Korach – Famous or Infamous

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 One of the first lessons the Ralbag learns from this week’s Torah portion of Korach is that “one should not get into fights with the gedolim, the leading rabbis of the generation. See what happened to Korach because of his argument with Moshe Rabbeinu a”h, the master of all prophets. “
 This seems to be an obvious life lesson but what was the reason Korach got into this argument? He was within the top 5 of hierarchy behind Moshe and Aharon, and he Chaza”l say he had the fortune but his downfall was that he let jealousy get the better of him. We know how powerful jealousy is, that even someone as great as Korach was, jealousy was still able to rot his heart and create this debacle which swept up many leaders with him. But if jealousy is so strong, how can it be stopped?
 This can be answered through a second lesson the Ralbag learns from this episode. “It’s not worthwhile to be jealous of someone else’s honor and position he has over you. But it is befitting to be satisfied with what the Exalted Hashem has graciously endowed you from this. With this we see that for Korach, because of his jealousy for the position and honor that Hashem gave Aharon, this was reason for him to convince many Jews to rise up with him in a fight that caused him to lose his life and all of them in this world and the next.” (Click here for Hebrew text.
We learn from here 3 approaches that should help a person avoid being swept up by the attribute of jealousy:

  1.  The first obvious reason that one should not let jealousy get the better of him and therefore he should at all costs stay away from jealousy is the results, i.e. punishment that results from this attribute. You might want other people’s stuff, position or honor, but you wind up with nothing. Korach wanted to be famous and he got the fame; Hashem made him infamous (he actually ended up being very famous)! Korach could have been a well-respected Tzadik, doing his role as a levitecarrying parts of the Mishkan, specifically the important position of carring the Holy Ark, since he came from the family of Kehas, which Hashem gave him. He would not necessarily have had the same mentioning as Aharon had throughout the Torah, but Hashem would have given him a very high seat next to His throne in the World to Come for fulfilling his destiny and potential in this world. But instead he made it into the Torah for all eternity with a whole parsha all to himself to remind us of his evil and destructive behavior. Is infamy what Korach really wanted? But that’s the result of jealousy!
  2. This leads us to the next reason to stop a person from becoming jealous, which is definitely more important, that is, the fact that one’s position and honor comes from Hashem. Hashem decides who gets and who doesn’t, so being jealous of what others have won’t help one iota, and it’s not even worth it.  Hashem has a reason for why a certain person gets this position and another gets a different position.
  3. Lastly, a position comes with responsibilities, not just honor. Who says you can live up to the responsibility that the other person’s position has, and on the contrary, you might gain more through the help of the person who is in that position? For example, in this case with Aharon, he might have been the high priest, the number 1 Levite, but the pressure to ensure everything was being done correctly in the mishkan was immense, and if done wrong is punishable by death. Wrong means even with improper intent. Why would Korach want this responsibility for himself; Hashem gave it to Aharon for a reason, because He knew Aharon earned that position, and automatically the honor comes with it. The honor just doesn’t come out of the blue for any random reason. It is earned and Divinely given. Be thankful that the pressures and responsibilities that come with that position is not on your shoulders. Appreciate what you do have, the position you are in, and the fact that people in higher positions can help you with your needs without you needing to do it yourself.

If Korach only looked at what he had and figured out the most of what he can do to fulfill his role in life which was destined by Hashem and understand that we are all in it together to help each other than this infamous episode in history would never have happened and the Jews would have had many more leaders in their own right guiding them on the right path.

Shelach – Expectations of a Perfect Leader


Most of this week’s Torah portion of Shelach discusses the disastrous episode of the spies which condemned a whole generation of the Jewish people to die in the desert after wandering for 40 years, instead of everyone going straight into and inheriting the Land of Israel.
One lesson the Ralbag learns from here is that “it is appropriate for a person to place his trust in Hashem especially when He clearly shows that He is with him in what ever he decides to do. Behold, we all know the bad that happened to the Jews because they did not want to rely on the mission of The Exalted Hashem in inheriting the land and instead decided to send spies there, even though they had already witnessed the awesome wonders that The Exulted Hashem had done for them. They should have realized that the Hand of the Exulted Hashem will not fall short of doing whatever He wants.”

With this basic and baseless lack of trust that the Jewish people showed, at whatever level it really was, how miniscule it must have really been, still in all there is a very important lesson that every leader should learn from Moshe Rabbeinu, which the Ralbag in a different lesson points out. “It is appropriate for the perfect leader to have the strength to be patient with his followers and their blatant negligence in order to direct them to what is good. Behold, we see that it wasn’t enough that Moshe did not get angry at them for rebelling against him for wanting to return to Egypt even though Hashem showered them with favors done through him [Moshe], but [Moshe] also was gracious towards them and fell on his face before them pleading with outstretched arms that they won’t self-destruct by rebelling against The Exulted Hashem. This wasn’t even enough but he also piled on prayer after prayer before The Exulted Hashem that He should overlook their iniquities until The Exulted Hashem answered him and was comforted over the bad which He said He would do to His nation, meaning He did not completely wipe them out but left their children to inherit the land and they themselves did not all die at once.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
A leader is someone who takes, or at least attempts to take, his followers from point A to point B, whether that is physically or spiritually. Whatever goal-minded purpose or mission, a leader inspires, shows, directs, and leads a person or people in that direction. The Ralbag mentioned 3 areas in progression where Moshe went above and beyond and showed that he was the perfect leader:
1. He did not get angry when his followers were not listening to him, even though it was clearly proven without a shadow of a doubt that Moshe was just the messenger of the All Trustworthy, All-Powerful Hashem who was taking care of them, and they certainly should have trusted Hashem who had also proved His love, loyalty, and power towards them.
 2. Moshe humbled himself and begged on his hands and knees for them to not continue with their mistakes, and to repent, and to go back onto the trustworthy path of Hashem.
3. He focused all his energy and strength to pray for them so that they wouldn’t be annihilated for not trusting in, and rebelling against, Hashem.

But shouldn’t this be expected of any leader, even if they are not perfect? Isn’t every leader expected to be selfless and self-sacrificing for the sake of his constituents? What else should he have done if he wasn’t the perfect leader?

It is implicit from here that if Moshe Rabbeinu would not have acted as a perfect leader, then he might have acted out of anger, albeit for good intentions. He was still the humblest of men and surely wouldn’t have felt any slight from them rebelling against him. Rather it must be that because they were rebelling against Hashem, the Honor of Hashem was being slighted; then there would have been just cause to speak out or even take action out of anger, with the intention of instilling fear into them so that they would hopefully leave their evil ways. It might have even worked, at least for a while.

However, we see from here that a truly perfect leader would never use anger, or even the display of anger, to sway his followers to the good; rather the opposite should be demonstrated. Not only was Moshe not angry, but he belittled himself and pleaded with his followers to change, and when that didn’t work, he put in an immense amount of strength and energy into his prayers in order to, at the very least, successfully lessen the punishment. Even though they complained, made some really nasty remarks, and showed an outright lack of trust and interest in following him and Hashem, still in all the perfect leader did not care that his followers didn’t  show any interest in him, and showed a complete dedication towards them.

For that reason, the Ralbag is praising and pointing out that Moshe Rabbeinu was the perfect leader. It’s not surprising if people don’t want to follow you then you’ll just give up on them. There is just so much one can do to try to help others. However, it takes a perfect leader to never give up and to continue to help and be completely dedicated to his or her students, congregants, or even children even though they are showing a total lack of interest in him or her.

Bihaaloscha – Really Feeling Someone Else’s Pain 


At the end of this week’s Torah portion of B’haaloscha Miriam spoke lashon hara (slander), on some level, about Moshe to Aharon. 
The last chapter of the medrish, Pirkei diRebbe Eliezer (54) discusses this episode. “The 8th (9th) descent is when Hashem descended upon the Tent of Meeting as it says, ‘And Hashem descended in a pillar of cloud and He stood at the entrance of the tent and He called for Aharon and Miriam, and they both came out.’ Hashem said to him, whoever slanders his friend in secret has no way to heal, all the more so his brother who is the son of his father and mother. Hashem was angry at them and removed Himself from on top of the tent as it says, ‘Hashem was infuriated at them.’ He left and immediately Miriam received spiritual leprosy (tzaraas). Hashem said, if Aharon would also be a spiritual leper (metzora), a high priest with a blemish, may not bring an offering onto the alter, rather he will look at his sister and will feel pained as it says, ‘And Aharon turned towards Miriam.’ Aharon then went to Moshe, said to him, ‘ My master Moshe, siblings only are separated by death… our sister, while she is still alive has been separated from us as if she is dead. Moshe appeased him with kind words and prayed for her as it says, ‘And Moshe screamed out to Hashem saying, G-D please heal her please.'” The Be’ur Maspik adds that the gemara in Shabbos 96a points out that though it sounds like from the pasuk “Hashem was infuriated at both of them” which sounds like they both got spiritual leprosy, yet the gemara qualifies that just Hashem’s wrath was upon both of them. The Maharz”u adds more insight into this medrish, clarifying, that when Aharon saw his sister and was pained, in this way he accepted his punishment for his sin with his pain. This was also the means he atoned for his sin, in the fact that he partnered in her pain.
 It is implicit from the medrish and gemara that Miriam and Aharon deserved equal punishment, and in fact received equal punishment. But for Aharon Kohen Gadol, Hashem wasn’t willing to actually make Aharon a leper because he had to serve in the Mishkan, and a kohen with a blemish may not serve in the Mishkan. So, alternatively, he saw what happened to Miriam and was greatly pained upon seeing the state she was in.

But how is this equal to the punishment Miriam received? Chaza”l say that leprosy is physically quite painful, and the embarrassment Miriam must have felt must have been tremendous. So how does Aharon’s feeling bad for Miriam compare or equate to the pain Miriam was in?

 It must be that when Aharon internalized the state his beloved sister was in and why it had happened, the tzadik that he was, as well as running after peace, caring for every individual in the Jewish Nation, all the more so for his own sister,someone of that sensitivity level has the ability to actually feel the pain a spiritual leper is feeling, as if he himself has that same pain. For that reason the Torah likened that Miriam and Aharon were equally punished.

We see from here the awesome ability and to what extent a person can relate to his fellow. This takes on a whole new meaning to imagining being in his shoes. In fact, it would seem that one can actually be in the other’s shoes!  

Naso – Humility and Humiliation

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The last part of this week’s Torah portion of Naso discusses the dedication of the Mishkan. Each of the heads of the tribe brought a set of offerings at the dedication. The first was Yehuda, (Bamidbar 7:12,13).

The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Yehuda. יבוַיְהִ֗י הַמַּקְרִ֛יב בַּיּ֥וֹם הָֽרִאשׁ֖וֹן אֶת־קָרְבָּנ֑וֹ נַחְשׁ֥וֹן בֶּן־עַמִּֽינָדָ֖ב לְמַטֵּ֥ה יְהוּדָֽה:
13And his offering was one silver bowl weighing one hundred and thirty [shekels], one silver sprinkling basin [weighing] seventy shekels according to the holy shekel, both filled with fine flour mixed with olive oil for a meal offering. יגוְקָרְבָּנ֞וֹ קַֽעֲרַת־כֶּ֣סֶף אַחַ֗ת שְׁלשִׁ֣ים וּמֵאָה֘ מִשְׁקָלָהּ֒ מִזְרָ֤ק אֶחָד֙ כֶּ֔סֶף שִׁבְעִ֥ים שֶׁ֖קֶל בְּשֶׁ֣קֶל הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ שְׁנֵיהֶ֣ם | מְלֵאִ֗ים סֹ֛לֶת בְּלוּלָ֥ה בַשֶּׁ֖מֶן לְמִנְחָֽה:

Rabbeinu Bachye says that the tribe of Yehuda came first for all the things, whether the travels in the desert with the flags, the dedication of the Mishkan, or during war, as well as inheriting the land, and the future redemption (may it come speedily in our days.) By the offerings of the tribes, the Torah writes “his offering,” but by Nachshon (here), who was the first, the Torah writes “and his offering,” the reason being that he would not feel haughty above the others and say ‘I am first before everyone else.’ Therefore, pasuk 13 begins “And his offering,” as if he came after everyone else; and by everyone else it says “his offering,” as if each one was first. For this reason, it does not mention the title of ‘prince’ by Nachshon, but by all other tribal leaders who brought their offering after him they are given the title of ‘prince.’ (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We see from this Rabbeinu Bachye that in order to avoid any haughtiness coming from the tribe of Yehuda and their leader, Nachshon ben Aminadav, Hashem added an “and,” which implies he was not first and left out his deserved title of prince whereas everyone received their title.

Isn’t this a game? The Tribe of Yehuda and it’s head certainly knew who they were and would always be first; deserving of the kingship, which wound up coming through the Davidic line leading up to Moshiach. So why should one added letter and one less word in the Torah make an impact to subjugate their potential haughtiness, especially if it’s not totally true, they really were the first to bring the offering and he really was a prince like all the other tribal leaders?

However, it would seem that this is not a game. When a person sees he is different from everyone else and the message is a message of inferiority, even though he knows intellectually it is not true, but the “in your face” message can make an impact on a person psychologically, and someone who knows he is number one will automatically be humbled.

If that is the case for someone who is on top, then all the more so a lowly person, who might not have the greatest self-esteem, will be triggered and tormented even by the slightest and most subtle of remarks regarding subjugation, and that will cause great humiliation. Therefore, others have to be very careful what they say or do, and especially to not purposefully hurt someone’s feelings even with what seem to be a very minor joke or insult.

Shavuos – Megillas Rus – Connecting the Dots


  I found a fascinating introduction to Megillas Rus in one of my Mikraos Gedolos on the megillas which I want to share with everyone. (Click Here and Here and Here for Hebrew text.)

“Behold in the days that judges were judging, behold there was a famine in the land” (Rus 1:1). It is mentioned in the Medrish Rabba that 10 famines came to the world: 1. In the days of Adam Harishon… 2. In the time of Lemech… 3. In the days of Avraham… 4. In the time of Yitzchak… 5. In the days of Yaakov… 6. In the days of the judges judging… 7. In the time of Dovid… 8. In the days of Eliyahu… 9. In the days of Elisha… and 10. One will roll out and come to the world in the future… Rebbe Shmuel bar Nachmani said the most important famine was in the days of Dovid. It was supposed to come in the days of Shaul but because he would not have withstood the test it came in the days of Dovid. Rav Chisda bar Rav gave a parable to an attendant who had a box full of bottles and glasses and when he wanted to hang up the box he got a peg and fastened it into the wall to hang the box on it. For this reason all the famines did not come in the days where the people were unstable; rather at times when people were strong and able to stand up to the test at hand.

This medrish split the famines in half. Five were before the Torah was given and from Yaakov until the judges judged there was no famine in the world until the time came for the start of King Dovid’s service to spark and shine. For it is known the famous Chaza”l, ‘I found Dovid My servant. And where was he found? In Sedom.’ It is explicit from here that as long as the seed of Moav had not mixed with the House of Yehuda the light of Dovid was hidden and this reality was not revealed yet. However, in the days of this tzadik, Boaz, who took care of Rus the Moabite, who was the wife of Machlon, only then this reality (the line of Dovid Hamelech with the eventual advent of Moshiach) was revealed in the world.

Therefore, there was a place for the next famine to the rest which will return all the Jews. For this reason, this megilla started with the matter of the famine which was in those days and at the end discusses the lineage and birth of Dovid.

The Megilla is called Rus because all three are connected to each other: 1. The story of Rus eventually marrying Boaz, 2. revealing the roots of Dovid Hamelech’s lineage, and 3. the 6th famine that swept through the land. This connects to the 7th famine in the days of Dovid… where Dovid sought out Hashem in repentance, which then lead to the 8th famine in the days of Eliyahu Hanavi (who will herald in Moshiach). Then came the 9th famine in the days of Eliyahu’s student Elisha, and finally the last famine will be in the days of our righteous Moshiach; in his days the pasuk writes: ‘I will send a famine in the land, but not a famine for bread or a thirst for water but rather to listen to the word of Hashem.’

It’s also brought down in Medrish Rabba of Rus that Rebbe Ze’ira said that this megilla has no mention of purity or impurity, prohibitions or permissibility, so why was it written? To teach us how much good Hashem rewards those who act with kindness. For because Boaz saw the good heart of Rus, that she was imbued with a drive to do acts of kindness, which is one of the 3 signs of a Jew: 1. Merciful, 2. Bashful, 3. Doers of kindness, and Boaz saw in her all 3 attributes… Chaza”l say in a gemara in Shabbos 113b he saw modesty (which stems from the attribute of being bashful) by her, also her great humility when she said ‘I am not like one of your maidservants.’ All of these Boaz saw in Rus and recognized that she was the most fit from all the other women, and possibly she was the female Moabite which was prepared to bring into the world the light of the King Moshiach. For this reason he researched into her and thus the prophet Shmuel wrote at length this megilla to tell us who Rus was and how it came about that Rus was brought into the congregation of the Jews, who brought her on her journey. Therefore this megilla was called Rus to show that the main story was about her.

