Sunday, October 24, 2010

247 - Vayeira

In this week's parsha we read how Avraham implored Hashem not to destroy Sodom, Amorah and the neighboring cities. Avraham claimed that it would be a grave injustice to wipe out the righteous together with the wicked, and therefore, Hashem should save these entire cities in the merit of the fifty righteous men who resided therein. Rashi explains that when Avraham requested that Hashem turn back His wrath because of the fifty righteous people, he was requesting that all five cities under discussion be saved. When he asked that they be spared in merit of forty righteous people, he was asking to spare four cities. In other words, Avraham asserted that ten righteous people have the ability to save an entire city.

It is of utmost importance that people recognize the great merits that are accrued for all, due to the Torah scholars amongst us. Chazal tell us (Sanhedrin 99b) that an apikores is one who asks, "What benefit do Torah scholars provide for society." It is because of them that protection is afforded for the entire community.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) adds that this idea holds true in our days just as in the days of Avrahom Avinu. He related that his father-in-law, Rav Avraham Grodzinsky hy"d, the Mashgiach of the Slabodka Yeshiva, lived in the Kovno Ghetto during the first few years of World War II. Every Friday night he would gather his disciples and deliver a discourse. When he realized that the Germans intended to liquidate the ghetto, he gathered ten disciples and formed a "mussar vaad." He used Avraham as proof that ten truly righteous individuals have the ability to save an entire ghetto, and therefore, he wished to create such an elite group of people. Each member of the group was to accept upon himself to act exactly in accordance with the instructions given by Rav Grodzinsky. He hoped that this way they would be considered righteous in the eyes of Hashem, thereby enabling their merits to save their entire community.

We might not be able to see the connection between our Talmidei Chachomim and the protection of our communities. However, the Torah clearly informs us, that it is in their merit that the less worthy are provided protection. If so, is there a limit to how much we owe our Torah leaders and Rabbanim?

246 - Lech Lecha

After Avraham defeated the four kings in battle, the king of Sodom made a request: "Give me the people and take all the spoils for yourself" (Bereishis 14, 21). To which Avraham replied that he swears not to take any of the bounty lest someone claim that it was he who made Avraham wealthy. The Ramban explains that the impetus for Avraham's swearing was to keep his yetzer hara in check. He cites a Sifrei which states that we find such conduct by all righteous men: they swear in order to prevent their yetzer hara from causing them to sin.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that it is only the righteous who conduct themselves in such a manner. When they are concerned that their desires might get the best of them, they swear not to fall prey to their yetzer hara, thereby effectively erecting a fence between them and the sin, for they certainly will not renege on a promise. However, most of us are not concerned with such apprehensions. Therefore, we are often smug and do not take the necessary precautions to avoid likely or imminent aveiros. The Torah teaches us that this is not the proper way. The righteous do not trust themselves, and when an opportunity for sin presents itself they immediately incapacitate their yetzer hara by swearing not to falter.

Practically speaking, we should not place ourselves into circumstances where we will be tested or tempted to sin. However, if we anticipate that we might come to such a situation or we already find ourselves in such a situation, the best ammunition against the yetzer hara is to create a barrier by taking additional or exceptional precautions. Such conduct will give us the added dose of determination not to fall into the hands of the yetzer hara. If Avraham felt it necessary, shouldn't we?

245 - Noach

"Noach was a righteous man, pure in his generation" (Bereishis 6, 9). Rashi writes that some (of Chazal) explain this pasuk in a positive light, while others explain it derogatorily. Those who explain it complimentarily, assert that had Noach been in a generation with other righteous people he would have been an even greater tzaddik. However, those who explain it derogatorily posit that only in his generation he was considered a tzaddik, and had he lived in the generation of Avraham, he would not have been given even an "honorable mention."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) quotes Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt"l who stresses the Torah's perception of man's accomplishments. Though some explain the Torah's accolade as a true compliment and some explain it only in relation to Noach's generation, they both agree that one is measured with a yardstick in comparison to the generation of the greatest stature. For example, one can measure the amount of light produced by a candle in comparison to a lightbulb or flashlight, or in comparison to the greatest source of light that exists - the light of the sun. The Torah gauges one's spiritual level in comparison to the light of the "sun" - the founder of Judaism, Avraham Avinu.

One might look around at those in his surroundings and complacently think that he has surpassed his colleagues or friends in their spiritual ascent, and as a result he can slack off a bit. This is not the case. One who has the ability to grow or do more, cannot rest on the laurels of his past accomplishments. For as we have seen, a person is not judged in comparison to his family, his colleagues, his kollel, his city or even his entire generation. The true test of a person's greatness is to see how he would match up with his own vast potential. The spectrum of greatness begins with where one is now and extends to the pinnacle of Avraham Avinu.

244 - Bereishis

The Torah tells us (Bereishis 2, 25) that before Adom and Chava ate from the eitz hadaas they were not embarrassed by their lack of clothing. Rashi explains that they were not aware of the concept of tznius which enables one to decipher between good and bad. Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) points out that this explanation of Rashi reveals a novel approach to defining the term "tznius." Tznius is the manner by which one deciphers if his actions are good or bad.

How can one know the true motivation for his actions? Rav Yeruchom Levovitz would say that a person has to familiarize himself with the many faces and colors of the yetzer hara. Although one might feel a great desire to perform a specific mitzvah, he must be able to discern if the surge of adrenaline is coming from his yetzer tov or from his yetzer hara. Performing a mitzvah is commendable; but it should not come at the expense of a greater or more timely Torah obligation. As Rav Yisroel Salanter would say, "The yetzer hara doesn't mind if one says Tehillim the entire day - as long as he doesn't sit down to study Torah in depth."

With this we can understand the Gemara at the end of Meseches Makos (24a) which discusses that pasuk, "What does Hashem request of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk modestly with Hashem." The Gemara tells us that to "walk modestly with Hashem" refers to the proper participation in funerals and marriages. The Gemara concludes that if these things - which are normally performed publicly - must be done in a modest manner, how much more so must we ensure that those things that are meant to be done privately, be carried out modestly. In other words, the way to gauge if the justice and kindness are a true fulfillment of the commandment is to determine whether they would have been performed in the same manner even when far from the eyes of any onlooker.

Tznius is not just an inconspicuous manner of dress. It is an inconspicuous manner of living. If the actions which one performs publicly would be performed in the same way inconspicuously behind closed doors, then one can be confidant that he has fulfilled his obligation in the sincerest manner!

242 - Yom Kippur

Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. I pg. 45) that had we not received any Mitzvos aside from Yom Kippur, from the Mitzvah of Yom Kippur alone we could deduce that the Torah is min hashamayim. Such an awesome day could not have been invented by man. The holiness of Yom Kippur is so great that it has the ability to obliterate the greatest sins and transgressions - if one desires wholeheartedly to rid himself of his wrongdoings. Even sins for which the desire for them is so great, that one can't even comprehend how he could not desire them, can be eradicated on Yom Kippur. One merely needs to sincerely yearn to be rid of them and believe that Hashem will assist him in his endeavors.

However, Chazal tell us (Yoma 85b) that Yom Kippur does not bring forgiveness for the sins that are between man and his fellow man, until he appeases his friend. If so, our avodah on Erev Yom Kippur must include appeasing those whom one has offended and asking for forgiveness. The Chofetz Chaim once spoke before Neilah and said that we can see the severity attributed to the mitzvos between man and his fellow man from the tefillah recited during Neilah, in which we beseech Hashem, "l'man nechdal mei'oshek yadeinu"; that our hands may refrain from stealing.

Most of us have someone or another that we have been meaning to appease but simply haven't gotten around to it. Now is the time. Make a call or send an email. It will be greatly appreciated, and your Yom Kippur will be more effective!

Gmar Chasima Tova!