Tuesday, March 13, 2012

317 Ki Sisa - Purim

Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 64) cites a fascinating Ibn Ezra in this week's Parsha. The Ibn Ezra (Shemos 31, 18) quotes the "empty headed" who wonder what Moshe did on Har Sinai for forty days and forty nights. In other words, Hashem could have revealed the 613 mitzvos to Moshe in a number of hours, and if so, what took forty days? He answers as follows:

"They fail to understand that even if he would have remained there with Hashem for that amount of time and doubled it twice he would not know even one thousandth of Hashem's ways and the secret behind the Mitzvos that He commanded. For they think that only actions are essential, while in reality it is the heart together with the actions ... and our Sages stated 'Hashem desires the heart.' And the root of all mitzvos is to cause one to love Hashem with his entire heart and cleave to Him, and it is not possible to achieve this if one does not recognize Hashem's actions in the Heavens and Earth and [does not] know His ways."

The purpose of the Torah is to bring us to a knowledge of the ways of Hashem. However, it is not the superficial knowledge that is vital, rather, the heart's comprehension of this knowledge. When one knows something to the point that his heart accepts it as complete truth, he has succeeded in integrating it into his fiber and the way he conducts his life. Yet, the ma'aseh hamitzvos are also necessary, for without them it is not possible to achieve this devikus, as the Chinuch writes, "the hearts are drawn after one's actions." It is the combination of our heart together with the actions that is imperative. Therefore, since Hashem wished to fill Moshe's heart with an understanding of His greatness, even years would not suffice for such an endeavor.

Purim is a day full of unique mitzvos. The Ba'alei Mussar write that the bottom line behind all of them is love. The reading of the Megillah is in reality a recitation of hallel which should bring us to love Hashem. Mishloach manos and matanas l'evyonim are ways to beget love between man and his fellow man. Even the seudah on Purim is an expression of love toward oneself. To produce the desired effect, in addition to the actual performance of these mitzvos, we must combine them with a dose of "heart." The outcome of this winning combination will be an improvement in our relationship, both with Hashem and our fellow man.

A Freilichin Purim!

316 - Tetzaveh - Zachor

There is a most interesting Medrash Tanchuma in Parshas Ki Saitzei which states as follows: "We find that just as the Torah commands us 'remember the Shabbos,' so too, the Torah commands us 'remember Amaleik.' However, despite the fact that we are to remember both the Shabbos and Ameleik, they cannot be equated in any manner. This can be compared to a king who made a banquet and invited many guests. When the delectable, plentiful food was placed before him, he declared, 'Remember Plony my beloved.' When they cleared away the dishes the king declared, 'Remember Plony my enemy.' His friends questioned him as to how he could equate his friend and enemy for remembrance. He responded, 'My friend was remembered upon a bountiful plate, while my enemy was remembered upon an empty plate.' Similarly, one is to 'remember Shabbos in order to sanctify it' and honor it with food, drink and fine clothing. In contrast the commandment to remember Amaleik was said upon an empty plate - in conjunction with their destruction."

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo, Geulah pg. 215) explains this Medrash beautifully. Chazal referred to Shabbos as being bountiful and filled with goodness. This is an appropriate description, since Shabbos unites the body and soul. When one honors the Shabbos with food, drink and nice clothing, he has succeeded in transforming the physical into the spiritual and achieved the purpose of creation.

In contrast, Amaleik symbolizes an "empty plate." The Zohar tells us that they scorned the Torah and bris milah, i.e. they placed a distinct demarcation between their bodies and their souls. The physical remains mundane and is never elevated to a loftier level.

However, only after one 'remembers' and appreciates the "bountiful plate" of Shabbos, can he 'remember' and destroy the "empty plate" of Amaleik. We find this concept articulated by Chazal elsewhere. They tell us that Shlomo Hamelech was able to declare that all is vain since he was so fabulously affluent that he "paved the streets of Yerushalayim with gold and silver." Had he been a pauper and made the above declaration, everyone would counter that it isn't proper that one who has never earned more than a few pennies should declare that all is vain. Likewise, only after one has appreciated the Shabbos and experienced the transformation of the physical into the spiritual, can he deride and destroy the emptiness of Amaleik.

Purim is a most appropriate time to demonstrate these ideals. It is the Yom Tov on which we are commanded to eat, drink and be merry - but with the intention of elevating ourselves and those around us to higher spiritual levels. We must ensure that our Purim is celebrated with "a bountiful plate filled with abundant goodness" and not with "an empty plate."

315 - Terumah

"And they shall make for Me a Mikdash, and I will dwell among them" (Shemos 25, 8). The Seforno explains, "and I will dwell among them: to accept their tefillos and their avodah." Our connection to the Shechina enables the acceptance of our tefillos and our avodas Hashem.

This idea is also outlined by the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (3, 7). He writes, "[Come see] how great the attribute of teshuva is. Yesterday, this person (who sinned) was separated from Hashem as the pasuk says, 'Your transgressions caused a separation between you and Your G-d.' He would call out [in prayer] but was not answered, he would perform mitzvos and they would be torn up in front of his face. However, today, he clings to the Shechina, he calls out and is answered, and he does mitzvos and they are accepted with pleasure and happiness."

Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. I pg. 208) notes that it is evident from the Rambam that not only do we need our tefillos to be accepted; we also need our mitzvos to be accepted! When do we merit Hashem's acceptance of our tefillos and avodas Hashem? The answer is, as the Rambam writes, when we cling to the Shechina.

How does one reach this awesome level where he is assured that his avodah is accepted? The answer can be gleaned from what the Rambam writes at the end of Meseches Makkos. "One of the fundamental beliefs in the Torah is that when a person performs one of the 613 mitzvos properly without any foreign intentions, rather, he does it solely for its sake out of love [of Hashem], through its performance he has merited a portion in the world to come. This was what Rebbi Chananya ben Akasha intended ... since there are so many mitzvos, it is impossible that over the course of a lifetime that a person will not perform at least one mitzvah properly, and via that mitzvah he will merit to live in the next world." When one performs a mitzvah lishmah - solely for the sake of Heaven, he has connected with Hashem and his mitzvah will be accepted wholeheartedly.

This level of greatness was demanded at the time of the building of the Mishkan. The donations were to be given, "for Me," as Rashi explains they were to be given solely for My sake. Rav Wolbe (ibid. pg. 328) cites Rav Yeruchom who stated that even a holy intention such as money donated so that the Shechina should dwell among them, was not considered entirely lishmah - purely for the sake of Hashem, and was not accepted.

When one performs a mitzvah lishmah, he connects with the Shechina and he can be assured that his avodah will be accepted with pleasure and happiness! This in no way means that we are to detract from our avodah in any shape or form out of fear that we won't succeed in performing the mitzvos properly. The very opposite is true. The more mitzvos we perform, the better the chance that we will succeed in reaching this ultimate level of lishma - the very purpose of our existence.

314 - Mishpatim

Among the many commandments enumerated in this week's parsha, the Torah issues an extra warning regarding the way we relate to widows and orphans. "Do not cause pain to any widow or orphan. If you cause them pain and they cry out to Me, I will certainly heed their cry. And My wrath will be ignited and I will kill you by the sword and your wives will be widows and your children orphans" (Shemos 22, 21-23). The Ramban explains that this warning applies to all widows, regardless of their financial situation. One must be careful not to cause pain even to an affluent widow, "since her tears are quick in coming and her soul is lowly."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) points out that in numerous places we find that tears possess extraordinary power. One must take extra caution not to bring another person to tears. Chazal (Bava Metzia 59a) warn us, "One must always be careful not to cause his wife pain. Since her tears are quick in coming, the [punishment for the] pain is also quick in coming." Tears are unique in that they have the ability to make an impression on High that brings immediate repercussions.

Additionally, tears are a most powerful form of prayer. Chazal (ibid.) tell us, "Although all gates [of Heaven] were locked, the gates of tears were not locked." Tears can produce the desired effect in a way that regular prayer cannot. When all fails, there is yet another avenue of salvation: a heartfelt tearful prayer to our Father in Heaven.

Tears are powerful and one should use them together with his prayers. When one lacks something extremely dear to him and prays for it, it is relatively easy to be brought to tears. Chazal tell us, "When a talmid chachom is sick, one must [pray for him] until the point that he himself becomes sick." How much more so does this apply when the talmid chachom in distress is the gadol hador. We owe him much more than we can ever fathom. A sincere prayer - with a tear - has the ability to accomplish extraordinary things. May we be speedily merit greeting Moshiach with Maran Reb Yosef Shalom ben Chaya Musha leading the way!

313 - Yisro

After Kabbalas HaTorah, Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu, "So you shall say to Bnei Yisrael, 'You have seen that I spoke to you from Heaven'" (Shemos 20, 19). Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments, that unlike the beliefs espoused by gentile nations, our emunah is founded on what we perceived with our own eyes.

During Kabbalas HaTorah Bnei Yisrael attained a spiritual level that paralleled the spiritual level that existed before Adam sinned. This is what Chazal refer to as "Shechina b'tachtonim" i.e. Hashem's glory resided down here on earth. The closeness is so great that His presence is literally palpable to our senses. Attaining, and thereafter living with, this apex is the very purpose of creation and toward which we strive with every aspect of our avodah.

Rav Wolbe cites the Ramban (ibid. 19, 9) who elaborates on this idea. The Torah tells us, "And Hashem said to Moshe, Behold I will come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the nation will hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever.'" The Ramban explains that the Bnei Yisrael all reached the level of prophecy, and they heard Hashem speaking to Moshe. The reason for this was that they would not have to base their belief on what others had told them, for they had heard with their own ears how Hashem spoke to Moshe. No prophet or diviner will ever be able to deny or contradict Moshe's words, since Bnei Yisrael themselves heard how Hashem gave over His word to Moshe Rabbeinu.

Most religious beliefs are based on what people heard from their fathers and they from their fathers. The Ramban writes that we believe what our parents tell us "because a father will not lie to his son." However, the forefathers of other religions based all of their information on what they were told by others. This is not the case with the Jewish People. Each and every one of the hundreds of thousands of our forefathers heard Hashem speak to Moshe, and thereby acknowledged the veracity of Moshe's prophecies. The foundation of our emunah is so rock solid that it was palpable even to the physical senses.

312 - Beshalach

The beginning of the parsha describes how, after Bnei Yisrael were chased out of Egypt, the Egyptians had a change of heart and they set out in hot pursuit of their former slaves. The Torah (Shemos 14, 7) tells us that Paraoh took, "Six hundred elite chariots and all the [rest of the] chariots of Egypt" and chased after Bnei Yisrael.

The question is from where did the Egyptians obtain the horses for these chariots? They could not have been their own animals since they died in the plague of pestilence and the plague of hail. They also couldn't have been Jewish owned animals because Bnei Yisrael took all their livestock along with them. Rashi, citing the Medrash, answers that they belonged to the G-d fearing Egyptians who had gathered their animals into their houses when they were warned about the pending plague of hail. These animals survived the hail, and it was these animals that were mobilized to chase after Bnei Yisrael. Regarding this incident Rebbi Shimon commented, "[Even] the upright among the Egyptians - kill him; [even] the best snake - smash its head."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Alei Shur vol. I pg. 145) elaborates on Rebbi Shimon's observation. Despite the fact that these Egyptians had clearly demonstrated their fear of G-d, nevertheless, by nature they remained with a lack of yiras shamayim. The Egyptians are compared to a snake, since it is possible to tame a snake and train it to act docile. Yet, the Mishna tells us that a snake is always considered a mu'ad - an animal that is intrinsically dangerous.

Every person is created with positive and negative Middos. Our avodah is to rectify the negative traits lest they be manifested in our actions. However, even if we succeed in this endeavor, we haven't completely uprooted the trait. We have merely suppressed it or channeled it toward a positive outlet. Hence, we must always be on guard to ensure that these negative Middos do not rear their ugly heads at a later point.

Why must it be this way? Why can we not rid ourselves entirely from these negative traits? The answer is that bechira (free will) requires that there always be a negative force to counteract the positive. If we would have the ability to entirely uproot our negative Middos we would upset this balance and lose our bechira. Instead, the roots of these Middos remain, thereby requiring us to pay constant attention to our Middos.

If people would pay more attention, they would notice that they have specific negative Middos that surface regularly. It is those middos that are their battleground. They cannot be uprooted entirely, but if they make an effort, they can restrain these Middos or possibly even channel them to be used positively.