This Shabbos and Sunday is Rosh Chodesh Elul, on which we read the Haftorah from the last perek of Yeshayahu. Towards the beginning of the Haftorah it states: “Listen to the word of the Hashem, O Charedim, ‘Your brethren who hate you, who cast you out, said, ‘For the sake of my name, Hashem shall be glorified,’ but we will see your joy, and they shall be ashamed.’ There is a sound of stirring from the city, a sound from the Temple, the voice of Hashem, recompensing His enemies” (Yeshayahu 66:5, 6).
Who are Charedim? Rashi says Charedim are “the righteous who hasten through trembling to draw near to His word." “Your brethren” that Hashem warns the Charedim about, Rashi says are the ‘transgressors of Israel’ mentioned above, who said “Turn away, unclean one” (Eicha 4:15). Who also told them: “Keep to yourself, do not come near me” (Yeshaya 65:5). These transgressors of Israel, Rashi says, tells the Charedim: “For the sake of my name, Hashem shall be glorified;” meaning, “With our greatness, the Holy one Blessed be He, is glorified, for we are closer to Him than you are.” Rashi concludes his explanation of the pasuk by saying: “The prophet says, ‘What they are saying is not true, for “we will see your joy, and they shall be ashamed.” Why? For sound of their stirring has come before the Holy One Blessed be He, from what they did in His city, and a sound emanates from His Temple and accuses those who destroyed it, and then the voice of Hashem, punishes His enemy.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
At this time of history, Yeshayahu recounts two groups of Jews during the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash: the Charedim, those who zealously and fervently kept Hashem’s Torah with a deep sense of Yiras Shamayim [fear of Hashem], and another group, who thought they were close to Hashem, and even seemed to be the upstanding citizens of the time, the higher class. But, in Hashem’s eyes, they were transgressors of Israel, who will be paid retribution for their misdeeds. This “higher class,” in their haughtiness, claimed that the Charedim were extremists, unclean people who should keep to themselves and stay away from everyone else, and that, to the contrary, they are closer to Hashem than the Charedim.

Hashem, who can look into the depths of the heart of man, is clearly able to differentiate between good and evil. But how can a person, searching for the truth, in order to do what is right, with only the naked eye, be able to see through the façade of the upper echelon of society who claim to be close to Hashem, while absolutely denigrating  the real righteous people?

The sign to perceive who is right from who is wrong, and to know who to emulate, is within Rashi’s definition of what Charedim are: “the righteous who hasten through trembling to draw near to His word." Rashi does not say the Charedim draw close to Hashem; that is what the sinners of Israel claim they are doing, but in their own way. Rather, they “draw near to His word;” the Charedim scrupulously follow the word of the Torah, Hashem’s blueprints of creation and handbook for mankind. They do it with precision and deep heartfelt fear of Hashem. Not for their honor but for Hashem’s honor. A righteous person truly close to the King would surely run to meticulously follow the King’s rules and laws, especially if he knows it is in his best interest to follow them as well.

The acuity and passion coupled with trembling in awe to observe Hashem’s Torah, to walk in His ways and do His will is the sign of a true Charedi.

In this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Ekev, Yeshayahu proclaims: “Who among you is God-fearing, that obey to the voice of His servant, and now walks in darkness and has no light, let him trust in the name of the Lord and lean on his God” (Yeshayahu 50:10).
The Gemara in Berachos learns a profound incite from this posuk. “Rabin son of Rebbe Adda in the name of Rebbe Yitzchok says [further]: If a man is accustomed to attend Synagogue [daily] and one day does not go, the Holy One, blessed be He, makes inquiry about him. For it is said: ‘Who among you is God-fearing, that obey to the voice of His servant, and now walks in darkness and has no light?’ [And still] if he absented himself on account of some religious purpose, he shall have light. But if he absented himself on account of a worldly purpose, he shall have no light. ‘Let him trust in the name of the Lord.’ Why? Because he ought to have trusted in the name of the Lord and he did not trust” (Gemara Berachos 6b). (Click here and here for complete Hebrew text.)

