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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May our tears of mourning turn into tears of joy,

Mattos/Massei – Accepting Responsibility for Negligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinchas – Blessing of Diversity

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a quality of a true leader!

Balak – Ingratitude on a Whole New Level

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

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

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

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

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

Torah Riddles Test #53

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


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

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

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

Chukas – How Much Do You Believe In Hashem?

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

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

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

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

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

Korach – Formulas of Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.