Rosh Hashana – Ten Days of Repentance: A Time Set into the Nature of Creation

The Orchos Tzadikim in The Gate of Repentance says that six things inspire one to repent. Regarding the fifth of these he says: “The fifth way in which repentance can be aroused is when the Ten Days of Repentance draw near, then every man should arouse his heart and tremble as he goes to meet the Day of Judgment, for he should ponder that all of his deeds are written in a book, and that at this time G-D will bring to judgment every deed and every hidden thing, whether it be good or bad. For a man is judged on Rosh Hashanah, and his decree is sealed on the Day of Atonement (Rosh Hashana 16a). Now, if a man were to be brought for judgment before a king of flesh and blood would he not tremble with a great trembling, and would he not take counsel with his soul? And it would not occur to him to do any other thing, than to find some merit that might save him from that judgment. Therefore, how foolish and stupid are those who do not know what their judgment will be, and yet they occupy themselves with idle things other than the repentance that would find favor before the Great Judge!”
Why is this time of the year any different than any other time of the year when it comes to repentance? Doesn’t Hashem allow and wants us to repent from wrongdoings whenever they happen? The Gemara in Yevamos 105a quotes this gemara in Rosh Hashana 16a and elaborates: “With regard to a decree of judgment that cannot be torn up, Rav Shmuel bar Unya said that Rav said: From where is it derived that a sentence of judgment upon a community is never sealed? The Gemara expresses surprise: Is it truly not sealed? But isn’t it written: “For although you wash yourself with niter, and take much soap for yourself, yet your iniquity is marked before Me” (Jeremiah 2:22), indicating that there is no longer any atonement for iniquity of a community. Rather, one must say as follows: From where is it derived that even when a community’s sentence is sealed, it may be torn up as a result of repentance, as it is stated: ‘For what great nation is there, that has God so close unto them, as Hashem our G-D is whenever we call upon Him?’ (Deuteronomy 4:7). The Gemara objects: But isn’t it written in another verse: ‘Seek Hashem while He may be found, call upon Him when He is near (Isaiah 55:6), implying that God is not always near and may not always answer whenever we call upon Him? The Gemara answers: This contradiction is not difficult. This verse is concerning an individual who must seek God where He is found, as He is not always equally accessible to answer those who call out to Him. That first verse is concerning a community, for whom He is accessible “whenever we call upon Him.’ The Gemara asks: For an individual, when is the time that God is close to him? Rav Naḥman said that Rabba bar Avuh said: These are the ten days that are between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.”

The Etz Yosef quoting Rav Yonasan Eibshitz
, explains the last part of this gemara. “These ten days between and including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are specifically made (mesugalim) for repentance. And in these days Hashem arouses us in repentance without any arousal at all from down here [in this world]. This is what the pasuk quoted means, ‘Seek out Hashem from where He is,’ He makes Himself known to us before we call out to Him, and on the contrary, He is around beforehand to give inspiration to his son to repent. And if a person gives his heart, feels in his heart constantly during these ten days, inspiration to repent and fear Hashem, even if he is lax in other matters, nevertheless his heart will be pumping to repent. And this is because Hashem arouses us to repent during these days without any preparation from down here in this world (Ye’aros Devash, drush 1).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 What the Etz Yosef is telling us is that the Ten Days of Repentance are days which do not need any cataclysmic events to inspire us to repent, but rather there is a natural drive to repent at this time of the year, which Hashem put into the nature of the world. But what does this mean? And if it is so natural, then why doesn’t it automatically happen? Doesn’t the Etz Yosef say that only if we put our heart (and mind and soul) towards repenting will it take effect? That is true any time of the year!

We must say that a person can potentially inspire himself to do Teshuva, to repent after he has sinned, without any suffering of any sorts happening to him, even at any time of the year, as Chaz”al says is the ideal way to repent. However, the inspiration isn’t necessarily there at other times of the year, and Hashem brings suffering to people who need that extra inspiration and impetus to motivate them to repent, if they cannot do it on their own. But Hashem created the Human Being with a “genetic trait” that at this time of the year triggers, creating inspiration to repent during these Ten Days of Repentance. Yet, like with all other things in life, Hashem gives us free choice to choose not to focus and take advantage of that genetic impulse inside each of us that is triggered at this time of the year. But if one does tap into this inspiration, it is overwhelmingly positive, possibly even better, if not the same as Hashem giving yesurim, suffering to arouse a person to repent.

A gutten shabbos and yor, ksiva vichasima tova and a happy and healthy New Year,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Netzavim/Vayelech – Too Casual is a Lack of Self Respect 

This week’s Haftorah for the double Torah portion of Netzavim and Vayelech opens (Yeshayahu 61:10):

I will surely rejoice with Hashem; my soul shall exult with my G-D, for He has attired me with garments of salvation, with a robe of righteousness He has enwrapped me; like a bridegroom, who, priestlike, dons garments of glory, and like a bride, who adorns herself with her jewelry. ישׂ֧וֹשׂ אָשִׂ֣ישׂ בַּֽיהֹוָ֗ה תָּגֵ֚ל נַפְשִׁי֙ בֵּֽאלֹהַ֔י כִּ֚י הִלְבִּישַׁ֙נִי֙ בִּגְדֵי־יֶ֔שַׁע מְעִ֥יל צְדָקָ֖ה יְעָטָ֑נִי כֶּֽחָתָן֙ יְכַהֵ֣ן פְּאֵ֔ר וְכַכַּלָּ֖ה תַּעְדֶּ֥ה כֵלֶֽיהָ:

