Re’eh- Proper Etiquette for Eating Meat

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

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

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

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

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

Good Shabbos,
 Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Eikev – Educating Our Jewish Children

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

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

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

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

Vaeschanan – How to Keep Torah Alive and Exciting

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

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

Devarim – No Two-State Solution

This week we begin the fifth book of the Torah, Devarim. During the rebuke and overview of their travels in the desert, Moshe reminds the Jewish people, at the end of his life, about their confrontation with Sihon. Hashem had told them, “Get up, journey, and cross the river Arnon. Behold, I have delivered into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: Begin to possess it, and provoke him to war… [Moshe continues,] So I sent messengers from the desert of Kedemoth to Sihon, king of Heshbon, with words of peace…But Sihon, king of Heshbon, did not wish to let us pass by him, for Hashem your God caused his spirit to be hardened and his heart to be obstinate, in order that He would give him into your hand, as this day” (Devarim 2:24-30).

The Toaliyos HaRalbag learns from this episode that “it is appropriate for a person to chase after peace and distance himself from strife and war, even if he knows he will be victorious. We see this from the fact that Hashem wanted the Jews to first send words of peace to Sihon before they provoke them to war, (and even though He caused his spirit to be hardened and his heart to be obstinate, which He also did to all the nation that Yehoshua conquered, for Hashem The Exalted caused their spirit to be hardened and their heart to be obstinate in order to give them into the hands of the Jews, as explained there) in order to sink into our hearts that it is appropriate at all time to chase after peace as much as possible, because Hashem The Exalted does not desire the death of evil people.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
According to the Ralbag Hashem wanted to instill into our being the utter importance and consistency of always running after peace. What’s interesting is that the reason for this is not for us to avoid danger, or to constantly be working on positive character traits instead of picking a fight with others even if we know we will win. Rather, it is because Hashem loves and cares for every single human being, whether good or bad; and if bad, The All Merciful Hashem prefers they repent then be killed.

If this is the case, then according to the Ralbag Hashem seems to, chas vishalom, contradict Himself because He hardened Sihon, and the Cannanite Kings’ hearts for them to purposely refuse peace in order that the Jews would do battle and annihilate them. How do we resolve this serious contradiction? How can Hashem be delivering us a message of always pursuing peace but yet intentionally set up a situation where the enemy is forced not to tolerate peace and go into war?

However, we must say that of course what is first and foremost is always the pursuit of peace and to avoid fighting at all costs. However, the All Knowing, All Truthful, Hashem understands that peace in this case is not the solution, because what if there was a peace treaty made? What if they agreed to co-exist, like a two-state solution? It is possible that the Jewish people might be negatively influenced by these non-Jews or maybe the Canaanites might one day want full possession of their land back and disregard peace. However, Hashem promised the land of Canaan to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov for their descendants, to be able to serve Hashem properly and fulfill all the mitzvos in the ideal fashion. Therefore Hashem, who only He for sure knows everything now and in the future, decided it was proper to harden their spirits and make their hearts obstinate in order that they would prefer battle and be wiped out in war.

What’s incredible is that we are able to understand this and use these episodes as lessons of peace. We are able to see that really there is not inconsistency here, but rather Hashem consistently wants the right thing to happen at all times, and at such  pivotal points in history, where Hashem is living up to His word to our forefathers. And indeed then no chance of mistake can be left open, even if Hashem normally does want and hopes for bad people to repent.

This means that theoretically there could have been a possibility that the Cannanites would have repented if they peacefully joined us, living under our influence. However, Hashem knows better and therefore there is no contradiction and in fact from these very episodes of first confronting them with peace, helps to instill into our attitudes and psyche that efforts towards peace shall always be taken even if you know you can win the fight, though  at times apparently there seem to be exceptions which are possible to discern properly.

