Noach – What is Righteousness

This Dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Dr. Bill Ladner, who was the inspiration and reason of why I started Food for Thought. He passed away in his 90s last Thursday night. May this dvar Torah and all subsequent Food for thoughts be a merit to his Holy Neshama, Yehi Zichro Baruch.

This Dvar Torah is based on a shmuz I heard in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim by Rav Moshe Chait zt”l in 2001. 

There are different ideas what a tzadik, a righteous person, is.

 This week’s Torah portion of Noach begins by saying: “These are the generations of Noach, Noach was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noach walked with God” (Brieshis 6:9). Rashi there observes, “בדורותיו IN HIS GENERATIONS — Some of our Rabbis explain it (this word) to his credit: he was righteous even in his generation; it follows that had he lived in a generation of righteous people he would have been even more righteous owing to the force of good example. Others, however, explain it to his discredit: in comparison with his own generation he was accounted righteous, but had he lived in the generation of Avraham he would have been accounted as of no importance (cf. Sanhedrin 108a).”

Rashi states the argument that “In his generation” means a praise that he was righteous in his generation and all the more so, he would have been an even greater tzadik if he was in a generation among other righteous people, since being righteous among a generation of wicked people takes a lot of inner strength. However “In his generation” could also be an insult; for it can mean that while he may have been a tzadik in his generation, if he had lived at the same time as Avraham Avinu then he wouldn’t be considered anything special. He was righteous compared to the wicked; but compared to others he was nothing important.

Either way he is still called a tzadik. He has some level of righteousness which sets him apart.

There is a medrish Yalkut Shimone in parshas Vezos Habracha that elaborates on a pasuk from Eishes Chayil, “Many women have acquired wealth, but you surpass them all” (Mishlei 31:29). Chazal say about this pasuk that there are many righteous people in this world, but you are better then all of them, which allegorically refers to Moshe Rabbeinu. Adam HaRishon said to Moshe, “I am greater than you because I was created in the Image of Hashem, b’tzelem Elokim. Moshe said back that your greatness did not last too long. You could not even stay in that lofty state overnight, but for me the glory that was given to me from Hashem lasted for the rest of my life as the pasuk says, “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes had not dimmed, nor had he lost his [natural] freshness” (Devarim 34:7). Moshe admitted that being a tzelem Elokim, having been created by Hashem Himself without physical parents, is a very high level, but what counts is lasting at a spiritually high level.

The medrish continues with Noach approaching Moshe and saying that he is greater than Moshe because he was the only one saved with his family. Since he was able to withstand all the wickedness and stay righteous, he was greater than Moshe. Moshe replied that Noach didn’t have the power to save his generation, but Moshe was able to change the evil decree cast on the Jews by Hashem, caused by the sin of the golden calf. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
There is a state of righteousness that doesn’t show greatness (like Noach). But changing the decision Hashem makes is greatness (like Moshe). It wasn’t enough that Moshe led them through the desert but Moshe rose to a level of righteousness that could even change Hashem’s decision!

Chazal say that Noach’s generation was so evil that Hashem said they don’t have a right to live and yet Noach didn’t let them influence himself and his family. However this wasn’t enough to fulfill his purpose in life, for Moshe was saying he could have gone farther in righteousness by affecting others for the good just as Moshe did.

It is not enough to become a Tzadik for yourself. Gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man, is to recognize how much Hashem endowed man. One is not here for oneself; rather one is here, in this world, in order to make a change in the world around him or her.

At one-point Moshe said he’d rather be non-existent than harm a fellow Jew. This is selflessness.

The Rambam says that everyone is affected by external influences. It is just a question of what we do with these influences.
What is the essence of a leader, a gadol? He is concerned for others. It is very important for everyone to think about what I am doing for others, and how am I influential?

It is not enough to be a “righteous man in his generation;” Moshe was the person to emulate because he had an impact on others. We must be conscientious about what we do in and around the beis medrish, our workplace, our shul, in our home etc.

The Negiah: The Power of a Bias

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This week’s Torah portion is Shelach, which discusses the incident of the spies. This dvar Torah is based on a shmuz given by Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, who was Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim. It shows the power and extent a bias corrupts without defining what the bias of the spies was. For an explanation of the exact bias of the spies please click here and here and here for the Rosh HaYeshiva of the entire Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim network, Rav Henoch Liebwitz zt”l’s shmuz found in Majesty of Man.

A major theme in the Torah portion of Shelach is the count of the meraglim, the spies. The Mussar Giants say this is an example of great people succumbing to mistakes which appear be obvious to other people, but to the individuals involved in the matter there was some kind of negiah, bias, that distorted their deductions.

The Yalkut Shimone says that the spies were righteous. In the opening pasuk of the portion it says: “Send for you men,” “Shelach licha anashim;” and whenever the Torah says “anashim,” “men,” it is refering to righteous people.
The selection of these people were approved by both Moshe and Hashem. Nevertheless, on this pasuk Rashi says that Hashem told Moshe ‘they are being sent on your command, not Mine.’

Really, Moshe couldn’t understand the request of the Jewish people, because Hashem promised them a land flowing with milk and honey. So there was already a doubt as to whether their request was authentic or not; Hashem had assured them, so they shouldn’t have any doubt in the land.

In fact, at the end of his life, Moshe warned the people to not do like their fathers did and mess up when they were about to go into the Promise Land. Moshe reminded them, “And all of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come’” (Devarim 1:22). Rashi there says that when the Jews came to ask for the spies the younger folks were pushing the elders and the elders pushing ahead of the judges. This was a lack of courtesy which Moshe now admitted he didn’t pick up on at the time but should have noticed and rejected their request. In the next pasuk, “And the matter pleased me; so I took twelve men from you, one man for each tribe,” Moshe even admitted that he thought they had a good idea. It is hard to admit you are wrong. But “Derech Eretz Kadmah liTorah,” good manners precede the Torah; it is the beginning and ending of the Torah. A slight lack of courtesy could destroy even a sincere and devoted motivation to do something. A lack of good manners is not being so meticulous in Jewish law, halacha, in general, and specifically in character development, mussar.

As a result, while Moshe hand-picked the spies and Hashem approved, he still had his suspicions and blessed Yehoshua, as well as prayed for him, that he would be saved from the influence of these bad people.

Once in the land, “They went up in the south, and he came to Hebron” (Bamidbar 13:22), Calev only went to Chevron to pray by the tomb of our forefathers. Calev at that point was aware that there was something wrong and prayed to not be corrupted. When the spies returned to the camp Calev had to stop the people from stoning Moshe and Aharon. He had to first act like he was against Moshe and Aharon to get the Jews to listen to him and then convinced them otherwise, that they were making a bad decision in following the rest of the spies. However, with all his bravery and conscientiousness, he still had to pray to Hashem to not fall to the influence of the spies. He might have thought that when he is in the company of all the great Jewish leaders he might be great himself, but if he is acting on his own, it is hard to feel that one can overcome the danger by himself. Therefore he turned to Hashem to ask for assistance. Based on this it would seem that both Yehoshua and Calev acted by themselves, not together, as it says that for their own deeds they merited to inherit a part in The Land.

To understand the extent of the spies’ bias and how far they went in going against Moshe, we see that they came back on Tisha B’Av and they went from tent to tent crying that ‘we will never see each other again’ and ‘destruction is imminent if we enter the land.’ Then all of the Jewish people, men, women, and children started to cry. Because of this bias they could not enter the land and there was then a real reason to cry, for all generations, until the Final Redemption, may it come speedily in our days.

The lesson we see from here is that even if one knows he is doing the right thing, but everyone else is doing the wrong thing, he still might be able to fall into the evil inclination’s trap. So one cannot rely on oneself but rather should pray for Divine Help as we see that Calev left the spies, though he might have put himself in a dangerous and compromising position, in order to pray to Hashem by the tomb of our forefathers. He couldn’t pray where he was but had to go to his forefathers, as he knew Hashem would accept their prayers to save him. Yehoshua, also, had Moshe pray on his behalf so he felt a little more comfortable since Moshe prayed for him.

There are times we feel a little too confident about ourselves, at those times we must turn to Hashem to pray to Him that He removes any bias that we can give in to when making decisions, for example, yeshiva guys sometimes feel too confident that they are always in yeshiva and don’t have to worry about any outside influences but the truth is they still have to pray for Hashem’s help to not stumble. So to, everyone else in the world, with their own circumstances should always turn to Hashem for Divine Assistance in making proper judgement calls.

Acharei Mos/Kedoshim – Can Fear of Heaven be Measured?

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This dvar Torah is based on part of a shmuz given by Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, who was Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim, zechus yagen aleinu.

When speaking in terms of Fear of Heaven, Yiras Shamayim, if a person is a real Yirei Shamayim he will do a mitzvah at the highest level he can reach.

There is a story of a new yeshiva student in Slobodka who was entrenched in his frumkeit, and would daven very loud in a minyan. The Alter of Slobodka, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, asked one of his students to pass by this yeshiva bachur’s room one time when he was davening alone to see if he davens very loudly alone too.

There is an expression in the world called Yiras Shamayim, people are called “Big Yirei Shamayim” but what kind of instrument is used to measure Fear of Heaven?
This week is the double Torah portions of Achrei Mos and Kedoshim in the portion of Kedoshim in one of the pesukim it says, “You shall not curse a deaf person. You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person, and you shall fear your G-D. I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:14).
on this pasuk writes, “and you shall fear your God: [Why is this mentioned here?] Because this matter [of misadvising someone] is not discernible by people, whether this person had good or evil intentions, and he can avoid [being recriminated by his victim afterwards] by saying, “I meant well!” Therefore, concerning this, it says, “and you shall fear your God,” Who knows your thoughts! Likewise, concerning anything known to the one who does it, but to which no one else is privy, Scripture says, “and you shall fear your God.” – [Torath Kohanim 19:34]”
Rashi explains that this person is not literally blind, but, for example, he does not know how to conduct his business affairs properly. So one should not give him bad advice, such as if  someone were to ask if he should sell his field and his friend says I’ll buy it for a donkey. The friend’s intent was only for his own gain, to acquire the land.

About this kind of thing the Torah says: “And you shall fear Hashem your G-D.” These kind of cases could turn out badly and someone will lose, but the person who gave the advice will say ‘It is not my fault, I only tried to help, I am your friend,’ when in fact he purposefully thwarted his plans. No one will ever know what his real intentions were. That is why it says “and you shall fear Hashem your G-D;” for He knows.

Later in the perek it says, “Before an elder you shall stand and you shall glorify the face of a sage, and you shall fear your G-D, I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:32). 

on this pasuk points out, “one might think that he may close his eyes [when the elder approaches], as if he did not see him [and thus evade the obligation to rise before him]! Therefore Scripture adds here, “and you shall fear your God,” for this matter is privately known to the one who commits it, and no one knows about it except the person himself, and, concerning any matter known only in the heart [of one person,], Scripture says, “and you shall fear your God,” [for God knows man’s thoughts]. — [Torath Kohanim 19:80; Kid. 31b, 32b]”
What are a person’s real intentions? When an old person or a sage walks by he looks away and claims he never saw him, but what was he really thinking? Fear of Heaven is purely a private experience between man and Hashem so no one can really claim this guy is a big Yirei Shamayim. Only Hashem knows and any one that tries to judge is acting like they are G-D.

The Alter of Slobodka said that Yiras Shamayim is pure ruchniyus, unadulterated spirituality, and one cannot measure pure ruchniyus.

Passover – Giving of Yourself vs. Emulating Hashem

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This dvar Torah is part of a shmuz I heard from Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim at around the beginning of the century.

Equivalent to the seventh day of Passover, by the splitting of the Red Sea, Klal Yisrael reached what is essentially the highest point of Holiness. They sang Shira [songs] to Hashem while crossing on dry land. In the Shira it says, “ זֶ֤ה אֵלִי֙ וְאַנְוֵ֔הוּ” which literally means, “This is my G-D and I will build Him a Sanctuary,” or “I will make myself into a G-dly sanctuary” (Shemos 15:2). This is the loftiest expression because they pointed and said “This is my G-D”. They had such a high level of emuna, belief in Hashem, that they were able to point at something. People recognize things with their senses, and the most realistic sense is sight, as they say, “seeing is believing.” The level they were on was above that because of their emuna [belief in Hashem].

