Netzavim and Rosh Hashanah – A Message from 15 Years Ago: Spiritual Armament

This shmuz was delivered by Rav Moshe Chait zt”l in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim the day after 9/11 which was six days before Rosh Hashanah, the week of the Torah portion of Netzavim.
There will come a day when the whole world will stand in judgement before the Master of The World.

Yesterday, calculating minds destroyed thousands of people, with attacks aimed with precise accuracy at the most populated areas. It was a well-planned attack by a distorted genius, more beast than human. The giant of the world, the United States, was rocked at its sources of power: business,i.e. The World Trade Center, and military, i.e. The Pentagon.

It is brought down that a person will come to wreak havoc in the universe not only destroying its enemies but whole people. Yishmael has been at the Jew’s throat from the beginning, for centuries. The nations have turned their heads from terrorism against Jews and Israel and never thought it could happen to them, and even condemned Israel for fighting back.

It says in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion: “All of you stand today before Hashem your G-D…” (9:29). Every single kind of person is singled out and “you,” the Congregation of Israel, are testifying for Hashem, and you, the Congregation of Israel, will be the only one standing.

“You stand today;” there is no Rome, Greece, or Persia.

The attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, conducted with such exactitude cannot be an accident; the Hand of G-D must have been involved.

There is a parable between gold and wax. Obviously gold is more valuable, but wax figures look more real than images cast in gold. Our sages taught that the difference between wax and gold is that under heat the seemingly real figures of wax melt away. So too by the wicked, there are those made of wax who look real, who speak of democracy, but when they are put to the test, the leaders of the United Nations are corrupt. They only look real.

Our sages have said that Jews were exposed for centuries to suffering that even mighty nations cannot handle. Every religion attacked them. Throughout history the pope was the leader of anti-Semitism; his talk of religion and peace was only wax; when it comes to good vs. evil, they melted.

At the end of the rebuke, in last week’s Torah portion, which all came true, Hashem says: “I leave you the Torah to live by.” It is a tree of life to those who grasp onto it.
Who is mighty? We can see the might of the United States crumbling down on camera.

The question is, will the United States remain wax, or change into a more durable kind of humanity?

This year does not even speak of the past but what will happen in the future.
We have to be “Standing today,” standing in recognition of The Holy One Blessed Be He.

We cannot speak to Hashem during the High Holy Days unless we have sincerity. A method of achieving this sincerity is to be around sincere people. People that stand next to one who learns with diligence or prays with proper intention catches it, it is contagious…

Ki Savo -What a Blessing!

The majority of this week’s Torah portion of Ki Savo discusses the blessings bestowed upon one who diligently observes the Torah and performs its mitzvos, as well as the curses meted out for transgressing them. Towards the beginning of the blessings the Torah says: “Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your animals; the offspring of your cattle and the flocks of your sheep and goats. Blessed shall be your fruit basket and your kneading bowl” (Devarim 28:4, 5).

The Rabbeinu Bachye observes that the Torah first discusses the blessing to one’s body, followed by the blessing to one’s food, but, when it comes to the curses it first mentions “your fruit basket” and then “the fruit of your womb.” The Rabbeinu Bachye says the reversal is to teach us that Hashem first punishes us through our property and, if we do not do teshuva (repent),He will then punish us on our bodies. The Rabbeinu Bachye concludes by citing a medrish that says that The Merciful One does not start with the soul when seeking retribution. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

One can understand why the curses start with one’s money and then progress to one’s body if he or she continues in their evil ways. We find elsewhere in the Torah an example similar to this by tzaraas. Hashem first strikes the house with tzaraas for the one who speaks loshon hara (slander). If it continues it spreads onto one’s clothes. If a person still persists in slandering others, only then will it spread to the person’s body. However, one would think that the ultimate blessing from the Almighty would first be to be blessed with wealth then to be blessed with children, in order to properly take care of one’s household without a moment of despair and stress;  so why the switch in order? It is understood that one must have trust in Hashem, that one will be able to support his family; but when speaking in terms of a blessing, one would think that they would be given in the most optimum manner. Especially a blessing from Hashem which the Rabbeinu Bachye a paragraph before describes as a blessing of things one does not have to run after, rather  the blessings will come to you, meaning there is not much effort needed to put into gaining these blessings besides fulfilling Hashem’s Torah and mitzvos.

