Biha’aloscha – Competition

Towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Biha’aloscha we have the mysterious episode of Eldad and Meidad. Why was there such a reaction from Yehoshua? Did they do anything wrong? The Medrish Tanchuma sheds light on this episode in the desert and it will also clarify an issue I have had for many years, of what is the similarity between jealousy and zealotry, which both have the same Hebrew word, kinah.
This episode took place within the first two years of the Jews’ freedom from Egypt, before the episode of the spies, right after Yisro gave the advice to Moshe to delegate his responsibilities among many courts, shortly after Yisro had left. Hashem told Moshe to gather 70 elders who would help him with taking care of the needs of the people.  The Medrish Tanchuma begins with deliberation on how to choose the elders. There was going to be lots drawn, but each tribe was to be equally represented, and 6 multiplied by 12 is 72, not 70. The Medrish Tanchuma writes: “So what did they do? Rebbe Nechemia said this is what Moshe did. He took 72 tickets, wrote the word ‘elder’ on 70 of them and two of them were left blank. They were mixed up and thrown into a ‘hat’ and he told [each one of the candidates] come and pick your ticket. If it says ‘elder’ on it you know you were chosen and if it is blank then you know you were not chosen. [There was actually someone appointed over the drawing to pick out each ticket. He would then read the ticket and give it to the next person in line.] The appointee would say [to the one standing before him,] ‘Here is one ticket which says ‘elder’ because you are befitting to be picked that is why you received this.’ In this way all the elders were appointed. Eldad and Meidad were there and they excluded themselves. They said ‘we are not worthy to be appointed as elders.’ And for excluding themselves they were given five qualities over the elders. The elders only prophesied the next day as it says ‘And to the nation you shall say you will sanctify them the next day.’ But they prophesied about what will happen at the end of forty years, as it says “And there were left two men etc.” What was their prophesy about? Some say it was about the downfall of Gog. Others say they prophesized and said that Moshe will die in the desert and Yehoshua will bring the Jews into the land. Proof that this was what they prophesized about, for this is what Yehoshua said to Moshe. ‘Yehoshua bin Nun, the servant of Moshe…’ and it writes ‘The youth ran and told Moshe…’ Who was this? Gershom ben Moshe, (Parenthetically on a historical note, the Etz Yosef points out that “the youth” must be referring to someone well known and not some random kid so it must be Gershom, Moshe’s firstborn son, because Eliezer was born on the way back to Egypt after the burning bush so he would only be 3 or 4 at the time of this episode. Also from the fact that Gershom is delivering the news must be that the prophesy was about Moshe’s death.) The elders did not enter the land but Eldad and Meidad did. Eldad is Elidad ben Kislon and Meidad is Kamiel ben Shiftan. We don’t know the elders’ names but we know their names. The elders’ prophecy was temporary for it stemmed from Moshe, as it says that Hashem told Moshe, ‘And I will delegate some of the spirit that is upon you and I will place it on them.’ But these two had prophesy [directly] from Hashem, as it says, ‘And the spirit rested upon them.’ One shouldn’t be mistaken to think that since the elders’ prophesy stemmed from Moshe then he was lacking a bit, for it can be comparable to a candle that was lit and many other candles were lit from it but the flame is not diminished in any way, so to Moshe, even though the prophesy of the 70 elders came from him he wasn’t lacking at all in his level of prophesy as it says, ‘There was no one that ever got up again like Moshe with in the Jewish people’ (Devarim 34:10).” (Click here and here for Hebrew text)
In summary, the Etz Yosef surmises that Eldad and Meidad were better off than the elders in five ways: (1) They prophesied about the future. (2) They entered the Land of Israel. (3) Their names were identified.  (4) There prophesizing did not stop. (5) There prophesy was directly from Hashem.

In explaining Yehoshua bin Nun’s concern and Moshe’s response, the Etz Yosef says that the elders only delegated prophesy from Moshe in order to work with him in taking care of the burdens of the nation. So Yehoshua didn’t have any kinah (jealousy or zealotry) for Moshe’s sake, since the prophesy was delegated from Moshe’s spirit and that is why their prophesy was temporary. But by Eldad and Meidad it writes: “that it rested on them,” the spirit from Hashem Himself. We know this since it does not write: “his spirit rested on them;” therefore it must be that they merited to have prophesy just like Moshe, straight from Hashem. About this very matter Yehoshua was jealous (or zealous) of them (for Moshe), for making themselves like Moshe. Moshe answered Yehoshua: “Why are you jealous (zealous) for me? Am I jealous of you? [Of course not] because you are my student… and who cares if all the nation of Hashem are prophets like me to go around and prophesize like Eldad and Meidad that Hashem chose to rest His spirit among them and not my spirit, to make them as important as me? I am not jealous of them because every one of them are my students and no one is jealous of their students!”

