This Shabbos is called Shabbos Chazon after the beginning of the haftorah: “Chazon Yeshayahu ben Amotz”. Yeshayahu bemoans the state of the Jewish people in his time: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord has spoken; Children I have raised and exalted, yet they have rebelled against Me. An ox knows his owner and a donkey his master's trough; Israel does not know, my people do not concentrate. Woe to a sinful nation, a people heavy with iniquity, evildoing seed, corrupt children. They forsook the Lord; they provoked the Holy One of Israel; they drew backwards” (Yeshayahu 1:2-4). A very apropos selection for the haftorah before we fast in mourning over the destruction of both Batie Mikdash (Holy Temples).
The Ibn Ezra points out that the Jews are specifically compared to an ox and a donkey because they were always found around people. The lesson of the posuk being, “that these animals are better in knowledge than them… because I raised them (the Jews) and they don’t recognize me” (Ibn Ezra on Yeshayahu 1:3). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Yeshayahu seems to be specifically comparing the Jews to an ox who knows his owner and a donkey who knows his master’s trough because they can most relate to the lesson that he is trying to teach them. He is saying that the ox and donkey recognize their owner and master, follow their commands, and trust  in the way they take care of them. However the Jews are not good servants following their Master and trusting in His care; rather, they have forsaken Hashem and forgot who raised them and turned them into a nation.

It would be understandable if the Ibn Ezra pointed out how the Jews act differently than how an animal acts towards its owner; however the Ibn Ezra says that  animals are better in knowledge than the Jewish people. How can that be? Even if a human being is rebellious he can still talk, has free choice, and thinks on a more complex level than any animal. So how can the Ibn Ezra say that animals were more knowledgeable than the Jews just because they instinctively follow and don’t disobey their master who trained them and raised them?
We must say that of course the Jewish people were more knowledgeable and smarter than animals. Butin respect to the natural, basic instincts of one trusting and following their master,  they were inferior to animals.

Domesticated animals have the innate ability to bond with their owner. They know their owner will always feed them and give them shelter. They always know where to go back to, how to return home. They follow the commands of their master once they are taught and instructed to do so. A human being also has the ability to be trained to act on instincts. It is called habit. There are good habits and bad habits. If a person does not train himself to trust in Hashem and follow in His ways then his knowledge of his Master in Heaven is worse than an animal’s knowledge of its master.

An animal does have an easier time  following its owner because it is programmed to do that, especially if it has incentives like food or a leash. But a human is endowed with free choice and Hashem purposefully makes it more challenging for one to do the right thing so that he will earn a greater reward for serving Hashem properly. Hwever it seems that we have the ability to and indeed are expected to, reach the level of having complete faith in our Master in Heaven and fulfill His will, just like an animal does and more so. The fact that we have to put in more effort to serve our master makes us greater than any animal. It is just that if we don’t trust and follow our master, the knowledge the animal has of his master is better than our knowledge of our Master.

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Why is it that the Jewish people are considered the Children of Hashem? Isn’t everyone created by Hashem, and therefore wouldn’t Hashem be the father of all of creation?  The answer to this question is found in the Radak on the last pasuk of this week’s haftorah. The haftorah is the second of three special haftorahs read during the Three Weeks, culminating in Tisha B’Av. It is mainly from the second perek of Yirmiyahu, but the last verse for Ashkenazim is in Yirmiyahu 3:4 and says: “Will you not from this time call Me, ‘My Father! Master of my youth are You!”

The Radak says that based on how the pasuk is read, Yirmiyahu is telling the Jews: ‘Isn’t it that now that the rain has stopped and there is a drought you should have returned (repented) to Me and call Me, ‘My father, Master of my youth are You’ who raised them in their younger years which refers to the exodus from Egypt which is when the Jews entered under the wings of the Holy Presence and they were taught the knowledge of Torah and wisdom.’ (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
In the first paragraph of the Shema we say at least twice a day: “You shall teach them to your sons” (Devarim 6:7). Rashi on that pasuk says that the sons referred to are students, and we find in many places that students are called sons. In Bamidbar it says: “These are the descendants of Aharon and Moshe” (Bamidbar 1:3). Rashi there points out that Moshe’s children aren’t mentioned, only Aharon’s. This teaches us that one who teaches another’s son Torah is considered as having given birth to him.

This is why the Jewish people only are referred to as Hashem’s children. Since Hashem gave us the Torah and taught it to us, he transformed us, His students, into His personal children.

However there is a blaring question on the Radak. The Radak, mentions (based on the previous perek which we read in the Haftorah), that there was a famine in the land, and it should have aroused the Jewish people to do teshuva and return to their Father In Heaven, and they would all proclaim “‘My Father! Master of my youth are You!” Wouldn’t it make more sense that a famine would stir up repentance out of fear of the Almighty, All Powerful Hashem Elokim, and they would proclaim ‘Master Of The Universe, King Of All Kings are You?’ Why would they turn to Hashem out of His attribute of being a father and teacher through their punishment of famine, rather than Hashem’s attribute of royalty and power?

It seems that an act of rebuke more likely elicits a response of fatherhood and love as opposed to kingship and awe. We see from here what a profound and impactful impression a teacher can have on his students to the extent that he is viewed as the student’s own father and is the natural response when faced with Divine reproach.

This week we read the first of three Haftorahs that discuss the downfall of the Jews in Israel during the first Beis HaMikdash, ultimately culminating in the Babylonian exile and Tisha B’Av. The first Haftorah takes place in the beginning of Yirmiyahu. The Haftorah concludes: “And the word of Hashem came to me saying: Go, and cry in the ears of Yerushalayim saying, Thus says Hashem, ‘I remember to you the lovingkindness of your youth, the love of your nupitials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown. Israel is holy to the Lord, the first of His grain; all who eat him shall be guilty, evil shall befall them,’ says the Lord” (Yirmiyahu 2:1-3).

on pasuk 2 teaches us that when the pasuk says “I remember you,” it is saying “were you to return to Me, I would desire to have mercy on you for I remember the loving kindness of your youth and the love of the nuptials of your wedding canopy, when I brought you into the wedding canopy… Now what was the ‘loving kindness of your youth’? Your following My messengers, Moshe and Aharon, from an inhabited land to the desert without provisions for the way since you believed in Me.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Hashem the Almighty and infinite who does not need our kindness; yet innate in the definition of His being is the natural desire to give and love. Yet Hashem knows that it is only truthful and appropriate that we show that we deserve it. Indeed, once we show even the smallest hint, the size of a pinpoint, that we desire Him, Hashem reciprocates with a plethora of love and kindness. He does this because He focuses on all the good that we showed Him in our youth, when we first came out of Egypt and accepted the Torah on Mount Sinai. Like a man and woman getting married, we followed Hashem like a kallah who is in love and enraptured with her chosson.

What was this kindness? We didn’t give Him anything, and we didn’t do anything for Him. What did the Jewish people do? They just left with enough food to last them thirty days, knowing it would eventually run out. They did leave a place that though was rampant with much grief and strife was still called home. They were settled and had plenty of food to go around. When they left that place of turmoil which they called home to blindly follow Hashem’s messengers, Moshe and Aharon, they followed them into an utterly barren desert where there was no food and drink to be naturally found. What kind of kindness is that towards Hashem?

Yet by leaving their homes and guaranteed food with only blind faith and unquestionable trust in Hashem, that was the chesed they did. We see from here an added dimension in doing acts of kindness. One does not have to do a physical act for someone else; just trusting another is a form of kindness, because you are making them feel good that they are trusted. Granted, Hashem doesn’t need us to make Him feel good by trusting him, but He is teaching us a valuable lesson that we should apply in all circumstances: that when we trust someone else, we are doing to him or her an act of kindness.

So next time you are thinking about trusting an employee, a friend, or a child, remember you are doing a chesed, and act of kindness, if you do so.
(Note: Granted with human beings your choice to trust him or her must be taken with a grain of salt because no one is perfect but if you don’t perceive anything that could go wrong, rather you are just nervous, remember it’s a chesed. However certainly knowing you are getting double reward, for a chesed and for trusting in Hashem, should be an impetus to grow in faith and trust of the Almighty.)

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The Gemara at the end of Makkos, daf 24a, is the first written source of the age-old knowledge that there are 613 mitzvos in the Torah. The gemara goes on to discuss how King David listed 11 leading virtues to focus on in order to help one follow the Torah.  Micha reduced it to 3 leading virtues as the gemara states: “Micha came and reduced them to three [principles], as it is written, ‘It has been told to you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord has require of you: [1] only to do justly, and [2] to love mercy and [3] to walk humbly before Hashem.’ ‘To do justly,’ that is, maintaining justice; and to love mercy,’ that is, rendering every kind office; ‘and walking modestly before your God,’ that is, walking in funeral and bridal processions. And do not these facts warrant an a fortiori (kal vachomer) conclusion that if in matters that are not generally performed in private the Torah enjoins ‘walking modestly,’ is it not ever so much more requisite in matters that usually call for modesty?” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The attribute of modesty which Micha has as his third virtue, says the Maalos HaMiddos, is one of the most important and virtuous attributes one can attain. This is demonstrated by the fact that it was one of the three virtues listed by Micha. Not only that, but it also protects a person from the evil eye, and saves a person from sin (Maalos HaMiddos, in the beginning of the Attribute of Modesty).

