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.

Devarim – What Are We Mourning Over (Tisha B’Av)

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This Shabbos is Tisha B’av, although we don’t observe the fast and mourning until the tenth of Av, the next day. We find a hint to the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash in one of the verses in this week’s Torah portion of Devarim. The beginning of the second perek of Devarim begins: “Then we turned and journeyed into the desert by way of the Red Sea, as the Lord had spoken to me, and we circled Mount Seir for many days. And the Lord spoke to me, saying, ‘You have circled this mountain long enough; turn northward. And command the people saying, You are about to pass through the boundary of your kinsmen, the children of Esav, who dwell in Seir, and they will be afraid of you. Be very careful’” (Devarim 2:1-4).

Tucked within the 3rd pasuk, Rabbeinu Bachye quotes an obscure Medrish Rabba found in the Lieberman edition, that another understanding of the words “turn northward,” or in Hebrew פנו לכם צפונה, is that the word ‘tzafon’ can be read ‘tzafun,’ like ‘Ohr Hatzafun,’ the hidden light. The Medrish relates that Hashem was addressing His children, saying: “’I have one hidden treasure amongst you, which is the Beis HaMikdash which I hid within you and it will be destroyed in the future,’ as it says, ‘And I shall turn My face away from them, and they will profane My secret place’ (Yechezkel 7:22).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Beis HaMikdash was not an edifice built by the Jews simply in order for Hashem’s Shechinah to rest, perform miracles for His children, and to more closely interact with them. Rather, it was Hashem’s palace in this world, created by Him, through His loyal servants, His beloved children, the prince and princesses of Hashem, the Jewish people. They were also the guardsmen of the palace. The palace was lovingly tucked away within the land promised to His children, a hidden treasure, which no person had the right to simply visit and take a stroll within.

But alas, the loyal servants and guardsmen became corrupt. They didn’t act as true servants of Hashem, the Holy King Of All Kings. To the degree that the Sefer Menoras HaMeor relates from a gemara in Yoma 9a, that during the time of the first Beis HaMikdash (which lasted 410 years) there were a maximum of 18 kohen gadols who served within. The Second Beis HaMikdash, which lasted 420 years, had more than 300 kohen gadols serve inside it. Of those 300, Shimon HaTzadik served for 40 years, Yochanan Kohen Gadol for 80 years, Yochanan ben Narvai Kohen Gadol for 10 years and Elazar ben Charsum served for 11 years. Excluding this total of 141 years, for the remainder of the 420 years, not one kohen gadol lasted a year (they didn’t survive the Yom Kippur service). Why? Because they bribed their way into the position. Slowly but surely the Beis HaMikdash became a spiritually dilapidated building until the Romans came to physically violate it and burn it to ashes (Menoras HaMeor, ner 4, klal 3, chelek 1, perek 3).

The Medrish Rabba on the first part of pasuk 3 above, states: “You have circled this mountain long enough”  this pasuk is linked to a pasuk in Tehillim (37:7): “Wait silently for Hashem and wait longingly for Him.” In another explanation of these two pesukim quoted in the Medrish, “Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said: ‘When the [Roman] enemies came to destroy Yerushalayim there were 600,000 destructive angels standing at the entrance of the Sanctuary ready to harm them. However when the destructive angels saw the Divine Presence observing silently [without objecting] – and from where do we know this to be so? For it is written: ‘He drew back His right hand in the presence of the enemy’ (Eichah 2:3) – they too made way for the enemy to enter” (Medrish Rabba, Devarim 1:17).

The Etz Yosef, in the name of the Eshed HaNechalim, quoting Kabbalists, explains that there are two types of “destructive angels” – good and bad. The bad ones are of the desert, and the good ones are of the house. The good ones are a positive force that only desires good. They did not let the enemy enter the Beis HaMikdash until they saw the Shechinah, the Holy Presence, observing silently, and then they ran away.
Hashem was so “dumbfounded” at the sight of His Holy Palace spiritually dilapidated, that it came to a point where He “just stood there” observing silently [without objecting], allowing the Romans to come and destroy His precious palace. The hundreds of thousands of angels who came to protect the palace had no choice but to retreat and let the destruction take its course.

The spiritual dilapidation was caused by the servants’ of Hashem, who were once Hashem’s trusted children. But they had lost that trust and were deserving to be punished and exiled.

Today, still in exile, is not a result of what once was but a result of where we are holding at this very moment. Are we ready to be the rebuilders of the Third Beis HaMikdash, the guardians and trusted servants of the Holy King Of All Kings. When we prove our loyalty then Hashem will peacefully return His Holy Presence to His Temple Mount and rebuild His palace, may it come speedily in our days.

May our tears of mourning turn into tears of joy,

Mattos/Massei – Accepting Responsibility for Negligence

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The second perek of Maseches Makkos is dedicated to the accidental murderer who has the right to run away to a city of refuge in order that he will not be killed by the goel hadam, the avenger of blood, a relative of the deceased. There is an argument between Rebbe Yossi HaGlili and Rebbe Akiva in the 7th Mishna of the perek as to whether the family member of the deceased gets a mitzvah for killing the accidental murderer and whether anyone else is allowed to commit the same murder – or if only a family member is allowed to kill the accidental murderer. It is implicit from the first Mishna and in the gemara with Rashi there that this accidental murderer, while he certainly had no intention of killing an innocent party, the act was not completely out of his control. Indeed,  he would not need to run away to a city of refuge but rather there must have been some level of negligence on his part, as he could have been more careful with what he was handling or more aware of his surroundings, and because of that he must run away and live his life in a city of refuge in order for himself not to be killed. Mishna 6 explains how this accidental murderer can eventually leave a city of refuge and go back home, namely upon the death of a kohen gadol; whether he was serving as kohen gadol at the time of his death, stepped down at the time as kohen gadol, or was the kohen appointed to lead the army into war; if any of them die he goes free. For this matter the Mishna says that the mothers of these kohanim would give food, drink and clothing to these accidental killers in order that they wouldn’t daven for the demise of their son.  The gemara in Makkos daf 11a asks why we would think the prayers of these accidental killers would be listened to since they are asking for such an accursed thing as the kohen gadol dying just so that they could go home? The gemara answers that in fact the Kohen gadol deserves this because they should have davened harder that nothing like this would happen in their lifetime.

This seems to make a decent amount of sense, on the simple understanding of this part in the Torah. However, the Daas Zekeinim says he has a different basic understanding of these pesukim which are found in the second parsha of this week’s double Torah portion of Mattos and Maasei, the source of this concept.  The Torah says: “But if the murderer goes beyond the border of the city of refuge to which he had fled, and the blood avenger finds him outside the limits of his city of refuge, and the blood avenger slays the murderer, he has no blood. For he shall remain in his city of refuge until the Kohen Gadol dies, and only after the Kohen Gadol has died, may the murderer return to the land which is his possession” (Bamidbar 35:26-29).

The Daas Zekeinim exclaims on pasuk 28 that the simple understanding of why the accidental murderer must stay in the city of refuge until the kohen gadol dies is in order that the world won’t speak badly about the kohen gadol when they see the murderer outside of the city of refuge. They would say: “See this guy who killed someone, and the kohen gadol refuses to take revenge upon him, it is his responsibility, as it says: ‘And you shall come to the kohen who will be [serving] in those days’ (Devarim 35:28).” But when the kohen gadol dies they would not suspect the kohen that is appointed after him, for what evil speech can they say about him, since the murder did not happen while he was kohen gadol. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The mishnayos and gemara in Makkos seems to be saying that the accidental murderer must stay in the city of refuge in order to save his life ad he can only leave without worrying that he will be killed once the kohen gadol who was in charge at the time of the murder passes on. Also, it is granted that to a large extent he deserves to live in this city of refuge because he could have been more careful with what he was doing but he wasn’t and someone was killed based on his negligence. But the kohen gadol seems also to be held to account for not davening hard enough for this to not have happened.

Yet the Daas Zekeinim has a totally different interpretation, and claims that this is the simple understanding of the text: the accidental murderer must stay inside the city of refuge in order that people won’t slander, i.e. speak lashon hara, about the kohen gadol, for not taking revenge on this accidental murderer. What should the kohen gadol have done? The Daas Zekeinim quotes a pasuk which talks about the bikurim, first fruits, that were brought to the kohen gadol which the Torah says must be done with true joy for performing the mitzvah, and the Daas Zekeinim there says the crops are blessed at that time. So these scoffers seemed to have not wanted the kohen gadol to accept the accidental murderer’s bikurim, as revenge for the accidental murder.
First off, we have to understand how the Daas Zekeinim can be arguing on the second perek of Makkos, especially since it seems to be the simple understanding of the pesukim in the Torah. However, it is possible to say this even if family members don’t want to kill him. Perhaps he is a friend, they couldn’t come to do such a thing, or he is known for being an upstanding citizen in general. He knows and is confident that he would not be killed if he lives outside of the city of refuge; still in all the Daas Zekeinim says he still must live inside the city of refuge until the Kohen gadol dies in order that people won’t slander the kohen gadol.

But why should he be punished in such a manner? Being away from where he normally lives, from doing what he is used to doing, and from being a part of normal society? Did he really do something terribly wrong; it was an accident? He might have fallen down a ladder while going down it and fallen on someone, killing them, or the like. Should that warrant being locked up in a city of refuge simply because people might commit the grievous sin of speaking lashon hara about the kohen gadol if they see the killer on the street? The kohen gadol wouldn’t even do anything wrong according to their slander. If the murderer would be free to roam the streets and want to fulfill the honorable mitzvah of giving the first fruits of his crop to Hashem on Shavuos then the kohen would accept the mitzvah and these outlandish scoffers would not want the mitzvah accepted. Why should we even worry about what such people say, especially to deprive this person of an opportunity of performing a mitzvah if he wants?

We learn from this Daas Zekeinim to what extent we are held accountable for the negligible actions we do. Once we do something which has negative repercussions even if we claim it was an accident,  now we are responsible for even the most farfetched, and despicable ramifications like other people’s potential slander which caused the Beis HaMikdash to be destroyed and still not rebuilt to this day which is why the accidental killer is stuck in the city of refuge until the kohen gadol dies.

Pinchas – Blessing of Diversity

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There are many reasons why Hashem created us, and the entirety of existence, with a myriad of differences. No one and nothing is the same, although sometimes the differences are simply nuances. Hashem did this with a purpose in mind for everyone and everything, in order that challenges can be faced and overcome for the sake of doing His will and, optimally, serving Hashem to the fullest. If everyone and everything were the same then there would not be any challenges in life and there would be no room to grow physically, emotionally, and intellectually. People have a natural, innate tendency to react to change or things that are different than them, be it different looks or ideas. However the question remains: what is the appropriate response when faced with someone or something which is different, extraordinary, or just a change from the norm?

The Medrish Tanchuma discusses this issue in this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas when Moshe asks Hashem who will replace him as leader once he passes away. Moshe speaks in a harsh manner requesting, “Let the Lord, the G-d of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation…” (Bamidbar 27:16). The Biur Ma’amarim on the Medrish Tanchuma suggests that the intent of the following medrish is to explain why Moshe described Hashem as “the God of spirits of all flesh.” The medrish begins by quoting halachos that can also be found in Brachos 58b. The medrish says, “Our rabbis have taught us that if one sees people who are different what bracha should be made? This is what our rabbis have taught us: One who sees a black person, or an albino, or one of really tall height, or one whose hands or body are filled with leprous like symptoms, or one who is lame, one should say, ‘Blessed is the One who makes the creatures different.’ One who saw a person who is missing a limb or is blind or one filled with boils should say the blessing of ‘Blessed is the True Judge.’ When is this last blessing said? Only when they were first fully healthy people then they changed. But if they were that way from their mother’s womb then one should say ‘Blessed is the One who makes the creatures different.’ And if one sees exceptionally beautiful people or trees one should say ‘Blessed is the One who has such in His universe.’ But if one sees a whole group of 600,000 or more people he should say the blessing, ‘Blessed is the Knower of secrets.’ Just as no one’s face are the same so to no one’s thought process are similar to each other, rather every single individual has their own mind. So to it says, ‘To make a weight for the spirit, and He meted out the water with a measure’ (Iyov 28:25), every single person has his or her own unique mind. Know that this is true for Moshe beseeches Hashem around the time of his demise, and said to him, ‘Master Of The World it is well known before You the minds of every individual, and none of Your children are similar to each other. When I disappear from the world, may You please, if You want to appoint a new ruler over them, appoint someone who will be able to be patient and understanding with every single individual according to each one’s mind.’ How do we know this? From the fact that Moshe called upon Hashem saying ‘Let the Lord, the G-d of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation…’” (Medrish Tanchuma, parshas Pinchas, paragraph 9 [or 10 in some editions]. Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The Biur Ma’amarim adds that the reason the medrish mentions these halachos is because mentioned amongst them is the blessing upon seeing a whole group of 600,000 Jews all at once, where one should say the blessing of “Blessed is the Knower of secrets,” which means that Hashem recognizes the secrets hidden in the hearts of every individual even though they all have different mindsets. This explains why Hashem is called the G-d of spirits, which is similar to what we say in our Shemone esray 3 times a day, enacted by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah: ‘You graciously endow man with wisdom… Endow us graciously from Yourself with wisdom, incite, and discernment…’ So too Moshe said ‘You know the spirit of each individual, appoint upon them a man similarly who can be patient and understanding of every single individual.’
In reacting to diversity or change one can be a separatist or an antagonist, speaking or acting in a racist manner, and maybe even reacting violently to those who are different than them. But Halacha calls on every individual Jew to take the opportunity when seeing something different or changed from its original status to bless Hashem for creating so many unique things in the world and always doing what is best for humanity. The Mishna Berura in chapter 225 in fact says one only says this blessing once in a while when he or she has not seen the like before or in a very long time. Also, to those who see the crippled or lame, blind or very sick, they can only say that blessing if they knew that person. Meaning, if there is an emotional charge inside oneself, and excitement of seeing the uncommon or extraordinarily beautiful, or the emotional pain and suffering upon seeing someone you know going through terrible times, it warrants blessing Hashem. This positively channels one’s emotions and thoughts towards a whole new appreciation of how Hashem is in constant contact with and intimately involved in this world.

This is the way every Jew is supposed to react in such a situation. Every Jew is also supposed to ask Hashem in his or her prayers every day to graciously give us or really share with us the Divine ability to have knowledge, intuition, and deep logical thinking in our own individual way.

What then was the unique quality Moshe was asking for in the next leader? If you think about it, it is very profound! It can be very easy, and there are many leaders who are able to handle and lead groups as a whole. Many times though people hear or give complaints that their individual needs aren’t taken care of. It is easier to just run an organization or institution, or even a people with a general understanding or belief of what is best for the populace or what is best for the organization. But Moshe Rabbeinu beseeches Hashem for someone who would be sensitive and would be able to connect with and help every individual on their own level, certainly no matter how they looked or what condition they are in but even to understand where they are coming from, their essence, and to work with every single individual.

That’s a quality of a true leader!

Balak – Ingratitude on a Whole New Level

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When speaking in terms of an ingrate what usually comes to mind is a person who had a favor done for them, which they haven’t acknowledged at all. No ‘thank you’ and maybe even a criticism of how it was done. In the worst case scenario, not even realizing a favor was done, and acting nastily to the person. But Bilaam in the Torah Portion of Balak takes it to a whole new level.

Bilaam, the prophet anointed by Hashem for the non-Jewish world, was hired to curse the Jewish people. Hashem told him not to go and do it. When Bilaam decided otherwise, Hashem said that He would hijack Bilaam’s  power of speech, only allowing him to say what He would force him to say. “The Lord placed word into Balaam’s mouth, and He said, ‘Return to Balak and say as follows. When he returned, Balak was standing next to his burnt offering, he and all the Moabite dignitaries. He took up his parable and said, ‘Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram, from the mountains of the east [saying], ‘Come, curse Jacob for me and come invoke wrath against Israel.’ How can I curse whom God has not cursed, and how can I invoke wrath if the Lord has not been angered?” (Bamidbar 23:5-8).

The Baal HaTurim clearly indicates that though Hashem controlled Bilaam’s speech, Hashem didn’t take control of Bilaam’s thoughts and intentions. When Bilaam “took up his parable” in pasuk 7, the Baal HaTurim says that Bilaam raised his voice so that all the 70 nations of the world could hear, so that they would be jealous of the Jews, just as Chaza”l say that if one blesses his friend in a loud voice it is considered a curse to him. The Baal HaTurim goes on to explain two reasons why Bilaam mentioned Aram. The first is that Bilaam came from Aram. Some say he was a great grandchild of Lavan, and there is even another Medrish which says Bilaam was actually Lavan. Either way, Bilaam was saying ‘How can we come upon them from Aram to curse them if from Aram their forefathers came, Avraham Avinu,  came laden with blessing as it says, “You shall go from your land…and I will bless you…” So to by Yaakov Avinu it says he went back to Aram laden with all the blessings as it says, “Behold I am with you and I will protect you…”
The second reason given by the Baal HaTurim  why Bilaam mentions Aram (which seems to go hand in hand with the first reason and doesn’t seem to be brought to argue on it),  is that “from Aram” means that if not for them we would not exist. Bilaam is telling Balak that we are from Aram and around the same time as the Binding of Yitzchok, Milkah conceived through Nachor as it says “Behold Milkah also gave birth…” ‘And you are also and ingrate (kafui tov) for if not for Avraham you would never have been born for in his merit Lot was saved from Sodom. I am also an ingrate for if Yaakov would not have come to Lavan he would not have had sons, and we are coming to Aram to curse them?!’ (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Even though Hashem took control of Bilaam’s speech and did not let him curse the Jewish people, Bilaam still had free choice over his thoughts and he had evil intentions of causing jealousy among the non-Jewish nations by making sure he was heard throughout the world when he said the blessings that came out of his mouth. In this way he was hoping the nations would cast an evil eye (ayin hara) on the Jews or perhaps it would even provoke them, as a whole, to take action against the Jews. He had all this in mind, even though he felt a sense of gratitude towards the Jewish people. He acknowledged that if not for them he would no longer be alive. Indeed, neither would Moav, who was a direct descendant of Lot and his daughter who were saved by the destruction of Sodom. Yet, despite possessing this sense of gratitude, he was still planning to curse the Jewish People, and when that didn’t work he still tried to spread an ayin hara on them.

How could this be? How could Bilaam have been so ungrateful? His actions were that of gratitude, by blessing the Jewish people, albeit he was forced; but he knew what he was doing. He told Balak he would be blessing them. He even acknowledged all the good that the Jews did for him and Balak. Yet, since his original intentions were to curse them because that was what he was hired to do and he would be getting a lot of fame and honor for doing so, and even when he saw he wouldn’t be successful, he still tried to undermine Hashem with his evil intentions of trying to make everyone jealous. He was therefore being ungrateful and even admitted knowing what he was doing, and did it anyways!

This is a whole new dimension of ingratitude. Bilaam wasn’t oblivious to the good the Jews did to him and was therefore willing to take actions against them. He knew that if not for them, both he and Balak would not be alive! He even verbally acknowledged that, and admitted that they should have a feeling of gratitude towards the Jewish people. Yet he still tried undermining them to the very end. Wow, this is the complexity of the human mind and emotions!

Torah Riddles Test #53

  1. Questions: The Beis HaLevi on the Torah in his section on Chanukah says one has to light a menorah at each of his entrances if he has more than one, so that people won’t suspect him of not lighting. According to the opinion that one does not have to relight his menorah if it blew out within a half an hour, why wouldn’t the same concern apply that people will think he did not light Chanukah candles?


A. There is an argument between Rav Huna and Rav Chisda in the gemara whether one has to relight the candles if they blew out within the half hour required time limit or since they potentially had the ability to stay lit for that long the mitzvah is fulfilled.

B. The concern of why one has to light in two entrances is a מראית עין issue.

Answer: By the case of two entrances there is really an obligation on the home owner to light in two places from the start because of this concern. But in the case where the light blew out he technically fulfilled his mitzvah already so we won’t force him to be obligated again just because of a concern that just popped up.

Chukas – How Much Do You Believe In Hashem?

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There is a book mentioned in this week’s Torah portion of Chukas called “The Book of Wars of Hashem” (Bamidbar 21:14). What is this book? Where is it today?  Why is Hashem quoting it in His Torah? The Ibn Ezra is of the opinion that it is a separate book and written inside it are the wars of Hashem that were waged for His G-D fearing followers. It began being compiled in the days of Avraham Avinu.  This book and  many other books  have been lost to antiquity, like The Words of Nosson and Ido, or The Chronicles of Kings of Israel, as well as the Songs of Shlomo and his Parables. The Daas Zekeinim adds that “The Book of Wars of Hashem” mentions the victory of Sihon over Moav, which the Torah just alluded to in the previous pasuk; the point being that Hashem orchestrated that one nation would fall into the hands of the other.

However the Ramban has a slightly different take on this, which could be an eyeopener. It takes us to task for how much we actively relate to belief in Hashem. The Ramban says that the simple understanding of “The Book of Wars of Hashem” is that in those generations there were intellectuals who wrote about the great wars of the time, and it took place in every generation. The authors of these books were called Storytellers, for there were many parables and highfalutin phrases mentioned inside these books. They attributed the incredible victories in those wars to Hashem because it was in fact the truth. The victory of Sihon over Moav was wondrous in their eyes and therefore they wrote it in this book. (Click here for the Hebrew text.)
These intellectuals were historians who do not seem to be Jewish based on the context of the Ramban, and though they lived in a heavily polytheistic time in history they were able to attribute the incredibly wondrous battles and victories, even amongst two non-Jewish neighboring nations, to Hashem. Why? Because it was the truth!

What a curious phenomenon! Imagine a historian writing a book on the history of American wars, The Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, The Civil War, America’s involvement in the two World Wars, etc. Do you think he would call it “G-D’s Wars”?!

But in fact, if you think about it, it is the truth, as the Daas Zekeinim points out: Hashem enabled one side to fall into the hands of the other. What is incredible is that those historians back in the day were able to recognize that and acknowledge it. Granted the whole world at the time heard and felt the rumbles of the miracles at the Red Sea and at Mount Sinai, but that was almost forty years previous, and they were still very involved in their worship of idols. It took intellectuals to think logically about what the truth was; but it took a lot of courage for those intellectuals to admit and publicize it. For that matter it was worth it to Hashem to acknowledge them in His Torah.

All the more so us Jews, the personal princes and princesses of The King Of All Kings, who have an even more personal relationship with G-D, b’chasdei Hashem, should find and acknowledge the kindness of Hashem in every step of our lives.

Korach – Formulas of Success

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Did you ever wonder why, after our shemone esray at shachris and mincha, we bend over and cover our heads with our arm when saying tachanun, beseeching Hashem to forgive our iniquities? Where did it come from, and what is its significance?

Rabbeinu Bachye
says it comes from this week’s Torah portion of Korach. While the outrageous rebellion of Korach and his followers raged and seemed to be picking up steam, “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, “Dissociate yourselves from this congregation, and I will consume them in an instant. They fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, if one man sins, shall You be angry with the whole congregation” (Bamidbar 16:20-22).

On this last pasuk Rabbeinu Bachye says that from here we know that we have to “fall on our faces” (nefilas apayim) during davening. One should understand that the concept of nefilas apayim, falling on one’s face, during davening has a threefold intention: (1) for the awe of the Shechina (Holy Presence). (2) To show pain and submission, and (3) to show subjugation of our senses and nullification of our feelings. The first one, for the awe of the Shechina, is in order to enwrap oneself with shame and modesty, for covering one’s face is the way of the humble and embarrassed. And since the intention of the one davening should be that the Shechina is in front of him or her, as it says: “I have placed the Lord before me constantly” (Tehillim 16:8), it was therefore enacted as part of the tactics of prayer to cover one’s face. All this is to instill fear of the Blessed Hashem, as it writes about Moshe: “And Moshe hid his face because he was afraid to look toward G-D” (Shemos 3:6). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
There are a few interesting observations that could be made here:
1. Why specifically 3 intentions (kavanos)?
2. Why is the first one so much different than the second two, the second two are showing something, whereas the first one as described afterwards is actually feeling emotions?
3. Why not just list in the first one the emotions that should be felt instead of calling it “awe of the Shechina”?
4. Also, how does all this add up to fear of Hashem as he says “All this is to instill fear of the Blessed Hashem?”

It would seem that Rabbeinu Bachye is giving us a formula to instill in ourselves a sense of Fear of Heaven at this point in our prayers, when we beseech Hashem to forgive us for the sins we have committed. The formula is based upon the action of covering our face with our arm, which should produce the feelings of shame and humility, while simultaneously realizing we are  sitting (or standing) before The Almighty Judge, King Of All Kings, The Holy One Blessed Be He. This action of covering our face with our arm also shows pain and submission, as well as our senses: taste, smell, sight, hearing, and even touch – being subjugated, and our feelings being nullified. All this put together is a formula to instill into ourselves fear in Hashem.

As in any formula, like the Coca Cola formula, or a beer formula, gas formula, medicine formula, cereal formula, etc., etc. they all need or needed time to be perfected, through trial and error. So too this formula, while it may not need time to become perfected, as we see by Moshe at the burning bush that it was perfected – however for each one of us it takes time to master this formula. Indeed, it might take a long while, longer for some than for others, but the Rabbeinu Bachye is teaching us that there is a formula that can be used to instill fear in Hashem and to help us repent, specifically at this point in davening.

In a similar vein the Ramban, when addressing his sons in the famous Iggeres HaRamban, writes: “Hear, my son, the instruction of your father and don’t forsake the teaching of your mother (Mishlei 1:8). Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone. This will prevent you from anger, a serious character flaw which causes people to sin. As our Rabbis said (Nedarim 22a): Whoever flares up in anger is subject to the discipline of Gehinnom as it is says  (Koheles 12:10), “Cast out anger from your heart, and [by doing this] remove evil from your flesh.” “Evil” here means Gehinnom, as we read (Mishlei 16:4): “…and the wicked are destined for the day of evil.” Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart. This radiant quality is the finest of all admirable traits (see Avodah Zarah 20b), because (Mishlei 22:4), “Following humility comes the fear of Hashem.”
Through humility you will also come to fear Hashem. It will cause you to always think about ( Avos 3:1) where you came from and where you are going, and that while alive you are only like a maggot and a worm, and the same after death. It will also remind you before Whom you will be judged, the King of Glory, as it is stated (I Melachim 8:27; Mishlei 15:11), “Even the heaven and the heavens of heaven can’t contain You” — “How much less the hearts of people!” It is also written (Yirmeyahu 23:24), “Do I not fill heaven and earth? says Hashem.”
When you think about all these things, you will come to fear Hashem who created you, and you will protect yourself from sinning and therefore be happy with whatever happens to you. Also, when you act humbly and modestly before everyone, and are afraid of Hashem and of sin, the radiance of His glory and the spirit of the Shechina will rest upon you, and you will live the life of the World-to-Come!” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We find a formula in the Ramban as well. A formula to strengthen our Fear of Heaven in order to avoid sin and be happy with our lot in life, as he says: “When you think about all these things, you will come to fear Hashem who created you, and you will protect yourself from sinning and therefore be happy with whatever happens to you.” It is a very similar formula: It begins with an action of always talking softly which leads to controlling one’s anger that infuses humility in oneself and finally arouses fear of Hashem. This formula is also not easy to master in a short time and is not expected to be that way. It takes much focus and toiling.

If the perfection of product formulas take a while then all the more so the mastering of a formula which is beneficial for life can take a very long while, possibly a lifetime for many but it is all worthwhile as the Ramban says, “and you will protect yourself from sinning and therefore be happy with whatever happens to you… the radiance of His glory and the spirit of the Shechina will rest upon you, and you will live the life of the World-to-Come!”

Shelach – Don’t Ask For More Than You Can Handle

This week’s Torah portion of Shelach begins with the episode of the spies. The Jewish people didn’t feel ready to just walk into the land and conquer it, and decided they had to first send spies to scope out the land, which proved to be their doom. Hashem had a specific issue against His people: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people provoke Me? How much longer will they not believe in Me after all the signs I have performed in their midst’” (Bamidbar 14:11). For that reason Hashem decreed, “According to the number of days which you toured the Land, forty days, a day for each year, you will [thus] bear your iniquities for forty years; thus you will come to know My alienation” (Bamidbar 14:34).

The Ralbag learns a lesson from here that it  befits a person to place his trust in Hashem, and all the more so if Hashem clearly showed him that He is with him in what he wants to do. See what happened to the Jewish people and all the bad that ensued because they did not want to rely on the destiny that Hashem The Almighty had in store for them in inheriting the land. They instead chose to send spies, even after witnessing the awesome wonders that Hashem The Almighty did for them. They should have realized from these miraculous wonders that Hashem The Almighty is never handicapped from doing what He desires. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

This lesson seems obvious! Of course one should trust in Hashem, the perfect, Almighty, All Knowing, and All Gracious; especially if He clearly proves He can be trusted. So what is the lesson and why didn’t the Jews get it right the first time in the desert? The Jewish people personally live through what was without a doubt the most blatant and open show of Hashem’s power and control over the world with all the plagues in Egypt, miracles at the splitting of the sea, wonders of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai,  the everyday miracles of the manna falling from heaven, water coming out of a rock, and the Clouds of Glory. Indeed, they had proven their trust in Hashem by uniting as one to receive the Torah and with virtually blind faith in following Hashem out of Egypt to a desert of desolation, as the pasuk describes: “ So said the Lord: I remember to you the lovingkindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown” (Yirmiyahu 2:2). We definitely see from here how powerful our free will is, and even more so the power of the Evil Inclination, in stopping us from choosing what is obviously the right path to take at all times.

Many people have asked me in the past why Hashem no longer performs open miracles. They say: “Why can’t He just show me one sign that he is listening to my prayers, answer me clearly, just once…?”

In truth, Hashem is constantly showering us with miracles, at every moment of our lives, and is giving us direction on how to lead our lives. But Hashem, out of His love and mercy for us, does not hand things to us on a silver platter, because he wants us to earn the right to see His everlasting goodness. He purposely created us with free choice and not a serene existence, so that we can justly earn our share in the World to Come, which is the true place of perfection. And out of Hashem’s kindness and mercy he does not provide open miracles because as we see from the Jewish people in the desert that we still have a choice to follow the miracles and continue on the right path, but it is not guaranteed that it will happen. However, if we are unsuccessful in choosing to stay on that right path, we are held to a higher accountability for our folly: “it is befitting for a person to place his trust in Hashem, all the more so if Hashem clearly showed him that He is with him in what he wants to do. For we see what happened to the Jewish people and all the bad that ensued,” as the Ralbag points out.

Hashem out of his mercy and perfect precision is more open in His Divine intervention  at certain times than at other times, knowing who and when one has the ability to potentially use it appropriately.