We see from this medrish that Eldad and Meidad were in fact very righteous people who emulated their teacher, Moshe, in the attribute of humility and merited to receive prophecy straight from Hashem instead of it being delegated through Moshe. It seems apparent that the kinah discussed in the Etz Yosef is not zeal but rather jealousy as inferred from Moshe’s response to Yehoshua of why Yehoshua should not have kinah on behalf of Moshe. This is because there is no reason for it because Moshe himself did not feel it since there is a psychological rule that teachers don’t feel jealousy towards their students. (Unless one can say that Yehoshua was being zealous for Moshe and Moshe is saying I have no jealousy of Eldad and Meidad because they are my students). In any event, we have to ask ourselves: what is jealousy and what is zeal?

Normally we think of jealousy as desiring something that someone else has. But in this case it is clearly not so, for Eldad and Meidad had the same type of prophesy as Moshe did, directly from Hashem, and Moshe even had a higher level of prophesy, face to face; so why is this jealousy? It would even seem that if not for the fact that they were his students Moshe would have felt kinah against them, albeit on his high level of humility, and the feeling would have been very miniscule. So what is this jealousy?
It must be that part of the attribute of kinah is competition and it might even be the underlying reason of kinah as we will see in the Orchos Tzadikim. In this way we will also see a commonality between jealousy and zeal.

In excerpts of Orchos Tzadikim in the Gate of Envy it writes: “Envy is a branch of anger, and no man escapes from it completely. For we see that among men each one tries to keep-up with one’s neighbor. For when he sees that his neighbor acquires food or clothes, or a home or amasses money, then he too endeavors to attain the same, thinking, “My fellow has all this; I must also have it.” And concerning this matter, Solomon hinted: “Again, I considered all labour and all excelling in work, that it is a man’s rivalry with his neighbor” (Eccl. 4:4)… Envy is the result of a feeling of inferiority. If one envies another’s beauty, strength or wealth, then he is unhappy with what the Creator, blessed be He, has decreed for him. This is similar to a servant who complains concerning the deeds of his master, and is not pleased with his master’s matters. Such a one is not a faithful servant. All the more so, ought he not to complain against the Creator, may He be Blessed, for all His deeds are righteous and proper, and one ought never to dispute them… Even though jealousy is a very bad quality, there are instances where it can be a very good quality and, in fact, it can be a most noble quality, — when one envies those who revere God, as it is said : “Let not thy heart envy sinners, but those that fear the Lord all the day…” (Prov. 23:17). And in the same way our Sages said : “that the jealousy of wise men increases wisdom” (Baba Bathra 21a)… The Holy One, Blessed be He, said : “Be jealous for My sake, were it not for envy, the world would not stand. A man would not plant a vineyard, marry a wife or build a house (Shoher Tob 37a)… One ought to be zealous against sinners and the wicked, to strife with them and to rebuke them. As our Sages said : “A man who cohabitates with a heathen woman, the zealous ones should smite him” (Sanhedrin 81b). Moses was jealous of the Egyptian, as it is said, “And he smote the Egyptian” (Exod. 2:12). And so we find in the case of Elijah, when he said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant” (I Kings 19:10). And so is it said, “In that he was very jealous for My sake among them” (Num. 25:11), and the Lord, may He be Blessed, gave him his reward for this as it is said: “Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace!” (Num. 25:12).  (Click here for Sefaria’s translation in its totality.)
In summary, the Orchos Tzadikim says the trait of jealousy, or envy, is a natural innate trait that everyone has and it is needed for the world to exist. However, if one gets carried away with being jealous of what others have, it can be very, very bad. He also discusses cases of zealotry like that of Pinchas, or the incident where Moshe killed an Egyptian to save a poor Jewish slave.  The Alay Orech, a commentary on the Orchos Tzadikim, points out that this type of kinah does not stem from strife or, G-D forbid, a bad attribute. Rather, zealotry stems from the perfection of man and his desire to make peace between the Jews and their Father In Heaven.  It would seem that jealousy and zealotry are two totally different  attributes, but are both called the same thing in Hebrew, kinah, and are both discussed in the same chapter of envy in Orchos Tzadikim. So how are they under the same umbrella?

Based on this Medrish Tanchuma and Etz Yosef we can say that all types of kinah boil down to competition. It doesn’t make a difference if someone has something you don’t have, or they have the same thing as you, or even similar to you, or whether it’s competing for the good of mankind, who will win good or evil, and being zealous to wipe out the evil. For good or for bad competition is the underlying impetus of all kinah.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Vayelech – Comfort Zone

There are 613 mitzvos [commandments] in the Torah. The last of which  is taught in this week’s Torah portion of Vayelech: “And now write for you this Song and teach it to the Children of Israel” (Devarim 31:19). In this verse the Torah is commanding every Jewish man to ‘have’ a Torah. This is source of the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll. Practically, for those who are not trained scribes, one can fulfill this mitzvah simply by being involved in the writing of a Torah scroll, even just one letter..
The Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 613) discusses the root of this mitzvah: “Since it is known about mankind that the effort they put into doing something is based on the preparation needed for it, therefore Hashem commanded each and every Jew to have a Torah by him so he can constantly be reading it and he will not have to go to his friend’s house to find one. This is in order to learn to fear Hashem and to know and be enlightened in His dear and precious mitzvos which are like a great treasure of gold. It was commanded of every Jew to put in the effort to have one, even if his father bequeathed one to him in order so that there will be many Torah books amongst us and we can lend them out to those who cannot afford to buy their own. Another benefit to having new books is so that each Jew can read from them and not be disgusted [or turned off] from old prints that there father had left them. And you should know my son, that even though the main Torah obligation is only to have a Torah scroll, there is no doubt that other Torah books which were published as commentary on the Torah, one should acquire them if it is within his means for the reason we said above even if his father left him a collection. This is the way of any formidable person who is also G-D fearing who is able to establish a beis medrish in their house for authors to write many Torah books according to the blessing Hashem has given them.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
We learn from this Sefer HaChinuch that the final mitzvah of the Torah is not just to write a Torah scroll, but rather to have a large collection of sefarim, for example a Chumash and a Tanach, as well as the Talmud, other explanations on the Torah, and commentaries on the commentaries. Basically, whatever is needed to teach a fear of Hashem, and to appreciate fulfilling His Torah and mitzvos.

What is interesting to note is that even if one inherits a vast collection of sefarim, he still has a mitzvah to grow his own collection. One of the reasons for this is that in the event that the print is old or crumbly, the worn out conditions of the old sefarim might be displeasing for his heart’s content. Why should this be of a concern?

There is a gemara in Brachos 63b which states in the name of Reish Lakish: “How do we know that Torah can only survive within someone who kills himself over it? The Torah states: ‘This is the Torah, a person who dies in a tent’” (Bamidbar 19:14). The Torah Temimah (note 63) explains that this gemara is referring to a person who toils very hard to acquire Torah knowledge. What it means to kill oneself over Torah is to weaken oneself through his learning. (Click here for Hebrew text)

True Torah learning and delving into the profundities of the Torah can only be done through such grueling study that it could break a person and physically weaken his body through such diligent learning. One would think that if it takes such self-sacrifice to pummel the depths of Torah it should not make a difference what kind of book he is learning out of. Nothing should faze him or get in the way of attaining the truth of Torah; however we learn from this Sefer HaChinuch that in order to be successful in one’s learning a person should be attuned to his  comfort zone, and he must effectively sink into the depths of the Torah and submerge himself in its back breaking toil.

We even find in Pirkei Avos (6:4) that when it says “This is the way of Torah: bread with salt you shall eat, and water in measure to drink, and on the ground you shall sleep, and a life of suffering you shall live, and in Torah you shall toil. And if you do this happy you will be and good for you,” Rashi says on this Mishna that it is not referring to the rich. They do not need to suffer in order to learn Torah; rather, what it means is that even if a person only has bread and salt etc. and no mattress or pillow to sleep on, he still should not stop his involvement in Torah study, for in the end he will learn Torah in wealth. (Click here for Hebrew text)

We see from here that there is no concept of torturing oneself to learn Torah. A person must be in his comfort zone, and that will help him learn diligently. He has to be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of learning, but he still has to find his comfort zone to be successful. The litmus test is his diligence; the drive to keep on learning and getting clarity in Torah and mitzvos. Once one gets into the groove of learning then he will get so involved it could take a toll on him, but the feeling of elation and success will be overwhelming inside him and he will thirst for more.

Consciences about What Others Think

At the end of last week’s Torah portion of Bamidbar, the Torah counts and discusses the role of the family of Kehas in the carrying of the mishkan. Then in the first two pesukim of this week’s Torah portion of Naso, it begins: “Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Raise up the head of the children of Gershon them also according to their father’s house, according to their family” (Bamidbar 4:21, 22).

The Daas Zekeinim, and the Rosh in a bit more detail, were wondering why the pasuk says “them also,” as if we would have thought otherwise. They answer: “for because of the earlier census (3:17) which was from one month old and older, the children of Gershon were counted first since he was the oldest of the tribe of Levi, as it says ‘And the children of Levi, Gershon, Kehas, and Merrari’ (Breishis 46:11). But this census of age 30 and up the children of Kehas were counted first because the main service was upon them, i.e. they carried the aron (ark), shulchan (table of the showbread), and the alters (see earlier 3:31). This is why it mentions “them also” by the children of Gershon, meaning that even though the children of Kehas were commanded to be counted first, the children of Gershon were not left out and not fully counted, rather they also were counted. [Click here and here for Hebrew text.] 

The family of Gershon was the first to be counted in the general census of the tribe of Levi, from one month of age and older, because Gershon was the firstborn of Levi. But when it came time to count the census of those doing the service for the Mishkan, from ages 30 to 50, the family of Kehas was counted first. Therefore the Torah says to not worry, the family of Gershon will also be counted in this census of the workers. The simple and obvious question is what is the concern? A few pesukim later in pasuk 38 the count for the family of Gershon is counted amongst those who are able to serve. They didn’t do anything wrong; there is nothing to suspect them about. The family of Kehas just had a more important role in the Mishkan than the family of Gershon, so why did the Torah have to waste two extra words just to tell us don’t worry they will be counted?

It must be, then, that people have a natural tendency of being suspicious of change when something different happens. We learn from here that one has a responsibility to quell the suspicions as much as possible at the very least in cases where there is no reason for anyone to be suspect as in this scenario. For this reason Hashem felt compelled to foreshadow at the beginning of the Torah portion that the family of Gershon will be counted in the second census even though, with enough patience we would see in the next aliyah that they are counted.

