One of the roles of the Kohanim in the times of the Beis HaMikdash was to be the teachers of Torah to the rest of Klal Yisrael. The last two pesukim of this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Toldos states: “True Torah was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. In peace and equity he went with Me, and he brought back many from iniquity. For a priest's lips shall guard knowledge, and teaching should be sought from his mouth, for he is a messenger of the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 2:6, 7).

The Radak expounds on the last pasuk, saying  “that it was proper for each Kohen that their lips are guarding the knowledge of mitzvos and statutes, by enunciating them with their lips  to the Jews, as it says in the Torah: ‘To show the Children of Israel all the statutes that Hashem your G-D spoke by the hand of Moshe,’ and it also says ‘Instruct the laws of Yaakov and Your Torah to Israel;’ therefore, Yisrael requests Torah from their mouth.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Torah, being the guide book of all mankind, given as a gift specifically to the Jewish people from Hashem, gives us the means to live life to the fullest , and when the Jewish people are aware of this they thirst for the knowledge of the Torah. Therefore Hashem set up instructors to properly instruct us in how to abide by the Torah. It would seem that the most practical way of going about showing everyone how to do the right thing is to verbally teach them what to do. This seems obvious , but what does the Navi mean when it says “For a priest's lips shall guard knowledge,” which the Radak interprets to mean “that it was proper of each Kohen for his lips to guard the knowledge of mitzvos and statutes?”  Why are lips needed to guard knowledge? How are they guarding it?

In the previous pasuk the Navi relates: , “True Torah was in his mouth,” referring to the Kohen, that Toras Emes, as the pasuk reads, should be in his mouth. But isn’t all Torah true? The Radak explains that just as Hashem’s Torah is in his (the kohen’s) mouth, meaning he teaches it to the public, so too it shall be in his heart, this is Toras Emes, a Torah of truth, meaning he should not be saying one thing but in his heart be thinking something else. Indeed, this fits perfectly into the next few words of the pasuk: “and injustice was not found on his lips.”

In order to guard the mitzvos from being lost they must be observed by the people. The only way to properly observe the mitzvos is to be taught them. However the only way they can be properly taught in a fashion that they will be well received and observed is if the one who is teaching them has his lips in sync with his heart. If they aren’t, then the message will not be delivered clearly and appropriately, which in turn would put the mitzvos in peril of not being observed, hence becoming lost.

This does not only apply to Kohanim but to all who teach Torah.

The beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Chayei Sarah recounts the death of Sarah Imeinu and her burial. The Pirkei DiRebbe Eliezer in perek 32 shares with us a very Interesting account of how Sarah Imeinu passed away, (Click here and here for Hebrew text):

“And when Avraham came back from Har HaMoriah, Samel got very angry, for he saw that his heart’s desire was not fulfilled to ruin Avraham’s sacrifice. What did he do? He went and asked Sarah, ‘Did you hear what news happened today in the world?’ She said to him, ‘No.’ He said to her, ‘Your old husband took the lad, Yitzchok, and brought him up as a burnt offering, and the lad was crying and wailing, for he wasn’t able to save himself.’ Immediately she started crying and wailing. She cried 3 cries which represent the 3 tekios and wailed 3 wails that represent the 3 sobbing sounds of the teruah and then her soul left her and she died. Avraham Avinu came and found her dead as it says ‘And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to cry over her’ (Breishis 23:2).”

Samel is the Angel of Death, otherwise known as Satan, the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination). He wanted to ruin the moment which made history and created so many merits for Avraham’s offspring. When it didn't work by the events of Avraham and Yitzchok, he turned to Sarah and the sudden shock and pain of hearing the news that her husband sacrificed their only child, which killed her. The Be’ur Maspik, by Rav Avraham Aharon Broida, says that Samel was not trying to lie to Sarah, for Avraham did bring Yitzchok as a sacrifice he just didn’t slaughter him, or the ram was an exact replacement of Yitzchok so it is as if he was slaughtered. At the very least Samel was definitely trying to trick Sarah.

(Parenthetically, the Be’ur Maspik points out that the shofar blasts we blow on Rosh Hashanah represent the cries and wailing of Sarah because the whole concept of Shofar on Rosh Hashanah is to remember Akeidas Yitzchok (the binding of Isaac) as it says in tractate Rosh Hashanah 16a therefore we sound these 6 blasts which represent the six sounds Sarah Imeinu made on account of the Akeidas Yitzchok.)

The Be’ur Maspik is bothered by why such a righteous woman as our first matriarch deserves to pass away in such an inhumane and cruel way; maybe not physically, but what might be worse, emotionally, and what seems to be before her allotted time of death without anyone around her to say their goodbyes.

To answer this issue he quotes a Zohar in parshas Pinchas which tells us something else quite scary. At the time Avraham made a big feast in honor of Yitzchok, as recorded in last week’s Torah portion, the Satan made negative accusations and prosecutions which led to Hashem decreeing that Yitzchok should be brought as an offering and decreeing Sarah’s death. Therefore, the Be’ur Maspik suggests that it is possible that when the Satan saw the first decree not fully go into action since the ram was a replacement for Yitzchok, he was concerned that the same thing would happen to Sarah and so he quickly approached her to shock and frighten her so that she would die through pain and suffering. He ends by saying that this must be correct, because if not, how can Sarah be taken away like this without any due judgement?

Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu certainly made this party as a seudas mitzvah, thanking Hashem for the precious gift He gave them after so many years of being childless. Their intent was to make a tremendous Kiddush Hashem to all who participated, which in fact was recorded as happening. . Yet with all the right intentions and positive reinforcement it would seem they went a tiny bit over board which opened the doors for the Satan to stake a negative claim against them which Hashem was forced to accept that led  to the decrees of Sarah and Yitzchok’s untimely death. It sounds like Yitzchok would have been killed in the binding if not for Hashem stepping in, essentially creating a loophole to undue the decree, but the Satan quickly followed through with Sarah’s decree, which Hashem certainly let happen, and she died in such a shocking way, all because she left the door open for the Satan to prosecute and enact strict judgement, a similar but slightly different concept to the evil eye (ayin hara).

The lesson is clear. Be careful when making a party or a simcha, whether it is a wedding, bar mitzvah, anything, to not go overboard. Avraham was very wealthy and prominent, it was certainly within his means, and there was room and valid expectations for it to be fancy. But there is a fine line between fancy and extravagant. Reminding oneself of what happened to Avraham and Sarah could be a trick used as a litmus test when making a simcha or party in order to not do too much lest one opens the doors to the Accuser and let him in to “dance” at the party.

 
If one googles “define proficient” they will get: “ADJECTIVE 1.well-advanced or competent in any art, science, or subject; skilled. NOUN 2. an expert.” If one googles “define efficient” they will get:, “ADJECTIVE 1. performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort; having and using requisite knowledge, skill, and industry; competent; capable.” Which one is better?

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Vayera, Avraham Avinu essentially single-handedly took care of his three guests “who happened to have” wandered by through the blazing hot sun of the desert. Why didn’t Avraham get help tending to their needs from his servants, especially if he was 99 years old, the third day from his bris, and possibly known as one of the most important people in his day?

The Torah when elucidating about this episode, saying: (?)“And to the cattle did Avraham run, and he took a calf, tender and good, and he gave it to the youth, and he hastened to prepare it. And he took butter and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and he placed [them] before them, and he was standing over them under the tree, and they ate” (Breishis 18:7, 8).

One of the lessons the Ralbag learns from here is that “it is befitting for one who does good to others to put in an effort to not overburden others with the goodness one is trying to give them, but rather one should pay his goodness in the most complete and nicest way for the receiver to accept. For this reason you find that Avraham upon seeing that these people were in a rush to go on their way and time had also come to eat, he therefore quickly prepared food and chose the most choicest food which would finish cooking in the least amount of time, that being a tender calf. It also wasn’t enough for one of his household members to choose what to eat, rather he himself chose because he wanted the choicest to be brought in front of them. He also first placed before them butter, and milk [with the bread (or matza)] so that they can start eating while waiting for their food to be prepared in order so that the delay won’t feel too burdensome.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Surely Avraham Avinu had highly proficient servants who could have taken care of those three guests, especially at that time. Eliezer, his head servant, was known to be a sage, Hagar was Pharaoh’s daughter, and all of Avraham’s devoted followers must have learned from Avraham how to emulate Hashem and act with pristine kindness. So why did Avraham Avinu take care of his guests essentially on his own?

It would seem that no matter how proficient his servants must have been, and no matter how old and in what state of health he was  or what kind of stature he held, Avraham Avinu still felt that the most efficient way to take care of his guests was to act on his own, even if it meant putting in a bit more effort while making sure it was done to their liking. This is because as a meitiv, a giver of good, par excellence, he understood that it was his responsibility to figure out the needs and wants of his recipients and to provide them in the choicest manner, that being efficiency at its best.

The underlying message being minimization of delegating responsibility as much as one can produces the best results.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

 

I recall that during my time in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Henoch Liebowitz zt”l, often said that if a person comes to you who is a beginner (ie he does not have a lot of Torah learning experience), you should start them off with Chumash and Rashi from the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Lech Licha,  because it talks about chesed [kindness], and anyone can relate to that.

The Torah portion begins: “And Hashem said to Avram, ‘Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you’” (Breishis 12:1-3).

The first Rashi on the Torah portion says: “לך לך” - go for yourself — for your own benefit, for your own good: there I will make of you a great nation whereas here you will not merit the privilege of having children (Rosh Hashanah 16b). Furthermore, I shall make known your character throughout the world (Medrash Tanchuma, Lech Lecha 3). (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In summary, Rashi in the next couple of pesukim discusses how Hashem guarantees family, fortune, and fame to Avraham even though traveling naturally decreases the chances of having children, stunts one’s fortune, and causes loss of fame. Not only was he guaranteed that the opposite would happen upon travelling to an unknown land but Avraham was guaranteed quadruple the reward for following Hashem blindly. He was also granted the gift of giving out blessings to others, which only Hashem was able to do up to that point.

At first glance these pesukim and Rashis seem to teach a better lesson in emunah and bitachon [having faith and trust in Hashem] than the lesson of chesed. Avraham had to make a tremendous leap of faith in order to leave his home town permanently to go to a far-off place, leaving his family. Even if he were guaranteed great reward who said it will come about? Avraham must therefore have had tremendous faith in Hashem; where then is the lesson of chesed in these pesukim?

However, when delving more into the subject, one can find the answer, and it is beautiful! One example, at the end of the first Rashi, is when he quotes a Medrash Tanchuma which says that Hashem guaranteed Avraham that his character would be known throughout the world if he followed Him to the unnamed place.

The Medrash Tanchuma elaborates: “’Hashem said to Avraham go for you,’ this is what the pasuk means when the pasuk writes, ‘Hearken, daughter, and see, and incline your ear, and forget your people and your father's house’ (Tehilim 45:11).  ‘Hearken, daughter, and see, and incline your ear,’ refers to Avraham, and ‘and forget your people and your father's house,’ refers to idolatry… ‘And the King shall desire your beauty’ (Tehilim 45:12), this refers to the King Of Kings He desires his beauty in this world and the Next World, ‘for He is your Lord, and prostrate yourself to Him’ (the end of this pasuk 12).Rebbe Avin said, this can be compared to a glass flask of oil mixed with fragrance lying in a cemetery and no one knows of its smell. What did they do? They took it and brought it from place to place and showed off the smell to the world. So to Avraham lived amongst idolaters and Hashem told him ‘go for you from your land and I will make your essence known throughout the world.’”

The Etz Yosef explains in the medrish that Hashem desired that Avraham would look nice in the world, in order to publicize his honor and glory in this world and the next. Since Hashem is his master, and since the servant is so great, so much more the greatness of his master; this will become known and His honor will be spread throughout the nations. Indeed, we know this actually happened and His honor was sanctified on High as well. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Based on this, the kindness being taught in these pesukim by Rashi is understandable. Imagine if a corporation gave its employees fancy clothes, delicious but healthy food, and a gym, including a pool for down time and exercise in order that their employees will look and feel their best in front of customers. Would you call that a chesed, a kindness, that the employer is giving the employees? Why not? Granted it is for the sake of enhancing the corporation, but it still makes the employees feel good and happy. By making the employees look good, it in turn makes the corporation look good in the public eye, which in turn increases revenue and value. Everyone wins!

All the more so with the Master of the World, King of Kings, Blessed be He, the Eternal one, who has no needs and only does for the sake of good. He wants his employees to look and feel their very best so that they will be a perfect example for the rest of humanity, and the world will realize it is worth emulating and following such pristine examples. What that means is that Hashem was in fact acting with incredible kindness towards Avraham by giving him the opportunity to represent Him and to show off his true colors.

This message does not only hold true for Avraham, but for all of his descendants as well. Hashem gave us the opportunity to be a “Light onto all other nations” and promised us an endless flow of blessing if we completely walk in His ways. What a chesed Hashem is doing for us. No wonder this is the first Torah learning that should be done with a beginner, a lesson in how much Hashem loves us and wants to act kindly with us by making us look and feel good through performing His mitzvos.

There is an obvious connection between this week’s Torah portion of Noach and its Haftorah in Yeshayahu perek 54. Yeshaya, prophesizing about the current exile relates: “’With a little wrath did I hide My countenance for a moment from you, and with everlasting kindness will I have compassion on you,’ said your Redeemer, the Lord. ‘For this is to Me [as] the waters of Noah, as I swore that the waters of Noah shall never again pass over the earth, so have I sworn neither to be wroth with you nor to rebuke you’” (Yeshayahu 54:8, 9). The Radak says that Hashem told the Jewish people that just as he swore not to bring a flood ever again to wipe out the world, so too there will never be an exile after this current one. The Malbim says that just as Hashem won’t destroy every creature on Earth with a flood ever again so too Hashem will never wipe out the entire Jewish people.
There is a fascinating Medrish Rabba in Breishis which quotes this pasuk at the end of the medrish. It says: “Another matter, it is written in Koheles (3:1): ‘For everything there is a set time and period for every desire under the heavens.’ There was a time for Noach to enter the Ark, as it says, ‘And all your household into the Ark,’ and there was a time he was supposed to leave it, as it says “Leave from the Ark.” This can be compared to a chief supporter who left his place and left someone in charge, when he came back he told his replacement ‘Leave from your place.’ This can be compared to a sage that left to some other place and left someone else in charge, once he came back he told the other person, ‘Leave from your place’. So to [Hashem told Noach] ‘Leave from the Ark.’ But he didn’t accept upon himself to leave for he said “If I leave and I will populate the world it will be for a curse.’ Then Hashem swore that He will never bring a flood to the entire world as it says ‘For this is to Me [as] the waters of Noah, as I swore that the waters of Noah’ (Yeshayahu 54:9)” (Medrish Rabba, Breishis 34:6). (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The Maharz”u has a number of interesting insights into this medrish. He says that the medrish is telling us there was a set time for Noach to enter the Ark, [not before or after,] and there was a set time for Noach to leave the ark, [not before or after,] and even though Noach desired to leave early and even prayed to Hashem to “get off this boat,” nevertheless he did not leave when he desired but rather when he was commanded to disembark.

The Maharz”u goes on to explain the parables the medrish relates about the chief supporter and the sage. Hashem is the chief supporter of the world, giving everything its proper sustenance. But when he brought the flood onto the world he gave the “keys of sustenance” to Noach and Noach was in full charge of feeding all the animals. That is how Noach had enough food to feed everybody; Hashem gave him the “keys” or means to do it. Hashem is also the ultimate sage who is able to figure out and differentiate between everyone and everything’s needs; how much food should be given at any one  time. Noach was given the task and lived up to the task of weighing and giving out food for each animal at their proper time, day and night, until Hashem said ‘your time is over and it’s time for you to give Me back the “keys” and leave the ark.’

The Maharz”u had a bit of difficulty understanding what happened next because it sounds from the medrish that Hashem promised never to bring a flood again while Noach was still on the Ark. But the Torah explicitly says that Noach first brought sacrifices to Hashem on dry land?! (Parenthetically the Maharzu points out, Noach sacrificed in Yerushalayim on the alter which Adam used to give offerings after he was banished from Gan Eden. This will also be where Avraham performs Akeidas Yitzchok and where the alter will be in the Beis Hamikdash. There is even a stone formation there to this very day!) Furthermore, didn’t we say earlier that Noach had a burning desire to leave the Ark to the point that he actually prayed to Hashem to leave, so why would he refuse to go when he was commanded to?

Therefore, the Maharz”u concludes that Noach certainly left when he was commanded to, but not with the proper intentions, for Hashem commanded Noach and his family to leave the Ark and procreate and replenish the world but Noach refused to procreate until after he brought sacrifices in Yerushalayim ,intending to arouse mercy from Hashem so that Hashem promised and swore he will never bring a flood to destroy the world ever again.

There is a blaring question one can ask on Noach’s thought process, for what was he thinking when he decided not to procreate the world if Hashem doesn’t take an oath to never bring a flood onto the entire world again? He wouldn’t be helping things one bit because once they die then there would be no one else on Earth just as if they would have children and their future generations would become corrupt and cursed and then be annihilated again. Either way ,the future would be lost; so what was Noach’s logic, why would his idea be any better than Hashem’s, lihavdil, if Hashem would not have sworn to never send a flood again? Furthermore why did Noach think not having anymore children would be a better solution then pain, suffering, and destruction? If in the future the generations break down so badly he can at least assume that something similar to his story  and someone would survive as he did, but according to his idea no one will survive, there won’t even be a chance for humanity to do good if he and his family would not have any more children. So why would he threaten such a thing?

The answer lies in a very difficult but important tenet in Judaism verses human psychology, the notion of why Hashem seemingly brings so much suffering into the world. In the eyes of man, pain and suffering is a horrid state which no one naturally would wish to live through or even observe. That is why Noach did not want to procreate the world, since the thought of future generations potentially going through the same destruction, pain, and suffering that he lived through would not be worth it,in his mind ,to be responsible for such a situation to potentially come about. What he didn’t realize was that his solution wasn’t any better or was actually worse, for a world without humanity has no purpose and that is the greatest evil. That is why Hashem specifically commanded Noach and his family to procreate, so that there will be purpose in the world.

In a similar vein we find in the Haggada that Lavan was potentially worse than Pharaoh for Lavan wanted to wipe out the entire Jewish people by killing Yaakov and his family whereas Pharaoh just decreed that all the boys should be thrown into the Nile. How can Lavan be worse than Pharaoh, who wrought so much pain and suffering onto the Jewish People? It must be that wiping out a whole race or family, leaving no purpose to there existence, is worse than all the pain and suffering Pharaoh brought upon us.

On a humanistic level it is understandable that one might think that suffering, pain, and destruction is the worst, and in fact it is nothing to sneeze at. But Divine insight understands that there is a purpose, an ultimate plan for such such pain, suffering, and destruction but ceasing to exist, which causes a loss of purpose,is much worse.

This dvar Torah for the Torah portion of Breishis is based on notes written of a shmuz I heard around 18 years ago from Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim at the time.
Now for some food for thought:

The world was built on kindness. The ethical ramifications of the creation of the world is a major theme that Chaza”l concentrate on.

By every day of creation the Torah says “It was good” except for the second day.
The Yalkut Shimone asks why it doesn’t say “It was good” on the second day. The medrish answers because machlokes or division was created on that day, as it says “and let it be a separation between water and water" (Breishis 1:6, also see pasuk 7). The word michalek in Hebrew means to divide. The creation was a positive factor; each stage was built on a previous stage; every day was an ongoing process. Here we see the language of dividing being used as breaking up the totality, and what divides the total. Even though parts make up a whole numerically, but when taken apart it cannot do anything by itself. So, to divide is a negative connotation; therefore it is not considered “it was good”.

If this was a machlokes or division which benefited the world and the Torah does not say “It was good” all the more so a division that brings disruption is not considered “It was good”.

The creation of the world reflects the elements of character traits and kindness that Hashem employed for the process of creation.

We are living in times of great division. In every corner of the world you find argument, war, etc. Everywhere technology is being developed and men are being creative, but this is just a cause for more fighting. This is because there is no real purpose for a scientist or secular person in what they do today. If people would do things for the sake of Heaven then there would be no violent fighting. People talk about unity but at the same time today there is the greatest disparity. We have to recognize the division between the secular world and the Torah observant world [in order to work to close the gap.]

On the other hand there are two times “It was good” is mentioned in the third day of creation. We find division this day also; the water and land are divided. But this is necessary in order to make dry land. A division between two unlikes is considered “It was good.”

Our Rabbis have taught that if there is division between land and water and “It was good” then definitely by man.

Chaza”l say there is a difference between what a person thinks and does. Man wants to be drawn to his friend and associates. It is a natural tendency to be drawn to what people in his or her country do. Therefore one should identify with righteous people and sages so that they will draw a lesson from their behavior. On the other hand one should distance themselves from the wicked and their darkness because there is always some magnetic force that draws one to bad.

As the Rambam is quoted to have said: “When dealing with man one must differentiate and compare people to choose who to allow to influence you.”


As Simchas Torah is the conclusion of reading the Torah, the Haftorah picks up from where we leave off, with the first perek of Yehoshua in the Navi. There is a very famous, oft quoted, pasuk which is one of the sources of the requirement to delve into learning Torah. The Navi writes: “This book of the Torah shall not leave your mouth; you shall contemplate it day and night, in order that you observe to do all that is written in it, for then will you succeed in all your ways and then will you prosper” (Yehoshua 1:8). (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Radak introduces to us an argument that took place amongst our Sages as to whether this pasuk is referring to a mitzvah to learn Torah for all people, even those that know the whole Torah in its entirety, or if it is a blessing.  The Radak also has two explanations of what “you shall contemplate it day and night” refers to. The first is that the Navi is reemphasizing the point after he said “This book of the Torah shall not leave your mouth” that “you shall contemplate it day and night,” which would mean that one should constantly be learning day and night at any time that he finds free from his matters of livelihood. The second is that ‘contemplation’ is referring to matters of the heart, as the pasuk in Tehillim says “And the thoughts of my heart” (Tehillim 19:15). (Click here for Hebrew text.)

“Contemplation of the heart” is referred to by Rashi as התבוננות, meaning focus or meditation. According to this interpretation it would seem that day and night refer to a 24/7 (as long as one is not in unclean areas) type of learning which does not necessarily need a sefer open to learn from, but rather wherever one goes they are contemplating and focusing on a case from or a line of the Torah. Anything, something, according to everyone’s own level, that he or she can take with them wherever they go. It is with them in their head to dissect, review, clarify, and make crystal clear; a matter of Hashem’s Torah, The Blueprints of Creations, and our Guidebook for Life.

The pasuk goes on to say that if one does focus and spend a lot of time on Torah learning, learning how to properly live one’s life through Divine guidance, then he or she will “observe to do all that is written in it, for then will you succeed in all your ways and then will you prosper.” The Radak observes that the words the pasuk uses for success areתצליח  and תשכיל which sound like success is in your hand; “You will be successful.” In truth, the Radak says that even though success is not dependent on man, rather by observing Hashem’s Mitzvos they will be rewarded with success coming to them, however it is as if he paved the way for his own success.

It would seem from this Radak that the reward of success is only truly valued if one feels like he is producing it, not just that success is simply coming to him; he must know he is successful. What also follows is that an honest, successful person must live with a paradox. On the one hand, since he or she has learned so much and have dedicated their entire essence to following and trusting in Hashem’s word, living and breathing it, understanding it and practicing it, than they know full well that success in one’s life, the feeling of peace and tranquility, wealth, happiness and health, all of it comes from Hashem, as a reward for observing His mitzvos. Yet, on the other hand, how can one feel the pinnacle of success, if that means feeling that he or she created it themselves?

In reality, what this means is that one must for sure intellectually know that everything comes from Hashem, and all the effort one puts in to everything in life is answered with results from Hashem. However, Hashem gives us the ability to emotionally feel that we accomplished and are successful, and that is the ultimate reward in this world! Hashem gave us the ability to make that proper balance of knowing and being confident that success ultimately comes from Him but we still feel that sense of accomplishment with our hearts and that balance is one of the tests Hashem expects us to succeed in!

In this week’s Torah Portion of Ha’azinu we read the Song of Moshe, which he proclaimed before his death. In the haftorah we read the Song of Dovid from Shmuel Beis perek 22. What is interesting to note is that we can find The Song of Dovid almost verbatim in Tehillim perek 18. In Shmuel Beis “The Song” ends “He Who is a tower (מגדיל) of salvation to His king and does kindness for His anointed, to David and his descendants forever” (Shmuel Beis 22:51). In Tehillim the song ends slightly differently in the beginning of the pasuk: “He Who makes great (מגדול) the salvations of His king…” (Tehillim 18:51).

This pasuk is mentioned towards the end of birkas hamazon. On weekdays we say “He Who makes great…” and on Shabbos, Yom Tovim, and Rosh Chodesh it is read: “He Who is a tower…” The Etz Yosef says that the phrase from Tehillim was chosen for the less holy, weekdays because it was written before King Dovid became king. The phrase from Shmuel Beis was composed when King Dovid was at the peak of his greatness, and it therefore better suits Shabbos and Yomim Tovim.

The Yalkut Shimone in Shmuel Beis, paraphrasing a Medrish Shochar Tov in Tehillim, recounts: “’He Who is a tower of salvation to His king:’ At the time that Hashem acts with kindness towards Dovid, Heaven and Earth rejoice, as it says after this, ‘The Heavens speak of the honor of Hashem” (Tehillim 19:2). So too, at the time that Hashem prepares the throne of Dovid, all will rejoice, as it says ‘Until eternity I will prepare your offspring’ (Tehillim 89:5). What does it write after that? “And the heavens acknowledge Your wonder’ (Tehillim 89:6). One pasuk says ‘makes great’ and the other pasuk says ‘Who is a tower’. Rebbe Yudan says this is because the salvation of our nation does not come all at once; rather it grows greater and greater. What does ‘Who is a tower’ refer to? That He makes the King Moshiach like a great tower. ‘The name of the Lord is a tower of strength; the righteous runs into it and is strengthened.’ (Mishley 18:10).”

If you delve into the Medrish Shochar Tov on Tehillim, it elaborates a bit more when discussing what it means when it says that Moshiach will come little by little. “Rebbe Yudan said that because the redemption of this nation does not happen all at once, rather little by little, then what does ‘makes great’ refer to? That it [the salvation] grows bigger and bigger before the Jews, because they are now wallowing in great anguish and if the redemption would come instantaneously they would not be able to withstand the great salvation which comes through such anguish, therefore it comes little by little and grows greater and greater. This is why the redemption is compared to dawn as it is written, ‘Then your light shall break forth as the dawn’ (Yeshayahu 58:8). Why is it compared to dawn, for there is no greater darkness then the time right before morning and if the ball of sun would just pop up at that time all species would go blind, so rather at dawn a ray of light first enlightens the world and then the ball of sun rises and sheds light and no species is blinded as it says, ‘But the way of the righteous is like the light of dawn; it shines ever brighter until the day is perfect’ (Mishley 4:18).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Imagine at this very moment, poof, Moshiach shows up. Redemption is here. Every Jews returns to our homeland in Israel, peace takes root all over the world, “no nation will lift up sword against nation,” the lion and sheep will live amongst each other, the ultimate in peace and harmony in the world! Wouldn’t it be bliss?! Wouldn’t it be worth it to happen at any moment? What could be wrong with a perfect state of existence?

Many people, upon being liberated from the Nazi concentration camps, were given a hearty meal by their emancipators. This they quickly consumed;  but their fragile bodies were not able to handle food in that quantity, and they perished. Similarly, this is what the Medrish is referring to, but on a psychological level. If salvation, which is likened to the “great tower” of Moshiach would come for the downtrodden Jews out of the blue, then the effects of going from such a state of suffering to the opposite end of the spectrum, perfect bliss, would be devastating. Barely anyone would be able to handle such a rollercoaster; therefore, the Medrish says that Hashem’s plan is to prepare us little by little for the coming of Moshiach, so when we are ready we will be able to embrace such a lofty and perfect existence, without going from one extreme to another.

One can ask, and often does ask, why Hashem puts us through all this suffering to begin with. This can be answered with another parable. Have you ever observed chulent cooking or a soup in the process of being made? The raw, unrefined ingredients are put into a pot with liquid and spices to help it taste good and to transform it into something edible. Then the heat causes all the food to boil up and get scalding hot. Everything is tossed around, things bumping into each other, sometimes even spilling over, but in the end, more times than not, you have a delicious chulent or soup. All those violent turns and motions in the pot transform an imperfect, raw dish, with the right ingredients, into a savory delicious delicacy. So too Hashem puts us “through the ringer” even in the most treacherous circumstances, in order to refine and smooth out all our imperfections, clear away all the impurities, so that we will be ready for a time when everything will be in a perfect state of existence.

May we be in tune with the steps Hashem is taking to making great our coming salvation in due time, perhaps even proactively work on ourselves to speed up the process so we will be rightfully prepared for the coming of Moshiach and the tower of salvation for His king.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

 

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Shuva, based on the opening line of the Haftorah: “Shuva Yisrael od Hashem Elokecha” (Hoshea 14:2). It deals with the topic of teshuva, repentance, which is why it was chosen to be read between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. What is unique about this Haftorah is that it spans three of the Minor Prophets, Hoshea, Yoel and Micha. The first pasuk read from Micha states: “Who is a G-d like You, Who forgives iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His anger forever, for He desires loving-kindness” (Micha 7:18).
One of the 13 attributes of Divine Mercy is “Forgiver of Iniquity,” which is mentioned in this pasuk. This attribute refers to Hashem forgiving an intentional sinner. The Yalkut Shimone on this pasuk refers to a gemara in Rosh Hashana 17a: “Raba said: He who forgoes his right [to exact punishment] is forgiven of all his iniquities, as it says, ‘Forgiving iniquity and passing by transgression.’ Who is forgiven iniquity? One who passes by transgression [against himself]. R. Huna the son of R. Joshua was once ill. R. Papa went to inquire about him. He saw that he was very ill (on his deathbed) and said to those present, make ready provisions for his [everlasting] journey (i.e. his burial shrouds). Eventually, however, he [R. Huna] recovered, and R. Papa felt ashamed to see him. He said to him, ‘What did you see [in your illness]?’ He replied, ‘It was indeed as you thought, but the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them [the angels]: Because he does not insist upon his rights, do not be particular with him,’ as it says, ‘Forgiving iniquity and passing by transgression.’ Who is forgiven iniquity? He who passes by transgression.” Rashi explains that since he relinquished his right to exact retribution for the wrongs done to him, Hashem’s Attribute of Justice relinquishes its rights to exact punishment on him for his sins. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The conundrum this evokes is that how could Hashem, whose total essence is truth, simply ignore a blatant sin deserving of punishment? Isn’t that an injustice, a lack of honesty right there? It would seem that Hashem even acts in this fashion towards someone who has not fully repented and erased his sin, but simply overlooks the wrongs done to him by anyone else. Where is the justice and honesty here?

We know that Hashem must be acting with proper justice, and that He is also not simply ignoring a rebellion which should be taken care of. The logic must therefore be that Hashem, when exacting reward and punishment, always acts measure for measure. Therefore, in this case, acting measure for measure dictates that if this person overlooks wrongdoings done to him by other people then Hashem rightfully overlooks the wrongdoings committed by individual towards Him! This goes as far as to say that someone who deserves to die from a deadly illness might be given an extension of life, as the gemara above shared.

At this time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it is worthwhile to focus on this concept in the 13 attributes of Mercy which we proclaim in our slichos and Yom Kippur davening. We should apply it to ourselves so that just as we overlook others’ iniquities against us, Hashem will overlook our iniquities against Him, even if, for some reason, we don’t achieve the required level of complete repentance.

 

This week’s Haftorah is the last of the Haftorahs of Comfort read in the weeks after Tisha B’Av, depicting the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash when Moshiach comes, including the ingathering of all the Jews from exile. In the middle of the Haftorah we have the famous pasuk: “On your walls, O Yerushalayim, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night, they shall never be silent; those who remind the Lord, be not silent” (Yeshayahu 62:6).

This pasuk is expounded upon in the conclusion of the 9th perek of Gemara Menachos: “On your walls, O Yerushalayim, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night, they shall never be silent; those who remind the Lord, be not silent. What do they say? — Rabba son of R. Shila said. [They say,] ‘You will arise and have compassion upon Tzion, for there is a time to favor it, for the appointed season has arrived.’ (Tehillim 102:14).  R. Nahman b. Isaac said, [They say,] ‘The Lord builds up Yerushalayim’ (Tehillim 147:2). And what did they say before this (before the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash)? — Raba son of R. Shila said, [They used to say.] ‘For the Lord has chosen Tzion; He has desired it for His habitation’ (Tehillim 132:13).” Rashi points out that in the future the “watchmen” will also be saying the pasuk of “For the Lord has chosen Tzion,” as the Iyun Yaakov observes: this is alluded to in the next pasuk: “This is my resting place forever,” referring to the future when there will be no more exile and destruction.The Maharsha explains who these “watchmen” are: “They are the angels who give a positive account of the Jews and convince Hashem to be gracious on the Jews so that they will be redeemed from exile, speedily in our days.” The Maharsha goes on to recount that in the day and night these angels declare these pesukim, as it writes: ‘Today, if with his voice you will be heard’ for every day is the time and the appointed season has come for the redemption, (explaining the first pasuk). Also, when it says “builds up Yerushalayim,” the present tense is used, for every moment in time is the potential moment of the redemption (explaining the second pasuk). The Maharsha concludes that the pasuk said before the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash which will also be said once it is rebuilt, speedily in our days, refers to the fact that Hashem chose Tzion in this world and desires it to be His “permanent abode” in the World to Come. (Click here for Hebrew translation.)

If the angels are constantly pointing out our merits and showing Hashem that we deserve to be showered with His grace and redeemed from the ongoing exile, why then hasn’t Hashem, the All Powerful, All Good, with one of His attributes of mercy being graciousness, redeemed us already?We must say that Hashem who is also All Knowing understands that if he were to redeem us now then it wouldn’t be with the utmost of grace, as we have the ability and potential to be more deserving of redemption. If Hashem redeemed us before the best possible time, then our lives in The World to Come could not be fully appreciated or enjoyed, as it will be when we are redeemed at the opportune time.

This is alluded to from a gemara I quoted in last week’s Food for Thought: “Rebbi Yochanan said, “The son of Dovid (Moshiach) will come in a generation which is either entirely innocent or entirely guilty. Entirely innocent as it says ‘And your people, all of them righteous,’ entirely guilty as it says ‘And He saw that there was no man, and He was astounded for there was no intercessor’ (Yeshayhu 59:16) and it also says ‘For My sake, for My sake I will do etc.’ (Yeshayahu 48:11)” (Sanhedrin daf 98a). (Click here for Hebrew text.)

This gemara seems to indicate that Moshiach will come if the Jewish people will be fully ready and deserving to receive Moshiach (which the Maharsha in that gemara says will be when we all choose to do complete repentance on our own). We can then assume, being that Hashem is All Good and Gracious, that that must be the most optimum time, when Hashem will send Moshiach, so that we can then appreciate to the maximum his presence, and the new state we will be in. However if, G-D forbid, we sink so low that there is pretty much no hope in ever reaching perfection by ourselves, then Hashem, without a choice, will indeed redeem us for the sake of his Holy Name lest a tremendous chillul Hashem will take place (the Maharsha says that Hashem will achieve this by sending a king the likes of Haman to force us to repent and be deserving of redemption).

We are on the eve of a new year and Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgement, is upon us. May we all, every Jew as a whole, finally come together in true repentance, and be judged to be inscribed in the eternal Book of Life.