 The Radak says that this pasuk is either referring to the words of Yerushalayim or to what the Jews exclaim upon their return from exile. Quoting his father, the Radak says that the name of Hashem in this pasuk refers to His mercy and the name “Elokei,” G-D, refers to strict judgment. Therefore, the pasuk begins with a double language, שוש אשיש, “I will surely rejoice” and furthermore when the attribute of mercy is mentioned both the body and soul are happy, but when the attribute of strict judgment is mentioned the soul rejoices for it is from on High and can accept suffering more than the body. Meaning the first rejoicing, using double language, refers to both the body and soul rejoicing over Hashem’s mercy, while the second rejoicing of the soul is over Hashem’s strict judgement. All this rejoicing is over the process of redemption from exile, which is very promising, but will still come through many trials and tribulations. The Radak goes on to explain that “garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness” are a parable. For clothing is what people dress themselves with, and a robe is what they adorn or cloak themselves with; that is why it says adorn by the cloak. “Exalts himself in splendor” in  Hebrew is יכהן פאר, from the word kohen. This refers to the groom enhancing his splendor with nice clothes, just as the kohen who serves Hashem is the head of the nation; therefore, it refers to greatness as a kohen. We also find that the children of Dovid are referred to as kohanim. The Targum Yonasan on that pasuk says kohanim means they were dressed in fancy clothes just like the kohen gadol, the high priest. (Click here for Hebrew text.) We see from here that being all dressed up is dignified, and being adorned with extra clothing is a sign of glory. Just as a king wears his crown jewels and robes, and the royal guards are all dressed up in their uniform, so too the High Priest had eight priestly garments that were bedecked with jewels and fancy layers of clothing. So we see that the more one covers him or herself, the more dignified they are. That is why the pasuk mentions that King Dovid’s children, the princes of the Jewish Kingdom, were all dressed up in fancy clothing, as a kohen gadol would be when serving in the Beis Hamikdash. 
Society nowadays would say that it is not the style, it isn’t very uncomfortable to wear too much clothing and to be covered up. They laugh at those that are, and think the royal guards are a joke. The question is: why isn’t today’s “modern society” correct?

 It would seem from the Radak’s interpretation of this pasuk that there is an inherent splendor and importance, a glorification of sorts, when fully clothed. It is dignified. That follows that one who walks around uncovered, with less clothes on his or her body, is not only immodest, but lacking a level of dignity and self-respect. Or you can say dressing immodestly is a lack of dignity and self-respect, by definition. This means that the attitude of society today to dress more casually and to wear less is a sign of a lack of self-respect and dignity for oneself. In fact, the problems of anxiety and depression rampant in this world could very well be correlated with this attitude of how to dress. The lack of desire to dress modestly, more put together, and fancy is a sign that people have no self-pride. The way the yeshiva world and especially chassidish men dress should not be looked upon as a uniform, but as a sign of dignity and self-respect.

 Hashem, addressing the Jewish people before giving them the Torah on Har Sinai, in the portion of Yisro says “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests (kohanim) and a holy nation” (Shemos 18:6). The Jewish people, representing the King Of All Kings, as His children, ministers, and dignitaries to the rest of the world, should certainly dress with a feeling of self-respect and honor. My Rosh Yeshiva of blessed memory, HaRav Alter Chanoch Henach Leibowitz zt”l, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim use to say we should dress elegantly conservative. However, there are situations, times, and places where one may dress more casually, for example when playing sports, or recreational activities like in the pool, in the privacy of your own home, or certain hands-on jobs which are very dirty any sweaty by nature. But in general, one should realize his self-worth, gadlus ha’dam, the greatness of man, and dress modestly and respectively wherever you are.

Ki Savo – A Reason to Learn Sefer HaChinuch

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.

The bulk of this week’s Torah portion of Ki Savo discusses the blessings and curses. It lists a number of offenses for which one will receive a curse for transgressing them, and concludes the list by stating:
אָר֗וּר אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹא־יָקִ֛ים אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הַתּוֹרָֽה־הַזֹּ֖את לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת אוֹתָ֑ם וְאָמַ֥ר כׇּל־הָעָ֖ם אָמֵֽן׃ {פ}
“Cursed be whoever will not uphold the terms of this Torah and observe them. —And all the people shall say, Amen” (Devarim 27:26).

This pasuk cannot be referring to anyone who just transgresses the Torah, because virtually everyone would be cursed for doing so, since everyone sins on some level at some point in their lives. In fact, the Ramban specifically says that if one eats pig or a bug out of physical desire, or was too lazy to perform the mitzvah of lulav or sukkah, then he is not included in this curse, for the pasuk does not say “one who does not perform the terms of the Torah;” rather it says, “whoever will not uphold the terms of this Torah.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 The Ramban, and in the same vein the Rabbeinu Bachye, which this dvar Torah will be focusing on, shines light onto what “uphold the terms of this Torah” means. Rabbeinu Bachye says that this curse “includes all the mitzvos in the Torah. And the explanation of the pasuk is ‘who will not uphold’ the mitzvos in his heart, meaning acknowledging them and believing that every single one of them are true. There is nothing lacking in any of them which would not be beneficial for the body and soul, and not one of the mitzvos are a waste. This is what it means, ‘who will not uphold,’ to do them, that they are established in one’s heart with strong faith, that they are befitting to be fulfilled, for all of them are logical to those that understand and fare to those that are intelligent.” (Click here for Hebrew text.
(Rabbeinu Bachye quotes another interpretation based on a Talmud Yerushalmi (5:7) that says that this pasuk refers to a chazzan not doing hagba, lifting up the Torah, after reading from the Torah, and Sfardim also do it before reading, in order for the congregation to see the words of the Torah. Parenthetically, according to the second interpretation of this curse, it is very limited in scope and it is designed to teach us the importance of the concept that seeing is believing. Just listening to the Torah being read at shul is not enough; seeing the words inside reinforces how real it is, and this must be done to ensure belief in its truth and reality).