Rashi
explaining the gemara says that Hashem asks this person who regularly comes to minyan why he didn’t come today. The pasuk refers to him as a G-D fearing Jew because he regularly comes and davens before Hashem. However, today, it is considered as if he went to a dark place and not a light place, because he did not get up early to go to shul.

The Maharsha delves into more detail, and points out that the gemara is trying to rectify how the beginning of the pasuk says: “‘Who among you is God-fearing’ and then calls them “and now walks in darkness.” Meaning, who among you is G-D fearing, to come to shul to listen to the servant of Hashem, referring to the sheliach tzibor (leader of the prayers) because the service of the heart is called prayer, which he is now walking in darkness from since he did not go to minyan. He is now doing something which does not give off light for him which is something mundane, excluding if he didn’t go to shul because he was going to do a mitzvah which he would then be going with light, “for a mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light” and then he would be involved in one mitzvah and exempt from praying with a minyan. And because there are people who think that earning a living to support their family is also a mitzvah, it therefore says: “let him trust in the name of the Lord;” meaning, he should trust in Hashem that he will give him parnasa (livelihood) and he should not have prevented himself from going to shul.

The Iyun Yaakov explains why the gemara is referring to specifically someone who goes to minyan all the time and not everyone. Since this individual habitually fulfills this mitzvah, he definitely should trust in Hashem that nothing bad will happen when going to shul, for one who strictly observes a mitzvah will not have anything bad happen to him. But if he is not regularly doing this mitzvah, he doesn’t have as great of sense of security, since he does not receive reward in this world for the mitzvah at the time it is completed.
Who are we talking about? The pasuk and gemara is talking about a Yirah Shamayim, a G-D fearing Jew, which means this is a person assumingly already imbued with emunah and bitachon, belief and trust in Hashem, who is consistently going to davening with a minyan every day. He might skip a minyan every once in a while when involved with another mitzvah, which is fine. But now he is faced with a business meeting, which he knows will take him away from minyan, but he thinks it is all right because it is a mitzvah to support ones family, which we learn from the gemara in Kesubos 47b. We see there that a kesuba, a marriage document, which includes inside it is the obligation to feed and clothe one’s wife, is all based on pesukim in the Torah. Yet what he overlooks is that the effort (hishtadlus) he is supposed to put into taking care of his family is commensurate with the amount of trust (bitachon) he has in Hashem “for since he habitually fulfills this mitzvah of going to minyan he definitely should trust in Hashem that nothing bad will happen when going to shul for one who strictly observes a mitzvah will not have anything bad happen to him,” as the iyun Yaakov said. But the issue is how he could be receptive to this fact if he thinks he is doing a mitzvah by supporting his family and since he is involved in one mitzvah he thinks he is exempt from praying. So how is it possible for him to realize he is doing something wrong?

A person who develops a habit is transformed by it into a whole new status. For example, a person who always speaks loshon hara, slander, is known as a “baal lashon hara,” and this has very grave consequences. He is treated by Hashem much more severely than one who slanders another only once in a while. So too the opposite is true. If one habitually fulfills a certain mitzvah, for example going to minyan every time, he is transformed into a whole new realm and gets club benefits like rewards in this world and the next. If this person truly valued his status symbol he would have realized that he could go to minyan and Hashem assures him He will take care of his family. This realization comes through a constant focus which can be best met through a consistent regiment of mussar study specifically on the topics of bitachon, as well as reward and punishment.

Staying on top of your game is not easy, even for the best of best. However continuous qualitative reinforcement can keep you on your toes.

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Nachamu based on the opening pasuk of the haftorah: “Nachamu, nachamu ami…” It is the haftorah of consolation read the Shabbos after Tisha b’Av. The first two pesukim of the haftorah state: “Be comforted, be comforted my nation, says your G-D. Speak to the heart of Yerushalayim (referring to the Assembly of Israel) and call to her for her days are filled for her sin is finished for she accepted from the hand of Hashem double [suffering which was given to her through the nations] for all her sins” (Yeshayahu 40:1-2).

