Tuesday, December 31, 2013

408 - Vaeira

This week's parsha recounts in great detail the first seven of the ten makkos. It is incredible to think about Paroh's reaction to the plagues. He suffers through a week of blood replacing all water, another week of frogs abounding in every possible corner, and a third week of being afflicted with terrible lice. Nevertheless, when these punishments pass he hardens his heart. In response to his stubbornness, he endures a week of ferocious animals wreaking havoc upon his kingdom and a week of animals dying and their rotting carcasses filling his country. These weeks also pass finally, and once again Paroh hardens his heart. He is suffering terribly and he simply ignores the pain! How can we understand such madness? 

Firstly, says Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash Shemos 9, 7) we must understand what a pivotal role one's "heart" plays in avodas Hashem. The entire Shema revolves around this exact idea. In the first paragraph we say, "And you shall love Hashem with all your heart. . . And you shall place these words upon your heart." In the second paragraph we continue, "And to serve Him with all your hearts." We must ensure that our Torah and avodah penetrate our hearts. Thereafter, we are warned that if we eat a little too much, "Be careful lest your hearts be swayed and you deviate and serve other gods." Such behavior brings exile in its wake. The only way out of exile is, "And you shall place these words upon your hearts" - we must rebuild our hearts which deviated from the service of Hashem. In the last paragraph we are warned once again, "Do not stray after your hearts and after eyes, after which you stray." Now that we have experienced the destruction wrought by our wayward hearts (described in the second paragraph) we must make an added effort not to stray after our hearts. 

The key to success in avodas Hashem is the ability to penetrate the heart with one's Torah and avodah. It's not enough to learn and perform the mitzvos; Hashem's words must be firmly implanted upon our hearts. 

This is where Paroh failed. Indeed, he suffered through each and every plague and he was as miserable as everyone else. Yet, he put up a tough front and he simply did not allow the pain and misery to penetrate his heart! Thus, as soon as the danger passed, he was back to his old ways. He was cognizant of what was happening, but the knowledge remained right there in his head and did not travel to his heart. In response, Hashem tells Moshe, "This time I am sending all my plagues to his heart" (Shemos 9, 14). The only way to change Paroh is to ensure that the suffering penetrates his heart. It's incredible to perceive the awesome ability of a human being to literally block out the most world shattering events from affecting himself. What's even more unbelievable is that we ourselves do this all the time! Often we know what the right thing to do is, and we simply ignore this knowledge and act on impulse. We might even be receiving "messages" from Hashem, and we "do whatever we can" to prevent the message from penetrating our hearts. Sometimes we have to take a lesson from Paroh. Stop closing your eyes to what you know to be true and begin serving Hashem with heartfelt avodah!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

407 - Shemos

The Ramban writes (Shemos 4, 21) that Moshe was the only person who could perform the numerous miracles in front of Paroh, and redeem Bnei Yisrael. With this in mind, says Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) it is difficult to understand the scenario described at the end of the parsha. Moshe, his wife Tziporah, and their children are on the way back to Mitzrayim. They stop off at an inn and an angel comes to kill Moshe for being derelict regarding the circumcision of his son.

Let's take a moment to properly appreciate what was about to happen. If Moshe Rabbeinu would have been killed there would be no redeemer for Bnei Yisrael! There was no second string redeemer; it was either Moshe or no one! How can we possibly understand that after Hashem spent a week "convincing" Moshe to agree to become the redeemer, He then sent an angel to kill him? The truth is that we have no answer. When it comes to middas ha'din (strict letter of the law judgment) we simply cannot comprehend Hashem's ways at all. 

On Shabbos, we say in birchos Krias Shema, "Who gives light to the entire world which He created with compassion." The rachamim mentioned, refers to that which Hashem gave us the ability to understand the workings of the world. There is a meticulous order to all aspects of nature, and, to a certain extent, we can know what to expect. In contrast, middas ha'din seems to confront people without rhyme or reason. While no one questions middas ha'rachamim, when, chas v'shalom, a person is challenged with midas ha'din, he starts asking, "Why?" In most instances we do not have an answer to his question.

Additionally, interestingly enough, while Hashem deals with most people with middas ha'rachamim, he acts with those closest to Him with strict judgment. We are used to the exact opposite type of behavior. When a close aide, or someone greatly needed in the hierarchy, slips up, his mistake is usually overlooked. Because he is such a great asset to the government or company, he is forgiven and the blunder is swept under the carpet. In Yiddishkeit, Chazal tell us that the opposite is true. "Hashem is meticulous with the pious and punishes them for an infraction even the size of a hairsbreadth."

There was no one closer to Hashem than Moshe, and there was no one more needed at that time than Moshe who was to act as the redeemer. Nevertheless, when he erred ever so slightly, the punishment was immediate in coming. The rationale is, the closer a person is to perfection, the greater the demand that he reach that pinnacle. If all he is missing is a hairsbreadth to reach the finish line, Hashem will not overlook that minor infraction, despite the fact that such an infraction is seemingly overlooked when performed by other people. 

We cannot comprehend Hashem's ways. Truth be told, says Rav Wolbe, this applies not only to middas ha'din, but also with regard to middas ha'rachamim. While we think we know the workings of nature, we don't really know what is going on. Every single day new marvels of creation are discovered, leaving us confounded and in awe of the Creator. Yet, this very knowledge that we cannot fathom Hashem's deeds, coupled with an ironclad faith that everything He does is solely for our good, should grant one a sense of security in any situation with which he may be confronted!

406 - Vayechi

Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 55) cites a fascinating Zohar on this week's parsha. The Torah describes Yaakov's passing with a most interesting term: "And the days of the death of Yisrael drew near" (Bereishis 47, 29). The Zohar asks the obvious question. Doesn't a person die on a single day; more precisely at a single moment? What does the Torah mean when it says that his "days" of death drew near? 

The Zohar answers as follows. When the time comes for a person to pass from this world all his days are reckoned and calculated. Each day that is found meritorious is brought near to Hashem while those that lack merit are isolated. The days of the righteous described by the Torah as "drawing near" refer to the days that have a connection with the Creator. Each and every one of their days was utilized properly, and therefore, they are all found worthy of being presented to Hashem. 

This idea is complemented by another statement of Chazal. The Medrash (Shemos Rabba 25, 13) tells us that Hashem declared, "I gave you the Torah in order that you should engage in it 'yom yom' - each and every day, as it states, 'Praiseworthy is the one who is diligently at my door yom yom', therefore, I will satisfy your hunger with the heavenly man yom yom - each and every day, as it states, 'And the nation went out and collected dvar yom b'yomo'". The days were not given to us as a means of studying Torah. Rather, the Torah was given to us as a means of properly filling our days! Each person is allotted a specific number of days which he must fill. Days marked by the performance of mitzvos are counted, while those that are marred by aveiros are discarded. A wasted day is not merely a lost opportunity for growth; it is in a certain sense a failure, since it is a day lost for all of eternity. Yet, the opposite is also true. A day filled with Torah study, mitzvos, chessed or tzeddakah, is a not only a vehicle for personal growth; it is a day that was utilized for its true purpose and as such, it will be accredited to one's eternal account in the World to Come!

