Friday, April 29, 2011

273 - Kedoshim

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."

272 - Pesach

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 fa├žade 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.

271 - Metzora (Pesach)

The Ramban, at the end of Parshas Bo, writes that Hashem does not perform miracles in each generation merely to refute the notions of every nonbeliever who ever lives. Therefore, He commanded us to perform numerous mitzvos in remembrance of Yetzias Mitrayim - the era which He did perform countless overt miracles which disproved the possibility of any other supreme being, and demonstrated His continuous providence of all that occurs here on earth. According to the opinion of the Ramban, the purpose of many mitzvos is to help us achieve the level of emunah attained by Bnei Yisroel at the time of Yetzias Mitrayim.

On the pasuk, "And you shall relate to your children on that day saying, for this Hashem did for me when I left Mitzrayim" (Shemos 13, 8), Rashi explains, "for this" so that I should fulfill His commandments such as pesach, matza and maror. Rashi's explanation implies, in contrast to the Ramban, that the purpose of the mitzvos is not a remembrance of Yetzias Mitzrayim, rather the opposite, the very purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim was in order that we should perform His mitzvos.

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo Geulah pg. 278) writes that in reality, the Ramban and Rashi do not disagree; rather, their explanations complement each other. Rashi in numerous places (see R"H 28a, Brachos 33b) writes that the mitzvos were given to us as a yoke, i.e. to show our absolute servitude to Hashem. The purpose of Yetzias Mitrayim was, as we say in Shema, so that Hashem "shall be for you a G-d." Bnei Yisroel were to accept Hashem's Kingship, which manifests itself by the performance of His commandments. The Ramban does not disagree, for he writes explicitly (Devarim 6, 13), "The [intent of a] mitzvah is to be like a slave who is acquired by a master who makes the work of his master primary and his own work secondary." The Ramban is merely giving a reason behind the mitzvos, as he writes, "And now I will reveal to you the ta'am (reason - lit. flavor) behind many mitzvos."

In other words, there are two aspects in every mitzvah. The idea of a mitzvah, as explained by Rashi, is to demonstrate our total subjugation to Hashem. Additionally, as the Ramban writes, each mitzvah has its own reason and purpose specifically designed to serve Hashem in that manner. The purpose of many of the mitzvos is to relive the spiritual high felt at the time of Yetzias Mitrayim.

Rabbeinu Yonah writes (Sha'ar Ha'avodah) that one is obligated to search for a reason behind each mitzva. Even if we fail to understand the reason behind a specific mitzvah, we must still fulfill that mitzvah as a servant fulfills his master's commandments regardless of whether he comprehends the motive behind their instruction. Nevertheless, if we do succeed in understanding the purpose of the mitzvah, it gives a wonderful "flavor" to the performance of the mitzvah. This being the case, it behooves us all to take a few minutes to review this most important Ramban (Shemos 13, 16 V'atoh omer lecha. . .) before sitting down to the Seder on Pesach.

270 - Tazria

"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.

269 - Shemini

Chazal tell us that Rochel Imeinu engaged in the "occupation" of silence and therefore her offspring engaged in the same "occupation." Binyomin, her son, although privy to the sale of Yosef, did not reveal this knowledge to Yaakov. Her descendant, Shaul Hamelech, was anointed king and chose not to relate this amazing piece of information to others. Additionally, Esther, did not reveal her nationality to anyone in Achasveirosh's palace.

To remain silent is an Avodah, and sometimes silence expresses much more than words themselves. In this week's Parsha, we read how Aharon's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, were consumed by a Heavenly fire when they brought an unauthorized incense offering. Thereafter we are told, "And Aharon was silent." His silence was an expression of his total acceptance of this Heavenly, albeit very painful, decree, and Chazal tell us that he was rewarded for his silence.

Rav Wolbe adds (Alei Shur vol. I pg. 178) that one who has difficulty remaining silent, will never fully appreciate anything that he experiences. When he is awed or shaken by something that he has heard or seen, he always feels compelled to categorize the occurrence with a verbal description: "amazing" or "very nice!" If he would remain silent and allow what he has seen or heard to seep in and be internalized, it would make a much bigger impression on him.

Additionally, silence goes hand and hand with the capacity of solitude. One who doesn't know how to remain silent, runs away from any amount of solitude. A moment of solitude affords him a private audience with himself - someone he has no specific interest in getting to know. In contrast, a person who enjoys a quiet moment, gets to know himself and his internal world, and will actually make an effort to find time for solitude.

If not for nighttime, we wouldn't know that there are stars. Only once the sun sets are the stars revealed, and along with them new and almost endless expansions. Likewise, during the day one is busy with a multitude of people and other worldly pursuits. Only once the day concludes and he isolates himself from all the commotion does he have the ability to perceive his internal world and the spiritual yearnings that come along with it.

We run from work to home, from the company of people to the radio, from cell phone to ipod, and we don't have a minute for ourselves. Sometimes we get so caught up in our work and the technological hubbub that, even if we would have a quiet minute, we wouldn't know what to do with it. There is no one in the entire world more interesting than you yourself. Take a few minutes a week to try to get to know the spiritual yearnings of that most amazing personality!

268 - Tzav (Zachor)

In this week's Haftorah we read about Shaul's war against the Amaleikim, and his failure to properly heed Hashem's commandment to wipe out that evil nation. Shaul did not kill the king of Amalek, and he left the best animals alive to sacrifice to Hashem. When Shmuel was apprised of the situation, he castigated Shaul. "To obey [the word of Hashem] is better than a choice offering, to be attentive, than the fat of rams. For rebelliousness is like the sin of sorcery" (Shmuel II 15, 22).

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo Geulah pg. 219), basing himself on the Ralbag explains Shmuel's metaphor of sorcery. The Rambam writes that there is a basic difference between a prophet of Hashem and one who divines through sorcery. A sorcerer can tell the future, but he will never be able to predict what will happen to the very last detail. He might declare that there will be a terrible drought during the year and no rain will fall, while in reality a small amount of rain will indeed fall. In contrast, a true prophet will correctly predict every last detail. Therefore, if even one minute detail of his prophecy fails to come to fruition, we can be certain that he is not a true prophet.

From Shmuel's rebuke of Shaul, we can glean that this concept applies not only to prophecy, but also to mitzvos. The fulfillment of a commandment with a lack of meticulousness to every detail due to a feeling that one can get away with less, is to a certain extent comparable to sorcery! An unjustifiable excuse in order to enable one to be lax in one's performance of a mitzvah, demonstrates that the mitzvah does not stem from an entirely holy source. It resembles sorcery, the prime example of lack of attention to detail.

Purim is a day packed with unique mitzvos, and care should be taken to perform them all with attention to the details. This includes listening to each word of the Megillah, gladdening others with mishloach manos and matanos l'evyonim, and a joyous seudah that does not result in detracting from the proper performance of other mitzvos. The proper performance of these mitzvos has the ability to raise one to great levels of ahavas Hashem and ahavas Yisroel!

A Freilichin Purim!

267 - Vayikra (Pre-Purim)

Chazal tell us that the violation of Rabbinic commandments carries a more severe punishment than the commandments written in the Torah. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt"l explains the rationale behind this idea. The more one can relate to a concept or idea, the more it obligates him. It is easier for us to relate to the commandments and restrictions that were enacted by the Rabbanan, not only because the reasons behind them are more comprehendible to us, but also since those who instituted them lived in a more recent era than the one in which the Torah was given. Hence, these mitzvos obligate us to a greater degree and neglecting them carries a greater punishment.

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo Geulah pg. 201) writes that if mitzvos de'rabanon carry a greater punishment, it follows that their fulfillment brings greater results. The fact that we can relate to the mitzvah means that we can gain more from the mitzvah. Therefore, it is quite possible that we can gain more from Purim, which is de'rabanon, than we can gain from other Yomim Tovim even though they are mi'deoraisa. Additionally, the Arizal writes that Yom Kippurim means that it is "a day like Purim," i.e. Yom Kippur is secondary in greatness to the day of Purim. Another indication to the spiritual loftiness of Purim is the fact that a sefer in Tanach, a Mesechta of Gemara, and a plethora of mitzvos and customs are dedicated solely to this day.

The miracle of Purim was the very last miracle that happened to Bnei Yisroel which is recorded in Tanach. However, the uniqueness of this miracle is the fact that it occurred during a time of galus and hester panim. Therefore, we can glean from the day of Purim all that one needs to know to live and weather the days of galus and hester panim.

When Achashveirosh gave his ring to Haman, thereby allowing Haman to do to the Jews as he pleased, despite the hester panim the Jewish People were able to decipher that it was Hashem who brought upon them the decree of annihilation. This realization was more successful than the prophets in causing them to do teshuva. Moreover, when they merited the salvation through the hands of Mordechai, they literally felt Hashem's loving hand penetrating through the hester panim, which in turn prompted them to reaccept the Torah wholeheartedly.

Purim is the day that helps us become more aware of Hashem despite the hester panim of galus. If we prepare ourselves properly, and internalize the message of the miracle of Purim, we can anticipate coming out of the day of Purim better than the way we went into Purim!