What does אַנְוֵ֔הוּ refer to? The Gemara in Shabbos 133b goes through a list of mitzvos and says it comes from the word, נאה, to beautify the mitzvos. The gemara then quotes Abba Shaul who says they felt that they had to be comparable to Hashem, meaning they wanted to act like Hashem, just like a child wants to act like his parents, אני והוא.

The first view holds there is a level of a person who is putting a part of himself into doing a mitzvah. Abba Shaul is saying you should want to be just like Hashem which is a higher level.

The way Avraham found Hashem was not from a physical understanding of the world, but he saw the kindness that Hashem did in creating the world. Kindness is spiritual. This is how he came to recognize Hashem!

The truest love is trying to emulate someone else!

Click here for recording of Shmuz on Parshas Tzav with connecting to Passover and current events, im yirtzeh Hashem! The password to sign in is 3RmGSUNk.

Beshalach – Chesed: Natural Kindness

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This dvar Torah is taken from the notes I took about 18 years ago of Rav Moshe Chait zt”l’s Shmuz in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim

We find in this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach The Song the Jew’s sang at the sea. One of the stanzas says: “You stretched forth Your right hand and the earth swallowed them up” (Shemos 12:15).
The Yalkut Shimone says that Hashem required the land to swallow up the Egyptians as a burial. What was their merit to be buried? It was because they said “Hashem is the righteous”. They declared it almost by force, but still it is a tremendous merit that outweighed all the evil they did. Despite all their evil, they admitted they were wrong, so Hashem gave them a burial. This is hinted to in the words: “You stretched forth your right hand;” the right stands for chesed, kindness.
The pasuk “You stretched out Your right hand“ also hints that they were thrown out of the sea onto dry land, and then the dry land threw them back into the sea because it didn’t want to bury these evil people. What was the claim of the sea and dry land to not bury the Egyptians? Their claim was that just as the earth had to receive the blood of Hevel, after Kayin killed him, which looked like a cover up, which is why the Torah says the land shall be cursed, then all the more so, they claimed, if we bury all the Egyptians who died, the land will be cursed! They wouldn’t bury the Egyptians until Hashem “stretched out His Right hand,” which is a sign of an oath that he wouldn’t curse them.
Hashem said to the sea: ”You now have an obligation to perform your duty which is the kindness to bury the Egyptians.” But why did the dry land not want to do its normal duty which is a moral Chesed? Because it had its justifications and Hashem had to assure the land under the sea that they weren’t doing wrong by serving the wicked.

By Yaakov it says he ‘took a bunch of stones to rest his head on,’ and then it says he ‘took one stone.’ Chaza”l says all the stones wanted to be a pillow for Yaakov, so they became one.
The Mesilas Yesharim in the first chapter says there is a reason for all aspects of creation and the ultimate purpose of creation is to serve man, who is the purpose of creation.
The magnetism of rocks is to serve mankind. Can you imagine what a merit it is to have Yaakov Avinu lay on the rock? Not one rock had any more merit than the other rock, so they had, one might say, a magnetic spirituality to serve Yaakov!

This is a new definition of Chesed, because people think kindness is usually for people that deserve it. However Chaza”l say “The world with kindness was built.” That does not mean Hashem created the world with acts of kindness, but rather the whole identity of creatures were implanted with kindness. Not just man was created with one of his attributes to do kindness, but the whole essence of man is kindness. It is part an parcel of his nature, as well as the nature of all creation. That is why the evil Egyptians had a right to be buried, because of the remark they made, that Hashem is the Righteous. This triggered kindness to bury them.

An example of kindness to the highest degree is Avraham Avinu. Immediately after circumcising himself, he welcomed and served 3 “Arab idol worshippers.”
Doing a chesed for a close relative isn’t a big deal; it is expected. But still Chaz”al say Hashem said to Avraham you can wear My Garments of Chesed only after he buried his wife because at that instant he showed he did kindness out of love more than any other time which generated even more kindness.
Every one of us has an obligation to emulate Hashem, which is why we should do chesed. A person should have feelings that you need to help another, this kindness comes immediately when you see an opportunity coming your way. One should not have the attitude that the other needs to be helped which comes when you see a friend giving you signs that he wants something done for him.

Acts of chesed are everywhere don’t miss out on the opportunity!
Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder