave prophesy in order to teach you my statutes. ‘Sons’ are mentioned for if and elder sage would give prophecy no one would be impressed. The pasuk also mentions young men, who from birth enjoy all sorts of pleasures and happiness, I made them holy to rebuke you and make you holy. How can you deny this saying I didn’t do this?” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
To attain the Holy Spirit of Hashem resting on a person, in order to give prophesy, is not a simple task. It takes going beyond the mastery of all the levels of perfection described in the Sefer Mesillas Yesharim. It  is quite impressive, whether it is attained by a young person or an older person. It would also seem that Hashem endows His holiness upon people who choose to separate themselves from mundane pleasures (like grapes and wine and being clean shaven with a nice hairdo), along with not having any contact with the dead. This special holiness that Hashem bestows on a nazir should be unique, whether given to a younger nazir or an older nazir. So why does Amos go out of his way to specifically describe how the Israelites denied the children and young men of prophesy or the nazerite? The Ibn Ezra says in pasuk 12 that ‘they would force them until they defiled their bodies with the dead and drank wine.’ No matter what age they were, the message is that Hashem is sharing his loftiness with those who earn it, and there were people who were actively trying to dissuade this lofty state from being in existence in order so that it won’t make a positive impression on them. Wouldn’t such lofty heights, such awesome levels, such intense spirituality, make an impact, whomever it came from?

However, in truth, the message is clear. The people were lacking an appreciation of what someone could achieve. If they truly appreciated the levels and heights a person can achieve in holiness and spirituality then they would change themselves and strive to grow closer to those heights, and the biggest impression of this lesson is that even the young, those who have so much going against them to achieve these lofty heights, are able to attain them.  And therefore don’t deny this possibility;  Don’t actively degrade these achievements. If you can come to appreciate them, you will become capable of making changes in your own life, and repenting from your evil ways.

People have the tendency to underachieve and to not appreciate true success. When they see it in others they try to squelch it and ruin it, not realizing that if they were to take a step back and analyze what others have done, they can potentially reach the similar if not the same heights. We must always strive to grow, to achieve, to be lofty, and look around at other who have done the same and learn from their success stories.

Vayishlach – Reality Check

This week’s haftorah for the Torah portion of Vayishlach is the entire book of Ovadiah. Ovadiah was one of the twelve Minor Prophets. The gemara in Sanhedrin 39b says that Ovadiah merited to have prophecy because he hid 100prophets from the evil king Achav. The Gemara also points out that the posuk in Melachim Alef perek 18 mentions Ovadiah as being a very G-D fearing Jew, which is a description better than Avraham merited; he does not have the word very included  when he was referred to as G-D fearing. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Rashi
on the first pasuk in Ovadiah asks: “Why does Ovadiah prophesize about Edom and he didn’t give prophesy about anything else? The Sages said that he was an Edomite convert. Hashem said, ‘From them and with them I will bring upon them.’ Ovadiah shall come who lived amongst two wicked people, Achav and Izevel, and did not learn from there ways and he shall pay back retribution from upon the wicked Esav who lived amongst two righteous people, Yitzchok and Rivka, and did not learn from their ways (Sanhedrin 39b).” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Measure for measure, Ovadiah was sent by Hashem to prophesize about Edom, for just as he lived amongst a wicked king and queen, Achav and Izevel, and did not learn from their ways, so too Esav, whose descendants are Edom, lived amongst his righteous parents, Yitzchok and Rivka, and did not learn from their ways. Not only that, but the Maharsha in Sanhedrin says: “The fact that Ovadiah was an Edomite convert gave more credence to the prophecy, for Ovadiah was from them to testify
about them.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What is quite incredible is that Ovadiah is attributed with the punishment and downfall of Edom, even though it had not happened yet. Rashi on the last pasuk of Ovadiah says that those who will in the future lead Israel out of exile will come to Har Tzion, from which they will complete the conquest of the archenemy, Esav, whose descendants were responsible for the current exile. In fact, Rashi concludes by saying that Hashem’s kingdom will not be complete until He seeks retribution against Amalek. How could Ovadiah have been given credit for Edom’s downfall to the extent that he is even equated in Sanhedrin with King David, who actually defeated Moav, whom King David was descended from? (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

We see from here a whole new level of belief in prophesy. Not only do we have to believe that Hashem’s prophets are true, as the Rambam said in the sixth of The Thirteen Principles of Faith: “I believe with complete faith that all the words of the prophets are true,” but prophesy is also reality, to the degree that Ovadiah is actually attributed with Edom’s downfall, even if it had not happen yet, because he prophesied about it.

We mention in pesukai d’zimrah by the end of Az Yashir every day the last pasuk of Ovadiah: “The saviors will ascend Har Tzion to judge Esav’s mountain, and the kingdom will be Hashem’s.” We have an opportunity every day in our davening to reinforce this belief and make Ovadiah’s prophesy a reality for ourselves.

Vayetzei – It’s Not Easy Doing the Right Thing

This week’s Haftorah for the Torah Portion of Vayetzei is comprised of the final perakim of Hoshea. The very last pasuk states: “Who is wise and will understand these, discerning and will know them; for the ways of Hashem are straight, and the righteous shall walk in them, and the rebellious shall stumble on them” (Hoshea 14:10).
There are many commentaries that explain the lesson of this pasuk. I would like to focus on the Radak’s father’s explanation found in the Radak: “My master, my father of blessed memory explained that ‘and the rebellious shall stumble on them’ refers to when the rebellious will return to the path of Hashem and they will not be used to it like the righteous, then they would stumble in it like a person that does not know his way. This is only referring to the rebellious whose heart is still in there rebellious path. But those that return with a complete heart, Hashem will help them to not stumble. As for the righteous, in what they are accustomed to they walk on a paved, straight path.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
According to the Radak’s father, the entire pasuk is referring to people who want to fulfill the will of Hashem. The pasuk specifically refers to two categories: those that want to serve Hashem and fulfill his Torah and mitzvos but are not 100% committed. They are still somewhat attached to their old ways, so it is not easy to change and do the right thing; they are stumbling. On the other hand there are those who are righteous; they grew up always following the Torah and doing its mitzvos and it is simple for them to  “live the life of Torah.” The Radak adds  a third category of people: those who were  initially rebellious but  later chose to wholeheartedly  walk in the ways of Hashem; it is  not easy for them and they need Hashem’s help to properly do His will. There seems to be a major dichotomy: is it easy to follow Hashem’s Torah and mitzvos or is it hard?

Truthfully, it seems that it is not easy to follow the ways of Hashem, which is why those who are not fully committed will stumble, even if they truly desire to succeed. (Now, it should be pointed out that they will only stumble; it is difficult, but it is not impossible). And that is why those who are fully committed, but were once off the beaten path, need Hashem’s help to get back  and stay on the straight path. But even the righteous only have it easy because they developed, from an early age, a habit to accustom themselves to this way of life. It is not natural.

We see from here how powerful a positive habit could be. It can take something totally unnatural and quite difficulty and make it easy for those that stick to it. But why didn’t Hashem just let us serve him naturally, and give us reward on a silver platter? Why did he make life so hard for us?

I recently heard in the name of the Chofetz Chaim that Hashem wants to make things difficult because if everything came served on a silver platter, as a free handout, then people would be embarrassed to take them, and even if they  took them, they would feel embarrassed on some level for having them. So Hashem, who is all kind and only good, understood that if we were just given our reward and did not earn it there would be something majorly lacking. It would be mighty uncomfortable for us. That is why Hashem, out of his pure love and kindness, makes us work hard for our reward – so that we will feel proud of what we earn.

May we all have much success and blessing in our service of Hashem!

Toldos/Machar Chodesh –  Harmful Words

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!”

Chayei Sarah – Let Him Know Who’s Boss

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!