The Ibn Ezra, according to his own understanding of these pesukim, says that they refer to our current exile. He points out that the repetition of “nachamu, nachamu” is speaking to the prophet or the leaders of the nation in a quick fashion, or second after second, meaning this is an emotional statement intoning: ‘may you be comforted quickly or constantly’. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Ibn Ezra then says on the beginning of the next pasuk that “one should always speak to the heart in order to remove depression and worry that passes through another.” That is what the pasuk refers to when it says: “Speak to the heart of Yerushalayim”.

The Ibn Ezra is making a bold statement that one should always speak to the heart in order to remove depression and worry. It sounds as if taking successful action to remove the depression or to speak intellectually to the issue in a way that would seem to resolve the worry would still not take care of the problem for anyone – even men of tremendous intellect, sages and leaders of the generation. Why, seemingly, is this the only method to get rid of depression, or at least always must be included in the formula of removing depression and worry?
In context, Yeshayahu’s prophecy is referring to Hashem talking to the Gedolim, rabbinical leaders of the generation, at the end of days. It will be a time in history when the redemption will have come or is undoubtedly imminent. The sense of depression and worry through the generations of exile should therefore be erased; yet this heart to heart conversation is needed for every single Jewish individual.

It would seem that talking emotionally to one who has depression or worry is the only means to get through to them, because you are addressing the emotion with an emotion; you are speaking their language. Hashem showed us how to do this by saying: “Be comforted, be comforted my nation,” in a tone which conferred a sense of consistency or swiftness. A statement which intoned a sense of care and compassion with whom he was talking. May this comfort come speedily in our days.

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Chazon after the beginning of the haftorah: “Chazon Yeshayahu ben Amotz”. Yeshayahu bemoans the state of the Jewish people in his time: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord has spoken; Children I have raised and exalted, yet they have rebelled against Me. An ox knows his owner and a donkey his master's trough; Israel does not know, my people do not concentrate. Woe to a sinful nation, a people heavy with iniquity, evildoing seed, corrupt children. They forsook the Lord; they provoked the Holy One of Israel; they drew backwards” (Yeshayahu 1:2-4). A very apropos selection for the haftorah before we fast in mourning over the destruction of both Batie Mikdash (Holy Temples).
The Ibn Ezra points out that the Jews are specifically compared to an ox and a donkey because they were always found around people. The lesson of the posuk being, “that these animals are better in knowledge than them… because I raised them (the Jews) and they don’t recognize me” (Ibn Ezra on Yeshayahu 1:3). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Yeshayahu seems to be specifically comparing the Jews to an ox who knows his owner and a donkey who knows his master’s trough because they can most relate to the lesson that he is trying to teach them. He is saying that the ox and donkey recognize their owner and master, follow their commands, and trust  in the way they take care of them. However the Jews are not good servants following their Master and trusting in His care; rather, they have forsaken Hashem and forgot who raised them and turned them into a nation.It would be understandable if the Ibn Ezra pointed out how the Jews act differently than how an animal acts towards its owner; however the Ibn Ezra says that  animals are better in knowledge than the Jewish people. How can that be? Even if a human being is rebellious he can still talk, has free choice, and thinks on a more complex level than any animal. So how can the Ibn Ezra say that animals were more knowledgeable than the Jews just because they instinctively follow and don’t disobey their master who trained them and raised them?
We must say that of course the Jewish people were more knowledgeable and smarter than animals. Butin respect to the natural, basic instincts of one trusting and following their master,  they were inferior to animals.

Domesticated animals have the innate ability to bond with their owner. They know their owner will always feed them and give them shelter. They always know where to go back to, how to return home. They follow the commands of their master once they are taught and instructed to do so. A human being also has the ability to be trained to act on instincts. It is called habit. There are good habits and bad habits. If a person does not train himself to trust in Hashem and follow in His ways then his knowledge of his Master in Heaven is worse than an animal’s knowledge of its master.

An animal does have an easier time  following its owner because it is programmed to do that, especially if it has incentives like food or a leash. But a human is endowed with free choice and Hashem purposefully makes it more challenging for one to do the right thing so that he will earn a greater reward for serving Hashem properly. Hwever it seems that we have the ability to and indeed are expected to, reach the level of having complete faith in our Master in Heaven and fulfill His will, just like an animal does and more so. The fact that we have to put in more effort to serve our master makes us greater than any animal. It is just that if we don’t trust and follow our master, the knowledge the animal has of his master is better than our knowledge of our Master.

