Haazinu – Finding Your Portion in Torah

Shiras Moshe, the Song of Moshe, is what takes up most of this week’s Torah portion of Ha’azinu. Towards the beginning of the song states, “My lesson will drip like rain” (Devarim 32:2). He was referring to the Torah he taught the Jewish people.
The Medrish Tanchuma (Haazinu 3) asks why the Torah is compared to rain, and answers that just as rain erodes rocks as it says, “Stones are worn away by water” (Iyov 14:19). So too, the Torah wears out a heart of stone. This is what our sages of blessed memory said: if it’s a rock, let it melt, and if it is iron, let it blow up. Therefore, it is only good for a person to kill himself over words of Torah and to be involved in it constantly day and night, as the pasuk says, “And you shall toil in it day and night” (Yehoshua 1:8). This is what they say, “If a person tells you, ‘I have toiled and have not found,’ do not believe him.” And this is why it is compared to rain; for just as rain, the world cannot exist without it, because it needs to sprout vegetation in a positive way. So too the world cannot exist without Torah, as it says, “If not for my covenant (Torah) day and night I would not have placed the laws of heaven and earth” (Yirmiyahu 33:25). And just as rain comes down little by little (drop by drop), so too the Torah in the beginning reads alef (1), beis (2), gimel (3), daled (4) which are small amounts, but in the end it accumulates into greater amounts: kuf (100), reish (200), shin (300), tav (400). In this way also, one should begin learning Torah and afterwards he’ll be able to stand over the Torah and all its details.

The Etz Yosef in the name of Rav Avraham, the brother of the Vilna Gaon, from the Sefer Maalos HaTorah, explains in detail what the medrish means when someone says, ‘I toiled and did not find it,’ you should not believe him. Based on a gemara in Nida, when a baby is in its mother’s womb it is taught all the Torah. When it comes out the angel smacks him above the lip and he forgets everything. What is the point of all this learning if he is going to be made to forget it anyways? However, based on what the Alshich writes by “And give our portion in your Torah,” we can explain that because all the souls stood at Mount Sinai and each one of them accepted their part in the Torah, about this the gemara says “I toiled and I found it,” then you can believe him. Just like a person who found his lost object, since it is a part of him, and therefore if it would not have been taught to him in his mother’s womb, he would not have been able to reach his portion in the Torah, even if he would have toiled a lot. If he would not have forgotten, he would not need to toil, and if so then there goes all the need for reward and punishment. Therefore, the angel taught him his portion in his mother’s womb, and this is considered learning the entire Torah; meaning all of his portion of Torah. And when he leaves into the airspace of the world, he will forget everything, and afterwards, through much efforts of toiling, he will find what he lost. So, if a person says I toiled and could not find it, you should not believe him, because that is impossible! (Click here for Hebrew text.)
If one was to think about the power of Torah and its complexity, one might get overwhelmed and think ‘what’s the point of trying to tackle it and understand it, it is so above my abilities, unfathomable! Something which has the power to melt the heart of the most stubborn and harsh of men, which can only be successfully understood and applied through breaking one’s back, with all one’s sweat and blood, it’s just not for me, it’s too much!’ There are very few people who really know how to make weapons of mass destruction, nuclear or chemical weapons that could melt away metals and blow up stone, and the Torah is compared to just that. But to psychologically break the most bitter and evil of habits and ways, it is all-encompassing of how to live everyday life, and it is the blueprint of the cosmos. Such profundity and subtleties could be very overwhelming and one is told that the only way to achieve clarity is to kill yourself over its study. How can it be for everyone?

The medrish here with the Etz Yosef seems to be giving steps to how anyone can fulfill their maximum in Torah without getting overwhelmed.

  1. First off, one must have the attitude that it’s his life force he can’t live without; it is just like water or air. Also, it brings the greatest success to the world, and the world cannot exist without it; so it’s worth learning it correctly and living by it.
  2. Furthermore, one does not have to simply jump into it. Start slowly, and the more one gets into learning the more it compounds and multiplies, just as the gematria of the alpha beis starts 1-10 but doesn’t continue 11, 12, 13, but multiplies 20, 30 40, and eventually in the end 100, 200, 300, 400. So too, one’s knowledge and ability to understand the profundity of Torah and its depth and breadth will multiple with Hashem’s help as one continuously toils in it.
  3. The Etz Yosef in the name of Rav Avraham the brother of the Gr”a makes Torah learning even more palpable! The Torah is so vast and there are infinite layers. However, Hashem sets aside a portion for each Jew. Some portions are bigger than others, and each of us does not know the exact portion that we will be getting, but we don’t have to be overwhelmed that we must know everything, to its fullest extent and depth. Rather we have to put in a full effort to learn what we can.
  4. What is even better is that we aren’t trying to find something we know nothing about. In the deep recesses of our mind and heart this portion of the Torah lays, that our angel taught us in the womb. It is just forgotten about; but it is there, and when it is found, it’s guaranteed to be as exciting as finding a lost object you have been looking for, for a very long time! The feeling of excitement and elation upon being reunited with it will be palpable, because you looked so long and hard for it. It won’t feel like something foreign to you that you must get used to; rather it will be your own part in Torah, which you are destined to have and are simply becoming reacquainted with.

That makes it much easier to look forward to, and worthwhile to put in, many hard-working hours to go searching for it, plumbing through the depths and breadths of books, as well as listening and interacting with Rebbeim, colleagues, and students to find your lost portion of the Torah that belongs to you.

That’s an exciting adventure and a worthwhile enterprise to spend your life advancing!

Shabbos Shuva – Hashem’s Currency: Speech

The Shabbos in between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is called Shabbos Shuva because of the opening line of the haftorah, which states (Hoshea 14:2,3):

2: Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. ב:שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל עַ֖ד יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֥י כָשַׁ֖לְתָּ בַּֽעֲו‍ֹנֶֽךָ:
3:Take words with yourselves and return to the Lord. Say, “You shall forgive all iniquity and teach us [the] good [way],and let us render [for] bulls [the offering of] our lips. ג:קְח֚וּ עִמָּכֶם֙ דְּבָרִ֔ים וְשׁ֖וּבוּ אֶל־יְהֹוָ֑ה אִמְר֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו כָּל־תִּשָּׂ֚א עָו‍ֹן֙ וְקַח־ט֔וֹב וּנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ:

The Radak says these pesukim refer to repentance, teshuva. Hashem is telling the
Jews, through the Prophet Hoshea, that they should return to Hashem “because you have stumbled in your sin. For you have seen that you have stumbled in your sin therefore it is befitting of you to return to Hashem the Blessed One, for nothing will get you up from your stumbling besides your repentance…” Then in the next pasuk it says “Take words with yourselves” which the Radak says means that Hashem is not asking them to repent through giving silver, gold or burnt offerings, rather with good words, that they admit their wrong doings and return to Hashem with all their heart, and not just lip service. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

It would seem from the Radak that Hashem doesn’t care for tzedakah or sacrifices; He desires our vidui, our verbal confession of sins, as well as a heartfelt commitment to distance oneself from the sin and regret it, in order to try never to do it again, which are the 3 main components of teshuva.

Yet we say in the Yomim Noraim tefilos, High Holiday prayers, “But repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil of the decree!” This seems to indicate that tzedakah, charity, is expected by Hashem to be given. Also, part of the atonement process in the times of the Beis HaMikdash was bringing sin- or guilt-offerings, etc. So what does it mean that Hashem is not asking for the silver, gold and burnt offerings of the Jewish people?

We must say that the main part of repentance is the verbal repentance and regret, plus commitment in our hearts to not commit the sin again. The tzedaka and sacrifices are mearly a means of atonement, which help us on a physical, worldly level to understand the severity of our sins.

Why is our speech and heartfelt commitment more valuable to Hashem then our sacrifice of wealth and property? It is because in truth it is more valuable. Human beings were created in “the image of Hashem,” and our “G-dly essence” is our soul. The Orchos Tzadikim in his last chapter mentions that “Animals, too, possess nefesh and ruach, for lust and anger are found in them as they are in men, but a human being possesses a neshama in addition, which speaks and which distinguishes between truth and falsity.” The Chofetz Chaim takes this concept a step further in his Shmiras HaLashon chapter 30, “And now we should speak about the power of speech, which Hashem naturally endowed within the soul of a person, which make him different than other living creatures. He gave us the power of speech so we can speak to the Holy One Blessed Be He and to delve into His Torah, which is the purpose of creation.”

We see from here that speech is a heavenly and spiritual gift from Hashem to mankind, which means it is infinitely valuable and priceless since it is divine. It is in fact more precious than all the physical silver, gold, and sacrifices that come from the physical world.

This should be a lesson to us in valuing what we say and how we say it. May we merit eloquent speech to come out of our mouths before Hashem this coming Yom Kippur.