Sukkos – “According to One’s Efforts is One’s reward” (Last Mishna in Mishnayos Avos)

The haftorahs for the first day and Shabbos of Sukkos depicts the war of Gog and Magog and its aftermath. There will be great chaos and bloodshed but, in the end, there will be open miracles which will result in the whole world recognizing Hashem as one. (It is worthwhile to read both haftorahs with commentaries inside.)

The pasuk in the haftorah for the first day of Sukkos, which we actually say every day at the end of Pesukei Dizimra, and repeat many times in our Yomim Noraim davening, says “Then Hashem will be king over all the world, on that day Hashem will be One and his name will be One” (Zechariah 14:9). Rashi on this pasuk says that every non-Jew will leave their gods and there won’t be any nation worshiping a foreign god, and Hashem’s name will be known and mentioned by everyone. Later in the haftorah the prophet Zechariah relates, “It shall be that all who are left over from all the nations who had invaded Yerushalayim will come up every year to worship the King Hashem, Master Of Legions, and to celebrate the festival of Sukkos” (Zechariah 14:16). The Radak there says the reason why the whole world will come together in Yerushalayim on Sukkos is because at that time of the year will be the war and when they will see all the wonders of the Blessed Creator. Therefore, to commemorate that event, they will come each year at this time.

Rashi cryptically says this pasuk is what Chazal explain in gemara Avoda Zara daf 3a-3b about an easy mitzvah Hashem will give the non-Jews to do which will be sukkah.
Here is the beginning and the ending of Hashem’s conversation with all the non-Jewish nations (taken from Soncino translation): Daf 2a: R. Hanina b. Papa — some say R. Simlai — expounded [the foregoing verse] thus: In times to come, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, will take a scroll of the Law in His embrace and proclaim: ‘Let him who has occupied himself herewith, come and take his reward.’ Thereupon all the nations will crowd together in confusion, as it is said: All the nations are gathered together, etc.
Daf 3a-3b: The nations will then plead. ‘Offer us the Torah anew and we shall obey it.’ But the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them, ‘You foolish ones among peoples, he who took trouble [to prepare] on the eve of the Sabbath can eat on the Sabbath, but he who has not troubled on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath? Nevertheless, I have an easy command which is called Sukkah; go and carry it out.’ (But how can you say so: does not R. Joshua b. Levi say: What is [the meaning of] the verse, the ordinances which I command thee this day to do them? It is that this day only [the present] is the time to do them,’ they cannot be done tomorrow [in times to come]: this day is the time in which to do them, but not in which to be rewarded for them. [Why then should they be offered this observance in the Messianic time?] — Because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not deal imperiously with His creatures. And why does He term it an easy command? — Because it does not affect one’s purse.) Straightaway will every one of them betake himself and go and make a booth on the top of his roof; but the Holy One, blessed be He, will cause the sun to blaze forth over them as at the Summer Solstice. and every one of them will trample down his booth and go away, as it is said, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. (But you have just said ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, does not deal imperiously with his creatures? — True! but with the Israelites, too, it occasionally happens that the summer solstice extends till the Festival [of Tabernacles] and they are vexed [by the heat]. But does not Raba say: He who is vexed thereby is freed from dwelling in the Sukkah? — Granted, they would [in such circumstances] be freed, but would Israelites contemptuously trample it down?)
With Rashi’s direction we can put the gemara of Avoda Zara into perspective. In the aftermath of the war of Gog and Magog everyone, Jew and non-Jew, will recognize Hashem as one and His will to follow; no turning back, this will be it. A new chapter in history, a new world order, which everyone will embrace. Hashem is going to gather everyone together to collect their earned reward, and in His ever-abundant mercy will even give the non-Jewish nations another chance, an easy chance to earn their pay; but they will squander the opportunity by belittling the mitzvah given to them. But putting the situation into perspective something doesn’t make sense! Coming together on sukkos they will be commemorating their Independence Day, liberation from the chaotic world they once lived in. They will now have a complete clarity and devotion to Hashem. So how can they belittle the mitzvah Hashem gave them by kicking the sukkah, even if they got frustrated that they couldn’t fulfill the mitzvah because it was too hot? Where will their faith and trust in Hashem be?

Furthermore, the Haftorah continues, Pasuk 17: “And it shall be that whoever of all the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to prostrate himself to the King, the Lord of Hosts-upon them there shall be no rain.”

Rashi there comments, “rain: Actual rain to cause the produce of their land to grow. Now, what reason did He have for decreeing upon them the withholding of rain? That the commandments of the festival are based on the rains: the four species of the lulav and the water libation are to appease God for water. Since the festival of Tabernacles is the time of the rains of the year, no rain will fall on those who entertain doubts concerning the festival of Tabernacles. This is learned in the Tosefta of Sukkah (4:7).”

Pasuk 18 states: And if the family of Egypt does not go up and does not come, it shall not [rain] upon them. The plague [on Egypt] will be [the same as] that with which the Lord will plague the nations who do not go up to celebrate the festival of Tabernacles.
How can any of the family of nations think not to come up to Yerushayim for sukkos, their Independence Day, if they have complete belief in Hashem, His Will, and reward and punishment?

It would seem though, that when the gemara in Avoda Zara says the reason why the non-Jews don’t deserve reward is because only those that toil on the eve of shabbos get there reward on shabbos, meaning only if one works hard in performing Torah and mitzvos in this world does he receive his well-earned reward in the next world, it not only is a message about the reward received but a message about how the reward is earned. Meaning, because the Jewish people as a whole not only performed but worked hard and struggled to perform Torah and mitzvos throughout history they rightfully deserve that reward but they also appreciate more what it means to perform a mitzvah and do Hashem’s Will. So they would never get upset and belittle a mitzvah just because they lost their chance and became exempt from the mitzvah. On the contrary many people would just feel disappointed on losing the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah. But this is because we spent many years observing and appreciating what a mitzvah is all about. The rest of the nations of the world will realize the true path one day, but won’t have the experience and work ethic to appreciate what they are given by Hashem. Therefore, even when the whole world unifies to believe in the one and only G-D and to fulfill his will, it will still be hard for them in the beginning even if they will never stop believing, just because they haven’t worked hard yet at performing and walking in the way of Hashem.

This appreciation derived from a proper work ethic in learning Torah and performing mitzvos is something that can apply to us even today. It might be difficult for converts or even baalei Teshuva who come back to their faith and want to keep the mitzvos and learn tons of Torah. In fact potentially any Jew has his or her ups and downs, but it’s still hard and frustrating. This could be due to the fact that most  aren’t used to it, but with a commitment to never give up and to keep on trying, to build up the work ethic needed to perform Torah and mitzvos properly, then a person will appreciate the path of walking in the ways of Hashem, whichever direction it leads. In this way he will rightfully earn his due reward.

Haazinu – Hashem’s Right to Expect Us to Pray

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.

In this week’s Torah portion of Haazinu we find The Song of Moshe. In it, Moshe says, “The Rock! Perfect is His work, for all His paths are justice; a G-D of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is He” (Devarim 32:4). The Medrish Tanchuma expounds on this pasuk saying, “He is righteous who does righteousness with His sons. When a person is poor and he has good deeds, he prays before Him and says, ‘Like Your Great Name, do for me righteousness.’ The Holy One Blessed Be He will open His treasure house and give to him. This is judgement for He did righteousness. This is what King David meant when he said, ‘What is all this good that You hid for the ones who fear You…’ (Tehillim 31:20). David said before Hashem, ‘I know you have treasure houses of lots of charity, if you don’t give it out to me and my friends, what is all Your good?”

The Etz Yosef says that the medrish was bothered why the pasuk says “All his ways are judgement etc. He is righteous and straightforward.” Judgement is strict judgement, but righteousness and straightforwardness are above and beyond the letter of the law? This is what we find when a person has good deeds, and he is poor, he asks Hashem to give him charitably. So, Hashem gives him. This is the letter of the law and charity, (or righteousness,) at the same time. Fulfillment of the strict letter of the law because this person has good deeds, and righteousness because Hashem doesn’t owe anything to anyone… (Click hee for Hebrew text.)

The Etz Yosef says there is no contradiction between strict judgement and righteousness (or kindness) because the poor person earned his right to be supported by Hashem because of his good deeds, but Hashem is not obligated to give him because He is tied down to no one. The Beur Ha’amarim adds that even at a time of strict judgement, where Hashem decides a person should be poor or suffering in some other way, it is for the benefit of the person, for that is what Hashem decreed with His wisdom. But even then, Hashem is kind and acts above and beyond the letter of the law, and so He sends these miseries in a fashion that a person can handle them. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It is understandable that Hashem, in his strict judgement, felt a person needed to go through some trials and tribulations as an atonement for a wrong that he did. It is even considered a benevolence of Hashem that he gave this person some form of suffering, whether it is poverty, an illness, or anything else, in a fashion that he would be able to potentially withstand. But why is it so kind and benevolent to expect the one in need to pray, ask, or even beg for what he needs? Imagine a benefactor, even if it is a king, who demands a request to be helped. People will be turned off or maybe even too embarrassed to go to him. What kind of benevolent person is that?

Perforce, there must be a difference between man and Hashem. Man is by definition imperfect and will have needs or wants, if not now then at some point, whether it is for attention, payment, or anything thing else; he or she will actually need or want. So it’s a chutzpah to demand others to ask and beg if you might need it yourself someday. On the other hand, “Hashem reigned and has donned grandeur…” (Tehillim 93:1). Hashem is an omnipotent, all knowing, all powerful, perfect entity which needs nothing, by definition. His expectations for us to ask for our needs and wants must be for our own wellbeing in order so that we will gain levels of trust and recognition of Him in order to be closer to Him which is the ultimate goal as it says in the beginning of Mesillas Yesharim, “Man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in Hashem.”

Prayer is one of the ways to grow closer to Hashem which is why Hashem expects us to do, so, for our own benefit.

Gmar chasima tova & good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Vayelech – “You Are Still Only Mortal”

The Medrish Rabba relates that in this week’s Torah portion of Vayelech, Moshe Rabbeinu tries one last time to get into Israel; and he has a pretty logical argument! “Moshe Rabbeinu said to Him, ‘Master Of The Universe after all the honor and mightiness that my eyes saw, I am going to die?!’ The Holy One Blessed Be He said back to him, ‘Moshe, who is a man who will live and not see death… (Tehillim 89:49)?’ What does it mean when it says, ‘Who is a man who will live’? Rebbe Tanchuma said, who is a man like Avraham that went down into the fiery furnace and was saved, but afterward it writes, ‘And Avraham expired and died’ (Breishis 25:8)? Who is a man like Yitzchak who stuck out his neck on the alter, and afterwards it writes, ‘Behold now, I have grown old; I do not know the day of my death’ (Breishis 27:2)? Who is a man like Yaakov who had a run in with the angel, and afterwards it writes, ‘When the time drew near for Israel to die’ (Breishis 47:29)? Who is a man like Moshe who spoke to His Creator face to face, and afterwards, ‘Behold, your days are approaching [for you] to die’ (Devarim 31:14).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Maharz”u explains Moshe’s argument and then Hashem’s response. When Moshe said “after all the honor,” he was referring to what he had said previously: “You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness etc” (Devarim 3:24). Moshe argued, “And if so let me please continue. For what reason shall I die? The whole purpose of death is for the soul to bask in the pleasantness of Hashem, for the body, its senses, and the needs of the body separates every other person, and they cannot merit the pleasantness of Hashem in their lifetime. But I who merited that my body and its needs does not separate me at all, for I merited in my lifetime to be close to You in a way that not even the righteous in their death merited, if so, it is better that I enter the land with the rest of the Jews.”

The Maharz”u explains that Hashem’s response was, “Who is a man like Avraham” A man, meaning brave, גבורה, Avraham overcame nature and he was about to die and lived but in the end he did die. So to Yaakov, he overpowered [the angel], he was about to die and was healed by the angel as it says, ‘I saw and angel face to face, and you saved my soul.’ He lived then died. So to Moshe who also overcame, as it writes in Vayikra Rabba 1:1, ‘This day we saw that Hashem spoke to a man and he lived.’ So too Moshe was close to death through Hashem’s speech and still lived so in the end he will die.

If one analyzes the request of Moshe and Hashem’s response, it is clear that they are not speaking to each other. Moshe claimed, and it makes perfect sense what he was saying, that he was able to reach the same closeness, if not better, than many righteous people, in this world as they reached after death in the next world. So why can’t he stay alive, and get even closer to Hashem by being able to perform more mitzvos in the Land of Israel? Hashem’s response was that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, his forefathers, who were very righteous, also had run-ins with death and lived just as he did. And just as they died, he will die.
What kind of response was that? Maybe they didn’t reach the same level of closeness to Hashem as Moshe did in his lifetime, just as he claimed, and Hashem didn’t deny it?

The Mesillas Yesharim in the beginning of the first chapter clearly states, “Our Sages of blessed memory have taught us that man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in Hashem and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence; for this is true joy and the greatest pleasure that can be found. The place where this joy may truly be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it; but the path to this object desire is this world, as our Sages of blessed memory have said, ‘This world is like a corridor to the World to Come’ (Pirkei Avos 4:21).” But Hashem didn’t tell Moshe that it is more appropriate to bask in His splendor only in the World to Come. So why did Hashem respond the way he did?

It would seem from Hashem’s response that Moshe had a good point, which made perfect sense, but Hashem had a different agenda. It must be that Hashem saw that Moshe had a negia, a bias, towards immortality. On a very minute and miniscule level Moshe could not accept the Will of Hashem to die, because like everyone he had a drive to stay alive; so he came up with a logic that made a lot of sense but was still slightly off from Hashem’s Will. So, Hashem had to speak to the negia in order for Moshe to accept his fate. That is why Hashem responded that just as the forefathers were faced with mortal danger, survived, and eventually passed on to the afterlife, so too will he.

Moshe, on a very slight level, got entangled into a bias for physical immortality in a negative way. We are at this moment in time in the days of judgement with Rosh Hashana upon us and we are able to use our bias for immortality in a positive sense, spiritually, to strive in any way to successfully get through this time and be sealed in the Book of Life!

Shana tova umisuka, happy and healthy new year,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Netzavim – The Yetzer Hara for Perfection

In this week’s Torah portion of Netzavim Moshe memorably tells the Jewish people in perek 30:

11For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away. יאכִּ֚י הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֔את אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָֽנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם לֹֽא־נִפְלֵ֥את הִוא֙ מִמְּךָ֔ וְלֹֽא־רְחֹקָ֖ה הִֽוא:
12It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” יבלֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא לֵאמֹ֗ר מִ֣י יַֽעֲלֶה־לָּ֤נוּ הַשָּׁמַ֨יְמָה֙ וְיִקָּחֶ֣הָ לָּ֔נוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵ֥נוּ אֹתָ֖הּ וְנַֽעֲשֶֽׂנָּה:

The Medrish Rabba extrapolates on these pesukim that Moshe told the Jewish people that they shouldn’t say another Moshe will come and bring us another Torah from heaven; I therefore am informing you “It is not in heaven” there is nothing left of the Torah that was not given, in heaven. Another interpretation, in the name of Rebbe Chanina, “It” and all its tools were given, which are: humility, righteousness, and uprightness, as well as it’s reward.

The Maharz”u clearly explains the Torah’s concern related in the medrish. “If you think it is possible to receive another Torah since Hashem can do anything, and your evil inclination will convince you to be lenient in fulfilling this Torah, to this I am informing you that all that is called by the name Torah and mitzvah is included in this Torah. And all that the prophets added and prophesied about and all that was prophesied about the future is all an explanation of this Torah which is higher than heaven and more expansive than earth, and deeper than purgatory, for it is the wisdom of The Creator who created everything and with it he keeps everything existing and there is no other way in the world except to cling to this Torah which is our life in this world and the Next World forever and ever. When the medrish writes about ‘another Moshe would get up’ it’s not literally Moshe, rather what it means is a prophet like Moshe, and just as there will be no other Torah, so to no prophet got up or will get up like Moshe. For even Moshiach will not give us another Torah, rather he will only uphold and explain this Torah. When in the Navi it says, ‘That the land will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem’ it is referring to an explanation of this Torah in our hands.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Who would imagine that another prophet like Moshe could bring another Torah, possibly bigger and better than this one? But even if it would be true, why wouldn’t everyone still observe what is in this one until then? This Torah is the blueprints of creation and handbook for mankind right now, and Hashem promises so much reward in this world and the next for observing it, and punishment for transgressing it?! Even more so, the Maharz”u says on Rebbe Chanina’s statement, “that all instruments which are used to acquire the Torah and the Torah refines those attributes as it says in the 6th perek of Pirkei Avos, ‘It makes him fit to be righteous, devout, fair and faithful.’ ‘And the Torah clothes him in humility and fear of Hashem etc.’ And one who is crowned with these traits is literally in this world but walking in heaven…!”

If a person is able to attain such pristine character traits from learning and practicing this Torah, and Hashem says this is what will give you a well-meaning life right now, then why wouldn’t you follow it, even if there could be something better in the future?

 It must be that this is the trick of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, that convinces a person that the next time or the next thing will be better so forget about what you have now, therefore Moshe Rabbeinu is saying don’t think Hashem created a situation like this  for the evil inclination to creep in and convince you to stop following this Torah, (which actually sounds like if He would have made another Torah for the future we would not have been able to overcome this test and Hashem does not create tests that are impossible to overcome,) therefore Moshe is informing us that this is the only Torah, which will bring you a well-meaning life in this world and take you into the next world, for eternity.

Ki Savo – Making an Impression Through Kindness

 At the end of this week’s Torah portion of Ki Savo, following the blessings and curses, Moshe makes an astonishing statement at the beginning of his final address to the Jewish people: “Moshe summoned all of Israel and said to them, ‘You have seen everything that Hashem did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land. The great trials that your eyes beheld, those great signs and wonders. But Hashem did not give you a heart to know, or eyes to see, or ears to hear until this day. I lead you for forty years in the Wilderness, your garments did not wear out from on you, and your shoe did not wear out from on your foot. Bread you did not eat and wine or intoxicants you did not drink, so that you will know that I am Hashem your G-D. Then you arrived at this place, and Sihon, king of Cheshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, went out toward us to battle, and we smite them” (Devarim 29:1-6).

What does it mean that “Hashem did not give you a heart to know… until this day?” Didn’t Hashem directly give them the Torah on Har Sinai 40 years before? He also gave them the greatest prophet, leader, and teacher in history, Moshe Rabbeinu, to help them through all the details and intricacies of the Torah. He had taught them how to observe the Torah for the past 40 years, as well as to transmit the Torah to the next generation. So why only now, on the last day of his life, is Moshe saying “Hashem did not give you a heart to know etc. until this day?” 
 The Sforno has a fascinating take on this issue. On pesukim 3 and 4 he explains, “‘But Hashem has not given you a heart to know.’ Even though He, the Exalted One, attempted through His teachings and wonders to give you a heart to know, as it says ‘That you may tell… that you may know that I am Hashem’ (Shemos 10:2), nonetheless this intended goal was not realized because of your bitterness. ‘And I led you.’ However, after you have seen the many kindnesses done on your behalf in the wilderness that you might know, and now that He brought you to the land of Sihon and Og where you have an inheritance in the land so that you can now establish in them the intended purpose of your settlement, it is proper that from now on you should apply your heart to know.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 It would seem according to the Sforno that Hashem did His part to give them the ability and tools to know in their heart how to observe His will; but because of their bitterness they could not accept it until now. But how could that be true? They saw tremendous miracles like the ten plagues in Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea, which Chazal attest that even the maidservants were on such high level of prophesy equal to Yechezkel ben Buzzi. Indeed, then they experienced the revelation at Sinai when the entire Jewish people in unison accepted the Torah directly from Hashem. How is it possible to say they didn’t have a heart to know until today; especially since they were learning and observing the Torah for the past 40 years in the desert?

We must say that the level of commitment that Hashem was expecting was not achieved until that day when they were placed in a situation that they would start inheriting the land destined for them to acquire, and have the ability to observe all the mitzvos, including those dependent on the land.

But the Sforno says this was only actualized after 40 years of kindness that Hashem showered on them. Without that kindness, the bitterness which impeded on their complete commitment would have stopped them from having the level of a knowing heart Hashem was expecting of them. And it wasn’t just one kindness that
resolved the bitterness in their heart, it took 40 years of kindness to dissolve that bitterness, a show of love and commitment on the part of Hashem. Only then were they fully ready to commit themselves to following the ways of Hashem and passing it on to the next generation.

There are times when a person wants to send a message or get through to someone else, wants to help them do the right thing and convince them of the right path, but with all their proofs and logic, and even displays of power and reliance, it might not be enough if the other individual has some psychological blockage that impedes him from changing his ways and following your direction, even if you are correct. However, we see from Hashem that by showing you care and are committed to the individual by being kind to him or her, not just once but on a consistent basis, then that can remove the blockage and they will start listening to you and commit to changing their ways and lifestyle, because now they see you really care about their wellbeing.

Showing commitment through kindness is a mean to get through to someone on an emotional level even if you have all the proof and logic that you are correct on an intellectual level.

Ki Seitzei – Kindness Consistently

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.

“’You shall love your fellow Jew as yourself’ (Vayikra 19:18). Said Rabbi Akiva: This is a great principle in the Torah” (Rashi based on a Sifra in Kedoshim 3:12).

The Sifsei Chachamim on this Rashi explains that within this mitzvah is the entire Torah, as Hillel said: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole entire Torah and the rest is it’s explanation.” What do Rebbe Akiva and Hillel mean by their statements? Why is this pasuk so important that it is considered the central pasuk of the Torah and everything else is just a detailed explanation of this pasuk? (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Torah in this week’s portion of Ki Seitzei states in the first 3 pesukim of perek 22, “You may not observe your brother’s ox or his sheep lost and conceal yourself from them; you must surely return them to your brother. But if your brother is not near you or you do not know him, gather it into your house and let it stay with you until your brother seeks it, when you must return it to him. And so are you to do for his donkey, and so are you to do for his garment, and so are you to do for any lost object of your brother’s that is lost from him which you find, you may not conceal yourself.”
Rabbeinu Bachye explains that the Torah commands us to be vigilant with returning lost objects to their rightful owners. The Torah used a double language of השב תשיבם, that he should surely return the object, which Chazal say means even if it gets lost 100 times one must return it. These are the ways of kindness and mercy, to train our minds that we are one nation deserving of us having one father, each one desiring the good for another, and having pity on each other’s property. So, whether the lost object is an animal or an inanimate object, one is obligated to return it to its owner. That is what the pasuk mean when it says, “and so you shall do to his donkey” which is an animal but a non-kosher animal. Then it says, “And so you shall do with his garment,” even though it’s not as important as an animal. “And so, you shall do to any lost object of your friend” which is any other vessel even though it’s not as important as clothes (since it’s not used to cover yourself); still you can’t ignore it and must return it to him. And when it says, “You may not conceal yourself,” don’t understand it to just be referring to returning lost objects, but rather to other specific needs and all assistance one can give to his fellow. Such as to remove and push away any damage that can befall him, one is obligated in all this as the pasuk says, “And you should love your neighbor as yourself”. Chazal also learns from the words “And if you hide yourself from them” as well as the fact that it also writes “You shall not hide yourself from them.” How [does one resolve the contradiction]? An elderly person, where it is not respectful for him to be obligated in returning the object, the Torah says he may conceal himself, but other people may not conceal themselves. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Don’t most people like to and want to help one another? Isn’t it a natural feeling for people to want to help others and be nice to them? It is simply the right thing to do! What lesson is the Torah trying to send to us by saying we should return lost objects, and the progression of what kind of objects should be returned, which is anyways anything returnable? Why also does Rabbeinu Bachye connect this pasuk with any other help you can offer someone and emphasize that we should feel like one big happy family, responsible for each other? Indeed, why did he bring in the pasuk of “Love your neighbor as yourself?”

It is true that everyone would agree we should help each other; kindness is a basic tenant in life. However, Rabbeinu Bachye is teaching us that the Torah expects us to do it on a consistent basis. One shouldn’t feel like ‘I’ll do it when I am in the mood’ or make up other excuses for not helping others or returning what others have lost if they found it.

Rabbeinu Bachye is showing us the means of how to instill into our minds the feeling that we should always feel the need to help others and assist them in their needs, no matter what the circumstance. This is, by instilling in our minds the attitude that we are all children of one Father, Hashem. Just as siblings feel a personal obligation to take care of each other, we should also feel the same way about every Jew. There should be no excuse of what kind of object should be returned. One shouldn’t say to himself, ‘he won’t be missing this,’ or ‘it’s not as important as other things are,’ or ‘they are always replaceable.’ Rather, one should pick it up and find the owner anyways. You would want the same thing done for you if you were in the owner’s shoes.

 Of course, this applies to any issue a person has, any dilemma your fellow Jew gets into, one should always feel the need to help, and to help you feel that need, you should put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? However, everything is within reason, and an elderly person isn’t expected to do as much as a younger person; therefore the Torah exempts the elderly from the mitzvah of returning lost objects.

Now we can understand why “Love your neighbor as yourself” is so important, and everything else is just detailed explanation. The reason is because this pasuk is what will propel a person to serve Hashem properly,  For example, what will help a person do a mitzvah between a man and his fellow like returning a lost object, lending money, hosting guests, visiting the sick, or any other kindness, is to think about themselves being in need of help; wouldn’t you want someone to help you, and to do it properly? But also regarding mitzvos between man and G-D, wouldn’t you want your child to listen to what you say, or any one for that matter, if you asked them to do something for you? If so, then you should do the same for Hashem, your Father and King, to do His will by fulfilling His Torah and mitzvos.

Creating motivations, like the pasuk “Love your neighbor as yourself,” to properly serve Hashem and do his will is very important for success in having a fulfilling life and everything else is just details of what exactly to do.

Shoftim -Sensitivity to Another’s Change of Feelings

One of the prohibitions in this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim is, “And you shall not set up for yourself a monument, which Hashem, your God hates” (Devarim 16:22). The Rosh points out, “Even though He loved the monuments in the days of The Forefathers, as we find regarding Yaakov, ‘and he set it up as a monument’ (Breishis 28:18), but since the Amorites were accustomed to make them for the sake of their idols ‘I hate them’. Similarly, we can find the equivalent in the first chapter of Avoda Zara 8a.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

[The gemara in  Avoda Zara that the Daas Zekeinim must be referring to, it writes: “With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: ‘And to dust shall you return’ (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer. Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.”]

The case the Rosh mentions of Yaakov Avinu is when he fled from Esav on the way to Lavan and he stopped by the future place of the Har HaBayis,(Temple Mount.) Here he had the dream of the angels going up and down the ladder and the 12 stones coalesced into one, which he used as a pillow, and dedicated as a monument in the morning. The Ramban there explains the difference between a matzeiva, a monument and a mizbeach, an altar: “Our rabbis have already taught us in Avoda Zara 53b the difference between a matzeva and a mizbeach. The matzeiva is one big stone and the mizbeach is many stones put together. Furthermore, it would seem the matzeiva is only used for pouring wine libations and anointing oil on it, not for a burnt offering or any other sacrifice. The mizbeach is used to offer up burnt offerings and peace offerings. When they came into The Land the matzeiva became forbidden to them (Devarim 16:22) because the Canaanites used it more centrally to worship idols then alters, even though it writes by them, ‘But you shall demolish their altars’ (Shemos 34:13). Or He didn’t want to prohibit everything, and He left the mizbeach which can be used for libations and sacrifices.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Imagine if a monument was set up in the Beis Hamikdash to bring wine libations to Hashem. The Kohen Gadol, purely for the Sake of Heaven, gave a wine libation on the monument; what would be wrong with that? He is doing something purely out of love and fear of Hashem, without any ulterior motives and in such a holy place; why should that be forbidden? Yet Hashem forbade it and loathes a matzeiva, even though it was once permitted and beloved by Hashem when Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov did it, because the Canaanites now used it for their idols. It became their central process of worship. so it is now detestable, even when used in worshiping Hashem.

If Hashem, the Almighty, King Of All King, in truth one and only G-D, can on an intellectual level express that something which was beloved by Him as an expression of commitment and dedication by the forefathers, can now be hated because this form of worship became centrally used by heathens towards their false gods, then all the more so, on an emotional level, we have to be sensitive to the fragile feelings of human beings. Indeed, it is possible that what a person once liked and enjoyed he or she might not love anymore, and might in fact hate with a passion. If you are notified or realize someone has a change of heart, then you should be cognizant of this fact, and it is a poor excuse to say that you meant well and were only trying to give them a gift which you knew they used to like. It can hurt a person. Even if they did like it but now for whatever reason they change their minds, even if you have all the proper intent if this is not what they desire, it’s not appropriate to give it to them as a gift.

Bottomline, outside factors can change a situation and one with even the purest of intent can possibly hurt someone else and be doing something wrong.

Re’eh- Proper Etiquette for Eating Meat

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.
In this week’s Torah portion of Re’eh we learn that after Bnei Yisrael arrives in their land, animals may be slaughtered for their meat, even without bringing them as an offering. The Torah states, “When Hashem, your G-D, will broaden your boundary as He spoke to you, and you say, ‘I would eat meat’ for you desire to eat meat, to your heart’s entire desire may you eat meat” (Devarim 12:20). Rabbeinu Bachye explains that non-consecrated meat had to be permitted to them when they entered into the land, for in the desert all the meat eaten was sanctified peace offerings.

The Rabbeinu Bachye also says the Torah is teaching proper manners, derech eretz, that a person should only eat meat through wealth and expanse, and this is what the pasuk meant by “will broaden.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Torah is teaching us a lesson in derech eretz, proper manners; that one should not eat meat unless he is rich and has plenty. But what is wrong with the average person having a hamburger or hot dog, or even splurging on a fancy steak occasionally? And why is it a lack of manners for someone not wealthy to eat meat?

America is known as the land of plenty and pretty much everyone is wealthy. Even lower income families have a place to live with electricity, plumbing and even a cell phone and internet even if it may be subsidized. This country is not known as the country of kindness for nothing, and people should recognize and give gratitude for that.

However, the lesson we learn from this pasuk and the Rabbeinu Bachye is that derech eretz, proper etiquette, isn’t just please and thank, or holding the door for somebody, or eating our food with a fork, knife and a napkin in hand. It is also knowing our status in life. There is a time and a place for everything. Even for each individual there are things which are befitting for that individual and not for others. This even applies to foods.

A person with proper derech eretz knows his place in life and lives accordingly in a respectable manner and does not overstep his boundaries.

Good Shabbos,
 Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Eikev – Educating Our Jewish Children

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.
The second paragraph of the Shema is found towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Eikev. The Ramban points out a very subtle but fascinating difference between the first two paragraphs of the Shema. Around the conclusion of the second paragraph the Torah states, “Teach them to your children, to discuss them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise” (Devarim 11: 19). In the first paragraph of shema it writes, “Inform through teaching your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise” (Devarim 6:7).
The Ramban observes, “It makes sense according to the simple explanation of the pesukim that the Torah is coming to add something here (in the second paragraph of the Shema) when it says ‘to discuss them,’ for there (in the first paragraph of the Shema) it commands ‘and you speak them when you sit in your house’. Here it is saying we should teach our children to the point that the children will be constantly speaking about it at all times. It also adds here, ‘teach them’ but there it says ‘inform through teaching’ which means to tell them about the mitzvos. Here, they should teach to them so that they will know it, and make them understand them and the reason [behind the mitzvos] to speak them with you at all time.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In the first paragraph of the Shema, the Ramban remarks that “these mitzvos are already hinted to, because after there was a command to observe the mitzvos, as a statute in the world for all your generations, ‘Between Me and the Jews, it shall be an eternal sign’ (Shemos 31:17). ‘This is my covenant that you shall observe between you and Me and between your children after you’ (Breishis 17:10). Behold we are commanded to inform our children about the mitzvos, and how can you inform them if you don’t teach it to them?!” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
At first glance there seems to be a progression; Hashem first commanded the generation in the Desert to know and observe the mitzvos. This is an obligation for all generations, but perhaps one might think the subsequent generations would have to figure out on their own how to observe them. Therefore the first paragraph of the Shema commands the parents to tell their children about the mitzvos, possibly assuming that once we know what to do, we can figure out on our own how to do it. Then in the second paragraph of the Shema Hashem instructs the parents to teach the children so well that this is all they talk about all day.

However, if this is true, then why did the Torah have to tell us this in this sequence? Why not just get to the point and command the parents to be sure the children know how to properly observe the Torah and Mitzvos? Also, the Ramban, in the first paragraph of the Shema, seems to refer to telling over the mitzvos as teaching them, for how else would they know them? But, in the second paragraph, he seems to refer to this level as just stating the mitzvos, and the third level as teaching them in their entirety. But is this a contradiction in the Ramban; and if not, what is the difference between the two levels of progression?

Upon further analysis it would seem that the Ramban is showing us the process of educating our children. Ideally, Hashem first commanded us to have the resolve to be Torah observant and only then we can give it over to the next generation. Then, once the parents are following the Torah and mitzvos, the Torah instructs the parents to lecture the children on how to fulfill the Torah and mitzvos in its entirety. But lecturing isn’t enough; to ensure the next generation will be properly observant there has to be an attitude of dialogue. Children have to feel comfortable in asking their parents if they are observing the Torah and keeping the mitzvos in the proper manner, to the point that this is the focal point of their lives. Torah is all they speak about and enjoy speaking about. Everything they do and talk about is connected to the Torah in some shape or form. Only then has the parents ideally reached their obligation of ensuring the continuity of the Torah and its mitzvos to the next generation.

Vaeschanan – How to Keep Torah Alive and Exciting

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.

The first paragraph of the Shema is in this week’s Torah portion of Vaeschanan. After declaring how we should love Hashem with all the facets of our being the Torah states, “And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart” (Devarim 6:6). Rav Dovid Chait SHLIT”A, leaving an indelible impression on me, used to tell us in yeshiva, about this pasuk, that we have to view each day as if we received the Torah today on Har Sinai.
 This is based on Rashi regarding the words “That I command you today;” these words shall not be in your eyes like an outdated decree (royal command in written form) which no one takes seriously, but rather like a newly given one, which is read eagerly by all. The Mizrachi, quoting Rashi’s source for the interpretation of this pasuk, in the Sifri, explains the reasoning behind why the pasuk is interpreted in this way: because the mitzvos aren’t just for those who Moshe was talking to on that day, but for every generation. Therefore, “today” must be referring to how fresh it should feel in our eyes. (Click here for Hebrew text.) 
But how do we keep this freshness every single day? The reality is that the Torah manuscript is thousands of years old and the oral tradition is equally as ancient, from the time of receiving the Torah at Sinai. Even the fact that they are the blueprints of creation and handbook of mankind, created 2000 years before the creation of the world, which might make it sound more riveting and attractive, yet the psychology of man usually is “gone with the old and in with the new;” so how do we keep it alive and fresh? In fact, I remember visiting a non-observant friend of mine when I was in yeshiva and he asked what I do all day, do I spend the whole day learning how to read from the Torah scroll? I was astonished at the question and explained to him how I spend the whole day plummeting the depths and breadth of the Talmud, for the most part. He couldn’t imagine how anyone would and could spend the day learning Torah, something so old and seemingly outdated and ancient? How do we excite those that don’t see the practicality of a Torah way of life? And how do we instill in ourselves this level of freshness and enthusiasm that we have to look at the Torah as if it was handed to us at Har Sinai each and every day?
 The Rashi at the beginning of this pasuk asks, “What is this form of love you are commanded [in the first pasuk, ‘You are to love Hashem, your G-D with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions’]? He answers, ‘These words [that I command you today etc.’] For in this manner you will be aware of the Holy One Blessed Is He, and you will cling to his ways. The Gur Aryeh, which is the Maharal’s commentary on Rashi explains that Rashi was bothered by what relation the statement “And these word… on your heart” had to do with loving Hashem? Rather, the pasuk is telling us what is the love, in which way should it be expressed towards Hashem. The answer is, “And these words etc.” That through learning words of Torah one recognizes Hashem, His ways which are good, and recognizing His praise, which will bring one to love [Hashem]. (Click here fore Hebrew text.)
With this we can answer our question of how we can keep Torah observance alive and fresh every day. For if one has the attitude that through learning Torah, especially going into the profundity and fine subtleties of its great depth and vastness, in order to bring oneself to appreciate and love Hashem, then he will always be excited to start all over again as if it is new each day. This is because people want to express love. If they would know and understand that this is the means of showing the greatest love for the greatest entity in the world, universe, and beyond, who is a trusted and loving father and king for us then they would surely gravitate and never be exhausted from finding the means of gaining a greater appreciation of love for Hashem.

 Helping ourselves and others show love for Hashem is the way to keep the acceptance of Torah fresh and alive in our hearts and minds every day.