In the end it gives the account of the lineage from Peretz, the son of Yehuda, until the birth of Dovid and no more, because it also seems this megilla was written in order to trace the lineage of Dovid, in how Hashem orchestrated that Dovid would come out of Rus the Moabite. Hashem declared a famine on the land, and He put into the thoughts of Elimelech to move far away from Beis Lechem Yehuda to the land of Moav. His sons then married Moabite women, and Rus who came back with her mother-in-law, and wound up falling in “levirate marriage” to Boaz, to keep up the name of his family. They gave birth to Oved the father of Yishai, who was the father of Dovid. When Dovid came of age and killed Goliath, and King Shaul promised that anyone who would kill Goliath would marry his daughter, there was a huge argument amongst the sages of Israel if Dovid was permitted to enter the Congregation of Israel since it is written in the Torah that an Ammonite or Moabite may never enter the congregation of Hashem. But then Shmuel Hanavi sent word and poskined that only the males from Ammon and Moav were forbidden but the females were permitted (and Dovid came from a female Moabite), and they accepted this halacha. Since Shmuel saw that the main reason why Dovid was permitted to marry a Jewess was because of what he poskined, and if he would have been dead then they would have invalidated Dovid from marrying into the faith, therefore he wrote this megilla at great length to inform and show the world Dovid’s lineage.

In order that this megilla would not get lost through the years it was set into the holy scriptures of Tana”ch amongst the Kesuvim. Since Shavuos is the day we received the Torah, which is called the Torah of Kindness, and Dovid came from Rus the Moabite, one who was imbued with kindness, and he was born on Shavuos and died on Shavuos, and also the Torah and the name of Moshiach were created together before the creation of the world, and Dovid himself is the anointed one of the G-D of Yaakov, as it’s written ‘and Dovid My servant is a prince of theirs’ – therefore we read this megilla on the holiday of Shavuos.

From this introduction to the Book of Rus we see how Hashem has a master plan throughout the history of the world from before its creation to the very end and to see how it’s being orchestrated and played out with such exactitude and precision is an awesome sight to behold! We just must open our eyes, hearts and mind to see how Hashem’s master plan unfolds itself.

Bechukosai – Yerushalayim: Center of Torah Learning

This dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Todd Miller a”h upon the occasion of his yahretzeit this past week and a continued refuah shleima for my father, Moshe Chaim ben Raizel, may he get better soon.

This week we conclude the book of Vayikra. Towards the end of this Torah portion of Bechukosai we find the mitzvah of maaser biheima, tithing of domesticated animals. This is one of three mitzvos that one has to go to Yerushalayim and eat the food that had been separated. The other two are maaser sheini, second tithes of produce, and nata revai, fruit from the 4th year after a tree was planted. A tenth of one’s herd must be brought to Yerushalayim, the blood and chelev, non-kosher fats, were sacrificed on the alter in the Beis Hamikdash and the meat had to be eaten in Yerushalayim by those who brought it.
 The Sefer Hachinuch gives a reason behind this mitzvah (#356): “The root of the mitzvah is that Hashem chose the nation of Israel and desired for the sake of His righteousness that all of them are involved in learning Torah and knowing His Name. In His wisdom He set up this mitzvah so that they will learn to take mussar, for G-D knows that most people are pulled after their lowly physical state, since they are physical, and they don’t give their souls over to the pursuit of toiling in Torah and constant involvement in thereof, therefore He set up with His intellect and at least gave them a central location where everyone knows His words of Torah. Though there is no doubt that everyone sets up their home where they have to earn a living, therefore when every person brings up the tithes of their sheep and cattle every year to the place where people are involved in wisdom and Torah, which is Yerushalayim, the place where the Sanhedrin, high court, those that know knowledge and understand education, and so to tithes of grain are brought there 4 out of 7 years that lead up to shemita, the sabbatical year, as is known that maaser sheni is eaten there, as well as nata revai is also eaten there, therefore the owner of the money that was set aside to redeem and eat these mitzvos, will have a chance to learn Torah or he sends one of his children to learn there while eating from all the produce that must be redeemed. In this way, there will be in every Jewish house a wise person who knows Torah, who learned it with wisdom in every household. Then the whole land will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem. If there would only be one sage in each city or even ten, there would still be many people in each city, especially the women and children who would only visit them maybe once a year, or even if they go to their Torah classes once a week, by the time they get home it goes in one ear and out the other, but if there is a teacher in each and every household who lives there day in and day out evening, morning, and afternoon, who is always being cautious with what they are doing then everyone, men, women and children will be more observant. There won’t be any accidental or purposeful sin found amongst them. They will merit the fulfillment of the pasuk, ‘I will place My dwelling inside you… and you will be for Me a nation and I will be for you G-d.'” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 Hashem in His incredibly, deep wisdom set up a system to ensure the continuity of Torah learning on a deep level, with a way for each and every household to be involved and active in such an education and upbringing.  But why does it have to revolve around the element of food to ensure its success? Exactly what is the precise teaching and mussar haskel, lesson in character development, that Hashem was trying to teach us?

Today we see that Yerushalayim is the center of Torah education. Many of our children, post high school, attend yeshivas and seminaries for at least one year and hopefully come back changed with a better foundation in Torah observance and appreciation of the Torah, which will be the basis for the rest of their lives when raising a family. However, to ensure this would be a guaranteed life-changer as the Sefer Hachinuch describes, why couldn’t Hashem create a mandatory draft, a mitzvah for at least one person in every household to spend a few years in yeshiva, with mandatory follow-up conventions and refresher courses in Yerushalayim which would produce the same results as bringing the tithes of livestock and produce, as well as fruits from the fourth year of a tree’s growth, to be only eaten in Yerushalayim in order to have a reason to go there to learn? Why is a connection needed between eating these foods and learning in Yerushalayim in order for the continuity of Torah observance to be a success?

However, as the Sefer Hachinuch points out, in Hashem’s infinite wisdom He wanted to ensure that this plan is done correctly and He knows that people on some level, if possible, would look to find ways to dodge a draft. Therefore, as a moral lesson, knowing the ways the physical human being works, and what he is drawn to, Hashem connected one’s livelihood or means of physical survival with his ultimate success in walking in the ways of Hashem and ensuring that one’s family will also properly perform Hashem’s will. Therefore, Hashem created these 3 mitzvos of maaser sheni, maaser biheima, and nata revai, as means to ensure every Jewish family will send household members to Yerushalayim to learn Hashem’s Torah, the guidebook for life, so that they can then go home and lead their families properly in Hashem’s service. It is interesting to note that most yeshivas and seminaries now a days provide food for their students but it would seem back in the day that the parents would provide the food, i.e. the meat from maaser biheima, and the produce from maaser sheni and neta revai, when they sent their children to yeshiva in Yerushalayim as the Sefer Hachinuch points out here and the Moshav Zekeinim points out in parshas Re’eh (14:23) by the mitzvah of maser sheni.

The lesson here is that to ensure success it is a smart thing to recognize our weaknesses and frailties and figure out how to incorporate them into doing what is right in this way one’s plans will be fulfilled, like in this case by the plan of of ensuring every Jew to be a true servant of Hashem.

Behar – Attitude of “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”

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In this week’s Torah portion of Behar we find the mitzvah of supporting the needy. “If your brother becomes destitute and his hand falters beside you, you shall support him [whether] a convert or a resident, so that he can live with you” (Vayikra 25:35). The Yefe Toar observes that there are eight terms for a poor person in Hebrew and the one used in this pasuk, יָמ֣וּךְ, is the last one, the lowliest and most impoverished of poor people.

About this mitzvah, the Medrish Rabba brings a pasuk from Koheles: “On a day of good, be among the good, and on a day of bad, see; God has made one corresponding to the other, to the end that man will find nothing after Him” (Koheles 7:14). The medrish states, “Rebbe Tanchum the son of Rebbe Chiya opened [his lecture with this pasuk] ‘On a day of good, be among the good, and on a day of bad, see; God has made one corresponding to the other.’ If bad comes upon your friend see how you can find merit for him and support him so that you can accept your reward. This is what Rebbe Tanchum the son of Rebbe Chiya did: When his mother told him to buy a litra of meat he bought two, to give the other one to the poor. This fulfilled the second half of the pasuk, ‘God has made one corresponding to the other,’ Hashem made poor and rich so that they can help each other, therefore Moshe warned the Jews, ‘If your brother becomes destitute’” (Vayikra Rabba, Behar, 34:5)

The Matnos Kehuna points out that the Medrish Rabba in Koheles elaborates more on this medrish. There it says that “Rebbe Tanchum the son of Rebbe Chiya explained this pasuk in Koheles in terms of the poor and rich. On a good day of your friend rejoice with him. And on a bad day see; see how to support the poor so that you will receive reward through them. This is what Rebbe Tanchum would do, if he would need to buy a litra of meat he would buy two, one for himself and one for the poor. Two bundles of vegetable, one for himself and one for the poor. ‘One corresponding to the other’ refers to poor and rich that help each other out,” (Koheles Rabba 7:30). The Maharz”u in Vayikra Rabba, after quoting the medrish in Koheles, explains the conclusion of the medrish that  the poor take tzedakah, charity, from the rich and in turn the rich get a good reward.
At first glance it seems almost selfish that the reason to help the poor is in order to give yourself Heavenly reward; why does this sound right? Shouldn’t one give charity out of a true feeling of benevolence? Furthermore, why when times are good for another we rejoice with our friend, but in bad times you have to first see what to do, then act? The Rada”l in Koheles Rabba in fact explains that on the day your friend experiences bad tidings, you should see how to do good for him. The word see connotes intellectually looking into, how to do something, as it says, ‘Happy is the one who uses his intelligence for the poor’. Why not also put in effort into making someone happy who is already having a good day?

However, it would seem from these two midrashim that they aren’t just trying to share the secret importance of why it is worthwhile to do chesed and kindly help those who are in need, but rather they are setting up the attitude one should have when helping the needy. It should come naturally to you, just as when you would like something from the grocery store you get double, one for yourself and one for the poor. It’s just part of your shopping list, it’s not an addition, it’s part of your own list, because you are getting for yourself by getting for those in need since you are receiving something when giving to others. I.e. heavenly reward, which is the most important need for anyone in life. This natural attitude even goes as far as for those who are so lowly and destitute that you are turned off from their very presence, still in all, it is inside each and every one of us to be able to have this natural desire to help them, like something part of your own agenda in life.

The Rada”l goes a step further. You don’t necessarily get exactly double of what you get for yourself, you have to put some thought into what you are doing. Make sure you get others what will be beneficial for them; do acts of kindness with intelligence, using your head to think of what they would want, just as you would want to receive what you yourself want.

That is the attitude one should have when helping others who are having a bad day, but those who are having a good day all you need to do is share in their happiness. They don’t need anything else, or in fact probably want something else, because they are enjoying the good that came their way. The best thing for you to do is just to appreciate that good with them. Don’t try to do more for them because that might imply that the good they think they have might not be enough, but in fact it is and they just want you to be happy with it and share it with others.

In fact, it takes a lot of foresight to recognize the good others have and appreciate it with them just as one needs to use his mind to figure out how to help one in need who is having a bad day in the best way fit for him.

Emor – Normal Paranoia

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The mitzvah of lighting the menorah in the Mishkan is reiterated towards the end of this week’s Torah Portion of Emor. It was first enumerated in the beginning of the Torah portion of Tetzave. The Baal HaTurim as well as others found a discrepancy between the two portions. For in this week’s portion it writes “Outside the dividing curtain of the testimony in the Tent of Meeting, Aharon shall set it up before Hashem from evening to morning continually. [This shall be] an eternal statute for your generations” (Vayikra 24:3).  But in Tetzave it writes “In the Tent of Meeting, outside the dividing curtain that is in front of the testimony, Aharon and his sons shall set it up before Hashem from evening to morning; [it shall be] an everlasting statute for their generations, from the children of Israel” (Shemos 27:21). Why are Aharon and his sons commanded to light the menorah in Tetzave, but only Aharon in Emor?

The Baal HaTurim answers that after Nadav and Avihu died when they entered the Sanctuary, Aharon did not allow his sons to enter alone; rather he would enter with them. However, when they would sacrifice the incense, he would leave.(Click Here for Hebrew text.)
It would seem that only Aharon was told in Emor what to do because he was always there, but others in his family performed the services in the Mishkan as well.

The conclusion of the the Baal HaTurim was referring to a Mishna at the end of the first perek of Mishnayos Keilim. There it says “and the people must keep away from the area between the porch and the altar when the incense is being burned” (Keilim 1:9). This means when the incense is being burned on a daily basis, the people must leave both the Sanctuary and the area between the porch and the altar.

Aharon’s children and rest of the family were righteous people who served as Kohanim in the Mishkan. We can assume whatever mistake Nadav and Avihu had done, the rest of them had learned a lesson, and clearly understood all the rules of being a Kohen, one example being not doing the service while inebriated, which was clearly enumerated after the incident. We can also assume they had an immense amount of Yiras Shamayim, fear and trepidation of Heaven, and certainly of Divine punishment, when they performed the Holy Service daily. Furthermore, we know Aharon fully accepted the Heavenly decree of his children, Nadav and Avihu’s passing, and he was even rewarded for his unquestionable allegiance to Hashem. As Rashi pointed out in the pasuk of “and Aharon was silent” (Vayikra 10:3), after their death. Why then did Aharon feel the need to accompany his children into the Mishkan on a daily basis?

What is even more astonishing is that the one service Aharon did not stay for was the incense offering, which the Torah says is when Nadav and Avihu died, trying to offer incense on the Alter. If Aharon was ready and able to not be there for the very service that “killed” his sons, then why must he feel he must be there at every other time?

There is a term in modern psychology called PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is possible on some miniscule level that Aharon Kohen Gadol, someone who was a rodef shalom, ran after peace and therefore was well liked and respected by everyone, who was also ready and did accept the decree from Hashem without any hesitations or qualms whatsoever, on such a high level of emuna and bitachon, faith and trust in Hashem, with a strict adherence to Torah and mitzvos, as proven from the fact that he would not be in the Mishkan when the incense was offered because that was against halacha, Jewish law – still in all he was concerned for the lives of his children and felt he must be there every other time they did the service in the Mishkan, just to ensure nothing went wrong. It sounds a tiny bit like paranoia but it would seem that on some level it is normal and natural, and that is why Aharon even on his level acted in this manner.

The gadlus, or greatness of Aharon Kohen Gadol, was that he controlled the stress. He didn’t allow the stress to overtake him, and therefore he did what was right according to halacha and was not present at the service of the incense even though one would think he would for sure be there since at that time Nadav and Avihu died. But his unnerving trust in Hashem kept him strong.

Kedoshim -No Appreciation ‘Till He’s Away

There is a poignant connection between this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim and its haftorah. Yechezkel reprimands his generation right before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash of all the indiscretions they are transgressing, most of them being mitzvos listed in this week’s portion. The climax of it all being stealing, which sealed their fate. In fact, Rashi says that stealing is the worst sin of all (see Rashi Yechezkel 22:13). The exact translation of Rashi is “over your dishonest gain: Here we learn that robbery is more severe than all of them, for their verdict was sealed because of it.” Why in fact is stealing worse than, say lashon hara, disgracing your parents, profaning Shabbos or even murder, incest, or idolatry? The Malbim elaborates along the same lines of Rashi and will ultimately answer the question. The Malbim says the reason why there was a heavenly decree for Nevuchadnetzar to conquer Yerushalayim was not because of idolatry or adultery, but because of the oppression each person caused each other, just like it writes by the generation of the flood that their judgement was sealed because of stealing, as I explained there. There, by Noah and the flood, the Malbim elaborates [Breishis 6:13] the generation deserved to be destroyed either based on natural laws or Divine laws, and this destruction applied to each individual not just society as a whole but the fact that the Torah says that the world was full of hamas, which refers to thievery, that is a breakdown of the laws of politeness, which connects everyone together as one unit, helping each other and protecting the laws needed to maintain society, by stealing, and engaging in usury, they destroyed this moral fabric of society. For this reason the general end of mankind came into fruition in the days of the flood. For this reason as well, the final decree of exile was sentenced on the Jews by the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 The Haftorah concludes, “Will your heart endure, will your hands be strong, in the days in the days when I shall deal with you? I am Hashem; I have spoken and I shall carry it out. I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you among the lands; and I will eliminate your contamination from you. You will be forced to be an inheritance for yourself before the eyes of the nations; then you will know that I am Hashem” (Yechezkel 22:14-16). The Radak explains that the prophet Yechezkel goes on to send a message from Hashem that the Jewish people will have much difficulty withstanding all the pain and suffering wrought upon them in the days of suffering to come, and “I will do this just as I said, so too will I do because I am Hashem and it’s within my ability.” The Radak says that the elimination of contamination refers to idolatry which is the greatest contamination in exile. The Jews didn’t really partake in idol worship, the 70 years they were in Babylonian exile. In fact, the gemaras in Yoma 69b and Sanhedrin 64a say that towards the beginning of the 2nd Beis Hamikdash Ezra and the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah got rid of the yetzer hara, evil desire, for idolatry.

In the concluding pasuk of the haftorah the Radak says “you will be forced to inherit yourself” for until now you were my inheritance (heritage) and from now on you will not be my inheritance. “Before the eyes of the gentiles,” they will see that you are not considered my inheritance while you are in exile amongst them, then you will know and recognize that I am Hashem, because now you forgot about me, and then when all the terrible things that I said through my prophets will happen to you, then you will know that I am Hashem who says and does, decrees and performs. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 Being an “inheritance ” implies being something precious and dear, an heirloom, an item of endearment, personalized for the one who has it. It is implicit from the Radak that only after the Jews are exiled and realize they are all alone, abandoned by Hashem, to the point that they feel everyone realizes the same thing, will they finally recognize that Hashem means business and Hashem is the All-Powerful G-D in charge of everything. Why couldn’t they realize that all the prophecies are coming true and the curses in the Torah are unfolding before their very eyes when they were still living in Israel being besieged by Babylonian king Nevuchadnetzar and his general Nevudrazzan, starving them to death, and eventually killing 100,000s of men women and children before destroying the Beis Hamikdash and driving almost everyone else into exile? Why only once they were in exile, and the gentiles saw that Jews were all alone bereft of their G-D, only then would the Jews realize that Hashem is orchestrating all this pain and destruction in order so that they will repent and seek Him out?

It would seem that it is very hard for a person to really realize what they are missing until they are actually missing it. Meaning even though all the signs were there that they were doing the wrong thing and ignoring Hashem, but as long as they were still in Israel and Hashem hadn’t fully abandoned them, they were blinded to some degree from realizing all the wrong they were doing. Only after they were exiled and realized that Hashem left them all alone like lost sheep surrounded by a pack of wild wolves with their shepherd nowhere in sight did they realize the mistakes they had made. But Hashem didn’t disown his children, He just gave them total independence while they were in dangerous lands.

 It would seem that people have psychological dispositions as long as there is even a slight feeling of security, only once total helplessness and abandonment is felt then past and current errors are easier to be realized, even if there were so many blatant signs until now.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Acharei Mos – Focusing on Greatness to Avoid Punishment

What is the punishment of kares? Rabbeinu Bachye goes into much great length discussing this topic at the very end of this week’s Torah portion of Acharei Mos.


“For anyone who commits any of these abominations, the persons doing so shall be cut off from the midst of their people” (Vayikra 18:29).
 

Rabbeinu Bachye shares that there are 3 types of kares, which literally means being “cut off.”  There are 2 kinds in the first level:
 1a. Kares to the body in years, when one lives half of his lifetime originally decreed by Hashem.
1b. Kares to the body for days, where a person who already lived most his life then committed a sin punishable by kares, so he won’t live out the days set by Hashem for the rest of his lifetime. Indication of this punishment is a 3-day gradual death.
2. Kares to the soul.
3. Kares to the body and soul.
HaChacham Rebbi Avraham is of the opinion that kares of the soul is where the soul ceases to exist. This happens if one performed more sins than mitzvos including sins like eating chometz on Pesach or eating or working on Yom Kippur. A person gets kares to his body and soul for committing idolatry. The Rambam (perek 8, hilchos teshuva) is of the same opinion of what kares to the soul is and explains that the reward of the righteous is that they merit a pleasant life in the World to Come, and he lives in goodness. Retribution to the wicked is that they won’t live eternally, rather they will be cut off and die. Anyone who doesn’t merit life will die and won’t live forever, rather he is cut off in his wickedness and lost like an animal. This is the kares that the Torah says “cut off you shall be cut off.” This double language teaches us that he is cut off from this world and he also doesn’t deserve to live in the World to Come…
Rabbeinu Bachye has 3 questions on this view:
1. This punishment is exacted to a wicked person who didn’t repent from his bad ways, but Gehinom was also created for wicked people. Just as the completely righteous gets eternal delight, so too the completely evil person should have his soul eternally punished; but if he ceases to exist, like this view holds, then what happens to the punishment?
2. If you say Gehinom was created for middle-of-the-road people, not completely righteous or completely wicked, then that would mean the completely wicked would fare better; which doesn’t make any sense at all?!
3. Why weren’t those who received kares to the soul listed in the Mishna of perek Chelek in Gemara Sanhedrin as those that don’t have any share in the World to Come? Rabbeinu Bachye concludes the questions on these sages by pointing out that even the worst in Gehinom, who never move on to Heaven, don’t exist on their own merits but rather only have a share of existence out of Hashem’s righteousness. Like a pauper who has nothing to eat and must rely on others for nourishment. And even those sinners who go down and never come up, at least see some respite on Shabbos and Yom Tov; so how can those who are guilty of punishment of kares to their soul be any worse?
 
Rabbeinu Bachye therefore concludes and mentions that the Ramban and Onkelus agrees to this view, that it’s impossible to be that kares of the intellectual soul means that one will cease to exist. Rather, what it means when it says “that the soul will be cut off from his nation” is from the place one is carved out of he is cut off from. Cut off from his nation, meaning he will be cut off from all the other souls who are considered “his nation,” being cut off from them never to return, like a branch cut off from a tree, it’s life source. But his soul will be nurtured by the luster of Hashem’s Holy Presence, not in its destined place, since it accepted upon himself to be cut off from where he was carved out from. So too when the pasuk says “the soul will be cut off from before Me,” this is referring to the place where the Shechina rests, namely the Land of Israel, because that is where the Gate of Heaven is located, which is where all the souls go up from. This is why the righteous desire to die there… this is what it means that the soul will be cut off from its place and will not rest within the boundaries. But it will definitely park itself in some other place, since it was cut off from its designated place, and it’s certainly not like the life force of an animal, G-D forbid, which just ceases to exist. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

 
To understand the argument between the Rambam’s camp and Rabbeinu Bachye’s camp we must first say that the Rambam must hold that the very fact that the soul which is punished with kares does not have the chance to experience the eternal bliss of Heaven, basking in the Holy Presence of Hashem, is enough of a punishment once it ceases to exist then all the torture of Gehinom. The Rabbeinu Bachye however obviously argues and says the torture of Gehinom must be worse, and therefore it makes no sense that such wicked people, who decided not to repent from their evil ways and deserve kares to their souls, would not go through Gehinom and would simply cease to exist. But there also seems to be a basic difference in appreciation of the human soul.
 
The Rambam and his camp seem to be of the view that if the physical person chose to treat himself just as an animal, then Hashem will treat him just that way, in a sense measure for measure, and he will cease to exist just as the life force of an animal just ceases to exist and there isn’t any afterlife.
 
However Rabbeinu Bachye and his camp has more of an appreciation to gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man, and the fact that man is endowed with an intellectual soul hewn from the “Image of G-D” which was waiting right under the throne of Hashem before being placed into this world. Meaning it’s such a precious entity that itis impossible that Hashem would just do away with something so valuable and cause it  to just cease to exist forever. Therefore it must be that if this soul chooses to do really bad with its body in this world then at the worst it is in a sense excommunicated in the Next World, out into a place it was not destined for, separated from everyone else and far away from Hashem’s Holy Presence. Yet it is never lost forever, just placed in its own miserable circumstance, getting some level of benefit from Hashem, in a warped, irregular, and unnatural way. Rabbeinu Bachye says that even Korach and his followers, the personification of the evil of all evils, who were lost from this world and the next, did not cease to exist, but rather live in Gehinom intact with their punishment, and in the future will merit to be resurrected with the rest of the dead.
 

Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to discuss something which at first glance has no relevance here but when probing the matter seems to be very apropos. He says that many wise philosophers believe that the soul was created in order to learn wisdom and Torah within the physical body of a person. They bring proof which they feel is impossible to disprove: that from the beginning of its creation, when the soul enters the body, it has no knowledge or insight and as it grows wiser and grows up its intellect grows as long as the body is growing, which proves that the soul is only prepared for the body for if the soul was wise when entering the body then it would make sense that the body would be at an advance level of maturity when born.
 
Rabbeinu Bachye responds to this argument that it’s known that the philosopher’s beliefs aren’t the main belief because it’s all theoretical, based on hypotheses. They don’t know or understand because they walk in darkness but the Jewish intellectuals have the words of Chaza”l, the sages of truth, who from the mouths of prophets have accepted the truth, and they know for a fact, without a doubt, that the soul comes into a body already complete and with much wisdom from inception.
 
What happened to all this wisdom? Why aren’t we born smart and knowing how to do everything? Rabbeinu Bachye quotes at length the gemara in Nida 30b and a similar medrish which discusses how an angel learns Torah with the baby in the womb and the baby can see from one end of the world into the next, with light lit over its head. The angel also shows him the righteous in Gan Eden and the wicked in Gehinom, explains to the baby who each of them are and warns the baby you can turn out like one of the wicked in Gehinom or the righteous in heaven, it’s up to you to make the right decisions. When it’s time to leave the womb and go out into the world, the angel immediately slaps the child (this is the imprint in the middle of the upper lip below the nose) and extinguishes the candle, the baby is forced out, and forgets all that he or she learned, and then goes out to the open air of the world. This is why a baby cries as soon as it comes out.
 
Rabbeinu Bachye then says that he explained all this at this juncture because the soul with its wisdom and perfection comes to the body, but the angel causes it to forget as soon as it is born, as decreed by Hashem in order for one to put in efforts and busy oneself to learn and earn reward.
 
Rabbeinu Bachye continues at length and concludes that with pure logic it makes sense that a person who serves Hashem wholeheartedly naturally stays connected to Hashem and basks in His Holy Prescence; all those souls are at peace. But a soul that is cut off from the natural cause and effect of creation is miraculously set apart from its natural course and therefore this punishment must be spelled out and emphasized in the Torah.
 

What does the argument between the Torah sages and philosophers have to do with kares? What is the exact lesson Rabbeinu Bachye is delivering? It would seem that Rabbeinu Bachye isn’t just defining and explaining to us the concept of kares but he is trying to motivate us not to fall prey to and become ensnared in the sins that deserve this punishment. His means of doing so is by showing us how precious and valuable we are from the very beginning, even before we are born, and how beloved and sacred we are even after we physically die, no matter how low we get on in this world. There is no way Hashem would ever let go of something or someone as precious as our essence, our soul. This is not just a show of Hashem’s ever bountiful love for each and every one of us, but it’s also proof to gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man, and Hashem expects us to choose to find and maintain that greatness inside of us.
 
We have to appreciate who and what we are. Priceless, eternal, extra special beyond words, and if we internalize that then we will treat ourselves and others with the proper respect deserving and try our best to avoid sullying ourselves physically and spiritually in order to maintain the high-level royalty which our souls deserve.