Bamidbar – Proper Respect

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There is a lesson in this week’s Torah portion of Bamidbar, the beginning of the Torah’s fourth book, which might not sound so profound at first glance. Yet if the Torah decided to emphasize it, it is worth taking the time to analyze and appreciate its lesson.
In the beginning of the third perek of Bamidbar, the Torah states:

1These are the descendants of Aharon and Moshe on the day that the Lord spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai.אוְאֵ֛לֶּה תּֽוֹלְדֹ֥ת אַֽהֲרֹ֖ן וּמשֶׁ֑ה בְּי֗וֹם דִּבֶּ֧ר ד’ אֶת־משֶׁ֖ה בְּהַ֥ר סִינָֽי:
2These are the names of the sons of Aharon: Nadav the firstborn Avihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.בוְאֵ֛לֶּה שְׁמ֥וֹת בְּנֵי־אַֽהֲרֹ֖ן הַבְּכֹ֣ר | נָדָ֑ב וַֽאֲבִיה֕וּא אֶלְעָזָ֖ר וְאִֽיתָמָֽר:

 The Maharam from Rottenberg, a Rishon, asks: what difference does it make for the Torah to mention that Nadav was the firstborn? He did not get a double portion in the distribution of the land, since the kohanim did not receive any share in the land [of Israel when they conquered it]?

The Maharam explains that in fact there is a separation between the word “bechor” (which means first born) and the name “Nadav” [denoted by a line in our chumashim as seen above. We know this through a tradition dating back to when we received the Torah on Har Sinai]. This means the word “firstborn” is referring to Aharon, telling us that Aharon was older than Moshe. We shouldn’t wonder why the previous pasuk started off listing Aharon then Moshe, for Aharon was older than Moshe and when the lineage was being counted it was counted in order of age, not wisdom. This also happened earlier in the book of Shemos, in the Torah portion of Vaera; when stating the lineage [of Amram] the Torah writes: “And he bore Aharon and Moshe” (Shemos 6:20). After that in pasuk 26 it is written: “it is Aharon and Moshe” who were mentioned earlier by the lineage. Then after that, in pasuk 27 the Torah says: “They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh… Moshe and Aharon,” meaning when it came to mentioning them talking to the king as well as bringing the Jews out of Egypt, Moshe comes before Aharon. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Shavuos is upon us, the day we received the Torah on Har Sinai. Moshe Rabbeinu, who chaza”l considered the king of the Jewish people in the desert, brought down the Torah from Heaven to teach it to us. He was on the mountain top for forty days and forty nights without eating or drinking. He sacrificed his life for Torah and for that reason it is called ‘Toras Moshe,’ Moshe’s Torah. That being said, one would think Moshe, chosen by G-d to be the leader and king of the Jewish People, would have earned the right to be written first every time he is mentioned alongside anyone else; isn’t that just and proper respect of a king?

Furthermore, even if Hashem wanted to acknowledge and teach us that Aharon was born first, He need only tell us that a single time. The Torah even says that Moshe was 80 and Aharon was 83 (in that order) when first confronting Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go (Shemos 7:7). Why then must Hashem put Aharon first before Moshe when each time lineage is discussed?

However it would seem that Hashem is driving home an important lesson in respect and honor to our fellow man. Granted, respect and honor can be earned through diligence in Torah study and good deeds, and must be acknowledged by others, but there are also innate and natural times of respect that cannot be ignored, such as when the lineage is being counted and Aharon, the older brother, was mentioned first each time in the Torah because in respect to family lineage that respect and honor needs to be identified each time. Yet when it came to speaking to Pharaoh and leading the Jews out of Egypt, Moshe was always mentioned before Aharon because he earned that respect, and was therefore appointed to be the leader and king of the Jewish people.

Similarly, the Ramban in the Torah portion of Kedoshim clearly says by the verse: “You shall rise before a venerable person and you shall respect the elderly, and you shall fear your God. I am the Lord” (Vayikra 19:32), that one has a mitzvah to stand before the elderly even if he is a layman. Granted, for a sage, at whatever age, there is a mitzvah to stand up when they enter the room because they earned that status of honor and respect. But even a person who isn’t so learned, but simply has the experience of years, has a natural, innate honor that should be respected, and therefore there is a mitzvah to stand when an elderly person, be it even a simple layman, enters the room (as long as he is not wicked).

The lesson is clear. We have to show proper respect and honor when and where it is due. The trick, though, which is not so easy, is to acknowledge this fact so one can properly act on it when the situation arises.

Bechukosai – The Gentiles and the Captured Baby

There is a very penetrating Medrish Tanchuma towards the beginning of the last Torah Portion in the Book of Vayikra, the Torah portion of Bechukosai: “Another understanding of ‘If you follow my decrees…then I will provide you rain in their time… But if you will not listen to me…I will make your sky like iron’ (Vayikra 26:3, 4, 14, 19).  It also says ‘Therefore because of you the heavens have kept back, so that there is no dew, and the earth has kept back its produce’ (Chagai 1:10). For because of your iniquities even the gentiles are smitten. Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said, ‘If the gentiles would know that because of Jewish sins they are smitten, they would appoint two soldiers for each Jew in order to be sure they listen to the Torah and not sin. And not only do the gentiles not guard the Jews but they further stop us from performing mitzvos that if they sin the hold world is smitten as it says, ‘Therefore because of you the heavens have kept back, so that there is no dew.’ And if they don’t sin the whole world is blessed because of them as it says, ‘and all the nations of the earth will bless themselves by your seed,’ (Breishis 26:4)” (Medrish Tanchuma, parshas Bichukosai, paragraph 2). (Click here for the Hebrew text.)
If the gentiles only knew that the Jews were the cause of all the problems in the world, droughts, floods, earthquakes, etc. the medrish does not say they would attack the Jews for causing so much trouble, rather they would appoint two soldiers to every Jew. One to make sure he or she follows and performs the positive mitzvos of the Torah and the other to be sure he or she does not transgress the negative mitzvos of the Torah. If that is the case, then why don’t we just tell them? Word should have spread throughout the world so that everyone would know and take proper precautions to be sure the Jews are observing the Torah properly. It is even easier now a day with social media to get the word out!

However it does not seem as simple as that. If you look closely into the words of the medrish, the medrish faults the gentiles for not only the lack of guarding us but inciting us to sin, for example what happened in the times of the Greeks and Hellenism. The Medrish says, “But they further stop us from performing mitzvos that if they sin the whole world is smitten as it says, ‘Therefore because of you the heavens have kept back, so that there is no dew.’ Why does the medrish repeat the fact that the whole world is affected by the sin of the Jews and the verse that proves it? It would seem by the connection that the medrish makes between the gentiles stopping us “from performing mitzvos that if they sin the whole world will be smitten,” that there is a message the medrish is trying to tell us. The Medrish is saying that they don’t really know, or to be precise they don’t appreciate or believe that it is because of a Jewish sin that all the problems come to the world and vice versa if the Jews do what they are supposed to blessing comes into the world. If they truly appreciated and believed it they would not try to dissuade us from doing mitzvos but on the contrary they would make sure we all perform them. It comes out that one does not truly know something unless he actually appreciates and believes something about it.

In a similar vein, I have heard from my rebbeim that a tinok shenishba, literally a baby who was captured, not only refers to any Jew who was not given a chance to be brought up Torah observant but even refers to a Jew who might have heard about mitzvos, the example they gave was a secular Israeli who is surrounded by the Holiness of the Land, has all the archeological evidence about Tanach and the Talmudic scholars, as well as plenty of yeshivas all around them, so how can they be considered ignorant, without any chance of learning?  The answer they gave was that a Jew is considered a tinok shenishba even if one might know or is able to know about halacha, Jewish law, but doesn’t appreciate or never had a chance to believe in the severity of reward and punishment and it’s ramifications.

This doesn’t mean those less privileged get an easy pass, and are absolved from being Torah observant. Ultimately, Hashem looks into the inner most depths of one’s heart and knows if he or she had a chance and took advantage of growing in Torah and mitzvos. If they had the potential then there are little to no excuses, however if there was no chance or potential of knowing or appreciating the severity and advantages of being Torah observant with all its halachic standards then that person will get a pass in Heaven.

Unfortunately nowadays even with all the technology to put knowledge at our fingertips many people do not grasp what living a Torah way of life is all about. They are virtually clueless of how to begin to know what it means no less to appreciate the beauty and profundity of Hashem’s Torah and to walk in His ways. This should charge those that do follow Hashem’s will with the impetus to continue to strive to make this world a better place.

Emor – The Focus of Life in This World

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The Shulchan Aruch in Choshen Mishpat 26:2 enumerate ways of how and when a Jew is allowed to use non-Jewish courts to settle a case in distinctive circumstances. There is, however, a very important lesson that we must appreciate at the end of this week’s Torah portion of Emor regarding the ideal state the Jews should be able to live.
The Torah states: “And one who injures an animal shall pay for it. And one who strikes a person shall be put to death. One judgement shall be exacted for you, convert and resident alike, for I am the Lord, your God” (Vayikra 24:21, 22).

Rabbeinu Bachye says in pasuk 21 that the reason why “one judgement shall be exacted” was placed next to the previous pasuk is to teach us that the same laws for cross-examining witnesses apply for both capital punishment and monetary cases. He goes on to say that “one judgement shall be exacted” means the judgement of The One, The Holy One Blessed Be He. That judgement, which was given to you at Har Sinai, [shall be used]; they are not like the judgements of the non-Jews and their courts.

