Thursday, January 28, 2010

212 - Beshalach

Most people live under the impression that only physical objects that can be felt and handled are real. They perceive ruchniyos as something metaphysical, and therefore, have a hard time digesting the fact that ruchniyos is no less a reality than the objects that we can hold in our hands. Rav Wolbe says (ShiureiChumash) that the shira of OzYashir ingrains in us the idea that ruchniyos in general, and Hashem in particular, are more of a reality than the table that stands in front of us.

"He threw thechariots of Pharaoh and his army into the sea." Hashem fought with the physical Egyptian warriors and in the face of His spiritual revelation the chariots drowned in the water. "With the wind of Your nostrils" - i.e. with a spiritual revelation - "the waters rose up." "You blew with Your wind" - i.e. with a spiritual revelation - "and the sea covered them." Mighty warriors are helpless and nature changes its course, when they are confronted with true spirituality. "Who is like You among the mighty, Hashem!"

When Bnei Yisroel crossed through the sea on dry land, they recognized the authenticity of ruchniyos on a level higher than the greatest prophets (excluding Moshe). Chazal tell us that even the maidservant who experienced the splitting of the sea, perceived Hashem with more clarity than Yechezkel in his prophecy of the ma'asehmerkaveh. Their level of clarity was so complete that they were able to "point" to Hashem with a finger, and say, "This is my G-d." Spirituality was a reality.

Hashem is not, G-d forbid, an ornament to decorate those special moments in our lives and give them spiritual overtones. He is the only true reality that exists. The fa├žade of nature crumbles in His presence, and there is no power or object that compares in the minutest way. If so, He should be very much a part of our lives and everything we do. "[He is] the G-d of my father and I will exalt Him." If we continuously exalt Hashem, we will ultimately come to the realization that He is more real than anything we have ever known.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

211 - Bo

"And when your son will ask you, 'What is this' and you will answer him that it was with a mighty hand that Hashem took us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage" (Shemos 13, 14). Rashi notes that in four different places the Torah mentions the son's question with regard to the exodus from Mitzrayim. He explains that the Torah is referring to four different personalities: the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who doesn't even know how to ask.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that if the Torah felt it imperative to write four separate pesukim to parallel the four different sons, it implies that every child must be spoken to in a language that he can understand. Even the wicked son must be answered with a response that is hand tailored to his personality.

Additionally, Rav Wolbe points out that the wickedness of the wicked son lies in the way he phrases his question [regarding the korban Pesach], "What is this service for you?" As we say in the Haggadda, "for you and not for him"- he inquires but does not identify with the topic of his question. This is a "wickedness" that many of us also possess; we learn things but they may not necessarily have any impact on our personal lives. With regard to the spies who were sent to Eretz Yisroel and returned with a derogatory report, Chazal tell us, "These wicked men saw [what happened to Miriam who spoke derogatorily about Moshe] and they did not derive musssarfromit." Mussar is the ability to integrate the lessons learned, into our day to day lives. One who does not derive mussar from what he learns - no matter how great his stature - is considered by Chazal to be wicked in this respect.

The study of mussar is not simply opening a Mesilas Yesharim and perusing what is written therein. When Miriam was afflicted with tzora'as, everyone certainly sat and learned through the sefer Chofetz Chaim. The problem was that their learning didn't impact the way they acted. True study of mussaris taking a line of the mesilas yesharim, comparing it with our personality, and in the event that it doesn't match up, working to change to meet the standard of the Mesilas Yesharim!

210 - Vaeira

After the plague of hail, Moshe tells Pharaoh, "I know that you and your servants do not yet fear Hashem Elokim" (Shemos 9, 30). Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) points out that since the pesukim that describe the creation, this is the first time that the Torah refers to Hashem with both the name Hashem and Elokim. We find this "complete" appellation of Hashem used before Adam sinned and also in reference to the end of days, when there was and will be a clear revelation of Hashem. If so, why does the plague of hail warrant the use of both names of Hashem? Rav Hutner explained that Hashem told Moshe that He would harden Pharaoh's heart - i.e. he would take away his bechira. This resembles the end of days when there will be no bechira.

Rav Wolbe elaborates by noting that we say in davening "He makes peace in the heavens." In other words the shamayim is made up of both fire and water, and Hashem makes peace between them so that they can coexist in a single entity. Similarly, fire and ice coexisted in each piece of hail to bring down a veritable piece of heaven on earth. Additionally, Rashi tells us that Hashem picked up Moshe above the heavens so that he could carry out the plague of hail. Moreover, the first three plagues originated from water and dirt - the lowest elements on earth and the second group of plagues involved the animals that walk the earth, while the hail and the rest of the last plagues all emanated from the heavens. All these indicators demonstrate that from the plague of hail and on, there was a palpable revelation of Hashem's glory, culminating in makas bechoros which was carried out by Hashem Himself. This revelation of Hashem's glory merits His full name - Hashem Elokim.

Our avodah is to gain clarity in "Hashem" - as The Creator, who is "Elokim" - the One Who watches all that we do. The more clarity one has, the less difficulty he will have in properly using his bechira. One who reaches a high level of this clarity, has tapped into the wellsprings of the end of days, a position which ultimately leads to a revelation of Hashem's glory.

209 - Shmos

"And a man went from the house of Levi and took a daughter [from the house] of Levi" (Shemos 2, 1). Why doesn't the Torah tell us the names of the individuals mentioned in the above pasuk? Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that Chazal say that three things are hidden from people, and one of them is the day of redemption. Redemption originates from one of the higher worlds - realms which we cannot comprehend at all. In other words it is a secret. Hence, the birth of the redeemer of Bnei Yisroel is completely shrouded in secrecy, and until the redemption actually materializes, the Torah doesn't even let us know the name of his parents.

With this concept we can understand another pasuk in this week's parsha. After smiting the Egyptian, Moshe observes a Jew about to hit his fellow Jew and he chastises the would be offender. The latter retorts, "Are you going to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" "And Moshe was afraid and he said behold the thing has become known" (ibid. 2, 14). Rashi explains, Moshe was worried that since there were gossipmongers among Bnei Yisroel, they might not be worthy of redemption. We must ask why they would forfeit the redemption just because there were gossipmongers among them. Rav Wolbe answers that as explained above, the redemption is a secret, and those who cannot keep a secret lack the ability to be a recipient of that redemption.

Moreover, gossipmongers are the very reason why Bnei Yisroel were placed in galus in the first place. Moshe cried out, "Behold the thing has become known." Rashi explains that Moshe had wondered why specifically the Jews, out of all nations, were subjected to galus - and now the reason became known. It was because there were gossipmongers that Bnei Yisroel were punished with galus. Rav Wolbe explains once again with the above mentioned concept. The Jewish Nation's uniqueness revolves around penimius, while the other nations of the world are focused on the chitzonius. If a Jew cannot keep a secret, then he lacks basic penimius and hence, his place is in galus among the other nations of the world.

If we lack our penimius, then, G-d forbid, we are not much different from the gentiles who live around us. One of the best ways to maintain our penimius is by assuring that things that should be kept secret are kept secret, thereby staying as far away from lashon hara as possible.

208 - Vayechi

"Zevulun will dwell on the shores of the sea. . . Yissochar a bony donkey crouches between the borders" (Bereishis 49, 13-14). The Sforno notes that the blessing of Zevulun who spends his days in the workplace precedes the blessing of Yissocher who spends his days toiling in Torah. He explains that this is because a person must first be provided with his material needs to him to enable him to toil in Torah, as Chazal state, "If there is no flour there is no Torah." Moreover, if one assists his friend by providing for his material needs, thereby enabling him to toil in Torah (as Zevulun did for Yissochar), the avodas Hashem which is a product of that financial assistance, is accredited to both the learner and his benefactor.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that the mitzvah to study Torah is one that is incumbent upon each and every individual, no different than davening. Just as if someone else davens it does not exempt me from my personal obligation, I would have thought that also his Torah study cannot be accrued to my account. However, the Torah tells us otherwise. If one provides the financial backing so that his friend can learn Torah, he is a partner in all the Torah which is learned!

We find a similar idea in the Gemara (Meseches Kiddushin 29b). The Gemara asks what one should do if he has the ability to provide for either himself or his son to learn, but not both of them. Should he go to learn Torah or should he send his son in his place? The Gemara answers that if his son is more intellectually proficient, he should send his son. How will the father fulfill his own obligation to learn Torah? By sending his son in his place thereby enabling him to learn Torah, the Torah study will be accredited to both of them.

If one has the ability to learn, he doesn't have to rely on others to fulfill his obligation. However, if he is unable to learn full time, he can still get much Torah study accredited to his account if he supports those who spend their days and nights studying Torah.

207 - Vayigash

"It was not you that sent me here, rather it was Hashem, and He has made me as an advisor to Pharaoh, a master to his entire house and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt" (Bereishis 45, 8). Yosef recognized that the entire sequence of events that led up to this phenomenal moment were all a product of Hashem's hashgacha pratis, and not a result of his brother's decision to sell him. By selling him, the brothers had intended to rid themselves once and for all from Yosef and his farfetched dreams, and in reality their actions were the very impetus for the fulfillment of those dreams. The hand of Hashem was clearly responsible for all that had transpired.

Rav Wolbe comments (Shiurei Chumash Parshas Vayeishev 37, 14) that many people are confused as to what exactly bechira is. Do people have free will, and Heaven lets things play out in accordance with their actions, or is everything preordained from Heaven, and therefore, it doesn't make a difference what a person chooses? He explains that the answer can be found in the Chovos Ha'levavos (Avodas Elokim Chap. 8). He writes that in reality both sides of the coin are true: everything is up to our bechira and at the same time it is preordained by Hashem. In other words, we must make decisions as if we are the sole ones effecting the outcome of our actions, however, in the final analysis, Hashem will arrange things the way He deems fit.

