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!

Trust in Hashem is one of the most fundamental tenets of Judaism. The Chovos HaLevavos in its introduction to the Gate of Bitachon writes that one of the benefits of trusting in Hashem “is tranquility of soul in reliance on G-D, may He be exalted, as the servant is bound to rely on his master. For if a person does not put his trust in G-D, he places his trust in what is other than G-D; and whoever trusts in what is other than G-D, G-D removes His providence from him and leaves him in the hands of whatever he trusted in.” (Click here fore Hebrew text.)

Along these lines we find in this week’s haftorah for the double portion of Behar and Bechukosai which takes place in Yirmiyahu perakim 16 and 17 that the Navi says: “So says Hashem, Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart turns away from Hashem. He shall be like a lone tree in the plain, and will not see when good comes, and will dwell on parched land in the desert, on salt-sodden soil that is uninhabitable. Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem; Hashem shall be his trust. For he shall be like a tree planted by the water, and by a brook spreads its roots, and will not see when heat comes, and its leaves shall be green, and in the year of drought will not be anxious, neither shall it cease from bearing fruit” (Yirmiyahu 17:5-8).

A person can have two types of bitachon: (a) trust in Hashem, and (b) trust in anything else besides Hashem. The Radak observes that the pasuk referring to one who trusts in “man” specifically says: “and whose heart turns away from Hashem,” because if he does not remove his heart from Hashem he is not bad. Rather, he trusts in man to help him and his intentions are that with Hashem’s helps man can help him; that is not relying on man. The Radak also says about one who trusts in Hashem that ‘He will be his security and he will not be afraid of anything bad.’

We learn from here that one who puts full trust in Hashem acknowledges that Hashem sends messengers to help him with his problems. These messengers are conduits between Hashem and the person, to help resolve any issues that the person might have. As long as the person realizes that they are just messengers doing Hashem’s handiwork, then he is blessed because he is truly relying on the infinite King Of All Kings, Master Of The Universe, and Hashem is his true security system to get through life; what can go wrong? On the other hand, if a person puts his trust into the people around him, or his brute strength, knowledge or wealth and removes his trust in Hashem then he is cursed because, as the Chovos HaLevavos said earlier, Hashem removes His providence from this person and he only has finite intervention as a means of a security system.

However, according to this, one can ask the famous question: Why do bad things happen to good people (i.e. those who trust in Hashem), and good things seem to happen to bad people (i.e. those that don’t trust in Hashem)?

We can find the answer to this question in examining why the Prophet Yirmiyahu compares a person with bitachon, trust, to a tree. The Radak explains each parable. He says in the name of Rav Hai Gaon that the term the pasuk uses for the tree is compared to a person who only has faith in man, is ערער, which is actually a name of a tree which is thorny on the outside and bears edible fruit on the inside. The tree is in the hot, dry, and barren desert never enjoying the rain, it doesn’t even know exists in the distance. So too, a person who removes his trust in Hashem is like this tree which is not wet, but stands dry all the time, even though it does not die. So too this bad person will be involved in depravity his whole life and choose his death over his life. On the other hand a person who has trust in Hashem is compared to a tree on a riverbank which will never go thirsty. Its roots get sustenance from the river next to it and even if they shoot out to a very far distance they are still sustained by the water. Even if there is a heat wave in the area it is unconcerned because it is next to the water and the heat can’t dry it up. Its leaves stay fresh even in the autumn, unlike other trees. And even in years of famine where there is no rainfall it is not worried, since it lives on the riverbank. The tree will always stay fresh and bear fruits, even in the dreariest of times. So too this good person who trusts in Hashem, good will never leave him, and even when others will be suffering he will be in a good state and will be able to teach others his wisdom, to do good deeds and to share his wealth with others. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

If you analyze what the Radak says carefully you will find that both types of people live through the same life. They work and reap the fruits of their labor. There are hard times and good times around them; it is just that the person that relies on others, or himself only has a finite amount of security or protection to help him in life. So he might be prosperous for a while but things dry up, he might build a thorny security system keeping the fruit of his labor intact but eventually everything dries up and there is nothing worth living for. He misses the rain or the Divine security in the distance which could have helped him sustain his life and freshen it up. In the end he is left all alone, depressed, and unhappy, with no will to live, and looks forward to the day he will die. It might look like he has a good life, but it is really a façade.