It must be that even when talking in terms of the ultimate divine blessing, the number one blessing is having children, the continuity of life in this world. Everything else is secondary and there really is never anything else to be worried about especially if you are doing the right thing.

Ki Seitzei – Mental Health

In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei we find the mitzvah of yibum (levirate
marriage). The mitzvah of yibum applies when a married man leaves this world without children and the obligation to marry his widow falls upon one of his brothers. The Torah says that the reason for this mitzvah is “that his name not be blotted out of Israel” (Devarim 25:6). The Sforno explains: “For regarding the child born of this union, Hashem, The Exalted One, will consider it as if born as a result of the original marriage of the deceased, and the deceased brother does not have to remarry her.”

If none of the brothers wish to do yibum there is a mitzvah called chalitza which divorces or severs the link between the widow and her brother-in-law(s). This process is done by the woman taking off the shoe of her brother-in-law, which the Chizkuni says acquires for her the inheritance of her deceased husband, which the brother would have received if he had done yibum. She then spits in front of his face on the ground and says: “This is the way to treat the man who does not want to build his brother’s house” (Devarim 25:9).

The Chizkuni says she spits in front of him in order to humiliate him for being disgusted by her, in essence saying: ‘after you don’t desire me I don’t care for you; rather, you are no better than this spittle.’ The Chizkuni says the statement she makes is also to humiliate him in order to settle her mind. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

There is an obvious question that arises from this Chizkuni. How can this woman embarrass her brother-in-law like this, especially in the public eye, in front of the court and witnesses? He is still a human being, and we know that embarrassing someone is like killing them. It is better for one to jump into a furnace then willingly embarrass someone. Furthermore, doing it in public warrants no share in The World to Come, so how can the Torah justify such a thing and deem it a mitzvah which must be done if the alternative mitzvah of yibum is not fulfilled?

We see from here the importance the Torah gives to mental health. The Chizkuni says the reason for doing this is in order to emotionally calm the widow down (לישבה דעתה) . It is therefore considered worth the cost, under certain circumstances regulated by Torah law, to embarrass someone else for the mental health of the other.

We find a similar concept by loshon hara (slander). Loshon hara is a very severe sin which is the cause of the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash. Yet we find “there are time when Jewish Law permits listening to negative information which is no relevance to the listener or any of his acquaintances. Where the speaker feels the need to express his [or her ] anger or frustration for relief of emotional pain, one is doing an act of chesed (kindness) by hearing the person out and expressing understanding of his [or her] feelings” (See Chofetz Chaim A Lesson A Day, page 252). We see from here that one is permitted to vent if he or she feels he or she needs to and it is a mitzvah of chesed to listen to him or her and express understanding of their feelings.

We again see how sensitive the Torah is towards mental health even at the expense of what would normally be loshon hara.

Shoftim- Specialists and Advertisements

This week’s dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of my grandpa, Shmuel Shlomo ben Aharon, whose yahretzeit is this week. May his neshama have an aliyah.

דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום.

“His ways are pleasant ways and all His paths are peaceful” (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:18). With this verse The Rabbeinu Bachye starts his introduction to this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim.  He begins by recounting how King Shlomo, the author of Mishlei, is informing us through this piece that both the foundation and the main body of the Torah is peace, and even the main purpose of the creation of the world is peace. The Rabbeinu Bachye goes on for a very long time proving and enumerating, in great depth, how important peace truly is to Hashem. He concludes his introduction to the Torah portion by saying that just as peace keeps the world in existence, so too law and order (or justice) is what keeps the peace. Without law and order people would steal, connive, and kill each other, and the world would not last; through laws and order the world is able to exist. This is evident from a Mishna in Pirkei Avos 1:18: “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, ‘The world endures on three things: Justice, truth, and peace,’ as it is said: ‘Truth and the verdict of peace are you to adjudicate in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16). Since judges keep the peace upon which the entire world is dependent, the Torah therefore commands us to establish courts at each of our gates.