405 - Vayigash

It is interesting to note the difference between how "living" is defined in Jewish terms and how it is defined by gentiles. After twenty two years of separation, Yaakov finally merits the indescribable joy of seeing his beloved son Yosef. During their reunion, Yaakov tells Yosef, "I could die (at) once after seeing your face now that you are alive" (Bereishis 46, 30). Rashi, citing the Medrash, explains as follows: "I thought I would die twice, in this world and in the next. Since the Shechina departed from me, I was certain that Hashem would hold me responsible for your death. Now that you are still alive, I will only die once."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) elaborates on Rashi's explanation. After Yosef was sold, Yaakov lost his direct connection to the Shechina. In Yaakov's world, life without a connection to Hashem was similar to death itself. He took such a "death" in this world as an indication of what would transpire in the World to Come where he would be held accountable for what had happened to Yosef. Thus, he was worried that he would die twice - once when he leaves this world, and a second time when Hashem punishes him in the World to Come. Now that Yosef was still alive, Yaakov was relieved that he would only die once - when his time would come to pass from this world.

To Yaakov, life meant a connection to Hashem. Earlier in the parsha we find a similar description of "life". When Yaakov realized that Yosef was still alive, the Torah tells us, "And the spirit of Yaakov their father was given life" (ibid. 45, 27). Rashi explains that Yaakov was revived in the sense that the Shechina once again rested upon him. In the Torah's terms, true life is one's connection to spirituality. 

In contrast, at the end of the parsha, the Torah recounts what occurred during the two years of the famine which ravaged Mitzrayim prior to Yaakov's arrival. The Egyptians came to Yosef begging for food. At first they paid with money, thereafter they bartered their livestock for wheat, and finally they offered their fields and themselves as payment for food. Yosef accepted their payment, and he gave them wheat for planting, stipulating that a fifth of the crop must be given to Paroh. The Egyptians replied, "You have given us life, may we find favor in your eyes and we will be slaves to Paroh" (ibid. 47, 25). As long as they had food to eat, they were living. For gentiles, life is limited to a fulfillment of their bodily needs.

There is living and then there is living! We often get so caught up in our day to day work and schedule that we don't even realize that although we might be alive, we might not be living. Shabbos is the perfect time to reflect on this idea and to take stock of our lives to enable us to really start living!

404 - Mikeitz - Chanuka

Parshas Mikeitz begins with Yosef's interpretation of Paroh's dreams. In light of Yosef's interpretation and subsequent suggestion of how to properly implement this newfound knowledge, Paroh recognized Yosef's leadership qualities and immediately appointed him viceroy to the king; essentially making him the second most powerful person in the world. This was the third time since Yosef's arrival in Mitzrayim that he was appointed to a position of prominence: firstly in Potiphar's house, thereafter in jail, and finally in the Paroh's palace.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash 41, 40) explains that this quality of leadership stemmed from Yosef's attribute of kedusha. Kedusha is true dominion, because when it is manifested, everyone automatically subjugates themselves. This same virtue is attributed to Moshiach, and when he reveals himself the entire world will submit to his dominion.

There is another connection between kedusha and kingship. The Maharal explains that there must always be a certain level of separation between the ruler and his citizens. Similarly, kedusha is defined by being separated from everything around it. As the Torah tell us, "You shall be holy for Me since I am holy, and I have separated you from the nations" (Vayikra 20, 26).

Kedusha is also what defines the difference between Bnei Yisrael and the Greek culture, and hence it is the key to understanding the Yom Tov of Chanuka. Greek culture revolved around the adulation of beauty. This manifested itself in their creation of statues, their sports and the various aspects of speech, art and song that make up what Chazal refer to as "Chochma Yevanis" (Greek wisdom).

However, for Jews statues are generally forbidden, their sports were shunned productions of promiscuity, and Chazal forbade studying Chochma Yevanis. Does this mean that Judaism detests beauty? The answer is no! As a matter of fact the Torah tells us that the beauty of the Greeks will reside in the Beis Medrash of the Jewish people. Thus the Torah may be translated into Greek because, aside from Lashon Haskodesh, it is the most beautiful language. Additionally, the pasuk tells us to prostrate ourselves, "in the splendor of holiness" i.e. in a beautiful Beis Hamikdosh. We also find that Yosef, who epitomized the attribute of kedusha, is described by the Torah as being exceedingly handsome. There is no coincidence here. Where there is kedusha, there is beauty. While the beauty of the Greek culture stems from a love of the physical, in contrast, the beauty of the Torah stems from kedusha - separating oneself from the physical!

The Torah writes that Sarah lived to be "one hundred years and twenty years and seven years." Chazal tell us that the Torah divided Sarah Imeinu's years into three parts, to teach us that at age one hundred she was pure without sin like a twenty year old, and when she was twenty she was as beautiful as a seven year old. Such a description is difficult to understand. Is a twenty year old not usually perceived as more beautiful than a seven year old? The answer is that true beauty comes as a result of kedusha, and at age seven a child is generally free of sin, and therefore closer to kedusha, than a twenty year old!

True beauty is not perceived by focusing on the physical, but rather, by causing the physical to be subservient to kedusha! 

A Freilichin Lichtege Chanuka!

403 - Vayeishev

Toward the end of the parsha the Torah relates how Yosef was falsely accused of improper behavior and consequently he was thrown into jail. Yet, he found favor in the eyes of the jail warden, and he was accorded preferential treatment. In an exact repetition of what occurred when he was in Potiphar's house, his superior entrusted him with the day to day management, and Yosef took complete charge of the jail and its inmates. The pasuk tells us, "The officer of the jail did not supervise anything for Hashem was with him, and whatever he did Hashem granted him success" (Bereishis 39, 23).

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) emphasizes that we should take note of the simple explanation of this pasuk. It is possible for Hashem to live with a person. No matter where a person finds himself, even if he is surrounded by a wholly secular or even antagonistic environment, he must realize that Hashem is with him. Yosef was in a forlorn dungeon together with a group of gentiles, in the basest, most immoral land, and nevertheless the Torah tells us clearly that, "Hashem was with him." Furthermore, one cannot blame his surroundings for his slacking off in his commitment to Torah and mitzvos, because Hashem can be found everywhere.

Rav Wolbe related that when he was in Sweden, he once present at a speech. In the middle of the speech the speaker mentioned that "the very atmosphere of Sweden is treif." Rav Wolbe felt a strong desire to vehemently protest such a statement, since it implied that Hashem is not to be found in Sweden! We know that, "His glory fills the entire world" and He can be found in the most far flung and desolate places. We simply have to look for Him, but if we make the effort, His presence will be clear beyond a shadow of a doubt.

This can be seen from the subsequent pesukim in the parsha. The Torah relates that shortly after Yosef was thrown into jail, two officers of the king were also imprisoned for their respective offenses. Rashi tells us (ibid. 40, 1) that the accusations leveled at Yosef by Potiphar's wife, generated a lot of negative talk about Yosef. Therefore, Hashem brought about the indictment of the king's officers so that everyone should shift their attention away from Yosef. Rav Wolbe quoting his Rebbe, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt"l, said that if we would have the "eyes of the Torah" we would be able to see Hashgacha evident even in the newspaper. Even in our generation, Hashem continues to act in the same manner. When the media starts attacking the religious Jews, Hashem reveals some scandal and the spotlight is thereby shifted from the Jews!

Our surroundings do not always support us in our avodas Hashem. Yet, we can choose whether or not to live with Hashem. He can be found in the ashrams of India, in Manhattan, and even in the North Pole. We simply have to look for Him. Yet, if we do look for Him, we can find Him everywhere, even in the daily headlines!

402 - Vayishlach

The Torah describes Yaakov's encounter with Eisav: "And Eisav ran to greet him and he hugged him, and he fell on his neck and he kissed him and he cried" (Bereishis 33, 4). Rashi cites an opinion in Chazal that this was a true display of Eisav's emotions. "Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, 'It is a halacha that Eisav hates Yaakov. Nevertheless, his compassion was aroused at that time and he kissed him wholeheartedly." 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) asks why Chazal referred to Eisav's hatred of Yaakov (i.e. the Jewish People) as a "halacha." Would it not it be more accurate to describe this phenomenon as agaddah? The answer is that agaddah and mussar are also halachos. Rav Avraham Grodzenski zt"l brought a beautiful "proof" to this idea. The Rif (one of the first Rishonim) wrote a sefer dedicated solely to summarizing all the halachos that are found in the Gemara. Yet, he included many agaddos in his sefer. The same can be said of the Rambam who wrote a similar type of sefer. 

We are mistaken in classifying the mitzvos involving our hearts or relating to middos, strictly in the category of mussar. The above Rishonim understood that even agaddah and mussar fall under the banner of halacha. As a matter of a fact, the constant mitzvos such as loving, fearing and cleaving to Hashem, which are the very fundamentals of the Torah, all relate to the duties of our hearts. 

Many people perceive mussar as extra credit. It's a nice thing to learn and live by, but it isn't as important as the studying and performance of the "real" mitzvos. It was due to this mindset that Rabbi Bachaya was prompted to write his renowned sefer, Chovos Ha'Levovos - Duties of the Heart. In his introduction he proves that the duties of the heart are just as obligatory as the duties of the body. Moreover, proper performance of the mitzvos involving the body is contingent on the proper performance of the mitzvos involving the heart! The Mishna Berurah writes that everyone is obligated to learn mussar every day. Someone who only had ten minutes a day to dedicate to learning once asked Rav Yisrael Salanter how that slot should be filled. Rav Yisrael answered that it should be spent studying mussar, and then he might realize that he really has more than ten minutes a day! We all know that we must invest time on a daily basis learning halachos. Shouldn't the agaddah and the chovos ha'levavos that pertain to us each day, and every part of the day, deserve at least as much consideration as those halachos that only apply once a week or once a year?

401 - Vayeitzei

This week's parsha recounts the birth of eleven of the shevatim. Leah gave birth to six of the shevatim and afterward she gave birth to a daughter whom she named Dinah. The root of the name Dinah is din (judgment) and Rashi (Bereishis 30, 21) tells us that there was a specific reason why she chose this name. Our Matriarchs knew that there would only be a total of twelve shevatim. Leah "judged" the situation and realized that if her seventh child would be a boy (and the eleventh sheivet), her sister Rochel would not give birth to more than one sheivet. Rochel wouldn't even parallel the maidservants who merited two shevatim each. Therefore, she davened to Hashem, and He switched her fetus from a boy to a girl!

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that such behavior is a demonstration of true lesheim Shamayim (for the sake of Hashem). Let us picture a darshan who preaches entirely leshem Shamayim. His sole intention and interest is the glorification of Hashem and His Torah, and he doesn't even take a penny for his work. What would happen if another darshan would arrive in town? Would he step aside and make room for another voice in town? Not allowing the second darshan to preach, would indicate that the first darshan's intentions were obviously not entirely leshem Shamayim.

Both Leah and Rochel acted entirely lesheim Shamayim. They both desperately wanted to give birth to as many shevatim as possible. Rochel sacrificed a great deal in order to procure dudaim that might enable her to have children. Leah was willing to sell the dudaim and her price showed exactly where her priorities were: Yaakov would sleep in her tent that night thereby possibly allowing her to merit yet another sheivet. Nevertheless, they were both willing to forfeit their greatest desire if it would be the cause of another person's pain. As seen in the above mentioned Rashi, Leah gave up having another boy (that she was already expecting!) when she realized that it would cause pain to her sister. Similarly, Rochel waited seven years to marry Yaakov, and in a split second decision she gave up everything and she informed Leah about the secret simanim. (She did not know then that he would end up marrying her too). Lesheim Shamayim means entirely for the sake of Hashem from beginning to end!

Each and every one of us is looking to grow in ruchniyus. However, we cannot step on someone else's toes to reach our goals. Bein Adam La'Makom cannot be achieved at the expense of Bein Adam L'Chaveiro. Our ultimate role models are the Avos and Imahos. Thus, Chazal tell us, "One is obligated to say, 'When will my actions rival the actions of our forefathers!'"

400 - Toldos

Although Yaakov and Eisav were twins and grew up in the same house, there were vast differences between their personalities as the Torah relates. "And the lads grew up, and Eisav became a man who knows how to trap, a man of the field; while Yaakov was a simple man who sat in the tents" (Bereishis 25, 27).

Rashi explains that Eisav's "knowing how to trap" refers to his ability to deceive. Eisav would ask his father seemingly spiritual questions thereby communicating a level of righteousness that he did not possess. In fact, he was an idol worshipper. In contrast, Yaakov was a "simple" man, one whose speech mirrored the way he felt in his heart. Rashi continues, "A person who does not use his cleverness to deceive is called simple." 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) elaborates on Rashi's description of "a simple man." Yaakov was also extremely clever. However, he did not use his cleverness to deceive others. Moreover, he did not use his cleverness to deceive himself! When a person has negios (personal biases) he often subconsciously uses his cleverness to trick himself. Such a person could come up with a hundred reasons that justify his behavior, and not realize that each and every one of them was borne out of his prejudiced way of thinking.

Rav Wolbe would relate that the Chazon Ish once commented that it is possible for a great man to commit a sin and still be considered great. The fact that he might have failed to overcome his yetzer hara one time, does not detract from his being a great person the rest of the time. However, one who has negios cannot be considered a great man, since such a person is blinded by his negios twenty four hours a day. When exactly can such a person be considered a great man?

Many of our decisions in life are based on our personal biases. Often it doesn't make a real difference what we decide in the long run. Yet, in many circumstances, and especially in the spiritual arena, our decisions could have long lasting and serious ramifications. How can we be sure that we are not subconsciously deceiving ourselves? Ask a great person. One of the amazing things about our Torah leaders is their lack of negios. They have the ability to rise above all personal biases and scrutinize things objectively. It is for good reason that Chazal tell us (Pirkei Avos), "Make for yourself a Rav!"

399 - Chayei Sarah

Sometimes a Rebbi is on such a lofty spiritual level that even many of his students have difficulty properly understanding him. Yet, it is often possible to decipher the Rebbi's intentions by observing the behavior of his closest disciple. Our forefather Avraham was a spiritual giant and it is difficult for us to comprehend his way of life. Taking a look at how his foremost disciple, Eliezer, conducted himself, will give us a window through which we can perceive Avraham Avinu. 

One who reads through this week's parsha, writes Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo), will notice the amount of tefillah and interaction Eliezer has with Hashem. Avraham sends him to Aram Naharayim on a mission to find a wife for Yitzchok. The very first thing he does when he enters the town is to offer a heartfelt prayer to Hashem: "Hashem, the G-d of my master Avraham, please . . . do kindness with my master Avraham" (Bereishis 24, 12). Shortly thereafter Rivkah approaches. In response to Eliezer's request for a drink of water, not only does she give him to drink, she draws water for his entire caravan of camels. When Eliezer asks her for her name and she introduces herself as a relative of Avraham, he immediately prostrates himself before Hashem. Finally, when he hears that Rivkah's father agrees to the match, once again he immediately bows down in gratitude to Hashem. 

This behavior of Eliezer was a product of living in his master's house. One of Avraham's primary chiddushim was the concept of davening. The Torah tells us, "He built a mizbeiach and called out in the Name of Hashem," and the Targum translates this to mean, "And he davened in the Name of Hashem." 

From the behavior of both Avraham and Eliezer, we can gain insight into the essence of tefillah. Tefillah is calling out to Hashem. If in whatever difficulty a person finds himself he calls out to Hashem, he demonstrates that it is only Hashem Who has the ability to provide true assistance. The most fundamental aspect of tefillah is this cognizance that one is speaking to Hashem. 

Rav Chaim Soleveitchik writes that there are two types of kavana that one must have while davening. He must concentrate on the meaning of the words he is reciting, and he must be cognizant of the fact that he is standing before his Creator. He points out that while knowing the meaning of the words is only m'akeiv during the first berachah of Shemoneh Esrei, the knowledge that one is standing before the Creator is m'akeiv throughout the entire Shemoneh Esrei! One who exerts much effort concentrating on the meaning of the words but fails to acknowledge that he is standing before Hashem, might be "learning the siddur," but he is not davening! Following the dictate of Chazal to spend a few moments contemplating what he is about to do before starting to daven, can change one's entire experience in Shul. Instead of simply "spending time" every morning davening, each tefillah can be used as an opportunity to create a stronger relationship with Hashem. It's an investment of a few moments that reaps immeasurable reward and satisfaction!

398 - Vayeira

The beginning of the parsha describes Avraham's encounter with the three angels disguised as Arabs. "And he raised his eyes and he saw, behold there were three men standing before him, and he saw and he ran towards them from the doorway of the tent and he bowed to the ground" (Bereishis 18, 2). Rashi bothered by the repetition in the pasuk, explains that the first "and he saw" is meant literally, while the second "and he saw" means that Avraham understood. He saw the angels standing still and he understood from their behavior that they did not want to trouble him. Despite the fact that the angels knew that Avraham would come to greet them, they did not walk in his direction, to honor him by demonstrating that they did not want to trouble him. 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that middas ha'chesed would dictate that they should not trouble an elderly man to walk out of his tent into the sweltering heat to greet them outside. Yet, they opted to honor Avraham instead of performing a kindness for him. The angels taught us an important lesson in interpersonal relations. When one has the choice of either honoring another person or performing a kindness for him, giving honor takes precedence over performing kindness. 

Nonetheless, a few pesukim later in the parsha we find that when the choice is between performing a kindness for others and one's own honor, priority must be given to kindness for others. The Ramban (ibid. 18, 7) explains why the Torah describes Avraham's preparations of the meal he served his guests: "To inform us of his great desire to do kindness for others. This great man who had three hundred and eighteen able warriors in his house, and who was extremely old and weak from his bris milah, went himself to Sarah's tent to urge her to quickly prepare the bread, and then afterward ran to the barn to select a good tender animal to prepare for his guests, and he did not perform any of this through his servants." 

With regard to returning a lost object Chazal tell us that if the finder is elderly and/or it is beneath his dignity to deal with such an object, he is exempt from the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. It is clear from this Ramban, says Rav Wolbe, that the above exemption does not applyto other types of chesed. Moreover, we often find that the greater the person, the greater the amount of effort he expends on performing kindness for others! We have so many opportunities on a daily basis to not only perform kindness for others, but more importantly, to honor them. Telling a colleague what an asset he is to the company or complimenting a spouse on a job well done, can do wonders for that person. The good feeling will last much longer than a cup of coffee that we might prepare for them!

397 - Lech Lecha

Many of the details mentioned in the stories recounted in Sefer Bereishis seem to be irrelevant or inconsequential. Why do we need to know how many wells were dug by our forefathers or exactly who prepared the food for the heavenly visitors to Avraham's tent? What is the significance of the Torah telling us about Avraham's travels through the land of Canaan or where he went when there was a famine in the country?

The Ramban in this week's parsha addresses this exact question: "I will explain to you a general rule regarding all the upcoming parshios that deal with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Everything that happened to our forefathers is symbolic of what will occur to their children. Therefore, the Torah relates at great length the travels, the digging of the wells and the other various occurrences. One might think that these stories are unnecessary, while in reality they were all written to inform us of what will happen in the future" (Bereishis 12, 6). For example, the Ramban (ibid. 26, 20) explains how the three wells dug by Yitzchak symbolize the three Batei HaMikdash that will exist over the course of time. 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) elaborates on this idea. In order for a tree to grow one must plant a seed in the ground. The type of tree is determined by which seed was planted and how it took root. Just as this concept is true with regard to the physical world, it applies to the spiritual realm as well. The Avos are not only our roots in a physical sense, they are also our spiritual roots because every action of theirs was carried out with the intention of creating a spiritual nation. Their actions are the seeds, and the sprouts that grew out of those seeds can be perceived through what has occurred to the Jewish People in the course of history. 

When Bilam planned to curse Bnei Yisrael, his intention was to annihilate them by destroying their roots. For this reason he had seven alters built, since he wished to rival the seven mizbeichos that were erected by our Avos. However, he was unsuccessful in his attempts, as he himself stated: "I look at their beginnings and their roots and I see that through the actions of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs their foundations are concrete like mountains and hills" (Rashi to Bamidbar 23, 9). 

Although the Avos succeeded greatly in their endeavors, nevertheless, they had the ability to do even more. Chazal tell us (Bava Metzia 85a) regarding Avraham's hospitality toward the three malachim that every action he performed personally garnered a reward that was performed by Hashem Himself, while every action that Avraham performed through an emissary garnered a reward that was performed by an emissary of Hashem. Additionally, a few pesukim later in this week's parsha (ibid. 12, 10) the Ramban writes that because Avraham did not place complete faith in Hashem that He would sustain him in the time of famine, and left the country in which he had been commanded to reside, his offspring suffered the exile in Mitzrayim! 

Chazal tell us that it was because Avraham took along Talmidei Chachomim when he waged war against the Four Kings, that his descendants became slaves in Mitzrayim for two hundred and ten years. What should Avraham done differently? How could he fight mighty armies with a handful of warriors? It seems that Avraham who was planting seeds with every action, could have done even more, thereby changing that which would sprout from his actions.

How does all this apply to us? Firstly it gives us a new appreciation of every single word written in the Torah. Additionally, there are instances when we too have the ability to plant seeds for the future. Every Rosh Hashana plants the seeds for the following year and during those two days we must be extra careful with our behavior. Finally, this knowledge gives us an incentive to strive for greater heights. If the Torah tells us that even Avraham could have done more, then most certainly we can do more. Perhaps if we take a look at how much Rav Ovadya Yosef zt"l accomplished in his lifetime, we will get an appreciation of what a single person can accomplish. Yehi zichro baruch.

396 - Noach

Hakaras hatov is not only a beautiful middah, it is a middah which is dictated by common sense. This being the case, why do people have such difficulty showing their appreciation to those who have helped them? Moreover, it is clear from this week's Parsha that a lack of gratitude has been ingrained in mankind since the time of creation.

In the midst of the construction of the tower of Bavel the Torah tells us, "And Hashem descended to see the city and the tower that were built by the offspring of man" (Bereishis 11, 5). Rashi, citing Chazal, asks why it is necessary for the Torah to inform us that the tower was built by the offspring of man. Would we have thought that it was built by the offspring of donkeys or camels? Rashi explains that "man" (adam) mentioned in the above pasuk refers not to human beings but to Adam Harishon. The Torah is emphasizing that their behavior resembled the behavior of their forefather. Adam, after eating from the eitz hadas, blamed his wife and thereby displayed a lack of gratitude to Hashem for giving him a wife. So too, the builders of the tower whose intention was to fight with Hashem, were ungrateful to He Who saved them from the flood. Although Adam's lack of hakaras hatov was displayed toward Hashem and not another human, it is clear that he too had difficulty with this middah.

Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 280) that there are two basic reasons why people do not show hakaras hatov. The first reason is that people simply think that they deserve everything they receive so there is no reason to thank the benefactor. A child is born without intelligence and by the time he is old enough to comprehend what is going on, he is already used to being healthy, well fed, dressed and taken care of. Additionally, a person is born with a sense of egocentricity that places him in the center of the universe and causes him to act as if everyone around him has been placed there simply to serve him!

It takes a lot of work to free oneself of these feelings and to come to a realization that absolutely nothing, including life itself, can be taken for granted. One who comes to such a realization lives in a bright and happy world for he perceives everyone around him as active members of a huge world of kindness. In contrast, others look upon the doctor, bus driver or storeowner as people who do their job for no reason other than to make money, and therefore, he finds no reason to thank them for their services.

The second reason that prevents people from expressing gratitude is the feeling of indebtedness to their benefactor. Acknowledging that you benefited from another person means that you owe him something in return, and no one likes to feel indebted. Hand a child a candy and he'll snatch it and run away without saying thank you. (Rav Yeruchom Levovitz would say that if you want to do a complete favor for another person, immediately after doing the favor you should ask the beneficiary to do a small favor for you thereby preventing the feelings of indebtedness).

Hakaras hatov might be a difficult middah to master, but it is well worth the investment. It is the key to good interpersonal relationships, a great marriage, and a real connection with our Creator!

395 - Bereishis

The end of Parshas Bereishis lists the generations from Adam until Noach. The Torah prefaces this list with the words, "Zeh sefer toldos ha'Adam - This is the account of the offspring of Adam" (Bereishis 5, 1). The Ramban comments that aside from the simple meaning of the words, there is another explanation. The word "sefer" mentioned in the above pasuk is not merely referring to the genealogical account recorded in the ensuing pesukim, it also refers to the book of the Torah in its entirety.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) elaborates on this idea. Most people live their lives without putting much thought into their behavior. Their thoughts, actions and speech are "hefker" and they are the results of their whims. In contrast, one who learns Torah is affected so profoundly that his very essence and conduct change for the better. As the Rambam writes (Hilchos Da'os 5. 1), "A Talmid Chochom is distinguishable by his actions, his speech and his manner of walking." It is the Torah that is responsible for this enhancement of one's personality.

While gentiles are awed only by one who erects a colossal building or founds a distinguished organization, the Torah teaches us that our awe should be reserved for different accomplishments. Overcoming a test and conquering one's yetzer hara, or correcting a negative middah is something which should be truly awe inspiring! The Torah teaches us the greatness man is capable of reaching: "This is the book which describes the offspring - accomplishments - of man."

Since man's true essence is defined by the Torah, every mitzvah or aveirah affects the spiritual makeup of his body. There were great people who were able to discern which averiah others had transgressed. The Arizal once told a disciple that he had transgressed the aveirah of causing pain to an animal. Indeed, the disciple had eaten before he fed his animal violating the halacha that mandates that a person feed his animal before partaking of his own meal. When the disciple later stood before the Arizal after having rectified his misdeed, the Arizal mentioned that it was noticeable that he had rectified the aveirah!

Reb Yerucham Levovitz would cite another example of where the greatness of man is clearly discernable. In Parshas Matos the Torah describes at length the halachos pertaining to one who makes a neder (vow). It is simply mind boggling that a human being has the ability to forbid something upon himself through his speech in a manner that is just as binding as any other mitzvah written in the Torah and commanded by Hashem Himself!

As we begin a new cycle of parshios, let us bear in mind the purpose of the Torah. Every aspect of the Torah has the ability to affect some facet of our lives. Through learning Torah, slowly but surely, all our mannerisms will change for the better and people will declare, "Praiseworthy is his father who taught him Torah, praiseworthy is his Rebbi who taught him Torah (woe unto those who haven't learned Torah). Look how beautiful are his ways and how proper his actions!" (Yoma 86a).

394 - Sukkos

Chazal tell us (Sukkah 2a) that a sukkah taller than twenty amos is pasul, and one who sits inside it does not fulfill his obligation. The Torah commands us to sit in a sukkah, "So that your generations will know that I caused Bnei Yisrael to reside in sukkos when I took them out of Mitzrayim"(Vayikra 23, 43). The Gemara infers from this that a person can only fulfill his obligation when he knows that he is residing in a sukkah. When the sukkah is higher than twenty amos ones eyes do not notice the s'chach and he doesn't know that he is sitting in a sukkah. 

What do Chazal mean? It is hard to believe that because one's peripheral vision does not notice the s'chach he simply doesn't know that he is sitting in a sukkah! Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 296, Da'as Shlomo) explains that although he knows where he is sitting, nevertheless, he is missing the added level of awareness afforded by his vision. 

With this in mind, Rav Wolbe explains the pasuk, "And you shall know today and ingrain it in your heart that Hashem is the G-d in the heavens above and on the earth below" (Devarim 4, 39). The Torah chose the same wording both with regard to the mitzvah of sukkah and the obligation to know Hashem. Chazal revealed to us that "knowing" refers to a level of certainty achieved when aided by one's physical senses. If so, the level of one's knowledge that there is a G-d, must parallel the level of knowledge needed for one to fulfill his obligation of hsukka. Hence, it is incumbent upon a person to attain a concrete awareness of Hashem which can be emotionally felt (what Balei Mussar refer to as emunah chushis). 

However, the mitzvah of emunah requires even more. While it is incumbent even upon gentiles to know that there is a G-d - as the Torah tells us regarding the Egyptians, "And Mitzrayim will know that I am Hashem," only Bnei Yisrael are expected to have emunah. 

Emunah is the ability to speak to Hashem in second person: "Blessed are You Hashem." It is the ability to truly believe that when one davens, Hashem literally stands opposite him and hears every single word he utters. It is the ability to recognize Hashem in all his bodily functions, in all of nature and in all of history. It is to acknowledge that we are completely surrounded by Hashem at all times. 

Sukkos affords us an opportunity to contemplate these ideas. The Vilna Gaon said that sukkah is the only mitzvah in the Torah in which one is totally enveloped in the mitzvah! The sukkah, which symbolizes Hashem's "clouds of glory," reminds us not only of the Divine Providence Bnei Yisrael merited in the desert, but also about the Divine Providence each of us merit every single day! Chag Kasher V'Sameich!

393 - Yom Kippur

Chazal tell us that there are three books open on Rosh Hashana: "Those who are completely righteous are immediately signed and sealed for life. Those who are completely wicked are immediately signed and sealed for death. Those who are in between, hang in balance until Yom Kippur; if they are found meritorious they are written for life and if they are not found meritorious they are written for death" (Rosh Hashana 16b). Conventionally, the righteous and the wicked are defined by the amount of mitzvos and aveiros they have performed; the righteous have more mitzvos than aveiros while the opposite is true for the wicked.

The Alter of Kelm challenges this explanation. He asks, since the Gemara states that one who fails to observe even a mitzvah d'Rabbanan is called wicked, how can the litmus test for righteousness be dependent on the proportion of mitzvos to aveiros? It is very possible that one might have more mitzvos than aveiros, and nevertheless, he will be considered a rasha because he failed to observe a Rabbinic commandment! It must be, says the Alter, that righteous and wicked in the above context do not refer to the amount of mitzvos or aveiros they performed, rather it describes a person's standing with regard to teshuva. One who is near to performing teshuva is righteous, while the opposite is true for the wicked. Even if one has performed numerous sins, if in his heart he bemoans his lowly spiritual state and has a true desire to rectify it, in Heaven he is included in the book of the righteous!

Rav Wolbe (Ma'amarei Yemei Ratzon pg. 228) asks, according to the above explanation, how is one supposed to understand "Those who are in between" who are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked? A person is either near to the performance of teshuva or far from performing teshuva; he cannot be both near and far at the same time. The answer, he says, can be found in the Selichos recited on Erev Rosh Hashana (Selicha 28).

"[Man] serves two masters during the course of his life. He does the will of his Creator or of his (Evil) Inclination as he pleases. It is good to embrace his Creator at all times for then he is a servant free from his (evil) master." While it is true that man serves his Creator - he learns Torah, davens, performs mitzvos and acts of kindness - he also serves his Evil Inclination. When he finishes his learning session and sits down to eat, goes to sleep or spends time with friends, he wishes to take a break from the spiritual yoke and do as he pleases. Most of us can relate to this desire to "have the best of both worlds."

This is an apt description for "those who are in between" mentioned above. In the realm of spirituality such a person might regret his laxity in Torah study and his lack of concentration during davening, and in these aspects he is close to teshuva. Yet, in those areas where "he serves his Evil Inclination" and it doesn't even dawn upon him that there is anything he should rectify, he is far from the performance of teshuva.

Our avodah on Yom Kippur is to recognize that "it is good to embrace his Creator at all times for then he is a servant free from his evil master." While attaining the spiritual level where every aspect of one's life is geared toward serving his Creator is a lifelong endeavor, it all begins with recognizing that we have only one true Master. Not only is this recognition the cornerstone for performing teshuva, it brings with it true freedom, "for then he is a servant free from his other master!"

G'mar Chasima Tova!

392 - Rosh Hashana

Rav Wolbe writes (Ma'amerei Yemei Ratzon pg. 388) that the avodas hayom of Rosh Hashana is "to confuse the Satan." In other words, we are to contest the erroneous assumption that the yetzer hara is made out of steel and there is no way to overcome him. From all of our tefillos on Rosh Hashana which revolve around the Final Redemption, there is one thing that should become clear: Evil is not an invincible entity. When Hashem reveals His glory, "all evil will dissipate like smoke." Our objective is to leave Rosh Hashana with a true belief that the evil in the world can and will be destroyed, and that the evil within us i.e. the yetzer hara, can also be vanquished. It might take time, but with Hashem's help and with the strength of the Torah we can conquer him!

Yet, interestingly enough, on Rosh Hashana itself we often sense the yetzer hara arousing feelings of rebellion inside of us. Sometimes one feels that it is more difficult to concentrate on the tefillos on Rosh Hashana than it is on a regular weekday! Why is it that on the day which Hashem reveals Himself most clearly, we find the most difficulty in connecting to Him?

This phenomenon can be explained as follows. Chazal tell us (Shabbos 88a) that when Bnei Yisroel stood at Har Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above their heads to force them to accept the Torah. The Gemara continues that since this was the case, Bnei Yisroel could always excuse a laxity in their performance of mitzvos since they were forced to accept the Torah. Acceptance with a gun to one's head cannot be considered a completely genuine acceptance. Nevertheless, the Gemara concludes that in the days of Mordechai and Esther Bnei Yisroel reaccepted the Torah wholeheartedly.

It is clear from Chazal that a forced acceptance is not completely genuine, and can sometimes engender feelings of rebellion. Who knows if the golden calf did not come as a result of their forced acceptance? In contrast, when one accepts something willingly, no feelings of rebellion are aroused. If one feels forced into davening on Rosh Hashana, he might feel a counterforce from inside. However, if one approaches the tefillos with a sense of happiness that he has the ability to accept upon himself the yoke of Hashem, he will not experience any resistance. 

The truth is, we definitely have what to be happy about."That he has not made us like the nations of the world and not made our portion like the portion of their masses." "For we know that true dominion is before You." 

"Praiseworthy is the nation who knows how to blow the shofar, Hashem, they will walk in the light of Your countenance!" "In Your Name they will rejoice all day and in your justice they will be uplifted." If we approach Rosh Hashana with a positive outlook - that there is nothing in the entire world greater than accepting Hashem's Kingship - we will b'ezras Hashem merit a Kesiva V'Chasima Tova and a year full of spiritual and material bounty!

391 - Netzavim Vayeilech

This week's parshios contain an awesome declaration: "For this commandment that I command you today is not hidden from you nor is it distant from you. It is not in the heavens. . . It is not on the other side of the ocean . . . Rather, it is very near to you; in your mouth and in your heart to perform it" (Devarim 30, 11-14).

While the Ramban explains that these pesukim refer to the mitzvah of teshuva, Rashi asserts that they refer to the Torah. Rav Wolbe (Ma'amerei Yemei Ratzon pg. 378) writes that despite the great distance that separates Hashem from His creations, we have the ability to bridge this gap through the Torah which is near to us. All the mitzvos given to us are to be performed by the physical body and not by the neshama. The Aseres HaDibros begin with "Anochi Hashem" and end with commandments warning us to refrain from killing, adultery and coveting. The intent is that the Torah should penetrate every part of our body, thereby positively affecting us and our physical desires.

Additionally, the Torah does not explicitly refer to the next world. The Kuzari explains that since our purpose is to connect to Hashem, the Torah does not say, "If you do this, after you die I will bring you to a place of pleasure." Rather the Torah says, "And you will be for Me a nation and I will be for you a G-d; and I will guide you." The purpose of the Torah is to bring us close to Hashem in this world.

Moreover, the mitzvos, although they are spiritual, become part and parcel of the physical makeup of those who perform them. The Gemara (Menachos 43b) relates that Dovid Hamelech entered the bathhouse and cried out, "Woe unto me that I stand bare of all my mitzvos" i.e. tefillin, tzitzis and mezuzah. When he remembered his bris milah he was relieved. The obvious question is, since one is not even allowed to think about holy things in a bathhouse certainly it is not a place to perform mitzvos. If so, why was Dovid Hamelech so bothered by his lack of mitzvos? 

The answer is that when Dovid realized that he stood bare of mitzvos, it dawned upon him that the mitzvos he performed were obviously not part and parcel of him. He deduced this from the fact that it is possible to be in a situation where one is bare of all mitzvos. Once he remembered about the bris milah which was impressed on his body, he was comforted that the mitzvos are not merely actions performed; their spirituality fuses into the very makeup of a person!

If we would realize just how close we could come to Hashem, we would have a totally different outlook on life in general and Elul in particular. Elul gives us an extra dose of Heavenly assistance in becoming closer to Hashem. Let us not miss this golden opportunity and make the best out of the last week of this awesome month!

390 - Ki Savo

Rav Wolbe writes (Ma'amerei Yemei Ratzon pg. 89) that the ninety eight curses mentioned in this week's parsha were written with a specific intention in mind. They reveal and clarify for Bnei Yisrael in exactly which aspect they have veered from Hashem's will. For example, the Torah tells us, "Because you did not serve Hashem your G-d with happiness . . . You will serve your enemies" (Devarim 28, 47-48). Hashem punishes measure for measure.

This middah is not limited to punishment. Chazal tell us that if one "passes over" his middos i.e. does not get riled up when someone wrongs him, Hashem will "pass over" his transgressions (Rosh Hashana 18a). This idea is alluded to by David Hamelech in Tehillim (121, 5) when he stated "Hashem is your shadow." Just as one's shadow mirrors his every action, so too, Hashem responds to us in a way that mimics our actions. If we open our hands to give tzedakah, He will open His hand and shower us with bounty. Similarly, if we act with kindness and compassion to those around us, He too will act with kindness and compassion toward us.

Din (judgment) is a frightening notion. How is one supposed to pass through the din of Rosh Hashana signed and sealed for a sweet year full of blessing? Chazal revealed to us the secret. You yourself decide how you will be judged! The way you act is the way Hashem acts with you. If we place an emphasis on acting with kindness and compassion toward others (even if they might have rubbed us the wrong way) we can be certain that Hashem will deal with us in a similar fashion!

388 - Shoftim

The Torah instructs us, "You should be wholehearted with Hashem your G-d" (Devarim 18, 13). Rashi explains that one should go with Him unquestioningly and not investigate what the future will bring. Whatever Hashem brings upon a person should be accepted wholeheartedly, and then "he will be with Hashem and be His portion."

Rav Wolbe (Ma'amerei Yemei Ratzon pg. 31) elaborates on this idea. By nature, a person thinks much more about the future than he does about the present. His imagination runs wild with the unlimited possibilities and opportunities that the future might bring. The Torah instructs us not to spend our time contemplating or worrying about the future; rather, we should let life run the course set by Hashem and accept everything that happens wholeheartedly.

Additionally, Shlomo Hamelech stated, "Do not say, 'How was it that former times were better than these?' since that is not a question prompted by wisdom" (Koheles 7, 10). Chazal (Yalkut Shemoni Shmuel I on the above pasuk) tell us that Yiftach in his generation paralleled Shmuel in his generation and one must follow the judge of his generation. One shouldn't spend his time reminiscing about former glorious times. Preferring to focus on the past rather than on the present is not something which is borne out of wisdom. 

Rav Wolbe elaborates on this idea too. The past is often viewed with greater clarity than the present. This is because the past has already occurred and one can clearly behold his accomplishments. In contrast, the present is vague since one does not and cannot yet know the outcome of any act he might perform. A person tends to favor dwelling on concrete accomplishments more than on unclear possibilities that might be achieved through his actions. Hence, Shlomo informs us that it is not smart to escape to the chambers of one's memory instead of concentrating on present actions. 

In summation, the Torah is teaching us that one shouldn't worry about the future nor should he long for the past. Rather, one should focus all his efforts toward investing into the present. Chazal tell us that Hashem judges a person according to his present state since the present both encapsulates the past and is the seed for the future. Every day and every tefillah in Elul is an opportunity to connect to Hashem in a way that is not possible during the rest of the year. Don't worry about the future and don't live in the past - make the best out of every day as it presents itself!

387 - Re'eh

In this week's parsha we read, "For you are a holy nation unto Hashem" (Devarim 14, 21). The Sifrei has an interesting commentary on these words: "Make yourself holy with regard to things that you permit. If you are of the opinion that a specific thing is permitted, nevertheless, when you find yourself in the company of those who forbid it, you should not permit it in their presence." 

Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. I pg. 137) comments that if it were up to us to describe what is wrong with permitting something in the presence of those who forbid it, we most probably would have focused on a different angle. We would understand that such behavior is improper because one is not taking into account the feelings of those who act stringently. Moreover, he might even cause them to henceforth disregard their stringency due to his actions.

However, it is clear from the Sifrei that states, "Make yourself holy" that the focus is not on those who act stringently; rather on the one who wishes to permit the stringency. The Sifrei is revealing an incredible aspect of kedusha (holiness). When one finds himself in the company of those who are more vigilant, this should arouse a desire to emulate them at least for the duration of time that he spends in their presence! 

This aspect of kedusha can be defined as "applying that which one perceives around him to himself." In a similar vein Chazal tell us, "He who sees a sotah in her state of degradation, should abstain from wine" (Sotah 2b). The Torah is telling us that instead of decrying the perpetrator and the terrible transgression committed, one should direct his focus inward and concentrate his efforts on ensuring that he himself never commits such a sin.

It was this fault that Chazal (Bamidbar Rabba 16, 5) attributed to the meraglim. Even though they had seen what happened to Miriam when she spoke derogatorily about Moshe Rabbeinu, they failed to apply the lesson to their own personalities.

A wise man not only learns from the mistakes of others, he learns from everything that occurs to others. The Baal Shem Tov would say that everything a person sees is to be taken as a message from Hashem as to how we ourselves appear. If we see something, we were meant to see it in order that we take a lesson from it. Instead of getting annoyed at the fellow who double parked his car, we should think of the many instances where we are guilty of similar behavior (even if not to the same degree of insolence). This is not only the proper outlook on life with regard to improving one's character; it also has numerous benefits regarding ones bein adom l'echaveiro!

386 - Eikev

What is our objective in the chinuch of our children? The answer, says Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. I pg. 260), can be found in this week's parsha. In the second paragraph of Krias Shema we read, "And you shall teach them to your children [so that they will] discuss them" (Devarim 11, 19). The Ramban notes that we were already commanded in the first paragraph of Shema, "and you shall instruct them to your children and you shall discuss them when you sit in your house . . ." (ibid. 6, 7). What more is the Torah adding in the second paragraph? 

He explains that in the first paragraph the Torah focuses on the studying of the father: "And you shall discuss them when you sit in your house . . ." In contrast, the second paragraph adds that we should teach our children in a manner that will cause them to discuss the Torah at all times. Additionally, the first paragraph commands us to "instruct our children" i.e. relate to them all the mitzvos, while in the second paragraph we are commanded to "teach them to our children." This implies that the Torah studied should not merely be stated; rather it should be given over with clarity and in a manner that enables the child to understand the reasons behind the mitzvos.

Our objective is to create a situation where our children will discuss the Torah on their own. The means of accomplishing this task is by the father giving over the Torah ideas and values to his children with clarity and the proper explanation. It is specifically the father that has an exceptional ability to connect his children with Hashem.

With this in mind it is imperative that there always be a positive relationship between father and child. "It is forbidden for one to impose an added measure of fear in his house, since much damage is caused by such undo fear" (Gittin 6b). While the children are still young, the mindset in the home must be focused on the future. The parents must ensure that the atmosphere in the home does not exude fear or the like, lest these numerous negative impressions culminate in the child forsaking his parent's way of life in his adolescent years.

The golden rule of chinuch can once again be found in Chazal (Shabbos 32a). "Even though the Rabbis stated that a person must say three things in house on erev Shabbos, they must be said pleasantly so that his words will be accepted." Things which are not stated softly and with patience are simply not accepted. Even if a child complies with his father's demands, the father should not fool himself into thinking that he has been mechaneich his son in the long run! Also, demands that appear reasonable to a parent might be perceived by a child as completely irrational. Therefore, even if the child fails to comply with a parent's request, there is no need for immediate punishment. Rather, the parent should reiterate his request with quiet determination.

For many, the summer offers a rare opportunity for parent's to spend extra time bonding with their children. Investing a little thought into how to make the most of this opportunity goes a long way toward the future of a child!

384 - Tisha B'Av

The twelfth kinna read on Tisha B'Av is titled "O'hali Asher Ta'avta." This kinna was composed by Rav Elazar HaKalir, and each stanza concludes with a pasuk that ends with the word "po" (here). Rav Wolbe explains (Da'as Shlomo, Alei Shur vol. II pg. 409) that Rav Elazar HaKalir encapsulated the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh in a single word, "here." 

