Eikev – What’s Good About Shabbos?

This week’s Torah portion of Eikev begins, “This shall be the reward when you hearken to these ordinances and you observe and perform them; Hashem, your G-D, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers ” (Devarim 27:12).
 In the first medrish in the Medrish Rabba on this portion Hashem asserts: “‘Do you think I gave to you Shabbos as a detriment? I only gave it to you for your own good.’ How? Rebbe Chiya bar Abba said [that Hashem says], ‘You sanctify the Shabbos with eating and drinking, wearing clean clothes and delighting your soul; and I will give you reward.’ How do we know this? Because the pasuk in Yeshayahu (58:13) says ‘And you call the Shabbos a delight…’ What is written after that (58:14)? ‘Then you will delight on Hashem.’ ‘And he will give to you whatever your heart desires’ (Tehillim 37:4). The Jews said to Hashem, ‘When will you give us our reward for the mitzvos that we do?’ Hashem said back to them, ‘You will now eat from the fruit of the mitzvos that you do but it’s reward will be saved for the future in the World to Come and will be given to you then.’ How do we know this? From the fact that we call it in this portion, in this circumstance, ‘This shall be your reward when you hearken to these ordinances'” (Devarim Rabba 3:1). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 Why would Shabbos be a detriment to us? And in Hashem’s response, what does it mean that ‘we will eat the fruit of the mitzvah now? ‘
 The Maharz”u has two ways to understand why people would think Shabbos is a detriment:
1. “[Hashem admits], It is suffering for you, for I forbade you any form of melacha (work that was done to build the mishkan) and business, as well as kindling and putting out a fire to the extent that even if an entire house is ablaze (assuming that it is a situation which is non-life threatening) it is still forbidden to put out the fire. To this [Hashem] says that the reward is much greater than the loss, for the loss is occasionally and very little and the reward is constant and in abundance.
What does it mean that the reward is constant?

The Maharz”u explains that the delight one will get from enjoying and observing Shabbos is that Hashem will always listen when this person cries out to Him. The Maharz”u proves this from pesukim in Iyov. Now we can understand what the fruit of performing the mitzvos in this world is and why it is constant. Imagine, just for observing Hashem’s Shabbos and enjoying it by eating fancy food and drinking delicious drinks while getting all dressed up, Hashem will always listen to your prayers when you cry out to Him. That is quite impressive fruit coming from your mitzvah on a consistent basis!

Somehow, this overshadows the circumstances when the house is burnt down and one loses all his possessions, and the many times when people lost their job and livelihood for the sake of Shabbos observance; why? Furthermore, the inconveniences that make the day harder, less comfortable, or supposedly not as pleasurable, like not being able to turn on and off lights, drive the car, write, or even choose things the way you want to choose them; why are they really worth it at the end of the day?

However, if one truly contemplates what it means for Hashem to listen to and answer ALL of your prayers in this world, the delight to have an all-powerful, all-knowing being willing to listen to you besides the belief and understanding of the infinite reward in the World To Come, then truly any supposed “detriments” are miniscule and insignificant. The key is that one must contemplate, imagine, and focus on the benefits and believe it is true, for then the detriments are truly insignificant.
 2. The second possible detriment discussed by the Maharz”u is based on a very deep concept found in another medrish (Vayikra Rabba 13:3). “Mitzvos were only given to mankind in order to refine a person, to purify them from evil forces. [One might think] only the mitzvah of Shabbos specifically was not given to purify them from evil for they are commanded to eat, drink and to delight. There is no suffering, affliction, or purification. Not only that but you get rewarded for all the pleasure you have. However, even on Shabbos there is a refinement for one cannot eat whatever he wants just like during the week.”
This explanation is absolutely incredible if you analyze what the Maharz”u is saying! It seems people would think that Shabbos is a detriment, because if you go through all the mitzvos, there is a certain refinement that the mitzva does to a person by needing to abide by certain rules and not being allowed to do whatever one wants. For example, one cannot eat whatever he wants, there is the mitzva of kashrus. One cannot wear whatever he wants, there is the mitzva of shaatnez. Even mitzvos like tefillin have specific rules of where to place them and how to wear them; it can be a pain and a hassle to observe everything. But that was done on purpose by Hashem, to refine the human being from all negative effects inside and around him. Yet one might think that because there is a mitzvah to enjoy oneself on Shabbos then he can do whatever he wants. Eat the fanciest foods, kosher or not, drink the best wines, and wear the fanciest clothing! Imagine having a buttered pork chop, clam chowder, with chocolate mousse for dessert while wearing a Hugo Boss suit which is full of shaatnez! That might sound delicious and fancy (at least to some people), and it might be a great way to observe the mitzva of enjoying and honoring Shabbos; but what a detriment, because it is at the cost of transgressing other sins! Therefore, Hashem says it’s better to observe the rest of my mitzvos properly, as you would during the week, than to honor the Shabbos the best possible way.

Hashem says, “It is the effort that you put into doing things correctly and trying your hardest to produce proper intentions, not to do what you think is the best way to observe the mitzvos of Shabbos. If you listen to My will then I will listen to your prayers plus you will get much reward in the World to Come.”

Bonding with Hashem is the pure essence of Shabbos. Take advantage it has plenty of benefits and is well worth it!

Eikev – Educating Our Jewish Children

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The second paragraph of the Shema is found towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Eikev. The Ramban points out a very subtle but fascinating difference between the first two paragraphs of the Shema. Around the conclusion of the second paragraph the Torah states, “Teach them to your children, to discuss them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise” (Devarim 11: 19). In the first paragraph of shema it writes, “Inform through teaching your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise” (Devarim 6:7).
The Ramban observes, “It makes sense according to the simple explanation of the pesukim that the Torah is coming to add something here (in the second paragraph of the Shema) when it says ‘to discuss them,’ for there (in the first paragraph of the Shema) it commands ‘and you speak them when you sit in your house’. Here it is saying we should teach our children to the point that the children will be constantly speaking about it at all times. It also adds here, ‘teach them’ but there it says ‘inform through teaching’ which means to tell them about the mitzvos. Here, they should teach to them so that they will know it, and make them understand them and the reason [behind the mitzvos] to speak them with you at all time.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In the first paragraph of the Shema, the Ramban remarks that “these mitzvos are already hinted to, because after there was a command to observe the mitzvos, as a statute in the world for all your generations, ‘Between Me and the Jews, it shall be an eternal sign’ (Shemos 31:17). ‘This is my covenant that you shall observe between you and Me and between your children after you’ (Breishis 17:10). Behold we are commanded to inform our children about the mitzvos, and how can you inform them if you don’t teach it to them?!” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
At first glance there seems to be a progression; Hashem first commanded the generation in the Desert to know and observe the mitzvos. This is an obligation for all generations, but perhaps one might think the subsequent generations would have to figure out on their own how to observe them. Therefore the first paragraph of the Shema commands the parents to tell their children about the mitzvos, possibly assuming that once we know what to do, we can figure out on our own how to do it. Then in the second paragraph of the Shema Hashem instructs the parents to teach the children so well that this is all they talk about all day.

However, if this is true, then why did the Torah have to tell us this in this sequence? Why not just get to the point and command the parents to be sure the children know how to properly observe the Torah and Mitzvos? Also, the Ramban, in the first paragraph of the Shema, seems to refer to telling over the mitzvos as teaching them, for how else would they know them? But, in the second paragraph, he seems to refer to this level as just stating the mitzvos, and the third level as teaching them in their entirety. But is this a contradiction in the Ramban; and if not, what is the difference between the two levels of progression?

Upon further analysis it would seem that the Ramban is showing us the process of educating our children. Ideally, Hashem first commanded us to have the resolve to be Torah observant and only then we can give it over to the next generation. Then, once the parents are following the Torah and mitzvos, the Torah instructs the parents to lecture the children on how to fulfill the Torah and mitzvos in its entirety. But lecturing isn’t enough; to ensure the next generation will be properly observant there has to be an attitude of dialogue. Children have to feel comfortable in asking their parents if they are observing the Torah and keeping the mitzvos in the proper manner, to the point that this is the focal point of their lives. Torah is all they speak about and enjoy speaking about. Everything they do and talk about is connected to the Torah in some shape or form. Only then has the parents ideally reached their obligation of ensuring the continuity of the Torah and its mitzvos to the next generation.

Eikev – Masking Germs

A proof that the Torah is the guidebook for life is in this week’s Torah portion of Ekev. The Torah states: “The entire commandment that I command you today you shall observe to perform, so that you may live and increase, and come and possess the Land that Hashem swore to your forefathers” (Devarim 8:1).

There is a cryptic but very fascinating Medrish Tanchuma on this pasuk, “’The entire commandment that I command you,’ this is analogous to the pasuk in Mishlei, ‘Keep My commandments and live’ (Mishei 7:2). Because Dovid said ‘Guard me as the apple of the eye’ (Tehillim 17:8). Rebbe Yehuda of Sichnin said in the name of Rebbe Eliezer, ‘There is no beis rova (28.7 yards squared) where there aren’t 9 kavim (12.42 liters) worth of mazikim (damagers or demons) within it. Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said that all of them have masks on their faces. How [is one protected]? A person walks around and an angel goes out before him and says ‘look to the sides when in the presence of the image of The Holy One Blessed Be He as it says, ‘Only with the image (tzelem (Elokim)] does man make his way’ (Tehillim 39:7),” (Medrish Tanchuma, parshas Ekev, paragraph 4).

The Etz Yosef, explaining this medrish elaborates and says that there is no place on earth which has the space for sowing ¼ of a kav (a space of .345 liters of seeds to plant) that does not have 9 kavs of mazikim (12.42 liters of demons within it). But each one is wearing a mask on their face so that they will not stare at a person and hurt him. Angels escort a person when a person has upon him the “image of Hashem” (tzelem Elokim), meaning when he is involved in Torah and performing mitzvos, and announces “behold the image of Hashem” and these demons leave the person alone. But when a person is not involved in Torah and performing mitzvos, the “image of Hashem” is removed and the demons can come in and do damage. That is what the pasuk means when it says, “guard the commandments and live.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

This medrish is expanded on in more detail in the last paragraph of the Medrish Tanchuma in the Torah Portion of Mishpatim. It says there that for every mitzva a person performs, he receives an angel, and these angels protect from mazikim. Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said, “What is referred to when it says, “A thousand may fall victim” (Tehillim 91:7)? Hashem gives to every single Jew tens of thousands of angels to protect him and to make him a path. One of them announces before him and says, “Give respect to the image of Hashem (tzelem Elokim)” because the whole world is filled with spirits and demons. Rebbe Yehuda bar Shalom said in the name of Rebbe Levi that there isn’t a beis rova of land in the world which does not have in it 9 kavs of demons. How should we deal with them? Rebbe Levi said that there is a mask on their (the mazikim’s) faces just like a donkey who pulls a mill, and when sin causes it to happen, the mazikim are unmasked and the person is stupefied. But when the angel makes his proclamations of ‘give respect to the image of Hashem,’ the person is in peace. When [the angel] is silent [the person] immediately is hurt… (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The mazikim, literally damagers or demons, are like germs ready to infect and cause damage to a person, but as long as they are masked they are harmless. We see clearly from here that a mask is used to protect others from harm, to keep the threat at bay. Similarly we find at the end of the Torah portion of Ki Sisa that Moshe Rabbeinu wore a mask most of the time to block the radiance from shining out from his face so that people would not be afraid to approach him.

However, there is an even more important lesson, about the greatness of man, gadlus ha’adam, that we can learn from this medrish. We must realize that we are royalty, dignified people who deserve bodyguards to escort us wherever we go. But our true value is only seen and appreciated if we toil in Torah learning and perform mitzvos. Only then do we earn the bodyguards and the honor to be able to use them. But as soon as we rebel against our Father, the King, we are immediately susceptible to the perils that surround us.

What is even more amazing is the defense we have against the threat; it’s not any weapon or shield; it is our very essence. All of us were created in the image of Hashem, as it says in the first perek of Breishis, “And G-D said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’” (Breishis 1:26). This is the weapon against the mazikim! The awe and trepidation of being confronted by a tzelem Elokim keeps the mazikim at bay, but they only see or realize this when a person is shomer Torah and mitzvos,  observing the Torah and doing its mitzvos. Only then does the angel announce to the world that it must show respect to the tzelem Elokim, this royal prince, made in the image of G-D. But when a person is not so careful in adhering to Hashem’s Torah then he loses his guard and is susceptible to trouble around him because he is not acting regally, so the awe and respect is marred.

Choosing to glorify oneself with using Hashem’s Blueprints of Creation, the Torah, which is our guide for life brings out the greatness of man, gadlus ha’adam!

Eikev – Israel’s Defense Force and Offensive

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At the end of this week’s Torah portion of Eikev, the Torah states: “For if you keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will possess nations greater and stronger than you” (Devarim 11:22-23).

Rabbeinu Bachye remarks on these pesukim: “If you follow the mitzvos of the Torah then Hashem will kick out the enemies from amongst you, for on this condition you are entering the land. In the Medrish it cites (Medrish Tanchuma Breishis 1): ‘For if you keep’ (אם שמור תשמרון) If you keep the mitzvos of the Torah you will be protected, meaning you will be protected from any enemy and from any destructive force. So to the previous paragraph starts ‘And it will be if you will listen’ (והיה אם שמוע תשמעו, which is the beginning of the second paragraph of Shema) it also mean if you listen to the words of the Torah, you will be listened to [in your prayers]. The opposite is also true [if you don’t listen and keep the mitzvos then Hashem won’t be quick to listen to your cries and protect you.] Similarly it says in Mishley 21:13: ‘He who stops up his ear from the cry of a poor man-he, too, will cry out and not be answered.’ [Implying if he does help the poor his own prayers will be accepted too.]” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In the first part of pasuk 23 it says:“Then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you,” Rabbeinu Bachye says it refers to “those who are closer to you [inside Israel] and then afterwards, ‘Every place upon which the soles of your feet will tread,’ (pasuk 24), which is the farther places. For this reason Chazal say (Sifri Ekev 51) about King David that he did something out of order and against the commands of the Torah, for he first captured the farther places which were Aram Tzova and Aram Naharayim which are farther from the Land of Israel and then afterward he captured the closer ones. For this reason they say in Gitten 47a that the conquering of the individual isn’t considered conquering. It is called ‘the conquering of the individual’ because there weren’t 600,000 people with him and it was not considered a conquering for the sake of the Holiness of the land regarding maaser (tithes) and shmita (sabbatical year) on a Torah level but rather only on a rabbinic level. Aram Tzova is Syria as we learn in the Sifri quoted before.”

We can infer from this Rabbeinu Bachye that if King David would have conquered everything in the proper order, with the backing of the entire nation, by first finishing to conquer the territories in Israel proper, as was started in the times of Yehoshua, and then continuing on to Syria and Aram Naharayim, then those latter places would also have been imbued with the same Torah level of Holiness and obligation in mitzvos, such as maaser and shmita. However, as a consequence for not strictly following the Torah, and doing things out of order, the farther lands that King David conquered were only sanctified on a rabbinic level.

There is a very interesting observation that could be pulled out of these two pesukim for why Rabbeinu Bachye specifically mentioned the incident with King David at this juncture, besides the fact that he transgressed these very pesukim of pasuk 23 and 24. Pasuk 22 points out that if we follow the Torah to the strictest letter of the law in Israel, then Hashem guarantees that we will be unharmed by any enemy, and in fact all our enemies will be outside the land of Israel. Now people might say: ‘come on, give us a break, look at how many people are Torah observant or are changing over and are finding their Torah roots in Israel and still our enemy is amongst us. And not only threatening us but actually harming us. How could it be with so much good in The Promise Land?!’

The obvious answer is that we aren’t perfect, and that not everyone is following Hashem’s word. But what we also see is that reward and punishment aren’t all or nothing. We are still in the land and there have been many miracles that have allowed us to stay in Eretz Yisrael. Wwe see this from King David, who was known to be on such a high level of relationship with Hashem, as testified in his Sefer Tehillim (Psalms) that was written with Divine Inspiration. He was a prophet, who led the Jewish People faithfully for forty years, and was deserving of having the Beis HaMikdash to be built in his day, if not for the fact that he was involved in bloodshed, albeit for the sake of defending his people and conquering the Holy Land. Yet we see here that whatever miscalculation it was for King David to choose to conquer Syria and its adjoining land first before finishing the conquest of Israel, there were consequences. He did it totally for the sake of Heaven, and proof is in the consequence, that the land he conquered was just not as holy as it could have been; yet any level of mishap deserves a consequence. It cannot simply be ignored.

But what we also see is that even what seems to be a very subtle consequence is a consequence which makes for a difference and has major ramifications. Who knows what would have happened if the land would have been conquered correctly? Would it have been at the Torah level of holiness and obligations to fulfill the mitzvos concerning land just like the rest of Israel has?

We have to realize that even the small differences in our service of Hashem makes for a difference. In this way we can be more observant of how we act and the choices we make. But also the consequences of our actions must be thought out clearly and realized; for, imagine the fact that something is rabbinic and not on a Torah level is a punishment for the actions of King David!

If we are more careful and thoughtful in what we do and are mindful to try to kindly help others do the right thing then peace and serenity will be granted for all of us in the Holy Land, and all our prayers will be answered with all of us in the Promised Land, speedily in our days.