Naso – Counting Your Blessings

When thinking in terms of gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man, normally we consider how much of a positive impact a person has the potential to make in this world, and the great heights one can strive for with his G-D-given abilities. However, we can also unfortunately see the great power and depth of mankind through the potential wickedness and destruction that they can wrought onto this world.

The Moshav Zekeinim brings a very fascinating inquiry about the need for birkas kohanim, the priestly blessings, that are listed in this week’s Torah portion of Naso (Bamidbar 6:24-26). The Moshav Zekeinim is quoting The Chasid who asks, ‘what is the point of the priestly blessings? If it’s for the righteous then they are already blessed by the portion of Bechukosai, “If you walk in my ways etc.” If it is for the wicked, they were in fact rebuked the first time (in Bechukosai) and second times (in Ki Savo)?’ He answers that the priestly blessings are in fact for the righteous, because there are many wicked people who have good luck in cursing even the righteous; therefore birkas kohanim was created to save the righteous from potential evil curses. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see from this Moshav Zekeinim that in a perfect world there would be no need for birkas kohanim [the kohanim giving the priestly blessings to the congregation at duchening] because the righteous will earn the blessings delineated in the Torah portion of Bechukosai (and Ki Savo) if they observe Hashem’s mitzvos and walk in His ways. And the wicked don’t deserve it anyways, unless they repent after being rebuked, and at that time they would be deserving of the blessings in Bechukosai and Ki Savo! So either way, there should have been no reason for Hashem to create the priestly blessings for anyone; so why were they created? He answers that they were created as a defense mechanism, a sort of combative forcefield, against curses that wicked people might hurl at the righteous.

Why would Hashem, All- Good, All-Righteous, create such a system in the world? The answer is that part of Hashem’s perfect, positive calculations is free choice; the ability to choose between good and evil. Hashem gave humanity equal opportunity and skill to reach great heights and achieve incredible feats, whether for good or evil. This is gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of mankind, which no other being in existence has. Yet despite it being our responsibility to choose to do the right thing, but the reality is that not all people choose the path of righteousness, and the All-Knowing Hashem knows that. So He created a backup of birkas kohanim, as security for the righteous, against the negative spiritual onslaught of the wicked.

Bamidbar – Vis a Vis

Towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Bamidbar (7th aliya, perek 4) we find the census of the family of Kehas and the role they played in moving the Mishkan from place to place during the Jews’ travels. Part of the family of Kehas was Aharon and his sons, the kohanim who had the role of disassembling the Mishkan. The rest of the family were plain Leviim, and carried the utensils of the Mishkan, which included, just to name a few, the Menorah, the Shulchan, and Aron HaKodesh [The Holy Ark]. The Torah portion concludes, “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying, ‘Do not let the tribe of the Kehas Families be cut off from among the Leviim. Thus shall you do for them so that they shall live and not die: when they approach the Holy of Holies, Aharon and his sons shall come and assign them, every man to his work and his burden. But they shall not come and look when the holy is inserted, lest they die'” (Bamidbar 4:17-20).

The Medrish Rabba (Bamidbar 5:8) asks on this portion, “What did Hashem see to heed warning to the Family of Kehas more than the other families? Rebbe Yehuda the son of Rebbe Simone said in the name of Rebbe Shmuel the son of Rebbe Yitzchak, there is something better about the tribe of Levi and the family of Kehas which the rest of Jews don’t have. How so? The rest of Jews have no connection to the structure of the Mishkan but the tribe of Levi carried the vessels of the Mishkan. Some carried the planks, some carried the bars, and some carried the sockets, this was what the children of Merari carried. The family of the children of Gershon carried the embroidered tapestries and the family of the children of Kehas carried the Aron. Another answer as to what made the tribe of Levi better than the rest of the Jews is that the rest of the Jews would walk around in sandals but the tribe of Levi who carried the vessels of the mishkan would walk barefoot. (The Yidei Moshe says the reason they walked barefoot was so that they would not have to stop doing their job if their sandal became untied or broke. The Etz Yosef says the reason for walking barefoot was in honor of Hashem’s Holy Presence which rested on the Aron and the vessels). We learn from here that the tribe of Levi was better than all the tribes. And the best of the tribe of Levi was the family of Kehas, for a normal Levite would carry the planks, bars, or sockets, or anything else on wagons, but the family of Kehas carried on their shoulders because they weren’t allowed to place the Aron on a wagon… There is another way that they were better than the rest of the Leviim, for all the Leviim when walking with the parts of the mishkan would walk straight but [two] of the Kehatites [who would be in front] when carrying the mishkan would walk backwards to not turn their backs on the Aron. We find to say that even though they were greater than all the other families, and no doubt from the rest of the Jews but they did not become haughty but rather they were subjugated to the Aron. Why is this? It is because there is no greatness before Hashem. We can say that even though the family of Kehas was of the elite noble class but because they were appointed to carry the Aron they had to carry it like slaves. Hashem says the Torah is life as it says “It’s a tree of life to those that grab onto it” (Mishley 4:2), for it is life for all those that find it and heals their flesh. And The Kehatites grabbed onto the Torah, which is life by carrying the Aron which held in it the Torah, it makes sense they should live and not die…”