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Why is it that the Jewish people are considered the Children of Hashem? Isn’t everyone created by Hashem, and therefore wouldn’t Hashem be the father of all of creation?  The answer to this question is found in the Radak on the last pasuk of this week’s haftorah. The haftorah is the second of three special haftorahs read during the Three Weeks, culminating in Tisha B’Av. It is mainly from the second perek of Yirmiyahu, but the last verse for Ashkenazim is in Yirmiyahu 3:4 and says: “Will you not from this time call Me, ‘My Father! Master of my youth are You!”

The Radak says that based on how the pasuk is read, Yirmiyahu is telling the Jews: ‘Isn’t it that now that the rain has stopped and there is a drought you should have returned (repented) to Me and call Me, ‘My father, Master of my youth are You’ who raised them in their younger years which refers to the exodus from Egypt which is when the Jews entered under the wings of the Holy Presence and they were taught the knowledge of Torah and wisdom.’ (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
In the first paragraph of the Shema we say at least twice a day: “You shall teach them to your sons” (Devarim 6:7). Rashi on that pasuk says that the sons referred to are students, and we find in many places that students are called sons. In Bamidbar it says: “These are the descendants of Aharon and Moshe” (Bamidbar 1:3). Rashi there points out that Moshe’s children aren’t mentioned, only Aharon’s. This teaches us that one who teaches another’s son Torah is considered as having given birth to him.

This is why the Jewish people only are referred to as Hashem’s children. Since Hashem gave us the Torah and taught it to us, he transformed us, His students, into His personal children.

However there is a blaring question on the Radak. The Radak, mentions (based on the previous perek which we read in the Haftorah), that there was a famine in the land, and it should have aroused the Jewish people to do teshuva and return to their Father In Heaven, and they would all proclaim “‘My Father! Master of my youth are You!” Wouldn’t it make more sense that a famine would stir up repentance out of fear of the Almighty, All Powerful Hashem Elokim, and they would proclaim ‘Master Of The Universe, King Of All Kings are You?’ Why would they turn to Hashem out of His attribute of being a father and teacher through their punishment of famine, rather than Hashem’s attribute of royalty and power?

It seems that an act of rebuke more likely elicits a response of fatherhood and love as opposed to kingship and awe. We see from here what a profound and impactful impression a teacher can have on his students to the extent that he is viewed as the student’s own father and is the natural response when faced with Divine reproach.

This week we read the first of three Haftorahs that discuss the downfall of the Jews in Israel during the first Beis HaMikdash, ultimately culminating in the Babylonian exile and Tisha B’Av. The first Haftorah takes place in the beginning of Yirmiyahu. The Haftorah concludes: “And the word of Hashem came to me saying: Go, and cry in the ears of Yerushalayim saying, Thus says Hashem, ‘I remember to you the lovingkindness of your youth, the love of your nupitials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown. Israel is holy to the Lord, the first of His grain; all who eat him shall be guilty, evil shall befall them,’ says the Lord” (Yirmiyahu 2:1-3).

Rashi
on pasuk 2 teaches us that when the pasuk says “I remember you,” it is saying “were you to return to Me, I would desire to have mercy on you for I remember the loving kindness of your youth and the love of the nuptials of your wedding canopy, when I brought you into the wedding canopy… Now what was the ‘loving kindness of your youth’? Your following My messengers, Moshe and Aharon, from an inhabited land to the desert without provisions for the way since you believed in Me.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Hashem the Almighty and infinite who does not need our kindness; yet innate in the definition of His being is the natural desire to give and love. Yet Hashem knows that it is only truthful and appropriate that we show that we deserve it. Indeed, once we show even the smallest hint, the size of a pinpoint, that we desire Him, Hashem reciprocates with a plethora of love and kindness. He does this because He focuses on all the good that we showed Him in our youth, when we first came out of Egypt and accepted the Torah on Mount Sinai. Like a man and woman getting married, we followed Hashem like a kallah who is in love and enraptured with her chosson.

