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." 

322 - Chol Hamoed Pesach - 7th Yahrtzeit

If we were asked to encapsulate all of Rav Wolbe's teachings in one sentence, the task would seem impossible. He wrote numerous seforim and gave thousands of discourses over the course of his life. How could one possibly summarize so much in one single sentence? However, Rav Wolbe himself did just that when he sat with a group of former talmidim.

He asked them to relay what they understood to be the focal point of all the discourses that they had heard during the years they had studied in his Yeshiva. Each student offered an opinion, but Rav Wolbe was not satisfied. "The message I was trying to convey in all my discourses" he said, "is that we should realize that ruchnius (spirituality) is no less a reality than gashmius (physicality)." For example, we must believe that just as eating something dangerous is detrimental to one's body, transgressing a commandment is at least as detrimental to one's soul. Conversely, performing a mitzvah does more for us (and the world around us) than the food we eat.

What can facilitate our achieving this realization? Rav Wolbe would often cite the Kuzari who explains that our imagination should play a vital role in our avodas Hashem. We should conjure up images of the momentous occasions in our rich history: Akeidas Yitzchok, Yetzias Mitzrayim, Krias Yam Suf, Kabbalas HaTorah. The list goes on and on. These occasions come to life and become more of a reality when we paint them in a picture, contemplate them and relive them to the best of our ability.

There is no better time to use our imagination than on the Yom Tov of Pesach. As the Ramban writes (in the end of Parshas Bo), Yetzias Mitzrayim is the foundation of our emunah since at that time it became clear to one and all Hashem's Omnipotence and Omnipresence. It behooves us to take some time this Yom Tov to picture the awesome miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim: The Ten Plagues, the mass slaughtering of sheep (the Egyptian god) for the Korban Pesach, the exodus with each person leading ninety donkeys laden with bounty, the splitting of the sea and so on. The more we dwell on the picture and the more details we paint, the greater the effect on our emunah. If we can relive those moments, they will become a reality no less than the occurrences that happened to us just yesterday. This was Rav Wolbe's message to us and the key to living a more spiritually centered life!

321 - Pesach (Explanations on the Haggada)

"In the beginning our forefathers were idol worshipers, but now Hashem brought us near to Him." Rav Wolbe asks why the text states, "now Hashem brought us to His service", for did this not occur more than three thousand years ago at the time of the redemption from Egypt? He answers that the celebration during Pesach is not merely a remembrance of what occurred in the distant past. Rather, at the time of the redemption there was a Heavenly spiritual illumination that was felt by Bnei Yisroel. Every year on the night of the Seder there is a re-occurrence of that exact spiritual illumination. If we tap into this illumination, we too can feel the feelings of those who actually left Egypt on this very night thousands of years earlier. It is with this aim that we recite the Haggada on the Seder night.

"The Torah speaks about four sons" - Rav Wolbe comments that if the Torah felt it imperative to write four separate pesukim to parallel the four different sons, it implies that every child must be spoken to in a language that he can understand. Even the wicked son must be answered with a response that is hand tailored to his personality.

"Regarding the son who doesn't know how to ask, you begin to speak to him" - Rashi explains that for such a child one should tell aggadic explanations that draw his heart. Rav Wolbe explains that the Seder Night is aimed at opening the hearts of our children. The Korban Pesach is referred to as "avodah", for through its performance Bnei Yisroel began their avodas Hashem. True avodas Hashem can only be achieved when one internalizes in his heart that there is a Creator Who took us out of Egypt, and we are His servants.

"A person is obligated to perceive himself as if he went out of Egypt" - Rav Wolbe points out that the Haggada revolves around each individual person. Thus we say, "Each person is obligated to perceive himself as if he left Egypt"; "Hashem acted on my behalf when I went out from Egypt," and so on. Rav Wolbe goes on to explain: The Seder Night is set up in question-answer form because a question stems from one being aroused to ask. The Gemara explains that when King David is described in the pasuk as one who "knows how to make music," it means that he knew how to ask questions properly. The correlation between making music and asking questions is that they both are borne out of hissorirus - being aroused. The questions in the Haggada were designed to arouse us to delve more deeply into the events of Yetzias Mitzrayim and their implication to our avodas Hashem. Only once one is aroused, can he feel as if he himself left Egypt.

"If He had brought us to Har Sinai and not given us the Torah it would have sufficed for us." The obvious question is, "Wasn't the entire reason that we stood by Har Sinai just to receive the Torah? If so, what would have been the purpose of standing by the mountain without receiving the Torah?" Rav Wolbe explains that the revelation at Har Sinai was an end unto itself. At that time Bnei Yisroel reached the zenith in spiritual comprehension. However, with time these awesome feelings would inevitably begin to wane. Therefore, the Torah was given to them that it act as a "thermos" to keep this awesome moment "warm". The Torah is the conduit whereby we can relive the closeness to Hashem that we experienced during this momentous occasion.

"The Pesach sacrifice that our fathers ate when the Bais Hamikdosh was standing; for what reason? Because Hashem passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt." Rav Wolbe explains that throughout the entire year we must be careful not to leap and jump in our service of Hashem, lest we fall flat on our faces. We must serve Hashem on a level that is appropriate for our spiritual standing. However, on Pesach we have an opportunity to grow by leaps and bounds. 

Rashi (Shemos 12, 11) explains the reason Bnei Yisroel in Egypt were commanded to eat the Pesach sacrifice in a hurry: "Just as Hashem jumped and skipped over the houses of Bnei Yisroel when He slew the firstborn, so too, you should "jump and skip" (hurry) in your service of Hashem (eating the Pesach sacrifice)." Through experiencing the aforementioned spiritual illumination connected with the Seder night, we can "jump" in our level of service of Hashem in a manner that is not possible on any other day of the year.

"Because of this (the Pesach, Matzah and Maror) Hashem acted on my behalf when I went out from Egypt" - Rashi explains that we were redeemed in order to perform His mitzvos. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz would say that people think that because they want to eat they must therefore make a bracha. However, the opposite is true. The reason we were created with the need to eat is so that we should have the opportunity to say a bracha. Likewise, we do not perform these mitzvos because Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, rather, the purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim was to give us the opportunity to perform these mitzvos.

Chag Kasher V'Sameiach!

320 - Tzav

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) offers an interesting insight into the difference between Torah and other worldly wisdoms. While all other wisdoms answer the question of, "What is it?" the Torah answers the question, "What does it have to do with me?"

For example if we were to ask, "What is fire?" we would receive a detailed explanation of its chemical properties, how a fire is started and what fuels it. However, the Torah enlightens us to the relationship we are to have with fire. It is one of the four main things that cause damage, and therefore, one must watch over his coals and compensate any damage caused by a fire that he started. Additionally, there are mitzvos that we must perform with fire, as mentioned in this week's parsha, "A fire should be lit on the mizbeiach constantly, it should not be extinguished." We might add, that next week we are commanded to use fire in the fulfillment of a mitzvah of to burn any chometz left in our possession.

This idea also holds true with regard to Hashem. The Torah does not tell us Who Hashem is, yet, it does inform us of the relationship He has with us. Chazal tell us that Hashem wrapped Himself in a tallis, so to speak, and told Moshe that whenever Bnei Yisroel recite His thirteen attributes of mercy, Hashem will forgive them. The Shelah quotes the Geonim who explain that reciting the thirteen attributes of mercy does not mean the mere stating of the attributes, but rather, the emulation of these attributes. We create a relationship with Hashem when we follow in His ways.

The Maharal writes that the word "Torah" comes from the same root as the word "hora'ah" which means "instruction" since it instructs a person as to the proper way to relate to everything in the creation. 

While the above is definitely true, the Torah teaches us much more than just how to relate to things. The Mishna in Avos (6, 1) states that for one who engages in Torah study, "It makes him great and elevates him above all things." The Torah exalts a person and gives him reign over all things because it delineates the proper course of action in any situation that could possibly arise! 

319 - Vayikra

The Ramban (Vayikra 1, 9) in his explanation of the commandment to bring korbanos cites chapter 50 in Tehillim that discusses korbanos. The first pasuk states, "The Almighty G-d, Hashem spoke and called to the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting." The Ramban writes that the pasuk mentions, "the complete Name on a complete world."

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) enlightens us to the meaning behind the Ramban's words. Korbanos are a means of creating a complete world which thereby allows for the complete Name of Hashem to rest upon it. They bridge the huge chasm that divides the body and the soul: the division between the physical world and The Creator. When one consecrates an animal he has effected kedusha upon the animal which not only gives it specific laws, it also allows the animal to be brought on the mizbeiach. He has taken the basest creature and transformed it into something appropriate to be offered to the Creator Himself. 

These korbanos were offered to Hashem in the Mishkan, a veritable spiritual haven in a turbulent world. It was there that the physical was transformed into the spiritual, and therefore, the Mishkan was deemed a "complete world." Consequently, it was there that the Shechina, "the complete Name," resided.

Rav Wolbe continues that despite the fact that we lack the ability to offer korbanos, nevertheless, the lesson of the korbanos still rings true. We must make an effort to transform our physical bodies into spiritual beings. A person's body should be part and parcel of his avodas Hashem along with the thoughts and intentions that accompany the mitzvah. When one succeeds in this endeavor, he has created a "complete world" that allows for "the complete Name" to reside therein.

As Pesach approaches, this is an idea that one should bear in mind. For the duration of the Yom Tov our bodies avoid any chametz, and we eat matzah - unleavened bread, a more spiritual food. We feed the physical body spiritual food. A human body unchecked parallels that of an animal. However, when it is guided properly, it can reach the zenith of spirituality and become an abode for the Creator!

318 - Vayakhel - Pekudei

Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 329) that the unique blend of ahava and yirah in avodas Hashem can produce awesome results as we find with the building of the Mishkan. In Parshas Pekudei, the Torah reiterates numerous times how the Mishkan and all its utensils were built and crafted, "exactly as Hashem commanded Moshe." Had the building of the Mishkan lacked that precision, it would not have been a suitable dwelling for the Shechina.

Additionally, the Mishkan was constructed from the voluntary donations of Bnei Yisrael. Hashem could have commanded everyone to donate ten silver shekalim toward the construction just as He commanded everyone to donate a half shekel toward the purchase of the korbanos. However, He wanted every donation to be given voluntarily.

The Ramban (Shemos 35, 5) enlightens us as to why the donations had to be given in such a manner. The Torah tells us (ibid.), "Everyone whose heart motivates him should bring it - es terumas Hashem." The Ramban explains that the word "es" in this context means "with." He should bring his donation together with a Heavenly gift i.e. Hashem. In other words the proper way to read the pasuk is as follows:

Everyone whose heart motivates him should bring The Shechina together with his donation of gold, silver and copper! How does one bring the Shechina to the Mishkan? Rav Wolbe cites the Medrash (Shir Hashirim Raba 5, 2) which states that Hashem is called the heart of Yisrael. Hashem resides within our hearts. When a Jew arouses his heart to make a donation, he has in essence "aroused" Hashem also, and when he brings that donation to the Mishkan the Shechina accompanies it! Thus, the donations brought the Shechina to its dwelling place.

The construction of the Mishkan which was executed perfectly down to the last detail was a demonstration of Bnei Yisrael's yirah. The voluntary monetary donations made toward the building of the Mishkan were a manifestation of Bnei Yisrael's ahava. Together, they succeed not only in creating an abode that was suitable for the Shechina, but actually bringing the Shechina into that abode.

Every mitzvah requires the two facets mentioned above. Firstly, it must be performed with fear, i.e. precisely how Hashem wishes it to be performed. Additionally, one should arouse his heart to perform the mitzvah with love and out of a voluntary desire to serve Hashem. From the Mishkan we can see the awesome results such a mitzvah can produce.