This is the intention of the first verse of the Torah Portion which says: “Judges and police, you shall give all your gates that Hashem your G-D gives to you for each of your tribes and they will judge for the nation righteous judgement” (Devarim 16:18). The Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to discuss the juxtaposition between the end of last week’s Torah portion, which deal with the yom tovim of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos, with the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, which deals with judges. He says that even though the Jews all come together three times a year in Yerushalayim, where they could ask their questions of Torah and mitzvah observance to Kohanim,Leviim, and other Torah teachers, it was still commanded as a mitzvah to appoint judges in each and every city.

The Rabbeinu Bachye then defines what a judge is and what police are. Judges are the sages who know religion and laws, and who give over judgements. Policemen enforce the law. They walk around the city with batons and whips, making sure no wrongdoing goes unpunished, and balancing weights and measurements in people’s businesses which need fixing. All this is done under the guidance of the judges. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We see from the Rabbeinu Bachye the importance of having a court system. Without it the world cannot exist, for peace only has a chance of existing through law and order, while law and order cannot be regulated or enforced without the courts. If there are disagreements, they can be taken to court. Judges can create fences, or issue edicts and decrees designed to reinforce the law, while the police are there to ensure that the law is being kept properly and honestly under the supervision of the courts. The stability of peace in the world, which is the foundation of Torah and the world itself, is a pretty noble reason to establish courts in every city and every district.  However, the Torah seems to give another reason why courts are needed everywhere, i.e.  in order for people to ask questions and get answers in Jewish Law and observance of mitzvos.

One can ask that if not for the first reason to establish courts in every city why would there be a need to establish courts everywhere? Granted, one could find all the Torah scholars together only three times a year, but torah scholars did not only live in Yerushalayim! They were spread out all over the country, living in their own home, running their own yeshivas or shuls, just learning by themselves, open and ready for anyone to go over and ask them a question. The Kohanim and Leviim were known to be the main teachers of Torah, and even though Hashem did not give them their own territory in Israel they were spread out in 48 Levitical Cities, throughout the Land of Israel. If that was the case, why would the courts need to be there for people to ask judges questions? Why couldn’t they go to their “Local Orthodox Rabbi,” posek, or Torah sage living nearby, without the necessity of an official court!?

Furthermore, once the Torah edict was in place for courts in order to keep the peace,why did the Torah go out of its way to emphasize another reason for the courts, which was to answer questions of the populace? Is not the first reason good enough to establish them everywhere!?

It would seem from here that the courts were sort of like a clinic specializing in answering questions on Jewish Law, and the Torah went out of its way to set them up and to advertise them, to ensure that people would ask questions in a timely fashion when  issues arise, and not push off the question until the gathering in Jerusalem, which only happened three times a year. If the courts would not have been set up and advertised for this very purpose, then people would not have had the same motivation to ask the questions in an appropriate and timely manner even if there were rabbis and learned sages available to ask.

We can learn a lesson from this, that outside motivation should be implemented in order to guarantee that things are being run correctly. Having special clinics and official specialists that are set up to deal with a specific problem, and advertising it, helps to resolve the issue. In this case, setting up courts in all the provinces and cities to not only regulate the law and deal with court cases which will keep the peace but to specifically be there to answer Torah questions and how to properly observe mitzvos, as well as advertising that that is what the courts are there for, will motivate people to ask the rabbi the questions they have and to seek out proper Daas Torah on a regular basis.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

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The beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Re’eh starts off  “Behold I give before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing is if you listen to the mitzvos of Hashem your G-D that I have commanded you today. And the curse is if you do not listen to the mitzvos of Hashem your G-d and you stray from the path that I command of you today to go after other gods which you do not know” (Devarim 1:26-28). The classic explanation for these verses is that Moshe is telling the Jewish people that fulfilling the mitzvos are a blessing and that not fulfilling them is a curse.
However the Medrish Tanchuma (parasha Re’eh, paragraph 3) presents a fascinating twist to Moshe’s message to the Jewish people: “Another interpretation to ‘Behold I…’ This is what the verse in Eichah chapter 3 refers when it says ‘Good and bad will not come out of the mouth On High.’ Rebbe Avin said: ‘At the time the Jews stood at Har Sinai, Hashem gave them the Torah, and from that time anyone who sinned, Hashem will exact punishment from them. But in the past whoever sinned, the generation would pay for their sin. By the generation of the flood, our Rabbis have said, there were many kosher people like Noach and they were wiped out with the generation. By the generation of the Tower of Babel there were sinners and even the children were punished. When the Jews stood at Har Sinai and Hashem gave them the mitzvos, He said, in the past the generation would exact punishment for the sin of one of them. For now on the generation will not be punished for one. This is what the verse ‘Good and bad will not come out of the mouth On High means.’ Rebbe Avin further said that this verse does not make any sense if taken on face value!? Rather it must mean there are no decrees from On High coming out, neither bad for the righteous or good for the evil. So too Moshe arranged before them two paths, the good and the bad, the path of life and the path of death, blessing and curse, in order that the wicked cannot say that Hashem just created the world and did not explain to us which way is good and which way is bad in order that we can abandon it (the bad) and come to the good. This is why Moshe said to them that the blessing is if you listen… and the curse is if you do not listen… This is comparable to a parable of an old man sitting at a fork in the road one path is thorny in the beginning and smooth in the end, and one is smooth in the beginning and thorny in the end. He sat at the head of both of them and warned the passersby and would tell them, even though you see the beginning of this way is thorny, go on it because the end is smooth. Anyone who was wise would listen to him and they would walk through it and would only have to work their way through a little bit. But those who did not listen to him would go and stumble in the end. So too, Moshe explained to the Jews and said ‘Here is the path of life and the path of death and you should choose life so that you and your offspring shall live.’”

The Etz Yosef points out that originally Rebbe Avin was explaining himself and said you cannot understand the pasuk (verse) in Eichah according to its simple meaning because how is it possible to even think that good and bad does not come from the mouth of Hashem, for who does declare it and make it happen; rather it must be as Rebbe Avin was explaining, that G-D will no longer decree bad on the righteous and good on the wicked. Not like it was in the past that everything was judged according to the generation and if the generation was not guilty there was good even for the wicked, so too the opposite, if most of the generation was guilty there was bad for the righteous as well. However after the giving of the Torah, where life clung with good and death clung with bad, then good did not happen to those who did evil and vice-versa. (Click here for Hebrew text)

It would seem, according to this medrish, that before the giving of the Torah reward and punishment were not exacted on the individual but were handed out to the generation as a whole. So if the generation as a whole was found mostly guilty then the whole generation suffered punishment.In fact, it would seem that there were other righteous people in the times of Noach and for some reason Hashem only chose Noach and his family to be saved but the rest of the generation was wiped out. On the other hand Chazal teach us that in the generation of Avraham they also deserved to be wiped out but Avraham’s merits outweighed all the evil and the whole world merited to continue to exist. This would also appear to be true for Avraham’s descendants; their merits qualitatively outweighed the evil in the world and the wicked merited continuing to exist all through Yitzchak, Yaakov, his 12 sons, and the generations of Jews in Egypt, until they came to Har Sinai. Hashem then said that if the Jewish people would not accept the Torah then the world would cease to exist, apparently because rejecting the Torah would make the generation guilty and there would be no point in the world existing.

However, once the Torah was accepted by the Jews at Har Sinai,everything changed. Reward and punishment were no longer handed out to the generation but were exacted on the individual. What changed? Moshe categorized and arranged life and death, good and evil, blessing and curse, but why wasn’t it done beforehand? The Torah was there in existence the entire time, Hashem having created the world using the Torah as its blueprint, something which was done 2000 years before the creation of the world! All one had to do was look around and figure out how to observe the Torah, as Avraham did. There were schools of thought regarding what was right and what was wrong, like the Yeshiva of Shem vi’Ever. Avraham not only taught his son Torah, and his son taught his son, passing it down from generation to generation, but Avraham also had many disciples who followed him. So why only by the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai did everything change, withreward and punishment became an individualized system rather than a generational system?

It would seem from here that without an organization an individual cannot be held liable for his behavior. Only once there is an official entity, a specific group of people, an organized religion, and an organized nation, can the expectation on the individual become greater. Until that point, an individual cannot reasonably be held responsible for his or her actions, because the highest degree of efficiency is not in effect. The giving of the Torah was a turning point in the world, where the Torah was finally recognized in an organized way as the official handbook for life. That is how it became the specific authority of reward and punishment. Before that point there was always a moral sense of good and evil in the world because the Torah always existed, and the generations could be judged as a whole, receiving reward for good morals and punished for bad morals. Majority is always a means to make decisions, in this case to exact reward and punishment, when there is no individual expectation. Judging qualitatively, in addition to quantitatively, the actions of mankind is a fare way to Judge, for Hashem can read into the hearts of every living being.

Organizations set the standard for the individual, and without them individual expectations are just thrown into the pot with everyone else.

Eikev – Formula for Success

Last week, in the Torah portion of Va’eschanan, we read the first paragraph of the Shema. In this week’s Torah portion of Ekev, we read the second paragraph of the Shema (11:13-21).
The Sforno has a very concise commentary on the second paragraph of the Shema, with what seems to be a clear message about Hashem showing us a formula for success in life: “’If you shall listen… that I will give the rain of your land…’ in a manner that you will find sustenance without pain and will be able to serve Him. And if not, He will give you no rain at all and you will have no food to sustain yourself. ‘And you will perish quickly…’ through famine which is worse than the sword, therefore ‘take heed for yourself…’ ‘And you shall place these My words on your heart’ to contemplate them, ‘and on your soul’ to fulfill them willingly. ‘And teach them to your children…’ to train your children in mitzvos, ‘to speak of them when you dwell in your house…’ so as to speak of them constantly.”
The Sforno is, in a nutshell, telling us that if we make the observance of mitzvos and doing of Hashem’s will the focal point of every aspect of our lives, then we will be met with success.

A point of interest is that it would seem that one needs to be able to first contemplate the mitzvos and then, as a second step, decide to willingly fulfill them. One would think that if someone spent the proper time in deep contemplation or התבוננות over a matter, then automatically he would want to fulfill it or live life by its edicts; why is it a two-step process? The Sforno was not talking about reading over and taking in face value, with just a glance, each mitzvah. To contemplate, להתבונן בם means to delve into each matter. To focus on a subject and get a level of clarity so clear that one sees every angle of the matter at hand. That is the proper method to engage contemplation or reflection. However, if that is  so, why then would one have to actively decide to fulfill the mitzvah after all that contemplation? It is understandable if one first has to choose to fulfill the mitzvah and then learn how to do it; but once a person has an appreciation of the beauty of the mitzvah after much concentration and study, one would think that the drive to fulfill it would be automatic!?

Imagine: a scientist or philosopher, working towards a goal for many years, who finally has a breakthrough which changes the world forever. Of course he believes in all of his research; all the time and effort, the minutia that was delved into (unless of course he is lying to himself and the rest of the world). Therefore it should be automatic that he would live by what was studied and proven for so many years!

It must be that a person has the ability to disconnect from the obvious; it must have been built into the nature of a person, and to their benefit, to need to actively decide to fulfill and run their lives according to all they have learned.

Vaeschanan – Unmistakable Clarity

שמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו ה’ אחד. “Hear o Israel the Lord is our G-D the Lord is one.” This statement of belief in Hashem is the most famous and important statement in all of Judaism, andit is found in this week’s Torah portion of Vaeschanan (6:4).

The Torah never writes anything extra and warns us to be very careful not to say Hashem’s name in vain. Yet the Daas Zekeinim asks why The Almighty mentioned His name three times in this one pasuk? (See also the Chizkuni on this pasuk. Click here for Hebrew text)

The Daas Zekeinim answers that if the Torah would only have written: “Here o Israel the Lord is one,” (שמע ישראל ה’ אחד) then every nation would have said that their god was the one. When the Torah writes “our G-D” ((אלקינו it is informing us that it is referring to the G-D of the Jews, whereas“The Lord our G-D is one” (שמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו אחד) could be interpreted to mean He is one of the many gods, and that  definitely would sound true if the Torah had only written “Our G-D is one” (שמע ישראל אלקינו אחד). However, now that the Torah repeats Hashem’s name three times, it means: ‘Hashem, who is our master, he is unique in mastership and there is no one else like Him.’

It would seem from this Daas Zekeinim that without the Torah spelling out as clearly as possible that Hashem is the only true G-D, Creator and Master of the Universe, then other nations might have a claim that this is untrue.

This sounds a bit puzzling; either we are talking about people who are making a concerted effort to believe in Hashem, which, in that case, there is no need to spell out this whole statement because by going through a logical assessment anyone can acknowledge that it only makes sense there that there is only one Creator of the world, Master of the universe, who has a divine plan for all His creation. And if the Torah is trying to convince others of Hashem, than by just stating it, it wouldn’t help, if they refuse to be willing to accept it. So why, again, would the Torah write extra words, especially if it’s Hashem’s Holy Name, if it doesn’t help any?

It must be that the Torah is talking to people who do understand that there is a concept of Hashem; but it is one thing to acknowledge that it makes sense, but it is a totally different thing to accept it. To accept that there is a G-D who created the world out of the Torah which he Himself created 2000 years before creating the world, and that he then handed over the blueprints of creation to the Jewish People as a handbook to life because we were the only people willing to accept it, and still in all he left the rest of the world with six general commandments to observe, to accept that is a whole different ball game.

That is why the Torah had to spell out without a doubt that Hashem our G-D Hashem is one. There is a big difference between knowing something and accepting it as fact.

Happy Tu B’Av and good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder


Tisha B’Av – A Reason Without a Reason

Tisha B’Av, a day of immense sorrow and crying, is upon us. How did it all start? Why have so many calamities happened to the Jewish People on this day?

The Gemara in Taanis 29a quotes a pasuk in Bamidbar 14:1, regarding the episode of the spies after they gave a slanderous report about the Land of Israel: “’The entire community raised their voices and shouted and the people wept on that night.’ Rabba said in the name of Rebbi Yochanan, ‘That night was the night of Tisha B’Av.’ Hashem said to them, ‘You cried a crying for naught and I will set for you a cry for generations.’”

My Rosh Yeshiva of blessed memory, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, explains, as found in the Chiddushei HaLev on Eichah, that it would appear from this gemara that the Jewish people were punished not only for a lack of faith in Hashem (and the crying was a symbol that they had lacked proper faith), but that they were also punished for crying “a cry for naught.” Meaning, the Jews really didn’t have a proper reason to cry, because Hashem would have saved them and protected them from any harm. That being the case, there was a claim against the Jewish people for crying “a cry for naught,” and it is forbidden for a person to be a “crybaby,” to bemoan and cry for no reason.

The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l asked a major question on this Gemara:why were the Jews punished for crying without reason? In their eyes they had a good reason to cry;they thought they would fall by the sword and their women and children would be taken captive! Even though this was  a mistake, still, in all, according to their logic, when they did not have complete trust in Hashem they had a good reason to cry. They weren’t “crybabies,” and they did not cry for naught?

The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l answered that it must be that the Jewish people were indeed punished for not acting appropriately and crying for no reason since in truth their lives were not in danger. They really had no reason to cry, forif the Jewish people had been on a level of proper trust in Hashem then certainly they would not have acted inappropriately by crying for naught and would not have deserved punishment. So too now, where the Jews were not on a proper level of trust in Hashem, they are punished for crying and they cannot absolve themselves of punishment by claiming they did not have enough trust in Hashem, for the sin of lack of faith cannot be an excuse for acting inappropriately.

Similarly the Chofetz Chaim writes in the introduction to his book (Sefer Chofetz Chaim, lav 6): “That one who speaks and accepts loshon hara or slander also violates the Torah prohibition of ‘Do not profane My Holy Name,’ for he does not have any desire or physical pleasure to speak slanderously which would cause his evil inclination to get the better of him, therefore this sin is considered like rebelling and removing the Yoke of Heaven and one is profaning Hashem’s Holy Name.”
My Rosh Yeshiva zt”l asked: how it is possible to think that one who speaks loshon hara does not get any benefit from his deed? We see day-in and day-out people enjoying speaking loshon harah!?

The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l answered that it must be that since this benefit stems from a negative character trait [i.e. gaavah or haughtiness], that one who spoke loshon hara cannot have a more lenient punishment just because he benefited from his actions. The reason being is that a negative character trait cannot exempt a person for acting inappropriately, therefore he is judged as if he transgressed without benefiting from it one iota, which is profaning Hashem’s Holy Name and rebelling against Him.

It would seem that an action stemming from a negative character trait like a lack of trust in Hashem or haughtiness is an act without reason. This is because there is no excuse for the sin. If a person was hungry and needed to sustain himself, but his desires got the better of him and he ate non-kosher food, that would be one thing. It is a sin, but not as bad as sinning without reason, because the action at least stemmed from a positive source and the evil inclination just got the better of him and convinced him to sin. But in the case of the Jewish People in the desert, the sin began with an acceptance of loshon hara, and since their crying for no reason did not stem from anything positive or needed, it was therefore judged as  without reason, just as speaking loshon hara is considered a sin without positive motivation since it does not stem from any positive desire or need which therefore deems it a chilul Hashem.

For this reason Hashem gave us a real reason to cry, which can only be rectified by annihilating baseless hatred and loshon hara from our being, in order to bring us closer to the Final Redemption, may it come speedily in our days.

Matos and Massei – Simply for the Love of Hashem

This dvar Torah is translated and expanded upon from the Chiddushei HaLev, shmuzzin given by Rav Henach Leibowitz zt”l who was Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim.
This week is a double parsha, Matos and Massei. This week also concludes Sefer Bamidbar (the Book of Numbers ). The Haftorah is a special one for the 3 weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, taken from Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah 2:5-8):
“This is what the LORD says: ‘What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.  They did not ask,`Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land of drought and darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’ I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. The priests did not ask, `Where is the LORD?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.”

The Radak explains that when posuk vav (verse 6) of Yermiyahu (Jeremiah) says: “They did not ask, ‘where is the Lord,’” they did not think to acknowledge and say to themselves ‘how can we serve other gods and where is the Lord who elevated us?’ Meaning: ‘How did we throw Him, secondary after our bodies and not turn towards him?’

The Radak further explains that in posuk ches (verse 8) the phrase: “The priests did not ask ‘where is Hashem?’” This meant that the kohanim who were before Hashem the entire day and brought offerings before Him should have said to the nation who was worshipping the idol Baal: ‘Where is Hashem that you worship others instead of Him?’”

It would seem from the words of the Radak that if the kohanim would have said to the nation “where is Hashem who took you out of Egypt,” the nation would have stopped worshiping idols.

There is, though, a tremendous question on this. Isn’t it known that in the time of Yermiyahu the Evil Inclination for idols was very strong? Why would anyone think that simply hearing words like these from the mouthes of the kohanim would work to prevent them from worshipping idols?

Rather, we must say that we see from here how implicitly powerful words of love for Hashem are. Even from the strong evil inclination of idol worship it was  possible to be victorious, with mere simple words which served to emphasize the great love Hashem has for the Jewish people, and how good it is when we are in love with Him. This realization is able to inspire a person to be successful over all hardship, to overcome the evil inclination, and to return to the Holy One Blessed Be He.

May we all focus on the abundance of love Hashem has for us and the love we can have for Hashem. In this way we will all merit to be redeemed speedily in our days and to observe Tisha b’Av as a holiday instead of a fast.

Pinchas – The Role of a Leader and His Followers

The dvar Torah is based on a shmuz I heard 15 years ago from Rav Moshe Chait zt”l in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Jerusalem.

In this week’s Torah portion of Pinchas we find out that Moshe will not be able to enter the Land of Israel.
“And Hashem said to Moshe: ‘Go up into this mountain of Avarim, and behold the land which I have given to the children of Israel. And when you have seen it, you also shall be gathered unto the people, as Aaron your brother was gathered; because you rebelled against My commandment in the wilderness of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify Me at the waters before their eyes.’–These are the waters of Merivat-kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. And Moshe spoke to Hashem, saying: ‘Let Hashem, the G-D of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them, and who may come in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in; that the congregation of Hashem be not as sheep which have no shepherd.’ (Bamidbar, chapter 27, verses 12-17).”
The Yalkut Shimone points out that the term “spoke” (דבר) is harsh terminology, meaning that Moshe spoke to Hashem with a demanding language. This tone parallels the way in which Hashem spoke to Moshe, as we find many times in the Torah: “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying.” This statement means that Hashem spoke to Moshe harshly, to ensure Moshe told the mitzvos to the Jewish People. Yet this is the only place we find Moshe talking this way to Hashem.

Rashi asks: Why does the Torah place this statement after Moshe found out he was going to pass away before entering the Land? Rashi answers, this is to show the righteousness of a righteous person, for they preoccupy themselves with the needs of the congregation before caring about themselves. Rashi implies that in his question he assumed that when a righteous person hears he is about to die he wants to perfect himself therefore Rashi answers that Moshe is not caring about himself rather he is dealing with the congregation.

What was the concern for the congregation? In verse 16 Moshe says “Let Hashem, the G-D of spirits…” Rashi asks why the phrase “the G-D of spirits” is mentioned here. He says that Moshe wanted to be sure a leader was chosen who could deal with everyone’s views and attitudes on their own personal level, a kind of leader that fights in the front lines rather than from a place of safety.

Rashi further points out that for this request Moshe asked G-D in a demanding or urgent manner. Why then does the verse end with the term “saying”? Rashi answers that Moshe was telling G-D I must know myself who will be the next leader. Moshe knew that a leader was integral to the lives of Israel.

Moshe finishes his speech saying “that the congregation of Hashem be not as sheep which have no shepherd.” A shepherd cares individually about every single sheep he watches.

HaRav Dovid Leibowitz ztz”l
, the found of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, said that a way to be a leader is not to be concerned about what others will think about you or your salary. Rather one must care about every single person amongst the Jewish people.

This applies to teachers as well. A rebbe has to be sure that he understands his students and that his students understand him.

When The Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz z”tzl, the son of Rav Dovid Leibowitz, who took over the Yeshiva after his father passed, would make his pilpul shiurim (Talmudic discourses) he would be sure to make them in a way that his students would know how to give them over just as he did. This was because if he prepared Torah and tells it over but it is not understood, he might have taken a load off his own back, but his students are now mixed up.

The Torah portion in chapter 28 concludes, after Moshe talking to G-D, with G-D talks to Moshe concerning the sacrificial offerings. Rashi asks, What is the reason for the juxtaposition of this topic with the topic of leadership that Moshe was just talking about? Rashi answers, “Hashem is saying that He must do His share but the Jewish people have to do their share as well.” If the Jews want a leader who will guide them properly they have to do their share to help out the situation.

We have to decide whether we are leaders or followers, and act accordingly.