Monday, April 22, 2013

373 - Acharei Mos-Kedoshim

Toward the end of parshas Kedoshim, the Torah tells us that if a man lives with an animal, not only is he put to death, the animal is also killed (Vayikra, 20, 15). Rashi explains that although the animal did nothing wrong and doesn't deserve to be put to death, nevertheless, since it caused a person's demise it must also be put to death. This being the case, it goes without saying that if a person, who could differentiate between good and bad, causes his friend to transgress an aveirah he will be punished.

Rashi continues, that in a similar vein, the Torah commanded Bnei Yisroel that when they enter Eretz Yisrael they are to destroy all the places and trees where idols were worshipped. Once again one must ask why the trees deserve a punishment. The answer is the same. They were the cause of a man's transgression, and therefore they must be destroyed. We are to learn from here that if a tree which cannot see or hear, is punished because it caused a person's sin, how much more so is this the case regarding a person who causes his friend to transgress an aveirah and stray from the path of life to the path of death.

Rav Wolbe related (Shiurei Chumash) that he was once speaking to Rav Meir Chodosh regarding the possibility of throwing certain troublemakers out of Yeshiva. Rav Chodosh answered that it might not be the troublemakers that he needs to throw out, but perhaps some of the boys that would be labeled as good boys. He explained that since everybody knows that these boys are troublemakers, no one is prone to learn from boys whom everyone looks down upon. However, there is a greater chance that they will emulate boys who learn well yet don't show up to davening, since others look up to them. The above mentioned Chazal describes quite clearly the severity of one who causes his friend to stray from the path of life.

We all find ourselves in situations and places where we are among other Jews, religious and secular, who look up to us. They scrutinize our actions and they define for themselves the proper behavior of a religious Jew. We bear the great responsibility of ensuring that no one is turned away from the path of life because of our actions. However, the opposite is also true. If one is turned toward the path of life because of our actions, we have created a Kiddush Hashem, which is such a great mitzvah that its dividends can be received only in the World to Come! 

372 - Tazria-Metzora

The parshios of Tazria and Metzora are both dedicated entirely to the halachos of the various forms of tum'ah and the subsequent tahara achieved through immersion in a mikvah. The Rambam at the end of Hilchos Mikvaos writes that although the concept of tum'ah and tahara are definitely a chok - a mitzvah beyond our comprehension - nevertheless there is an allusion contained therein that we can understand:

"It is clear that tum'os and taharos are decrees, and they are not logical, rather they are chukim. Likewise, the purification from the tum'ah achieved through immersion is also a chok, because tum'ah is not mud or dirt that can be washed off in water. Rather it is a decree of Hashem and it is contingent upon the intention in one's heart . . . Nevertheless, the decree contains an allusion: Just as one who has the proper intention in his heart and then immerses becomes pure, even though there was no physical change effected in his body, so too, one who prepares his heart in order to purify his soul from its impurities . . . and has "immersed his soul in the waters of da'as" becomes pure. As Hashem says, 'I will throw upon you pure water, and you will become pure from your impurities, and from all your transgressions I will purify you.'"

Rav Wolbe (Pirkei Kinyan Da'as pg. 14) elaborates on the Rambam's explanation. From the Rambam's words there seems to be an entity called da'as which is separate from the entity in which we live, no different than the separation between land and water. One who wishes to purify himself, must immerse himself entirely in the entity called "the water of da'as." We might understand that this can be accomplished as follows.

Most people live their lives in a fantasy of sorts. We fantasize about what we would have liked our lives to look like in the past, and how we wish it should look in the future. There is almost no aspect of our lives that doesn't involve our fantasies in one way or another. Even simply walking from one place to another can involve one's fantasies. For example, if someone requests our presence at an event and we comply, we tend to think that we have done them the biggest favor and really enhanced their lives. If we don't comply, then we think that we have just boosted our standing in the eyes of those around us, for now they know that we do what we want to do, and we're not bound by anyone else's desires. 

However, there is also another approach to the myriads of aspects that life presents. We could contemplate a Torah concept or lesson reflected by what we observe. A story involving Reb Yisroel Salanter concretizes this idea. Reb Yisroel once brought his shoes to the shoemaker to be fixed, and he asked him when he would be able to fix them. The shoemaker looked at his candle and responded, "As long as the candle burns, it is still possible to repair." Reb Yisroel left the store in exhilaration. He internalized the response as a powerful message with regard to one's avodas Hashem: As long as the candle burns (a person is alive) it is still possible to repair any damage that he may have caused through his misdeeds! This was the manner in which Reb Yisroel Salanter related to even the smallest experiences of life.

Torah is the "water of da'as." It gives us the tools to properly perceive everything that occurs around us. The more we focus on perceiving occurrences through the eyes of the Torah, the less we will spend fantasizing - which breeds only negative traits such as jealousy, desire and honor. Let's at least "get our feet wet" and try this exercise once a day. Even without a total immersion, we still have so much to gain.

371 - Shemini

The parshah begins with Moshe Rabbeinu cajoling Aharon to enter the Mishkan in order to perform the avodah: "Come near to the mizbeiach and perform your sin offering and your burnt offering and the sacrifices of the nation" (Vayikra 9, 7). Rashi explains that Aharon was too embarrassed to enter the Mishkan, and therefore, Moshe had to cajole him to enter: "Why are you embarrassed? You were specifically chosen to perform this avodah." The Ramban elaborates that Aharon's embarrassment and hesitation to enter the Mishkan stemmed from the role that he played in making the golden calf. To which Moshe responded, "Have a proud spirit and come and perform the avodah."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) makes an interesting observation. In Pirkei Avos (4, 4) it says that one should be exceedingly humble. With this in mind, we could understand Aharon's uneasiness in accepting the position consigned to him. He felt that he was unworthy for the lofty position of bringing sacrifices before the Creator of the world. If so, why did Moshe tell Aharon to act haughtily and perform the avodah, against the dictates of Chazal? The answer is that although one must be exceedingly humble (as the Mishna in Avos states me'od me'od, a terminology found almost nowhere else in Chazal) nevertheless, there is a limit to the amount one should exercise this trait. If one's humility inhibits his avodas Hashem then he has surpassed the proper application of this middah. Moshe was telling Aharon that if he was specifically chosen for this position, then this is not the time and place for humility.

This is an idea that has a practical application for each and every one of us. Many people shy away from learning mussar because they have no interest in highlighting exactly how bad they are. Even those who do learn mussar often fall into depression after unearthing how many negative traits they possess. The truth is that mussar study is only effective for a person who is already cognizant of his abundance of positive traits and awesome innate greatness. Rabbeinu Yonah makes this abundantly clear at the onset of his Sefer Sha'arei Avodah:

"The very first entranceway (into avodas Hashem) is that one who wishes to serve Hashem must know his own worth, and be cognizant of his caliber and the caliber of his forefathers, and their greatness, importance and how beloved they were to their Creator. And he must constantly strive and strengthen himself to maintain this caliber. And he should think to himself, 'A great and important person like myself today, who has  lofty and awesome positive attributes, and I am the son of great people - the son of kings from the past - how can I do such a terrible thing and sin before Hashem.'" Humility would only be detrimental to such a person. He would recoil at the thought of serving The Creator in his lowly state. Such behavior would send him down the ladder of avodah instead of up the ladder (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 160).

Mussar study is imperative for our self improvement. However, knowing and internalizing our ma'alos takes precedence to studying mussar. Take a piece of paper and write down at least twenty ma'alos that you have. Only then should you proceed to the Mesilas Yesharim for a healthy dose of mussar!

370 - Pesach

The Torah refers to Pesach as chag ha'matzos, while Chazal refer to Pesach as zman cheiruseinu (the time of our freedom). Rav Wolbe (Kol HaTorah vol. 61 pg. 57) elaborates on one aspect of the correlation between matzos and freedom. The Maharal writes that the reason matzah is also called lechem oni (bread of poverty) is because it contains only flour and water, the two basic ingredients of bread, while it lacks any additional ingredients. This bread is similar to the poor man who possesses nothing but himself. What does this mean for us?

The Gemara relates (Berachos 17a) that Rav Alechsandri would include a small statement in his prayers. "It is revealed and known before You that our will is to fulfill Your will; and what prevents us: the yeast in the dough (the yetzer hara) and our subjugation to foreign dominion." Why is the yetzer hara called "the yeast in the dough?" Yeast is an outside factor that causes the dough to rise more than it would have by itself. Likewise, the yetzer hara inflates the innate middos found inside every person beyond what he could and should reach. Every person needs a certain amount of self respect. Therefore, one who eats in the marketplace has invalidated himself from giving testimony in beis din since, "if he doesn't care about his own honor, he certainly won't care about another's honor (Kiddushin 40b)." However, the yetzer hara inflates the need for honor and causes a person to look for honor at every opportunity.

Similarly, jealousy is essential for without it no one would marry or build a house (see Mesilas Yesharim chap. 11). Once again, the yetzer hara inflates the jealousy until it encompasses everything his neighbor owns. Desire is also a positive trait because one who is lacking this middah wouldn't be able to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah since it would be considered achilah gasah. The problem is that the yetzer hara pumps up desire and changes it from a means to an end, into an end in and of itself, and thereby turning man into a pleasure-seeker. As a result, when a person becomes older and takes a good hard look at himself, he might be astounded to find out that his image and everything he portrays is totally foreign to his true self.

This is in regard to the yetzer hara that dwells inside a person. The Gra explains that there is yet another, external yetzer hara that we must contend with. This is the yetzer hara of being subjugated to foreign dominion. We live among the nations, and we are influenced by their way of life. One  example is our need to keep up with the latest fashions lest we be looked upon as a relic from the past. It's amazing to think how some tailor in Paris fashions a garment, and within a week the entire world feels compelled to wear the figment of his imagination!

If we could succeed in uprooting the external foreign influences, and bursting the inflated bubble of middos created by the yetzer hara internally, we would experience a true sense of freedom. Accomplishing this allows one to perceive his true awesome stature, without any strings attached.

This is the meaning behind the Maharal's explanation of why matzoh is referred to as bread of poverty. We eat matzoh during the time of our freedom, because just as matzoh is free from all outside influences, so too, true freedom can only be experienced when one purges himself of all outside influences and perceives himself authentically. This is what we strive for on the Yom Tov of Pesach.

Chag Kasher V'Sameach!

369 - Vayikra

Sefer Vayikra begins, "He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Ohel Moed saying" (Vayikra 1, 1). Rashi explains that the numerous times that Hashem spoke to Moshe or commanded him, were all prefaced by a "calling" i.e. a manner of speech that expresses affection. Rashi continues with a most interesting statement of Chazal: "One might think that even the breaks (between the parshios) were prefaced by a special calling; therefore, the Torah writes, 'and Hashem spoke to him' which implies that only Hashem's speech was prefaced by a calling and not the breaks. And what purpose did these breaks serve? They were there to enable [Moshe] to contemplate between the parshios and between the topics. How much more so must a simple person learning from a simple person [take time to contemplate between parshios and topics]."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that from the fact that Chazal even entertained the possibility that a special calling prefaced each break in the Torah, proves that the breaks themselves are an integral facet of Torah. They too are Torah because they were put there to enable one who studies the Torah to take some time to contemplate, understand, and incorporate that which he has just learned. However, since it differs from the rest of the Torah, it didn't necessitate a calling.

Chazal stressed the importance of these breaks by concluding, "How much more so must a simple person learning from a simple person [take time to contemplate between parshios and topics]." If we would appreciate the significance of these breaks, then everything we learn would take on an entirely new appearance. Understandably, our limud haTorah would be more meaningful and on a much greater level.

Moreover, this idea is the rationale behind bein ha'zmanim (the vacation break given in Yeshivos and schools during Nissan, Av and Tishrei). These intermediate days were specifically designated as days that are free from the regular learning schedule to allow a person to contemplate what he has gained during the past months and prepare himself accordingly for the future months. Cognizance of the purpose behind bein ha'zmanim, has the ability to prevent many of the problems that people encounter during this period.

There is no better time than the month of Nissan in general and the Yom Tov of Pesach in particular, to spend a few minutes taking stock of our spiritual state of affairs. How did we grow in the past few months? What have we done that we should continue doing, and what calls for a change? What am I going to do to ensure that the next few months look better than the past few months? Torah study is imperative, but the breaks are also important!

368 - Vayakhel-Pekudei

Despite the fact that the Parsha of Vayakhel deals entirely with the Mishkan, interestingly enough the Parsha begins by cautioning Bnei Yisrael to heed the mitzvah of Shabbos and not to perform any of the forbidden melachos. Rashi explains the reason behind the Torah's juxtaposition of this warning to the portion that describes the building of the Mishkan, as follows: Although Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael to build the Bais HaMikdosh, nevertheless, they were to be careful not to build it on Shabbos for that would be a desecration of the holy day. 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that it is difficult to understand why Bnei Yisrael would have even entertained such a thought that the building of the Mishkan should override the prohibition of performing melachah on Shabbos - that the Torah was compelled to negate this possibility. We don't find the Torah warning us that even though there is a mitzvah to write a sefer Torah, bear in mind that it is forbidden to write it on Shabbos. Moreover, we know that a special pasuk is always required to allow any mitzvah to override the prohibition of performing melachah on Shabbos. Why would Bnei Yisrael think that the mitzvah of building the Mishkan is any different?

He continues that although he doesn't have a clear cut answer to this question, nevertheless, he wishes to offer an insight that contains a lesson for life. We just read last week in Parshas Ki Sisa how Bnei Yisrael sinned by making the golden calf. The Ramban explains that their transgression was a result of a mistake. Moshe Rabbeinu was the leader and guiding light of Bnei Yisrael. When forty days passed and Moshe had not returned, they were thrown into a panic: who would guide them and connect them with their Creator? They created the golden calf to fulfill that role. Their intentions were noble, but that did not justify their actions which could be termed a mitzvah haba'ah b'aveirah - a mitzvah that came through a sin. Therefore, the Torah warns Bnei Yisrael: Even though I am commanding you to build a Mishkan which is to act as an abode for Hashem and a means of connecting to Him, it should not be built on Shabbos for this would constitute a mitzvah haba'ah b'aveirah.

This concept formed one of the focal points of Reb Yisrael Salanter's teachings. A person must ensure that his mitzvos not be performed by way of aveiros. He would depict a scene where a Maggid came to town to deliver a mussar shmuess (discourse). Everyone in the town was interested in hearing his words of wisdom, and they rushed to the shul where the shmuess would be held. Due to the rush and bedlam, one person knocked over a passerby, and another got angry because someone cut him off, and so on. Yes, they were running to perform a mitzvah - to hear words that will help them improve their avodas Hashem - but at what expense? There is another well known story of Reb Yisrael Salanter that illustrates this point. One morning before Shachris, a man put on his tallis and wrapped his face in its folds. However, as he threw the tzitzis over his shoulder the strings slapped Reb Yisrael in his face! Here too, the man's mitzvah came about through a flaw in his bein adom l'chaveiro.

A practical application of Reb Yisrael Salanter's moshel, would include double parking to enable one to come on time to Mincha or some other mitzvah. One of the benefits of regular mussar study is that it gives one the ability to perceive his actions in a different, more objective light. Even without opening a mussar sefer, it behooves us to take a few minutes to contemplate our actions to ensure that out mitzvos are just mitzvos, and not chas v'shalom tainted with "small" transgressions. 

367 - Ki Sisa

When Moshe Rabbeinu beheld Bnei Yisroel worshiping the golden calf, he threw down the luchos and smashed them. Chazal tell us (Shabbos 88a) that afterward Hashem thanked Moshe for breaking the luchos. Eighty days later, on Yom Kippur, Moshe descended from Har Sinai with a second set of luchos, with the same contents. What was the impetus for Moshe's decision to break the luchos, and if he felt they weren't worthy of receiving the Torah what changed eighty days later when he returned with a similar set of luchos?

The Gemara (Avodah Zara 5a) states that the second set of luchos differed from the first set. Had they merited the first set, Bnei Yisrael would have been free from the dominion of the yetzer hara and would never have had to contend with the oppression of foreign nations. They wouldhave achieved a level of existence without sin. Prior to their sin, the Torah (i.e. the first set of luchos) was tailored to the needs of a nation that had reached the pinnacle of spiritual ascent. When Moshe saw that the nation had sinned, thereby falling from their newfound spiritual plateau, he understood that the Torah in its present state was not suitable for Bnei Yisrael. They would need a new set of luchos that was tailored to a nation that had tasted sin. The actual Torah would remain in its purity, exactly how it had been prior to their sin; however, the manner in which it would be conveyed to Bnei Yisrael would have to be different.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) elaborates on this very relevant concept. Every generation has a specific manner in which it can, and does, relate to the Torah. Those responsible for transmitting the Torah must understand the peculiarities of their specific generation and transmit the Torah accordingly. The Torah remains the same; it's merely the language that changes. 

Chazal say, "Yiftach in his generation paralleled Shmuel in his generation." What does this mean? Shmuel was a prophet similar to Moshe and Aharon, while Yiftach didn't even merit prophecy at all. Rav Tzadok Hakohein explains that just as Shmuel succeeded in transmitting the Torah to his generation, Yiftach did all that it took to transmit the Torah to his generation. The difference in the spiritual levels of the generations was immense, but the mission remained the same. Yiftach succeeded in finding an appropriate means of conveying the Torah's eternal message.

Reb Yechezkel Levenstien said that when he learned in the Yeshiva of Kelm, his Rabbeim would say that speaking about the terrible punishments in Gehinom to motivate people to improve is not the proper approach for our generation. The Alter of Slabodka would always stress gadlus ha'Adom - the greatness of man. He understood that our era required a softer more optimistic approach and he tailored his discourses accordingly.

No matter the means of transmission, the beauty of the Torah remains the same. We all have the ability to help others in their Torah growth; we just have to find the right language. What spoke to the last generation might not speak to our generation, and what speaks to our generation might not speak to our children's generation. If we bear this in mind when delivering Hashem's eternal message, we will be'ezras Hashem succeed in imbuing others with a true Torah outlook, in a manner that rivals the pedagogy of Shmuel Hanavi.

366 - Tetzaveh - Purim

The Mitzvah of shiluach ha'kan (sending away the mother bird before taking her young) is described by the Torah in Parshas Ki Seitzei: "If a bird's nest happens to be before you on the way, in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the chicks or eggs, do not take the mother along with the young. Send away the mother and then take the young" (Devarim 22, 6-7).

The Gemara (Chullin 139b) asks, since the pasuk stresses that the nest was found on the ground, if one finds a nest on top of a person's head, is he also obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of shiluach hakan? The Gemara answers that he is obligated, since we find another pasuk (Shmuel II 15, 32) which states, "And ground upon his head." Rashi explains that since the Torah chose the word "ground" as opposed to "dirt", we can deduce that despite the fact that the dirt was detached from the ground it did not lose its identity, because while resting upon a person it is still considered attached to the ground. If so, it must be that the human being himself is considered ground, and therefore, the dirt upon his head is considered as if it still lies upon the ground!

This fascinating Gemara gets even more interesting. The very next Gemara asks, "Where does the Torah allude to Moshe [even before he was born]? 'Since he is but flesh' (in Hashem's declaration that he would destroy the world with a flood)." Rashi explains that "beshegam" (since he is but) has the same numerical value as Moshe. Moreover, the generation of the flood was given 120 years to repent, and Moshe lived to 120.

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlom Geulah pg. 187) explains the connection between the two Gemaras. The first Gemara stresses the lowliness of man: even after being created he still remains "a clump of ground." The second Gemara stresses the exact opposite: the greatness of man. Despite the fact that he "is but flesh" he has the ability to rise to the level of the angels as Moshe accomplished. His origin is lowly, but his potential is unlimited! 

This idea sheds light on the subsequent Gemara as well. "Where does the Torah allude to Haman? Is it from the tree [that I told you not to eat from that you ate]" (Bereishis 3, 11)? The tree of knowledge was the root of all evil. However, Haman succeeded in taking evil to a whole different level. Because a single person failed to bow down to him, he schemed to annihilate an entire nation! Once again we perceive the unlimited ability of man - only this time it was harnessed toward evil.

"Where is Mordechai hinted to in the Torah? Mara Dachia" (The Targum's translation of Mor Dror, the first of the spices used in the incense. Shemos 30, 23). The incense was burned in privacy while no one was watching. This was the attribute of Mordechai who personified the middah of tznius - doing what is right without fanfare. Esther also exemplified the middah of tznius, since after she became queen, she did not reveal her nationality. 

Rav Wolbe adds that there is yet another common denominator between Mordechai and the incense. The smoke caused by the burning of the incense would rise like a pillar without spreading to the sides. So too, Mordechai stood ramrod straight and did not bow or bend to Haman and the evil he espoused.  It was these two traits - tznius and an unswerving adherence to the Torah's standards - that affected the miracle of Purim.

The lesson to be learned is clear: Man's ability is unlimited. Harnessing our awesome potential toward the service of Hashem, not only brings us closer to Him; it also has the ability to bring redemption to His entire Nation! 

365 - Terumah

The second half of Sefer Shemos, from Terumah onward, describes the building of the Mishkan. The placement of this portion of the Torah is described by the Ramban in his introduction to Sefer Shemos wherein he outlines the contents of the Sefer: 

"The Torah finished Sefer Bereishis which described the creation of the world and the events of the forefathers . . .and Sefer Shemos was designated to describe the first exile and the ensuing redemption . . . and the redemption wasn't complete until they returned to their proper place and to the level of their forefathers. When they left Mitzrayim, even though they had left the house of bondage, they were still considered in exile since they were not in their homeland, but wanderers in the desert. When they came to Har Sinai and built the Mishkan and Hashem rested His Shechina upon them, they finally returned once again to the level of their forefathers who were the "throne" of Hashem and then they were considered redeemed." 

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo Geulah pg. 30) comments that we might have understood from the Ramban's words, "and the redemption wasn't complete until they returned to their proper place" that in order to be considered redeemed, they would have to enter Eretz Yisrael. However, it is clear from his subsequent words that this is not the case. The point of redemption did not occur when they left the home of bondage since they were still in exile, nor did it occur when they entered Eretz Yisrael for at that point they had already been redeemed. Rather, the redemption occurred when Hashem placed of His Shechina upon Bnei Yisrael. 

Chazal say (Avos 6, 6) "Whoever repeats something in the name of the one who originally said it brings redemption to the world as it is written, 'And Esther repeated it to the king in the name of Mordechai.'" Repeating something in the name of someone else is an attribute which demonstrates one's ability not to disconnect something from its source. This is the characteristic which defines redemption. Our world is disconnected from the Creator. Redemption is what reunites the world to The Creator - its original source. When Hashem placed His Shechina on Bnei Yisrael they experienced true redemption since the world was reconnected to its source.

The Ramban describes Hashem resting upon Bnei Yisrael as, "returning to their place." In other words, the very nature of Klal Yisrael is one that includes Hashem's Shechina in their midst. Every person has the ability to become an abode for the Shechina, as Chazal tell us, Hashem said, "Make for Me a Mikdash and I will dwell amongst you." Every person has the ability to take his body and turn it into an abode for the Creator Himself!

364 - Mishpatim

After enumerating many of the mitzvos, the Torah writes, "And you shall guard everything that I have said to you, and the names of other gods you shall not mention" (Shemos 23, 13). Rashi explains the connection between the first half and second half of the pasuk. The Torah is implying that worshipping other gods is tantamount to transgressing all of the mitzvos, and conversely, refraining from idol worship is equivalent to fulfilling all the mitzvos. 

Rav Wolbe writes (HaMitzvos HaShekulos pg. 7) that it is quite understandable why he who worships idols is compared to one who has transgressed all the mitzvos. The Ramban explains this idea quite succinctly: "Once one admits to another god, he has inevitably invalidated everything that Hashem commanded - both positive and negative commandments - for if there is another god then there is absolutely no necessity to fear Hashem and heed His commandments." However, the flip side of the coin is much more difficult to understand. Why is it that when one refrains from avodah zarah, he is automatically considered as if has fulfilled all the mitzvos? Isn't it quite possible that a person might realize the uselessness of idols but still have no interest in keeping the mitzvos? If we take a closer look at human nature we will succeed in answering this question. 

We say in the Shabbos morning davening, "There is nothing like Your value in this world." Every person has a set of things that he values. Some are of lesser importance and some of greater importance, and almost always there is one thing that is of utmost importance. It might be money, honor or even collecting stamps. Yet, the only true and absolute entity of value is Hashem. The Rambam writes that everything a person does - his eating, drinking, healthy activities etc. - should all be carried out with one intention in mind: the service of Hashem. Often eating and drinking becomes of intrinsic value in and of itself, and healthy activities (e.g. sports) most certainly are perceived by many as something of supreme value. Even wisdom can become an end unto itself. Taking anything that is of value which should be used in the service of Hashem and assigning importance outside the realm of avodas Hashem, is to a certain extent the creation of an avodah zarah!

We can now understand why he who refrains from avodah zarah is compared to one who has performed all the mitzvos. Refraining from avodah zarah means that he perceives everything in the world as a means of serving Hashem. There is nothing that has intrinsic value unless it is used in His service. Such a person most certainly can be considered as if he performed all the mitzvos since everything he does and values is with a single purpose - the fulfillment of Hashem's commandments. 

What role does money, honor, pleasure seeking or food play in our lives? There is nothing wrong with any of the above - as long as they are used to bring us closer to Hashem! 

363 - Yisro

Throughout Parshas Yisro Rashi explains that the purpose of Matan Torah was to elevate Bnei Yisrael. Before Matan Torah Hashem told Moshe to relate to Bnei Yisrael that through accepting the Torah they will become a nation of kohanim. Rashi explains kohanim in this context means nobles. After Matan Torah Moshe told Bnei Yisrael, "Do not fear, because Hashem has come to elevate you." Rashi explains that when all the nations hear how Hashem revealed Himself to Bnei Yisrael, Bnei Yisrael will gain prominence and be elevated in the eyes of the nations. 

Yet, as Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) points out, this level of distinction was not limited to Klal Yisrael as a whole. Each individual was elevated to a level of prominence. Hashem told Moshe to warn Bnei Yisrael to remain stationary during Matan Torah lest they come too close to Hashem thereby causing many to die. Rashi explains that if even one person loses his life, in Hashem's eyes it is considered as if many people died. Each and every individual has the importance of a multitude.

The importance of the individual has been greatly downgraded in our day and age. In contrast, the Torah focuses on the individual. It was given with the specific intent of making each and every person into nobility. With this in mind, there is absolutely no reason for one to compare himself to his friends, colleagues, neighbors or classmates. The focus must remain on one's own strengths and middos. Rebbe Aharon of Karlin would say, "What should I ask Hashem for - that I should be Avraham Avinu? There already was an Avraham Avinu who accomplished whatever Avraham Avinu had to accomplish. I simply want to be Aharon Karliner and accomplish what Aharon Karliner is meant to accomplish!" 

A person's greatness is not determined by how he matches up to those around him, but how Hashem views him. How has he used his personal mix of qualities in his Avodas Hashem? Each and every Jew was raised to a level of distinction. Our avodah is to become aware of our prominence and not to get bogged down by comparing ourselves to others. 

The Alter of Kelm would say that one doesn't have to warn a king not to speak lashon hara. Even without a warning a king is careful not to speak derogatorily about anyone since he is cognizant of his awesome stature and realizes that with a mere slip of his tongue someone could lose their life. The Alter continues that in a similar vein, if we were aware of our intrinsic greatness and loftiness many of our problems would fall by the wayside. We would realize their pettiness and how such squabbles are not appropriate for our lofty spiritual level!

362 - Beshalach

Toward the end of the parsha the Torah describes Bnei Yisrael's dire situation with regard to the lack of water in the wilderness. "There the nation thirsted for water and they complained to Moshe, 'Why have you brought us out of Mitzrayim - to kill me, my children and my animals through thirst?'" (Shemos 17, 3). Consequently, Moshe turned to Hashem for help: "What should I do for this nation? A little bit more and they will stone me!" Hashem responded, "Pass in front of the nation" with your staff in hand and hit the rock and water will pour forth. Rashi explains that Hashem responded, "Why have you falsely accused My children?" He then told Moshe specifically to "pass in front of the nation" to prove that Bnei Yisrael would not stone him.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that Moshe certainly was not exaggerating. If he stated that he was afraid that Bnei Yisrael were going to stone him, then he must have felt that Bnei Yisrael were arguing with him so vehemently that they had reached a point where killing their leader was only a matter of time. Nevertheless, Hashem rebuked Moshe, "Why have you falsely accused My children."

In a similar vein, the Medrash (Mechilta) says that there were three prophets: one defended the honor of the father while neglecting the honor of the son, one defended the honor of the son while neglected the honor of the father and the third defended the honor of both the father and son. Eliyahu defended the honor of Hashem (the Father) when he stated, "I have been zealous for the sake of Hashem." Yonah defended the honor of Bnei Yisrael (the children) when he ran away to avoid delivering the prophecy to the city of Ninveh lest their teshuva act as an indictment against Bnei Yisrael who failed to do teshuva. As a result, both of them were punished and Hashem terminated their role as neviim to Klal Yisrael. In contrast, Yirmiyahu, defended both Hashem and Bnei Yisrael when he declared, "We have sinned and rebelled, and You have not forgiven us." He was duly rewarded and his nevuah was doubled. Once again we see how careful one must be when speaking not only about Hashem Himself, but about his children as well.

If neviim were taken to task about the way they spoke about Bnei Yisrael, how careful must we be when referring to any of our brethren? They are not only our brothers; they are the children of the Creator. Even a derogatory word about a single Jew is inexcusable, how much more so when the subject of negativity is an entire group in Klal Yisrael! Words are powerful, and if they are used properly they can garner rewards on the caliber of doubling a prophet's prophecies! 

361 - Bo

Immediately after Moshe instructed Bnei Yisrael regarding the korban Pesach, the Torah tells us, "And Bnei Yisrael went and did as Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon" (Shemos 12, 28). This communication took place on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. If so, how could they have performed the mitzvah immediately upon being instructed if it was two weeks before the proper time? Rashi explains that although they hadn't actually performed the mitzvah, nevertheless, since they had accepted upon themselves to perform the mitzvah, the Torah considered it as if it had already been completed. An ironclad decision to comply is no different than an actual performance of the commandment.

Therefore, says Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash), Chazal tell us (Berachos 6a) that a person who made up his mind to perform a mitzvah but, due to circumstances beyond his control, was unable to fulfill his desire, is regarded as if he actually succeeded in this endeavor.

Elsewhere, we find another aspect of the magnitude of kabbalah - accepting upon oneself to comply with Hashem's will. Prior to Matan Torah Hashem told Bnei Yisroel, "And now, if you will surely listen to My voice and guard My covenant, you will be for Me like a treasure among all the nations" (Shemos, 19, 5). Rashi, bothered by the seemingly superfluous introduction, "And now," explains that Hashem was conveying to them that if now you (overcome the difficulties and) accept upon yourselves the Torah, henceforth it will be pleasant - because all beginnings are difficult. 

Entering the world of Torah study is a transition from a materialistic world into a spiritual world, which is not relegated to the specific time one spends studying the Torah. It affects a person twenty four hours a day seven days a week. However, this transition doesn't always go so smoothly. Many people find that exactly when they open a sefer to learn, they are inundated with a barrage of various thoughts: past memories, future worries, current events and various fantasies. The yetzer hara succeeds in convincing us that concentrating on these thoughts and enjoying these fantasies is a more worthwhile and pleasurable endeavor than focusing on the divrei Torah that lie open before us. How does one combat these unfavorable thoughts? He must make an ironclad kabbalah to devote himself to learning Torah. Once this has been accomplished, he will begin to feel the true pleasure associated with Torah learning and a Torah true life (Alei Shur vol I. pg. 23).

Often, a person encounters difficulties in his avodas Hashem and as a result gives up his worthwhile endeavors. If he would be cognizant of Chazal's axiom that all beginnings are difficult, he would be able to make an ironclad commitment to persevere, which might very well put him over the hump and grant him smooth (and pleasurable) sailing thereafter.

360 - Va'eira

This week's parsha describes the first seven of the ten makkos. Regarding the first three makkos the Torah tells us that they were brought about through Aharon hitting specific objects with his staff. The plagues of blood and frogs involved hitting the water and the plague of lice involved hitting the dirt. Chazal tell us that Moshe did not hit them himself because he felt indebted to the water for protecting him when, as a baby, he was placed in the Nile, and he felt indebted to the dirt for covering up the Egyptian whom he slew.

The obvious question is, since both water and dirt are inanimate objects that have no feelings at all, what difference would it make if Moshe would be the one to smite them? Rav Wolbe explains (Shiurei Chumash) that Moshe refrained from the action not because of the damage that would be done to the water and dirt, rather, because of the damage that would be done to Moshe's character traits. A refined person acts with a certain level of respect toward anything and everything, regardless of the nature of the entity involved. 

We find a similar idea with regard to the halacha of bizui ochlin - disgracing food. There are a number of different things that one may not do with food because such actions will result in the food becoming disgraced (see Orach Chaim 171). Although the food has no feelings, nevertheless, we must refrain from degrading the food because a person must act in a respectful manner. In a similar vein, Rav Wolbe related that when Rav Dessler would don his hat, he wouldn't grab it with one hand and place it on his head; he would respectfully pick it up with both of his hands! 

We might not be on the level of picking up our hat with both hands, but there are definitely things that we "kick around" that might deserve a little more respect. Moreover, if we are expected to act respectfully toward inanimate objects, how much more so must we be careful to act with respect to our family, friends, neighbors and colleagues! A lack of respect not only degrades them, it damages our character as well.

359 - Shemos

Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 339) that there are two main ways the Torah gauges a person's greatness. The first is via his level of emunah and the second is via his level of yirah. Examples of the latter can be found not only throughout the Torah, but in this week's parsha as well. Avraham Avinu justified his referring to Sarah as his sister: "For I said there is no fear of Hashem in this place and they will kill me because of my wife." After Akeidas Yitzchok Hashem told Avraham, "Now I know that you fear Hashem." About Amaleik the Torah writes, "And they did not fear Hashem." These are but a few of the numerous instances.

In this week's parsha we are told that the Jewish midwives, Shifra and Puah (a.k.a. Yocheved and Miriam), did not heed Pharaoh's command to kill the Jewish babies and, on the contrary, they did everything in their ability to keep them alive and healthy. The Torah tells us, "And the midwives feared Hashem and they did not do as the king of Mitzrayim spoke to them" (Shemos 1, 17). Additionally, the Torah relates that they were rewarded because of their yiras Shamayim: "Because the midwives feared Hashem, He made for them houses" (ibid. 1, 21). Rashi explains that the "houses" mentioned in the pasuk refer to the "house of kehunah"[Aharon] who descended from Yocheved and the "house of kingship" [Dovid] who descended from Miriam. 

Moreover, Chazal (Shemos Rabba 1, 16) tell us that also in this merit, Yocheved gave birth to Moshe, and Miriam became the forbearer of Betzalel who built the Mishkan. Accordingly, it's interesting to note that the yiras Shamayim described in these pasukim laid the groundwork for the entire Sefer Shemos. Shemos describes the redemption of Bnei Yisrael and the receiving of the Torah, both accomplished through Moshe, and the building of the Mishkan which was directed by Betzalel.

Rav Wolbe elaborates on the connection between yiras Shamayim and the houses that were built as its result. Yiras Shamayim can be described as the ability to withstand the trials that Hashem places before each person. It's the middah whereby a person builds his spiritual stature from start to finish. The midwives "built" themselves to the point that they were able to withstand the greatest test and they put their lives on the line to save the Jewish children. Measure for measure Hashem rewarded them. Reward in the Torah in not given as compensation for something that a person does, like a candy given to a child for good behavior. Rather, the reward is the very fruit that was born as a result of the action performed. They were endowed with the wisdom of building, and their actions bore fruit - houses were built for them!  

Not a day goes by that we are not tested in one way or another: Should we hurry through davening? How should we spend our time? Should we bring this or that into our house? The list is endless. Each and every time we withstand a test, we are building our spiritual stature, and as mentioned in this week's parsha, the fruit of such labor is tremendous!

358 - Vayechi

Before Yaakov Avinu passed away, he called all his sons together and blessed each and every one of them. Reuvein, the eldest and the rightful heir to the privileges of the firstborn, was the first to receive his father's blessing. "Reuvein, you are my firstborn, my might and my first strength; destined to be greater [than your brothers] in kehunah and kingship.  Hasty like water; you will not be foremost, since you ascended your father's bed" (Bereishis 49, 4). Rashi explains that in his hastiness he acted out of anger (when he removed Yaakov's bed from Bilha's tent) and as a result he lost his rights to kehunah and malchus.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) elaborates that one who acts out of haste cannot possibly be a king. A king must have the ability to remain composed in all situations, lest he act impetuously in response to sudden and disturbing news and possibly bring destruction upon the citizens for whom he is responsible. 

The same holds true for a kohein. One cannot work in the Beis Hamikdosh if he acts rashly. The Gemara (Pesachim 65a) tell us that Chazal did not institute Rabbinic restrictions in the Beis Hamikdosh since the Kohanim acted with zerizus (alacrity) and therefore, there was no need for extra safeguards. What does this mean? Isn't someone who acts with zerizus more prone to making mistakes? Rav Wolbe quotes his father-in-law, Rav Avrahom Grodzenski, who explains that zerizus is not found in the feet; rather, it is found in one's head. Zerizus is not haste - which makes waste, it is a zeal and fastidiousness which ensures that one does not deviate an iota from how he is expectedto act. Hence, Reuvein who exhibited the trait of haste was not a candidate for either of the above positions.

Rav Wolbe continues, that at first glance it's hard to understand how this rebuke can be called a blessing. However, in truth, it was one of the greatest blessings possible. Yaakov revealed to Reuvein his underlying character trait. Such a piece of information is worth much more than its weight in gold! It has the ability to set one on the proper path for his entire life by making him cognizant of the middah which, should it go unchecked, has the ability to destroy his avodas Hashem.

Rav Yeruchom Levovitz would say just as an underlying negative middah has the ability to derail one from his avodas Hashem, similarly, each person has an underlying middah that through it he has the ability to rectify all his faulty middos. We might need someone else to identify it for us, but once we do find out which middah resonates strongly throughout our character we should cherish the piece of information like we would a precious gem. It is the key to success in our avodas Hashem.

357 - Vayigash

After Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, the Torah tells us, "And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them, and afterwards his brothers spoke to him" (Bereishis 45, 15). Rashi explains that immediately after Yosef revealed his identity, the brothers were too embarrassed to speak to him. Only after he calmed them down and kissed each one of his brothers were they able to bring themselves to speak to him.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that Yosef's inner strength is astounding. Not only did he not harbor any ill feelings toward his brothers, he did all in his ability to ease their feelings of guilt: "It wasn't you that sent me here, rather, it was Hashem; and He has made me as an advisor to Pharaoh, a master over his house and the ruler of the entire land of Mitzrayim" (bid. 45, 8). 

This interaction could have easily looked much different. Many people when they feel wronged wish to get even with the offender, and their revenge is directly proportionate to how high they have climbed up the ladder of success. If the person offended were to become a monarch, the offender would probably pay for the offense with his life. This was not the case with Yosef who, despite his supreme position, didn't mention a word about revenge. Moreover, the Torah tells us that Yosef's only consideration before he revealed his identity was that his brothers shouldn't be embarrassed. For this reason, before he identified himself he demanded that all the Egyptians leave the room - although such a request put him in mortal danger. "And no one remained with him when Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers." 

Let's put ourselves in Yosef's shoes for a minute. Would we have the awesome inner strength to completely forgive someone who caused us so many years of hardship and anguish (G-d forbid); even if at the end of the day it turned out for the best? Most probably the answer is "no." 

Avodas ha'middos - rectifying our character traits, is the most difficult avodah that faces a person. We know where we stand, and the Torah informs us what we must strive for, via the stories of the Avos and Shevatim. As Chazal tell us (Tana D'bei Eliyahu 25), "A person must say, 'When will my actions rival the actions of my forefathers."

356 - Mikeitz

In this week's parsha we get a little glimpse of what will occur when Moshiach comes. Firstly, when Pharaoh had his dreams and failed to find an interpretation that suited his fancy, he was informed that Yosef had correctly interpreted dreams in the past and that he might be able to be of assistance. Immediately, Yosef was hurried out of the jail where he had been a prisoner for twelve years, given a haircut, his clothing was changed and he was brought before Pharaoh.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that Hashem decreed that Yosef should sit for an additional two years in jail (aside from the original ten years), but as soon as those two years were up, he was immediately freed from his bondage. He cites the Seforno (Bereishis 41, 14) who writes that Yosef's salvation was achieved in the manner that all salvations of Hashem are performed - instantaneously - as it is written (Yeshaya 56, 1), "For My salvation is at hand." This was the situation in Mitzrayim as described by the Torah (Shemos 12, 39), "For they were chased out of Mitzrayim" and this will occur in the future (when Moshiach arrives) as is written (Malachi 3, 1), "And suddenly the Master will come to His Sanctuary." The Gedolim of past generations would describe how they might be sitting down to learn and all of the sudden they would hear a newspaper boy outside, with a special edition just printed, announcing Moshiach's arrival. His sudden appearance will take us by surprise.

An additional preview of the coming of Moshiach can be found later on in the Parsha. When the brothers were brought in front of Yosef, he sat them according to age order, he gave them all portions and he gave Binyomin the biggest portion of all. It's mindboggling that despite all these clues into the true identity of the ruler who stood before them, nevertheless, the brothers failed to realize that he was in fact their brother Yosef. It was only after Yosef revealed himself that everything fell into place retroactively. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt"l said that we, too, are confused by everything going on around us in the world. Yet, when Moshiach comes and he reveals himself, we will suddenly understand, retroactively, everything that took place!

May we be zoche to the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days! 

355 - Vayeishev

In this week's parsha we read how Potiphar's wife attempted to seduce Yosef. Yosef countered, "There is no one greater than me in this house, and [Potiphar] did not withhold anything from me except you being that you are his wife, and how could I commit such a terrible action and I will have sinned before Hashem" (Bereishis 39, 9).

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) makes an interesting observation. Yosef asserted that if he would comply with her advances, then he will have sinned before Hashem. Wouldn't it have been more accurate to state that if they would sin together, then we will have sinned before Hashem? Rav Wolbe quotes the Kotzker Rebbi who offered an enlightening explanation. Had Yosef said "we" then he would have already been guilty of uniting himself - on some level - with his master's wife. Yosef wanted nothing to do with her; not even a connection of a linguistic nature! This once again highlights the idea discussed last week and the lesson of Chanuka. The Jewish People are a nation that "dwell's in solitude" and we in no way, shape or form wish to blend with the nations around us. 

Additionally, the above story demonstrates Yosef's extreme cautiousness when it came to the possibility of sinning. A few pasukim later we find another example of his fear of sin. When Potiphar's wife grabbed him, he left his garment in her hands and ran out. The Seforno explains that he ran out of the room lest his yetzer hara overwhelm him. Rav Wolbe comments that had we been in a similar situation we probably would have been sure of our capabilities to overcome our yetzer hara and not succumb to the temptation. Yosef's fear of sin was so great that he wouldn't take the chance. If Yosef Hatzaddik took such precautions shouldn't we be so careful when the possibility of a sin presents itself?

354 - Vayishlach - Chaunkah

After Dinah was abducted by Shechem, his father, Chamor, came to Yaakov and his sons and requested that they allow his son to marry Dinah. Yaakov's sons responded that it would be a disgrace for them to give their sister to an uncircumcised man. Therefore, only if every male in the city would circumcise himself would Bnei Yisrael give their daughters to the people of Shechem and likewise marry their daughters. Chamor and Shechem agreed at once and they also succeeded in convincing the rest of the citizens of their town to follow suit.

On the third day after their circumcision, Shimon and Levi entered the city of Shechem and killed every male, and took their sister Dinah and left. The Torah relates Yaakov's response to Shimon and Levi's actions: "You have sullied me, making me disgusting among the inhabitants of the land, and I am few in number, and should they band together and attack me they will destroy me and my household" (Bereishis 34, 30). To which they retorted, "Should our sister be treated like a harlot?"

The question begs to be asked: What type of answer was this? Yaakov was understandably worried for the safety of his family and they seemingly totally disregarded this concern. Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains their response as follows. The very essence of Bnei Yisrael is associated with the fact that they are, "A nation that dwells in solitude" (Bamidbar 23, 9). They cannot assimilate with the other nations of the world and the abduction of Dinah was the first instance where the other nations attempted to mingle with Bnei Yisrael and their daughters. Shimon and Levi's answer to Yaakov was that it is completely unacceptable to abandon a Jewish girl and let her live with a gentile. They could not remain silent in face of what had occurred, and annihilating the city was worthwhile even if their actions would cost them their lives!

The above was the first time that there was an attempt to cause Jews to merge with non-Jews, but certainly not the last time. The story of Chanukah was another such attempt made by the Greeks and Hellenists alike. Once again, the leaders of Bnei Yisrael decided that they would not remain silent to the situation at hand - even if it would cost them their lives! A handful of tzaddikim risked their lives to fight the mighty Greek army, and Hashem responded to the efforts of these righteous men and granted them a miraculous victory. Yiddishkeit does not allow for any assimilation with the non Jewish nations to the extent that it is worthwhile for us to give up our lives rather than forfeiting our ability to "dwell in solitude!"

353 - Vayeitzei

This week's parsha recounts Yaakov's prophetic dream. The Torah tells us that he dreamt that Hashem was standing over him. The Gemara (Chullin 91b) elaborates that when the angels perceived Yaakov's image etched into Hashem's throne, they became jealous and as a result wished to harm Yaakov. Therefore, Hashem stood above Yaakov in order to protect him. From this incident we can glean the greatness of man: He can reach a spiritual level greater than that of the angels to the point that his image will become etched into the Throne of Glory.

Rav Wolbe in his introduction to the second volume of Alei Shur writes that he is basing his sefer upon the concept of adam - man. He then proceeds to ask the following question: Since the Torah and mitzvos are the manifestation of Hashem's will and therefore the essential aspect of Judaism, why is he placing such an emphasis on the person himself? In other words one could ask, "What is the most fundamental aspect of Judaism: the Torah or the person who upholds the laws of the Torah?"  The answer can be found in the following Tanna D'bei Eliyahu (14).

"I (Eliyahu Hanavi) was once walking and a man approached me with a question: 'I have two things in this world that I love totally and completely: the Torah and Yisroel. Which one deserves preference?' I answered him, 'My child, most people would say that the Torah deserves preference for it is written "Hashem acquired me (the Torah) - the first of His ways". However, I say that Yisroel deserve preference for it is written, "Holy are Yisroel to Hashem - the first of His crop". This is comparable to a king whose wife and child were living in a certain house. The king wrote to the others living there, 'If not for my wife and child who are also living in that house I would have destroyed the entire place.' Likewise, if not for the Bnei Yisrael, the world would not have been created."

Rav Wolbe explains Eliyahu Hanavi's answer. The king's wife, whom he "acquired", represents the Torah which was acquired by Hashem. The king's child, the first of his "crop", represents Bnei Yisrael, the firstborn of Hashem. To be sure, both the Torah and Bnei Yisrael are important and are called "the first". However, the purpose, "the crop", of the creation is Bnei Yisrael. The purpose of the Torah is, that Bnei Yisrael in general and each person specifically, should reach the highest possible level of perfection.

Our Sages write (Pesachim 49b) that the Torah is likened to a betrothed woman for we find that the Torah writes, "Moshe taught us the Torah, (morasha) an inheritance for the congregations of Yaakov." Do not read it morasha (an inheritance) rather me'orasa (a betrothed). Why is the Torah compared to the wife of he who studies its laws? Would it not be more appropriate to describe it as the crown that adorns the head of the scholar who studies its precepts? The answer is that the Torah is the "eizer k'negdo" (helpmate) of the talmid chochom. The Torah, like one's wife, can help a person grow spiritually infinitely. The goal toward which we strive is perfection - to the best of our ability.

Adam Harishon had extraordinary abilities. His spiritual perfection allowed him to perceive what was occurring in the far corners of the Earth and up to the heights of the heavens. After he sinned he lost this ability, but not the capability to regain the previous level of perfection. Slowly but surely, beginning with Avraham Avinu and culminating with Matan Torah, Bnei Yisrael regained their former glorious status. This awesome spiritual level lasted for merely a few days until they once again lost their footing with the sin of the golden calf. The purpose of the Torah and the luchos shnios was to help them reclaim their prior magnificent madreigah. 

Shleimus Ha'adom (perfection of man) is what we aim for, and Torah is the conduit through which we can materialize this goal. However, we must not think that by a mere perfunctory performance of the mitzvos we will automatically reach shleimus. In the service of Hashem nothing comes automatically! Every mitzva performed earns reward, but shleimus only comes if one puts his heart into its performance and works on achieving perfection. Every step requires effort, but the realization of the magnificence attainable by a human being should be enough to encourage us to take the time to work on reaching this summit for which all of Bnei Yisroel must strive.

352 - Toldos

This week's parsha begins "These are the offspring of Yitzchak ben Avraham; Avraham gave birth to Yitzchak" (Bereishis 25, 19). Rashi enlightens us to the reason behind the pasuk's redundancy. The scoffers in Avraham's generation claimed that Sarah conceived during the night she spent in Avimelech's palace. After all, she was married to Avraham for many years and failed to become pregnant, and shortly after the incident with Avimelech she gave birth to a child. To squelch their claims, Hashem created Yitzchak with a countenance strikingly similar to that of Avraham, which made it clear beyond a doubt that it was Avraham who fathered Yitzchak. Accordingly, the pasuk is to be understood as follows: These are the offspring of Yitzchak, [whom it was clear to all that he was] the son of Avraham since [his facial appearance] bore testimony that Avraham begot Yitzchak.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that it is mindboggling to think about the fact that although Avraham Avinu who was one of the greatest people to ever set foot on earth, nevertheless, there were still scoffers who poked fun at him! The reason behind this phenomenon is rooted in the very creation of the world. Wherever Hashem created holiness He created the converse as well. Every generation has spiritually great men and every generation has the scoffers to counteract the holiness. The Maharal writes that even in the generation of Moshe and Aharon, Dasan and Avirom were there to ensure the spiritual equilibrium. This balance is imperative to facilitate man's free will. If it would be abundantly clear to everyone the integrity and intrinsic goodness of the righteous, there would be no possibility to choose a different way of life. Hence, there are always the scoffers who claim that the righteous aren't as righteous as they seem to be, and their way of life isn't necessarily the proper path to follow.

Our generation is no different in this aspect. There are the righteous and there are the scoffers; and there are those of us who are left in between with the responsibility of utilizing our free will to determine which side is right. Yet, one thing should be abundantly clear. The faction that holds tenaciously to the Torah and mitzvos is the group we are to join and whose lead we are to follow.

351 - Chayei Sara

This week's parsha describes in great detail the search for a suitable wife for Yitzchak. This narrative begins with Avraham appointing his servant Eliezer to accomplish the above task, and the ensuing dialogue. Rashi observes an interesting aspect of their conversation. Initially, Avraham tells Eliezer, "And I will make you swear by Hashem, the G-d of the heavens and the G-d of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of Canaan" (Bereishis 24, 3).  In contrast, a few pesukim later (24, 7) when Avraham once again describes Hashem, he refers to Him merely as, "Hashem the G-d of the heavens Who took me from the house of my father and from the land of my birth."

Rashi explains that Avraham was implying that when Hashem first spoke to him and commanded him to leave the house of his father, He could only be referred to as the "G-d of the heavens" since only a few people on earth recognized Him as the Creator. However, now, at the time of their conversation, Hashem was also considered "the G-d of the earth" since, due to tireless efforts, he succeeded in making Hashem known to the inhabitants of the world. 

What does this mean? What difference does it make if people recognize Hashem as the Creator or not; either way He created the earth? Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that certainly Hashem was the Ruler of the earth even prior to Avraham's involvement, but His Kingship was hidden. Thus, His relationship with the world was one of hester panim and judging according to the strict letter of the law, for as Chazal (Sanhedrin 111b) tell us, "When there are wicked people in the world there is [Hashem's] anger in the world." This resulted in punishments incurred by those who lived in the generations of the flood and the dispersion. 

In contrast, after Hashem became known down on earth, He began relating to the world with he'aras panim thereby judging with compassion and kindness. Hashem relates to the world in the exact manner that the world relates to Him. Avraham succeeded not only in changing people, but also in changing the way Hashem interacted with His world.

This idea holds true also on a personal level. To the extent that a person makes Hashem real and a part of his life, he will merit Hashem's involvement in His life. He is as connected as we want Him to be. Take a step toward Him and experience some of His infinite he'aras panim!

350 - Vayeira

Before destroying Sodom, Hashem felt it necessary to inform Avraham of the impending destruction. "Am I going to conceal from Avraham what I am doing. . . Ki yedativ - For I have cherished him." Rashi explains that although "yedativ" in this context is used as a term of affection, nevertheless, essentially the word yedativ means "I have known him." The rationale why this terminology is used to describe affectionate feelings is because when one cherishes another person he draws him close and becomes familiar with him. 

When one loves another person he will attempt to get to know him and become acquainted. In conjunction with this idea, Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) related a story about his Rebbi, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt"l. Rav Yeruchom once traveled by train from his hometown of Mir to Warsaw. In those days, all the Jewish passengers would congregate in a designated car of the train thereby enabling them to travel in a friendly atmosphere. Over the course of the trip each person would acquaint themselves with their fellow passengers. By the time Rav Yeruchom reached his destination he had acquainted himself with each and every passenger. Not only did he find out from where they originated, to where they were traveling, and each one's occupation, he also attempted to alleviate any plight of theirs. To one Yid he mentioned a prospect for his daughter, to another he suggested a possible partner for his business venture, and to others he offered advice in various areas. Rav Yeruchom loved Yidden and therefore he tried his best to get to know them.

It is an all too common occurrence that one sits next to another person on a daily basis and besides for a good morning greeting or a slight nod of the head, there is no other interaction between them. It might be the person in the next seat at Shachris, the individual across the table by lunch break, or an employee at work. One who has ahavas ha'brios will try to familiarize himself with the lives of those around him, not simply out of curiosity, rather because he has a true desire to acquaint himself with them and possibly offer assistance should the need arise. Take the initiative and strike up a friendly conversation with a Yid you would otherwise ignore. In the very least you will have increased ahava and shalom in Klal Yisrael, and in many instances you might actually be able to help them in some way and earn a mitzvah of chesed!