Thursday, April 23, 2009

172 - Tazria - Metzora

The Ramban (Vayikra 13, 47) writes that tzora'as is a completely supernatural phenomenon. It occurs only in the chosen land of Eretz Yisroel, it will befall only the Jewish People - and only when they maintain an elevated level of spirituality. When an aveirah is committed in such a spiritually charged environment, Hashem causes tzora'as to appear on the sinner's house, clothing or body to indicate that He has distanced Himself from the offender as a result of the transgression.

Rav Wolbe writes (Da'as Shlomo) that in such an era, Bnei Yisroel lived with an amazing amount of Hashgacha Pratis. One who spoke lashon hara would immediately be punished with tzora'as; as if Hashem were literally speaking to him as two friends would speak to each other. Even so, the Ramban writes that people were only afflicted with tzora'as after Bnei Yisroel conquered and divided Eretz Yisroel. Despite the straightforwardness of Hashem's message, only after they were settled would they have the peace of mind to be able to fully recognize Hashem and His Hashgacha Pratis.

Rav Wolbe continues that the essence of the Torah is to help us reach such a level of Hashgacha Pratis. The Rambam writes that the purpose of the mitzvos is to aid us in diverting our thoughts from the mundane in favor of living completely with Hashem, so to speak, enveloped in Hashgacha Pratis. Moreover, the very inception of the Jewish People as a nation was brought about through Hashem demonstrating to Pharaoh and teaching Bnei Yisroel that, "I am Hashem in the midst of the land" i.e. constant Divine Providence.

It is interesting to note that the Seder is constructed in such a manner which helps us fulfill the dictum, "In every generation a person is obligated to feel as if he left Mitzrayim." We eat maror and charoses so that we can "taste" the bitterness of bondage and relate to the servitude that the Jews experienced. We eat matzah and drink the four cups of wine while reclining, so that our bodies sense the exhilaration of freedom. Why must we experience the exodus? Wouldn't retelling the wonders and miracles of Yetzias Miztrayim suffice to bring us to emunah in Hashem? The answer is that we are striving to achieve more than just concretizing our belief in Hashem. We are trying to bring ourselves to a state where we too are enveloped in Hashem's Hashgacha Pratis. We are to come to the realization that, "Originally our forefather's worshipped idols and now Hashemhas brought us into His service." Right now on the Seder night, Hashem is taking us by the hand and guiding us - the ultimate Hashgacha Pratis.

Unfortunately, Hashgacha Pratis is an abstract concept for many of us; we acknowledge it in our minds but it never makes its way to our hearts. What is a practical application of Hashgacha Pratis to which we can relate? Many people feel pangs of jealousy. This one has a middah which he is lacking and the other has better intellectual capabilities (all the while oblivious to their deficiencies). There are even those who wish they could forgo their talents so that they need not answer to all those who expect more from them. The Mashgiach writes that the solution to these problems is internalizing the concept of Hashgacha Pratis. Every person was put in his particular situation with a plethora of external and internal factors that are hand tailored for his unique purpose in life. It won't help to be like your neighbor or friend, because you will never accomplish what you have to accomplish.

Rav Naftoli Amsterdam once commented to his Rebbe, Rav Yisroel Salanter, that if he would have the intellectual capacity of the Sha'agas Aryeh (a renowned genius), the heart of the Yesod V'shoresh Ha'avodah, and the middos of Rebbe (Rav Yisroel Salanter), then he would be able to properly serve Hashem. To which Rav Yisroel responded, "Rav Naftoli, with your mind, with your heart and with your middos you can become the true oveid Hashem you are supposed to be."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

171 - Fourth Yohrtzeit

"And Avrahom rose early in the morning and he saddled his donkey [on the way to the Akeidah]." Chazal tell us that Moshe rode on the same donkey on his way to Egypt to redeem the Jewish People and ultimately Moshiach will ride this donkey at the time of the Final Redemption. A lecturer in a prominent university mockingly questioned the veracity of Chazal's statement. "How could Moshiach bring redemption to our modern world while riding on an ancient donkey?" Rav Wolbe writes (Olam Ha'Yedidus pg. 91) that despite this lecturer's erudition, he failed to see the depth behind Chazal's profound words. 

Chazal by no means intended to profess that the donkey would live for thousands of years - until the Final Redemption. Rather, they wished to convey the uniqueness of the three individuals mentioned above. What is special about Avrahom, Moshe and Moshiach that only they are mentioned as riding on this legendary donkey? Chazal were telling us that there is a thread that runs through these great leaders - they all reached a similar pinnacle in spiritual heights.

The Mashgiach explains that Avrahom taught the world about the Creator. Chazal tell us that the entire populace convened and proclaimed Avrahom king over them. The Torah tells us about Moshe, "See that I have given you dominion over Paraoh" i.e. he was given total authority over the most powerful empire in the world. Moshiach will bring the redemption and along with it he will be given sovereignty over the entire world. From where does the unique power wielded by these great men stem? The answer is that all three of them were "rocheiv al ha'chamor" (rode on the donkey).

"Rocheiv" connotes complete control. We refer to Hashem as "Rocheiv shamayim" - literally, One Who rides the heavens, for He maintains complete control over the Heavens and everything beneath them. "Chamor" symbolizes chumriyos - the physical aspects of this world. The intention behind Chazal's words is that these three men succeeded in controlling their physical bodies to an extent unparalleled by all other human beings. Without any external trappings of a king, these men "ruled over" themselves to a degree that was discernible to all those around them. Consequently, those around them acknowledged their greatness and unanimously proclaimed them king.

Rav Wolbe would often stress that we must probe to find the penimius within the Torah and ourselves. Once again he enlightens us to the profound message contained in Chazal's timely words. We are put in this world to study and internalize the Torah. To the extent that one succeeds in using the spiritual to overcome the physical, one can influence those around him to change for the better.

"B'Nissan Nigalu, Ub'Nissan Asiddim L'Higoel" 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

170 - Pesach

The avodah on the night of the Seder is to inculcate within ourselves the ideas of the haggada to the point that each one of us feels as if he himself was redeemed from the bondage in Mitzrayim. The rasha mentioned in the haggada, although he shows interest in the discussion, nevertheless is considered wicked because he disassociates himself from the avodah of the redemption of Pesach. "What is this avodah for you?" he asks. Chazal tell us that had he been in Mitzrayim he would not have been redeemed. Freedom must start with a sincere desire to be part of the process of redemption.  

The Gemara tells us that even if one does not have children or a wife, he must still ask himself the four questions. What makes questions such a crucial part of the Seder? Wouldn't a mere recitation of the haggada suffice for one to be able to fulfill his obligation of retelling the story of the exodus from Mitzrayim? Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II pg, 394) explains that a question reveals the inquirer's inner feelings. One must have been internally aroused to cause him to question the proceedings. This is the aim of the Seder; to arouse our interest in the discussion to the point that we ourselves are inspired to identify with the redemption.

Reciting numerous interpretations or expounding on the inferences of the unique wording of the haggada, will not bring a person to this realization as much as his paying close attention to the deeper meaning behind the overall process of redemption from Mitzrayim. One who follows the story attentively from start to finish will be aroused to feel to some extent, "It was for this, that Hashem acted on my behalf when I left Mitzrayim."

Chag Kasher Ve'Sameach
May we be zoche to eat from the korban Pesach this very year!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

170 - Tzav

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) makes an interesting observation. Although both Parshas Vayikra and Parshas Tzav mention the korbanos, only in Tzav does the Torah preface the description of each of the korbanos with, "This is the Torah of the olah, [shelamim, minchah]." He explains the difference between the two parshios with a Gemara in Sanhedrin (26b). "Says Rav Chanan, 'Why is the Torah referred to as "Toshia" - because it weakens (mateshes) a person's strength.'"

The wisdom of Torah is unique in that which it focuses not so much on the general rules as it does on the details. The primary goal of Torah study is to dissect each mitzvah into the myriads of practical halachos and middos that are encapsulated within each mitzvah. The importance the Torah lends to detail is apparent in a halacha of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 211, 7). If one sits down to a meal and is served two kinds of food, one she'hakol and one borei pri ha'etz, the food which is borei pri ha'etz takes precedence because this bracha is recited on only one category of food (fruit). The Mishna Berura explains that borei pri ha'etz is more specific and therefore is a more important bracha than she'hakol which is a general bracha that includes many types of food. It is the attention to detail that is important in the eyes of the Torah.

Rav Wolbe writes that it is specifically the Torah study which focuses on the details that weakens a person i.e. detracts from the vitality of the yetzer hara. Reb Yisroel Salanter writes that if one is overcome by his yetzer hara, he should "drag him to its Beis Hamedrosh" (see Kiddushin 30b). In other words he should study in depth, the laws and many details that have to do with the specific area in which he is deficient. It is this form of Torah study that has the ability to "smash the yetzer hara to smithereens" (ibid). 

In Parsha Tzav, the Torah describes the korbanos in greater detail, and therefore prefaces its description with, "This is the Torah of. . ." It is the details which are referred to as Torah, and it is they which gives us the needed strength to battle our yetzer hara.