However the one who believes in Hashem, not only does he have constant hope but there is actually something infinite that he can always rely upon, so no matter what situation he is in he can be confident that The Perfect Security System will take care of him, and therefore he can live to the utmost, happily sharing the wealth with others. There is no doubt that Hashem does help him get through whatever challenges or crises surround him; whatever the results are, the Hand of Hashem is clearly manifest. Who knows how much worse it could be without Divine intervention. What looks bad is also just a façade, because Hashem is right there helping him through it.

Bitachon is all in the attitude of a person but that attitude could shape his destiny.

This week’s haftorah for the Torah portion of Emor takes place in Yechezkel, perek 44. It depicts the service of the kohanim in the times of Moshiach, may he come speedily in our days. Describing the requirements for the service in the Beis HaMikdash, the navi states: “Their heads they may not shear nor a wild growth may they permit; they shall keep their heads trimmed. They shall not drink wine, any kohen, when they enter the Inner Courtyard” (Yechezkel 44:20, 21).
The Yalkut Shimoni, summarizing the gemara in Sanhedrin 22b, derives a fascinating halacha from these verses: “Our Rabbis taught, ‘A king should get a haircut every day, a Kohen gadol every erev Shabbos (Friday), and a regular Kohen once every thirty days.’ How do we know this? It is based on a gezeira shava (special connection between verses to learn out Jewish laws) ‘pera pera’ by nazir.  Just as a nazir in general grows his hair for 30 days so to what’s considered ‘wild growth’ is 30 days. It is taught these [kohanim] are liable death, one who drank wine and one with a wild growth of hair. One who drank wine makes sense because the Torah says, ‘wine and alcohol you shall not drink,’ but a wild growth of hair how do we know [it also deserves the death penalty]? Because there is a juxtaposition of verses for it writes, ‘Their heads they may not shear nor a wild growth may they permit’ and it writes [right after that] ‘They shall not drink wine, any kohen, when they enter the Inner Courtyard’. Just as drinking wine is deserving of death so to a wild growth of hair is deserving death, furthermore just as drinking wine profanes the service [in the Beis HaMikdash] so to serving with wild growing hair profanes the service. ‘They shall keep their heads trimmed.’ [A typical haircut of the Kohen gadol used to look like,] the head of one hair follicle laying right next to the root of the next hair follicle, just like the haircut of Ben Alesha. Rebbe used to say that Ben Alesha did not waste his money for naught on his haircuts rather it was to show people what a haircut of a Kohen gadol looks like.” (Click here for Hebrew text)
What is the importance of getting a haircut so often, and such an expensive haircut? Also, why is there such a severe consequence for a Kohen if he did not get a haircut, that he be deserving of death from heaven if he served in the Bais HaMikdash unkempt?

Rashi in Sanhedrin 22b and the gemara in Taanis 17a shed light on the matter. Rashi there says that when a group of kohanim used to switch posts, the incoming kohanim would get a haircut so that they will be seen in a handsome state (Rashi, Mishmeros”). So too the gemara in Taanis quotes a pasuk in Yeshaya as to why a king should get a haircut every day: “Rebbe Abba bar Zavda says that the pasuk writes: ‘Your eyes shall see the king in his beauty’ (Yeshaya 33:17).”

The Kohanim doing the service of Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash represent the Jewish nation in the spiritual realm. If one is representing such an important post, the spiritual center of the world, then it makes some sense that if he does not live up to what he stands for, representing Hashem during his job of serving in the Beis HaMikdash, then he deserves Heavenly death. So too the Jewish King was chosen by Hashem to represent all of Klal Yisrael, and therefore they have a responsibility to look put-together and fashionable in the eyes of those who see them. It would seem the more important you are, the more meticulous you have to be with your presentation. This is why a regular Kohen received a haircut once every thirty days, the Kohen gadol receives one weekly, and the king gets a haircut every day.

In a similar vein, when in yeshiva I was taught that as a yeshiva bachur in high school it is appropriate to wear a button-down shirt and dress pants, as well as a hat and jacket for davening. When I got into beis medrish, post high school, it was expected of us to walk outside with our hat and jacket, and at least be holding them in hand during the summer if too hot while walking outside in public. When we got married or was learning in kollel, we put on a tie every day. Those that leave the yeshiva and are the heads of institutions, ravs of shuls, or are classroom rebbes, normally wear suits. Indeed, the head Roshei Yeshiva in Chofetz Chaim of Queens wear a long coat and top hat. All for the same purpose, that the more important a person is in society, he must present himself in a correspondingly formidable fashion, because he is representing kavod haTorah, the honor of Hashem and his Torah.

This applies to all Jews as well, for we are all princes of The King Of All Kings, The Holy One Blessed Be He. My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, used to say we have to dress “elegantly conservative.” A guideline for all Jews is spelled out in the Orchos Tzadikim: “The proper course for a person to follow is to be clean in all of his affairs, for cleanliness is the road to good deeds. What shall he do? Let him wear plain clothes, neither expensive, gaudy attire that everyone stares at nor pauper’s clothes that shame the wearer, but plain, pleasant, clean garments, the poor man according to his state and the rich according to his. And it is forbidden to wear stained or soiled garments. They should not be torn, and they should not be stylized in the manner of the haughty.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text)

Being the representatives of Hashem to the world, we have a responsibility to look presentable; not too lavish, but not raggedy. Rather, plain, pleasant, and clean. Everyone according to their status of importance is expected to dress and look responsibly for the sake of Hashem’s honor.

This dvar Torah is sponsored in memory of Daniel ben Samanto by the Gordon family. May the merits of those who read it be an aliyas nishama and may the family only see simchas.
Now for some food for thought:

 

On Sukkos there is a special Harachaman [add on] that we say at the end of Birkas HaMazon: “The Merciful One! May he erect for us the fallen sukkah of David.” This prayer is based on a pasuk in this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portions of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim, taken from Amos: “On that day I will erect the fallen sukkah of David; I will repair their breaches and erect his ruins, and I will rebuild it as in days of old” (Amos 9:11).

There is a fascinating Gemara quoting this pasuk in Sanhdrin 96b-97a: “R. Nahman said to R. Isaac: 'Have you heard when Bar Nafle will come?' 'Who is Bar Nafle?' he asked. 'Messiah,' he answered, 'Do you call Messiah ,Bar Nafle?' — 'Even so,' he rejoined, 'as it is written, in that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David ha-nofeleth [that is fallen].'  He replied, 'Thus hath R. Johanan said: in the generation when the son of David [i.e., Messiah] will come, scholars will be few in number, and as for the rest, their eyes will fail through sorrow and grief. Multitudes of trouble and evil decrees will be promulgated anew, each new evil coming with haste before the other has ended.' Our Rabbis taught: in the seven year cycle at the end of which the son of David will come-in the first year, this verse will be fulfilled: And I will cause it to rain upon one city and cause it not to rain upon another city;  in the second, the arrows of hunger will be sent forth;  in the third, a great famine, in the course of which men, women, and children, pious men and saints  will die, and the Torah will be forgotten by its students; in the fourth, partial plenty;  in the fifth, great plenty, when men will eat, drink and rejoice, and the Torah will return to its disciples; in the sixth, [Heavenly] sounds;  in the seventh, wars; and at the conclusion of the septennate the son of David will come. R. Joseph demurred: But so many septennates have passed, yet has he not come! — Abaye retorted: Were there then [Heavenly] sounds in the sixth and wars in the seventh! Moreover, have they [sc. the troubles] been in this order!” (Credit is given to Soncino taken from e-daf.com for the Gemara translation.)