Then, on pasuk 22, Rabbeinu Bachye says: “For I am the Lord, your G-D” is only if you do His judgement, ‘I am the Lord, your G-D.’ We can infer from the positive the negative; for anyone that does not act according to His judgements it is as if he excludes himself from His G-dliness, and denies Hashem. This is because it is a known thing that all the beliefs of the nations and their judgements are offshoots of the Torah, while the judgements of the Torah are the main part of the Torah. When we are not engrossed in them, it creates a chillul Hashem, a profanity of Hashem’s Holy Name. Those that can protest, and don’t, also create a chillul Hashem. Those who delegate honor to non-Jews are making a chillul Hashem, disgrace the Torah that was given to us through Moshe Rabbeinu, and they waste Jewish money. The whole world is dependent on laws, and Hashem only gave laws to the Jewish people, as it says: “He relates His word to Yaakov, His statutes and judgements to Israel. He did not do so for any other nation, such judgements, they know them not. Hallelukah” (Tehillim 147:19, 20, the end of the second Hallelukah in Pesukei DiZimra). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Based on these two pesukim there is a very strong stance against Jews resolving their issues in non-Jewish court. Rabbeinu Bachye lists some reasons why it is a problem; you might cause your fellow Jew a bigger financial loss than he deserves; you are showing more respect to non-Jews than to Jews; you are disgracing Hashem’s Torah. However, the first thing, and what seems to be the most important factor mentioned, is the chillul Hashem of us not being engrossed in Torah. What does that have to do with taking a case to the non-Jewish courts, and why is that the biggest issue and greatest disgrace of Hashem’s name?

We see from here that the ultimate purpose of existence and the greatest sanctifier of Hashem’s Holy Name is the in-depth study and proliferation of Torah. By deferring to the non-Jewish courts, one is causing Jewish judges to lose the opportunity to be engrossed in Hashem’s Torah through deliberating judgement, which is a chillul Hashem!  

By going to Jewish courts and causing the Jewish judges to be engrossed in the nuances of Torah in order to figure out the correct halacha one is making a Kiddush Hashem. What this also means is through just fully observing the mitzvos anyone can make a Kiddush Hashem by being engrossed in Torah learning in order to be sure he is observing them correctly.

Kedoshim – It All Leads Back to the Same Source

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.

This week’s Food for Thought is dedicate in memory of a 4 year old boy,  Chizkiyahu Nachshon Meir ben Tzvi Ariel, who completed his mission in  life an succumbed to cancer on his birthday, Monday. He was buried in Tzfas by his parents, Reb Tzvi and Temima Eckhardt. Reb Tzvi used to be part of the CITE Chofetz Chaim Alumni Mussar Chabura, may we only share in simchas in the future! 

Now for some food for thought:

The duty of our heart is one of the main themes of this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim. The portion begins: “Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-D” (Vayikra 19:2). A number of pesukim later, while discussing the fundamentals of interpersonal relationships, the Torah writes: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him. You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself, I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:17, 18).
The Ibn Ezra makes a fundamental observation into two of these pesukim. He says that the pasuk of “You shall not hate your brother” is the opposite of “you shall love your fellow as yourself.” He further says that behold, these mitzvos are implanted in one’s heart. By observing them we can stay settled in The Land of Israel, for as we know, it was because of baseless hatred the Second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. The pasuk continues: “you shall reprove your fellow,” which the Ibn Ezra explains  the reason for reproof, is because maybe you suspect him of some wrongdoing, which didn’t happen. The Ibn Ezra concludes that this is the reason why the pasuk ends by saying: “and do not bear a sin because of him;” because there will be punishment on you for what you thought about him. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In the next pasuk the Ibn Ezra first points out that the explanations of “don’t take revenge” or “bear a grudge” can be found in Chaza”l (see Rashi on this pasuk.) Then he brings two definitions of “you shall love your fellow as yourself.” Many people say that the letter lamed in the pasuk is extra, like the “lamed” in “L’Avner” (Shmuel Beis 3:30), meaning, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ However the Ibn Ezra personally says: “I believe it is as it sounds as it is that one should love the good that comes to his friend just as if it happened to him.” And the reason the pasuk concludes “I am Hashem” is because “I am the one G-D, I created all of you.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Ibn Ezra is explaining to us a major rule in the Torah! The punishment for this sin, as we experienced, is destruction and exile. The positive and negative mitzvos he says are total opposites. If you read the Ibn Ezra’s commentary closely, he seems to be explaining that these two pesukim are explaining each mitzvah from beginning to end. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart,” refers to baseless hatred, which  happens if one is quick to judgement and dislikes a person for doing things, whether to that individual or in general, that are not good. One might feel he wants to take revenge for that wrongdoing or at least bear a grudge against him or her; but what he has a mitzvah to do,and is supposed to do is confront the person and question what happened, because perhaps the suspicion was inaccurate. On the other hand, many people say that the positive mitzvah is to love your fellow as yourself. You wouldn’t want people to suspect you of doing something you didn’t, and you certainly don’t want others to bear a grudge or, worse, take revenge upon you.

These opposite mitzvos make sense, but the Ibn Ezra says he has a different understanding of “Loving your fellow as yourself,” which is to love the good things that come to your fellow as if they were yours, the same way you would appreciate the good that happens to you. Meaning, the Ibn Ezra’s focus of loving your fellow is not on how to treat the person, but how to treat his possessions or good tidings. How does that fit with being the opposite of not hating your brother in your heart, which seems to be clearly talking about how not to treat the individual himself, rather than his possessions or good tidings? Why does the Ibn Ezra call them opposite mitzvos?
The Ibn Ezra seems to be tying the last part of the pasuk with the middle saying, that the means to appreciate the good that others have received is through introspection and the realization that you and him or her both come from the same source. The One Hashem created both of you. It would seem natural that if a person truly realizes and feels this bond and relationship with his fellow Jew, a commonality of sorts that we all come from the same source, then inherently we will care about our fellow Jew and his possessions or good tidings as if they are our very own.

On the other hand, the opposite could also happen. If we don’t imbibe the deep faith that we are all created from the same source, then we can come to view our fellow Jew as someone different, a stranger, and people inherently have a disconnect that leads to hatred for one’s fellow man. Ideally viewing ourselves from the same source will save us from this inner hatred but if the hatred seeps in the Torah gives us a solution to get rid of it by telling us to confront the individual and rebuke him or her. In this way it will resolve any issues or friction against him or her.

In fact we can now appreciate the severity of each mitzvah and why transgressing them can lead to destruction and exile; for observing the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow is living by the belief that we are all created from one G-D, and we have a mitzvah to feel and live that way amongst our fellow Jew. However, G-D forbid we don’t live our lives in that manner, then our feeling is a disconnect which is like we came from more than one source, chas vishalom, the polar opposite.

The Ibn Ezra sums it up nicely in the next pasuk which discusses the prohibition of crossbreeding animals: “And the reason to mention ‘You shall not crossbreed your livestock with different species,’ (Vayikra 19:19) is to warn us that after we are Holy, that we don’t do any corruption toward our fellow man, so to one should not change the way Hashem intended for animals to be made, and this is why that pasuk starts off with, ‘You shall observe My statutes,’ (verse 19).” Everything goes back to the source of Hashem is One with a plan and actions of how He created and expects the world to exist.

Acharei Mos – Focus

I have many times heard that people wish or feel they should be able to express their love for G-D and worship Him in whatever manner they feel comfortable doing. Where, when, how, and what – on their own terms. Why? Because if they can do it their way, they can show the most optimal dedication, love, and joy that they can possibly feel towards G-D, when they are ready to do it. Why all the restrictions?

An answer to this attitude can be found in the middle of this week’s Torah portion of Acharei Mos, when discussing the prohibition against bringing an offering outside the Mishkan or Beis HaMikdash. The Torah relates: “And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Aharon and to his sons…Any man of the House of Israel, who slaughters an ox, a lamb, or a goat inside the camp, or who slaughters outside the camp, but does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to offer up as a sacrifice to Hashem before the Mishkan of Hashem, this [act] shall be counted for that man as blood, he has shed blood, and that man shall be cut off from among his people; in order that the children of Israel should bring their offerings which they slaughter on the open field, and bring them to Hashem, to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, to the kohen, and slaughter them as peace offerings to Hashem…And they shall no longer slaughter their sacrifices to the demons after which they stray. This shall be an eternal statute for them, for [all] their generations” (Vayikra 17:1-7).

The Ibn Ezra points out that Aharon and his sons were singled out by this prohibition before everyone else, because at that time the kohanim were for the most part the shochtim, the butcherers, of the Jewish people. The Ibn Ezra also mentions that this mitzvah applies not only in the Mishkan, but for the Beis HaMikdash as well. All sacrifices must be brought to the Beis HaMikdash to be offered to Hashem. The Ibn Ezra also explains in pasuk 5: “in order that the children of Israel should bring” is the reason for this mitzvah, and the explanation of “on the open field” is that it refers to pasuk 7 “And they shall no longer slaughter their sacrifices.” The demons that pasuk 7 speaks about are called “sheidim” in Hebrew but the pasuk refers to them as “seirim,” the Ibn Ezra says it is because they would cause people who see them to tremble or because crazy people would witness them in the form of goats. Indeed, the reason why the Torah says they shall “no longer” slaughter is because the Jews use to in Egypt which is considered straying from Hashem, and the Ibn Ezra says: “Because anyone who seeks them and believes in them strays from Hashem for he thinks that there is something other than Hashem The Honorable and Awesome who can make good or bad.”

The Avi Ezri, a commentary on the Ibn Ezra, says that in pasuk 5 the Ibn Ezra is explaining “that the main reason for this mitzvah is in order so that they will not sacrifice to demons which they were used to doing in Egypt, therefore all offerings shall be brought to the Beis HaMikdash.” He concludes by saying: “And I already explained that there are many open and hidden reasons for the burnt and peace offering and all who know and understand them can give the correct, praiseworthy reason, as long as your intent is for Hashem on High.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

A very bizarre thing is happening here. A person wants to bring a sacrifice to Hashem, showing his love and devotion to Him – but he doesn’t want to, or can’t, shlep all the way to Jerusalem to bring it in the Beis HaMikdash. He would rather do it in his backyard or someplace else. What’s wrong with that? And why would that lead to sacrificing to demons which his ancestors did hundreds of years ago in Egypt, before all the miracles of the Exodus and the giving of the Torah?

It would seem that even though this person has complete devotion to Hashem right now, if he were to continue to sacrifice outside the allotted place of the Mishkan or Beis HaMikdash, then he would revert back to his ancestors’ old ways. How is that possible? Because by requiring the sacrificial service to be in the House of G-D, in a central location Hashem is causing us to focus on what we are doing and on Him. Without that focus it is possible for a person’s mind to go astray or mixed up and decide to do something strange like reverting back to his ancestors’ ways of worshiping demons.
So a person could have all the right reasons for serving Hashem, but if he wants to do it his way and not the way Hashem wants it to be done, then he might lose focus and stray from Hashem.

This does not mean that Judaism is rigid and that there is no room for expressing one’s personality and creativity. Everyone is an individual with their own mind, different means, and unique circumstances. For example, the Torah does not say one can only sacrifice  bulls worth one thousand dollars. There is a selection of sacrifices based on one’s means. There is no Jewish law that says one must wear black and white, rather there is a dress code which is based on modesty, looking elegantly conservative. So there is room for creativity as well. There is no one way to make your food on Shabbos or Yom Tov, or what you can eat during the week, rather there are guidelines.

So there is room to express oneself within the framework of Jewish law but it must be done within the framework in order to keep on the Path of Hashem.


In the Pesach Haggadah it writes:
 “In Every generation each person must view himself as if he was redeemed from Egypt.”
The message being we must live in the moment the message of yesteryear in order to impact our future!

Pesach is a time for asking questions and giving answers. Please share this Torah Riddle at your Yom Tov table and see if your family and guests can figure out the answer. Flex those brain muscles!

: Why do some women have a custom to say shehecheyanu twice on the Seder night, once by candle lighting and once while kiddush is made?

Background:  There is an obligation to say shehecheyanu for the Yom Tov upon lighting candles or saying kiddush, as well as for the mitzvos of eating matzah, and marror.

Answer: Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach says that a woman who has the custom not to say amen after kiddush by other Yom Tovim nevertheless on the night of the Seder needs to answer amen for she said shehecheyanu on candle lighting while it was still day but the shehecheyanu you say at kiddush also counts for the other mitzvos of matzo and maror done at night. Rav Shmuel Wasner zt”l adds that this also answers why the women who have a custom to say shehecheyanu a second time by kiddush for when they lit they didn’t have in mind at all to fulfill the mitzvos of the night. (See Dirshu Mishna Berura 473:1:1, footnote 4)

If you enjoyed this Torah Riddle please join us every week on Tuesdays at 9:45 AM EST or 3:00 PM EST at our Torah Riddles class via WebEx. You may participate via webcam or telephone, just email me your interest and I will send a WebEx invitation. We do two questions a week. If you just want the questions and can’t participate I can add you to the email list as well. Please email if you are interested please. Or visit‘s Torah Riddle page.

Chag kasher visameach,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Tazria -Parshas HaChodesh – Time Management

This dvar Torah is based on notes taken 18 years ago from a shmuz given by Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim.

The special portion read for Parshas HaChodesh this week, begins: “The Lord spoke to
Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be to you the head of
the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year” (Shemos 12:1, 2).
The first Rashi on the Torah says that this pasuk is referring to sanctifying the new
month and should have been the first thing mentioned in the Torah. The first month
should have been Nissan.
This mitzvah was told over in Egypt because it was needed, even though Egypt was a
place of spiritual uncleanliness.
The Sforno on the second pasuk says: “’This month shall be to you the beginning of
months.’ Henceforth the months (of the year) shall be yours, to do with them as you will.
During the bondage, however, your days (time) did not belong to you but (were used) to
work for others and fulfill their will, therefore ‘It shall be the first month of the year to
you’ .For in (this month) your existence as a people of (free) choice began.”
The Sforno seems to be saying that this (time) is your life’s possession, and you can do
what you want with it; but if others control you, then your time is taken by others.
Slavery, which usurps your time, is like taking a life. Your whole life depends on time.
The Jews weren’t just slaves, they were non-existent. If the free choice of using your time
is taken away from you, or you give it away, then you are non-existent.
Time, according to the Sforno, is a measurement which has a beginning; but the
beginning is when you choose to do it. The Sforno is explaining when time is yours. The
reality of when doesn’t matter; when you choose is what matters.
Some people realize the importance of time but others don’t. They use phrases like how
to “pass time,” “kill time,” or “waste time.”
As long as you are living a Torah life, then you are managing your time, whether by
learning, doing mitzvos, or kindness with a fellow person. The Torah can even cause
longevity of life.
A major problem is that people want to keep up with the times. But what value did you
have of time before that? Torah time is eternal. If you learn it, it is yours.
The point is: to what extent do we value time? This is dependent on whether we are
enslaved or not. A person that tries to keep up with the times is enslaved to time. People
that live by the Torah, its laws, and customs, control time.
A practical application of this concept in terms of learning can be seen by how much
emphasis one puts in to review; because it makes learning permanent, instead of going in
and out of learning.
Chazal say: “One is not truly free unless he is deeply involved in his Torah learning.”
People say one is free when he can choose to do nothing and waste time; however, this
person is captured by his evil inclination. He is bound by time. This person, when he
wants to start doing something, finds that it is actually harder for him.
What the Torah dictates is not a means to control you but it causes you to take control of
your life.