The Etz Yosef elaborates when the medrish says “there is no greatness before Hashem,” that means that a person shouldn’t feel conceited in his heart, for if he is arrogant then he is not pleasing before Hashem. And when a person is reminded about the greatness of Hashem, Blessed Is He, and His awesomeness, then how can that person be conceited even if he is better and loftier than any other person; but still in all what is he compared to Hashem, His Creator! (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The medrish determined that the people who were more subjugated, doing the menial work, were greater. This is in fact the opposite of the way we normally think. Typically, the menial, hard labor is left for the lower class, and the important people, managers, the CEO, are just walking around or sitting behind their desks. But when it comes to serving Hashem and taking care of His Palace and Throne in this world, the elite of the elite are in charge and are doing such lowly tasks as carrying the Aron on their shoulders, even walking backwards to face the Aron at all times and also walking barefooted all in honor of the Holy One Blessed Be He.

But isn’t this a lack of gadlus ha’adam? Hashem endowed us with a piece of Him, our soul; we were created in His image. We ourselves are holy. Isn’t it demeaning and degrading, a lack of proper decency, to treat a human being in this fashion? It is treating them more like an animal, having them go barefoot, carrying heavy weight on their shoulders, it’s torturous and potentially dangerous to walk backwards! Why would the Kindest, All Good, Merciful Father, Blessed Be He expect His precious children who were made in His image to do such a patronizing thing?

It must be that it is not a lack of gadlus ha’adam. The reason being is that vis a vis who it’s being done for: The King Of All Kings, Master Of The Universe. Only for Him does it make sense that such levels of respect, in this fashion, is expected to be given to Him, but to no one else. That is why those that had this job were considered to be on a higher tier than the rest of humanity. It is only proper that the best of the best would be chosen to show honor to the All Perfect, All Powerful and Almighty G-D. Anything less is disrespectful. Therefore, what is inhumane treatment for a human, even a human king to have a person do for them, is rightfully honorable for the greatest of nobleman to do for Hashem, and is in fact a show of gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man.

Bechukosai – A Story about A Life of Giving

This dvar Torah is based on a shmuz I heard many, many years ago from Rav Moshe Chait zt”l.
 Towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Bechukosai, which is the last portion of the Book of Vayikra, it states: “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, if a man articulates a vow to Hashem regarding an evaluation of living beings” (Vayikra 27:2). This pasuk refers to a person who isn’t just making a vow, but is evaluating how much he should give as part of a pledge of donation to the Mishkan or Beis Hamikdash.
 A Medrish Rabba (37:2) expounds on this pasuk and the Maharz”u says it is a kind of contrast to the value of a human being. The medrish says that the deeds of a man will be repaid for the actions he shows in his lifetime, and the manner a person seeks to walk, he will find that path. The deeds and actions will be the reward for the person, and the way one was is the way he will find them.

The medrish brings a story to explain this point: There was once an incident with a man that had two sons. One of them always did the mitzvah of tzedaka and the other never gave tzedaka. One time the son that always gave tzedaka sold his house and all of his property and gave it to tzedaka. On Hoshana Rabba his wife gave him ten coins and said to her husband, ‘Go out and buy something for your children.’ When he went to the market the gabbai tzedaka spotted him and came over. He said, ‘Here comes the mitzva man!’ He then asked the man to please contribute to a mitzva of supporting a certain orphan in need. The man gave the collector the ten coins, but was ashamed to go home emptyhanded. He was scared and didn’t know what to do. So, he went to a shul and found the esrogim that were left behind on the last day of Sukkos, which were pretty much worthless. The children would take these extra lulavim and use them as toys to hit things with, and the esrogim they used to eat. The man collected a bag full of esrogs. He then decided to take a voyage across the sea to the capital of the country he lived in. When he got there something had happened and the king had a stomach ailment. The king had a dream that he had to eat citrons (esrogs) which Jews had at this time of the year. Only then would he be healed. The king’s advisors scoured the town for the esrogs but couldn’t find any. They kept on searching and finally stumbled upon this man sitting on a sack full of esrogs. They asked him if he had anything to sell. He said he was poor. They asked to search his sack. Upon searching they asked what are these? So he answered that they were used for the Jewish holiday. They took him to the king who ate from the esrogs and was cured. The advisors emptied the esrogs and filled the man’s bag with coins. The king was so happy about all that transpired that he told the man he can take anything he wishes. The Jew said, ‘Give me back my esrogs and I will give you back the money.’ The king was so impressed with his humility and lack of care for money he paraded him around the country and announced that everyone should come to greet him. Included in those coming out to greet him was his brother and brother’s children. As they were crossing a bridge over a river a title wave came and wiped them out. This man wound up inheriting his brother’s estate. This is what the pasuk in Iyov (34:11) means when it says, “For the action of a person, He will pay him for.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This Chaza”l is telling us that a person can have something worthless, and it is really priceless.

Towards the end of “the rebuke,” which was part of the first part of the Torah portion, Hashem says that if you follow My commandments then you will get all the rewards listed above. Chaza”l say that even though “the rebuke” looks bleak, you don’t know the results. We think things are against our wishes and we pray for the better. But you don’t know what the end result will be, what will happen to you. If you hold on to the mitzvos and emuna (faith) then those misfortunes could turn into benefits.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Behar – Giving vs. Helping

 The Torah in this week’s portion of Behar states, “If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen, proselyte or resident, so that he can live with you” (Vayikra 25:35). From this pasuk the Medrish Rabba expounds in great detail on the fundamentals of the concept of doing acts of kindness. 
The Medrish Rabba (Behar 34:8) discusses four reasonings about one who does chesed (kindness). The Yefeh Toar explains that the Medrish is inspired by the repetitive language in this pasuk of  “if your brother becomes impoverished” and “and his means falter.” From here the medrish extrapolated four perspectives concerning chesed:
1. Doing kindness with one who does not need it. Hashem will reward his children for this. The example the medrish gives is Avraham taking care of the angels when they were passing by his tent, standing over them under a tree, feeding them and quenching their thirst, even though they were angels and didn’t need worldly sustenance. In return Hashem rewarded his descendants with manna from Heaven, water from the rock, quail, and the Clouds of Glory protecting them while wandering in the desert. The Medrish goes on to say that if a person is rewarded for doing kindness to someone who does not need kindness, then all the more so will he be rewarded for giving to someone in need. In any event, this notion is teaching us the concept of doing acts of kindness simply because it is the right thing to do, whether needed or not. Hashem is the ultimate example of a giver, and we have to emulate Him and want to give for the sake of giving, for the sake of being like Hashem. So being a giver, even if you aren’t a helper, is still a level of kindness and logically if just being a giver is rewarded then all the more so being a helper will be even more rewarded.
2. One who does not do kindness to one who does not need it. One is punished by Hashem for such inaction. The medrish provides the example of the Ammonites and Moabites who did not approach the Jewish People to offer food and drink to them as they passed by their land on the way to the Land of Israel. They were punished even though Hashem was already providing the Jews Manna from Heaven and water from the rock, quail, protection and a tour guide by means of the cloud for all forty years in the desert. Still these nations did not act with proper manners, derech eretz, and therefore they were punished as no male Ammonite or Moabite was allowed to marry a Jewish woman, even if he converted. Now, if they were punished for not doing kindness with people that didn’t need it, all the more so will one be punished for not showing kindness with one who needs help. This is the view of those who are stingy.
3. Doing kindness with someone you owe debt of gratitude towards, or you feel obligated to be kind to. This person is still rewarded even if he was obliged to act in this way anyways. For example, Yisro who brought Moshe into his house and took care of him after Moshe saved his daughters and flock from harassment of the other shepherds. The medrish says Yisro was rewarded for this in the days of Shaul, “Shaul came to the city of Amalek, and he fought them in the valley. Shaul said to the Kenites [who were descended from Yisro], ‘Go, withdraw, descend from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them; for you acted kindly to all the Children of Israel when they went up from Egypt…'” (Shmuel Alef 15:5, 6). Was Yisro really helpful to all the Jews? Wasn’t it only with Moshe? Rather, this is coming to teach us that when one does kindness with one of the leaders of the Jewish People it is as if he did kindness with the entire nation. If one is rewarded for showing kindness to someone he feels a debt of gratitude towards all the more so, will one be paid in kind for a good deed that he does to a person he doesn’t feel obligated to.
4. Doing kindness to someone who needs it even if you do only a small amount of kindness. The reward is still tremendous! For example, Boaz with Rus, where Boaz gave Rus bread to dip into vinegar, which is supposedly good for you during a heat wave.

The Yefeh Toar goes on to explain that this is what is meant when it says here, ‘And his means falter in your proximity;’ he or she needs your help. For now, with these four viewpoints, we can learn how we should rush to support him. Either because of the kalvachomer (fortiori) of the first two views, or if one thinks ‘I don’t feel indebted to him or her’ then the kal vachomer in the third view will encourage you to act anyways. And based on this we see that the fourth view, even if it is not easy to give, but if he still gives, whether a lot or a little, then it is absolutely accepted and greatly rewarded.

The medrish goes on to say that the Torah wants to teach us derech eretz (proper manners), that when a person does a mitzvah he should do it with a joyous heart. For if Revain had known that Hashem wrote about him, ‘Reuvain heard and saved him from their hands’ (Breishis 37:21), he would have picked Yosef up and carried him to Yaakov. Also, if Boaz had known what Hashem wrote about him he would have fed Rus fattened meat. (The Yefeh Toar quotes another medrish, in Rus Rabba, with the same example that if Aharon knew what Hashem wrote about him on his way to meet Moshe on his return to Egypt to save the Jews then Aharon would have come out to greet Moshe with trumpets and tambourines). The Yefeh Toar warns us not to G-D forbid think that Reuvain, Boaz, or Aharon were trying to run after honor and because of the honor that the Torah would have rewarded them if they had known then they would have done more then what they in fact did, or with more enthusiasm. Instead, what the medrish is really teaching us is that for example if Reuvain would have known that if he would have saved Yosef the Torah would have recorded that and future generations would have learned to act like him, then he would have mustered up the strength to be even more courageous to bring Yosef back to Yaakov, in order that future generations who learn the Torah would act more courageously to do like him, with much valor.

The Yefeh Toar goes on to point out something very fascinating but scary. For one might be wondering how one of such stupendous stature as Reuvain, Aharon, or Boaz would not have been inspired to act in the best possible way on their own? He gives three excuses:
1. There are bad people that proactively try to stop one from doing a mitzvah.
2. There are scoffers who discourage one from doing a mitzvah and say why are you trying to be so righteous.
3. There are others who degrade a person and say you are only doing this for your own honor and not for the sake of Hashem.
Therefore, the medrish is telling us don’t give in to these excuses.

The medrish goes on to ask that back in the days of the prophets (i.e. Tanach) a person would do a mitzvah and it would be recorded by a prophet, but nowadays when a person does a mitzvah who records them? The medrish answers that Eliyahu HaNavi or The King Moshiach and Hashem sign it, as it says “Then the God-fearing men spoke to one another, and Hashem hearkened and heard it. And a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared Hashem and for those who valued His name highly” (Malachi 3:16). The Yefeh Toar explains that it used to be that there were people who were able to write down every good deed so that it would be a reminder for later generations. But now, who could write it and publicize it? So the medrish answers, Eliyahu HaNavi or The King Moshiach and Hashem sign it, meaning Hashem publicizes every good thing that happens on earth, and makes sure it is always remembered. In fact, this will be done through the leaders of the generation like Eliyahu HaNavi or the King Moshiach. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
What we can take from all this is a guidebook of motivation to do chesed, acts of kindness, in the best ways possible, even at the hardest of times. These are tools and tricks to motivate and re-inspire a person to be the best he can be in the area of doing the right thing.

But the Yefeh Toar had mentioned that great people like Reuvain, Aharon, and Boaz were not looking for fame when it says that if they would have known they would have done what they had done but with even more style, but rather they felt that if they would have known how much it would be publicized (the Bible is the greatest best seller in the world) and that they could teach everyone an important lesson in how to act, then they would have led by example and would have been more elaborate in their actions for the sake of teaching others how to do the right thing. But doesn’t that also sound a little arrogant?

 We must say that at the core of all this motivation is the basic fact that we must be givers, not necessarily helpers. Whether what one is doing is useful or not he should do and act correctly, because that is the right thing to do. Also, emulating Hashem, just as Hashem is a constant doer, and if He would stop for one instant, we would all cease to exist, so too we have to be doers and givers. But as we aren’t G-D, we can’t be giving constantly, and it takes a lot of work and effort for us to do the best we can. With this attitude and balance, that we simply must do and try our best in whatever circumstance, and, also, that Hashem is ultimately the one who produces the results, we are just his servants and messengers, that is a humbling thought for those who are examples to the world in how to properly act. Then it will be a lesson worth emulating.

Emor – Gadlus Ha’adam: Realizing You are a Whole Miniature World

At the end of this week’s Torah portion of Emor we find the story of the “Mekalel,” the one who cursed Hashem: “The son of an Israelite woman went out, and he was the son of an Egyptian man, among the Children of Israel; they fought in the camp, the son of the Israelite woman and an Israelite man. The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name and blasphemed, so they brought him to Moshe; the name of his mother was Shelomis bas Divri, of the tribe of Dan. They placed him in custody to clarify for themselves through Hashem. Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Remove the blasphemer to the outside of the camp, and all those who heard shall lean their hands upon his head: the entire assembly shall stone him” (Vayikra 24:10-13). 
Why did Mekalel do this despicable act? We have to first understand the background of what happened. Rabbeinu Bachye has a pasuk-by-pasuk explanation of what took place. Quoting a Medrish Tanchuma (parshas Emor, paragraph 23) he explains why the Torah at this portion begins, “The son of the Israelite woman went out;” where did he go? Rebbe Levi said he went out from his world. (The Etz Yosef quoting the Yefeh Toar on this Medrish Tanchuma said that not only did he lose his life in this world, but he lost his share in the World To Come because he died without repenting). Rabbeinu Bachye points out that the word before the beginning of this sentence is “world,” and what it means is that “he left his world” is that a person is a miniature world.

A few lines later Rabbeinu Bachye explains the pasuk, “He was a son of an Egyptian man whom Moshe had killed.” This man was the taskmaster who was in charge of Shlomis’s husband. This son of Shlomis had converted [and was living amongst the converts]. (There is an opinion, which we don’t hold like nowadays, that the son of a non-Jewish man to a Jewish woman is in the category of a convert and must do something to complete his conversion to a full-status Jew). There is another Chaza”l that says he left the court of Moshe guilty, for he had wanted to set up camp in the tribe of Dan. They asked him what’s your place here? He said to them, I am from the daughter of Dan. They quoted a pasuk (Bamidbar 2:2) back to him, “a man according to his flag, with signs from the house of his father” but not from the house of his mother. He entered the court of Moshe, was found guilty (meaning he lost the case), and he then left the courtroom and cursed Hashem. Rabbeinu Bachye, upon discussing the argument between the son of the Israelite woman and the Israelite man, asks: if they were arguing with each other, why did he choose to curse Hashem; he should have spoken out against Moshe or gone to hit or kill the person he was arguing with? However, it makes sense that he cursed Hashem for the Israelite man must have reminded this person that his father had been killed and how he was killed, for Moshe had used Hashem’s Holy Name, therefore this son of the Israelite woman said out that Holy Name and cursed it.

Rabbeinu Bachye then proposed a question: What forced the Torah to tell over this story? It should have been hidden for the sake of Hashem’s honor, and not revealed it at all. Rather, the Torah should have just mentioned the law to the Jews and said any person who curses Hashem and carries out this sin and spells out Hashem’s Holy Name shall surely die. For we already know that even non-Jews have the mitzva of not cursing Hashem as one of the seven Noahide laws, and of course Jews would have the same mitzva? Rabbeinu Bachye has two answers to this question. Number one, the intent of the Torah in telling over this story was first to inform everyone that no one else in the generation of the desert had the audacity to commit this despicable sin. Only this decisively evil indignant who was bad to the core due to his conception coming from an adulterous act (his mother consented to an Egyptian taskmaster, who Moshe found beating her husband the next day, and murdered).

At first glance one might ask what he did wrong? Isn’t he a victim of societal oppression? The poor guy was born into a dysfunctional situation; why is he blamed for his mother’s adulterous act? He just wanted to be integrated into society; why can’t he rely on his mother’s side to do that? Just because the Torah excludes that option and Moshe’s court reinforced the decision to be true (that one’s portion in a tribe is based on the father’s side), why should that be fair? Furthermore, he let out all his anger on Hashem because it was through His Holy Name that his father was murdered by Moshe; so why was he so severely punished and ostracized by society?

The truth is that he is responsible for his actions and decisions; there are no excuses. This is because of what Rabbeinu Bachye said earlier, that when the Torah says he went out, it was referring to leaving himself, that he is a miniature world which he abandoned. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What does this mean? The Etz Yosef quotes a Matnas Kehuna explaining Rabbeinu Bachye saying that by the time he decided to curse out Hashem he was already compared to an animal, or even worse than an animal. To the point that he had no connection to mankind who are small worlds equivalent to the World in Heaven. (Click here for Hebrew text.) What the Matnos Kehuna is saying is that this person lost his human identity; he chose to leave it and lower himself even lower than an animal. If he would have sat down and realized how valuable he was, gadlus ha’adam, he is a precious world, a complete illustrative world with greatness built-in inside him, which can emulate and spark greatness as incredible as the Celestial Heavens. If he would have realized that he has his own unique purpose in the world and can be great at doing and being what he was created to be then he would not have sunken so low as giving up on himself and His Creator.

 A person who focuses on gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man, in general and the potential heights he can personally achieve, will feel encouraged to strive for greatness in whatever situation he is put into.

In this manner we can understand the second reason why Rabbeinu Bachye says this episode was recorded in the Torah: “for from here it’s understandable to us a major tenant and a deep cornerstone in the concept of blessings and how a person is obligated to bless Hashem. For this blasphemer first said out Hashem’s name then went on to curse Him, as it says ‘the son of the Israelite woman pronounced Hashem[‘s Holy Name and then] he cursed’ and he was liable capital punishment for this. But the opposite is true regarding blessing Hashem and the reward for doing so, that one needs, when he is blessing Hashem, to focus in his heart the meaning of His Holy Name, each letter, what they reflect and have proper intent in one’s mind [when pronouncing His name] and then bless Hashem and verbalize it. With this one will receive reward and live long. A hint to this is what we say [in Ashrei every day] ‘ארוממך אלוקי המלך ואברכה שמך לעולם ועד’ ‘I will exalt You, My G-D the King and I will bless Your name forever and ever’ (Tehillim 145:1). It says ‘I will exalt You’ first and afterwards ‘I will bless…’ Just as they (Chaza”l) say: One should always enter [the shul] the amount of two doorways inside and then start praying.”

The message here is that if one actively puts effort into focusing himself and thinking about what he stands for, and what his role in life is, and how he can be the greatest servant of the King Of All Kings, then he can overlook all his frailties and disappointments which are worthless in the grand scheme of things, and he can then be quite successful in life.

Kedoshim – More Than Just a Guilt Trip vs. a Threat

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One of the positive mitzvos, as enumerated by the Sefer Chareidim (5:35), which can apply every day of one’s life and are done with one’s hands or body is having honest scales, weights, and measurements in business. As the Torah says: “righteous scales, righteous stones etc” (Vayikra 19:36) . Indeed, the punishment for faulty calculations in business is more severe than for incest, and one who is dishonest in business in this fashion, it is as if he is denying the exodus from Egypt. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
What does dishonest business dealings have to do with the exodus from Egypt?
This mitzva is found in this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim: “You shall not commit a perversion of justice with measures, weights, or liquid measures. You shall have true scales, true weights, a true ephah, and a true hin. I am Hashem, your G-D, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Vayikra 19:35, 36).
Rashi gives two explanations to why the Exodus from Egypt is specifically mentioned here: “’Who brought you out’: on this condition [i.e., to observe this mitzva]. — [Toras Kohanim 19:87] Another explanation: [G-D says,] In Egypt, I discerned between the drop of a firstborn and the drop not of a firstborn. [Likewise,] I am the One faithful to exact punishment upon someone who secretly stores his weights in salt [thus altering their weight] in order to defraud people who do not recognize them [as weights that have been tampered with]. — [Bava Metzia 61b]”
The two explanations Rashi gives for why the Torah mentions the exodus from Egypt in relation to this mitzva, is that there are two methods of reinforcing oneself to be sure to adhere to the mitzva of honest business dealings. The first reason is focusing on the fact that one of the conditions for taking us out of Egypt was our scrupulousness in business dealings and how can we go against that condition. The second reason is more of an emphasis on reward and punishment; just as Hashem delved into the most minute details and punished the Egyptians, He will do the same for us and uncover even the most hidden and subtle dishonest business practice.
The first reason is based on a Sifra (another name for the Toras Kohanim) who specifically says, “‘I am Hashem your G-D who took you out of Egypt’ on this condition did I take you out of Egypt. On condition that you will accept upon yourself the mitzva of measurements. For all who admit to the mitzvos of [honest] measurements acknowledges the exodus from Egypt, and whoever denies the mitzva of [honest] measurements denies the exodus from Egypt.”
The Malbim, explaining this medrish, says that in many places the Sifra points out that there are other mitzvos that were given as a condition for leaving Egypt, like sanctifying Hashem’s Holy Name (kiddush Hashem), the prohibition of charging interest to a fellow Jew, and eating bugs and creepy crawlers. The Malbim then quotes the gemara in Bava Metzia 61b which Rashi quoted in his second answer, seemingly incorporating it into this answer, “Rava said that because interest and weights are things which could be elusive to the naked eye and people wouldn’t pick up on it, for example charging interest to a Jew through a non-Jewish party, or hiding weights in salt that could cause the weight to weigh less or more than what it is supposed to weigh, therefore the exodus from Egypt is mentioned for then Hashem’s involvement with every individual, and knowing that which was hidden was highlighted, as its written, ‘I am the one that was able to differentiate between the drop of the firstborn’ (who was a firstborn Egyptian and who wasn’t).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see from this Malbim, explaining the Sifra that Rashi quotes, that Hashem took us out of Egypt on the condition we keep the mitzvos of honest measurements. The miracles that took place in Egypt epitomized Hashem’s hashgacha pratis, Divine intervention, in the most minute and finest ways; therefore by transgressing or denying this mitzva it is as if one denies the exodus from Egypt, which represents a fundamental and basic belief in Hashem’s existence and intervention in this world.

But is it really true if a head of a household spends hours on the seder night going through all the miracles of the Jewish redemption from Egypt and is singing and rejoicing over gratitude for Hashem saving us and taking us in as His children and nation, and he shares these feelings and depiction of Hashem’s hand in the exodus with his family and guests, that if he is also a sly business man who isn’t 100% honest in business, does that really mean he denies the exodus from Egypt and the fundamental belief in Hashem’s divine intervention? How can that be?

The answer is yes! He does in fact deny the exodus from Egypt, because he might be able to intellectually, and maybe on some level emotionally, express his belief in the exodus and Hashem’s part in it, but if he doesn’t actively live by what he preaches then he is a denier of the exodus from Egypt.

We see from here a very profound and chilling lesson in emuna, belief in Hashem. The ultimately true litmus test is how one lives one’s life. Does he apply what he says he believes to his life? Does he live by it? For if he doesn’t, if he says I’ll do whatever is needed to make an extra dollar, especially if it is to take care of the family, even if it means charging interest or using unlawful weights, this is in fact a denial of Hashem’s Hand in the exodus from Egypt.

Acharei Mos – How Much Hashem Cares for Our Wellbeing 

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Acharei Mos, we conclude the tragedy of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, two of Aharon’s sons. “Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s sons, when they approached before Hashem, and they died” (Vayikra 16:1). Rabbeinu Bachye on this pasuk explains, on a simple level, that this pasuk is alluding to two sins that Nadav and Avihu committed. One was a sin committed in thought, for which they were decreed to die. The second was a sin of action, when they actually died. Their thought-based-sin happened by Mount Sinai where they got too close to the mountain to perceive Hashem, when Moshe had warned them against doing that. Hashem decreed then to put them to death but did not want to ruin the celebration surrounding the receiving of the Torah. The sin of action, by the dedication of the mishkan, was for bringing a strange fire, meaning they brought a fire without the incense, and they died on the 1st of Nissan. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Rabbeinu Bachye is based on a Medrish Tanchuma in Acharei Mos (6). “‘Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem [when they offered an alien fire before Hashem in the Wilderness of Sinai…’ (Bamidbar 3:4). Rebbe Yochanan said, ‘Did they really die before Hashem? (The Etz Yosef points out that he holds they did not die in the Kodesh but rather they stumbled out into an area where the Leviim were able to retrieve their bodies after they died.) Rather it’s teaching that it’s very rough on Hashem when children of the righteous pass away in their lifetime.’ Rebbe Nachman asked a question in front of Rebbe Pinchas bar Chama bar Simon, ‘Here it says before Hashem, before Hashem twice. And later it says ‘[Nadav and Avihu] died in front of their father…’ (Divrei Hayamim Alef 24:2). This was only once. We learn from here that it (their loss) was doubly harsher for Hashem than for their father. (The Etz Yosef explains the medrish in more detail; One time it says “before Hashem” in parshas Shemini, and once in this pasuk in Bamidbar. And another time in Divrei Hayamim Alef it says “they died before their father,” but no other time does it mention that they died before their father. This is because it is enough to mention it once. It would have been enough to mention that they died before Hashem once, however it mentions it twice to emphasize the double hardship [Hashem felt.] One was over Nadav and Avihu themselves, as it says: ‘Difficult is in the eyes of Hashem, the death of His righteous’ [Tehillim 116:15]. The second was over the pain of Aharon whose children passed away in his lifetime.) ‘In the Desert of Sinai,’ Rebbe Meir said, did they die in the Desert of Sinai? Rather its coming to teach, that it was harsh before Hashem, that ever since Mount Sinai they deserved a decree of death. This is a parable to a king who married off his daughter and found amongst the guests disloyalty. The king said, ‘tomorrow is my time of joy and I will kill him then. It’s better during my joy instead of my daughter’s joy.’ So too Hashem said, ‘If I kill them now, I will withhold the joy over the Torah, that is what it means, ‘On the day of His wedding and on the day of His heart’s joy’ (Shir HaShirim 3:11′.) The day of His wedding is at Sinai, by the day of the giving of the Torah, and the day of His heart’s joy is by the Ohel Moed.” The Etz Yosef elaborates more and explains that “the day of His wedding refers to Mount Sinai” for there He married the Jews through the Torah, for the Torah is like a daughter married to them as mentioned in Shemos Rabba, parshas Teruma. “And the day of His heart’s joy is the Ohel Moed,” it is called His heart’s joy for there, the Shechina, Hashem’s Holy Presence, rested upon the Jews and it was a tremendous joy before Hashem and the Jews. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
  If you think about it, this is quite astonishing! First off, we must say that whatever sin Nadav and Avihu committed must not have been a major sin but a minuscule flaw, on a very minute level, because they were still righteous, chasidim, in the eyes of Hashem. That being said, they still made some kind of mistake, and Hashem is an honest and strict judge. Particularly for the more righteous, Hashem is more scrupulous in judging the person; so if they deserved to be put to death why does Hashem feel so bad? Why is it double then the physical father who doesn’t know how or why this is happening to him and his family? At least Hashem, the judge of everything, knows and sees that this is deserving; so shouldn’t the father and mother feel worse?

Yet, somehow, this seems to be a comfort to the family. Hashem is sending a message: ‘I am with you in your sorrow. I understand exactly what you are going through and feel extremely bad that this must happen. It is being done for a reason and it’s a calculated reason.’ The proof, in this case, is that Hashem understood He could have made everyone feel a lot worse and could have caused the tragedy at a more deserving time, at an even more personal time of joy and happiness but in His benevolent mercy He chose to bring it on when it was more of a personal joy to Himself. The joy of a wedding is tremendous and very special for the girl but it’s only for a single day. The joy of building a home, being able to constantly live in close proximity with each other on a consistent basis, is the ultimate joy, which Hashem marred in its inauguration.

Hashem’s message was that I am with you in your sorrow and pain. Not only am I with you but I feel it rougher than you do, I put the brunt of the pain upon Myself. Knowing that this is the way Hashem conducts Himself should bring comfort to His children when they are facing tragedy.

Metzora – Signs are Overrated

This week’s Torah portion of Metzora discusses the purification of a metzora, one who received spiritual leprosy for one of seven reasons listed in Erechin 16a: lashon hara (slander), murder, swearing falsely, illicit relations, haughtiness, stealing, and stinginess (tzaras ayin). The Torah then relates part of the process of purification: “Then the kohen shall order, and the person to be cleansed shall take two live, clean birds, a cedar stick, a strip of crimson [wool], and hyssop. The kohen shall order, and one shall slaughter the one bird into an earthenware vessel, over spring water. [As for] the live bird, he shall take it, and then the cedar stick, the strip of crimson [wool], and the hyssop, and, along with the live bird, he shall dip them into the blood of the slaughtered bird, over the spring water. He shall then sprinkle seven times upon the person being cleansed from tzara’as, and he shall cleanse him. He shall then send away the live bird into the [open] field” (Vayikra 14:4-7).

The Tur HaShalem explains that after the first bird is slaughtered, we sprinkle its blood on the altar seven times, representing the seven types of sins for one can contract tzaraas. The Tur goes on to explain the reason why the metzora has to bring two birds; the bird that is sent away alludes to his tzaraas being sent away, and the slaughtered bird is an indication that the tzaraas shouldn’t come back (Vayikra Rabba 16:9). However, the bird that is sent away also hints to the fact that if one reverts back to his or her prohibitive ways then the tzaraas will come back, just as the bird can fly back. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Rokeach elaborates a bit more on this subject and suggests, “Why does the pasuk say, ‘and the live bird shall be sent away? Hashem gave a sign, that just as the bird that was slaughtered and buried in the ground cannot move from its place, so to the tzaraas cannot return upon him anymore. But don’t say that since [the tzaraas] has left it’s impossible for it to come back so now I will go back to my old bad ways [therefore] focus on the live bird, just as it can come back, so to if you stray away from your repentance, in the end [the tzaraas] will come back upon you. That is why one was slaughtered and one was sent away.” (Click here fore Hebrew text.)
 There is a need for a sign or hint from Heaven through the slaughtered bird, as the poor person just went through a very traumatizing experience, albeit a deserved one. He had this painful, ugly ailment on his body, was shunned from society, and even had to leave his family. He was in a state of mourning and excommunication by Heaven, so the slaughtered bird is a comfort; knowing that Hashem has sent a sign that tzaraas, which afflicted him, is gone and not coming back. But why is the second bird that was let go needed? Isn’t it obvious that if a person sins again he will be repunished? There is no doubt that if a person sins he deserves the punishment of lashes; for example if he eats non-kosher, or wears shaatnez, etc. then he was deserving of lashes each time, even if he repeats the sin. These acts are punishable by the Jewish courts if done on purpose; so why would these circumstances be any different? Why would anyone think that once they are punished once, no matter how severe it was, that they now have an exemption and can do the sin again without any repercussions?

It would seem, though, that what’s different in this circumstance is the hint, or “sign from Heaven,” that the tzaraas is gone. People get all caught up in watching for signs and relying upon them that they come to actually think that they can’t be punished again. They then rationalize that they are doing nothing wrong if they go back to their old ways.

The first sign is needed to comfort the penitent who was so severely traumatized, and the second bird is needed as a hint and reminder that the person can get tzaraas again, which will hopefully be an impetus to not revert back to his old bad ways.

Tazria –

Advertising Makes an Impact
The Gemara in Eruchin 16a lists 7 reasons why a person would receive the spiritual ailment of tzaraas, “Rabbi Shmuel bar Namani says that Rabbi Yoanan says: Leprous marks come and afflict a person for seven sinful matters: For malicious speech (lashon hara), for bloodshed, for an oath taken in vain, for forbidden relations, for arrogance, for theft, and for stinginess.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

There is an entire process one must go through while in the state of impurity and to cleanse oneself of the ailment, which is spelled out in this week’s Torah portion of Tazria and continued into next week’s Torah portion. It says in this week’s portion,And the person with tzara’as, in whom there is the lesion, his garments shall be torn, his head shall be unshorn, he shall cover himself down to his mustache and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” (Vayikra 13:45).

The Bechor Shor explains that by all types of spiritual ailments that are listed in the Torah the one afflicted is in mourning, for he is as if excommunicated by Heaven. His wife and children must separate from him, he must announce to everyone “tamei tamei” I am contaminated, I am contaminated, so that everyone will distance from him. This ailment was also contagious, so he or she had to be quarantined and sit alone outside of civilization. Our Sages have taught (Shabbos 67a) that he must announce his plight to the public so that the public will pray for mercy upon him. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Why should proclaiming to the world one’s contamination with your plight arouse mercy? Either way, one can either say this person is a terrible person, look what they did, whether it was murder, adultery, or even slander; why does he or she deserve for people to ask mercy on their behalf from G-D? On the other hand, one can really empathize with the sufferer and their family. He or she must be separated from their entire family, they must be devastated and worried, while he or she is in a state of mourning, showing genuine remorse for the sin committed. This ailment is also very painful, so no one should really wish it on anyone. If that is the case, then many people might feel bad and will be praying for their welfare. Either way, why should announcing the individual’s suffering to the world be the impetus to trigger feeling empathy and arouse others to ask for mercy from Hashem?

We see from here the power and effectiveness of announcements or advertising. The people who already feel bad will be inspired with even more mercy and compassion to pray harder. Indeed, it would seem that even those who had no interest in showing any compassion can be aroused and inspired to pray for mercy on the individual’s behalf.

Hashem wants the best for all his creatures, even for those who do wrong (as long as they show signs that they want to change for the better.) ,

Shemini-Personal Profession

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In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Shemini, we find the tragedy of Nadav and Avihu who were killed by Hashem through a fire coming down from Heaven for sinning in the Mishkan. “Moshe summoned Mishael and Eltzaphan, sons of Aharon’s uncle Uziel, and said to them, ‘Approach, carry your brothers out of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp'” (Vayikra 10:4).
 The Moshav Zekeinim points out that it mentions that Uziel was the uncle of Aharon because he was very close to Aharon. Just as Aharon pursued peace and loved peace, so did he. The Moshav Zekeinim then asked an obvious question. Wasn’t Moshe Rabbeinu as righteous as Aharon? Why wasn’t Moshe known as one who pursues peace and loves peace? He answered, that because Moshe was a judge he couldn’t just compromise but rather he was only able to minimize the mountainous judgement, as it says in Sanhedrin 6b, he would first listen to each side of the argument, and he knew who the judgement sided with and he couldn’t just tell them go and split it, and He wasn’t able to make peace. But Aharon was good at making peace and that is why he was known for peace and running after peace. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 Remember that Moshe Rabbeinu had an incredible love for the Jewish People and was willing to sacrifice his own life for their sake. He also listened to their plight and arguments day in day out to try to resolve all issues amongst them before Yisro advised him to make a court system to split up all the cases. And it’s very clear in halacha that part of the court system is compromise. Before deciding who is guilty and who is innocent the judges give each litigant a chance to compromise, so why wasn’t Moshe on the same stature as Aharon running after and loving peace?

 Because his profession of being a judge required him to hear each side of the argument and, at best, compromise, Moshe wasn’t as quick to pursue peace as Aharon who had a natural tendency to just look at a situation and figure out how to resolve it peacefully. We see from here the impact one’s profession can make on one’s essence. Moshe definitely loved peace and would do anything to create peace in Klal Yisrael, but the vigor and way he went about doing it was hindered by his professional thinking as a judge and, therefore, it wasn’t as great as Aharon, his brother.

We see how much of an impression one’s profession has on oneself.