Mattos/Maasei – Experience = Knowledge

This week’s Haftorah is the second of the Haftorahs that lead up to Tisha b’Av discussing the demise of the Jewish people by the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash. It is read this week even though it is Rosh Chodesh Av on Shabbos and normally a special haftorah is read when the new month falls out on Shabbos.

Towards the beginning of the Haftorah Yirmiyahu prophesizes, “And I brought you to a forest land to eat of its produce and its goodness, and you came and contaminated My land, and made My heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is Hashem?” And those who hold onto the Torah did not know Me and the rulers rebelled against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and followed what does not avail. Therefore, I will still contend with you, says Hashem, and with your children’s children will I contend” (Yimiyahu 2:7-9).

Yirmiyahu is speaking for Hashem about how He brought the Jewish people into such a precious land and they did not live up to their promise of following His will and taking care of the land. Therefore Hashem felt He must exact punishment against them for generations unless they repent.

The Radak explains that Hashem had claims against the Kohanim, who serve Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash every day, for not rebuking and questioning the Jews, ‘Where is Hashem in your life that you choose to worship idols instead?’ Or the kings, who are referred to as shepherds since they are supposed to be guiding the nation; but they are rebelling. Also, the false prophets who were leading the Jews astray to worship the idol of Baal. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Hashem also had an argument against “those who hold onto the Torah,” for they “did not know Me.” What does that mean? The Radak explains that this refers to the wise men, learned in Torah, ‘who don’t know Me for they did not learn Torah Lishma, for the Sake of Hashem, in order to fulfill what is written in it, rather they learned it with their mouth and heart.’ This is what it means by, ‘did not know Me,’ because good thoughts and good deeds is its knowledge, not just the learning of it (referring to the Torah).

The Radak is teaching us that a person can know the whole Torah by heart and be able to rattle it off to anyone and answer questions on any subject of the Torah. But if he just uses the Torah as an intellectual pursuit and does not actively fulfill what he has learnt then he does not truly know it. Not only does he not Know Hashem but he does not really know the Torah of Hashem, that he had supposedly learned and knows well.

But how can this be? The pasuk refers to these people as “those who hold onto the Torah” and the Radak says they learned it with their mouths and heart, and do not just pay lip service but they internalized it in their hearts. This sounds like they aren’t just repeating what they memorized but they can think and ascertain what they have learned and give answers to questions they are asked. It makes sense that they are sinners for not doing Hashem’s will, for serving Hashem is doing His mitzvos. It also makes sense that these wise men don’t really understand Hashem because although learning Torah is equal to all the other mitzvos, Hashem still expects one to “follow what he preaches” and learns. However the Radak also says that Hashem is referring to a lack of knowledge of the Torah itself; how can that be?

It would seem that if one does not practice what he learns he cannot truly understand or know it. Experience is part of knowledge. If a person does not fulfill and practice what he has learned, he does not really know what he is talking about, even if he can repeat the halacha and logically answer questions on it.

The wise men of the generation right before the first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed were criticized for not knowing Hashem. It is hard to hear that they did not fulfill the Torah at all, but it was purely an intellectual pursuit. However, it makes sense that the more one practices the Torah, acting with proper manners, doing good deeds, and performing the mitzvos properly the more he knows Hashem, and His Torah. It would seem that these sages on some level were not as meticulous in their Torah and mitzvos performance and that is why Hashem criticized them for not knowing Him.

At this time leading up to Tisha B’av may we approach it with more brevity in fulfilling Hashem’s Torah and mitzvos, doing good deeds and polishing up on our positive thoughts. In this way we can turn the fast of Tisha b’Av into the holiday of Tisha B’Av. If not now, then when!

Pinchas : A Never-Ending Battle

The daughters of Tzelafchad stealthily approach Moshe Rabbeinu in this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas, (perek 27), to claim their father’s share in the land of Israel since Tzelafchad did not have any sons to inherit him. Tzelafchad’s identity is unclear; he was either the mekoshesh eitzim, the one who gathered wood on Shabbos, or one of those who acted rashly and died in the second year in the desert. This means his daughters were born in Egypt and waited forty years in the desert before approaching Moshe Rabbeinu and getting married (See Maharz”u on this upcoming medrish).