What was this kindness? We didn’t give Him anything, and we didn’t do anything for Him. What did the Jewish people do? They just left with enough food to last them thirty days, knowing it would eventually run out. They did leave a place that though was rampant with much grief and strife was still called home. They were settled and had plenty of food to go around. When they left that place of turmoil which they called home to blindly follow Hashem’s messengers, Moshe and Aharon, they followed them into an utterly barren desert where there was no food and drink to be naturally found. What kind of kindness is that towards Hashem?

Yet by leaving their homes and guaranteed food with only blind faith and unquestionable trust in Hashem, that was the chesed they did. We see from here an added dimension in doing acts of kindness. One does not have to do a physical act for someone else; just trusting another is a form of kindness, because you are making them feel good that they are trusted. Granted, Hashem doesn’t need us to make Him feel good by trusting him, but He is teaching us a valuable lesson that we should apply in all circumstances: that when we trust someone else, we are doing to him or her an act of kindness.

So next time you are thinking about trusting an employee, a friend, or a child, remember you are doing a chesed, and act of kindness, if you do so.
(Note: Granted with human beings your choice to trust him or her must be taken with a grain of salt because no one is perfect but if you don’t perceive anything that could go wrong, rather you are just nervous, remember it’s a chesed. However certainly knowing you are getting double reward, for a chesed and for trusting in Hashem, should be an impetus to grow in faith and trust of the Almighty.)

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The Gemara at the end of Makkos, daf 24a, is the first written source of the age-old knowledge that there are 613 mitzvos in the Torah. The gemara goes on to discuss how King David listed 11 leading virtues to focus on in order to help one follow the Torah.  Micha reduced it to 3 leading virtues as the gemara states: “Micha came and reduced them to three [principles], as it is written, ‘It has been told to you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord has require of you: [1] only to do justly, and [2] to love mercy and [3] to walk humbly before Hashem.’ ‘To do justly,’ that is, maintaining justice; and to love mercy,’ that is, rendering every kind office; ‘and walking modestly before your God,’ that is, walking in funeral and bridal processions. And do not these facts warrant an a fortiori (kal vachomer) conclusion that if in matters that are not generally performed in private the Torah enjoins ‘walking modestly,’ is it not ever so much more requisite in matters that usually call for modesty?” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The attribute of modesty which Micha has as his third virtue, says the Maalos HaMiddos, is one of the most important and virtuous attributes one can attain. This is demonstrated by the fact that it was one of the three virtues listed by Micha. Not only that, but it also protects a person from the evil eye, and saves a person from sin (Maalos HaMiddos, in the beginning of the Attribute of Modesty).

These three virtues in Micha are mentioned in the last pasuk of this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Balak. In the Haftorah, we find that Hashem is very upset at His people for straying from Him, but has not totally given up on them. Indeed, he gives them these three virtues to focus on in order to rebound, namely: “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; but to do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your G-d” (Micha 6:8). Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Rashi
there says, in his second interpretation: “Another explanation: ‘And walk discreetly.’ The standard of flesh and blood is not like the standard of the Holy One, Blessed Be He. The Standard of flesh and blood is: If one man embarrasses his fellow and comes to placate him, the fellow says to him, ‘I will not accept your apology until so and so and so and so, before whom you disgraced me, come.’ But the Holy One Blessed Be He, desires only that the man's return to Him be between the two of them (based on a Pesikta d'Rav Kahana 163b).”
Rashi is trying to explain the third virtue of “walking discreetly,” which normally means to be modest, and how it fits, in context, with the flow of the Navi.

However, what does accepting an apology in private have to do with modesty? It fits better with the lesson of not bearing a grudge or not taking revenge, as the emphasis seems to be not to embarrass the one who is apologizing. So what does this have to do with modesty, which normally means to do things in a manner which does not garner any, or at least minimal, attention to oneself?

Elsewhere, in the Maalos HaMiddos, it says: “They asked a wise man what is modesty, and he answered one should always ascribe to the Torah, take care of his monetary business, do what he is obligated to do, and act with humility when observing the Torah, wisdom, acting properly, how one eats, and deals with harsh circumstances. Someone else said modesty is distancing oneself from sin because a person is not modest if his ‘clothes’ aren’t white… Included in the ways of modesty is being a giving person, and accepting loved ones with a smile in a joyous fashion, showing them love, fulfilling what they desire, and feeling their pain.” Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

What does all this have to do with modesty? On the contrary, smiling and showing emotion could attract more attention? Revolving one’s life around the Torah and having honest business dealings is fundamental to truth and doing Hashem’s will; what does that have to do with modesty?