The first interpretation of Rabbeinu Bachye is also limiting. One is only cursed if he does not authentically and totally believe that every single mitzvah of the Torah is Divinely true and has a useful purpose, physically and spiritually. Nothing is lacking or extra in any mitzva.

However, what if one is lacking this belief for some mitzvos, even for just one, or one is not 100% confident in his belief system? What should he do?

It is apparent from Rabbeinu Bachye that one has an obligation to learn in depth, b’iyun, in order to understand the logic and how straight and fair each mitzvah is. The more clarity and appreciation of the profundity of Torah one has, the better the understanding and the stronger the belief. Even learning Sefer HaChinuch, which gives reasons behind the 613 mitzvos, is a good way to strengthen one’s belief system. Anything proper that will authenticate Torah and Mitzvos!

Ki Seitzei – Commonsense

A number of years ago I merited to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakan, shooing away a mother bird from her nest. I had actually won the privilege of performing this mitzvah, whose reward is longevity, in a Chinese auction. A person who was an expert in the mitzvah, which has a number of intricate details, who helps others perform it, took us to a public street in Boro Park where he knew how to find pigeon nests by storefronts, and showed me what to do. It was a thrilling experience!

We find this mitzvah in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei. The pesukim state: “If a bird’s nest chances before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and [it contains] fledglings or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the fledglings or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother together with her young. You shall send away the mother, and [then] you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days” (Devarim 22:6, 7).
The Medrish Rabba(6:5) observes about this mitzvah, “Rebbe Elazar said, ‘It did not have to say this, but rather Hashem said that one should be involved in the honor of the world (kavod ha’olam) and fixing the world (tikkun ha’olam) in order to save it.’”

The Etz Yosef explains that the medrish is telling us that the Torah did not need to be so stringent about saving the mother bird. But rather for the sake of the honor of the world, for the bird to have children all over the land, which makes the world beautiful, and for fixing the world, so that people all over can eat them, it is therefore worthwhile to save the mother bird.

The Maharz”u learns a general lesson about life from this medrish, which he feels is the reason for this mitzvah. He says that Rebbe Elazar was teaching that Hashem did not need to defend the affront (or insult) of the bird in a field, for it is ownerless. Indeed, doesn’t Hashem command us to ritually slaughter (shecht) domesticated and wild animals as well as birds? Rather, the point of the mitzvah is not to have mercy on the bird, but instead to teach us knowledge.  He did not command us to do this with something which would cause a loss of money to ourselves, for Hashem spares Jewish money;, rather the mitzvah must be fulfilled with something that one attains from ownerless property. We should learn from here that the will of Hashem is that one should involve himself in matters that will fix the world and give honor to it, and it is one of the needs of the Torah which is worth making a mitzvah out of. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
What is the “knowledge” that the Maharz”u speaks about that Hashem is teaching us through this mitzvah?

It is certainly not animal rights activism, for as he points out Hashem sees nothing wrong with shechting [slaughtering] animals for offerings or for food. He is not worried about the extinction of kosher birds because Hashem controls existence and can choose the extinction of anything or the continuation of anything at His own will.

Rather I humbly believe that the knowledge referenced here refers to commonsense. Assuming that what the Etz Yosef said fits with the Maharz”u, which seemingly it does, then we can understand that commonsense dictates that one should do what one can to beautify the world, making the place we live in pleasing, as well as ensuring that we help one another guarantee we each have ample food and goods to live.

Hashem felt it important to reinforce the imperative of acting with common sense with a mitzvah, however out of His abundance of kindness and mercy He didn’t require us to shoo away our own birds which might have been a loss of money on our part if they don’t come back. We could learn from here that one should be very careful with his own money, not to waste it, that is considered common sense, but we also see from the way Hashem set up the mitzvah that we should encourage people to do the right thing with ways that will minimize putting the other out, as much as possible.

Shoftim – Clarity in Justice 

There is an obscure medrish in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim. It states, “Rebbe Eliezer says, ‘In a place where there is judgement, there isn’t judgement and, in a place, where there is not judgement there is judgement.’ How can this be? Rather Rebbe Eliezer says, ‘If judgement was done down here [on earth], then judgement is not done above [by the Heavenly Court]. And if judgement isn’t done below, judgement will be done above'” (Medrish Rabba Shoftim 5:5).
In the gemara we frequently find what is called a hava amina and a maskana, which is essentially an assumption of what the gemara originally understood (i.e. hava amina) what the rabbinic figure saidThe gemara will then have a question on that assumption, and eventually conclude with an answer (i.e. maskana). However, we don’t find this back and forth as often spelled out in the medrish. So why did the medrish here quote a statement from Rebbe Eliezer, asking what it means, as if they didn’t understand what he was saying, and then restate what he meant?

The Yedei Moshe addresses this conundrum. He begins by explaining the medrish based on a gemara in Makkos 5a, referring to the concept of eidim zomimin, which is a specific type of false witnesses, who are only proven false if two other witnesses come and say “you were with us when this happened,” so the first set of witnesses could not have been there to see the incident, for example if they are testifying about a murder. The gemara there says that if the suspected murderer is executed based on their testimony, then they are not executed. The law by these types of witnesses is that only if they attempted to punish someone, then they get the punishment they attempted to execute; but if the punishment already happened, then they aren’t punished. If that’s the case, then that is what the medrish means when it says, “in place of judgement,” meaning if judgement was already exacted based on their testimony, then “there is no judgment;,” the witnesses aren’t punished with execution. “When there is no judgment ” means the suspect wasn’t executed yet based on their testimony, and so the witnesses are marked for execution [for trying to kill the suspect.] The medrish then asks why this is done against logic [meaning how does it make sense that if the suspect is punished then the false witnesses arent punished but if the suspect who was charged was not punished yet then the false witnesses are punished with the punishment they tried giving the suspect?] To this the medrish answers that what Rebbe Eliezer meant is that if judgement was executed [for the witnesses] down here, then it’s not done On High, but if it was not executed down here, it does not mean that they are overlooked; rather judgement will be met from On High
In summary, the Yedei Moshe explains that originally the medrish was referring to the concept of eidim zomimin, which is discussed later in the parsha, and the medrish says they are punished if the guilty party wasn’t punished yet, and they are not punished if the guilty party already received punishment. The medrish asks, how does it make sense; the witnesses are punished if nothing bad happened to the guilty party, but are not punished if the guilty party was already punished? The medrish answers that what Rebbe Eliezer means is that the witnesses are punished by earthly courts when they were caught before the suspect was punished, because that punishment logically isn’t as severe. But when the suspect was punished, the false witnesses aren’t punished by the earthly court but rather by the Heavenly Court, a much more severe punishment.

Yet the Yedei Moshe doesn’t stop there. He continues and says, “Because it states in The Book of Galanti a correct reason why this is truthfully so, and these are his words: ‘Because it states in Tehillim (82:1) ‘G-D stands in Divine Assembly.’ [Referring to Hashem’s Shechina resting amongst the Jewish High Court (Sanhedrin) while they are in session,] and if the Sanhedrin mistakenly executes someone because of these witnesses, the question is how can that be allowed to happen with Hashem’s Presence right there with them? Rather it must be that the person that was executed because of these witnesses must have deserved execution anyways for some other sin [that the court might not have even known about]. The opposite is also true, if the guilty party was not executed yet based on these witnesses [when they were found to be false] this was a reason from Hashem not to kill him because they were lying witnesses and if so, they deserve to be punished because they tried to kill a kosher and innocent person. If this is so then when the medrish says ‘Rather when Rebbe Eliezer says, if judgement is done below, judgement is not done above’ this means that if this one is killed because of their testimony it must be he was liable to die already, the judgement on these witnesses is not executed above because he was already considered a dead man who they killed. And if judgement was not executed below then judgement is done above meaning that Hashem who knows this person is kosher, therefore he is not killed based on their testimony. Think about it!” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 At the end of the day, after all the dust settles and all the factors are put into place, the Yedei Moshe understands the medrish to be teaching a lesson about eidim zomimin, that originally Rebbe Eliezer just said if judgement was acted upon then there is no judgment for the witnesses and if it was not acted upon yet then there is judgement for the false witnesses. The medrish felt that does not make sense in logic, for if Hashem’s Holy Prescence, The Shechina, is in the court room how can He allow such a blunder to happen? So, the medrish concludes that it must be that the suspect was deserving execution anyways but there was no way to legally get that done in this world by a court case against him, and therefore Hashem orchestrated that it got done through these false witnesses. That is why the witnesses aren’t liable for punishment but if they are caught to be false before the suspect is punished then they get the punishment for being false witnesses and trying to punish an innocent person.

 We can learn an important lesson from this medrish that especially when it comes to moral conduct one must prove and look into the matter very carefully and not just settle for what seems to be true on a superficial level. For it is true that if Hashem wantsed to set up a statute that false witnesses who are caught as eidim zomimin only receive the punishment they tried giving to the suspect but weren’t successful in doing so, Hashem could do what He wants and that is the rule He decided to make. But if it doesn’t make sense at face value, one has a right to question it and should search for the truth and logic behind the reasoning. This is the lesson of this medrish which goes out of its way and put in great efforts in the fashion of the Talmud to understand what Rebbe Eliezer was teaching us.

Re’eh – “Truify”

In modern society, many people believe that the truth is not an absolute, but, rather, relative. That is far from the Torah perspective. Hashem’s Divine direction for existence, the Torah, the Blueprints of Creations, and the Handbook of Mankind is the absolute truth without any question or doubts. This is obviously true because the Almighty, All Knowledgeable, All Goodly, and perfect in every possibly way, Hashem, created the ultimate truth. Indeed, even when there are arguments within Jewish Law as to what the absolute truth in fact is, these arguments are based on the misunderstandings of feeble-minded human beings. Though they put all their efforts into arriving at the ultimate truth, at the end of the day no matter how great of an intellectual and how wise they are, they aren’t perfect. Therefore it is possible to have dissenting opinions as to what the absolute truth is; but the arguments are all based on the same sources, the Written and Oral Torah. Ultimately, one must live by a mesorah, a single tradition, that is one’s link to the ultimate truth.

But how can we be so confident that our truth is the only truth…?
We find in this week’s Torah portion of Re’eh the prohibition of not worshipping Hashem the same way as idolators worship their gods. The Torah states, “You shall not do so to Hashem, your G-D; for every abomination to Hashem which He hates, they did to their gods, for also their sons and their daughters they would burn in fire to their gods” (Devarim 12:31). The lesson the Ralbag learns from this pasuk is “that it is not befitting to put in efforts to serve Hashem in the manner that idolaters serve their gods. For the rituals of idolaters were disgusting and very farfetched for people. They thought they had to brutalize themselves when serving [their gods,] while also burning their sons and daughters in fire to their gods. This was their way in all manners [of worship]. However, our pure Torah does not burden us to do disgusting things and things which are not nice. But everything put into order for us are for the sake of life of our body and the life of our soul, which are sweet for the soul and heals the bones.” 

We clearly see from here that Hashem’s ways and His Torah, which He proscribed for us to live by, are just, good, and nurturing for mankind, and for all of existence. Yet in the next perek, by the “Wayward City” where an entire Jewish city was found guilty of idolatry and their punishment was that those who worshiped idols were to be executed and all their possession burned to ashes. (In fact, the gemara in Sanhedrin 71a says this never actually happened and never will, but the concept is potentially there, and there are lessons to be learned from this mitzvah). The Torah states about this mitzvah: “You shall surely strike down the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroy it with all that is in it and its livestock, with the edge of the sword. And you shall collect all its spoil into the midst of its open square and burn with fire the city and all its spoil, completely, for Hashem, your G-D; and it shall be a heap of destruction forever, never to be rebuilt. And nothing that is doomed to destruction shall cling to your hand, so that Hashem may return from His fierce wrath, and grant you compassion, and be compassionate with you, and multiply you, as He swore to your forefathers” (Devarim 13:16-18). The Ralbag takes as a lesson from these pesukim that “cruelty towards the wicked is compassion for the good, for exacting judgement on the “Wayward City” subsides the wrath of Hashem from the Jews and brings upon them mercy.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We find specifically in today’s day and age a conviction that one must be gentle and nice to everyone, no matter who they are, how they act, good or bad. Why act the same way as they do, killing and beating? The judicial system should be soft on crime, no more capital punishment, ever. Criminals are alive, why should they be treated violently and differently than any morally decent individual, and if one treats them nicely maybe they will change their ways and be better people. That is the philosophy of this movement in a nutshell. They would say that G-D and His Torah contradicts itself for on the one hand the Torah stands for the highest quality of morality, justice, and nicety, but on the other hand it talks of wars, bloodshed, capital punishment and the eradication of the heathens, or the wicked. This movement would ask, why is this fundamentally moral?
What we see from here is that in order to understand the ultimate truth, the Divine Torah, Hashem’s Word, one must have a solid grounding and foundation in emuna and bitachon, belief and trust in Hashem. Once grounded in this faith, one can truly understand and find answers to these difficult answers. Being that there are levels of recognition of faith in Hashem, the more confident one is in his or her faith the more of an impetus one has to dig deeper, to learn harder and find answers in the ultimate truth of the Torah. It makes sense then that the ability to appreciate the profundity of the Torah and to really go b’iyun, in depth, into the truth and fine details of the Torah is correlated with the amount of emuna and bitachon one has in Hashem. For the clearer and more steadfast a belief and trust one has, then that will give a person the impetus to learn harder and to arrive at the truth of the Torah.
The ultimate example of this is Avraham Avinu by Akiedas Yitzchak [the Binding of Isaac]. Hashem gave Avraham a test which seemed to go against the logic of the Torah (why Hashem did such a thing is for a different time, or for one of such great faith to learn the answer by themselves). But Avraham had such a clarity of faith in The Creator, The King Of All Kings, that he wholeheartedly went through with this test, until Hashem insisted on replacing Yitzchak with a ram, to sacrifice on the alter. We see the extent of the excitement Avraham had for fulfilling Hashem’s will, for the Torah says, “And Avraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey…” (Breishis 22:3). About this the Ralbag says, “It is befitting for a person to act with speed and alacrity (zrizus) to perform Hashem’s will and even though one is already feeling pain or suffering over this. For we find that Avraham Avinu quickly went to fulfill this mitzva, and he woke up early to complete it with alacrity, even though the whole concept seemed strange and painful.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Avraham was on such a high level of belief and trust in Hashem that even when Hashem’s command seemed very strange, and was quite painful, the thought of sacrificing his only son with Sarah Imeinu who he was waiting to have for so many years, who was supposed to be the progenitor of the Chosen Nation, but still in all he was able to delve into the matter and make sure he fulfilled Hashem’s word with such speed, alacrity, and precision. This is a model of a true ben Torah, which we have to ask ourselves, when can we reach the level of our forefather Avraham and strive with great depth to reach our potential.

Eikev – Rabbinic Crutches

In this week’s Torah portion of Eikev we find the second paragraph of Krias Shema. It begins, “And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love Hashem, your G-D, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Devarim 11:13).
proves “to serve Him with all your heart” refers to prayer: and to serve Him with all your heart: i.e. with a service of the heart, and that is prayer, for prayer is called service, as it is said, “your G-D, Whom you serve regularly” (Dan. 6:17). But was there a [Temple] service in Babylon? Rather, [the term service is used] because he prayed, as it is said, “where there were open windows [in his upper chamber opposite Jerusalem, and three times a day he kneeled on his knees and prayed…]” (Dan. 6:11). And so, too, it states regarding Dovid, “My prayer shall be established like incense before You” (Ps. 141:2). – [Sifrei].

Rabbeinu Bachye
, interpreting these words along the same lines as Rashi, elaborates on the concept of prayer. Rabbeinu Bachye says: “that Chaza”l in Berachos 26b says that tefilla, prayer was enacted in place of the daily offerings brought in the Beis HaMikdash. And you should know that the power of prayer is so great that it can (1) change nature, (2) save one from danger, and (3) nullify decrees.”

Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to show examples of all 3 categories then he says “And you should know, that from the days of Moshe until the Anshei Knesses Hegedola (The Men of Great Assembly) the prayers of the Jews were not in any order, set for everyone equally, but rather each person would pray and make an advocate for himself according to his knowledge and wisdom. Then the Anshei Knesses Hagedola put together and enacted the Shemone Esray so that it will be a formatted orderly manner coming out of everyone’s mouth. They therefore formatted it in a simple language understood so the minds won’t be confused in understanding the way it was written, and so that it will be equally accessible to every Jew whether they are wise or stupid. However, they put it together with great intent and extra supervision when putting it in the order of 3 blessings of praise in the beginning of the tefilla, which are (1) Avos (the forefather), (2) Gevuros (Hashem’s power) and (3) Kedushas Hashem (the sanctification of Hashem). And then the 3 concluding blessings which are (1) Avoda (service) (2) Hoda’ah (gratitude) (3) Birkas Kohanim (the priestly blessings). And in the middle there are 12 blessings which are inclusive of all the needs of a person, and all this was not just haphazardly put together, but rather after great in-depth analysis of what is compelling (muchrach) and needed.”

After discussing some of the kabbalistic intent the sages had when formulating the Shemone Esray, Rabbeinu Bachye concludes, “And you should understand a little bit and see how the sages made this with such intent, six blessings were for personal needs (1. Insight, 2. Repentance, 3. Forgiveness, 4. Redemption, 5. Health and healing, 6. Years of prosperity), and six were for the return of the crown to old, and the kingdom of the House of Dovid to its place (1. Ingathering of exiles, 2. Restoration of justice, 3. The righteous, 4. Rebuilding Jerusalem, 5. Davidic reign, 6. Acceptance of prayer), and with the blessing against heretics [that was added] there are 13 blessings, in conjunction with the 13 attributes of Hashem’s mercy. This is to hint to the fact that all good in the world whether its for the need of mankind or fixing the world with the Divine Kingship, all is linked to these attributes. It is upon you to pray to raise up the Blessed One On High in order to influence His power within these attributes, as it writes, ‘that has a G-D so close at hand’ (Devarim 4:7), which is to say that there is no nation which has the influence of these attributes so close at hand like us. And when is this? ‘Whenever we call [onto Him]’ (the end Devarim 4:7) …” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Anshei Knesses Hagedola was around at the beginning of the second Beis Hamikdash until around the Greek conquest of Alexander the Great, and included Torah leaders like EzraNechemiahDaniel, Chananiah, Mishael, AzariahMordechai and Zerubbabel. Before that time every Jew was able to tap in to and find the conduits and pipelines of prayer that would reach towards Heaven and Hashem’s Holy throne. Depending on the level of intensity intellectually and spiritual holiness one might have attained, his prayers might be answered quicker and or with more clarity. But the understanding, insight, and emotion was there to be able to potentially pray hard enough for ones prayers to be answered even if it means changing nature, saving people from danger, or even altering a Heavenly decree.

In the days of the Anshei Knesses Hagedola, after the return of the first exile, hiskatnus hadoros [the waning of the generations], both spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and even physically, became more and more pronounced. To the point that the sages felt that the Jews needed “crutches” to help them connect to Hashem, and therefore they made the prayers that we say to this very day. They made them with such depths of vision and insight that one can potentially reach the heights of prayer using these specific words, tapping into Hashem’s thirteen-character traits of mercy, just as the great men of yesteryear were able to achieve in their own personal prayers. Indeed, this is not just for the great and mighty sages of each generation, but even the layperson can use it to reach great heights and be answered by Hashem.

The question is how does this really make sense, and is it really possible? If we are such laypersons nowadays, and we don’t reach the toes of Jews who lived 2000, 1000, 500, 300, or even 100 years ago, how can our prayers do anything to tap into the conduits and pipelines of prayer, to reach Hashem and be answered, even if we do have crutches to help us? But we are still so far gone?

However, it would seem that Hashem still believes in us and made sure that He had sages who created for us a system that even the simple of simpletons can use, be inspired by, and tear out their hearts to reach Hashem, if they only truly try. It is within the potential of every Jew to scale the heights and reach very close to Hashem, to the point that Hashem will want to answer his or her prayers. Hashem is just waiting for you to reach those heights. It is within each and every one of us; we just have to muster up the energy and effort to focus in and find it.

Vaeschanan – The Pledge of Allegiance

The pledge of allegiance to the United States of America is to its flag, and the national anthem talks about war and victory. The national anthem of Israel talks about hope and hints to uncertainty. However the pledge of allegiance in the Torah, the pasuk of Shema, which is referred to, as the Maharz”u says, as Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim [accepting the yoke of Heaven], is a pledge of allegiance to Hashem, the Almighty, All Powerful, Eternal King Of All Kings, Master Of The Universe. The “national anthem” of the Torah, the paragraph that follows, Vi’ahavta, is a declaration of love and dedication. The Shema and Vi’ahavta, which there is a mitzva to say twice a day, besides other two paragraphs of Krias Shema (which are in parshas Eikev and Shelach), are found in this week’s torah portion of Vaeschanan (Devarim 6:4):.

Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our G-D; the Hashem is one. שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהֹוָ֥ה | אֶחָֽד

The Medrish Rabba (Devarim 2:31) asks:, “From where did the Jews merit reciting Krias Shema? Rebbe Pinchas bar Chama said the Jews merited reciting Krias Shema when they accepted the Torah. How? You find that Hashem in fact began talking to them about this matter. He said to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, I am Hashem your G-D.’ They all answered (the Maharz”u says they answered in unity and with joy) ‘Hashem is our G-D; the Hashem is one.’ And Moshe said ‘Baruch Shem Kivod Malchuso Li’olam Vaed,’ Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity. The Rabbis have taught that Hashem said to the Jews, ‘All that I have created, I created in pairs. Heaven and earth are a pair. The sun and moon are a pair. Adam and Chava were a pair. This world and the World to Come are a pair. But My Honor is one and unique in the world.’ How do we know this? From what we read in the matter of Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our G-D; Hashem is one.”

The Maharz”u, explaining the last part of the medrish, points out that Hashem is sending a message to the Jews that we are a pair with Him. What pairs mean is that in each pair one is an influencer of the other. Heaven shines sunlight and rains upon the earth, the sun shines light onto the moon so it can shine, Adam and Chava, in fact any married couple, compliments and helps each other. As this world is a corridor to prepare and earn reward for The Next World, so too, Hashem is our guide and sustainer who interacts with us with hashgacha pratis [individualized Divine intervention] every day of our lives.

The Etz Yosef has a difficulty, and asks an obvious question,: isn’t Krias Shema a positive commandment? If so, what merit is specifically given here more than for any other positive mitzvah? The answer he gives is that the merit the medrish is talking about is the language of Shema Yisrael, that the Jews are given special honor by having their name mentioned when accepting the Yoke of the kingdom of Heaven. Indeed, it says, The Lord is our G-D, which is to say that through the Jews, Hashem’s Name is more distinguished, as mentioned in the Sifri. The medrish is saying that because this language was used when the Torah was given, it stays that way always. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Contemplating what all this means is quite awesome! Hashem is one and unique, there is nothing like Him in existence, He in fact created existence. However, when giving allegiance to His Oneness and Sovereignty, Hashem ensures we are mentioned, and it’s only through us, “Our G-D,” that this pledge of allegiance is declared. Why does Hashem treat us with such respect in a situation or statement dedicated to His oneness and uniqueness? Doesn’t mentioning us detract on some level from accepting the Yoke of the kingdom of Heaven, His individuality?

We must say that in fact it does not detractrealizing the special, unique state and influence the Jews have in the world, and the relationship the Jew has with his and her Creator actually enhances the acceptance of The Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. The very acknowledgement that Hashem wants and does take His Honor, and is sharing it with us, the Jews, should be an impetus to embrace His yoke and encourage us to serve Hashem with even more consistent enthusiasm.

Devarim – Shabbos Queen

In this week’s Torah portion of Devarim, Moshe tells the Jewish people:

And Hashem said to me, “Behold I have begun to deliver Sihon and his land before you; begin to drive him out, that you may inherit his land.”לאוַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֵלַ֔י רְאֵ֗ה הַֽחִלֹּ֨תִי֙ תֵּ֣ת לְפָנֶ֔יךָ אֶת־סִיחֹ֖ן וְאֶת־אַרְצ֑וֹ הָחֵ֣ל רָ֔שׁ לָרֶ֖שֶׁת אֶת־אַרְצֽוֹ:

The Maharz”u point out that the following medrish has difficulty reading this pasuk in it’s simple translation because why does the Torah use a language of starting; Hashem also finished the job by giving them all into the hands of the Jews? Rather, the medrish darshans [explains] the word as referring to weekday (or mundane). That the gentiles don’t merit the holiness of Shabbos, as we say in our Shabbos morning prayers, “You did not give it (referring to Shabbos), Hashem, our G-D, to the nations of the land, nor did You make it the inheritance, our King, of the worshipers of graven idols. And in its contentment the uncircumcised shall not abide, for to Israel, Your people, have you given it in love, to the seed of Yaakov, whom You have chosen.”

The Medrish Rabba (Devarim 1:21), which the Maharz”u is going on, says, “It’s a Jewish law that if a Jew was traveling on the eve of Shabbos and it got dark, and he had money or something else in his hand, what should he do? This is what our Sages have taught us (Shabbos 17b and 153a): One whom nightfall came when on the way should give his wallet to a gentile. Why is it permissible to give it to a gentile? Rebbe Levi said that when the children of Noach were commanded to keep some mitzvos, it was only 7 of them which Shabbos was not included as one of them. Therefore, it is permitted to give it to a gentile. And Rebbe Yossi bar Chanina said, A gentile who observes Shabbos before he receives a bris milah (upon conversion) is liable for execution. Why? Because he is not commanded to observe it. Why is it right that a gentile is deserving execution for observing the Shabbos? Rebbe Chiya bar Abba says in the name of Rebbe Yochanan that it is the way of the world that if a king and queen are having a private conversation with each other, and one comes and rudely interrupts their conversation, wouldn’t they surely be executed?! So too, Shabbos which is between the Jews and Hashem, as it says (Shemos 31:17) ‘Between Me and the children of Israel’, therefore if any gentile comes and butts in between them before he accepts to get a bris milah (upon conversion) is liable for execution. The Rabbis said, that Moshe said to Hashem, ‘Master Of The World, because gentiles aren’t commanded to keep the Shabbos, one might say that if they do it anyways [voluntarily] then You will be favorable to them.’ Hashem replied to him, ‘I swear that even if they fulfill all the mitzvos in the Torah they will fall before you’ How do we know this? From that we see from this pasuk, ‘Behold I have (begun) [profaned] to deliver… before you.’”

The Anaf Yosef, explaining this medrish, adds that the mitzvah of Shabbos teaches us about the nuance of the world, and that there is a Creator that created the world with His will and wisdom. This is accepted by the Jews and is part of their faith. It is not some trick, and only those of faith who cling to Hashem admit to this. This is what is referred to as accepting the yoke of Heaven, and this is why it is a sign between Hashem and the Jewish people. Shabbos is also a hint to The World to Come, as it says in a Mechilta, ‘to know for I sanctified them for The World To Come, for example with the holiness of Shabbos which is kind of like The Word To Come.’ Therefore, Shabbos is a sign between Hashem and the Jews that we are His nation and His servants. Indeed, every man has a signet on his body of the sign of the holy covenant (a bris) just as slaves are branded with the sign of their master. This is a sign of acceptance of the yoke of His kingship. Therefore, a gentile when he does not come with a bris, but he is observing the Shabbos, he appears to be giving pointless behaviors for the reason of this Shabbos. Since he doesn’t have a bris, he does not admit to the concepts of clinging to Hashem and The World To Come or accepting the yoke of The Kingdom In Heaven. Therefore, his observance of Shabbos is for some outside reason, as some people say that it is good for people to rest from their hard work once a week. Or it is because the constellation of Shabsai which controls this day, and there is no success for any actions done on this day. This is aptly compared to a king intimately speaking with his queen and someone comes and interrupts their conversation, for so too this gentile who is observing Shabbos is as if he is interrupting the acceptance of faith which was handed over to us from Hashem. (See Yefeh Toar Shemos Rabba 25:16).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Just paint a picture in your head. Even the wealthiest and most influential person, who might even know the king and queen, if he or she would interrupt their private conversation, it would be treason. He or she would deserve to be executed because, bottom line, he or she isn’t the king or queen, and it is rudely improper conduct displayed on the highest level towards his or her majesty. So too, even the most righteous gentile who, for some reason, observes every mitzvah in the Torah even though he never decided to convert, if he observes the Shabbos, without desecrating one prohibition of Shabbos, is deserving of the death penalty. But why? What if he says he is doing it for all the right reasons? The same way and reasons of why any Torah observant Jew would?
The answer is that since he refuses to convert and accept upon himself the yoke of The Almighty, on His terms, then the gentile is still only an outsider who is undeserving and in fact ruining the unique relationship a Jew has with Hashem. That is why it is treachery, deserving of execution.

As a Jew, we should take this message to heart, and realize how special we are. Everyone wants to feel important and special. If we truly contemplated and appreciated the unique status we have, and the relationship with the King Of All Kings, then every single Jew would feel honored and invigorated to observe and enjoy Shabbos properly each week. And if two Shabbosim in a row would be kept by every single Jew, Chaza”l say we are assured the Final Redemption immediately, may it come peacefully and speedily in our days.

Mattos/Massei – Fair Compromise

The entire 8th chapter of Bava Basra is dedicated to the Jewish Laws of inheritance. The gemara learns from pesukim in the Torah that a man’s inheritance goes to his sons, and it is their duty to care for their unmarried sisters and mother. However, in the Torah portion of Pinchas the daughters of Tzelophchod came to Moshe and requested that they receive their father’s inheritance, as he didn’t have any sons. Moshe asked Hashem what to do and Hashem said they could indeed inherit their father’s land, on condition that they marry into their father’s tribe of Menashe.

At the end of this week’s double Torah portion of Mattos and Massei, which is the conclusion of the Book of Bamidbar, it discusses how they followed through with Hashem’s command, “As Hashem commanded Moshe, so did the daughters of Tzelophchod do. Machla, Tirtza, Chagla, Milca, and Noa, the daughters of Tzelophchod, became wives to sons of their uncles. To cousins from the families of the children of Menashe, son of Yosef, did they become wives, and their inheritance remained with the tribe of the family of their father” (Bamidbar 36:10-12).
 The Ralbag learns a very practical lesson from this about compromise and how to deal with exceptions to the rule. “When there is a need to take away something from someone who was entitled to it and give it to someone else, one should do it in a fashion that anything that can be done in the most honest way, should still be done in a way where you can give back the loss, so that it won’t be taken away forever, but in a fashion that there is no damage to the person who is currently getting it. For example, because they would have to take away the inheritance of Tzelophchod which was included in his father, Chefer’s portion, they did it in a way where they would not lose the portion of inheritance forever, while being sure not to hurt the daughters of Tzelophchod, by marrying them off to the sons of their uncles. Behold the Torah wanted to have them married to their cousins, since that won’t hurt them at all.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Ralbag is teaching us that there are valid times when there must be exceptions to the rule, and that compromises must be made in order to ensure all sides are as minimally hurt as possible. Either just temporary results which are different from the norm, or minimal change thaen what could have resulted. However, the question is where to draw that balance of compromise?

For example, one can ask why was it right to limit the daughters of Tzelophchod to only be allowed to marry their cousins? Why couldn’t they have the choice to marry whomever they want? What was wrong with the right to choose, opportunity, the chance to be and do whatever one feels like doing? Why should they be limited and controlled? Why is that fair;, isn’t a lack of autonomy damaging to them? Didn’t the Ralbag say that compromises could be made but not at the expense of hurting the daughters of Tzelophchod?

We see from here that a lack of entitlements, being limited in choices, isn’t considered damaging. One cannot always expect and demand the right to have all possibilities on the table, because the consequences of that could affect other parties.Therefore, it is granted that one might be limited in choice when they are trying to get something when it’s at the expense of someone else.One has to be ready to live with compromise and not feel slighted when being limited when trying to achieve desired results, as there are many factors and other peoples needs that have to be taken into account.

In order for the daughters of Tzelophchod to be allowed to gain a portion of land in Israel that belonged to their father,against the traditional laws of inheritance, which clearly was the right thing, this however could not come at the expense of loss of property rights to the entire tribe of Menashe. Which is why they were prescribed on who they were allowed to marry.We see from here that a lack of entitlement and opportunity isn’t considered a damage.

The bottom line is that people can’t feel hurt just because they cannot always get their way and do whatever they want once they are given room in negotiating a compromise or amending a law. As Todd Miller a’h used to say, you know you have reached a fair compromise when both parties leave unhappy.

(It’s important to note that the daughters getting inheritance when there are no sons was destined to be part of the laws of inheritance, but Hashem orchestrated that this specific area of the law will be revealed at this point out of the merit of the righteous daughters of Tzelophchod.)