The Medrish Rabba, with the Matnos Kehuna’s explanation woven inside it, points out that the daughters of Tzelafchad were all righteous because they refused to marry anyone except for those who were appropriate for them. Why then did Hashem orchestrate that they would approach Moshe in the end of the forty years wandering in the desert? So that Moshe won’t observe himself, and become haughty, over the fact that Moshe himself was divorced from his wife for forty years. Hashem therefore informed him about these women, saying, ‘Behold these women who were not commanded in the mitzvah of be fruitful and multiply only married a husband proper for them.’ The Rashash explains a bit more, that the daughters of Tzelafchad were not commanded to marry only a man who is appropriate for each one of them, whereas  Moshe was commanded to separate from his wife, either explicitly or through a kal vachomer, fortiori. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
According to this medrish, Hashem purposely created a situation that the daughters of Tzelofchad would only approach Moshe Rabbeinu at the end of his life, in order for him not to be haughty over the fact he was able to last forty years separated from his wife in order to be Hashem’s direct in-between with the Jews. They too were voluntarily single for at least that long until they found the right shidduch and proper time to be married, in spite of the fact that the gemara in Kiddushin 7a and many other times throughout Shas mentions that the attitude that women tell each other is that it’s better to be married than single, טב למיתב טן דו מלמיתב ארמלו, whereas Moshe Rabbeinu was without a wife upon command of Hashem.

Moshe Rabbeinu was known to be the humblest person in history, proclaimed by the Torah from this very episode, which began 38 years before where Miriam criticized Moshe for separating from his wife, as it says there, “And the man, Moshe, was very humble from every person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). Now, this very episode is coming to haunt Moshe Rabbeinu and threatens his humility, for if the daughters of Tzelofchad would not have engaged Moshe at that moment it would seem that the humblest person in history would have felt, albeit most definitely a very minute and miniscule amount of, haughtiness for having been able to last as long as he had without being married.

Why would we think that Moshe Rabbeinu, the humblest person in history, would have felt any level of arrogance for this accomplishment, especially if this feat was the very thing which gave him the title of humblest person on the face of this earth?

Perforce, we are forced to conclude that this is a clear proof that the struggle to do the right thing and to reach and retain perfection is a lifetime accomplish that never ceases until the very end. Even though Moshe Rabbeinu reached the top and the Torah truthfully testifies that he was more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth, if not for the fact that Hashem orchestrated the confrontation between the daughters of Tzelofchad and Moshe at the end of his life, it would seem that Moshe would have felt some tiny level of superiority over everyone else which would have tainted his humble character and only because Hashem intervened and Moshe must have realized the lesson Hashem was trying to teach him, and chose to take it to heart, did Moshe Rabbeinu remain perfect in his ultimate state of humility.

Balak – Constructive VS. Destructive

In this week’s Torah portion of Balak, Balak beseeches Bilaam to take care of Bnei Yisrael who are believed to be a threat to him and his nation. “Balak the son of Tzipor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. Moav became terrified of the people, for they were numerous, and Moab became disgusted because of the Children of Israel” (Bamidbar 22:2, 3).
Balak offered 42 sacrifices to Hashem as commanded by Bilaam as part of the means to curse the Jewish people. There is a gemara quoted numerous times throughout Shas, the Talmud, including in Sanhedrin 105b which states, “Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: A person should always engage in Torah study and performance of a mitzva even if he does not do so for their own sake, as through engaging in them not for their own sake, he will ultimately come to engage in them for their own sake. Proof for this can be cited from the example of Balak, as in reward for the forty-two offerings that Balak sacrificed, even though he sacrificed them to facilitate the destruction of the Jewish people, he was privileged, and Ruth descended from him. Rabbi Yossi bar Huna says: Ruth was the daughter of Eglon, son of the son of Balak, king of Moab.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It’s astonishing to think that proof to the famous concept in Shas of “mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma,” (through learning Torah and performing mitzvos not for the sake of Heaven will lead you to perform them for the sake of Heaven), comes from Balak, where the fruits of his performance were not even seen in his lifetime but later on through his grandchildren, Rus and her descendants. The Maharsha there references the same gemara in Horiyos 10b, where he elaborates on this subject.

In Horiyos the Maharsha points out that “Tosfos asks in Nazir 23b ‘Shemitoch’, ‘Don’t we normally say that one who is involved in a mitzvah not for the sake of Heaven, it’s better he was not created? They answered that there the case is where they were learning Torah not for the sake of Heaven but rather to do an injustice to others, but here to be involved in learning not for the sake of Heaven means to acquire fame for oneself.’ Tosfos pointed this out many times, however isn’t the case here seemingly to cause an injustice to others for they came to curse the Jewish people? However, we can answer that he only came to curse the Jews because he was afraid for his life, as it writes, ‘Balak the son of Tzipor saw… Moav became terrified… of the children of Israel.’ It is the same thing as acquiring fame for oneself. And when it says, ‘for by doing it not for the sake of Heaven etc., what it means is that, through doing it not for the sake of Heaven, meaning that he brought offerings not for the sake of Heaven, rather only to acquire a name for himself, he merited that it was eventually brought for the sake of Heaven for his offspring Dovid and Shlomo brought sacrifices for the sake of Heaven.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
This being true, it is still worthwhile to ponder what the Maharsha was originally thinking (his hava amina) when he asked the question, and what does his answer mean (his maskana)?

The Maharsha originally asked how this episode in the Torah could be the source for the concept that if one does mitzvos not for the sake of Heaven it will come to be done for the sake of Heaven, for that’s only true if you are performing mitzvos for the sake of your own fame and fortune; unlike Balak who wanted to curse and ruin the Jewish people. At first glance, he performed the mitzvah of bringing sacrifices to Hashem for the sake of hurting someone else, an injustice to others which means it would have been better if he hadn’t even been created. But what is the Maharsha thinking? Doesn’t he know the pesukim that clearly state that Balak and his nation, Moav, were afraid of the Jewish people and just wanted to defend themselves from the potential threat? Even if you say that of course the Maharsha knew the pesukim in the Torah, but he questioned that when one is performing a mitzvah not for the sake of Heaven, but for both, his own name and to strike at others, then it is still an injustice and one should not be able to eventually have mitzvos done properly stemming from these actions; if this is so then what is the Maharsha’s answer? What changed? Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that the mitzvos of bringing 42 offerings to appease Hashem wasn’t just to gain fame for himself but was even better; it was to save their own lives in their eyes, and people have a right to defend themselves. So they were performing a mitzva in their own eyes, albeit misguided. And, if so, why did the Maharsha think that it looks like Balak did something so wrong that it was not worth creating him?

We must say that the Maharsha originally thought that anything which is destructive, even if something constructive comes out of it, is a terrible reason to perform a mitzvah. That is why the Maharsha asked how it’s possible to bring a proof from here that by doing a mitzva not for the sake of Heaven it will eventually be done for the sake of heaven, for that is only true if you are doing the mitzvah for your own constructive purpose, of making a name for yourself; then you will eventually perform mitzvos for the sake of Heaven, for His Holy Name. But Balak, even though he wanted to save his own life and the lives of his nation who mistakenly felt threatened, but by doing so they would be destroying a nation, the Jewish people, and a mitzvah should not be used in that fashion. Nothing good can come out of such mitzvos.

However, if you look carefully at the Maharsha’s answer, what he is saying is that their intent was only to save their own lives, they didn’t care if the Jewish people would be cursed and annihilated, they just wanted to survive. Their intent made it a purely constructive purpose, albeit not for the right reason. But it merited that Balak’s descendants, the grandchildren of Rus, his granddaughter, would bring offerings for all the right reasons, in Hashem’s Holy Name.

We see from here how important a role intent plays in performance of mitzvos and Torah learning. It could be the difference between a destructive use of a mitzva which is not worthy of being created to a creative, although imperfect, use of a mitzvah that leads to perfection and the ideal way of performing Torah and mitzvos.

Chukas – Pursuing Peace

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The Jewish People offered Sihon, King of Amora, peace before they attacked and waged war against the Amorites. The Torah in this week’s portion of Chukas states, “Israel sent emissaries to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying…” (Bamidbar 21:21).
About this the Medrish Tanchuma references a pasuk in Tehillim 37:3, “Trust in Hashem and do good; dwell in the land and nourish yourself with faithfulness.” It also writes in Tehillim 34:15, “Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.” The Torah, in fact, does not command to run after mitzvos, “If a bird’s nest happened to be before you on the road…” (Devarim 22:6). “If you see the donkey of someone you hate…” (Shemos23:4). “If you see the donkey…” (Devarim 23:4). “When you reap your harvest…” (Devarim 24:20). “When you harvest…” (Devarim 24:21). “When you come into the vineyard of your fellow…” (Devarim 23:25). By all these [mitzvos] if they come to you, you are obligated to fulfill them, but don’t run after them. However, peace you shall seek out from where you are and run after in some other place. And so the Jews did it even though Hashem said to them, “Begin to drive him out, and provoke war with him” (Devarim 2:24), still they ran after peace, as it says “Israel sent emissaries etc.”

The Be’ur HaAmarim explains what was bothering the medrish. According to this edition of the medrish two pesukim were initially quoted with the intent of asking why the Jews felt compelled to first offer them (The Amorites) peace when Hashem told them, “To insight a war” as we find in the beginning of Devarim. For this reason, the medrish brings two verses, for by “Trust in Hashem and do good” it writes “when dwelling in the land,” meaning, with this one can live in the land, in your spot and you don’t have to roam in the land and run after it (mitzvos). But by seeking peace it writes, “and you should run after it” even if it does not reach your hands. This now makes sense why they first asked for peace; for in this matter one must go beyond the letter of the law more than any other mitzva, and this is the will of Hashem. When Hashem commanded to wage war, that was just giving us permission, for it is not forbidden [to wage war with them] unlike Edom, Moav and Ammon. And in truth it was also the intent of Hashem that they would first approach them with peace to teach us the importance of running after peace, for if He just commanded about making peace, we would not know that for the sake of peace one has to go beyond the letter of the law. (Click here for Hebrew text)
This is quite an astonishing medrish! One would think that one should have an attitude to run after and seek out mitzvos instead of just letting them come to you. Do you realize the value of a mitzvah? The Mesilas Yesharim in the end of the first chapter writes about mitzvos “Behold, after knowing all this, we will immediately realize the grave obligation of the commandments upon us and the preciousness of the Divine service which lies in our hands. For these are the means which lead us to the true perfection. Without them, this state will not be attained in the least.” A mitzvah is more valuable than all the precious gems in the world put together. It has eternal reward, so wouldn’t you think one should run after and seek out mitzvos? For example everyone should become a farmer, there are so many mitzvos involved in farming! Yet it would seem to be a lack of trust and faith in Hashem if one would purposefully create and put himself into situations where he would have to fulfill a certain mitzva. Rather, a person should have the proper faith in Hashem that He will bring him mitzvos when he is deserving to have them, and when he gets the opportunity, he should do them with all his intent and effort. Of course, Hashem surrounds us with mitzvos everyday, and we have to open our eyes to reach and fulfill them, but we don’t have to pursue mitzvos that are not but for the will of Hashem for us to perform, at least at this moment or maybe ever. Forcing a mitzvah, when you shouldn’t be doing it, is not only not a mitzva but a lack of trust and faith in Hashem that he will provide us with plenty of opportunities to perform mitzvos at the proper time and place for each individual with their own unique purpose in life.

However, when it comes to peace, one is expected to run after peace as much as possible. Don’t wait for the other party to approach you. You must always have the attitude to run after and seek peace. Hashem allows us to wage war, when needed, for whatever appropriate reasons brought down in halacha. But why doesn’t the Torah command us to always be peaceful if peace is so important that it’s worth running after, and it’s not considered a lack of faith in Hashem if you wait for peace to come to you?

It would seem that the medrish is teaching us an incredible insight into human psychology. If Hashem would have made pursuing peace a mitzvah then a person would be stymied to really run after peace since he is bound by the letter of the law. Only because Hashem expects us to go beyond the letter of the law, the letter of the law says you are allowed to wage war if needed, but one is expected to act above and beyond the letter of the law, and if he realizes this expectation then he’ll put in more efforts to rise to the occasion and stand up to such a lofty challenge such as pursuing peace.

This expectation of pursuing peace does not only apply to war but in our day to day lives. We as individuals are expected to go all out to pursue peace and try to avoid fighting with others, or at the very least go out of our way to initiate a resolution and try to absolve a skirmish when it starts, whether it’s between you and your wife, friend, a fellow Jew, or anyone else, one should go beyond the letter of the law, beyond what’s expected to pursue and keep the peace.

Korach – Proper Sensitivity Towards Indirect Damage

There is an argument in Maseches Sanhedrin as to whether the 250 followers of Korach who were involved in the revolt against Aharon and Moshe in this week’s Torah portion of Korach will have a share in Olam Haba, The World to Come. Rebbe Akiva is of the opinion that they lost their share in the World to Come, and there is actually an argument whether they earned back their portion in the World To Come on their own merits as Rav Yehuda ben Beseira proves or whether it’s only because Chana, Shmuel Hanavi’s mother, prayed for them, as per Rebbe Eliezer.
The Mishna in Perek Chelek of Sanhedrin states, “The assembly of Korach is not destined to arise for resurrection, as it is stated: ‘And the earth closed upon them’ (Numbers 16:33), meaning in this world, and also: “And they perished from among the assembly” (Numbers 16:33), meaning in the World-to-Come; this is the statement of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Eliezer says: About them the verse says: ‘The Lord kills and makes alive; He lowers to the grave, and raises’ (I Samuel 2:6), indicating that the assembly of Korach has a share in the World-to-Come” (Mishna in Sanhedrin 108a). However the gemara there on daf 109b says, “The Sages taught in a baraisa (Tosefta 13:9): The members of the assembly of Korach have no share in the World-to-Come, as it is stated: “And the earth closed upon them” (Numbers 16:33), meaning in this world, and also: “And they perished from among the assembly” (Numbers 16:33), meaning in the World-to-Come; this is the statement of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Yehuda ben Beseira says: Although it says that they perished, they are like a lost item that is sought, ultimately found, and rehabilitated, as it is stated: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant, for I do not forget your mitzvot” (Psalms 119:176).” Rashi there on daf 109b explaining why they deserve a share in the World to come says that they fulfilled all Your mitzvos as it writes, “For all the assembly are all holy” (Bamidbar 16:3).

The Maharsha explains Rebbe Eliezer’s view as follows, “Chana prayed for them because, as Chaza”l in the Medrish Tanchuma (Korach paragraph 5) observes, that Korach saw a chain of good lineage coming from him and this he brought to the argument, but he didn’t know his sons would repent and from them came Shmuel. We see from here that Shmuel was the reason for Korach’s argument on Moshe. For this reason, when Chana says about herself ‘While the barren woman has born seven…The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and raises up’ (Shmuel Alef 2:5, 6). Since out of Your mercy, I was treated graciously for a barren women like myself was able to give birth to 7 children, however these children caused Korach to make a mistake, which is considered indirect damaging therefore [Chana says] I pray for them that You will cause them to die and cause them to come back alive and if they don’t die, rather they went down alive straight into the depths of Gehenom, at least bring them back up.” (Click here fore Hebrew text.)
Chana, Shmuel’s mother, pleaded to Hashem after many barren years to have a child, many many generations after her ancestor, Korach, rebelled against Moshe Rabbeinu. Korach misunderstood his prophecy, seen through Divine inspiration, that he would have righteous people like Shmuel Hanavi come from his offspring; meaning he was deserving of the leadership, not Moshe. Furthermore, Chana did not even pray for Korach, but for the 250 people who were convinced to follow Korach’s lead. Thirdly, they of their own free will chose to follow Korach. Lastly, Hashem miraculously granted her children for according to natural causes she did not have the ability to bear children. Chana’s responsibility for causing the revolt of Korach and his followers by having Shmuel wasn’t just indirect, it was very indirect, seemingly not even her fault at all. So why did she feel responsible to pray on their behalf, which led to Hashem answering her prayers and overturning the ban they had from entering Olam Haba, which seems to imply the prayers and reason for the prayers were legitimate?

We see from here the extent one must feel responsible for another, no matter how indirect your involvement is. If there is even the slightest bit of connection to the party in question then one should feel remorse to inspire himself to at least pray on their behalf. Chana was just praying for a child after the embarrassment of many years of being childless, but when she realized her prayers and the answer to her prayers was what incited the rebellion of Korach and his followers which resulted in their loss in their share in The World To Come she felt compelled to get them out of the rut they were in, even though they chose, albeit mistakenly, to put themselves into it, and not get themselves out of, that rut.

This is the extent of responsibility one should have for his or her actions and the care for his or her fellow Jew.

Bihaaloscha – Artists and Kings

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One of our fundamental beliefs of trust in Hashem is that we are expected to go through the motions of putting in our proper effort, but Hashem ultimately produces the results. This cannot be more evidently expressed than by the making of the menorah which is discussed in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Bihaaloscha. “Now this is how the menorah was made: it was hammered work of gold, hammered from base to petal. According to the pattern that Hashem had shown Moshe, so was the menorah made” (Bamidbar 9:4).

The Medrish Rabba relates in the name of Levi the son of Rebbe [Yehuda Hanasi] “…that a pure menorah came down from Heaven. For Hashem said to Moshe, ‘And you shall make a menorah out of pure gold’ (Shemos 25:31). [Moshe] asked, how do we make it? [Hashem] responded, you shall make it hammered [out of one piece]. Nevertheless, it was difficult for Moshe and he went down, and he forgot how to make it. He went up and said, my Master how do I make it? [Hashem] responded, you shall make it hammered [out of one piece]. Nevertheless, it was difficult for Moshe and he came back down, and he forgot. He went back up and said, my Master I forgot it. [Hashem] showed [the menorah] to Moshe and still it was too difficult for him. [Hashem] said to [Moshe], see and do, and He showed him a menorah made out of fire and showed him how it was made. Nevertheless, it was too difficult for Moshe. Hashem said to him, go to Betzalel and he will make it. [Moshe] told Betzalel and he immediately made it. [Moshe] started wondering why he was shown many times how to make it and he still couldn’t figure it out but Betzalel who never saw how to make it, still made it out of his own knowledge. [Moshe answered himself] that Betzalel was standing in the “shade of G-D” when Hashem showed me how to make it. Therefore, when the Holy Temple was destroyed, they hid the menorah. This was one of the  five things hidden, (a) the ark, (b) the menorah, (c) the fire [that came down from Heaven to lick up what was sacrificed on the alter], (d) Divine Providence (i.e. prophecy), (e.) and the keruvim [that were on top of the ark.] And when Hashem will return in His mercy and rebuild the Beis Hamikdash with its sanctuary, He will bring them back to their place in order to rejoice in Yerushalayim as it says, ‘Desert and wasteland shall rejoice over them, and the plain shall rejoice and shall blossom like a rose. It shall blossom and rejoice’ (Yeshayahu 35:1, 2).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Rada”l perceptively points out that the reason it was difficult for Moshe to make it was in order to hint to us that even complete preparation from any person to place a place where one can instate upon it The Light of Heaven is not within the power of a complete person to perform by himself, as it says, if not for Hashem helping him etc. and this is why it was made by Betzalel who was given Divine intellect from on high to do all the work and not from his heart.
The Rada”l is clearly stating that Hashem purposefully had Moshe put in all his effort for naught and then Betzalel easily made the menorah in order to send the message that while it is worthwhile to try, which Moshe did and did not easily give up, however Hashem is the one that produces the results, especially when it comes to holy spiritual matters like building the menorah. Also, to clearly prove the point that only Hashem produces the results, He had Betzalel, who was not directly shown how to make the menorah, orchestrate making it.

The Maharz”u seems to have a different understanding of why Betzalel was able to make the menorah so easily but Moshe had a lot of difficulty. However, when scrutinizing this commentary one will see it is really the same theme as the Rada”l. The Maharz”u is very much bothered by  why Betzalel was referred to as standing in the “shade of G-D,” for in fact Moshe was in the “shade of G-D” on the mountain with Hashem and still didn’t know; so how did Betzalel know? Is it possible that he was more in the “shade of G-D” than Moshe who got closer than anyone else on the mountain? The Maharz”u answers that maybe when it says that Betzalel was in the “shade of G-D” it hints to a quality on a level in the matter of working on making the utensils of the mishkan. Betzalel had something more than Moshe had, for he was an artist (or architect) and it’s important to have in mind that Moshe was the king and he did not do anything by himself; rather all actions were done upon his command and direction. This was clearly indicated by all the work that Betzalel and the sages did, and also by the menorah. Nevertheless, the credit went to Moshe for building the mishkan, its utensils, including the menorah, as it says, “And the mishkan of Hashem that Moshe made in the desert.”
Moshe had reached the 49th level of wisdom, one notch below the perfection of all wisdom. He was certainly physically fit enough to make anything, for he assembled the mishkan all by himself, and he even knew how to do hands-on work, because he used to help his fellow Jews in the slave pits of Egypt to lighten their burden. Even though now he is king and almost all the jobs are done for him, it does not seem from the medrish that it was beneath his dignity to make the menorah; on the contrary he tried and failed four time! So, with all his knowledge and worldly experience, why did he fail?

The Maharz”u says it was because he was not an artist like Betzalel and he had plenty of responsibilities because he was the king and he would not have the time to figure out how to be an artist or architect. For Betzalel, it was natural and easy for him to make the menorah because Hashem gave him that artistic gift, to be good at working with his hands;, that was his purpose in life; he used it to the best of his ability. Moshe’s purpose was to be king, the authority over everyone else; so as much as he tried, he just didn’t have the feel of how to make the menorah since he wasn’t naturally an artist or architect. No matter how much wisdom and intellect Hashem granted Moshe He still didn’t give him the knack to sculpt things. Being artistic and handy just wasn’t Moshe’s purpose in life, so Hashem didn’t grant him that ability.

Moshe thought that with all his wisdom he might be able to figure it out since Hashem did command him to make it. So he put in all his efforts to try and not give up so easily, but it was not with in his natural talents to accomplish making the menorah. So ultimately, Moshe had to give it over to Betzalel and direct him to make the menorah since Hashem did grant Betzalel the talents to make it.

This too shows that we put in the efforts but ultimately Hashem causes the results to happen.