Thursday, November 10, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
"Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Mitzrayim" (Devarim 25, 17). Rashi tells us that they cut off the milahs and threw them toward the heavens. What exactly does this mean? Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) helps us decipher the intention behind Amalek's enigmatic actions.
The Zohar writes that the letters of the word "Beraishis" also spell out "bris aish" - a fiery covenant. A covenant is what joins two, often conflicting, interests, and unites them into a single force. Bnei Yisroel, through the mitzvah of bris milah, succeed in creating such a covenant. Their performance of this mitzvah unites physicality with spirituality; the body with the soul, and man with his Creator.
Amalek, on the other hand, stands in stark contrast to this unique characteristic of Klal Yisroel. Chazal tell us that the head of their patriarch, Eisav, is buried in Me'aras Ha'machpeilah alongside some of the greatest people who ever lived. How did he merit such an awesome honor? The answer is that in his head, Eisav was as great as our Avos. His comprehension of The Creator was on par with the greats of our nation. However, there was one thing lacking, and that was his ability to bridge the gap between body and soul. He did not translate his knowledge into actions, and his awesome level of spirituality remained in his head without ever being integrated into the rest of his body.
It was this trait of their forefather that Amalek wished to demonstrate when they threw the milahs heavenward. They lived their lives with a partition separating between the physical and the spiritual, and they had no interest in uniting the two. They took the bris milah - the representation of the unification of body and soul - and threw it Heavenward.
The avodah of a Yid is to take knowledge of the spiritual and translate it into physical actions. There is no better time to do this than the month of Elul. We all know, and we have heard it many times, Hashem is drawing closer to us during this month with the anticipation that we will draw closer to Him. Yet, have our actions expressed this knowledge? Have we shown Hashem in any way that we also would like to come closer to Him? Even the smallest step toward this end generates a tremendous amount of siyata dishmaya (Heavenly assistance), and aids us in reaping the benefits of Elul!
Thursday, July 28, 2011
In this week's parsha we read in the tochacha, "And if you behave with Me "keri" and you refuse to heed Me, I will add another blow upon you" (Bamidbar 26, 21). Rashi tells us that the word "keri" comes from the same root as the word "mikreh" which means casually. The tochacha comes as a result of behaving casually regarding avodas Hashem: sometimes performing the mitzvos while at other times neglecting them.
Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) cites the Rambam who offers a different explanation for the word "keri." In the beginning of the halachos pertaining to ta'anios, the Rambam writes as follows: "There is a positive commandment to cry out and blow the trumpets at the advent of any trouble that befalls the populace. . . However, if they do not cry out nor blow the trumpets, rather, they say that what has occurred is due to natural circumstances and this calamity has come merely by chance. . . the calamity will lead to other calamities. In regard to this it is written in the Torah, 'And if you behave with Me "keri" and you refuse to heed Me, I will add another blow upon you'." The Rambam understands "keri" to mean coincidentally - by chance. If one perceives all of Divine Providence as coincidence, he is guilty of behaving toward Hashem in a manner of "keri" and the terrible punishment for such behavior is delineated in the subsequent pesukimof the tochacha.
Additionally, we find that tumah - spiritual impurity - is described as "keri." According to Rashi's explanation, the manifestation of spiritual impurity is the casual performance of avodas Hashem. The Rambam adds another dimension to spiritual impurity: failing to notice the hand of Hashem and instead attributing all occurrences to natural causes.
Both explanations are true. Nothing is by chance. Each and every current event has not occurred by chance; they are carefully orchestrated by the Creator Himself. Additionally, our avodas Hashem should not be performed casually - "by chance." We are His servants at all times and our performance of His mitzvos should reflect that - day and night, rain or shine.
Friday, May 6, 2011
"Until the day following the seventh week you shall count fifty days, and you shall offer a new mincha to Hashem" (Vayikra 23, 16). Rashi explains that the Torah refers to this korban mincha as a new offering since it is the first offering to be brought from the new crop of grain. Rashi continues that although the minchas ha'omer was brought earlier (on the second day of Pesach) it is not reckoned as the first mincha because it was unique since it was brought from barley as opposed to the rest of the minachos that were brought from wheat.
Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) points out that there is one other mincha that was brought from barley: the mincha of a sotah. He elaborates on the reason behind this phenomenon. Every physical object has a spiritual counterpart. These minachos were brought from se'orim (barley) which has a linguistic connotation of sa'arah (hair). Chazal tell us that Hashem judges the righteous meticulously and punishes them for even an infraction the size of "a hairsbreadth." In other words, se'orim connote, and therefore arouse, Hashem's judgment.
A sotah brings a barley offering since her situation warrants Divine judgment. Is she guilty of adultery and deserving of punishment via the bitter waters or is she innocent and worthy to be blessed with beautiful children. In a similar fashion Bnei Yisroel would bring a barley offering after the first day of Pesach. A day earlier they experienced freedom from bondage, for as we know the exodus was not a onetime event. Rather, we revisit and relive that momentous occasion each year on the Seder night, as per the commandment to feel as if we left Mitzrayim. Hence, there was a need to judge Bnei Yisroel. How have they utilized their newfound freedom? Has it galvanized them into a greater service of The Creator, or have they, G-d forbid, strayed from the proper path?
Though we no longer have the Beis Hamikdosh and the minachos, nevertheless, we do have the ability to experience freedom on the night of the Seder. We must then ask ourselves how these feelings have affected us. Do we have, or are we at least working toward, a greater level of emuna? Are we even a tad less enslaved to our yetzer hara and our desires? This is the lesson of the minchas ha'omer. Let us take it to heart and apply it to our lives. One single paragraph in the Chazon Ish's sefer emunah u'bitachon (available in Hebrew and English), read during a coffee break, over the phone or during supper, can aid us in attaining greater levels of emunah - which freedom from bondage should engender.
Friday, April 29, 2011
If one was asked to determine which of the following hurts most; detaching an entire fingernail, removing an eye or an abdominal surgery, he would have zero interest in evaluating the pain level of each of those procedures in order to come to a decision. This is so, says Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. I pg. 80), despite the fact that eyes and fingernails are not limbs upon which one's life is dependant. Nevertheless, the body feels an acute pain when it is missing any limb; even if it is not one of the vital organs.
In a similar vein, regarding the mitzvos we say in davening, "ki heim chayeinu - for they are our life." Together, all the mitzvos of the Torah create a spiritual "body." The Torah does not differentiate between the various mitzvos nor does it categorize their levels of importance, because the lack of even a single mitzvah causes a deficiency in one's spiritual makeup and a flaw in his spiritual "body."
The Torah contains mitzvos between man and Hashem and mitzvos between man and his fellow man. There are obligations to be fulfilled with one's limbs and others to be fulfilled in one's heart. Additionally, some mitzvos are constant while others are time oriented. The fulfillment of all the mitzvos together aids one in achieving perfection in this world and assures him an honorary portion in the next world.
Some people are naturally more outgoing and may have leanings toward performing chessed or toward loving their neighbor. However, they might be lacking in their performance of mitzvos between man and Hashem because they are missing that same level of inborn motivation. Others are disgusted at the thought of defiling their mouths with non kosher food, but they have no inhibitions about sullying their mouths with lies or lashon hara.
In this week's parsha the Torah implies explicitly that we are not to follow our natural tendencies in deciding which mitzvos to perform. The Torah commands us (Vayikra 19, 3), "A man should fear his mother and father." Rashi notes that in contrast, regarding the mitzvah of honoring one's parents the Torah the Torah gives precedence to the father, as it is written, "Honor your father and your mother." He explains that naturally a child fears his father more than his mother, but honors his mother more than his father. Hence, the Torah places an emphasis on fear of the mother and the honor of the father.
We read in Krias Shema, "So that you should remember and perform all of My mitzvos and be holy to your G-d." Through the performance of all of the mitzvos together one achieves the very purpose of Yetzias Mitrayim; that special connection to Hashem described in the following pasuk: "I am Hashem your G-d, Who has taken you out of Mitzrayim, to be unto you a G-d."
Before Adom Ha'rishon sinned, he was able to clearly discern that despite the fact that this world seems to be a reality, it is merely a façade in comparison to the reality of ruchniyos in general and Hashem in particular. However, after he sinned, the yetzer hara i.e. the power of imagination became part and parcel of Adom's very being. The extent that he exercised the use of his imagination, the more he turned the physical world into a reality. This in turn obscured the true reality of the spiritual world.
Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo Geulah pg. 313) writes that this concept holds true for each and every one of us. The Torah relates regarding the staffs Yaakov Avinu placed in front of the sheep, that the sheep gave birth to offspring which mirrored the designs on the staffs. The "imagination" of the sheep had the power to create a reality. The same holds true for our imagination. When a person uses his imagination to conjure up various worldly pleasures, he is creating; he is turning the physical world into more and more of a reality. This in effect obscures the reality of ruchniyos thereby giving it inferior status.
How does one combat this yetzer hara masked in his imagination? The answer can be found in the Kuzari (3, 5). "The pious commands his imagination to conjure up the most splendid images stored away in his mind in order to create a picture for a desired G-dly phenomenon such as the revelation by Har Sinai, Akeidas Yitzchok, the Mishkan along with Moshe and the service performed therein, the glory of the Bais Hamikdosh and many other images." It is imperative that one utilize his imagination in his avodas Hashem. Otherwise, his imagination unchecked will run wild, and solely paint portraits of the many pleasures and temptations of this very materialistic world.
The importance of using one's imagination to aid his avodas Hashem is expressed succinctly by the Sforno in his explanation of two pasukim in Devarim (27, 9-10). "Haskeis" - Depict in your mind "U'Shema" - and contemplate. "V'Shamata B'kol Hashem Elokecha" - When you depict this and comprehend it, then you will most certainly heed the word of Hashem."
This being the case, concludes Rav Wolbe, we have clarified for ourselves the avodah of Pesach. A person is obligated to feel as if he himself left Mitzrayim. This can only be accomplished by picturing the bondage and the subsequent freedom. For this reason we are instructed to recline, drink four cups of wine, and eat matzah and marror. Going through the motions of freedom, observing the "pesach" and tasting the bread of affliction all aid our imagination in a more complete picture of Yetzias Mitzrayim.
If we truly want to gain from this Yom Tov of Pesach, let us follow the Kuzari's advice. Let's not merely "go through the motions" of the Seder, but also take some time to picture the scenes of Yetzias Mitzrayim. The ten makkos, Paraoh's nocturnal search for Moshe and Aharon, each Jew with ninety donkeys laden with the bounty of Mitzrayim, Kriyas Yam Suf and the cloud and fire that led the Jews through the wilderness. These pictures can do wonders in advancing our emunah and additionally, prevents our imagination from tempting us with the false pleasures of olam hazeh.
"When a woman conceives and gives birth to a son" (Vayikra 12, 2). The birth of any child, says Rav Wolbe (Zeriah U'binyan B'Chinuch pg. 32), is an entrustment from Hashem. Dovid Hamelech commented in Tehillim (8, 5) "What is a person that you should remember him, and a man 'ki sifkideno'? "Ki sifkideno" can be translated homiletically, "that you entrust him with a deposit (pekadon)." The birth of a child is an expression of Hashem's trust in a person to the extent that He has deposited a human in his care.
Children aren't given to a person so that he should have someone to take care of him when he gets old, or as an object in which to take pride. Children are a deposit from Hashem, and one must care for the deposit responsibly. What does one have to do to succeed in properly caring for this most special deposit?
The Ramban notes that in the first parsha of krias shema we say, "And you shall teach [Torah] to your children, and you shall speak [in Torah]." However, in the second parsha of krias shema we say, "And you shall teach Torah to your children so that they shall speak in them." He explains that the first step in teaching a child is invariably accomplished by way of a father speaking to the child. Nevertheless, this is not the goal. The ultimate goal is that the child should be able to speak in Torah on his own.
Consequently, we are entrusted with a deposit and we are to teach him Torah and guide him in a way that will enable him to grow properly. However, the ultimate goal is that he should want to take the initiative in his life and develop a personal desire to grow in Torah and mitzvos. It is a sad sight to behold a "chinuch" that stifles the individual and personal ambition of a child.
Children aren't merely a privilege; they are a great responsibility. They aren't "Our children"; they are Hashem's children whom He has deposited with us, for a purpose and with a mission. We have been entrusted to educate our children in a way that will facilitate their developing their own personal desire to grow in Torah and mitzvos.