It would seem from this Rashi and Maalos HaMiddos that the proper definition of modesty is doing what is right for the sake of what is right whether anyone is watching or not. When one steps over the line and does something inappropriate like trying to embarrass the person who is asking forgiveness and repenting, or one who looks and feels sad around loved ones for no apparent reason, or dishonest business, or a lack of humility, all are signs of immodesty which just happens to attract more attention than just doing the right thing.

Every day when thanking Hashem for giving us the ability to learn Torah we make the blessing “…to engross ourselves in the words of Torah.” Why don’t we just thank Hashem for letting us learn Torah; what is so special about being engrossed in the words of Torah?
We find an illustration that answers this question, in this week’s haftorah for the Torah portion of Chukas, which takes place in the Navi of Shoftim. Yiftach was a tzadik (righteous person) who eventually became the leader of the Jewish people and Hashem even endowed him with the special strength and bravery needed to defeat the nation of Ammon. Before the battle he swore to Hashem that if he was victorious he would sacrifice the first living being that he sees come out of his house on the way home from battle. What came out of his house, to his horror, was his daughter singing and dancing for joy over his victory. In the end he felt he must fulfill what he swore and he sacrificed his daughter (Shoftim perek 11).
The Yalkut Shimone paraphrasing a Medrish Tanchuma in Bechukosai relates that four people made a request in an inappropriate manner. One of them was Yiftach, and because he wasn’t a ben Torah he lost his daughter. This is what the pasuk in Mishlay meant when it said: “The fruit of a tzadik is the tree of life and one who takes souls is wise” (Mishlay 11:30). A person could be righteous but if he is not engrossed in Torah he has nothing, for from within the Torah he learns how to “take souls.” Yiftach’s daughter said to him: “Lest one might think the Torah writes that they can sacrifice souls, doesn’t it write ‘from a domesticated animal from the flock”? Yiftach said to her: “I made an oath and you came out!” She said to him: “Yaakov our forefather swore, ‘and all You will give to me I will tithe to you’ and Hashem gave to him 12 tribes do you think he sacrificed one of them, and we never heard about it?” She continued: “Leave me alone and go to court, maybe they will find an excuse to annul your vow.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Zayis Ra’anan observes that he really didn’t need to find an excuse to annul his vow, but rather she just said this hoping he would go to court and they would tell him he does not have to sacrifice her. (What is interesting to note is that he did go to court and the way a decision is made is largely based on how one formulates his or her question, so Yiftach asked his question in a form of wondering if they can find an excuse to annul his vow, and they could not find one).

What should Yiftach have done? The Yalkut Shimone goes on to list an argument about what he should have done: Rebbe Yochanan says her monetary value was sanctified and had to be donated to the Mishkan. Reish Lakish says Yiftach wasn’t even obligated to donate her value.

In any event, the Etz Yosef on the Medrish Tanchuma says that Yiftach should have been more specific when making an oath or he should have been more knowledgeable when making this type of oath that in the event he might have to sacrifice a person it is giving the person’s value to the Mishkan and not literally sacrificing the person as Yiftach mistakenly thought. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We see from here an incredibly eye opening thought. Yiftach must have been a Torah observant Jew who did learn Torah, at least every once in a while, because the Medrish said that he was righteous. He would never have become the Jewish leader in the times of the Judges or have Divine powers endowed upon him if he did not observe Torah and mitzvos. Yet, because he wasn’t engrossed in Torah, he made a deadly mistake which caused the loss of his daughter.

A person can be known for his righteousness, but if he isn’t engrossed in his Torah study he essentially can make up his own religion, to the extent that he would execute his own absurd idea of physically sacrificing his own daughter!
We see how important it is not just to live by the Torah and mitzvos, but our attitudes must also be that the Torah is our guidebook to life. We must totally immerse ourselves in its, understanding in order that we can live our lives in a healthy and proper manner.