The Gemara describes the ups and downs of the seven years before Moshiach reveals himself. In the third year there will be a major famine and much Torah will be forgotten. In the fifth year there will be plenty of food and drink and Torah will be reinvigorated to its original state. The Iyun Yaakov explains this phenomenon with a Mishna in Pirkay Avos:  “In the third year there will be a great famine… and Torah will be lost ‘for if there is no flour (i.e. food) there is no Torah’ (Avos 3:17). Therefore in the fifth year where there will be a great abundance of food, the Torah will return to those who learn it. This is also the reason why the Torah was given to those who ate the manna.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The Iyun Yaakov states a rule that the Torah cannot be fully appreciated and understood without satiation, having a well-balanced meal. For that reason the generation in the desert were most appropriate to receive the Torah, because they received their sustenance directly from Heaven, a perfect amount of food given per each individual’s needs.

However, if this is true then why does another Mishna in Pirkay Avos state: “According to one’s suffering is his reward” (Avos 5:23)? Indeed, Rashi on that Mishna states that according to the pain and suffering one puts into the involvement in learning or doing mitzvos, he receives a corresponding degree of reward. Elsewhere in Avos it also says: “This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of suffering – but toil in the Torah! If you do this ‘You are praiseworthy, and all is well with you’” (Tehillim 128:2).  ‘You are praiseworthy’ – in this world; ‘and all is well with you’ – in the World to Come” (Avos 6:4). Although Rashi says there that this Mishna is not referring to the rich, and that they have to live a life of suffering in order to learn Torah, rather what it means is that even if a person only has bread and salt, and can only sleep on the ground without a cushion and pillow, he must be ready to do that and not stop involving himself in Torah study. For in the end, he will be wealthy in learning. If that is the case, it seems to contradict our gemara in Sanhedrin. For the third year is a year of utter suffering, complete famine, and the gemara says people will forget Torah. Why would they forget? On the contrary, in a situation like this the Mishna says ‘don’t give up, work harder and in the end you will learn with wealth,’ as Rashi points out. The more suffering and toil you put into it the more reward you get; so why does the Gemara in Sanhedrin say that in the third year before Moshiach comes, Torah will be lost?

It must be that there is a difference between living a simple life and total deprivation. The Mishna in the sixth perek of Pirkay Avos is teaching us that even if a person has to live a simple life, just on bread, salt, and minimal water, which is not so easy, he can and should adjust to the situation to toil as hard as possible in his Torah learning and not give up. But a person is still human. Hashem created the human being as part physical and part spiritual; we are able to elevate our physical sense to make it more holy or closer to the spiritual. However, “if there is no flour there is no Torah;” and the Torah will therefore be lost.

Hashem doesn’t want us to suffer when performing His mitzvos and learning His Torah. If a person is wealthy it could be a blessing to be able to learn comfortably, as long as he keeps up his learning. However a person must be ready to commit his life to learning even if things aren’t easy, even if he must live a simple life; but he still must live.If there is famine and barely anything, Hashem created the world in a way that Torah would then be lost. Yet all hope is not lost, because Hashem runs the world and “in the fifth year” Hashem will provide a year of plenty, and the Torah will be remembered again – as long as one puts his full effort into his learning.

The Haftorah for this week’s double portion of Tazria/Metzora comes from the book of Melachim Beis (Chapter 7, Pesukim 3-20). Under King Yehoram, one of the long series of sinful kings of the Ten Tribes, King Ben-haddad of Aram mounted a siege of Samaria, which resulted in a terrible famine and inflated prices for the little food present. The prophet Elisha divined that a miracle would occur and the food would be so plentiful that prices would sink to very low levels. The Navi relates the miracle that took place that ended the siege and gave food to the city: “Hashem had caused the Aramean camp to hear the sound of chariot and the sound of horse, the sound of a great army; and they said one to another, ‘Behold, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite kings and Egyptian kings to come upon us!’ So they stood up and fled into the evening; they abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys – the camp as it was – and they fled for their lives” (Melachim Beis 7:6, 7).
The Ralbag says that at night the army of Aram heard sounds that Hashem miraculously caused them to hear as a trick, and they immediately ran away with such fright that they left their horses and donkeys and fled by foot. The Radak adds that they fled for their lives to save themselves and didn’t care about their property. Even their horses they did not saddle to ride on. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

If you think about it, it is a bit mind boggling! An army trained for combat, which must have been prepared for anything because they were on the offensive, must have been trained to be fearless, but in a state of panic they fled for their lives and left everything behind. This allowed the Jews their freedom and plenty of food that came from the empty camps. But how does it make sense that they left everything and fled by foot? It is understood they felt all was hopeless, but at least when retreating take rations and arms in the event of a confrontation; surely they should have taken their horses, to be able to run away quicker! What happened!?