For example, when a boy of marriageable age starts dating, he has no idea which girl Hashem has in mind for him. Nevertheless, this lack of knowledge should not at all affect his decision. As with all decisions, he must analyze the topic at hand from all sides, consult with knowledgeable individuals and come to a sensible conclusion. At the end of the day, Hashem might just make things turn out differently than expected, but that does not exempt us from our obligation to act rationally.

We can't know what Hashem wants, but He gave usseichel to try to figure out what is best for us. Even if things turn out differently, we can be sure that this is what Hashem wants, and not only that, it is what is truly best for us.

206 - Mikeitz

It is interesting to note that Chanuka always falls out on or around the Shabbos of Parshas Mikeitz. Rav Wolbe asks since we know that nothing in the Jewish calendar is a mere coincidence, what is the connection between Chanukah and the story of Yosef?

He explains by quoting the Bach who writes that in the days leading up to the miracles of Chanukah, the problem facing the Jewish People was rooted in their deteriorating service of Hashem, which in turn caused the assimilation of the Hellenists into the Greek culture. Their salvation was in accordance with the decree, and it was brought about through being moser nefesh to guard the kedusha of the Torah and its commandments, thereby meriting a unique display of siyata dishmaya - the miracle of finding a jug of oil intact, and the oil burning for eight days.

The pattern is apparent. There was a weakening in our service of Hashem, and He brought a decree against us measure for measure in order that we realize the reason for the punishment. Therefore, when we were moser nefesh to strengthen the kedusha that was lacking, we merited siyatadishmaya that brought salvation.

The concept is mirrored in the story of Yosef. Just as we refer to Avraham as the pillar of chesed, Yitzchok as the pillar of gevurah and Yaakov as the pillar of emes, so too Yosef is referred to as the pillar of kedusha - holiness and purity. It was he that was tested by being sold into the most depraved society in existence and it was he that was tempted by his mistress for years on end. However, for twenty two years in Mitzrayim he stood his ground, and hiskedusha stayed intact. He was moser nefesh to guard hiskedusha and Hashem gave him siyata dishmaya in everything he did. Potiphar, the jail warden, and even Pharaoh all sensed that Hashem was with him and hence all of them placed Yosef in positions of authority.

This is the common denominator between Chanukah and Yosef. When one is moser nefesh for kedusha, nothing can stand in his way. He is granted siyata dishmaya that brings salvation from and sovereignty over all those who stood against him. This was proven true with the mesirus nefesh of the "kohanecha ha'kedoshim" at the time of the miracle of Chanuka, and many years before that era when Yosef, the pillar of kedusha, was sold to Mitzrayim.

Chanukah is the Yom Tov which is most conducive to strengthening our avodas Hashem. If we were spiritually worthy, we could gain chizuk that would carry us throughout the year - to even a greater degree than what we gain from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur! Unfortunately, often the opposite is true and much of Chanukah has turned into wasted time. Let us try to glean some of what Chanukah has to offer and make an added effort to strengthen some aspect of our avodas Hashem that could use some improvement.

205 - Vayeishev

"And she [Tamar] was being taken out [to be killed] and she sent to her father-in-law saying, 'To the man to whom these objects belong, I have become pregnant.' And she said, 'Please identify to whom this signet ring, garment and staff belong'" (Bereishis, 38, 25). Rashi explains that Tamar did not want to tell her father-in-law (Yehuda) point blank that it was from him that she had conceived, because she did not want to publicly embarrass him. Rather, she conveyed the message in a way, that only if he would voluntarily admit his involvement, would she be saved from death. From this incident Chazal deduce that it is better for one to throw himself into a fiery furnace than embarrass another publicly.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) asks why Tamar had to give up her life to save Yehuda from embarrassment. Even if embarrassing another publicly is tantamount to murder, nevertheless, halacha mandates that if a person is being pursued by a murderer, he may save his life by killing the murderer. If so, why didn't Tamar save her own life by, so to speak, taking Yehuda's life? The answer is that Chazal did not say that one is obligated to give up his own life to save another from embarrassment; they said it is better for one to give up their life. Such an act would not be considered suicide, because situations in which one employs negative middos have an added stringency. Tamar did not have to give up her life; she wanted to give up her life in order not to habituate herself to reacting with a negative middah that would cause suffering to a fellow Jew. This idea is accentuated by another statement of Chazal. "He who embarrasses his friend publicly, loses his portion in the World to Come," while even murder itself isn't accompanied by such a harsh punishment.

In a similar vein, Rabbeinu Yonah writes (Sha'arei Teshuvah Chap. 3, 188) that one must place himself in mortal danger rather than flatter a wicked person. He bases this statement on a story related in the Gemara (see Sotah 41a). This begs the question that we know that one is only obligated to give up his life in order not to commit the three cardinal sins, and flattering a wicked person is not one of them? The answer is, that it is so dangerous for one to acquire a negative trait that it is better for him to place himself in danger than to perform an act motivated by the negative trait.

Life is a most precious commodity. However, Chazal declared that it is better for someone to give up his life rather than embarrass another publicly, for there is nothing worse than causing another Jew to suffer.