Ki Seitzei – “There Are No Atheists in Foxholes”

One of the 6 mitzvos that have to do with remembering is found at the end of this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei. “You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear G-D. [Therefore,] it will be, when Hashem your G-D grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which Hashem, your G-D, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget” (Devarim 25:17-19)!
Rabbeinu Bachye describes the strategy we undertook and should undertake towards the nation of Amalek. “After you inherit the land you shall wipe out the remembrance of Amalek as written in Shmuel Alef (15:3): ‘and you shall slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ This is in order so that people won’t say this ox came from Amalek. Furthermore Chaza”l taught that they used black magic to turn themselves into animals. They were able to transform into whatever animal they wanted to therefore the pasuk spelled out that every animal should be wiped out, from the ox to the sheep and the camel to the donkey, and in this way the wisdom of the Torah outsmarted their wisdom.”

 Rabbeinu Bachye further says that Hashem destroyed their power in Heaven as Bilaam prophesied would happen, so that in the beginning they will be lost from on high (their ministering angel will be destroyed), and in the end they will be wiped out in this world. Rabbeinu Bachye learns out that they will not be forgotten as long as they aren’t wiped off the face of the earth. But in the times of Moshiach, when they will finally be wiped out, they will be forgotten from this world, and only then will Hashem’s Holy Name and Throne be complete. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see from here that the ultimate travesty is being forgotten about. But why is Amalek worse than any other nation that has attacked and ravaged the Jewish people? Certainly, there are far worse and horrific stories of enemies that have attacked and persecuted us; so why does Amalek seem to be the worst of them all?

Rabbeinu Bachye explains in his simple understanding of these pesukim that what Amalek did with us was an injustice by out of the blue coming against us from a faraway land, and not remembering the covenant of G-D. They attacked the rear, the weakest people, who didn’t have the strength to walk. It is normal for camps running away from the enemy, and the enemy doesn’t have the power to breach the camp; but they came from behind and struck the end of the camp, the weakest part. Not only that but another indication that they were not G-D fearing was that the Amalekites attacked while all the Jews were tired in Refidim, and thirsty for water.

Why is it so bad that they attacked from behind? Wasn’t it smart strategy to surprise attack from behind, when the Jewish people were tired and weak, catching them off-guard and ruining their morale? What does it have to do with a lack of fear of Heaven? And they weren’t Jewish anyways, so why is that such a claim against them?

It would seem that Rabbeinu Bachye is saying something quite incredible! The fact that they attacked the weak showed that they were in fact more afraid of people and their strengths, than Hashem. It must be that when an army normally attacks the front or the side, even if it is a surprise attack, but it shows that they aren’t afraid of their enemy and this is an indication at the very least, on some subconscious level, that they fear Hashem. For if otherwise, why would Hashem express in the Torah a claim against Amalek that they are not G-D fearing, even if they had the chutzpah to attack right after the whole world saw the splitting of the sea and the drowning of the Egyptians? (Chaza”l says that when the sea split every water in the world split as well, for everyone to know what’ was going on). But if the fact they attacked right after those open miracles was a reason, why they are fearless then that has nothing to do with striking from behind the infirm and weak?! Therefore, it must be from the fact that Hashem has such a prejudice against Amalek for what they did and how they did it and calls it a lack of yiras Hashem. Therefore, anyone else who has the moral decency to not attack the weak, from behind, must have at least a sliver of fear of Hashem inside them.

We see from here that inherent in everything in creation there is an inkling of fear towards Hashem. Unfortunately, people have the ability to completely ignore it; but they also have the ability to chooose to embrace it. The more they embrace it the bigger a mentche they become.

Ki Seitzei – Kindness Consistently

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“’You shall love your fellow Jew as yourself’ (Vayikra 19:18). Said Rabbi Akiva: This is a great principle in the Torah” (Rashi based on a Sifra in Kedoshim 3:12).

The Sifsei Chachamim on this Rashi explains that within this mitzvah is the entire Torah, as Hillel said: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole entire Torah and the rest is it’s explanation.” What do Rebbe Akiva and Hillel mean by their statements? Why is this pasuk so important that it is considered the central pasuk of the Torah and everything else is just a detailed explanation of this pasuk? (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Torah in this week’s portion of Ki Seitzei states in the first 3 pesukim of perek 22, “You may not observe your brother’s ox or his sheep lost and conceal yourself from them; you must surely return them to your brother. But if your brother is not near you or you do not know him, gather it into your house and let it stay with you until your brother seeks it, when you must return it to him. And so are you to do for his donkey, and so are you to do for his garment, and so are you to do for any lost object of your brother’s that is lost from him which you find, you may not conceal yourself.”
Rabbeinu Bachye explains that the Torah commands us to be vigilant with returning lost objects to their rightful owners. The Torah used a double language of השב תשיבם, that he should surely return the object, which Chazal say means even if it gets lost 100 times one must return it. These are the ways of kindness and mercy, to train our minds that we are one nation deserving of us having one father, each one desiring the good for another, and having pity on each other’s property. So, whether the lost object is an animal or an inanimate object, one is obligated to return it to its owner. That is what the pasuk mean when it says, “and so you shall do to his donkey” which is an animal but a non-kosher animal. Then it says, “And so you shall do with his garment,” even though it’s not as important as an animal. “And so, you shall do to any lost object of your friend” which is any other vessel even though it’s not as important as clothes (since it’s not used to cover yourself); still you can’t ignore it and must return it to him. And when it says, “You may not conceal yourself,” don’t understand it to just be referring to returning lost objects, but rather to other specific needs and all assistance one can give to his fellow. Such as to remove and push away any damage that can befall him, one is obligated in all this as the pasuk says, “And you should love your neighbor as yourself”. Chazal also learns from the words “And if you hide yourself from them” as well as the fact that it also writes “You shall not hide yourself from them.” How [does one resolve the contradiction]? An elderly person, where it is not respectful for him to be obligated in returning the object, the Torah says he may conceal himself, but other people may not conceal themselves. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Don’t most people like to and want to help one another? Isn’t it a natural feeling for people to want to help others and be nice to them? It is simply the right thing to do! What lesson is the Torah trying to send to us by saying we should return lost objects, and the progression of what kind of objects should be returned, which is anyways anything returnable? Why also does Rabbeinu Bachye connect this pasuk with any other help you can offer someone and emphasize that we should feel like one big happy family, responsible for each other? Indeed, why did he bring in the pasuk of “Love your neighbor as yourself?”

It is true that everyone would agree we should help each other; kindness is a basic tenant in life. However, Rabbeinu Bachye is teaching us that the Torah expects us to do it on a consistent basis. One shouldn’t feel like ‘I’ll do it when I am in the mood’ or make up other excuses for not helping others or returning what others have lost if they found it.

Rabbeinu Bachye is showing us the means of how to instill into our minds the feeling that we should always feel the need to help others and assist them in their needs, no matter what the circumstance. This is, by instilling in our minds the attitude that we are all children of one Father, Hashem. Just as siblings feel a personal obligation to take care of each other, we should also feel the same way about every Jew. There should be no excuse of what kind of object should be returned. One shouldn’t say to himself, ‘he won’t be missing this,’ or ‘it’s not as important as other things are,’ or ‘they are always replaceable.’ Rather, one should pick it up and find the owner anyways. You would want the same thing done for you if you were in the owner’s shoes.

 Of course, this applies to any issue a person has, any dilemma your fellow Jew gets into, one should always feel the need to help, and to help you feel that need, you should put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? However, everything is within reason, and an elderly person isn’t expected to do as much as a younger person; therefore the Torah exempts the elderly from the mitzvah of returning lost objects.

Now we can understand why “Love your neighbor as yourself” is so important, and everything else is just detailed explanation. The reason is because this pasuk is what will propel a person to serve Hashem properly,  For example, what will help a person do a mitzvah between a man and his fellow like returning a lost object, lending money, hosting guests, visiting the sick, or any other kindness, is to think about themselves being in need of help; wouldn’t you want someone to help you, and to do it properly? But also regarding mitzvos between man and G-D, wouldn’t you want your child to listen to what you say, or any one for that matter, if you asked them to do something for you? If so, then you should do the same for Hashem, your Father and King, to do His will by fulfilling His Torah and mitzvos.

Creating motivations, like the pasuk “Love your neighbor as yourself,” to properly serve Hashem and do his will is very important for success in having a fulfilling life and everything else is just details of what exactly to do.

Ki Seitzei – Mitzvah Escort

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There are a whole slew of  mitzvos in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Seitzei. The Sefer Hachinuch enumerates 74 to be exact, from mitzvah 532 to mitzvah 605. The Medrish Rabbah gives a fascinating insight into the dynamics of a mitzvah which should give us a whole new appreciation of our performances of mitzvos.

The Medrish begins by quoting a pasuk in Mishlei: “For they are a wreath of grace for your head,” (כִּ֤י לִוְיַ֤ת חֵ֓ן הֵ֬ם לְרֹאשֶׁ֑ךָ, Mishlei 1:9). In the second interpretation of this pasuk the medrish says the word לִוְיַ֤ת could also mean surrounding (just like a wreath). “Rebbe Pinchas bar Chama says that mitzvos surround you everywhere you go. ‘When you build a house… and you shall make a fence for your roof’ (Devarim 22:8).  If you make a door, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘a(A)nd you shall write them on the door post of your house’ (Devarim 6:9). If you wear new clothes, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘You shall not wear shaatnez,’ (a mixture of wool and linen in the same garment.) If you go to get a haircut, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘You shall not cut off the corners of your head.’ And if you have a field to plow, mitzvos surround you as it says ‘You shall not plow with an ox and a horse together’ (Devarim 22:10). And if you plant, mitzvos surround you, as it says, ‘You shall not plant a mixture of seeds in your vineyard’ (Devarim 22:9). And if you harvest, mitzvos surround you, as it says ‘When you harvest your harvest in your field and you forgot a sheaf in the field’ (Devarim 24:19). The Holy One Blessed Be He said even if you are not doing anything, just taking a stroll, mitzvos surround you, how do you know, for it says, ‘when you happen upon a birds nest in front of you’ (Devarim 22:6)” (Medrish Rabba Devarim 6:3).

The Rada”l observes that the medrish is of the opinion like the Zohar that one has an obligation to shoo away a mother bird even if he happens upon a nest with a mother and chicks inside and originally had no intention of taking the chicks or eggs. The Rada”l also asked why the mitzvah of forgotten bundles of grain which must be left for the poor is mentioned in the medrish instead of the mitzvah of peah (leaving over the corner of one’s field for the poor) or leket (stalks that fell during the harvest which also should be left for the poor)? The Rada”l answers that the medrish is teaching us that even without the knowledge or will of a person, Hashem brings him mitzvos to bless him with, as the Torah concludes in that mitzvah: “In order that Hashem your G-D will bless you in all your actions” (Devarim 24:19). (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

This medrish sounds poetic! But there is a very practical and inspiring lesson that one should meditate on and take to heart. It is very easy to recognize how one is surrounded physically by mitzvos, when wearing tzitzis or being in a sukkah on Sukkos. Chazal even say that by wearing a tallis and draping it over his head it should have the effect of focusing oneself in fear of Hashem. Also by surrounding oneself with tzitzis, which represents the 613 mitzvos, it reminds a person to fulfill the mitzvos. So too Chazal talk about the uniqueness of the mitzvah of sukkah, where one literally has the chance to be surrounded by a mitzvah, physically, in his totality. But this medrish takes it a step further. A person is able to be surrounded by mitzvos all the time, every single second of the day! Not only by doing mitzvos like praying, putting on tallis and tefillin, learning Torah, saying blessings when appropriate, and doing acts of kindness. But even the very fact you are living in a house with mezuzos and, with a roof, if you are able to go up on it, which has a fence around it, you are constantly surrounded by these mitzvos. The ramifications being, you are surrounded by the blessing and reward that goes into the mitzvos that are being fulfilled constantly, for example, by just living in your house with the mezuzah you put up many years ago when you first moved in.

It doesn’t stop there; the medrish points out another incredible aspect of the nature of a mitzvah. Every single negative mitzvah you don’t do when you have the opportunity also surrounds you at every moment with all its blessings and rewards. For example, by just wearing clothes that do not have shaatnez in them you are constantly surrounded by that mitzvah since you have that opportunity of wearing clothes made out of wool and linen but don’t. A farmer could have been plowing with an ox and horse leading the plow but doesn’t, he is then surrounded by that mitzvah with all its blessing and reward. Another example is in a situation where he or she could have spoken lashon hara, slander, but doesn’t he or she is surrounded by that mitzvah, etc. etc.!

Hashem’s benevolence doesn’t stop there! Hashem even creates situations where you are handed a mitzvah without even intending to do it, like by the mitzvah of shichacha, the forgotten bundle of wheat which must be left for the poor. The Torah goes out of its way to mention that one even gets a blessing for fulfilling that mitzvah, all the more so for intentionally doing calculated mitzvos. Hashem even brings you to mitzvos, according to this medrish, like by the mitzvah of shiluach hakan, shooing away the mother bird, if one is just taking a stroll and happens upon the ability of doing this mitzvah.

What lesson do we learn from this medrish? Besides psychologically, having the peace of mind that wherever you go you are surrounded by blessing and reward for the mitzvos you do, by fulfilling the positive mitzvos and not transgressing the negative mitzvos, there is also a very practical aspect towards this medrish. That is, if one truly appreciates this gift we are pretty much constantly surrounded by then there will be a whole new level of kavana, intent, when performing the mitzvah or not transgressing the sin so now the quality of one’s mitzvos will be keener, which means more blessing and more reward.

With this outlook towards mitzvos our service of Hashem could be taken to a whole new level and a bigger kiddush Hashem!