We see how debilitating the emotion of fear can be on a person, even on those who are trained to fight the emotion. When faced with an extremely dangerous situation, natural instincts turn on them and not only can’t they retreat in a prepared and logical fashion, they are forced to flee for their lives and leave everything behind! Even if it makes more sense to ride on horses to get away faster, bring weapons if they need to defend themselves, and also have food and water on hand to survive; alas all was left behind, because that is the nature of fear.

Rav Yitzchok Blazer
, a student of Rav Yisrael Salanter, speaks about this in the second chapter of his mussar work, Shaarei Ohr which is found in the Sefer Ohr Yisrael. Comparing it to Fear of Heaven he says: “This quality of fear (referring to fear of Hashem) is unique, different, and distinct from all other types of fear that prevail in the world. For example, it is completely natural to be afraid of dangerous people or threatening situations. Logic and experience dictate that we should fear such things. Hence, by dint of his innate intelligence, a person will experience fear and terror. When confronted with the unknown, fear will instinctively enter his heart and his senses will be heightened. All chambers of his heart will tremble, and his face will reveal his terror. It is true that man has the power to overcome and dampen his fear: sometimes a person will voluntarily endanger himself, for example, by traveling through an unsafe area. Yet his bones will still convulse in fright, even as they obey the dictates of his will. This is because nobody has self-control to banish the essence of fear from his soul. There exists no counsel to entirely neutralize it and remove it from one’s mind and heart."

Rav Yitzchok Blazer goes on to explain that yiras Shamayim or fear of Hashem and His punishments, which better put is ‘reverence and  awe of Hashem,’ is not natural. This, he explaines, was done on purpose, and he elaborates why. He sums up in one of the paragraphs there the essential thesis: “We can now understand why yiras Shamayim is not naturally a part of man’s makeup – for if the fear of Hashem and His punishment were implanted in man’s heart from the outset, this would be the driving force behind his performance of good deeds. His natural fear of incurring Hashem’s wrath would be the reason for his walking on the upright path. This, of course, would infringe on his free will, and his reward would correspondingly be diminished. Hashem, the Source of all that is good, wanted free choice to be entirely in the hands of man, to enlarge the boundaries of human reward as much as possible.” (Click here and here and here for complete Hebrew text.)

This means that the ultimate expression of freedom is to choose to revere Hashem. The result is that the natural fear and panic inside of every person which traps them and does not allow them to think and act logically is the total opposite of yiras Shamayim, reverence and awe of Hashem and His punishment. These were placed into the hands of every human being, to work hard and put in much effort in order to truly attain it on one’s own fruition.

True freedom is not easy to attain but when one does, it is bliss!

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder

Note to the reader: I didn't realize until after I made this dvar Torah that Sunday is Rosh Chodesh Iyar so there is a special Haftorah read for machar chodesh. You can click here for the dvar Torah on machar chodesh from the previous time this happened.

Otherwise please enjoy this food for thought:


“If one is involved in the kingdom or government the service of the King Of Kings comes first before the service of the king, and don’t feel haughty because of the power of the monarchy” (Sefer HaYashar by Rabbeinu Tam in the 13th gate).

The Haftorah for this week’s Torah portion of Shemini is normally read from Shmuel Beis, perekim 6 and 7, which talk about King Dovid bringing the Holy Ark from Baalei Yehuda, where it was temporarily stored after being taken by the Plishtim, up to Yerushalayim. King Dovid then requested to build the Beis HaMikdash, but was informed by the prophet Nosson that his request was rejected by Hashem; however, his son will build it in his place.

The original procession was marred by an incident. Uzzah was killed by Hashem for reaching out to save the Holy Ark from falling off the wagon, for no one is allowed to touch the Ark itself. It was supposed to be carried via poles on the shoulders of men, but it was instead put onto a wagon. Without realizing that the Holy Ark carries itself, Uzzah stretched out his arm to catch the ark when it looked like it was falling off the wagon, and he was immediately punished. This is similar to when Nadav and Avihu were punished for bringing a strange offering in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion.

King Dovid took this event as an omen that Hashem was unhappy with him and he left the Holy Ark by Oved-edom the Gittite, a Levi who was from Gat, for three month. Oved-edom was greatly blessed during those months, so King Dovid took that as a sign to continue the procession to Yerushalayim.

The next scene in the Navi describes a joyous parade escorting the Holy Ark: “Whenever the bearers of the Ark walked six paces, he slaughtered an ox and a fattened ox. Dovid danced with all his strength before Hashem; Dovid was girded in a linen tunic. Dovid and the entire House of Israel brought up the Ark of Hashem with loud, joyous sound, and the sound of the shofar” (Shmuel Beis 6:13-15).

Rabbeinu Yeshaya
paints a picture of the event. The Leviim were carrying the Holy Ark on their shoulders. King Dovid was singing all sorts of praises to Hashem with all his might, while dancing in front of the Holy Ark. He was not wearing his royal clothing; rather he was dressed up in a white tunic which looked like what a kohen would wear when he did the service in front of the Holy Ark.(Click here for Hebrew text.)

When he entered Yerushalayim one of his wives, Michal the daughter of King Shaul, looked out the window and saw him dancing and singing with all his might in front of men and women, and she felt that King Dovid was making a spectacle of himself which was belittling for a king. He finished the parade, gave out bread, a flask of wine, and meat to every Jew present. Rabbeinu Yeshaya points out that the sages said each piece of meat was the size of a sixth of a cow. King Dovid then blessed the nation. As he made his way into his house to bless his family Michal came out and reprimanded King Dovid for not acting kingly like her father would have. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Navi concludes the perek: “Dovid answered Michal, ‘In the presence of Hashem, Who chose me over your father and over his entire house to appoint me as ruler over the people of Hashem, over Israel - before Hashem I shall rejoice! And I shall behave even more humbly than this, and I shall be lowly in my eyes; and among the maidservants of whom you spoke – among them I will be honored!’ Michal, daughter of Shaul, had no child until the day of her death” (Shmuel Beis 6:21-23).

Rabbeinu Yeshaya explains King Dovid’s response that ‘more than I was actually lenient with myself I am lenient and lowly in my eyes before The Creator because I can’t stand before him with haughtiness and honor rather with humility and submissiveness.’ The Rabbeinu Yeshaya concludes the perek by saying that the last pasuk is informing you that because of the sin of how Michal spoke to her husband, she did not merit to have children. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It would seem from this episode that King Dovid was acting appropriately. Dressing up in a “costume” while dancing and singing passionately, almost wildly, for everyone to see, for the sake of Hashem’s honor, is in fact a sign of humility and utmost lowliness, when channeled for the right reasons. Even though he was the king and a king is supposed to be dressed and act with proper respect for the sake of royalty and the kingdom, King Dovid understood and felt with all his heart that before the King Of All Kings he must subjugate himself and pour out his heart, for His sake, even in public. He was right as we see that Michal was punished for reprimanding him.

If this is the case then why didn’t he do more? Didn’t he tell Michal: “And I shall behave even more humbly than this, and I shall be lowly in my eyes,” which Rabbeinu Yeshaya explains means that as much as King Dovid was lenient with himself the feelings towards Hashem that he had inside him was of even more humility and subjugation. If that was true, then why didn’t he show it?

The answer must be that King Dovid, the tzadik, who was in control of all his faculties, also knew and understood that there has to be a balance. He was still a person, and he felt a sense of self-respect (gadlus ha’adam) and also understood that he was the king of an entire nation. Therefore, using all his faculties, he made a judgement call that he could let loose and show his true colors and feelings towards Hashem when escorting the Holy Ark to its new resting place, just like a hachnasas sefer Torah. But he also knew his exact boundaries, and when to draw the line.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder