Vezos Habracha – Good Leadership: The Hallmark of the Jewish People

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One might think that the way to conclude the guide book of mankind would be to reinforce how important it is to observe it, or how awe-inspiring and exalted is its author, Hashem, The Holy One Blessed Be He. Yet the last 3 pesukim of the Torah talk about Moshe Rabbeinu, Hashem’s loyal servant, according to Rashi (according to the Ramban on Chumash the pasuk is in fact praising Hashem.)

The Torah concludes: “And there was no other prophet that stood up amongst the Jews like Moshe who knew Hashem face to face. For all the signs and wonders that Hashem sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and his servants and his entire land. And all the strong hand and all the great awe that Moshe did in the eyes of all the Jews” (Devarim 34:10-12).

Rashi on the last pasuk of the Torah says that “and all the strong hand” refers to the fact that Moshe “received the Torah in the tablets with his hands.” “And all the great awe” refers to “the miracles and mighty deeds [performed by Moshe] in the immense, awesome wilderness. Finally, “in the eyes of all the Jews” refers to “when he took the liberty of shattering the tablets before their eyes, as it says: ‘I shattered them before your eyes.’ The Holy One Blessed Be He consented to his opinion, at it is said: ‘which you shattered,’ ‘more power to you for shattering them!’” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

According to Rashi, the very last statement of the Torah refers to the smashing of the tablets. Why does the Torah conclude with referencing this lowly moment in our history? What message is being taught and why does it have to be taught now, at the very end?

The last Sifsei Chachamim on Rashi explains why Rashi feels he needs to add that Hashem agreed with Moshe deciding to throw down and smash the tablets. “He is coming to answer that now it is coming to praise Moshe, but is it a praise of Moshe that he broke the tablets? That is why he explained that Hashem acquiesced to this etc. Question: How does the Medrish know that ‘which you shattered’ could be interpreted as ‘more power to you for shattering,’ maybe the word אשר should be translated the way it is normally translated every place else? The Ramban already answered in the first chapter of Bava Basra 14b that we darshan a smuchin (a juxtaposition of two words next to each other in the Torah which can teach us a lesson or halacha), for it wrote earlier 10:2 אשר that which you broke and you placed, which implies the broken shards of the tablets were beloved by G-D. If their breaking would have been difficult in front of Him, He would not have said to place them in the Ark, for a prosecutor does not become a defendant. But because of the smuchin we darshan אשר as being a language of אשרי, happy is you. And see in his (the Ramban’s) piece in tractate Shabbos 87a, when it says a prosecutor doesn’t become a defendant I humbly believe it means that The Blessed Hashem commanded that the Ark should be placed in the inner chambers in order to be reminded of the Jewish merit of accepting the Torah and if it was sinful to break the tablets then they would have been a prosecutor to remember the sin of the golden calf, that for that reason the tablets were smashed, rather it must be that Hashem definitely agreed to them being smashed.”

Something doesn’t make sense here. If it must be that Hashem acquiesced to the smashing of the tablets because he would not have placed them in the Ark in the Holy of Holies lest they act as a reason to prosecute the Jews and not a merit to defend them, but isn’t the very fact that they are smashed a reason to remember the sin of the golden calf and to prosecute them? That was the whole reason why Hashem agreed with Moshe to smash them! So why wouldn’t it be used against them?

We must therefore say that even though  Hashem agreed with Moshe to smash the tablets, which were the symbol of merit for accepting the Torah, they must still be a symbol of merit even though they were broken, and would not have been broken if the sin of the golden calf had not happened. But because the leader of the nation took proper actions to reprimand his people and did not capitulate to their ideas or look the other way when there was a serious problem already happening, it is meritorious and is a symbol of excellent leadership, which will trickle down as an example of how to sacrifice for the cause of good.

This lesson is definitely worth concluding the entire Torah with, because it is teaching us that it is not the book itself which is sacred, rather it’s what is inside that counts. If we have leaders that are focused on doing what’s right for Hashem’s sake, at whatever cost, it will have a trickle down effect on the entire nation and bring merit to everyone which makes it very apropos for Hashem who acquiesced to this matter to conclude the Torah with this lesson.

Haazinu – The Nickname That Stuck

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 Yehoshua (Joshua) Bin Nun, the successor of Moshe Rabbeinu, was given the name Hoshea at birth, and we in fact find a few times throughout the Torah his original name used. One instance is at the end of this week’s Torah portion of Haazinu, where it states: “And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun.”

The Chizkuni explains how he got the name Yehoshua: “In the beginning when he began being an attendant of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moshe called him Yehoshua, for this is normal practice of kings to change the names of their attendants, for example, Yosef, Daniel, Chananya, Mishael, and Azaryah. Now that he became the King he went back to his original name. Nevertheless in all of Tanach he is called Yehoshua because that is what he was used to being called.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We know the nickname Yehoshua is not derogatory, because that was what Moshe used as a defense for Yehoshua against the bad influence of the spies. Also, the addition of the “yud” to the beginning of his name which starts with the letter “hay” combines to be one of Hashem’s names. However, it does seem to be a lack of respect and a detraction from the honor of the king to be called by the name he was called when he was just an attendant or servant of the previous king. Not only did he write and name the first book of Neviem by that name, Yehoshua, but he is also referred to as Yehoshua in other books of Na”Ch, which he did not write! Why just because of habit is it acceptable to call the king by the name he was called when he was just the attendant?

