Tazria/Metzora – Quarantined with Hashem

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The main theme of this week’s double Torah portion of Tazria and Metzora is tzaraas, a spiritual ailment similar to leprosy. The Sefer HaChinuch, a book on the 613 mitzvos set’s this mitzvah as number 169, “The commandment of the matter of the impurity of a metsora.”

When describing the root of the mitzvah, or the reason behind the mitzvah, the Sefer HaChinuch writes, “It is from the roots of the commandment to fix in our hearts that the providence of God, blessed be He, is individualized upon everyone among people, and that His eyes are observing all of their ways, as it is written (Iyov 34:21), ‘For His eyes are upon a man’s ways; all of his steps He sees.” And therefore, he warned us to put our [minds] to this bad illness, and to think that it is sin that caused it – and as they, may their memory be blessed, said (Arachin 16b) that it generally comes from evil speech, and we should not take it [as being] by way of happenstance. And we need to come to the priest, who is the one that is ready [to effect] the atonement of sinners. And in the company of the one who atones, maybe he will contemplate repentance. And he is put in quarantine for a few days, in order that he put his matters into his heart with deliberation, and examine his deeds (Berachos 5a). And sometimes he is put into two [consecutive] quarantines, lest he contemplated repentance, but not complete full repentance. It is as if you would say by way of illustration, that he thought to return half of his robbery; and then God, blessed be He, renewed some of the signs that he should be quarantined a second time – perhaps he will complete his repentance and purify himself completely. And the whole matter of these quarantines indicates His providence, blessed be He, on all the ways of man – one by one. And because the opinions are many about the providence of God upon all of his creatures, many verses in Scripture and many commandments come about it, to instruct about the matter – given that it is a cornerstone in our Torah. As there are groups of people that think that the providence of God, may He be blessed, is [individualized upon all of the species – whether people or all other animals. And there are groups that think that the providence of God, blessed be He, is] upon all the matters of the world – whether animals or all other things – meaning to say that no small thing in the world moves without His will, blessed be He, and His decree; to the point that they think regarding the falling of one leaf from a tree, [that] He decreed about it that it should fall, and [so] it is impossible that the time of its falling be even a second later or earlier. And this opinion is very removed from the intellect. And there are evil groups that think that His providence, blessed be He, is not put upon any matters of this lowly world at all – whether upon people or other animals. And this is the opinion of the heretics – it is evil and bitter. And we who have the correct opinion, according to what I have heard, place His generalized providence, blessed be He, upon all the species of animals, such that each and every species that was created in the world, survive in the world – [that] it not completely finish and be lost – as with His providence does everything find existence in the world. But with the human species, we believe that His providence, blessed be He, is upon each and every one individually, and He is ‘the One who understands about all of their deeds.’ And so [too,] have we received from all of our great ones; and there are also many verses that instruct that the matter is so. And therefore, the Torah warned us that when this bad illness – and that is tsaraat – reach a man, he should not take it [as being] by way of happenstance. Rather, he should immediately think that his iniquities caused [it]. And he should distance himself from the company of people, like a man who is distanced due to the evil of his deeds. And he should associate with The One who can atone – The One who can heal the fracture of the sin – and show his ailment to him. And through his counsel and through his words, and through the examination of his deeds, the ailment will be removed from him – since God, blessed be He, who constantly watches him, will see the act of his repentance and heal him. And this matter is the matter of the quarantines, as we said.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Sefer HaChinuch reveals to us that the reason for the metzora to be quarantined from society for a number of days is not because he is contagious or even because we want to keep him away from others so that he won’t speak lashon hara [slander], with them which is the main reason for tzaraas to appear on a person. Rather, the quarantine is for him to contemplate Hashem’s Divine Providence with every individual in every minute detail of action, speech and thought of a human being and to realize the severity of his sin in order to do complete teshuva [repentance].

However, isn’t there a better way to ensure a person realizes his wrong doing, repents, and changes his ways? Why put him in seclusion? When a person gets a speeding ticket he has to take a number of hours of drivers education courses to have the points removed from his license. Wouldn’t it be better for a person who spoke lashon hara to require atonement in a similar manner? For example, an obligation to spend a number of hours or days by a rabbi or in a yeshiva, listening to lectures and learning about the laws of lashon hara, teshuva, and Divine Providence. He would be able to ask questions and get answers on how to change his life, to ensure he won’t fall into the same trap again. Wouldn’t that be more effective than being secluded, all alone, to contemplate his misdeeds and to realize on his own how far away from Hashem he really is, but how close Hashem in fact is to him in his life?

It would therefore seem that all the lectures and inspirational talks won’t make enough of an impact on a person to truly shock him into changing his whole life around for the good. Ultimately it has to be one’s own decision to change, and being put into a situation where there is no one around, it is only you and Hashem, no one is there to help you, to comfort you, to keep you company in a time where you feel vulnerable and ailing, then the hopelessness of the matter will force you to open your eyes and see the Divine Intervention. To see how Hashem is involved in every minute detail of your life and you can’t escape Him. Being all alone with no one else to turn to besides Hashem is in fact the precipitator of changing your whole life around that ultimately leads to complete teshuva.

Though it is always healthy and needed to seek out rabbis and teachers to learn what is right and wrong and how to act at all times, which in fact is why one must go to a kohen when he suspects he might have this spiritual ailment, however because faith and belief in Hashem and the decision to do the right thing ultimately is up to the individual; no one can force you to do anything or correct your deeds for you, therefore being quarantined is the best shock to the system which inspires you or really allows for personal introspection in order to turn your trust in complete reliance on Hashem, regret the sins of the past, and decide to follow whatever Hashem knows is right for oneself and the rest of existence.

Passover – Giving of Yourself vs. Emulating Hashem

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This dvar Torah is part of a shmuz I heard from Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim at around the beginning of the century.

Equivalent to the seventh day of Passover, by the splitting of the Red Sea, Klal Yisrael reached what is essentially the highest point of Holiness. They sang Shira [songs] to Hashem while crossing on dry land. In the Shira it says, “ זֶ֤ה אֵלִי֙ וְאַנְוֵ֔הוּ” which literally means, “This is my G-D and I will build Him a Sanctuary,” or “I will make myself into a G-dly sanctuary” (Shemos 15:2). This is the loftiest expression because they pointed and said “This is my G-D”. They had such a high level of emuna, belief in Hashem, that they were able to point at something. People recognize things with their senses, and the most realistic sense is sight, as they say, “seeing is believing.” The level they were on was above that because of their emuna [belief in Hashem].

What does אַנְוֵ֔הוּ refer to? The Gemara in Shabbos 133b goes through a list of mitzvos and says it comes from the word, נאה, to beautify the mitzvos. The gemara then quotes Abba Shaul who says they felt that they had to be comparable to Hashem, meaning they wanted to act like Hashem, just like a child wants to act like his parents, אני והוא.

The first view holds there is a level of a person who is putting a part of himself into doing a mitzvah. Abba Shaul is saying you should want to be just like Hashem which is a higher level.

The way Avraham found Hashem was not from a physical understanding of the world, but he saw the kindness that Hashem did in creating the world. Kindness is spiritual. This is how he came to recognize Hashem!

The truest love is trying to emulate someone else!

Click here for recording of Shmuz on Parshas Tzav with connecting to Passover and current events, im yirtzeh Hashem! The password to sign in is 3RmGSUNk.

Vayikra – Yearning for Meaning

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We find a very fascinating medrish at the end of this week’s Torah portion of Vayikra, that one can share at the Pesach Seder: “Rebbe Abba bar Kahana said that darkness (choshech vi’afela) was used in the land of Egypt for 3 days as it says, ‘and there was thick darkness over the entire land of Egypt for three days’ (Shemos 10:22). But void and desolation (tohu va’vohu) was not used in this world. Where will they be used in the future? In the great metropolis of Rome, as it says, ‘and He shall stretch over it a line of waste, and weights of destruction’ (Yeshayahu 34:11)” (Medrish Rabba Vayikra 6:6).

The Maharz”u explains that it appears from the medrish that since darkness (choshech vi’afela) was used there, then it must be that void and desolation (tohu va’vohu) will also be used at some point. This concept which is being alluded to by the medrish is that at the beginning of creation it writes, ‘Now the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep’ (Breishis 1:2). The main part of creation started from tohu va’vohu and choshech (void, desolation, and darkness). Even though it says that light came forth from darkness and all of existence was brought forth from out of the tohu va’vohu, still in all this choshech and tohu va’vohu did not cease to exist. They were and still are yearning to be used in the world at the right time and place. We in fact see in many places that it says, ‘If the Jews accept the Torah that is good, if not I will revert the entire world back into tohu va’vohu.’ This is what is meant here; that choshech (darkness) found a place to be used in Egypt, but tohu va’vohu did not yet find a place to be used until in the future.”

The Etz Yosef adds that in the future Gog and his allies will be flanked with darkness, but will be preceded with tohu va’vohu, which is a green line that will surround the entire world which, from it darkness (choshech), will spread out into the world. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The darkness that plagued Egypt in the 9th plague was no ordinary darkness; it was something that could be felt. It was so thick that the Egyptians froze and were not able to move for three days, as it says in Shemos Rabba 14:3. This darkness will come forth again in the future, emanating from a green substance of tohu va’vohu which will encompass the Metropolis of Rome, Gog and his allies, who don’t believe in Hashem and have their own line of worship.

Everything has a proper time and place to be used in this world. Nothing ever goes to waste and rather it is recycled; hopefully with excitement, at its designated time and place.

If you think about this a bit, there is something actually quite astonishing going on here. Hashem created the world out of these two substances, choshech and tohu va’vohu. They must have been pretty important to be used as the basis for the entire existence of this world. Yet the Maharz”u seems to hint that one might have thought that once they were done being used they would just have been thrown away and never used again, having lost a purpose for their further existence. Yet that wasn’t the case, and they are reserved for a special time and place which they are eagerly waiting for, to be used again. But if you look what they were used for it would seem highly disappointing. Both were or will be used in seemingly negative and destructive ways. The darkness was used for the 9th plague of Egypt, not even the first or the culminating tenth; rather in the middle, or really towards the end. Tohu va’vohu could have also been used to destroy the world if the Jewish people would not have accepted the Torah, and will be used against the heathens in the future who will not accept Hashem as One at The End of Days. What kind of jobs are those that they are yearning and eagerly waiting for, especially compared to the first position they ever had?

However the truth of the matter is these substances are just ingredients in doing Hashem’s will, and they realize that whatever Hashem wants them to be used for they are willing to do, and yearn for the opportunity to be used again.

