Vaeschanan – How to Keep Torah Alive and Exciting

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The first paragraph of the Shema is in this week’s Torah portion of Vaeschanan. After declaring how we should love Hashem with all the facets of our being the Torah states, “And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart” (Devarim 6:6). Rav Dovid Chait SHLIT”A, leaving an indelible impression on me, used to tell us in yeshiva, about this pasuk, that we have to view each day as if we received the Torah today on Har Sinai.
 This is based on Rashi regarding the words “That I command you today;” these words shall not be in your eyes like an outdated decree (royal command in written form) which no one takes seriously, but rather like a newly given one, which is read eagerly by all. The Mizrachi, quoting Rashi’s source for the interpretation of this pasuk, in the Sifri, explains the reasoning behind why the pasuk is interpreted in this way: because the mitzvos aren’t just for those who Moshe was talking to on that day, but for every generation. Therefore, “today” must be referring to how fresh it should feel in our eyes. (Click here for Hebrew text.) 
But how do we keep this freshness every single day? The reality is that the Torah manuscript is thousands of years old and the oral tradition is equally as ancient, from the time of receiving the Torah at Sinai. Even the fact that they are the blueprints of creation and handbook of mankind, created 2000 years before the creation of the world, which might make it sound more riveting and attractive, yet the psychology of man usually is “gone with the old and in with the new;” so how do we keep it alive and fresh? In fact, I remember visiting a non-observant friend of mine when I was in yeshiva and he asked what I do all day, do I spend the whole day learning how to read from the Torah scroll? I was astonished at the question and explained to him how I spend the whole day plummeting the depths and breadth of the Talmud, for the most part. He couldn’t imagine how anyone would and could spend the day learning Torah, something so old and seemingly outdated and ancient? How do we excite those that don’t see the practicality of a Torah way of life? And how do we instill in ourselves this level of freshness and enthusiasm that we have to look at the Torah as if it was handed to us at Har Sinai each and every day?
 The Rashi at the beginning of this pasuk asks, “What is this form of love you are commanded [in the first pasuk, ‘You are to love Hashem, your G-D with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions’]? He answers, ‘These words [that I command you today etc.’] For in this manner you will be aware of the Holy One Blessed Is He, and you will cling to his ways. The Gur Aryeh, which is the Maharal’s commentary on Rashi explains that Rashi was bothered by what relation the statement “And these word… on your heart” had to do with loving Hashem? Rather, the pasuk is telling us what is the love, in which way should it be expressed towards Hashem. The answer is, “And these words etc.” That through learning words of Torah one recognizes Hashem, His ways which are good, and recognizing His praise, which will bring one to love [Hashem]. (Click here fore Hebrew text.)
With this we can answer our question of how we can keep Torah observance alive and fresh every day. For if one has the attitude that through learning Torah, especially going into the profundity and fine subtleties of its great depth and vastness, in order to bring oneself to appreciate and love Hashem, then he will always be excited to start all over again as if it is new each day. This is because people want to express love. If they would know and understand that this is the means of showing the greatest love for the greatest entity in the world, universe, and beyond, who is a trusted and loving father and king for us then they would surely gravitate and never be exhausted from finding the means of gaining a greater appreciation of love for Hashem.

 Helping ourselves and others show love for Hashem is the way to keep the acceptance of Torah fresh and alive in our hearts and minds every day.

Va’eschanan – Always Being Watchful

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There is a mischievous stereotype associated with curiosity; for example the character of Curious George or, as the saying goes: “Curiosity killed the cat.” However, as the Orchos Tzadikim emphasizes in each chapter, there is both a positive and negative aspect to every attribute.

When it comes to the attribute of curiosity the Torah says in this week’s Torah portion of Vaeschanan that Moshe beseeched Hashem: “Pray let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon” (Devarim 3:25). Hashem did not let Moshe enter the land of Israel but He at least let him see it, as it says, “Go up to the top of the hill and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross this Jordan” (Devarim 3:27).

The Ralbag learns a very interesting lesson from here. “It is befitting for people to put in all their efforts into seeing everything that you are allowed to look at in order to recognize within it the ingenious of its Creator, May His Name be Blessed, which created all these types of things. For this reason Moshe requested that if Hashem did not want him to crossover the Jordan, at least He should allow him to see the general landscape of the land in order to appreciate all the great qualities of it strengths, and its places of settlement. This was his will when he said, ‘Pray let me cross over and see the land,’ let me crossover or see. It is obvious that this was his intentions because Hashem told Moshe to ‘Go up to the top of the hill and lift up your eyes etc.’ We also find elsewhere that this trait was very strong inside Moshe Rabbeinu as he said, ‘Let me turn now and see this great spectacle why does the thorn bush not burn up’ (Shemos 3:3)?” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We find that Moshe always had a sense of curiosity, to search out the unknown, to figure things out, to appreciate what is to be seen in the world. Be it the land of Israel, the burning bush, or even when we find in the Torah that after he convinces Hashem to forgive the Jewish people over the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe says: ”Show now Your glory” (Shemos 33:18). Hashem, in fact responded “…Then I shall remove My hand and you will see My back, but My face may not be seen.”

One might think that this trait, even if used for good, might indeed still be bad because we say two times a day in the third paragraph of Shema, “Don’t stray after your heart and your eyes.” Looking around and gazing at things in the world might lead us to focus on inappropriate things, so shouldn’t we  create safeguards and put on blinders to ensure we stay away from those evils? Also, curiosity for the world around us might lead to a lot of wasting time from Torah learning; so why is this a good quality!? Furthermore, Moshe was in fact warned that he cannot get too close to the burning bush, to stare at it or to see exactly what He wanted to see of Hashem’s glory.

Just as there is good and bad in every character trait, each character trait leans to the good or the bad but also could be used in the opposite manner, for example, hatred is a bad character trait but it can sometimes be used in a positive way, like when hating the bad deeds of constant sinners. Love is a positive trait that can be used in a bad way as well. We must therefore say, based on this Ralbag, that curiosity is in fact a good character trait and can be harnessed for very good things, like raising your level of belief in Hashem through looking into the wonders of his creation. However, there is always a balance in life, and one has to be careful not to overdo it, which might cause wasting time or worse looking at forbidden things. On the other hand, if a person focuses his gaze in the world and his curiosity at appropriate times to get a better understanding of Hashem’s awesomeness, strength, and wonder, then the more the merrier.

Vaeschanan – More Than Just a Yissacher and Zevulun Partnership

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As the gabbai calls up the first Aliyah to be read from the Torah, the Artscroll Siddur notes: “Addressing the congregation, the gabbai calls upon them to show honor to G-D by giving honor to His Word – The Torah – which is about to be read. The congregation responds with a blessing to all who are called to the Torah and who are loyal to it” (see The Complete Artscoll Siddur page 439, 440). The “blessing” is actually a pasuk found in this week’s Torah portion of Vaeschanan, which states: “You who cling to Hashem, your G-D, you are alive today” (Devarim 4:4).

There is a fascinating explanation of this pasuk in the gemara, Kesubos 111b. The gemara says: “§ Rabbi Elazar said: The common, uneducated people will not come alive in the future, as it is stated: “The dead live not” (Isaiah 26:14). In other words, those who were already considered dead in their lifetimes will not come back to life afterward either. This idea is also taught in a baraita“The dead live not”; one might have thought that this is referring to everyone, i.e., none of the dead will live again. Therefore, the verse states: “The shades [refa’im] rise not” (Isaiah 26:14). This teaches that the verse is speaking of one who weakens [merapeh] himself from matters of Torah. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to Rabbi Elazar: Their master, i.e. God, is not pleased that you say this of ordinary Jews. Rather, that verse is written about one who weakens himself and succumbs to idol worship. Those who commit this great sin do not merit to be resurrected in the future. Rabbi Elazar said to him: I teach it from a different verse, as it is written: “For Your dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades” (Isaiah 26:19). Rabbi Elazar explains: Anyone who uses the light of Torah, which is called the dew of light, the light of Torah will revive him; and anyone who does not use the light of Torah, the light of Torah will not revive him. Since Rabbi Elazar saw that Rabbi Yoḥanan was grieved over the distress of common, uneducated people, he said to him: My teacher, I have found for them a remedy from the Torah so that they will merit life in the World-to-Come, as it states: “But You who cleave to the Lord your God, are alive every one of you this day” (Deuteronomy 4:4). But is it possible to cleave to the Divine Presence? Isn’t it written: For the Lord your God is a devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24)? Rather, this verse teaches that anyone who marries his daughter to a Torah scholar, and one who conducts business [perakmatya] on behalf of Torah scholars, by investing their money, and one who utilizes his wealth to benefit Torah scholars with his property in some other way, the verse ascribes him credit as though he is cleaving to the Divine Presence.”

The Gemara is telling us that every Jew should strive to cling to Hashem, and in this way one will merit to be a part of the future resurrection. In fact the gemara in Sanhedrin 90b brings this pasuk as a proof towards the resurrection of the dead, as it says: “And there are those who say that it is from this following verse that he said to them his ultimate proof: “But you who cleave to the Lord your God every one of you is alive this day” (Deuteronomy 4:4). Wasn’t it obvious with regard to the children of Israel whom God was addressing, that “every one of you is alive this day?” Rather, the meaning of the verse is: Even on the day when everyone is dead you will live; just as today every one of you is alive, so too, in the World-to-Come every one of you will be alive.”

The Gemara in Kesubos clearly states that the ticket to being resurrected is a deep involvement in Torah learning. Rebbe Yochanan was terribly grieved by the thought of the myriad of people who are not entrenched in Torah study who will not be resurrected. However, Rebbe Elazar brought in this pasuk to teach that if one cleaves to Torah scholars he or she will also receive the ticket to be resurrected.  

The Maharsha on this gemara observes that there were 3 types of cleaving mentioned: (1) With one’s body by marrying off his daughter to a Torah scholar. (2) Letting a Torah scholar benefit from one’s possessions, which is clinging through money. (3) Doing business for the scholar, which is not considered clinging through money, because in this instance one is not giving away any of his own money, but rather it is an intellectual clinging, to give him pleasure in whatever way possible.

Rashi,
on the point of the gemara discussing doing business for the Torah scholar, says it means one should be engrossed with the money of Torah scholars, in order to bring them investments, so that they can be free to be engrossed in Torah study through these means. Indeed, it writes: “You are all alive today,” for through clinging to Torah scholars they will merit to live [i.e. resurrection]. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

If there are people who are putting all their efforts and brainpower into figuring out what are the best investments for the Torah scholars, in order to earn enough money to live without going out to work and taking away time from learning, then why can’t they use all that energy and brainpower for their own Torah learning, a direct ticket to eternal life, instead of piggybacking on the Torah scholar?

There is a very important lesson to be learned from this, which might sound obvious, but is part of the fundamentals of Jewish life. Every single person has his or her own unique purpose in life. Granted, everyone has to set aside some time to learn Torah each day, but there are only a few individuals who are able to and should, dedicate their lives towards learning and spreading Torah to the populace. This is necessary for the world to exist, for we need scholars to be fluent and experts in the Guide Book to Life, the Blueprints of Creation, i.e. The Written and Oral Torah. Therefore they have to be able to dedicate their entire life to gaining those essentials,  teaching them and applying them throughout the world.

However there is an equally necessary need for people to take care of these Torah scholars and their families, in order that they can dedicate their life to these means. Therefore G-D created people in such a manner that some of them have the capacity to learn Torah fulltime, while others have a penchant for business, or for making investments, and yet others are handymen, doctors, lawyers, etc.

But all of us were created for one purpose; to serve Hashem and to do His Will. So the business people, doctors, handymen, etc. – if they marry off their daughters to Torah scholars and help support them, or actively make their lives and the lives of their family easier and more comfortable, they are not only doing a great kindness, but are fulfilling their purpose in creation, by enabling the world to continue to exist. That is how one can earn his or her ticket for the World to Come and eternal life.