These three virtues in Micha are mentioned in the last pasuk of this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Balak. In the Haftorah, we find that Hashem is very upset at His people for straying from Him, but has not totally given up on them. Indeed, he gives them these three virtues to focus on in order to rebound, namely: “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; but to do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your G-d” (Micha 6:8). Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

there says, in his second interpretation: “Another explanation: ‘And walk discreetly.’ The standard of flesh and blood is not like the standard of the Holy One, Blessed Be He. The Standard of flesh and blood is: If one man embarrasses his fellow and comes to placate him, the fellow says to him, ‘I will not accept your apology until so and so and so and so, before whom you disgraced me, come.’ But the Holy One Blessed Be He, desires only that the man's return to Him be between the two of them (based on a Pesikta d'Rav Kahana 163b).”
Rashi is trying to explain the third virtue of “walking discreetly,” which normally means to be modest, and how it fits, in context, with the flow of the Navi.

However, what does accepting an apology in private have to do with modesty? It fits better with the lesson of not bearing a grudge or not taking revenge, as the emphasis seems to be not to embarrass the one who is apologizing. So what does this have to do with modesty, which normally means to do things in a manner which does not garner any, or at least minimal, attention to oneself?

Elsewhere, in the Maalos HaMiddos, it says: “They asked a wise man what is modesty, and he answered one should always ascribe to the Torah, take care of his monetary business, do what he is obligated to do, and act with humility when observing the Torah, wisdom, acting properly, how one eats, and deals with harsh circumstances. Someone else said modesty is distancing oneself from sin because a person is not modest if his ‘clothes’ aren’t white… Included in the ways of modesty is being a giving person, and accepting loved ones with a smile in a joyous fashion, showing them love, fulfilling what they desire, and feeling their pain.” Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

What does all this have to do with modesty? On the contrary, smiling and showing emotion could attract more attention? Revolving one’s life around the Torah and having honest business dealings is fundamental to truth and doing Hashem’s will; what does that have to do with modesty?

It would seem from this Rashi and Maalos HaMiddos that the proper definition of modesty is doing what is right for the sake of what is right whether anyone is watching or not. When one steps over the line and does something inappropriate like trying to embarrass the person who is asking forgiveness and repenting, or one who looks and feels sad around loved ones for no apparent reason, or dishonest business, or a lack of humility, all are signs of immodesty which just happens to attract more attention than just doing the right thing.

Every day when thanking Hashem for giving us the ability to learn Torah we make the blessing “…to engross ourselves in the words of Torah.” Why don’t we just thank Hashem for letting us learn Torah; what is so special about being engrossed in the words of Torah?
We find an illustration that answers this question, in this week’s haftorah for the Torah portion of Chukas, which takes place in the Navi of Shoftim. Yiftach was a tzadik (righteous person) who eventually became the leader of the Jewish people and Hashem even endowed him with the special strength and bravery needed to defeat the nation of Ammon. Before the battle he swore to Hashem that if he was victorious he would sacrifice the first living being that he sees come out of his house on the way home from battle. What came out of his house, to his horror, was his daughter singing and dancing for joy over his victory. In the end he felt he must fulfill what he swore and he sacrificed his daughter (Shoftim perek 11).
The Yalkut Shimone paraphrasing a Medrish Tanchuma in Bechukosai relates that four people made a request in an inappropriate manner. One of them was Yiftach, and because he wasn’t a ben Torah he lost his daughter. This is what the pasuk in Mishlay meant when it said: “The fruit of a tzadik is the tree of life and one who takes souls is wise” (Mishlay 11:30). A person could be righteous but if he is not engrossed in Torah he has nothing, for from within the Torah he learns how to “take souls.” Yiftach’s daughter said to him: “Lest one might think the Torah writes that they can sacrifice souls, doesn’t it write ‘from a domesticated animal from the flock”? Yiftach said to her: “I made an oath and you came out!” She said to him: “Yaakov our forefather swore, ‘and all You will give to me I will tithe to you’ and Hashem gave to him 12 tribes do you think he sacrificed one of them, and we never heard about it?” She continued: “Leave me alone and go to court, maybe they will find an excuse to annul your vow.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Zayis Ra’anan observes that he really didn’t need to find an excuse to annul his vow, but rather she just said this hoping he would go to court and they would tell him he does not have to sacrifice her. (What is interesting to note is that he did go to court and the way a decision is made is largely based on how one formulates his or her question, so Yiftach asked his question in a form of wondering if they can find an excuse to annul his vow, and they could not find one).

What should Yiftach have done? The Yalkut Shimone goes on to list an argument about what he should have done: Rebbe Yochanan says her monetary value was sanctified and had to be donated to the Mishkan. Reish Lakish says Yiftach wasn’t even obligated to donate her value.

In any event, the Etz Yosef on the Medrish Tanchuma says that Yiftach should have been more specific when making an oath or he should have been more knowledgeable when making this type of oath that in the event he might have to sacrifice a person it is giving the person’s value to the Mishkan and not literally sacrificing the person as Yiftach mistakenly thought. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We see from here an incredibly eye opening thought. Yiftach must have been a Torah observant Jew who did learn Torah, at least every once in a while, because the Medrish said that he was righteous. He would never have become the Jewish leader in the times of the Judges or have Divine powers endowed upon him if he did not observe Torah and mitzvos. Yet, because he wasn’t engrossed in Torah, he made a deadly mistake which caused the loss of his daughter.

A person can be known for his righteousness, but if he isn’t engrossed in his Torah study he essentially can make up his own religion, to the extent that he would execute his own absurd idea of physically sacrificing his own daughter!
We see how important it is not just to live by the Torah and mitzvos, but our attitudes must also be that the Torah is our guidebook to life. We must totally immerse ourselves in its, understanding in order that we can live our lives in a healthy and proper manner.

There is an old discussion of what kind of government is better: a Democracy or a Monarchy; specifically, in terms of how it affects the Jewish people. On the one hand, a democracy for the most part allows us to observe our religion to its entirety, freely, without too many hindrances.  On the other hand, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim, Rav Moshe Chait zt”l often bemoaned the fact that today there is no real feeling of Yiras Shamayim [Fear of Heaven] present in society, because there are no real monarchs in today’s day and age. People of yesteryear were more attuned to the real feeling of fear in the face of The Omnipresence because they could relate to the feelings towards royalty and sovereignty, due to kings and queens that ruled over them. Today that type of respect and reverence essentially does not exist anywhere in the world; the respect and awe of government or the ruling class is not the same, which, as an extension, reflects in our underwhelming Fear of Heaven.
However, in reality, the Torah’s approach takes a middle of the road approach to this issue. On the one hand there are laws in the Torah for how Jewish kings shall act, limiting the amount of wives and  horses they may have, and requiring that they always have a Torah scroll by their side to read from, and so on. Yet, the concept of having a king is also highly discouraged.
This week’s haftorah for the Torah portion of Korach, in Shmuel Alef, deals with the appointment of the first king of Israel, King Shaul, a decision made after much dispute. The Ralbag in his first three lessons on this episode in Jewish history depicts how not only crowning a king over Israel was highly dissuaded, but was a mistake.  He begins by saying that the Jew’s request of a king ultimately was the seeds of the reason why they were exiled from their land. The Ralbag goes on to show how Shmuel did everything within his means to try to stop them from making the wrong decision to insist on a monarch, by explaining to them the danger that could result in being led by a human king, and ultimately trying to depict for them the burden and weight a king would have over them, in order to dissuade them from their decision.  Finally, when that didn’t work, Hashem through Shmuel tried making the transition to a monarchy as smooth as possible by choosing someone fit for the job, who was good looking and appropriate, to reinforce the performance of Torah and mitzvos; someone who was a prophet in his own right, and had tremendous humility. Shmuel then warned King Shaul and the Jewish people numerous times to be steadfast to the observance of Torah and mitzvos, in order to walk in the ways of Hashem: “For a king will not help them if they don’t have the hand of Hashem guiding them since The Blessed Hashem is their true king and He set up judges so that they will return to Him in order to save them from their enemies. And their request for a king therefore was only bad and for this reason Shmuel tried to prevent them from turning their backs on Hashem, lest they and their king will be gathered up in their sin.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)
What is so wrong about having a king? Why is a king any different than any other leader, such as a judge or prophet of the generation, especially if he is being constantly warned to follow the ways of Hashem, and he has constant reminders to keep to the Torah, like having a Torah scroll always by his side?

It would seem that a king is on a different playing field, a whole new plateau, with special rules and legalities of how to be treated. For example, a king’s wife can never marry anyone who is not a king, even after she becomes a widow. There are also other laws that apply specifically to a king, like rebelling against a king, which is a capital punishment. Because a king has his own unique status, even though he is constantly being reminded that he is only a king and is a servant to The King Of All Kings, neverthe less this symbol of status can easily influence his demeanor and his followers demeanor, more than it would by any other type of leader. Since his status is above and beyond that of everyone else, just like Hashem, therefore it was a highly disputed notion to take up a monarchy in the Jewish world, lest it spoil into heresy.

Though a king of Israel did have his checks and balances via the prophet of the generation, Sanhedrin, and the Kohen Gadol, alas the monarchy was  not without its trials and tribulations, and ultimately led to much rebuke and punishment. However, now that it is in place, it is destined for a positive purpose ultimately, by culminating in the king moshiach leading all of us in the ultimate performance of Hashem’s will, may he come speedily in our days.

Did you ever wonder what it means when people say “May it be a zechus…”? What, in fact, is a zechus, or merit? We find the unbelievable ramifications of a merit in this week’s haftorah for the Torah portion of Shelach in the Navi Yehoshua. Yehoshua sent two spies, Calev and Pinchas, to spy out the land. They entered Israel through Yericho and stayed at an inn where they hid, as the king of Yericho had heard they had come, and had sent soldiers to find them. The innkeeper, Rachav, understood that they were undoubtedly going to conquer the land, and  chose to help them. After hiding on the roof, “She said to them, ‘Go to the mountain lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days until the pursuers return, and afterwards you will go your way’” (Yehoshua 2:16).
The Radak says “In the name of Chaza”l that the navi indicates to us that Rachav knew through Divine Intervention that they will return at the end of three days, for if she did not have Divine Intervention how could she know that they would return in the end of three days? However the basic explanation is that logically she deduced this because from Yericho to the Jordan River takes a one day walk or a little more and she thought that from going there and back they would be digging around and searching throughout the entire way which would wind up being three days.” But why did Hashem orchestrate that Calev and Pinchas should be hiding in an uncomfortable cave for three days? (Click here for  Hebrew text.)

The Yalkut Shimone, paraphrasing from a Medrish Rabba in the Torah portion of Vayera, says: “Hashem does not leave righteous people suffering more than three days. That is why it says ‘He will revive us from the two days, on the third day He will set us up, and we will live before Him’ (Hoshea 6:2). By the third day of the tribes it says, ‘Yosef said to them on the third day’ (Breishis 42:18). On the third day of Yonah, ‘Behold Yonah was in the stomach of the fish for three days’ (Yonah 2:1). The third day of those who made aliyah from [Babylonian] exile, ‘And they rested there for three days’ (Ezra 8:15). On the third day of the resurrection of the dead it says, ‘He will revive us from the two days’ (Hoshea 6:2). The third day of Esther, ‘It was on the third day, and Esther wore royalty’ (Esther 5:5). With which merit was all this merited? The Rabbis said the merit of the third day when the Torah was given, ‘And it was on the third day when it was morning’ (Shemos 19:16). Rebbe Levi says in the merit of the third day of Avraham as it says [by Akeidas Yitzchak] ‘On the third day Avraham lifted up his eyes’ (Breishis 22:4).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

This Medrish proves that Hashem does not allow righteous people to suffer for no reason, for longer than three days. The reason being, according to the RaD”aL, because on the third day is considered a climax point for sicknesses (or pain). Similarly, the R”an in Shabbos daf 130 says  that the third day after a bris milah is a similar milestone. So too, when it comes to suffering, the hardest day is the third day, and Hashem in his mercy relieves the righteous  of their suffering at that time.

The Matnas Kehuna points out that by Yosef and his brothers, when he first saw his brothers in Egypt, he threw them in jail for three days, and when he freed most of them it revitalized them and gave them contentment. So too by all the other examples; meaning,  Hashem does not leave righteous people suffering for more than three days. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Etz Yosef, quoting the Yefeh Toar, says that the reason why the Rabbis learn it from the receiving of the Torah is because of the merit of many and Rebbe Levi learns it out from Avraham for he was the first. The Maharz”u points out that according to the Rabbis who says all those people who stopped suffering after three days was in merit of the receiving of the Torah, we must say “that in merit of the Torah that their children will in the future receive” was the reason why Yosef’s brothers were relieved of suffering in jail after three days. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What we see here is something quite profound, if you think about it. Hashem is beyond time and space. Taking that into account, it makes sense that Hashem rewards good deeds, whether the deed happened in the past or is yet to happen;, the merit of that deed can be applied in either direction. Furthermore, the reward in this case, measure for measure, is not connected to the deed itself; it is connected to the timing of the deed. The Jewish people just happened to accept the Torah three days after Hashem told them to make preparations. Avraham just happened to be traveling for three days and realized the place in front of him was where he was to perform Akeidas Yitzchak. There was no positive act on the third day itself.Meaning, the third day had nothing to do with their decisions to do those meritorious deeds; yet, since they are connected to the meritorious deeds, measure for measure, for all time past and present, righteous people felt the rewards being reaped for what happened on the third day. That is the power of a zechus, or merit!

What is even more amazing is that, according to Rebbe Levi, the good deed of even one individual could have this type of impact and ramifications on the entirety of history! This should give us an entirely new perspective on the merits we can accrue for ourselves and our loved ones throughout history, by the many good deeds we can potentially accomplish.

Most commentaries agree that the beginning of this week’s haftorah for B’haaloscha, at the end of Zechariah perek 2, deals with the days of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Third Beis HaMikdash: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for, behold! I will come and dwell in your midst, says the Lord. And many nations shall join the Lord on that day, and they shall be My people; and I will dwell in your midst and you shall know that the Lord of Hosts sent me to you. And the Lord shall inherit Yehuda as His share on the Holy Land, and He shall again choose Yerushalayim. Silence all flesh from before the Lord, for He is aroused out of His holy habitation” (Zechariah 2:14-17).
The Yalkut Shimone on Zechariah quotes the first Medrish Rabba in the beginning of Vayishlach, which sends a comforting message about today’s day and age, culminating in Hashem redeeming us from our current exile: “’Silence all flesh from before the Lord, for He is aroused out of His holy habitation.’ Rebbe Pinchas in the name of Rebbe Reuvain says that there are five times in the first book of Tehillim where Dovid beseeches Hashem to ‘rise up’. (1) ‘Rise up Hashem, save me my G-D’ (3:8). (2) ‘Rise up Hashem in Your anger’ (7:7). (3) ‘Arise, O Hashem, O G-D raise Your hand’ (10:12). (4) ‘Arise, Hashem, let not frail man feel invincible’ (9:20). (5) ‘Rise up Hashem, confront him’ (17:13). Hashem said to Dovid, ‘My son even if you beseech to arise me 1000 times I will not get up. When will I get up? When I see poor people being plundered and the needy crying as it says in Tehillim, ‘Because of the plundering of the poor, because of the cry of the needy – Now I will arise’ (12:6)!  Rebbe Shimon the son of Rebbe Yonah said, ‘Now I will arise’?! Up until now he is inverted in the dirt as if it were possible, but when that day will come as it says ‘arise and sit, O Yerushalayim’ (Yeshaya 52:2), at that time ‘Silence all flesh from before the Lord, for He is aroused out of His holy habitation’ just like a chicken shakes off dirt from its body.” (click here for Hebrew text.)

The RaDa”L on this medrish points out a powerful message: not only are the Jewish people ‘covered in dirt’ in this exile but, as if it were possible, Hashem is also covered in dirt in this exile. This means when ‘He is aroused out of His holy habitation,’ as it says in the haftorah, Hashem will then shake off all the ‘dirt from His body like a chicken, as if it is possible.’ Not only His dirt, but the dirt from His chicks as well.

The Yidei Moshe on the medrish adds that the reason why the medrish says that only now will Hashem rise up, is due to the fact that it is referring to the idea that until the last redemption the Jews had to get their own selves up from exile (through some show of deserving redemption). However, in this redemption, Hashem himself will get them up.

Why is this exile any different from any other exile, and why should we be receiving redemption if we don’t deserve it?

There is a concept in Chazal called yeridas or hiskatnus hadoros. The further away from creation and the receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai, the weaker the generations are. Spiritually, intellectually, psychologically, and even physically. This is the total opposite of evolution; people of yesteryear were able to reach great heights spiritually, becoming prophets until the end of the exile from Babylonia, with the ability to resurrect the dead, which lasted until the times of the gemara. They even possessed the ability to control nature, for example by making the sun and moon stand still. Even the non-Jews, like the Egyptians, had great spiritual powers, albeit spiritually unclean, using real black magic. Intellectually, there was a time when the Oral Law was not written down at all, which means everyone had to learn it and retain it by heart. In the times of King Chizkiyahu, even the children were experts in the laws of spiritual purity. There were 24,000 students of Rebbe Akiva at some point; that  was only his yeshiva; the biggest yeshiva today is not even close! One of the first sources of this concept in Gemara Shabbos 112b, which says in the name of Rebbe Zeira, quoting Rava bar Zimona, that if the first generations were [like] children of “angels,” we are children of men. And if you want to say the first generation were children of man, then we are like donkeys. And not like the donkey of Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa or Rebbe Pinchas ben Yair (who were attuned to mitzvos, for example they refused to eat untithed produce or even to work for a non-Jew on Shabbos); rather like simple donkeys. All this was from the times of the gemara! All the more so now! My Rosh Yeshiva zt”l use to say that psychologically the minds of those in the mid-1900s were as weak as cobwebs, but today we are like tissue paper. Even physically it is unfathomable how the Great Pyramids or even the Beis HaMikdah were built. The abilities of Industry and technology today are great and impressive, but they are only given to us by Hashem as a crutch to supplement our weak physical, intellectual, psychological, and even spiritual prowess.

To this degree Hashem will have mercy on us at the End of Days when He will bring down the Third Beis HaMikdash and bring all the Jews back to Israel from exile, whether it is deserved or not, for he understands the state we are in. He created mankind and history to pan out in this fashion with a plan. It is now understandable that in previous exiles the Jewish People had to show that they were deserving of being redeemed, but in this exile we will be redeemed, speedily in our days, whether we are deserving or not.

That does not mean we can do whatever we want and not bother with doing Hashem’s will; for it is like a POW captured behind enemy lines. If he can keep his posture and dignity until he is saved he will look and feel distinguished when his saviors redeem him. But if he gives up and lets the enemy do whatever they want to him, and he goes with it, when he is saved he will feel and look like an embarrassment and a disgrace.

To sum up, the last Mishna in Sotah says: “Rebbe Pinchas ben Yair says, From the time the [Second] Temple was destroyed, Torah scholars and people of known lineage have been shamed, [social hierarchy has collapsed,] and their heads have been covered, [meaning they hide their faces in embarrassment,] and men of merit have been impoverished, [meaning they have been inconsequential, whereas evildoers dominate.] But strong armed men and slanderers have triumphed and there is none who seeks [to benefit Israel], and none who searches [for Hashem’s mercy upon them] and none who inquires. [There is no person who can offer, or perhaps no one who sufficiently desires a remedy.] Upon whom, then can we rely on? Upon our Father in Heaven!” (I encourage you to see the rest of the Mishna in detail with Artscroll commentary.)


In this week’s Torah portion of Naso we discuss the concept of a nazir. One of the most famous nazirs was Shimshon, whose origins are discussed in the haftorah: “The woman gave birth to a son, and she called his name Shimshon; the lad grew and Hashem blessed him” (Shoftim 13:24).
Why was he named Shimshon? The gemara in Sotah says: “And Rebbe Yochanan said, ‘Shimshon was named after one of Hashem’s Names as it says כי שמש ומגן ה' אלוקים', ' ‘Like a sun and protector Hashem O’ G-D’ (Tehillim 84:12). If that is the case then one can never erase [his name]? Rather it is similar to Hashem’s name. Just as Hashem protects the entire world so to Shimshon protected the entire Jewish people of his generation” (Sotah, daf 10a).

Rashi explains the gemara in Sotah to mean that they first thought, based on the pasuk in Tehillim, that Shemesh is one of the names of Hashem, which is where Shimshon got his name from. However, the gemara concludes that in fact Magen, which is in the same pasuk, is one of Hashem’s names, and therefore the name Shimshon describes how he is similar to Hashem; just as Hashem is the protector of the entire world, so too Shimshon was the protector of the Jewish people in his generation.

The Maharsha further explains how the name Shimshon is similar to Hashem’s name of Magen: “The intention in this gemara is that the attribute of mercy and judgement is shown in Him depending on who is receiving the attribute for example just as the sun does different and opposite things according to those that receive its benefits. Shimshon acted similarly to this manner for even though his essence stemmed from the attribute of power and strict judgement for he was an enforcer of justice, stemming from the tribe of Dan as it says in Pesachim 4a, however when it came to the Jews he approached them with mercy to protect them. The ‘nun’ at the end of Shimshon is alluding to the Jewish people that he was their sun and protector.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Maharsha has a very interesting analogy to explain why Shimshon received his name, and who he was. Shimshon is derived from the word shemesh [sun], and the letter ‘nun’ was compared to the sun, which can be used as a description for how Hashem takes care of the world. Just as the sun reflects good and bad into the world, judgment and mercy, so too the sun’s rays give plants nourishment to grow. Yet, just as the sun can cause burns, Shimshon also showed strict judgement in using his brute strength on the Philistines as a punisher for their brutality against the Jewish people; yet he was showing mercy to the Jewish people by acting in their defense.

Shimshon was known as one of the strongest people in world history, receiving G-D given strength in order to defend the Jewish people against the Philistines, who tormented them during that period of history. Shimshon was a one-man army, a punisher, a stealth enforcer of justice who was almost unbreakable. Even the end of his life came in the defense of his Jewish brethren. Indeed, strict justice was a part of his social makeup, for he came from the tribe of Dan, who were blessed with the quality of being able to see clearly the fine lines of right and wrong. Though Shimshon seemed to have been a natural and perfect fit to be the ultimate one-man defender of the Jewish people, without the attribute of mercy it would seem he would not have been the success story that he was. Why is that?

It would seem that without the attribute of mercy a person cannot adequately and wholly defend others. A person might be trained to be a warrior, seemingly scared of nothing; stealthy and ready to take on anything; yet without feeling the attribute of mercy towards those he assigned to protect, he will not be successful in their defense. Something will cave. His passion to save them at all costs will simply not be there, if he does not feel mercy for those he is defending.
Shimshon was imbued with and lived by both the qualities of justice and mercy. He exemplified the emulation of Hashem in those attributes, and therefore his name suited him perfectly.

We are on the eve of Shavuos, the day the Jewish people were wed to Hashem at Har Sinai with the giving of the Torah. It is very apropos that the haftorah for the Torah portion of Bamidbar concludes with the famous pesukim we say whenever we wrap the tefillin around our hand: “I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy. I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, and you shall know Hashem” (Hoshea 2:21-22).
The Radak, bothered by why it says “I will betroth you to me” three times, explains that these pesukim are responding to what was said earlier, when the Jewish people were compared to an adulterer: “I will betroth you is mentioned three times for the three exiles of the Jewish people: the Egyptian exile, Babylonian exile, and the exile we are in today. Every time they left the exile it is as if Hashem betrothed them. The first betrothal when they left Egypt was not permanent, for they went into exile again; therefore He says about it ‘I will betroth you to Me forever.’ The second betrothal when they left the exile of Babylonia (after the second Beis HaMikdash was rebuilt) [the Jews] were not righteous or acting justly, they were doing bad, for it writes there were those who profaned Shabbos, intermarried, and would capture their fellow Jew and make him a slave or possess his fields unlawfully. Because they did not have righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy therefore it writes ‘and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice,’ meaning that they should do this, for they will return to Hashem through repentance as it is written, ‘And you will return unto Hashem your G-D.’ It says ‘I will betroth you to Me with fidelity’ which its innuendo is about fulfilling, without ever faltering, like the trust of an expert in the location of where he is trusted. ‘And you shall know Hashem’ just like it says that everyone will know me from small ones to big ones.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

It would seem that each betrothal between Hashem and the Jewish people has a theme, or condition. The first is an everlasting relationship. The second is a relationship based on righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy. The third is a relationship of trust in the Almighty; just like one can trust an expert in his or her field, so too the Jewish people can trust Hashem, who is an expert in everything, to take care of them and every Jew, young and old, will acknowledge that.

Why was the theme of the first betrothal one of an everlasting relationship, especially if the Radak just finished saying that Hashem knew it would not be permanent, and the Jewish people would go into exile again? On the contrary, it would make more sense for the third betrothal to be first, as we actually saw that Hashem showed His mastery over creation with the wonders of the ten plagues and his ability to take care of the Jews by taking them out of Egypt and guiding them in comfort with the Clouds of Glory through the barren desert. Indeed, the Jewish people reciprocated with the highest levels of faith in Hashem, from the youngest to the oldest, from the lowly maidservant to the greatest leader. It also makes sense for the theme of the first betrothal to be third, for when Moshiach comes and we are all redeemed from our current exile, then there is a guarantee that there won’t be any more exiles. This means our betrothal will be permanent; so shouldn’t Hashem have flipped the betrothals around?

We learn from here an important lesson in building a relationship. It must start with an everlasting, permanent commitment. No matter what bumps in the road may come, if there is a commitment to never give up, then problems will be solved. Without this commitment it does not matter how amazing and incredible the other person is, or how merciful and kind he or she might be, if the relationship does not start with this strong, everlasting commitment, then any excuse to break off the relationship could more possibly  succeed.

Im yirtzeh Hashem when we are redeemed, speedily in our days, it will be with miracles similar to those of our redemption of Egypt, if not even more magnificent. Then we will all acknowledge Hashem security and benevolence forever and ever!