There is an old discussion of what kind of government is better: a Democracy or a Monarchy; specifically, in terms of how it affects the Jewish people. On the one hand, a democracy for the most part allows us to observe our religion to its entirety, freely, without too many hindrances.  On the other hand, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim, Rav Moshe Chait zt”l often bemoaned the fact that today there is no real feeling of Yiras Shamayim [Fear of Heaven] present in society, because there are no real monarchs in today’s day and age. People of yesteryear were more attuned to the real feeling of fear in the face of The Omnipresence because they could relate to the feelings towards royalty and sovereignty, due to kings and queens that ruled over them. Today that type of respect and reverence essentially does not exist anywhere in the world; the respect and awe of government or the ruling class is not the same, which, as an extension, reflects in our underwhelming Fear of Heaven.
However, in reality, the Torah’s approach takes a middle of the road approach to this issue. On the one hand there are laws in the Torah for how Jewish kings shall act, limiting the amount of wives and  horses they may have, and requiring that they always have a Torah scroll by their side to read from, and so on. Yet, the concept of having a king is also highly discouraged.
This week’s haftorah for the Torah portion of Korach, in Shmuel Alef, deals with the appointment of the first king of Israel, King Shaul, a decision made after much dispute. The Ralbag in his first three lessons on this episode in Jewish history depicts how not only crowning a king over Israel was highly dissuaded, but was a mistake.  He begins by saying that the Jew’s request of a king ultimately was the seeds of the reason why they were exiled from their land. The Ralbag goes on to show how Shmuel did everything within his means to try to stop them from making the wrong decision to insist on a monarch, by explaining to them the danger that could result in being led by a human king, and ultimately trying to depict for them the burden and weight a king would have over them, in order to dissuade them from their decision.  Finally, when that didn’t work, Hashem through Shmuel tried making the transition to a monarchy as smooth as possible by choosing someone fit for the job, who was good looking and appropriate, to reinforce the performance of Torah and mitzvos; someone who was a prophet in his own right, and had tremendous humility. Shmuel then warned King Shaul and the Jewish people numerous times to be steadfast to the observance of Torah and mitzvos, in order to walk in the ways of Hashem: “For a king will not help them if they don’t have the hand of Hashem guiding them since The Blessed Hashem is their true king and He set up judges so that they will return to Him in order to save them from their enemies. And their request for a king therefore was only bad and for this reason Shmuel tried to prevent them from turning their backs on Hashem, lest they and their king will be gathered up in their sin.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
What is so wrong about having a king? Why is a king any different than any other leader, such as a judge or prophet of the generation, especially if he is being constantly warned to follow the ways of Hashem, and he has constant reminders to keep to the Torah, like having a Torah scroll always by his side?

It would seem that a king is on a different playing field, a whole new plateau, with special rules and legalities of how to be treated. For example, a king’s wife can never marry anyone who is not a king, even after she becomes a widow. There are also other laws that apply specifically to a king, like rebelling against a king, which is a capital punishment. Because a king has his own unique status, even though he is constantly being reminded that he is only a king and is a servant to The King Of All Kings, neverthe less this symbol of status can easily influence his demeanor and his followers demeanor, more than it would by any other type of leader. Since his status is above and beyond that of everyone else, just like Hashem, therefore it was a highly disputed notion to take up a monarchy in the Jewish world, lest it spoil into heresy.

Though a king of Israel did have his checks and balances via the prophet of the generation, Sanhedrin, and the Kohen Gadol, alas the monarchy was  not without its trials and tribulations, and ultimately led to much rebuke and punishment. However, now that it is in place, it is destined for a positive purpose ultimately, by culminating in the king moshiach leading all of us in the ultimate performance of Hashem’s will, may he come speedily in our days.

Did you ever wonder what it means when people say “May it be a zechus…”? What, in fact, is a zechus, or merit? We find the unbelievable ramifications of a merit in this week’s haftorah for the Torah portion of Shelach in the Navi Yehoshua. Yehoshua sent two spies, Calev and Pinchas, to spy out the land. They entered Israel through Yericho and stayed at an inn where they hid, as the king of Yericho had heard they had come, and had sent soldiers to find them. The innkeeper, Rachav, understood that they were undoubtedly going to conquer the land, and  chose to help them. After hiding on the roof, “She said to them, ‘Go to the mountain lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days until the pursuers return, and afterwards you will go your way’” (Yehoshua 2:16).
The Radak says “In the name of Chaza”l that the navi indicates to us that Rachav knew through Divine Intervention that they will return at the end of three days, for if she did not have Divine Intervention how could she know that they would return in the end of three days? However the basic explanation is that logically she deduced this because from Yericho to the Jordan River takes a one day walk or a little more and she thought that from going there and back they would be digging around and searching throughout the entire way which would wind up being three days.” But why did Hashem orchestrate that Calev and Pinchas should be hiding in an uncomfortable cave for three days? (Click here for  Hebrew text.)

The Yalkut Shimone, paraphrasing from a Medrish Rabba in the Torah portion of Vayera, says: “Hashem does not leave righteous people suffering more than three days. That is why it says ‘He will revive us from the two days, on the third day He will set us up, and we will live before Him’ (Hoshea 6:2). By the third day of the tribes it says, ‘Yosef said to them on the third day’ (Breishis 42:18). On the third day of Yonah, ‘Behold Yonah was in the stomach of the fish for three days’ (Yonah 2:1). The third day of those who made aliyah from [Babylonian] exile, ‘And they rested there for three days’ (Ezra 8:15). On the third day of the resurrection of the dead it says, ‘He will revive us from the two days’ (Hoshea 6:2). The third day of Esther, ‘It was on the third day, and Esther wore royalty’ (Esther 5:5). With which merit was all this merited? The Rabbis said the merit of the third day when the Torah was given, ‘And it was on the third day when it was morning’ (Shemos 19:16). Rebbe Levi says in the merit of the third day of Avraham as it says [by Akeidas Yitzchak] ‘On the third day Avraham lifted up his eyes’ (Breishis 22:4).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

This Medrish proves that Hashem does not allow righteous people to suffer for no reason, for longer than three days. The reason being, according to the RaD”aL, because on the third day is considered a climax point for sicknesses (or pain). Similarly, the R”an in Shabbos daf 130 says  that the third day after a bris milah is a similar milestone. So too, when it comes to suffering, the hardest day is the third day, and Hashem in his mercy relieves the righteous  of their suffering at that time.

The Matnas Kehuna points out that by Yosef and his brothers, when he first saw his brothers in Egypt, he threw them in jail for three days, and when he freed most of them it revitalized them and gave them contentment. So too by all the other examples; meaning,  Hashem does not leave righteous people suffering for more than three days. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Etz Yosef, quoting the Yefeh Toar, says that the reason why the Rabbis learn it from the receiving of the Torah is because of the merit of many and Rebbe Levi learns it out from Avraham for he was the first. The Maharz”u points out that according to the Rabbis who says all those people who stopped suffering after three days was in merit of the receiving of the Torah, we must say “that in merit of the Torah that their children will in the future receive” was the reason why Yosef’s brothers were relieved of suffering in jail after three days. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What we see here is something quite profound, if you think about it. Hashem is beyond time and space. Taking that into account, it makes sense that Hashem rewards good deeds, whether the deed happened in the past or is yet to happen;, the merit of that deed can be applied in either direction. Furthermore, the reward in this case, measure for measure, is not connected to the deed itself; it is connected to the timing of the deed. The Jewish people just happened to accept the Torah three days after Hashem told them to make preparations. Avraham just happened to be traveling for three days and realized the place in front of him was where he was to perform Akeidas Yitzchak. There was no positive act on the third day itself.Meaning, the third day had nothing to do with their decisions to do those meritorious deeds; yet, since they are connected to the meritorious deeds, measure for measure, for all time past and present, righteous people felt the rewards being reaped for what happened on the third day. That is the power of a zechus, or merit!

What is even more amazing is that, according to Rebbe Levi, the good deed of even one individual could have this type of impact and ramifications on the entirety of history! This should give us an entirely new perspective on the merits we can accrue for ourselves and our loved ones throughout history, by the many good deeds we can potentially accomplish.