Thursday, February 26, 2009

165 - Terumah

The S'forno (Vayikra 11, 2) explains that the commandment to build the Mishkan came as a direct result of the sin of the golden calf. Bnei Yisroel's situation at Matan Torah paralleled Adom Harishon's situation before he sinned: Hashem's presencecould be felt everywhere. However, after they sinned by making the golden calf they lost their ability to feel Hashem's presence, just as Adom lost that ability as a result of his wrongdoing. The Mishkan was meant to address this loss by serving as a dwelling place for the Shechina in this world. Additionally, Bnei Yisroel were thereafter prohibited from eating certain animals and creatures. Because they defiled their bodies with sin, they needed to remedy this defilement by purifying their bodies and refraining from specific foods.

Likewise, the S'forno writes (Bamidbar 15, 3; 20) that after Bnei Yisroel's debacle with the spies (who returned from scouting out the Land of Israel with a negative report), Hashem instituted additional mitzvos. They were commanded to bring flour and libation offerings as a supplement to their korbanos. Having distanced themselves from Hashem with their transgression, they were required to bring another sacrifice whereby they could once again feel His closeness. Furthermore, sin disconnects the transgressor from the Source of all blessings, therefore, Bnei Yisroel were subsequently commanded to separate challah from their dough and give it to a Kohen as a means of bringing blessing into their house.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) gleans two fundamental lessons from the S'forno's explanation. Firstly, every sin lowers the perpetrator one rung on the spiritual ladder, thereby forcing him to strive harder to gain the closeness to Hashem that was previously felt. After every sin, Bnei Yisroel needed yet another mitzva to enable them to reclaim their former spiritual status.

Additionally, we must take notice how the Torah guides a person on whatever level he finds himself. It is because the Torah is eternal, that it contains within it the guidance needed to direct each and every person. Each wrongdoing on Bnei Yisroel's part brought them down another notch in their spiritual standing; nevertheless, the Torah "stepped down" with them and added a mitzvah for their benefit. In whatever situation a person finds himself, or what his spiritual state of affairs might be, the Torah provides direction so that he will be able to live his life properly.

The Torah was given more than three thousand years ago to act as our guiding light, and it continues to shine brightly today to each person on his individual spiritual level. There is no reason for one to feel down or depressed about his spiritual position because invariably the Torah addresses his specific situation.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

164 - Mishpatim

 "Do not oppress any widow or orphan. If you oppress him. . . for if he shall cry out to Me I will listen to his cry" (Shemos 22, 22-23). The Ramban explains that there is a tendency to harass a widow or orphan more than others because they have no one to turn to when they need help, and as a result the tormentor is not worried about reprisal for his actions.  Therefore, the Torah warns if you oppress a widow or orphan because they are helpless, know that all they have to do is cry out to Me and I will immediately come to their assistance. In reality they are better off than anyone else. Anyone else who is tormented must seek and pursue someone to come to his rescue. Even then, he can merely hope that his rescuer succeeds in saving him, for after all there is the possibility that his endeavors will fail. In contrast, a widow or orphan merely needs to cry out to Hashem and He will immediately come to their assistance - and there is no chance that He will fail in meting out punishment to the transgressor.

Rav Wolbe notes (Shiurei Chumash) that punishment for transgressions bein adom le'chaveiro is meted out more swiftly and harshly than punishment for aveiros bein adom la'makom. As soon as the widow cries out, the tormentor receives his punishment. We find an additional example of this phenomenon with Yaakov's wives Rachel and Leah. The Torah tells us, "And Hashem saw that Leah was hated and He opened her womb; and Rachel was barren" (Bereishis 29, 31). It is understood why Hashem caused Leah to conceive. However, for what reason was Rachel barren? Why was she to blame for that which her sister was hated? The answer is because the love of Rachel was the cause of a lesser love of Leah, and even a minute infraction in the area of bein adom le'chaveiro can have serious consequences.

However, the opposite is also true. There is great and immediate reward for the performance of mitzvos bein adom le'chaveiro. There is a general rule that there is no reward in this world for the mitzvos we perform (Kiddushin 39b). A spiritual and infinite mitzvah cannot be properly rewarded in this finite world. Nevertheless, there are certain mitzvos that their performance garners reward not only in the world-to-come but also immediately in this world. The Mishna (Shabbos 127) lists ten mitzvos in this category and almost all of them are bein adom le'chaveiro: Honoring one's parents, performing kindness, hospitality, visiting the sick, marrying off a bride, accompanying the deceased, concentrating on the meaning of the prayers (this is included in kindness - see Rashi), and making peace between man and his fellow man.

The great impact of mitzvos bein adom le'chveiro is apparent. One who neglects them will G-d forbid suffer the dire consequences immediately, while one who performs them will be rewarded doubly - not only in the world-to-come, but here and now in this world. This alone should be sufficient impetus to rethink our attitude toward mitzvos bein adom le'chaveiro.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

163 - Yisro

The last of the Aseres HaDibros is, "Do not desire your friend's wife, his slave, maidservant, ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your friend" (Shemos 20, 14). The Ibn Ezra asks a question that bothers many. How can the Torah command us with regard to an emotion? How is it possible to prevent one from desiring in his heart a beautiful person or object? He answers with a parable. An astute peasant who catches a glimpse of a beautiful princess will not desire her hand in marriage, because he knows that there is no possibility in the world for such a marriage to take place. Similarly, every intelligent person must acknowledge that a beautiful wife or desirable possessions are not granted to a person because of his brains or brawn. Rather, they are allocated by Hashem to whomever he chooses. Hence, one who understands that Hashem did not wish to give him that particular object will automatically refrain from desiring another's possessions. Moreover, he is aware that no amount of scheming will succeed in his obtaining the sought after item - it is out of reach to even a greater degree than the marriage of the princess to the peasant. He should place his faith in Hashem that He will provide him with sustenance.

Therefore, one who has true emunah cannot possibly covet another's possessions. Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that many people have difficulty with such an explanation, because their emunah and bitachon end when it comes to the practical application. Some people claim to have bitachon in Hashem, but if a competitor opens a business across the street from them, they are on the verge of having a heart attack. "But don't you have bitachon?" a friend might ask. To which they will retort, "Of course I have bitachon - but at the end of the day he is going to take away my livelihood!" Their bitachon lasts until it is put to a real life test.

The Ibn Ezra understood that emunah is not a matter of theory. It must be tested to be proven true. Yaakov Avinu lived with the belief that everything that he had was allotted to him by Hashem, and therefore it was incumbent upon him to look after his possessions to the greatest extent possible. When it came to a real life test, he extended himself to claim some forgotten vessels; if Hashem gave it to him, then it was for a purpose. Likewise, living with the realization that whatever Hashem gave me is mine, and what He did not give me cannot possibly be mine, precludes one from feeling any desire for the possessions of his friends and neighbors.

It might do us well to spend another few minutes on the Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo. It will help us inculcate the knowledge that Hashem is the Creator, Knows what is happening, is involved and Omnipotent. One who has absorbed these concepts will be able to fulfill the Tenth Commandment with greater ease.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

162 - Beshalach

On the first Friday after Hashem gave Bnei Yisroel the manna, they noticed that everyone had gathered twice as much as they had gathered on previous days. Upon their inquiry as to the reason behind this phenomenon, Moshe informed them that no manna would fall on Shabbos, and therefore, they had received a double portion on Friday. Nevertheless, on Shabbos morning there were those who left their tents to gather manna. In response to this incident, Hashem tells Moshe, "Until when will you (plural) refrain from performing my commandments and Torah. See that Hashem has given you the Shabbos [and] therefore, on Friday he gives you a double portion of bread - every man should stay put; no man should leave his place on the seventh day" (Shemos 16, 28-29).
Rashi explains that despite the fact that Moshe was in no way involved in the above incident, he was blamed along with the evildoers. "As people say, 'The cabbage gets destroyed along with the weeds' i.e. the righteous get shamed along with the wicked." Why is it that the righteous have to suffer because of the sins of the wicked? Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains, that in reality there is an element of fault to be found in the righteous as well. Chazal tell us that every Jew is responsible for every other Jew. The entire nation is interconnected, and therefore everyone has the ability to prevent others from sinning. If the majority fastidiously refrains from any given aveirah, it creates a "security fence" that does not allow others to be derelict in this area. Hence, a breach in an aveirah by anyone, demands that everyone perform some self introspection.
A case in point is the story of Achan in Tanach (Yehoshua 7). After conquering Yericho, the Jewish People consecrated all the belongings found inside the city. Nevertheless, Achan took a handful of valuables from the booty. Hashem told Yehoshua, "Yisroel sinned, they transgressed the covenant that I commanded them, they also took from the consecrated items and they have also stolen, and also denied it, and also placed it in their utensils." A simple reading of the pesukim would lead us to think that the majority of Bnei Yisroel had sinned terribly, when in reality it was a lone man who perpetrated the crime. So, why was it written in such a manner? The answer is the above idea. If a single person could commit a crime, then the rest of Bnei Yisroel were also somewhat to blame.

Sometimes, when hearing about another Jew's egregious act we think to ourselves, "How could he have done such a terrible thing?" However, our reaction should be different. We should turn the question around and ask ourselves, "Where have I gone wrong in this area?"

161 - Bo

[Rav Wolbe would say that the Ramban at the end of Parsha Bo (Shemos 13, 16) lays down some of the most basic ideas regarding Judaism and that everyone should know this Ramban by heart!]
"Now I will tell you a rule that will explain the reason behind many mitzvos: From the onset of idol worship in the days of Enosh, people's beliefs became confused. There were those who denied the Creator and claimed that the world always existed. And there were those who denied His knowledge of what occurs on earth; they said, 'How can G-d know - Does the One Above has knowledge?' (Tehillim 73, 11). Additionally, there were those who agreed that Hashem knows about the earthly occurrences but they thought that He does not involve Himself in the running of the world. 'They considered men similar to fish' (Chabakuk 1, 14) - Hashem does not watch over them and there is no punishment or reward for their actions. They claimed, 'Hashem has abandoned the land' (Yechezkel 8, 12).
"Hence, when Hashem shows interest in a nation or an individual and performs wonders whereby He changes the course of nature, it becomes clear to one and all the fallacy of the above claims. An awesome miracle proves that there is a G-d Who creates the world, Who knows, is involved and is Omnipotent. And when a prophet predicts a miracle, there is an additional advantage: the truth of prophecy becomes apparent, that Hashem speaks to man and reveals His secrets to His servants, the prophets. This lends credence to the entire Torah (since believing that the Torah came from Heaven is dependent upon believing that Hashem speaks to man).

"Therefore, with regard to the miracles (i.e. the plagues) the Torah writes, 'So that you should know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land' (Shemos 8, 18) - to prove that Hashem is involved and has not disengaged from the world, letting it run its own course. It is likewise written, 'So that you should know that the land belongs to Hashem' (ibid. 9, 29) - verifying that Hashem is their Creator and He created them from nothing. Additionally, the Torah writes, 'So that you know that there is no one like Me in the entire land' (ibid. 9, 14) - to assert His Omnipotence - He rules over everything and there is no one who can inhibit His ability to do as He pleases. [Hashem brought about all the plagues] because the Egyptians denied or were uncertain about these truths. It follows that great miracles and wonders are true witnesses verifying belief in the Creator and the entire Torah.

"However, since Hashem will not perform a miracle in every generation for every wicked person or non-believer, He commanded us to make constant reminders to help us remember the events that we witnessed. And we are to relay this message to our children and they to their children until the end of days. The great importance of this idea is apparent, for one who eats chametz on Pesach or disregards the commandment of the korban Pesach, is punished with kares. Also, He required that we write all the wonders that we witnessed upon our arms and between our eyes (tefillin) and upon our doorposts (mezuzah). And we are to verbally remember it twice daily - in the morning and evening - as our Sages said, "Emes V'yatziv is a Torah commandment, for the pasuk says, 'You shall remember Yetzias Mitzrayim all the days of your life.'" Likewise, He commanded us to build a sukkah each year and to perform numerous mitzvos "zecher l'yitziyas Mitzrayim."
"The purpose of all these mitzvos is to bear witness in every generation to the miracles, lest they be forgotten, so that non-believers will not have the ability to open their mouths in denial. He who buys a mezuzah for few coins, affixes it to his doorpost and contemplates the reason behind it, has already acknowledged that the world was [a] new [creation] and that the Creator knows what is occurring and is involved in every aspect. He has also acknowledged that there is prophecy and manifested his belief in the entire Torah. Moreover, he has acknowledged Hashem's kindness toward those who perform His will - He took them from bondage to freedom and accorded them much honor.

"Therefore Chazal said, 'One should be just as careful with an easy mitzvah as he is with a difficult mitzvah' (Avos 2, 1) because all mitzvos are beloved and to be cherished, since every time one performs a mitzvah he is acknowledging Hashem. And the purpose of all mitzvos is that we believe in our G-d and thank Him for creating us. This is the purpose of the entire creation, because we know no other purpose in the creation of man other than this."