All the more so, us human beings, whom the entire world was created for, we are the purpose of creation, and there are multiple roles that Hashem has given us to play in the history of this world. We have to be excited and eager to see how it plays out and to enthusiastically accept whatever roles they are. By realizing that they are jobs given to you by the Master Of The Universe, King Of All Kings, that will make it easier to yearn for the jobs and to wholeheartedly accept whatever comes your way and lands in your plate.

Shabbos HaChodesh – Dedication

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The last Mishna in Pirkei Avos writes, “Ben Hei Hei says: The reward is in proportion to the exertion” (Avos 5:26). The reward for observing Hashem’s mitzvos is increased in direct proportion to the effort and discomfort one experiences in its enactment.

Besides the double portion of Vayakhel-Pekudai which concludes the Book of Shemos, this week is also Parshas HaChodesh, and we read from the first 20 pesukim of perek 12 in parshas Bo which discusses the “First Passover” in Egypt. There is an illustration of this last Mishna in Pirkei Avos within these pesukim. The Torah states: “You shall have a perfect male lamb in its [first] year; you may take it either from the sheep or from the goats. And you shall keep it for inspection until the fourteenth day of this month, and the entire congregation of the community of Israel shall slaughter it in the afternoon. And they shall take [some] of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel, on the houses in which they will eat it. And they shall take [some] of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel, on the houses in which they will eat it. And on this night, they shall eat the flesh, roasted over the fire, and unleavened cakes; with bitter herbs they shall eat it. You shall not eat it rare or boiled in water, except roasted over the fire its head with its legs and with its innards. And you shall not leave over any of it until morning, and whatever is left over of it until morning, you shall burn in fire. And this is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste it is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord” (Shemos 12: 5-11).

The Chizkuni paints a vivid picture about exactly what these pesukim are telling us, with the theme being disgracing the Egyptian god. The Jewish people took a lamb on the tenth of Nissan and tied it to their bed post until the 14th of Nissan so that the Egyptians would see their gods tied up and denigrated in a disgraceful manner inside the houses of the Jews. They heard the cries of the lambs and could not save them. The Jews then were commanded to slaughter their lamb in mid-day for all the Egyptians to see.They then took the blood and painted it on their doorposts, for perhaps not all the Egyptians were able to make it to see the slaughtering of the lambs, so they could instead see the blood of their god placed on the doorposts in disgrace. They ate the meat at night when everyone is usually home. It was roasted on the fire so that the scent would travel and be a thick smell in the noses of the Egyptians, and they would know that the Jews were eating their god. It was eaten in a disgraceful manner since the meat was eaten with something bad and bitter, the bitter herb, not with something of significance, or sweet. They were told not to eat it raw, meaning if an Egyptian came to their house while roasting, they should not remove it from the fire and say it has roasted well enough, though it is still raw (medium rare). The Jew might have said this out of fear, therefore the pasuk was saying not to be afraid of them. It was roasted completely and as one full body so that the Egyptians could recognize their idol being roasted. Any leftovers should have been burnt to ashes which is a disgrace. Lastly they ate it with their backpacks and boots on, and with their staffs in their hands, which is a mundane and disgraceful manner in which to eat, as opposed to other sacrifices which would normally be eaten in an honorable fashion. (Please click here for Hebrew text.)
It’s very clear that the theme of this charge was to disgrace the Egyptian’s god and to make sure every Egyptian knew what was going on.  It was an utterly thorough disgrace without holding anything back, leaving no possible angle of disgrace unturned. But why did it have to come to the point of making the Jewish people so uncomfortable by eating bitter herbs, and in a very awkward manner with their backpacks on their backs, boots on, and staff in hand? Wasn’t all they did besides that enough of a disgrace and a show of not fearing the Egyptians and their false god? Why did Hashem place His children under this type of suffering and discomfort at a time that He was about to let them go free and accept them as His nation, leaving the many years of torture and slavery?

We must say that adding these two bits of disgrace added and completed the utter degradation of the Egyptian god, which was the purpose of this exercise. Fulfilling every detail was a test of true dedication, which one must have under any and all circumstances when performing Hashem’s mitzvos.

This in fact seems to be the first test of the Jewish people, as a nation, to show their dedication towards fulfilling Hashem’s command.

Ki Sisa – In the Courtroom of Hashem

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In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa we witness the sin of the Golden Calf and the tragic ramifications it had on the Jewish people and the world throughout history. After Moshe came down from Mount Sinai and broke the tablets it says: “Then he took the calf they had made, burned it in fire…on that day some three thousand men fell from among the people…And now, if You forgive their sin But if not…Behold My angel will go before you. But on the day I make an accounting [of sins upon them], I will bring their sin to account against them…” Then the Lord struck the people with a plague… The Lord spoke to Moshe: “Go, ascend from here… And Moshe took the tent and pitched it for himself outside the camp, distancing [it] from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting, and it would be that anyone seeking the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp” (Shemos excerpts from perakim 32, 33).

The Ralbag learns a lesson from these pesukim in relation to middos

[character development]

. This is that it is not befitting for a person to ask forgiveness for a sin on behalf of others, as long as the sinner still is holding on to the sin. For this reason Moshe only requested from Hashem to forgive the Jew’s sins after the golden calf was destroyed, and the rebels killed. However, since not all the rebels were completely wiped out at that time, and although Hashem accepted his words, he said that those who had sinned against Him should be erased from His Book, and the rest of the rebels who followed the calf should be plagued. But Hashem promised Moshe that He would not take away their inheritance of The Land because of their sin. In this manner He forgave their sins. However Hashem still had not attached to them His Personal Divine Providence, hashgacha pratis, lest they would sin to him. For Hashem brings bad to those He loves as rebuke, and they escaped from that bad as Moshe requested, but the bad that automatically came as part of the system of consequences eventually caught up with them; as it says: “But on the day I make an accounting [of sins upon them], I will bring their sin to account against them” (Shemos 32:34). This destiny Moshe did not try to save them from, since it is inappropriate for a person to ask forgiveness for a sinner while the sinner is still holding on to the sin. Therefore Moshe did not request that Hashem’s Personal Divine Providence, hashgacha pratis, would cling to the Jews as long as their hearts were far from Him. Rather, he conducted himself with reprimand by distancing his tent from them until they subjugated their hearts and returned to Hashem. After that he requested that Hashem’s Personal Divine Providence would cling to them.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

If you analyze the Ralbag carefully you’ll see that there are two stages of dealing with the sin which are being addressed here. We are going to gain a slight glimpse into how we can approach Hashem with our sins. First and foremost, in order to even ask Hashem to forgive us, we must remove ourselves from the sin we have committed, for Hashem doesn’t simply overlook sin for no reason. The perpetrators must take steps to fix the problem before Hashem begins to forgive, and possibly forget. For this reason Moshe destroyed the idol and sent the Levite family to murder all the primary accomplices. Only then was Moshe able to begin to daven to Hashem to not annihilate the Jewish people and to promise that they would still inherit The Promise Land, The Land of Israel.

However that wasn’t enough, because there are underlying reasons and intents for any sin, which are harder to get rid of. But in this case, in order for Hashem to apply his Divine Providence on every individual as a person, and not just as a collective, they had to be cleansed of the underlying emotion that caused them to sin to begin with.

This itself is a telling lesson, for it seems, according to the Ralbag, that because of the consequence of our actions, Hashem out of his love and mercy for His precious children, will not shine His Personal Divine Providence on a sinner who has not psychologically changed his mind, since it would just do more harm than good. This is because of His close relationship with his righteous children; it would behoove Him to rebuke us in order for us to mend our ways.if He was so close to us, therefore Hashem does not give special individual attention to His children when they are sinning, in order to not give dangerous rebuke that is deserved.

For this reason Moshe removed himself from the camp, as if to show his own disgust in their actions, so that they will humble themselves and remove the haughtiness which caused them to sin.

Why did Moshe get involved in this manner by separating his tent from the rest of theirs? Wouldn’t it have been sufficient just to lecture them and verbally take them through the process of how to properly conclude their teshuva, the repentance process of clearing their minds and hearts of any lingering evil intent, no matter how minute it was? Especially since it is really unimaginable at this point that they weren’t humiliated enough for the sin they had committed, especially after they reached such heights at the receiving of the Torah just days before, and then realizing how they quickly came crashing down with the sin of the golden calf, they must have already felt utter embarrassment and disgrace before Hashem as is. Why did Moshe have to dig it in more by separating his tent from the rest of them?

We can learn a very important lesson in how to treat our children, students, or anyone, when they have done something wrong and you want to help them correct their ways. That is, that the most effective way to help a person change is not just to tell them what they did wrong and how to fix it, or even to lead by example, but to put them into the position that they will be forced to figure out, on their own, how to fix the problem. It will make a greater impression on them in the long run, even if they are feeling betrayed in the short term. For this reason, even though the Jewish People must have already begun to feel a tremendous amount of remorse over what they were involved in but Moshe separated himself from them so that they will come to the realization that they had to be even more humiliated in order to wipe out any negative feeling inside them and to completely humble themselves.

Tetzaveh – Fried Chicken & Spiced BBQ Ribs with a Smile

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Two of the many things discussed in this week’s Torah portion of Tetzaveh are the olive oil that was used in the Mishkan for various functions like for lighting the menorah and meal-offerings, and the incense that was burned on the Golden Alter right outside the Holy of Holies in the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash.

Rabbeinu Bachye, in his introduction to the Torah portion, quotes a pasuk in Mishley (27:9), “Oil and incense make the heart rejoice, and the sweetness of his friendship more than one’s own counsel.” King Shlomo warns us in this pasuk to be merciful to strangers (or converts) who are exiled from his place and from the land in which he was born. The Torah warns about how to treat this person in many places, to not mistreat him verbally or monetarily, as it says, “And you shall not mistreat a stranger” (Shemos 22:20), and it writes, “And you shall not oppress a stranger” (Shemos 23:9), and it also writes, “for you know the feelings of the stranger” (Shemos 23:9). Therefore Shlomo came and added and newly conceived here that a person is obligated to treat another person who was exiled and moved from place to place in two ways: (1) He should feed him, and (2) He should smile at him. This pasuk is connected to the previous pasuk in Mishlei that says, “As a bird wandering from its nest, so is a man wandering from his place.” It equates a person who has left his birthplace to a bird who has left his nest, his origin, those who are the source of his birth. Right next to that verse it then immediately says “oil and incense,” which is a nickname for all food. Anything which is fried with oil and spices  [creates an incense of] smoke that rises from the food being cooked. The pasuk informs us with this that a person is obligated to make the heart of a man who is wandering happy by feeding him which is the “oil and incense,” for it “make the heart rejoice”. One also has to have a smile which in the pasuk refers to as “the sweetness of his friendship;” that one should sweeten his words and smile at the stranger. For besides the fact that he needs “oil and incense he also needs “the sweetness of his friendship” through smiling and talking to him gently.The pasuk concludes, “more than one’s own counsel,” meaning this sweetness and smile should come from one’s own mind, showing true love and care, and not flattery, because the stranger will show you sweetness in his lips, more than you give him. So to Chaza”l say in Kesubos 111b, “Better is to show your white teeth (smile) to your friend then offering him milk, as it says ‘and the whiteness of teeth more than milk’ (Breishis 49:12)…” The prophet also mentioned, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry” (Yeshayahu 58:7), this refers to “oil and incense,” he then mentions, “And you draw out your soul to the hungry” (Yeshayahu 58:10), which refers to “the sweetness of his friendship”. (Click here for Hebrew Text.)

Earlier in the Torah portion of Mishpatim, where it discusses not mistreating a stranger (convert) as quoted earlier, Rabbeinu Bachye writes on 22:20, “one should not mistreat a stranger (convert) with hurtful words and should not oppress them by stealing their money. In many places in the Torah it writes, and Hashem warns us about, a stranger (convert) for a stranger (convert) finds himself alone in a foreign land and that is why he is called a ger (stranger), from the word gargir, (seed) which is found by itself at the top of a branch of a tree, feeling desolate and weak. Therefore Hashem said: ‘Don’t think he won’t find someone to fight his fight, for I will fight for him, and will take revenge for him being taken advantage of. This is why the pasuk gives a reason that ‘You know the soul of a stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ It does not say ‘you know the stranger” rather it says ‘you know the soul of the stranger,’ meaning [Hashem is telling the Jews] ‘you know that every stranger has a feeling of being a lowly soul, and he has no one to lift up his eyes towards, except for Me, and therefore I will be merciful on him just as I was merciful to you when you were strangers in Egypt.’ Mentioned with them are the orphans and widows, because all of them have weaker strength, and people take advantage and cause them suffering, their tears are common, for the gates of tears never close, therefore people have to be very careful to be good and kind to them with their body and money, and so to the prophet mentions, “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry” (Yeshayahu 58:7), and also writes, “And you draw out your soul to the hungry” (Yeshayahu 58:10). If you are able to give him bread, give it, and if not then at least strengthen his soul with some kind words.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Torah goes out of its way to not hurt a stranger (convert), even giving reasons for why not to do so. This logically leads us to believe that not only do we have a responsibility not to hurt them, but we must also be sensitive to their needs; feeding them, taking care of them, and certainly talking to them calmly, softly, and with a sincere smile, as Rabbeinu Bachye logically points out. But if this is so, why did King Shlomo feel a need to reemphasize how to properly treat a stranger (convert,) and why did Rabbeinu Bachye call it a ‘new insight’ if it is a logical extension of the verses in the Torah? Of course in order to not make a stranger (convert) feel bad you have to talk to him nicely and make him feel at home by giving him a scrumptious meal, room, and board if needed! On the contrary, we are descendants of Avraham Avinu, who was an expert at having guests who were total strangers, many of whom eventually converted to monotheism. It is in our genetic makeup to be merciful and act with kindness; certainly we should at least strive to emulate him. So why does this concept of taking care of strangers and not mistreating them need to be emphasized so much, at such length, over and over again?!

We must say that even though the attribute of mercy and kindness are two of the signs that we are Jews, coming from the line of Avraham Avinu, still in all it is in fact very difficult to honestly deal with, and give selflessly to, a complete stranger and foreigner, even if he or she has joined our faith. There is a cognitive dissonance, that on the one hand it is within our genetic makeup to emulate Hashem and be a selfless giver and doer of kindness just as our forefather Avraham was. Yet it is also natural for a person to recoil and have a feeling of distance, and to create a wall of separation from someone who you don’t personally know and have not come to feel comfortable with, someone who has not been raised the same way as you have, or even in the same town that you have lived in your whole life. Indeed, because they are different you might come to rationalize treating them differently, and even take advantage of them. At the very least if you outwardly show that you are trying to be nice, you don’t really mean it, you put on a show. But they can see right through it, and Hashem sees their pain and tears. For this reason Hashem emphasizes and reemphasizes how important it is, and gives us initiatives of why, we should feel it is important to not mistreat a stranger. It is because it is so easy to fall into the trap of the inner struggle within us, and not sincerely give the way we are supposed to, that King Shlomo spelled out as clearly as possible how to positively treat the strangers that sojourn among us. It brings to light with a new clarity the altruistic feeling of care and compassion we should truly feel and act upon.

May this attitude make an impression on our relationship between us and our fellow person, who deserve it, whoever it might be!

Terumah – Cherubs: Conduits to The One On High

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We know through Chaza”l that the Keruvim (cherubs) mounted on the Aron (Holy Ark), and woven into the curtain separating the Holy from the Holy of Holies, were angel-like figures. There was a miracle that when they faced each other it was known that there was peace between us and Hashem; but when they were turned away from each other, everyone knew danger was on its way, for it was a sign that Hashem was not happy with the Jewish People. But why were the Keruvim set upon the holiest object on earth, where the Divine Presence came to rest?
Rabbeinu Bachye
in this week’s Torah portion of Teruma (25:18) answers this question: “According to the basic understanding the Keruvim in the Beis HaMikdash and Mishkan were a sign and testimony to the concept of angels. For just as we are commanded about belief that The Holy One Blessed Be He is real and this is the first principle of all the principles in the Torah as it writes [in the first mitzvah of the Ten Commandments], ‘I am the Lord your G-D,’ so to we are commanded to believe that angels are real and this is the second principle, because the angels influence the power of the mind and place words into the mouth of prophets at the command of Hashem. If not for them there would be no prophecy and without prophecy there would be no Torah. For this reason the Torah commanded to make keruvim to show that the angels are real. The reason there are two and not one is to be sure people won’t think it is an image of G-D that should be worshiped. If you are worried that people might think there are really two gods, that isn’t a problem, for their wings are spread upwards to accept the abundance of strength from On High. This is the view of the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:45) on the topic of the keruvim, in short.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Beis HaMikdash and Mishkan were the palaces of Hashem in this world, and the Holy of Holies, where the aron (the Holy Ark) was placed, was where His Divine Presence rested like a king on a throne. Why was it appropriate to place images of Hashem’s servants in such a holy and dignified place? Even more wondrous is that it was done at the risk of potentially causing people to transgress the second mitzvah of the Ten Commandments. “You shall not have the gods of others in My presence. You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness which is in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth” (Shemos 20:3, 4). The Rambam pointed out that they went to great lengths in making two figures with wings pointing up towards Heaven, as if saying Hashem is the All Powerful and is the only source for everything in existence. But why is the Holiest place on Earth, which is essentially “the throne” in this world for the King Of All Kings, the proper place to show that angels are real, even if they are the second most important principle in Judaism?

We must say that by placing the Keruvim on the Holy Ark, it actually enhances the honor of Hashem, by showing that they are the conduit to receive Hashem’s holy influence. It would be disparaging to assume or expect that Hashem deals with us directly, even for matters as Divine as prophecy and the receiving of the Torah. Even Moshe Rabbeinu had to go through the angels to receive the Torah directly from Hashem. A king is always escorted by guards, nobleman, and servants. It is beneath the dignity of the throne to expect that the king will commune directly with his subjects at all times. This is also true for the King Of All Kings, Blessed Be He, The Almighty, who actually can do everything and does run the entire universe and beyond. There are laws and orders to everything, and the acknowledgement of the reality of angels as being a sort of guardsmen, messengers, go-betweens, between The King and His subjects, is a show of enhancement of the honor and respect to Hashem. Which is why they were represented by the Keruvim in the Beis Hamikdash and Mishkan.

Mishpatim – A Glimpse into the Jewish Perspective of Slavery

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The Torah permits Jews to own slaves, but the way a slave must be treated by his master in Jewish law is very different than our perspective of how slaves were treated throughout history. In terms of a Jewish slave, the Torah opens this week’s portion of Mishpatim with the laws of Jewish slaves.  The Torah begins by saying, “When you acquire a Jewish slave, for six year he shall work, and on the seventh year he goes free” (Shemos 21:2). The master must treat his slave like a part of his household as the gemara in Kiddushin 22a comments: “The Sages taught: The verse states concerning a Hebrew slave: “Because he fares well with you,” which teaches that the slave should be with you, i.e., treated as your equal, in food, meaning that his food must be of the same quality as yours, and with you in drink. This means that there shall not be a situation in which you eat fine bread and he eats inferior bread, bread from coarse flour mixed with bran, which is low quality. There shall not be a situation in which you drink aged wine and he drinks inferior new wine. There shall not be a situation in which you sleep comfortably on bedding made from soft sheets and he sleeps on straw. From here the Sages stated: Anyone who acquires a Hebrew slave is considered like one who acquires a master for himself, because he must be careful that the slave’s living conditions are equal to his own.”  (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Rabbeinu Bachye and Rashbam tell the reasons why a Jew would be sold as a slave. This pasuk talks about one who the court sold because he couldn’t pay for what he stole, as it writes, “If he has no [money], he shall be sold for his theft” (Shemos 22:2). But a Jew who sells himself as a slave because he is too poor to support himself is spoken about in parshas Behar, as it says, “And if your brother becomes destitute with you, and is sold to you, do not work him with slave labor. As an employee or a [hired] resident, he shall be with you; until the Jubilee year he shall work with you” (Vayikra 25:39, 40). But he shall not have heavily burdensome work or disgraceful work, as it says, “As an employee or a [hired] resident,” just as a hired worker does his skill, so too [the Jewish slave] should do his skill, and just as a hired employee works during the day and not at night so to this [Jewish slave] should work by day but not by night.
The Torah in this week’s portion goes on to say, “If he comes [in] alone, he shall go out alone; if he is a married man, his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I will not go free,’ his master shall bring him to the judges, and he shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever” (Shemos 21:3-6). A Jewish slave is treated quite well! After his 7 year indenture he might not want to leave so quickly; indeed, there was a whole ceremony to allow him to stay until the Yovel year (Jubilee 50th year), and the gemara in Kiddushin 22b elaborates, “Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai would expound this verse as a type of decorative wreath [ḥomer], i.e., as an allegory: Why is the ear different from all the other limbs in the body, as the ear alone is pierced? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: This ear heard My voice on Mount Sinai when I said: “For to Me the children of Israel are slaves.”    And Rabbi Shimon bar Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi would likewise expound this verse as a type of decorative wreath: Why are the door and a doorpost different from all other objects in the house, that the piercing is performed with them? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: The door and the doorpost were witnesses in Egypt when I passed over the lintel and when I passed over the two doorposts of houses in which there were Jews (Exodus, chapter 12), and I said: “For to Me the children of Israel are slaves,” and they should not be slaves to slaves. And I delivered them at that time from slavery to freedom, and yet this man went and acquired a master for himself. Therefore, let him be pierced before them, as they are witnesses that he violated God’s will (Leviticus 25:55), which indicates: And they should not be slaves to slaves. And yet this man went and willingly acquired a master for himself. Therefore, let this ear be pierced.
Rabbeinu Bachye makes a very keen observation about a person who wants to stay a slave to his master. He says, “It is a known thing that it is customary in the world that the nature of a slave, standing in the control of his master, is disgusted by the very thought of his master, dislikes his life because of his work, and desires to be a freeman. This person who desires to stay with his work and to have a master other than the Blessed Hashem is an absolute nuance! Therefore this judgement comes about, that the master himself who chose this slave, and loved him, should be brought before the court and pierce his ear by the door in order to wound the limb that sinned, for it heard at Mount Sinai ‘Don’t steal’ and it went and stole, or because it writes ‘for Me are the Children of Israel slaves’ (Vayikra 25:55) and not slaves to slaves, and he bought for himself a master. Nevertheless for which ever reason it was, it is considered a sin on his part, for he is estranging himself from His Master on High who is Blessed, who warned him, when he accepted the Torah to not acquire any other master, and he now took off the yoke of that mitzvah.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Something incredible is going on here which needs a lot of analysis! Granted, this person did something wrong by stealing and because he couldn’t pay back he was sold into slavery to pay his dues, but first off, that was done by the court. Even the person that chose to sell himself because he was too poor to make ends meet, how can he be faulted for Hashem putting him into that position which compelled him to sell himself as a slave to a fellow Jew? Furthermore, how can we blame him for wanting to stay past the 7 years? He is being treated quite well, like a son or, even better, not overly worked, with room and board, possibly with another wife and children; Hashem essentially put him into the position of wanting to stay by commanding the master to treat him well, so why is he held as a sinner, who seems to be abandoning Hashem for wanting to stay longer with his master, especially if the Torah allows it?!

We have to first put into context what exactly happened. Almost everyone can relate that they hate working, mainly do it for the money, love getting time off, look forward to the weekends, and most likely hate their boss. It is human nature, for the most part, because work is a curse that Hashem gave Adam when he committed the first sin of mankind, as it says, “With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground…” (Breishis 3:19). Now, granted, a Jewish slave has tons of benefits, but he still is breaking the very nature of a human being, which seems to hate working even with all the benefits he might be entitled to and get. But not only is he going against human nature, which Hashem instilled into us, he is also going against the very command he as a Jew was given and accepted when Hashem took us out of Egyptian bondage and declared Himself as our master and us as His servants, which we, together, agreed to. So granted Hashem allows in His Torah for a Jew to enslave another Jew, that seems to be a consequence, but it was his decision to steal and it was also his decision to sell himself as a slave, so now that he wants to stay a slave he is admonished and punished for choosing to put himself into this situation. We see from here that even though Hashem might allow situations like this to happen, He very much shuns them and holds the person who got himself into the mess accountable for what he did even if it looks like Hashem “helped” him to get into this rut, but he had the choice to figure out a way to avoid it and he didn’t.

Chaza”l say that the path one chooses Hashem leads him on whether for good or for bad. But even if a person initially chooses a wrong path, Hashem gives him chances to correct his ways and get back onto the right path just like the Jewish slave who has the chance to go free after 7 years if he so chooses. Granted Hashem might let him enjoy the path he is on even if it is bad but that is all part of Hashem’s kindness of taking care of this person in the moment. However if the person so chooses to return to the right path he will be rewarded exponentially for making the right, albeit difficult decision.

Yisro – Gadlus Haadam: Really Realizing Why Humankind is So Great

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You probably never thought about why it is inappropriate to shame someone, meaning to do something that would cause someone to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or even disgraced. It’s obvious why, because it is not nice. But why is it not nice and on the contrary it’s very easy to make up excuses like sometimes it could be fun if done in jest and it could feel good if done to make yourself look good or to bring  attention to yourself?!

The last pasuk of this week’s Torah portion of Yisro states, “And you shall not ascend with steps upon My altar, so that your nakedness shall not be exposed upon it'” (Shemos 20:23). Rashi observes on the last part of the pasuk, “אשר לא תגלה ערותך THAT THY NAKEDNESS BE NOT UNCOVERED — because on account of these steps you will have to take large paces and so spread the legs. Now, although this would not be an actual uncovering of one’s nakedness (of the parts usually kept covered), since it is written, (Exodus 28:42) ‘And thou shalt make for them (the priests) linen breeches [to cover the flesh of their nakedness]’, still the taking of large paces is near enough to uncovering one’s nakedness that it may be described as such, and you would then be treating them (the stones of the altar) in a manner that implies disrespect.”

The last Medrish Tanchuma on this Torah portion learns a lesson from here, “for this can be a kal vechomer, (a fortiori), for just as stones that don’t have knowledge to differentiate between good and bad, Hashem still warns you to not treat them in a disrespectful manner, all the more so, your friend, who is created in the likeness of Hashem.” The Etz Yosef adds, “’Your friend who is created in the likeness of Hashem’ as it is written ‘in the likeness of G-D He made him,’ all the more so do you have to be careful not to disrespect him in any possible shameful manner even if you don’t intend to disrespect him, because if you disrespect him you will be disrespecting his likeness of Hashem, and who is honored (or respected) those that honor (or respect) humanity.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We must analyze this medrish very carefully. The medrish is comparing every single human being to the stones of the ramp that was used to walk up towards the alter which was in turn used to forge a relationship between man and his Father in Heaven, The Almighty King of all Kings. It was a very holy place where sins were forgiven, thanksgiving was offered on the alter and peace offerings were also sacrificed. It is understandable that it must be treated with the utmost respect for what it represents and does for our connection On High. Still in all the medrish says that it is only an inanimate object that doesn’t have any thought process to be able to choose between good and bad, to have emotions, make choices, to feel insulted, but nevertheless it would be inappropriate to show disrespect towards it, even in a slight indirect manner, which was not intentional as Rashi and the Etz Yosef point out. All the more so a human being, your fellow man who was endowed with a sense of free will, who is able to make deep intellectual, and philosophical choices, and can strive for perfection, and a close relationship with the Almighty, Our Father In Heaven; Mankind who was purposefully given the ability to choose between good and bad in order to be put into situations where he could choose to emulate Hashem, who is all good and complete truth, which is what defines us as being created in G-D’s likeness, all the more so must be treated with the utmost respect and not shamed in any way intentionally or unintentionally.

In a similar vein, I was once in Ottawa, Canada, for the changing of the guards which still has connections with the Royal family of England. Every morning there is a long and elaborate ceremony with hundreds of marching soldiers towards the parliament in order to switch the soldiers who are in charge of guarding the royal keys of the Parliament building, such sovereignty and significance was given towards the keys of a building connected to the royal family, all the more so one can imagine the respect and elegance demonstrated to the majesty herself and her family! (Click here for more information about this ceremony.)

If we only realized who we are, beloved princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses of The King Of All Kings as it says in Pirkey Avos (3:14),  “He (Rebbe Akiva) would also say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, “For in the image of G‑d, He made man” (Genesis 9:6).” Then we would be more cognizant and at the forefront of awareness to ensure we treat each other with proper respect.

The special fortune that every single human being is created in the image of Hashem is THE reason why it is not nice to cause any disgrace to each other. If we truly realized the greatness of mankind, where we ourselves come from, how and why we were created and the potential for perfection and purity that each one of us was endowed with, the world would be a much better place!

Beshalach – Chesed: Natural Kindness

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This dvar Torah is taken from the notes I took about 18 years ago of Rav Moshe Chait zt”l’s Shmuz in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim

We find in this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach The Song the Jew’s sang at the sea. One of the stanzas says: “You stretched forth Your right hand and the earth swallowed them up” (Shemos 12:15).
The Yalkut Shimone says that Hashem required the land to swallow up the Egyptians as a burial. What was their merit to be buried? It was because they said “Hashem is the righteous”. They declared it almost by force, but still it is a tremendous merit that outweighed all the evil they did. Despite all their evil, they admitted they were wrong, so Hashem gave them a burial. This is hinted to in the words: “You stretched forth your right hand;” the right stands for chesed, kindness.
The pasuk “You stretched out Your right hand“ also hints that they were thrown out of the sea onto dry land, and then the dry land threw them back into the sea because it didn’t want to bury these evil people. What was the claim of the sea and dry land to not bury the Egyptians? Their claim was that just as the earth had to receive the blood of Hevel, after Kayin killed him, which looked like a cover up, which is why the Torah says the land shall be cursed, then all the more so, they claimed, if we bury all the Egyptians who died, the land will be cursed! They wouldn’t bury the Egyptians until Hashem “stretched out His Right hand,” which is a sign of an oath that he wouldn’t curse them.
Hashem said to the sea: ”You now have an obligation to perform your duty which is the kindness to bury the Egyptians.” But why did the dry land not want to do its normal duty which is a moral Chesed? Because it had its justifications and Hashem had to assure the land under the sea that they weren’t doing wrong by serving the wicked.

By Yaakov it says he ‘took a bunch of stones to rest his head on,’ and then it says he ‘took one stone.’ Chaza”l says all the stones wanted to be a pillow for Yaakov, so they became one.
The Mesilas Yesharim in the first chapter says there is a reason for all aspects of creation and the ultimate purpose of creation is to serve man, who is the purpose of creation.
The magnetism of rocks is to serve mankind. Can you imagine what a merit it is to have Yaakov Avinu lay on the rock? Not one rock had any more merit than the other rock, so they had, one might say, a magnetic spirituality to serve Yaakov!

This is a new definition of Chesed, because people think kindness is usually for people that deserve it. However Chaza”l say “The world with kindness was built.” That does not mean Hashem created the world with acts of kindness, but rather the whole identity of creatures were implanted with kindness. Not just man was created with one of his attributes to do kindness, but the whole essence of man is kindness. It is part an parcel of his nature, as well as the nature of all creation. That is why the evil Egyptians had a right to be buried, because of the remark they made, that Hashem is the Righteous. This triggered kindness to bury them.

An example of kindness to the highest degree is Avraham Avinu. Immediately after circumcising himself, he welcomed and served 3 “Arab idol worshippers.”
Doing a chesed for a close relative isn’t a big deal; it is expected. But still Chaz”al say Hashem said to Avraham you can wear My Garments of Chesed only after he buried his wife because at that instant he showed he did kindness out of love more than any other time which generated even more kindness.
Every one of us has an obligation to emulate Hashem, which is why we should do chesed. A person should have feelings that you need to help another, this kindness comes immediately when you see an opportunity coming your way. One should not have the attitude that the other needs to be helped which comes when you see a friend giving you signs that he wants something done for him.

Acts of chesed are everywhere don’t miss out on the opportunity!
Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder