Thursday, October 18, 2012

347 - Bereishis

Before beginning his shiurim on Chumash, Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash pg. 2) felt it imperative to preface the series of shiurim with the following introduction:

When we learn Tanach we must bear in mind that we are literally light-years away from the spiritual level of the people described therein. For example, we read how Yeshaya castigates his generation with extremely harsh accusations. "Woe, a sinful nation, a people laden with sin, evil offspring, destructive children; they have forsaken Hashem, angered the Holy One of Yisrael and turned their back toward Him" (Yeshaya 1, 4).  A superficial reading of this pasuk would lend us to think that his generation was full of corrupt depraved people. However, the very fact that they merited hearing the rebuke of a navi is the greatest testimony to their awesome spiritual level!

One might ask if they really were so great how could it be that they were idol worshippers? The answer is that in truth we cannot understand their behavior since we have no idea what idol worship was all about. The drive was so immensely powerful that King Menashe came to one of the Amoraim in a dream and told him that had he lived in an earlier generation he would have picked up the hems of his clothing to enable him to run even faster in the pursuit of idol worship! The urge was so difficult to overcome, that Chazal felt compelled to daven to Hashem to abolish this desire. Their wish was granted and, hence, we have no clue as to the challenge that the previous generations had to overcome.

In order to understand on what type of spiritual plateau those mentioned in Tanach lived, we must look at them via the numerous generations that divide their era from our era. We can still partially relate to the mussar given by the Chofetz Chaim, but we are totally disconnected from the mussar of Reb Yisroel Salanter who lived a generation earlier. When he rebuked those around him for their apathy toward Elul, he was not referring to the acute indifference toward the Yomim HaNoraim that abounds today. Similarly, Reb Yisroel's generation couldn't match the generation of Reb Chaim Volozhin who also complained about the low spiritual level rampant in his times. The same variance exists between the generations of Rav Chaim Volozhim and The Ramchal. One of the early Rishonim, Rabbeinu Tam, wrote a mussar sefer and explained in his introduction the impetus for his writing a sefer on mussar when there were already other such seforim around. He felt that his generation could not relate to the concepts mentioned in the Chovos Halevovos who lived a number of years earlier. This trend continues through the generations of Geonim, Amoraim, Tanaim and Nevi'im.

This being the case, we have absolutely no ability to comprehend their greatness. When Yeshaya leveled the above mentioned criticism at his generation, he was referring to a subtle laxity in their dveikus to Hashem. If we want to gain an inkling of an understanding into the spiritual situation of those generations, we need merely to remember the feelings we felt after Rosh Hashana. After two days of lengthy and intense davening, didn't a thought creep into our minds when we remembered that the following day we once again would have to get up early for Selichos: "More davening? Isn't it enough already?!" Such a thought borders on forsaking Hashem and ever so slightly resembles the feelings of those who literally lived their lives in such close proximity to Hashem that the slightest deviance from Him would be considered an act of forsaking Hashem.

If the Torah relates the stories of Adam, the Avos, the Shevatim and Bnei Yisroel then even we, with our limited spiritual capacity, are expected to learn and attempt to understand them. Yet, when we read how Adom ate from the eitz hada'as and other similar transgressions, let us bear in mind that the people being discussed were immeasurably greater than we could ever imagine.

346 - Ha'azinu - Sukkos

Moshe begins his address of Ha'azinu with the following words,  "May My Torah drip like the rain" (Devarim 32, 2). Rav Wolbe quotes his Rebbi, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt"l, who explains the pasuk's comparison of Torah to rain. Rain merely dampens the soil and creates a properly fertile ground for the seeds planted there. However, the actual growth of the plant stems from inside the seed itself. So too, although the Torah prepares and cultivates a person for spiritual growth, nevertheless, the major portion of the growth must originate from inside the person himself.  
In a similar vein, Rabbeinu Yonah writes (Sha'arei Teshuva Chap. 2, 26) "If a person does not arouse himself, what will mussar help?" Rav Wolbe elaborates (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 415) that it is possible to listen to many mussar discourses and to read through many mussar seforim and gain nearly nothing. A person has to arouse himself by properly digesting what he has heard or read.
We might make a similar observation regarding Sukkos. It is a Yom Tov which has the ability to be one of the most spiritually uplifting times of the year - if we allow it to be. We sit in a makeshift "clouds of glory" surrounded by Hashem's Divine protection, and we rejoice in the recent forgiveness achieved on Yom Kippur. Sukkos and the rest of the Yomim Tovim of Tishrei climax in Simchas Torah, a day specifically designated as a spiritual rendezvous between Hashem and Klal Yisroel. Chazal tell us that Hashem so to speak says, "Your parting is difficult for Me! Please set aside one more day to take leave of me." The opportunity for spiritual growth that Sukkos affords us is immense. However, we must sufficiently arouse ourselves in order to carry its inspiration with us during the coming months.
Take a few minutes, before or during Sukkos, to delve into the beauty of this most remarkable Yom Tov (Sefer Hatoda'ah and Rav Shimshon Pinkus are two great options). Rejoice in the mitzvah of Sukkah, the arba minim, the simchas Beis Ha'shoavah and taste the sweetness of being close to Hashem! 
Chag Kasher V'Sameiach!

345 - Yom Kippur

Reb Yonason Eibshitz zt"l explains that Hashem's acceptance of teshuva is analogous to techias ha'meisim - resurrection of the dead. This is because the Torah refers to a wicked person, even during his lifetime, as if he were dead. Only once he repents, and Hashem accepts his teshuva, can he be considered alive, and if so he has in effect been resurrected.

Rav Wolbe (Ma'amarei Yemei Ratzon pg. 340) writes that with this in mind we can understand an amazing statement of Chazal regarding the immense power of teshuva. Chazal (Yalkut Yechezkel 18) tell us that a question was posed, "What could be done [to rectify] the soul that has sinned?" "Wisdom responded, 'Evil will pursue the sinner.' They asked prophesy and she answered, 'The sinner must die.' They asked the Torah and she replied, 'He should offer a sacrifice and he will be forgiven.' They asked Hashem and He said, 'He should do teshuva and he will be forgiven.'" 

Wisdom understood that one aveirah leads to another aveirah and, therefore, a transgressor creates a whirlpool of sin, and he will forever be pursued by sin. Prophesy recognizes the awesomeness of The Creator and rightfully feels that anyone who has rebelled against Him has forfeited his right to live. In contrast, the Torah acknowledges the ability to rectify the sin. Nevertheless, it seems that the rectification is limited to a sin performed unintentionally since only such a sin can be absolved via a korban. Hashem was the only One able to prescribe teshuva as a remedy for transgressions, thusly implying that teshuva cannot be comprehended even by those most spiritually elevated. 

With Reb Yonason Eibshitz's insight we can begin to understand why no one could fathom the concept of teshuva. Chazal tell us that fifty gates of wisdom were created, but even Moshe Rabbeinu was only able to reach the forty-ninth gate. The fiftieth gate, explains the Gr"a, is the gate which contains the secret of life itself, and since all mortals are destined to die, there is no way humanly possible to access the wisdom of this gate. It follows that if teshuva bears semblance to resurrection and the giving of life, then it also is beyond any comprehension and, therefore, was not entertained as a viable avenue for the rectification of sin.

This also explains one of the tefillos of Yom Kippur. We say, "Until the day of his death You wait for him; if he repents You will accept him." How can the teshuva on one's deathbed be accepted when his entire life was wasted? The answer is that teshuva is life, and it is worthwhile for a person to be in this world for an entire lifetime if he will ultimately reach a moment of clarity on his deathbed and merit tapping into true life! 

However, "Praiseworthy is one who does teshuva earlier on in life" (Avodah Zara 19a). Such a person can live the rest of his years building on the foundation of true life attained through his teshuva. Teshuva is awesome and, as Rabbeinu Yonah writes, any amount of teshuva is accepted. May we be zoche to utilize the amazing opportunity that the Aseres Yemei Teshuva and Yom Kippur afford us, and begin living life in its truest form!        

May we all be zoche to be mikabal ol Malchus Shamayim 
and to a Gmar V'chasima Tova!

343 - Ki Savo

Among the numerous mitzvos mentioned in this week's parsha is the mitzvah of bi'ur and viduy ma'asros. On erev Pesach after the third year of the seven year shmitta cycle, we are commanded to properly allocate any of the third year tithes that might have remained in our possession. The Torah commands us that along with the allocation one must also recite viduy, i.e. a "confession" that he has properly performed all the relevant mitzvos associated with the giving of the tithes. In a similar vein, we find that teshuva, which includes true remorse over one's actions and a serious commitment to refrain from repeating those actions in the future, must also be accompanied by viduy - a verbal confession. What is the purpose of this viduy? Once a person already regrets his transgressions and makes a serious commitment to refrain from such actions in the future, what more does the viduy accomplish?

Rav Wolbe (Ma'amarei Yemei Ratzon pg. 89) cites a Gemara to explain this concept. "Whoever slaughters his yetzer hara and recites viduy, is considered by the Torah as if he has honored Hashem both in this world and the next world" (Sanhedrin 43b). Likewise, when Yehoshua attempted to convince Achan to confess his sin of taking from the consecrated booty, he told him, "My child, please give honor to Hashem the G-d of Yisrael and confess to Him." How does one honor Hashem with a verbal confession? 

The answer is as follows. Every sin, more than it causes Hashem to distance Himself from the transgressor, causes the transgressor to distance himself from Hashem. When one commits an aveirah, he imagines or believes that Hashem doesn't see him perpetrating the misdeed, almost as if he has hidden himself from his Creator. The way to rectify such behavior is with the recitation of the viduy. We declare, "For the sin that we have sinned before You etc." We acknowledge that not only were You, Hashem, watching us as we sinned, moreover, at that very time You actually continued to bestow upon us the physical capacity which was used to commit the offense. One who acknowledges this truth and removes the partition that separates him from his Creator, has in truth honored Hashem.

Prior to the viduy we beseech Hashem, "Please accept our prayers and do not ignore our entreaties." In other words, we no longer want to pretend that Hashem ignores our actions; we are acknowledging His surveillance. With this in mind, our recitation of the viduy should take on a whole new dimension. It should be recited with a feeling of connection to Hashem similar to the way one recites Shema or the first bracha in Shmoneh Esrei. In essence we are declaring that at all times Hashem is with us, and we are expressing our true desire to refrain from pretending that He fails to take notice of our deeds. Such a viduy will certainly be accepted by Hashem. This is a perception we should bear in mind before we begin Selichos. 

342 - Ki Seitzei

In this week's parsha the Torah juxtaposes the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird before taking her offspring and the mitzvah to erect a fence on one's roof upon building a new house. Rashi explains that if one performs the mitzvah of shiluach hakein he will merit building a house and performing the mitzvah of erecting a fence, because "one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah" (Avos 4, 2). Rashi continues that it is for this very reason that the Torah places the prohibitions of planting a field with kelayim (a forbidden mixture of seeds) and the prohibition of wearing clothing that contain shatnez (a mixture of wool and linen), directly after the above mentioned mitzvos. Performance of the original mitzvos will lead to the acquisition of a field, a vineyard and clothing, and to the performance of the related mitzvos.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) points out that we generally understand that the Mishna, "One mitzvah leads to another mitzvah" is limited to the actual performance of the mitzvah: The performance of one mitzvah will give me Heavenly assistance to perform another mitzvah. If I say bircas hamazon I will be able to learn in the morning and thereafter conduct my business honestly and daven mincha with a minyan, etc. However, from Rashi it is clear, that additionally, through the performance of one mitzvah Hashem creates and allocates the resources needed to enable the performance of mitzvos that hitherto had been entirely out of the person's ballpark. If he does shiluach hakein Hashem will give him the ability to build a house enabling him to perform the mitzvah of building a fence. Truly amazing!

There is yet another aspect of this adage of Chazal. Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 40) quotes Rav Dessler who explains that every person has a "nekudas habechira." In other words, there are many mitzvos and good deeds that a person does without choosing at all; rather, they are dictated by the way he was brought up or his intrinsic nature. Likewise, there are many aveiros that he does without even realizing that they are wrong; it is simply the way he was educated. His nekudas habechira (point of choice based on his free will) is merely at one specific location: where what he knows to be true clashes with what he imagines is true (but deep down really knows it's not). 

However, one's nekudas habechira is not stagnant. "One mitzvah leads to another mitzvah" is in effect a conditioning agent whereby a person becomes acclimated to the performance of a mitzvah to the point that the yetzer hara no longer tries to persuade him to disregard that mitzvah because it has ceased to be a challenge to overcome the temptation. He can now move up to the next rung on the spiritual ladder and conquer even bigger and better territories as he advances in his avodas Hashem.

If a mitzvah presents itself, grab the opportunity. Besides the infinite reward of that specific mitzvah, it also has the ability to improve one's spiritual and physical standing. Moreover, in the month of Elul each mitzvah is precious and might be the one to tip the scales! 

341 - Shoftim

In the Haftora of this week's parsha, we read, "ooree ooree livshe oozeich Tzion" - Awaken, Awaken, Don Your strength Tzion. However, the Targum translates the pasuk slightly differently, "Reveal, Reveal, Don your strength Tzion." Rav Wolbe explains (Ma'amarei Yemei Ratzon pg. 77) that sometimes people experience giluy (clarity), while at other times they experience hester (confusion). In certain situations the confusion can be so great that one isn't even aware of the strengths that are found inside himself until he is aroused and awakened to them by someone else. Hence, the Targum explains that the "awakening" mentioned in the pasuk, in reality is a mere revelation of the strengths within, which, until then, had been unnoticed.

He elaborates that a person is similar to a tree (as stated in this week's parsha, "For a man is like a tree of the field"). The pit of a fruit contains the entire physical design of the tree that it is able to produce: the type of fruit and leaves, the height of the tree and its color. Yet, none of the above is discernable when one looks at the actual pit. It is only after the tree grows that all the features inherent in the pit become revealed. Similarly, every person is jam-packed with amazing qualities and strengths which are meant to become revealed over the course of his lifetime. However, he differs from a tree in that there is no guarantee that all his features will be revealed, and that sometimes it takes an outside source to arouse and reveal his latent strengths. 

With this approach we can understand the Medrash in this week's parsha. The first pasuk in the parsha commands us, "You shall appoint judges and officers for yourself in all your cities." The Medrash states, "This refers to what is written (Mishlei 6, 6), "Lazy one, go to an ant, see its ways and gain wisdom. Though it has no leader, officer or ruler, it prepares its bread in the summer and it hordes its food at harvest time." In other words, Bnei Yisroel's need for judges and officers seems not to be the ideal situation. The ideal situation would be if people were similar to ants and need no outside assistance in arousing their innate qualities and characteristics. 

Therefore, our job is to reveal the many qualities that have thus far been concealed within us and then use them in our avodas Hashem. Moreover, Rav Wolbe would stress that before one begins learning mussar and starts focusing on his negative traits, it is absolutely imperative that he be fully cognizant of his positive qualities. The first step in improving ourselves is acknowledging our awesome potential!

340 - Re'eh

In this week's parsha Moshe mentions the commandment of giving ma'aser - tithes. Rav Wolbe (see Ma'amarei Yemei Ratzon pg. 459) would often quote Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l who declared that just as one should give a tenth of his money to those who are financially less fortunate, so too, he should give a tenth of his time to those who are spiritually less fortunate. Rav Wolbe (ibid.) also quotes numerous sources that delineate the importance of bringing other people closer to the service of Hashem.

Rabbeinu Yonah (Sha'arei Teshuva 3, 158) writes, "Now contemplate the great obligation we have to sanctify Hashem: Since the primary reason that Hashem sanctified us with His Torah and mitzvos and singled us out as His nation is so that we should sanctify Him and fear Him, it is only proper that those who sanctify Him should they themselves be sanctified."

With this Rabbeinu Yonah in mind, we can understand an awesome statement made by the Chovos Halevovos (Sha'ar HaBitachon chap 6.). "One is not worthy of meriting the reward of Olam Haba solely through the performance of good actions. Rather, he becomes worthy before G-d with two additional things after the good deed. The first of which is instructing people toward the service of Hashem and guiding them to do good." Such a statement seems mind boggling! He implies that even if one performed all the mitzvos of the Torah, sans the one stated above, he is not worthy of meriting the reward of the next world! However, according to Rabbeinu Yonah, we can gain an understanding of this idea. The very purpose of all the mitzvos is a mere prelude to sanctifying Hashem's Name in this world. Therefore, he who fails to cause Hashem's Name to be sanctified in front of others, is lacking the most essential aspect of the mitzvos.

Elsewhere (Sha'ar Ahavas Hashem chap. 6), the Chovos Halevovos implies that one who limits his avodas Hashem to his own self perfection will certainly receive reward. Yet, he continues, the reward will not come close to the reward of one who also helps others in their avodas Hashem. He compares these two people to two merchants who bought shoes for ten dollars. The first merchant sold one pair of shoes for a hundred dollars, ten times the original price, netting a total profit of ninety dollars. The second merchant sold the shoes for a mere twenty dollars, but he sold thousands of pairs. Despite the fact that the first merchant netted a much greater profit for the pair of shoes that he sold, nevertheless, the second merchant's earnings were thousands of dollars greater than those of the first merchant. Likewise, although one who spends his entire life focusing on his own spirituality will certainly earn great reward for his self perfection, nevertheless, it cannot begin to compare to the reward merited by one who also helps others grow in their spirituality.

The Rambam writes that the Final Redemption will come only after Bnei Yisroel do teshuva. Let us take an active part in this teshuva process. Our demeanor, both bein adom l'makom and bein adom l'chaveiro, should be such that those who see us think, "I, too, wish to be like that." Moreover, when we have the ability to say a good word to those spiritually less fortunate, and most certainly if we have the opportunity to impart to them some of the beauty and truth of the Torah, we should seize the moment and do it. It's a small action, but it earns infinite reward! 

339 - Eikev

The second portion of Krias Shema is found in this week's parsha: "V'haya im shemoah tishmeu el mitzvosi" - And if you listen, you will listen to My mitzvos. (Devarim 11, 13). Rashi explains the seemingly superfluous wording of the pasuk as follows. "If you listen to the previous commandments, then you will listen to the subsequent commandments. Likewise, the Torah writes, 'If you forget you will forget' implying that if you begin to forget, you will end up forgetting everything as [Chazal] state, 'If you forsake me (the Torah) for one day, I will forsake you for two days.'"

The Yerushalmi brings a parable to convey this idea. When two friends part, and one walks eastward while his friends walks westward in the exact opposite direction, after a day of walking they are in reality a distance of two days apart. Rav Wolbe (Ma'amarei Yemei Ratzon pg. 364) comments that the parable implies that Chazal's words about the Torah forsaking a person are not metaphorical. Rather, if one forsakes the Torah, the Torah will actually distance itself and forsake that person. When he wishes to return to the Torah he will not find it in the place he left it and he will have to toil twice as hard to reconnect to the Torah. 

The same applies to tefillah. Rashi in Meseches Brachos (4b) cites another Yerushalmi which describes one who fails to daven Shemoneh Esrei immediately after reciting the Shema and its blessings. This can be compared to the friend of a king who knocked on the palace door and before receiving a response he turned around and left. When the king opened the door and saw that his friend left, he too, turned around and left. Rather a person should draw Hashem close with praises of Yetzias Mitzrayim and He will come close, and while Hashem is close he should request his needs. If we draw Hashem close He will reciprocate, while if we turn around and distance ourselves, He will conduct Himself in a similar fashion.

The Ramban (Shemos 3, 13) mentioned last week, quotes a Medrash that encapsulates this idea. Hashem told Moshe to relate to Bnei Yisroel that He reciprocates their actions. If they open their hands to give tzedakah, Hashem will open His storehouses and bestow great bounty upon them. In other words we are the determining factor as to our relationship with Hashem. If we distance ourselves from Him He will respond likewise, while if we attempt to come close to Him, He too, as per the exact amount of effort we expended in achieving this goal, will draw Himself close to us.

The summer is a time that allows many people to change the daily schedule maintained during the rest of the year. However, one must take great care not to forsake Torah study or tefillah. One day missed translates into two days of work regaining what was lost. A single day should not pass entirely devoid of tefillah or Torah study, and the harder the effort involved in retaining our relationship with Hashem, the closer Hashem will draw Himself to us!

338 - Va'eschanan

The very first time Hashem revealed Himself to Moshe, He commanded him to tell Bnei Yisroel that he was sent by Hashem to redeem them. "What should I tell them when they ask me for Your Name?" Moshe queried. To which Hashem responded, "I Shall Be As I Shall Be" (Shemos 3, 14).

Rav Wolbe (Ma'amarei Yemei Ratzon pg. 35) cites the Ramban's explanation of this enigmatic dialogue. Moshe was asking for the Name of Hashem that would unequivocally convey to Bnei Yisroel Hashem's existence and providence. Hashem responded that there is absolutely no reason that Bnei Yisroel should inquire as to His Name. The clearest proof of His existence is the fact that "I Shall Be" with them in all their times of suffering; they simply have to call out and I will answer them. There is no need for any other proof.

The reality that whenever Klal Yisroel daven's to Hashem He answers them, is the most obvious proof of the existence of our Creator. Rav Wolbe notes that this idea is found in this week's parsha. "Which great nation has a G-d Who is close to it, as Hashem our G-d whenever we call to Him?" (Devarim 4, 7). Though we might not be on the spiritual level to always have our personal tefillos answered, as did the righteous people of past and present generations, nevertheless, there is an aspect of this truth that we, too, can recognize. The Ibn Ezra explains the above pasuk, "For which great nation has a G-d Who is close to it, Who always answers them regarding any request for wisdom." In other words, Hashem answers any request for help in the spiritual arena (granted that it is reasonable).

It's not enough to simply want to succeed in growing spiritually. Moreover, it isn't enough to even sit down and learn. We have to ask Hashem for help in achieving our goals. It is tried and proven that these tefillos are always answered.

This week, throughout the world, Klal Yisroel celebrated the Siyum HaShas. To many who have never tried, learning Shas is a task that seems daunting. However, if we daven for Siyata D'shmaya, we will certainly be answered and be granted a substantial measure of Divine assistance to finish the next cycle of Shas which begins this week on Erev Shabbos!

337 - Tisha B'Av

Divrei Hesped on Maran Hagaon Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt"l

Excerpts from Rav Wolbe's hesped on the Chazon Ish (Da'as Shlomo, Zman Matan Toraseinu pg. 440-444). His description is ever so fitting for Rav Elyashiv.
"We have great people living in our midst, but he was different from all of them. Rav Chaim Volozhin established an official Yeshiva; the first of its kind in hundreds of years. Volozhin was the mother of all Yeshivos, and many of those who studied there went on to open their own Yeshivos. Every Yeshiva had its own inimitable style, and its stamp was indelibly imprinted and easily recognizable upon those who studied within each Yeshiva. However, for a person to achieve true greatness and clarity even in the most profound intricacies of Torah, without having attended a Yeshiva, is almost unattainable. Yet, here we have a person who did not attend any Yeshiva. He toiled in Torah lishma for tens of years and turned into a scholar of immense proportions."

"Referring to Elkanah, the Pasuk (Shmuel I 1, 3) states, "And that man rose from his city." The Medrash (Shmuel 1) explains that, "He rose within his house, he rose within his courtyard, he rose within his city, he rose within the entire Jewish Nation; and all his ascensions came from within himself!" He started learning in his own house, with his father, and coupled with his pure heart and holy intentions, he succeeded in attaining all the greatness that he attained.

"If we wish to know what type of person the Torah seeks to create through the performance of its 613 mitzvos, all we have to do is look at him. We say in Shema, "V'Shenantam L'vanecha." The Gemara explains that the words of Torah should be "sharp" in one's mouth to the point that if he would be asked a question he would be able to answer without hesitating. This is how he learned. Every facet of Torah was plumbed and studied with the intention of arriving at the practical application of the topic at hand. Hence, whatever question was posed, he already had the answer on the tip of his tongue.

"Everyone was cognizant of his greatness as was evident by the [hundreds of thousands of] people who attended his funeral; encompassing every stripe of our Nation.

It is exceedingly amazing that our generation, despite the great hester panim, merited this man. Appropriately, he too, acted with utmost simplicity and hester and stayed within the four cubits of halachah his entire life, never leaving his spiritual abode that he created for himself in search of more attention getting actions.

"How fortunate we were, that whenever any difficult question arose we would say, "Let's go to him," and his advice was like the answers given by the U'rim V'Tumim (breastplate worn on the Kohen Gadol's chest). Even those distant from Torah recognized his greatness, for such is the strength of the Torah; it forces one to recognize its greatness and subjugate himself before it.

"It is written in Seforim that a person is like a Bais Hamikdash, and how much more so is this true regarding a righteous person. The Bais Hamikdash was a place where Hashem's Shechina was revealed and exceedingly evident. Whoever would enter came in contact with the Shechina, and whoever would remain there was purified of his flaws and left cleansed from his sins. The same applies to a tzaddik, and this is how we felt when we merited standing in his presence. Who didn't grow from merely standing before him?"

Chazal tell us, that the death of tzaddikim is comparable to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. What are we missing in the absence of the Bais Hamikdash? We're missing the palpable connection to Hashem. We're missing the feeling similar to the one sensed when standing in the presence of a spiritual giant, but on a grander scale. We're missing the ability to live our lives with real purpose focused on what is truly important as personified by Rav Elyashiv.

May we merit seeing the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash speedily in our days, and the day when death will cease to exist, Amein.

336 - Matos-Ma'asei

In Parshas Matos we read how Bnei Yisrael waged war against Midyan. Although they wiped out the men, they took the women as captives. When Moshe saw that the women had remained alive, he castigated those in charge. "Did you leave all the women alive? Behold, it was these very women who caused Bnei Yisrael, by the word of Bilam, to betray Hashem" (Devarim 31, 15-16). 

Rashi explains that "the word of Bilam" refers to the scheme he proposed to Balak. Bilam told him that on the physical battlefield he stood no chance since he most certainly would not be victorious in war. Rather, he should aim to conquer Bnei Yisrael on the spiritual battlefield. Since their G-d despises promiscuity, create a situation that will cause Bnei Yisrael to transgress this sin and you will have assured yourself success. What is it about this sin that Hashem despises more than the rest of the aveiros of the Torah? 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) quotes the Maharal who explains the severity of the three cardinal sins: murder, idol worship and adultery. The mishna in Pirkei Avos says, "The World stands upon three things: Torah, avodah, and gemilus chasadim." The three cardinal sins stand diametrically opposite the three things upon which the world stands. Therefore, one must give up his life before transgressing one of these sins. Specifically, idol worship (avodah zara) is the opposite of avodah, murder is the opposite of gamilus chasadim and adultery is the opposite of Torah. 

The Maharal explains that the essence of Torah is a human being's achievement of his quintessential state. In contrast, one who commits adultery has acted like an animal. As a matter of fact, Chazal tell us that a sotah does not bring a meal offering from wheat, but rather from barley. Since she acted like an animal, her korban should be brought from a grain that is generally used as animal fodder. 

This is why Hashem despises promiscuity. He singled out Bnei Yisrael as His sole nation, and gave them the Torah as a foundation and guide for how to live a life that personifies the greatness of a human being. He who behaves like an animal has eschewed the great level to which the Torah can elevate man. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

335 - Pinchos

Shortly before Moshe passed away, he asked Hashem to appoint a leader over Bnei Yisrael who would stand in his stead. The Torah records Moshe's request and the unique manner in which he addressed Hashem. "May Hashem, the G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the nation" (Bamidbar 27, 16). Rashi explains Moshe's choice of words as follows: He said to Hashem, "It is revealed and known to You the thoughts of each person and how their thoughts differ from one another; appoint a leader who can tolerate each and every one of them with their individual attitudes."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that a leader is someone who is broadminded. He isn't one who decides on a specific approach to serving Hashem and then forces it upon all his constituents. Rather, a leader is one who uses his talents and strengths to aid each person in their individual path of avodas Hashem.

Rav Chaim Soleveitchik zt"l was the embodiment of this type of spiritual leader. He had many disciples (Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Shimon Shkop, Rav Baruch Ber Lebowitz, and the Brisker Rav, to name a few) who they themselves became great leaders; but each one had their own inimitable way of doing things. He polished their individual qualities, and turned each one into a brilliant - and unique - diamond.

Mastering the trait of tolerance is a prerequisite for becoming a truly great leader. However, this is not a quality that is imperative solely for a leader. Each and every one of us must make an effort to acquire the trait of tolerance, lest we look down on another's manner of avodas Hashem. Instead of thinking, "Why does he have to dress, behave, or daven that way?" we should think, "Isn't it amazing that everyone acts differently, but they are all striving to serve Hakodosh Baruch Hu?"

There is no better time than the Three Weeks to work on acquiring this trait. It does wonders for one's bein adom l'chaveiro, and will definitely hasten the end of the galus which was brought about through sinas chinom.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

334 - Balak

Although Bilam failed in all his attempts to curse Bnei Yisroel, he succeeded in causing them to sin and thereby caused their downfall. He suggested that the Midianite women seduce Bnei Yisroel to sin with them. Bilam's idea was so successful that even Zimri, one of the heads of the tribe of Shimon, was seduced by a high ranking Midianite's daughter. Pinchos saw what was transpiring and he said to Moshe, "You taught us that when one lives with a gentile woman, a zealous person is permitted to kill him." 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) defines what exactly zealousness is. He notes that we may behold a person who rants about the depravity of others while deep down he himself harbors an interest in those very same depraved actions! Chazal describe this idea with a parable. 

There was once a man who had a servant who was a drunkard. One day the master passed by a different drunkard who was rolling in the mud as many children stood around taunting him. The master thought that if his servant would behold how a drunkard looks after too many drinks, the servant would certainly be cured of his alcohol abuse. He quickly ran home and brought his servant to the scene of action. When the servant saw the drunkard in the muck and mire, he ran over to him and asked him where he got such good whiskey! The servant did not even notice the drunkard's disgrace because all that interested him was the alcoholic beverage that had been imbibed. In a similar vein, it is very possible that someone might scream about another's misdeeds, not because the actions disturb him, rather, because he himself identifies with those very actions. It is this desire for these actions which prompts him to discuss them at any given opportunity. Although this person decries the improper behavior, his reaction is not zealousness at all.

Zealousness is the middah of a person who truly cannot stand evil simply because it flies in the face of the Torah. He who truly despises immorality would be permitted to kill a Jew who lives with a gentile woman. The transgression bothers him to such an extent that he is willing to take action without the authorization of beis din. Moreover, if he were to ask, beis din would not tell him to kill the perpetrator. He has to have the internal drive to get rid of the evil without being told to do so.

Rav Wolbe continues that sometimes we denounce another person's actions, not out of zealousness but out of jealousness! Deep down there is a part of us that wishes that we would be able to do what he did. However, we are too embarrassed to agree with what he did, so instead we feel a need to denounce it. This in no way resembles the zealousness that led to the covenant of peace that Pinchos merited with his actions. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

333 - Chukas

We tend to translate "achzarius" as cruelty. The word conjures up pictures of brutality to others, and it is associated with the heartless mistreatment of animals. However, points out Rav Wolbe, from our Parsha we can glean an entirely different explanation of achzarius.

When Bnei Yisroel spoke disparagingly of Hashem and Moshe, Hashem sent snakes to bite Bnei Yisroel, and many people died as a result. Bnei Yisroel acknowledged their sin and begged Moshe to pray to Hashem on their behalf. Moshe acquiesced and prayed for them. Rashi comments that from here we see that if one's friend asks him for forgiveness, he should forgive him and not act with achzarius. We generally would not label a person who refuses to forgive someone who wronged him as an achzar; but Chazal do just that.

We find another two examples of achzarius mentioned by the Rambam. "One who fails to mourn a relative who passed away . . . has acted with achzarius. Rather, he should be worried and examine his actions and do teshuva" (Hil. Avel 3, 12). Additionally, "If the people do not cry out to Hashem [in response to a calamity that has befallen them], and they say it was caused by natural occurrences and happenstance; this is the way of achzarius" (Hil. Ta'anis 1, 3). Once again it is difficult to understand wherein lies the cruelty that classifies such people as "achzarim." So what does achzarius really mean?

Rav Wolbe (Olam HaYedidus pg. 20, 22) cites Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch zt"l who explains that "achzar" is really a compound word: ach (entirely) and zar (foreign). An achzar is one who acts entirely foreign to those around him. When a friend realizes the impropriety of his actions and wishes to regain his previous close relationship, he comes to ask for forgiveness. If the one who was wronged refuses to grant forgiveness, he has distanced himself and made himself entirely foreign to this friend. In a similar vein, one who fails to recognize that when tragedy strikes, Hashem is talking to him and trying to send him a message, has estranged himself from his Creator. Such a person lives in a world which is entirely foreign to Hashem's world.

Achzarius is the antithesis of what Yiddishkeit is all about. Judaism is supposed to bring one closer to his Creator and closer to the people around him. The Torah and mitzvos allow us to create a relationship with Hashem, genuine camaraderie with relatives and friends, and ultimately will bring true peace to the entire world. 

332 - Korach

            After the demise of Korach and his followers, the Torah tells us that Bnei Yisroel criticized Moshe and Aharon and held them responsible for the deaths of the two hundred and fifty people who were consumed by fire when they offered the ketores. In response to Bnei Yisroel's contemptible behavior, Hashem tells Moshe, "Remove yourself from within the midst of this congregation, and I will annihilate them in a moment" (Bamidbar 17, 10).

The Ramban (ibid.) questions the need for Moshe's separation. We know that the Omnipotent has the ability to wipe out an entire group of people who surround an individual while leaving that individual intact, which, indeed, occurred in Mitzrayim when in each and every house only the firstborn was smitten. If so, why was it necessary for Moshe to distance himself from those around him, when Hashem could have just as well killed them and left Moshe standing alive?

The Ramban answers that once Hashem's wrath had been ignited; everyone would have been killed unless a miracle was to occur to save those who should have been saved. Alternatively, Hashem wished to honor the tzaddikim by letting everyone know that He would not mete out a punishment as long as the tzaddikim were standing amidst the masses. The Ramban asserts, that either way, Hashem's intention in notifying Moshe Rabbeinu of his plans was to convey that Bnei Yisroel desperately needed Divine mercy and pardon, and that he had the power to prevent this catastrophe if he would intercede with prayer. 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) cites another place where we find a similar intention behind Hashem's words. After Bnei Yisroel sinned with the golden calf, Hashem tells Moshe, "And now let go of Me, and My anger will flare against them, and I will destroy them" (Shemos 32, 10). Rashi comments that we don't find that Moshe was "holding on" to Hashem, and that being the case, what was Hashem asking of Moshe? Rashi explains that He was letting Moshe know that he could "hold on" to Hashem. If he would pray on their behalf, he would be able to avert the impending catastrophe. 

Rav Wolbe continues that Hashem desires all tefillos that are offered on behalf of Bnei Yisroel or in a time of need. They are our protection from strict judgment, and had Moshe not davened in both of the above situations the ramifications would have been unfathomably tragic. Although Hashem did not want these punishments to come to fruition, nevertheless, tefillah was imperative in order to avert the danger.

Unfortunately, there are many things which are in need of our tefillos, whether on a personal or communal level. Hashem is waiting anxiously for our tefillos. One tefillah of Moshe had the ability to save the entire Bnei Yisroel. Why not take a minute to daven for a relative, friend, acquaintance, or even better, for the entire Klal Yisroel. They need the tefillos, Hashem wants them, and we have everything to gain!

331 - Shlach

This week's parsha recounts how spies were sent to scout the Land of Israel and how they returned with a derogatory report thereby causing Bnei Yisroel to cry at the thought of entering the Promised Land. This aroused Hashem's wrath and a punishment was immediately decreed. Bnei Yisroel would wander for forty years and the entire generation would perish in the wilderness. Only then would Bnei Yisroel merit entering Eretz Yisroel. 

Nevertheless, there was a group of people that was unwilling to accept this fate. The Torah relates how they woke up early the next morning and, against the will of Hashem, began their ascent toward Eretz Yisroel: "And they defiantly (vayapilu) ascended to the top of the mountain" (Bamidbar 14, 44). Rashi writes that "vayapilu" connotes both strength and boldness (azus). Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that sometimes people are compelled by outside factors to behave or take action in a certain way. Other times people act in a certain way because internally they have decided it is the proper thing to do. When an individual acts out of internal inspiration, he has acted with a measure of azus. 

The group of Bnei Yisroel who forcibly made their way to Eretz Yisroel acted with the above mentioned azus. They decided to do teshuva and enter Eretz Yisroel. However, they disregarded Moshe's warning and followed what their hearts told them was right. The problem was that they disregarded Hashem too. He made it clear that they were to remain in the desert for the next forty years and they decided otherwise.

Yet, there is also a positive side to the coin of azus, and that is azus of kedusha. A person who ignores the multitudes around him who insinuate that one is to live a life of "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die," and instead lives his life with holiness, has demonstrated this azus of kedusha. 

There are many things in the world that "everyone does." However, this should not be the determining factor as to whether we will follow in their footsteps. We ourselves must take the initiative to ascertain what the Torah dictates is the proper course of behavior and then act accordingly. Although such azus often disregards those around us, it puts Hashem at the epicenter of our lives.  

330 - Beha'aloscha

At the end of this week's parsha, the Torah recounts how Aharon and Miriam spoke against their brother Moshe. Despite the criticism leveled against him, the Torah tells us, "And Moshe was exceedingly humble (anav), more than any person on the face of the earth" (Bamidbar 13, 3). Rashi translates "anav" as "modest and tolerant". Moshe tolerated their criticism and did not get angry.

Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 214, 216) that tolerance is an essential virtue that is important in all our interpersonal relationships. As the Alter of Kelm writes, "How great it would be if we could habituate ourselves to act with tolerance, for it is the root of all middos and qualities and the source of serenity."

In addition to the tolerance a person must show toward others, one must also be tolerant of himself. We are all looking to grow and become better, but we constantly encounter difficulties. Sometimes we feel that the yetzer hara is out to stop us at all costs, sometimes we lose our drive to continue and sometimes we forget where we are headed. A person who lacks patience in his avodas Hashem will give up or get depressed; and there is nothing more detrimental to avodas Hashem than depression.

We think, "If only I would be able to daven the entire Shmoneh Esrei with kavanah, my whole day would look different." Or, "If only I would be able to rectify my negative middos, I would be a different person altogether." Although these musings might be true, nevertheless, we must bear in mind an important Medrash. Chazal tell us (Shemos Raba 34, 1) that Hashem does not expect from a person more than he can handle. Hashem knows our limitations and the impediments that stand in our way, and therefore, does not expect us to turn around our lives in a day, week, month, year, and sometimes even many years. We must remember that one who "grabs" too much will be left with nothing, while one who grabs a little will retain what he has grabbed.

The Vilna Goan expresses this idea in his explanation of the following pasuk in Mishlei (19, 3). "A man's foolishness corrupts his way, and his heart rages against Hashem." Sometimes a person begins studying Torah or serving Hashem and then stops because it became too difficult. He feels that Hashem is not assisting him in his endeavors and he becomes angry at Hashem for abandoning him. However, this person caused his own downfall since he jumped ahead in his avodah much too quickly and did not pace himself properly. Had he slowed his pace, Hashem would have assisted him in his avodah.

Tolerance is not merely a virtue to be exercised post facto when we realize that we haven't accomplished all that we planned. It is a middah that we must bear in mind when charting our course of actions. If we realize our limitations and are truly cognizant of our present spiritual level, we will succeed in advancing in our avodas Hashem at the proper pace, thereby achieving lasting changes for the better.

329 - Naso

In this week's parsha, the Torah delineates the laws of sotah - a woman who has acted indecently and is suspected of having committed adultery - and the laws of the nazir - one who has accepted upon himself a temporary "code of holy conduct" including abstention from wine. Rashi (Bamidbar 6, 2), citing Chazal, asks why the Torah juxtaposes these two mitzvos. He answers, that the Torah is implying that one who sees a sotah in her state of degradation should abstain from wine since wine can bring one to adultery.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that we tend to think that witnessing the degradation of a sotah would automatically arouse feelings of repugnance toward her degree of corruption. However, the Torah tells us that our reaction should be more profound. When we see another's transgression, we must take the proper precautions so that we don't end up committing the same misdeed. One might ask, "Why? What does her misconduct have to do with me?" The answer is that what happens to another person can happen to you, too. If he slipped, then it is quite possible that you might slip too. Therefore, the Torah warns us to take the necessary precautions lest we follow the wayward conduct of the sotah

The first step in preventing such behavior is contemplating what brought this woman to her level of decadence. Generally, such situations don't just happen, rather, they evolve over the course of time. Someone visited her, they had a drink together, and one thing led to another. This behavior must be nipped in the bud which necessitates an abstention from wine, i.e. accepting upon oneself to become a nazir

Rav Wolbe continues that if this idea it true when one witnesses another's transgressions, all the more so it holds true regarding one's own transgressions. There is generally a process which leads up to a sin, and we must take the proper precautions to ensure that we stop this process in its tracks. If going somewhere, doing something, or talking to somebody, invariably causes us to sin, then we must set up concrete boundaries that prevent this behavior. Abstaining from these activities achieves a high level of kedusha that parallels the kedusha a nazir achieves through his abstention from wine.

328 - Shavuos

Chazal tell us (Bava Metzia 83b) that the pasuk (Tehillim 104, 20), "You make darkness and it is night" alludes to our world which can be compared to darkness. The Mesillas Yesharim explains that darkness causes confusion in two different ways. Firstly, it blinds a person, thereby obscuring certain objects entirely. Additionally, it clouds one's vision, causing him to mistake a pole for a man and vice-versa. Similarly, the physicality of this world obscures the pitfalls of life, and moreover, causes people to mistake good for bad and bad for good. Incidentally, the word "olam" (world) stems from the word "ha'alama" - hidden.

Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 86) that Torah is the "tool" that was given to us to navigate through the nighttime of this world. It illuminates the darkness and guides us in every possible situation that might arise. It is the instruction guide that gives us clarity in this sea of confusion. As the pasuk in Tehillim (19, 9) states, "The mitzvos of Hashem are clear, they enlighten the eyes." The mitzvos enlighten us to what is permitted and what is forbidden; to what is pure and what is impure.

Chazal relate an interesting story which summarizes this idea. Reb Yosi the son of Reb Yehoshua ben Levi took ill and passed away, but shortly afterwards he returned to this world. His father asked him what he saw in the next world. He answered, "I saw an upside down world: those who are higher in this world are lower in the next world, while those who are lower in this world are higher in the next world." To which his father replied that in truth he had perceived a world of clarity. "Where do we (the Torah scholars) stand in the next world?" his father queried. Reb Yosi answered, "Just as we stand here, so too, we stand there [in the next world]. Additionally, I heard them saying, 'Praiseworthy is he who comes here with his Torah knowledge (talmudo) in his hand.'"

As opposed to this world where everyone and everything is valued subjectively, the world to come is a world of total clarity. However, those who study Torah live with clarity not only in the next world, but even in this world. How does one reach this clarity? He lives his life "with his Torah knowledge in his hand." This can be explained in two ways. One who ingrains the Torah into his heart until it becomes part and parcel of his very being acquires a clearer perception of this world. Alternatively, one whose Torah study is in his hand, i.e. his learning is translated into actions, has the ability to traverse life with clarity.

The Torah is awesome and eternal. Even with the innovations, changes and added confusion of the twenty first century, the Torah illuminates the way and guides us through every step of our lives. May we be zocheh to be mikabel this Torah on Chag HaShavuos!

Friday, May 18, 2012

327 - Bechukosai

The parsha begins "If you follow My decrees" - i.e. if you toil in Torah, "and you guard My commandments" - and your toil in Torah is complemented with the intention of performing all that is written therein (Rashi to Vayikra 26, 3). The pesukim continue with a delineation of the blessings, peace and tranquility that the Jewish People will merit if the Torah is made into the focal point of their lives. The Torah concludes this description with Hashem's declaration, "I am Hashem who took you out of Egypt from being their slaves; and I broke the rods of your yoke, and I led you kommemius" (ibid. 26, 13).Rashi translates kommemius, "with erect stature."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that the erect stature mentioned here is not a physical stature. The Torah is not referring to the proud gait of a general armed with an M-16 and decorated with a chest full of medals. The Torah is describing the feeling of spiritual elevation, dignity and greatness. This is a feeling born out of one's toil in Torah together with the performance of Hashem's mitzvos and sincere prayer. 

Rav Wolbe contends that a person, who invests himself in the study of Torah, tefillos, and the performance of mitzvos, is bound to feel the spiritual sensation of walking "kommemius." This is a feeling that is a natural outcome for one who immerses himself in spirituality. He lives a life of spiritual greatness, elevated above the trivialities with which most of the world busies themselves, and he walks with dignity and the knowledge that he is following the proper path! 

326 - Behar

Regarding non-Jewish slaves, the Torah commands us, "You shall give them to your children after you to inherit as a possession; you shall work with them forever" (Vayikra 25, 46). Barring specific situations, we are prohibited from freeing a non-Jewish slave. Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that this commandment seems to be pretty cruel. Not only may one not free the slave, but even after the master passes away the slave may not be set free and must continue to serve the son.

In order to properly understand this mitzvah, Rav Wolbe cites the sefer Sha'arei Teshuva. Rabbeinu Yonah writes (Sha'ar 3, 60) that it is forbidden for one to forcibly cause another Jew to perform grueling work. Moreover, it is even forbidden to ask another Jew to merely heat up some water or buy a loaf of bread, if the situation is such that the person petitioned cannot bring himself to refuse. Nevertheless, when there is a Jewish servant who does not act appropriately, it is permitted to command this Jew to perform whatever one wishes. Why is such servitude validated? The answer is because when one serves another person, there is complete submission to the master. This submission allows the servant to learn a proper mode of behavior from the master and thereby improve his conduct.

We also find this concept elsewhere in the Torah. The Torah relates that although Sarah did not merit having children for many years, Hagar became pregnant immediately after marrying Avraham Avinu. Hagar began acting improperly toward Sarah, and thereafter, we are told that Sarah dealt with her harshly. What was Sarah trying to accomplish? She was trying to cause Hagar to submit herself, and thereby improve her conduct. 

It is for this reason that the Torah forbids us from freeing our slaves. When a Canaanite slave serves a Jew, he learns the proper mode of conduct. After Cham acted inappropriately, Noach cursed him that his descendants would become slaves to Bnei Yisroel. Through their service of Jew masters, they would be able to improve their behavior.

This concept is not limited to a master-servant relationship. In previous generations there were Rabbeim who dealt very harshly with their closest disciples. The purpose was to obtain similar results. Through the disciple's complete submission, he would have the ability to achieve a higher spiritual level. This is a lesson for all of us. Complete submission to our Torah leaders can achieve some of the greatest levels of character improvement.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

325 - Emor

We say in davening, "Holy, holy, holy, is Hashem the Master of all Legions." Hashem is entirely holy since He is completely removed from all physicality. Nevertheless, He gave us a means for recognizing His greatness: "The entire world is filled with His glory." Hashem revealed Himself through the creation of this most awe-inspiring universe. This revelation is referred to as "kavod" (glory). As the pasuk states, "All that is called by My name is for My glory that I have created it, formed it, and made it" (Yeshaya 43, 7).

Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 225) that we can glean from here that wherever there is kedusha (holiness) there is also an element of kavod (glory). Since every person has been infused with a holy neshama, and therefore, possesses a level of kedusha, in turn this kedusha necessitates that one conduct himself with a certain amount of kavod.

The connection between kedusha and kavod is made abundantly clear in this week's parsha. The parsha begins with the kedusha of the kohanim and the halachic aspects of kavod that their kedusha demands. It continues with the kedusha of the korbanos, Hashem's kedusha, the kedusha of Shabbos and Yom Tov and the halachos of kavod that we are commanded as a result of the manifestations of each of these kedushos respectively. The parsha ends with the story of the "m'kaleil" - the son of the Egyptian who cursed Hashem. The root of the word "kavod" is "kaveid" (heavy i.e. serious). The polar opposite of kavod is "klalah" (curse) which stems from the word "kal" (light). When one behaves with seriousness toward another person he has shown him kavod, while if he makes light of another person he may end up cursing him.

The Gemara (Kedushin 40b) tells us, "One who eats in the marketplace can be compared to a dog. Some say, he has disqualified himself from being able to act as a witness in beis din." Rashi explains that someone who eats in the public marketplace has demonstrated that he doesn't care about his kavod, and therefore, will not be embarrassed to do something that will render him ineligible to act as a witness. What is so terrible about eating in the marketplace? After all, the food is kosher and he made a bracha? The answer is that although such behavior is not outright forbidden, nevertheless, it displays a lack of refinement and sensitivity. He is lacking kavod which can be defined as, "an outward display which is necessitated by the reality of an inner kedusha." The cognizance of the tzelem Elokim kadosh inside oneself requires a person to act accordingly.

The Rambam (Hilchos Dayos perek 5) describes the refined manner in which a talmid chochom should conduct himself. Once again we might find it hard to understand what is so terrible if one lacks this extra dose of refinement. Moreover, the yeridas hadoros, coupled with the influence of the behavior of the nations around us, has clouded our perception of the kedusha that resides within each and every one of us. This kedusha necessitates kavod.

324 - Achrei Mos - Kedoshim

"You shall observe My decrees and My laws which a person should perform, and through them he shall live - I am Hashem" (Vayikra 18, 5). Rav Wolbe explains (Alei Shur vol II. pg. 266) that the Torah is referring not to physical living, but rather to spiritual living. The performance of mitzvos enables us to live more spiritually elevated lives than the gentile nations.

He cites the Gemara in Makkos (10a) regarding one who accidentally kills another person and is forced to run to a city of refuge: "'He shall run to one of these cities and he will live' - Create for him a situation whereby he can live i.e. when a student is exiled (to a city of refuge) his Rebbi should be exiled along with him."  When the Torah refers to life, it is referring to life in a spiritual sense. The Rambam (Hil. Rotzeiach 7, 1) expresses this idea succinctly when quoting the above halacha: "When a student is exiled to a city of refuge, we send his Rebbi into exile along with him as the Torah writes, 'and he will live" do for him something whereby he will live. And for those who seek wisdom, without Torah they are as if they are dead."

Rav Wolbe continues that it is very possible that a person can amass great amounts of Torah knowledge, but nevertheless, does not "live with the Torah."How can one succeed in attaining a level whereby the Torah becomes part of his very life? The answer is as follows: Just as physical life cannot tolerate interruptions - a heart that stops beating for even a matter of minutes can no longer be resuscitated, so too, a Torah life does not tolerate interruption. 

The Torah writes, "And you shall speak in [Torah] when you sit in your house, when you travel, when you lie down and when you wake up." How can one be constantly involved in Torah? This can only be accomplished if he is thinking about the Torah even when a sefer is not in front of him. The more one thinks about the Torah, the more it becomes part and parcel of him until it ultimately becomes literally his life.

This is the ultimate goal. However, practically, it is nearly impossible to be thinking about Torah when one is speaking to another person, involved in his work or driving a car. Yet, there are many more opportunities during the day that lend themselves to spiritual thinking. Instead of letting our minds wander, we can use the time productively to review something we learned, consider the possibilities of performing chessed, think about an upcoming Yom Tov, or contemplate the significance of the days of Sefiras Ha'Omer. Torah isn't relegated to the time one sits in front of an open sefer; Torah is our very life.

323 - Tazria - Metzora

The Ramban (Vayikra 13, 47) writes that tzora'as is a completely supernatural phenomenon. It occurred only in the chosen land of Eretz Yisroel, it befell only the Jewish People, and only when they maintained an elevated level of spirituality. When an aveirah was committed in such a spiritually charged environment, Hashem caused tzora'as to appear on the sinner's house, clothing or body to indicate that He had distanced Himself from the offender as a result of the transgression. Unfortunately, due to the yeridas hadoros (diminishing of the generations), we no longer experience this extraordinary form of communication from Hashem.

Rav Wolbe (Olam HaYedidus pg. 107) notes that the "world" claims the exact opposite: In truth there is an aliyas hadoros, since each generation advances with great strides in comparison to previous generations. They point to the advances made in science, medicine, technology, agriculture and almost every other aspect of the physical world. If so, asks Rav Wolbe, wherein lies the yeridas hadoros; in what respect are the generations following a path of continuous descent? 

Rav Wolbe cites a Gemara in Sanhedrin (106b) that deals with this question almost precisely. "Rava said: in the era of Rav Yehuda Torah study was limited to the order of Nezikin (monetary damages) while we study the entire Shas. . . However, [when there was a famine and] Rav Yehuda would remove one of his shoes (an act demonstrating self imposed suffering) rain would fall, while we cry out [for rain] and no One pays attention. [Despite that from the quantity of Torah studied we seem to be on a greater level, nevertheless] Hashem desires the heart, as it is written "And Hashem sees the heart." The decrease in generations relates to the heart.

What exactly is this "heart" that we are missing? It can be understood as follows: Our minds process information with logic such as cause and effect. In contrast, our hearts have a more direct understanding because they perceive things more clearly, as the pasuk (Koheles 1, 16) states, "And my heart has seen much wisdom." For example, when we speak about someone, we describe his appearance, portray his personality, relate his history and define his significance. This entire character assessment is a product of our minds. In contrast, when I speak to someone and thereby become impressed by his qualities, intelligence and behavior which in turn causes feelings of love or sympathy, these feelings are an outgrowth of our hearts. The heart perceives someone or something standing before it, and the encounter leaves an indelible impression upon the heart.

When Chazal tell us, "Hashem desires the heart" it means that intellectual comprehension is not enough. The knowledge must penetrate our hearts. True understanding and belief is only achieved when the heart understands and believes. As Rashi writes (Shemos 20, 19) "There is a difference between what a person himself perceives and what others relate to him, because when others relate things, sometimes his heart fails to believe it." 

This idea applies with regard to both mitzvos bein adom la'Makom and mitzvos bein adom la'chaveiro. We are commanded to, "Love Hashem with all your heart." Torah should be studied in a way that we see the topic being discussed as a reality before our very eyes. The knowledge gained cannot remain as a mere intellectual acquisition, but must penetrate our hearts in a way that affects our way of life. Additionally, we must relate to others with a true, heartfelt understanding. Many times we are aware of another's difficulties but fail to let this knowledge penetrate our hearts in a way that will allow us to make a difference in their lives. Chazal tell us (Eiruvin 53a), "Rav Yochanan said, the hearts of the earlier generations were wide like the opening of the Ulam (twenty cubits), and the hearts of the later generations were wide like the opening of the Heichel (ten cubits), and our hearts are as wide as the opening of a needle."

The above relates to the size of the hearts after their avodah. Without avodas Hashem there is no "heart" at all. Chazal tell us, "What is the avodah of the heart? Tefillah." When one davens he is supposed to picture himself standing before Hashem. When the heart perceives Someone opposite it, it makes an indelible impression. Using the avodah of tefillah is one of the ways we can develop our hearts.

Despite the yeridas hadoros, the commandment to love Hashem, and the obligation to perform His mitzvos with our hearts, remains binding. The past few hundred years have brought novel approaches to aid people in becoming more in touch with their hearts. The Baal Shem Tov introduced Chassidus and Rav Yisroel Salanter introduced a new manner of mussar study. Whatever path we choose, if it brings us to serve Hashem with more of a heart, then we will have achieved significant success because, "Hashem desires the heart."