It would seem that the power of habit can change the rules of derech eretz, proper manners. This means that even though it would seem more appropriate to call him by Hoshea once he was king, since he already got used to being called Yehoshua, that turned into the acceptable name to refer to him as.

What we can take from this is that habit must be taken into account when deciding what is appropriate and not appropriate as long as it is not an insulting habit.

Vayelech – Realizing Greatness Comes with Responsibility

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The opening pasuk of this week’s Torah portion of Vayelech states: “Moshe went and told these words to Bnei Yisrael” (31:1). “These words” are referring to the concluding lectures on Hashem’s Torah and the final message Moshe gave to his followers before he passed away.

The Medrish Tanchuma (paragraph 3) on this pasuk relates a riveting message about the greatness of Torah, the greatness of one human being, and the responsibilities that comes with such an exalted position. “It writes, ‘Hashem founded the earth with wisdom,’ (Mishlei 3:19). ‘Wisdom’ always refers to Torah. What is its name? Amon (אמון) , as it says, ‘And I was by Him Amon ’ (Mishlei 8:30). It was not called Torah until it was given at Har Sinai, and because of what it adds up to in gematria, is it called Torah. This is because there are 613 mitzvos in the Torah. Torah in gematria is 611 and the other two were given by the mouth of Hashem Himself. This is what the pasuk meant when it said, ‘God spoke one thing, I heard two’ (Tehillim 62:12). This is also what it means, ‘Torah that Moshe commanded us” (Devarim 33:4), like the gematria value of Torah that Moshe commanded us, and the others that Hashem commanded, as I explained in Parshas Yisro, is an inheritance to the Children of Yaakov, and not to the other nations of the world, as it says ‘He relates His word to Yaakov, His statutes and judgments to Israel. He did not do so for any other nation’ (End of Tehillim 148). It also write about it ‘day day’ as it says I was Amon beside Him, and I was [His] delight day in and day out’ (Tehillim 8:30). A day [for Hashem] is no less than a 1000 years as it says, ‘For a thousand years are in Your eyes like yesterday’ (Tehillim 90:4). When was this written about? Before it was given. But [the Torah] could not have been written on silver or gold, for silver and gold were not created yet before the world was created, rather it was written ‘on the arm’ of The Holy One Blessed Be He. Therefore every person must understand and intellectualize in one’s knowledge and mind that he should toil in Torah day and night, as it says, ‘you shall toil therein day and night,’ (Yehoshua 1:8), as well as in good deeds. This is because the whole entire world is judged every day and because of one person the entire world can merit to be innocent or be guilty. If it is guilty on his part, about him the pasuk writes, ‘And one sin causes him to lose a lot’ (Koheles 9). Also, similarly to what our sages of blessed memory have taught, ‘The world is half guilty half innocent. If one comes and transgresses a sin, then he tips the scale of sins higher than mitzvos, which means the entire world is guilty because of him. But if the sins and mitzvos were equal and one comes and performs one mitzvah, then the merits tip the scale higher than the sins, so happy is him who brings merit upon the world. If he isn’t a full time learner he should do his work honestly.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

This medrish is fascinating. The Torah was created 2000 years before creation but was not called the Torah; rather it was called Amon, stemming from the same root as emuna, meaning faith or honesty. And for whatever it means, during that time, since it was so valuable, it is assumed to have been written down on the most valuable substance; but of course silver and gold did not exist before the world was created, so it was written, figuratively, on “Hashem’s arm.” Only after Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Har Sinai, the first two mitzvos directly from Him into the ears of Bnei Yisrael and the other 611 mitzvos through Moshe Rabbeinu, was it then called Torah which has the numeric value of 611. Why is this mentioned, and what is the connection to the next part of the medrish which is actually based on a Braisa in Kiddushin 40b that describes how Hashem judges each person and the entire world every day?  And we must view the world as half guilty and half innocent, as well as ourselves as in the middle, half innocent with mitzvos and half guilty with sin. Our next move will make it or break it, not only for ourselves but for the entire world! This is hopefully an impetus for us to make the right move, either to learn harder or to do the right thing, like running our business honestly. But why should we view ourselves in this fashion? Why is this an important attitude in our service of Hashem to motivate us to toil in Torah and perform good deeds?

This medrish is showing us what type of an approach we should have in performing Hashem’s will. We have to realize what we are dealing with and who we are. We are dealing with such high standards of living, priceless ideals, which stem from the most divine, holiest, ancient and pristine settings. This means we have to take care of what we have with gentleness, awe, and reverence. We have to stay focused on our task at all times, and not let it slip away from beneath our fingers.

But we also have to recognize who we are. The greatness of the individual and the great responsibility Hashem entrusts to us. Each and every one of us are in fact held to such a high level that we can decide the fate of all humanity, with any decision we choose to make, for good or for bad. Hashem entrusts this task into our hands.

We should take this to heart and meditate on how special and great we in fact are. Not only should we look the part, walk the walk, talk the talk, and dress the dress, but also realize the awesome responsibility we have, and take appropriate action to live up to this lofty responsibility.

With this attitude and insight the world will be elevated to a whole new terrain and quality of life!

Netzavim-Unity People

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There is a famous axiom in Jewish Law, that all Jews are responsible for each other, כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה. This is based on a gemara in Shavuos 39a. The question is how far does this concept extend?

The Gemara in Kiddushin 40b states: “Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, says: Since the world is judged by its majority,and an individual isjudged by his majority,ifhe performs one mitzva he is praiseworthy, as he tiltsthe balance ofhimself and the entire world to the scale of merit.Ifhe transgresses one prohibition, woe to him, as he tiltsthe balancefor himself and the entire world to the scale of liability, as it is stated: “But one sindestroys much good,” i.e.,due to one sin that thisindividualcommits, he squanders much goodness from himself and from the entire world.” Interesting enough the Gilyonay HaShas says, based on a medrish, Jews and non-Jews are judged at two different times. Non-Jews by night and Jews during the day therefore when the gemara says “the world is judged” it is referring to the Jewish world which is all judged together and one person can make “a world of a difference!”  

In fact Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his Derech Hashem tells us: “Those who cause others to partake in the World to Come will definitely be the foremost in that Community. They will be the leaders, while those who enter by virtue of their association with them will be beholden and dependent on them. In order for this to be possible, all people were originally bound to each other as our sages teach us ‘All Israel are responsible for one another’ (Shavuos 39a). As a result of this, each individual is bound to everyone else, and no person is counted separately. G-D’s attribute of good is the stronger, however, and if the guilt for sin is shared by others, this must certainly be true of the merit associated with good deeds” (Derech Hashem, Individual Providence 2:3:9)

There is a Medrish Tanchuma on the opening pesukim of this week’s Torah portion of Netzavim which elaborates on this point. The pesukim say: “You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers” (Devarim 29:9, 10).

The Medrish Tanchuma says: “Everyone is responsible for each other, even one righteous person amongst you, all of you are alive in his merit. Not only you, but even if one righteous person is amongst you, the whole entire world, in his merit keeps on existing, as it says, ‘And a righteous person who is the foundation of the world’ (Mishlei 10:25). And when one of you sins, the entire generation can be smitten, and so you find by Achan, ‘Behold Achan son of Zerach profaned the bounty etc.’ (Yehoshua, perek 7). The Attribute of punishment is less, and still the generation was grabbed by it, all the more so the attribute of good which is much greater. For this reason it writes ‘Every man of Israel,’ not only the great people amongst you but even your children and your wives, and your convert (The Etz Yosef points out that this terminology is emphasized to teach us that every Jew is responsible or are grabbed in the sin of even one person. But as we will see this is also true about mitzvos and reward.) This is why it says ‘every man of Israel’ since human beings tend to be more merciful on males more so than females, however Hashem isn’t like that, He is merciful on His entire creation, on the females and males, on the righteous and the wicked, as it says, ‘both your woodcutters and your water drawers’.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Biur HaAmarim on the Medrish Tanchuma points out that in Parshas Re’eh the medrish (paragraph 3) says that since the acceptance of the Torah on Har Sinai a generation will not be punished for one person’s sin. Therefore it must be that it is talking about if no one knew about it; but if people knew about it and were quiet, then everyone is responsible because that was part of the covenant. The extent of ‘all Jews responsible for one another’ is to the point that we are rewarded or punished in a global way for even one mitzvah, or G-D forbid, one sin, a person does. The consequences hit everyone, young or old, male or female, righteous, or wicked, and indeed Jews from all backgrounds; we are all connected as one and affect each other in everything we do.

The medrish points out that the Torah goes out of its way to mention that Hashem also includes women in the reward for a good deed of the righteous, because people think differently based on an attitude throughout history that women aren’t equal. In fact the Biur HaAmarim says “there are those who are more merciful on males but there is also the opposite.” But why should that be? Every human was created in the image of Hashem, with free will and the ability, for the most part, of everyone to be able to speak on an intellectual level; why then should there be gender inequality?

It must be that because people are different then it causes others to look at them as unequal. But Hashem purposefully created men and women to be different in order that the ultimate purpose of the world will be fulfilled in the most optimum way, with each half focusing on their own specialties. That is why men and women have different responsibilities in serving Hashem, though many of the responsibilities still overlap.

Therefore, Hashem, who doesn’t see differences as inequalities, of course will treat everyone equally. But in order for humans, with our frailties, to comprehend that, Hashem had to go out of his way to point that out in these pesukim.

Natural human instinct seems to equate difference with inequality. It takes Divine precision to realize we are all deserving to be responsible of each other and share to a lesser extent in our punishment, and more of an extent in our reward.

Ki Savo – Judgement Day: Cursed or Blessed

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In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Savo we read of the blessings for observing the Torah and curses if the Torah is not kept. Towards the end of the curses, the Torah writes: “And your life will hang in suspense before you. You will be in fear night and day, and you will not believe in your life” (Devarim 28:66).

The Maharam of Rottenberg observes that there are only two times in all of Tanach that the word teluim or תלואים (hanging in suspense) is used. They are in this pasuk, as well in a pasuk in Hoshea 11:7, וְעַמִּ֥י תְלוּאִ֖ים לִמְשֽׁוּבָתִ֑י “And My people waver whether to return to Me, and to the matter concerning which they call them, together they do not uphold [it].” In Hoshea the context being to waver in wanting to repent or not, instead of hanging in suspense.

The Maharam continues by saying that this concept of hanging is also mentioned in a gemara in Rosh Hashana 16b: “That the fully righteous are judged for life on Rosh Hashana and the completely wicked are judged for death but those in the middle are hanging in suspense by teshuva (repentance) until Yom Kippur. If they do repent they are deserving  life and if they do not repent they are deserving death.” This, the Maharam says, is what “your life will hang in suspense” means; that your life will hang on repentance, just like a hanging scale teetering from one side to the other. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
The Maharam connects the pasuk with the curses of this week’s Torah portion to Rosh Hashana; but it seems not to make sense that everyone who is in this middle state every year, which is probably most of us, are in an accursed state waiting in limbo, to see what will become of us.

Rather, it would seem that the Maharam is sending a different message. There are two types of people in this world. (Really 3, the third one being one who doesn’t really fully focus or doesn’t focus at all on the incoming Day of Judgement). The other 2 understand full well that there is an incoming judgement, but there are two possible ways one can handle it.

If you look closely at the gemara in Rosh Hashana, it says that the in-between person’s judgement holds in limbo not his own life or death, granted that is the result of his judgement, but this is a different perspective. Namely that  a person with calmness and equanimity who realizing his life is on the line for the coming year and will take orderly and decisive strides to work on himself to make sure he learns enough mussar and instills in himself the proper fear of Heaven to accurately repent and be signed into the Book of Life by the time Yom Kippur ends.

Then there are other people, which the Maharam says the pasuk in the curses is describing, who take the upcoming day of judgement as a time of immense anxiety, where their focus is on their lives which is literally hanging in the balance. Imagine the scale hanging on each side, going up and down; will I do accurate teshuva, will I not; the nausea and dizziness of swinging up and down in doubt; wouldn’t that cause such stress and anxiety! It might thrust a person into action and they will in the end take the correct steps to repent appropriately and deserve to be signed into the Book of Life. But the means of getting to that point will be psychologically much more horrifying. It’s an accursed state of being.

There are clear times in Jewish History when all the curses described in the Torah portion came true and people literally felt their life were on the line and were unsure if they were going to  live to see the next day. But there were other times in history where the blessings of Hashem were clearly seen and there was much calm and peace, while still being deeply rooted in our G-D fearing ways.

But it would seem that even on an individual level there are two possible ways one can approach Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgement, (1) in a blessed serene manner or (2) in an accursed anxious manner. What steps will be taken at this awe-inspiring time to do teshuva? Will they be anxious and accursed or calm and orderly?

Ki Seitzei – Mitzvah Escort

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There are a whole slew of  mitzvos in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei. The Sefer Hachinuch enumerates 74 to be exact, from mitzvah 532 to mitzvah 605. The Medrish Rabbah gives a fascinating insight into the dynamics of a mitzvah which should give us a whole new appreciation of our performances of mitzvos.

The Medrish begins by quoting a pasuk in Mishlei: “For they are a wreath of grace for your head,” (כִּ֤י לִוְיַ֤ת חֵ֓ן הֵ֬ם לְרֹאשֶׁ֑ךָ, Mishlei 1:9). In the second interpretation of this pasuk the medrish says the word לִוְיַ֤ת could also mean surrounding (just like a wreath). “Rebbe Pinchas bar Chama says that mitzvos surround you everywhere you go. ‘When you build a house… and you shall make a fence for your roof’ (Devarim 22:8).  If you make a door, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘a(A)nd you shall write them on the door post of your house’ (Devarim 6:9). If you wear new clothes, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘You shall not wear shaatnez,’ (a mixture of wool and linen in the same garment.) If you go to get a haircut, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘You shall not cut off the corners of your head.’ And if you have a field to plow, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘You shall not plow with an ox and a horse together’ (Devarim 22:10). And if you plant, mitzvos surround you, as it says, ‘You shall not plant a mixture of seeds in your vineyard’ (Devarim 22:9). And if you harvest, mitzvos surround you, as it says ‘When you harvest your harvest in your field and you forgot a sheaf in the field’ (Devarim 24:19). The Holy One Blessed Be He said even if you are not doing anything, just taking a stroll, mitzvos surround you, how do you know, for it says, ‘when you happen upon a birds nest in front of you’ (Devarim 22:6)” (Medrish Rabba Devarim 6:3).

The Rada”l observes that the medrish is of the opinion like the Zohar that one has an obligation to shoo away a mother bird even if he happens upon a nest with a mother and chicks inside and originally had no intention of taking the chicks or eggs. The Rada”l also asked why the mitzvah of forgotten bundles of grain which must be left for the poor is mentioned in the medrish instead of the mitzvah of peah (leaving over the corner of one’s field for the poor) or leket (stalks that fell during the harvest which also should be left for the poor)? The Rada”l answers that the medrish is teaching us that even without the knowledge or will of a person, Hashem brings him mitzvos to bless him with, as the Torah concludes in that mitzvah: “In order that Hashem your G-D will bless you in all your actions” (Devarim 24:19). (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

This medrish sounds poetic! But there is a very practical and inspiring lesson that one should meditate on and take to heart. It is very easy to recognize how one is surrounded physically by mitzvos, when wearing tzitzis or being in a sukkah on Sukkos. Chazal even say that by wearing a tallis and draping it over his head it should have the effect of focusing oneself in fear of Hashem. Also by surrounding oneself with tzitzis, which represents the 613 mitzvos, it reminds a person to fulfill the mitzvos. So too Chazal talk about the uniqueness of the mitzvah of sukkah, where one literally has the chance to be surrounded by a mitzvah, physically, in his totality. But this medrish takes it a step further. A person is able to be surrounded by mitzvos all the time, every single second of the day! Not only by doing mitzvos like praying, putting on tallis and tefillin, learning Torah, saying blessings when appropriate, and doing acts of kindness. But even the very fact you are living in a house with mezuzos and, with a roof, if you are able to go up on it, which has a fence around it, you are constantly surrounded by these mitzvos. The ramifications being, you are surrounded by the blessing and reward that goes into the mitzvos that are being fulfilled constantly, for example, by just living in your house with the mezuzah you put up many years ago when you first moved in.

It doesn’t stop there; the medrish points out another incredible aspect of the nature of a mitzvah. Every single negative mitzvah you don’t do when you have the opportunity also surrounds you at every moment with all its blessings and rewards. For example, by just wearing clothes that do not have shaatnez in them you are constantly surrounded by that mitzvah since you have that opportunity of wearing clothes made out of wool and linen but don’t. A farmer could have been plowing with an ox and horse leading the plow but doesn’t, he is then surrounded by that mitzvah with all its blessing and reward. Another example is in a situation where he or she could have spoken lashon hara, slander, but doesn’t he or she is surrounded by that mitzvah, etc. etc.!

Hashem’s benevolence doesn’t stop there! Hashem even creates situations where you are handed a mitzvah without even intending to do it, like by the mitzvah of shichacha, the forgotten bundle of wheat which must be left for the poor. The Torah goes out of its way to mention that one even gets a blessing for fulfilling that mitzvah, all the more so for intentionally doing calculated mitzvos. Hashem even brings you to mitzvos, according to this medrish, like by the mitzvah of shiluach hakan, shooing away the mother bird, if one is just taking a stroll and happens upon the ability of doing this mitzvah.

What lesson do we learn from this medrish? Besides psychologically, having the peace of mind that wherever you go you are surrounded by blessing and reward for the mitzvos you do, by fulfilling the positive mitzvos and not transgressing the negative mitzvos, there is also a very practical aspect towards this medrish. That is, if one truly appreciates this gift we are pretty much constantly surrounded by then there will be a whole new level of kavana, intent, when performing the mitzvah or not transgressing the sin so now the quality of one’s mitzvos will be keener, which means more blessing and more reward.

With this outlook towards mitzvos our service of Hashem could be taken to a whole new level and a bigger kiddush Hashem!

Shoftim – Lower Taxes!

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This dvar Torah is sponsored in memory of Seymour Rosenberg, Shlomo Shmuel ben Aharon, upon his yahretzeit, the 6th of Elul. May it be an aliyas neshama.

In this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim it discusses the appointment of a king. Rabbeinu Bachye observes that a Jewish king should be unlike the kings in the rest of the world. Whereas other monarchs have many horses and great wealth, meaning that they pride themselves with much power and money, the Torah commands of a Jewish king to not have a lot of horses, wives, or silver and gold. Rather, his main focus should be the Torah and the fear of Heaven, to the point that he must have a sefer Torah besides him at all times, and frequently read from it. Indeed, the Torah guarantees that a Jewish king who does not show haughtiness towards his subjects will rule for many years (see Rabeinu Bachye Devarim 17:16).
Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to explain that a Jewish king should only have enough horses for himself and his army, and a maximum of 18 wives, as King David had. He could also have enough wealth to take care of himself, his family, and yearly wages for his soldiers who accompany him wherever he goes.  But he is not allowed to build up a fortune, in order that he won’t become haughty (see Rabbeinu Bachye continued in pasuk 16 and 17).

Rabbeinu Bachye also quotes the Chacham Rebbe Avraham zt”l who gives another reason of why a king should not compile a large amount of gold and silver; in order not to burden Jews with high taxes.  For we see that King Shlomo weighed on the Jewish people the yoke of high taxes in order to collect much silver and gold for himself, and wealth is compared to fire, in that the more wood to fuel the fire, the higher the flame. We even find that the entire Jewish people complained about Shlomo to his son Rachavam [after Shlomo passed and Rechavam took over] as it writes: “Your father has made our yoke heavy,” (Melachim Alef 12:10). It got so bad that they killed Adoniram, who was the head tax collector, by stoning him in his house. We find that King Shlomo, who was the greatest person in the world at the time, still succumbed to these 3 things: Many horses, as it says: “And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots” (Melachim Alef 5:6). Many wives, as it says: “And he had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines” (Melachim Alef 11:3). So to silver, as it says: “And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones (Melachim Alef 10:27), it also says in pasuk 21: “none was of silver, [since] it was reckoned with as nothing in the days of Solomon.” He said about all these 3 things: “I will acquire a lot of it but it will not be forbidden.” He relied on his wisdom to go against the Torah, and faltered in them. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We must put into context what this means about King Shlomo. He was the leading Torah scholar of the generation. He was granted the gift of wisdom by Hashem to be smarter than anyone else in the history of mankind. He was on the lofty level of a prophet and compiled 3 books of Tanach with Divine inspiration: Shir Hashirim, Mishlei, and Koheles. He merited the first Beis Hamikdash to be built under his auspices and peace to reign throughout the world. In fact, the gemaras in Gitten 68b and Sanhedrin 20b says that because of his mistakes he lost control of the Demon World which he once ruled over, but always maintained kingship over the world during his lifetime, not just the Jewish people. There is even an argument as to whether he got back rule over the Demon World towards the end of his life. Someone of such loftiness, on such a high spiritual level, could not have sinned so severly. Rather, it must have been a miniscule sin that, due to his level, Tana”ch and Chaza”l amplify, because of the lofty expectations which he himself had earned. In fact the Metzudas Dovid clearly says that Shlomo was not led astray to worship idols by his wives; he just turned a blind eye to what they were doing. He never returned to settle in Egypt, he just bought his horses from there, and he didn’t collect money simply to keep in storehouses for his own pride, rather the pesukim indicate that he laden Yerushalayim with silver on the streets, in order to beautify the city, the place that housed Hashem’s Holy Temple. So his wisdom did, at least based on the reasoning of the law, safeguard him from straying from Hashem’s Torah, and allowed him to reach great heights of clinging to Hashem and doing His service. However, the strict letter of the law didn’t permit it, and it took a toll on the people. Though they did not complain outright to King Shlomo in his lifetime, they did complain to his son and even murdered, in cold blood, his chief tax collector.

A very important lesson we can learn from here is that high taxes, even for the most sincere reasons, as King Shlomo must have had as we see with the glorification of Hashem’s capital city, still can get out of hand like adding wood to an existing flame and is a great burden to society.

Re’eh – Optimizing Kindness and Gratitude Through Giving

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The seventh Aliyah of this week’s Torah Portion of Re’eh is read outside of Israel on the last day of yom tov for Pesach, Shavuos and on Shemini Atzeres. Most of it discusses the shalosh regalim, these 3 holidays, but it starts off with the mitzvah of donating the firstborn domesticated animal to the Mikdash, the Holy Temple. What is the connection?
The Sforno answers that after the Torah enumerates different acts of kindness concerning grains with tithes for the poor, money with the mitzvah of annulling debts during shmita and tzedaka, and regarding other possessions through compensating Jewish slaves. Following this, the Torah discusses mitzvos that have to do with gratitude towards The Exalted and All Powerful Hashem, which include donating the firstborn, specifically for those who own cattle, in order to acknowledge that from His hand the cattle was given to us. The Holiday of Matzos (Pesach) is in order to acknowledge freedom through the sacrificial lamb and the matza, and the spring by waving the omer. The Holiday of Shavuos acknowledges “the appointed weeks of the harvest” (Yirmiyahu 5:24) which were guarded for us. Finally, the Holiday of Ingathering (Sukkos) is to acknowledge the ingathering of produce. For each one a gift is brought to The Master, as it says: “And they shall not appear before Hashem empty” (Devarim 16:16). For this reason it does not mention [here] which month and which day of the month but rather it mentions “the spring,” “the weeks,” and “the ingathering”. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The connection between the donation of the firstborn and the yom tovim is that they show acts of gratitude towards Hashem. But why does showing gratitude require a gift; especially giving to Hashem who doesn’t need it? Everything is His, there is nothing you are doing for Hashem by giving him an animal, grain, or fruit. So why isn’t verbal recognition, with proper, authentic, whole-heartfelt gratitude enough to express our thanks to Hashem for what he has given and done for us; especially since Hashem, The All Knowing can look into our hearts and tell whether we are genuine or not? Why does Hashem require of us to sacrifice so much money for the holidays, giving away our hard-earned firstborn animals, and first fruits at certain times, in addition to expecting us to kindly give away money to the poor, forgo debts every 7 years, and give some sort of compensation when a Jewish slave goes free, as well as any other acts of kindness Hashem expects of us?

We must say then that the mitzvah of giving for the sake of gratitude is for the sake of the giver; for themselves to actualize their gratitude. Literally, thanksgiving! By giving something as a means of showing thanks, it shows you really mean it. The action of self-sacrifice for the sake of acknowledging what Hashem has done for you means you actually have, and feel you have, to do something to express the gratitude one should be feeling and verbally expressing.

This actualizing of gratitude towards Hashem is what we should be feeling when we spend money for our matzos, sedarim, milchigs, floral decorations , lulav and esrog, and sukkahs, during the festivals in this day and age.. Without the performance of these mitzvos, it is as if we would be coming before Hashem empty handed.

This concept can logically be taken one step further, in that it should also be true when expressing gratitude towards other people. By giving something, the giving is more of an acknowledgement of thanks than a heartfelt verbal thank you (of course everything must be done within one’s means).

The act of giving is not only needed to show kindness but it is the preferred method of appreciation as well.

Eikev – Israel’s Defense Force and Offensive

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At the end of this week’s Torah portion of Eikev, the Torah states: “For if you keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will possess nations greater and stronger than you” (Devarim 11:22-23).

Rabbeinu Bachye remarks on these pesukim: “If you follow the mitzvos of the Torah then Hashem will kick out the enemies from amongst you, for on this condition you are entering the land. In the Medrish it cites (Medrish Tanchuma Breishis 1): ‘For if you keep’ (אם שמור תשמרון) If you keep the mitzvos of the Torah you will be protected, meaning you will be protected from any enemy and from any destructive force. So to the previous paragraph starts ‘And it will be if you will listen’ (והיה אם שמוע תשמעו, which is the beginning of the second paragraph of Shema) it also mean if you listen to the words of the Torah, you will be listened to [in your prayers]. The opposite is also true [if you don’t listen and keep the mitzvos then Hashem won’t be quick to listen to your cries and protect you.] Similarly it says in Mishley 21:13: ‘He who stops up his ear from the cry of a poor man-he, too, will cry out and not be answered.’ [Implying if he does help the poor his own prayers will be accepted too.]” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In the first part of pasuk 23 it says:“Then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you,” Rabbeinu Bachye says it refers to “those who are closer to you [inside Israel] and then afterwards, ‘Every place upon which the soles of your feet will tread,’ (pasuk 24), which is the farther places. For this reason Chazal say (Sifri Ekev 51) about King David that he did something out of order and against the commands of the Torah, for he first captured the farther places which were Aram Tzova and Aram Naharayim which are farther from the Land of Israel and then afterward he captured the closer ones. For this reason they say in Gitten 47a that the conquering of the individual isn’t considered conquering. It is called ‘the conquering of the individual’ because there weren’t 600,000 people with him and it was not considered a conquering for the sake of the Holiness of the land regarding maaser (tithes) and shmita (sabbatical year) on a Torah level but rather only on a rabbinic level. Aram Tzova is Syria as we learn in the Sifri quoted before.”

We can infer from this Rabbeinu Bachye that if King David would have conquered everything in the proper order, with the backing of the entire nation, by first finishing to conquer the territories in Israel proper, as was started in the times of Yehoshua, and then continuing on to Syria and Aram Naharayim, then those latter places would also have been imbued with the same Torah level of Holiness and obligation in mitzvos, such as maaser and shmita. However, as a consequence for not strictly following the Torah, and doing things out of order, the farther lands that King David conquered were only sanctified on a rabbinic level.

There is a very interesting observation that could be pulled out of these two pesukim for why Rabbeinu Bachye specifically mentioned the incident with King David at this juncture, besides the fact that he transgressed these very pesukim of pasuk 23 and 24. Pasuk 22 points out that if we follow the Torah to the strictest letter of the law in Israel, then Hashem guarantees that we will be unharmed by any enemy, and in fact all our enemies will be outside the land of Israel. Now people might say: ‘come on, give us a break, look at how many people are Torah observant or are changing over and are finding their Torah roots in Israel and still our enemy is amongst us. And not only threatening us but actually harming us. How could it be with so much good in The Promise Land?!’

The obvious answer is that we aren’t perfect, and that not everyone is following Hashem’s word. But what we also see is that reward and punishment aren’t all or nothing. We are still in the land and there have been many miracles that have allowed us to stay in Eretz Yisrael. Wwe see this from King David, who was known to be on such a high level of relationship with Hashem, as testified in his Sefer Tehillim (Psalms) that was written with Divine Inspiration. He was a prophet, who led the Jewish People faithfully for forty years, and was deserving of having the Beis HaMikdash to be built in his day, if not for the fact that he was involved in bloodshed, albeit for the sake of defending his people and conquering the Holy Land. Yet we see here that whatever miscalculation it was for King David to choose to conquer Syria and its adjoining land first before finishing the conquest of Israel, there were consequences. He did it totally for the sake of Heaven, and proof is in the consequence, that the land he conquered was just not as holy as it could have been; yet any level of mishap deserves a consequence. It cannot simply be ignored.

But what we also see is that even what seems to be a very subtle consequence is a consequence which makes for a difference and has major ramifications. Who knows what would have happened if the land would have been conquered correctly? Would it have been at the Torah level of holiness and obligations to fulfill the mitzvos concerning land just like the rest of Israel has?

We have to realize that even the small differences in our service of Hashem makes for a difference. In this way we can be more observant of how we act and the choices we make. But also the consequences of our actions must be thought out clearly and realized; for, imagine the fact that something is rabbinic and not on a Torah level is a punishment for the actions of King David!

If we are more careful and thoughtful in what we do and are mindful to try to kindly help others do the right thing then peace and serenity will be granted for all of us in the Holy Land, and all our prayers will be answered with all of us in the Promised Land, speedily in our days.

Vaeschanan – More Than Just a Yissacher and Zevulun Partnership

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As the gabbai calls up the first Aliyah to be read from the Torah, the Artscroll Siddur notes: “Addressing the congregation, the gabbai calls upon them to show honor to G-D by giving honor to His Word – The Torah – which is about to be read. The congregation responds with a blessing to all who are called to the Torah and who are loyal to it” (see The Complete Artscoll Siddur page 439, 440). The “blessing” is actually a pasuk found in this week’s Torah portion of Vaeschanan, which states: “You who cling to Hashem, your G-D, you are alive today” (Devarim 4:4).

There is a fascinating explanation of this pasuk in the gemara, Kesubos 111b. The gemara says: “§ Rabbi Elazar said: The common, uneducated people will not come alive in the future, as it is stated: “The dead live not” (Isaiah 26:14). In other words, those who were already considered dead in their lifetimes will not come back to life afterward either. This idea is also taught in a baraita“The dead live not”; one might have thought that this is referring to everyone, i.e., none of the dead will live again. Therefore, the verse states: “The shades [refa’im] rise not” (Isaiah 26:14). This teaches that the verse is speaking of one who weakens [merapeh] himself from matters of Torah. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to Rabbi Elazar: Their master, i.e. God, is not pleased that you say this of ordinary Jews. Rather, that verse is written about one who weakens himself and succumbs to idol worship. Those who commit this great sin do not merit to be resurrected in the future. Rabbi Elazar said to him: I teach it from a different verse, as it is written: “For Your dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades” (Isaiah 26:19). Rabbi Elazar explains: Anyone who uses the light of Torah, which is called the dew of light, the light of Torah will revive him; and anyone who does not use the light of Torah, the light of Torah will not revive him. Since Rabbi Elazar saw that Rabbi Yoḥanan was grieved over the distress of common, uneducated people, he said to him: My teacher, I have found for them a remedy from the Torah so that they will merit life in the World-to-Come, as it states: “But You who cleave to the Lord your God, are alive every one of you this day” (Deuteronomy 4:4). But is it possible to cleave to the Divine Presence? Isn’t it written: For the Lord your God is a devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24)? Rather, this verse teaches that anyone who marries his daughter to a Torah scholar, and one who conducts business [perakmatya] on behalf of Torah scholars, by investing their money, and one who utilizes his wealth to benefit Torah scholars with his property in some other way, the verse ascribes him credit as though he is cleaving to the Divine Presence.”

The Gemara is telling us that every Jew should strive to cling to Hashem, and in this way one will merit to be a part of the future resurrection. In fact the gemara in Sanhedrin 90b brings this pasuk as a proof towards the resurrection of the dead, as it says: “And there are those who say that it is from this following verse that he said to them his ultimate proof: “But you who cleave to the Lord your God every one of you is alive this day” (Deuteronomy 4:4). Wasn’t it obvious with regard to the children of Israel whom God was addressing, that “every one of you is alive this day?” Rather, the meaning of the verse is: Even on the day when everyone is dead you will live; just as today every one of you is alive, so too, in the World-to-Come every one of you will be alive.”

The Gemara in Kesubos clearly states that the ticket to being resurrected is a deep involvement in Torah learning. Rebbe Yochanan was terribly grieved by the thought of the myriad of people who are not entrenched in Torah study who will not be resurrected. However, Rebbe Elazar brought in this pasuk to teach that if one cleaves to Torah scholars he or she will also receive the ticket to be resurrected.  

The Maharsha on this gemara observes that there were 3 types of cleaving mentioned: (1) With one’s body by marrying off his daughter to a Torah scholar. (2) Letting a Torah scholar benefit from one’s possessions, which is clinging through money. (3) Doing business for the scholar, which is not considered clinging through money, because in this instance one is not giving away any of his own money, but rather it is an intellectual clinging, to give him pleasure in whatever way possible.

on the point of the gemara discussing doing business for the Torah scholar, says it means one should be engrossed with the money of Torah scholars, in order to bring them investments, so that they can be free to be engrossed in Torah study through these means. Indeed, it writes: “You are all alive today,” for through clinging to Torah scholars they will merit to live [i.e. resurrection]. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

If there are people who are putting all their efforts and brainpower into figuring out what are the best investments for the Torah scholars, in order to earn enough money to live without going out to work and taking away time from learning, then why can’t they use all that energy and brainpower for their own Torah learning, a direct ticket to eternal life, instead of piggybacking on the Torah scholar?

There is a very important lesson to be learned from this, which might sound obvious, but is part of the fundamentals of Jewish life. Every single person has his or her own unique purpose in life. Granted, everyone has to set aside some time to learn Torah each day, but there are only a few individuals who are able to and should, dedicate their lives towards learning and spreading Torah to the populace. This is necessary for the world to exist, for we need scholars to be fluent and experts in the Guide Book to Life, the Blueprints of Creation, i.e. The Written and Oral Torah. Therefore they have to be able to dedicate their entire life to gaining those essentials,  teaching them and applying them throughout the world.

However there is an equally necessary need for people to take care of these Torah scholars and their families, in order that they can dedicate their life to these means. Therefore G-D created people in such a manner that some of them have the capacity to learn Torah fulltime, while others have a penchant for business, or for making investments, and yet others are handymen, doctors, lawyers, etc.

But all of us were created for one purpose; to serve Hashem and to do His Will. So the business people, doctors, handymen, etc. – if they marry off their daughters to Torah scholars and help support them, or actively make their lives and the lives of their family easier and more comfortable, they are not only doing a great kindness, but are fulfilling their purpose in creation, by enabling the world to continue to exist. That is how one can earn his or her ticket for the World to Come and eternal life.