The Kuzari writes that the King of Kuzar asked an interesting question. Why is it that other religions (such as Islam) promise great reward in the next world, while the Torah hardly makes any mention about the reward that awaits us in the World to Come? The Chassid answered that other nations cannot guarantee anything with regard to this world. Therefore, all their promises revolve around the next world since there is no way for a human to prove such promises wrong. In contrast, the Torah does not need to rely on promises that will only be fulfilled in the world to come since it has the ability to guarantee the way our lives will look in this world. The greatest guarantee is Hashem's declaration, "And I will be for you a G-d and you will be for Me a nation" (Vayikra 26, 12). The Torah pledges that if we fulfill Hashem's commandments, we will have and feel a true connection to Hashem right here in this world. 

This is what Bnei Yisrael lost with the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh. Hashem's Shechina was here on earth for all to see, and when the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed we lost this closeness and the resulting awesome spiritual levels. The profundity of this destruction grows as the galus lengthens, since it becomes more and more difficult to comprehend how Hashem could actually be found in this mundane mortal world. It used to be obvious that true fulfillment and pleasure in life could only be achieved through closeness to Hashem. We have since lost this clarity. 

One of the early Rishonim, Rabbeinu Tam, writes that every person experiences "days of love, and days of hatred and despair." Some days our avodas Hashem seems to flow easily, while on other days we feel sluggish and every aspect of avodas Hashem seems like a heavy load. Rav Wolbe says that this is because on days that awareness of Hashem's closeness is felt more strongly it is easier to fulfill His dictates, while the opposite is true on days when we are less cognizant of His closeness. 

The Beis Hamikdosh was a point of connection. It was the site where the physical connected with the spiritual, and it was abundantly clear to all how they were intertwined. The destruction caused the spiritual to become separated from the physical, and from then on it became increasingly difficult to discern spirituality here in this world. Nevertheless, despite the many years of exile and destruction, Klal Yisrael is still aware that Hashem does exist here. We merely must make an effort to look for Him. 

Tisha B'Av is the day which was given to us as an opportunity to contemplate just how far we have drifted from Hashem's Shechina which (even today) can be found here on earth. It is amazing to think that Tisha B'Av is actually called a mo'eid. This is because we are able to realize that despite all the destruction, Hashem can still be found right here on Earth! May we merit the ultimate closeness to Hashem with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdosh speedily in our days!

383 - Matos - Ma'asei

After Bnei Yisrael conquered the nations living on the eastern side of the Yardein, the shevatim of Reuvein and Gad approached Moshe with a unique request. They stated that since they owned great quantities of livestock, and the newly conquered land was very fertile, they preferred to be allotted land on the eastern side of the Yardein rather than in Eretz Yisrael proper. 

Moshe was upset with their request and the Torah (Bamidbar 32, 6-15) recounts his stern reply. He berated them for not wanting to enter Eretz Yisrael. He told them that their fathers were guilty of the same transgression and as a result that entire generation perished in the desert. "And behold you have risen up in place of your fathers, a group of transgressors, to add to Hashem's anger against Yisrael. For if you will turn away from Him, he will once again let them remain in the desert, and you will destroy this entire nation." 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) notes that the Targum translates, "if you will turn away from Him" as "if you will turn away from fearing Him." Where exactly was their yiras shamayim lacking? All they wanted was that their portion of Eretz Yisrael should be allotted to them in the newly conquered area. If there was anything wrong with what they requested, it would appear to merely be a shortcoming with regard to bein adom l'chaveiro. How could they expect the entire nation to fight the many wars on the other side of the Yardein while they would sit complacently in the comfort of their homes? What does this have to do with a lack of yiras Shamayim?

Rav Wolbe answers as follows. When one sits in his house with all the shades closed, he sees nothing except for what is in the room together with him. If he would open the shades, he would be able to see everything going on in the street down below and in the sky up above. Similarly, when one's focus is directed inward he perceives nothing but him himself, and everyone else, whether other people or even Hashem, do not receive the proper attention. Only when a person shifts his focus outward does he become cognizant of both other people and his Creator. A flaw in bein adom l'chaveiro is an indication that there is also a flaw in one's yiras shamayim.

The Beis Hamikdosh was our connection to Hashem, and it was destroyed due to sinas chinom which is a flaw bein adom l'chaveiro. There is no better time than the Three Weeks to work on rectifying this shortcoming. Shifting our focus to others is the best way to help rebuild the Beis Hamikdosh and restore our connection with Hashem!

382 - Pinchas

The first Ramban in the parsha makes an interesting statement. He explains that Hashem informed Moshe that He would reward Pinchas for "avenging the vengeance of Hashem," and for the kindness that he performed for Bnei Yisrael by preventing all of them from dying in the plague. Moreover, Hashem commanded Moshe to inform Bnei Yisrael that Pinchas would be a Kohein Gadol forever!

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that at that time Elazor filled the position of Kohein Gadol. We know that there can be only one Kohein Gadol at a time, so what does the Ramban mean by asserting that Pinchas would always be a Kohein Gadol? (For this reason some versions actually delete the word "Gadol"). 

A similar same question could be asked regarding the wording of "al hanisim." We say, "Bi'mei Mattisyahu ben Yochanon Kohein Gadol." Yet, historical records indicate that Mattisyahu was not a Kohein Gadol! Because of this problem, the Reform Movement deleted that word from al hanisim! 

However, says Rav Wolbe, the Reform Movement simply misunderstood Chazal. When they gave Mattisyahu the title of Kohein Gadol, they didn't mean that he filled the position of Kohein Gadol and served as the highest ranking Kohein in the Bais Hamikdosh. Chazal were describing the accomplishments of Mattisyahu. When he fought against the Hellenists, he was acting in a fashion which is exemplified by the Kohein Gadol. 

This is also the intention of the above Ramban. When Pinchas killed Zimri, he was given the appellation Kohein Gadol not because he was to serve in the Mishkan on Yom Kippur, but rather, since he acted with the greatness (gadlus) that is the hallmark of a Kohein Gadol. As the Ramban continues, Pinchas was worthy of such a reward because he killed both a Nasi and the daughter of a king and did not fear them due to his great vengeance for Hashem. A Kohein Gadol stands up for Hashem's honor no matter whom he is up against.

Accordingly, the right to the title Kohein Gadol is not limited to selected descendants of Aharon who lived in the times of the Bais Hamikdosh. Every person has the ability to become a Kohein Gadol. Standing up for Hashem's glory even when it might cost one his prestige (or even his life) earns one the appellation Kohein Gadol! There are numerous occurrences, even on a daily basis, that present an opportunity for a person to stand up for Hashem's honor. Asking someone to turn off his phone in the Bais HaMedrash, motioning that it is forbidden to speak during davening, and softly reminding someone that we shouldn't speak lashon hara are just a few. As the Torah tells us regarding Pinchas, the reward for such actions is immense!

381 - Balak

After Bilam arrived in Moav, the Torah describes how Balak prepared him to properly curse Bnei Yisrael. "And it was in the morning, and Balak took Bilam and brought him up to the heights of Baal, and from there he saw the edge of the nation" (Bamidbar 22, 41). Why did Balak feel the need to show Bilam the Jewish Nation? Couldn't Bilam curse them from the comfort of his office? The Ramban (ibid.) explains that Balak specifically led Bilam to a place where he would be able to see Bnei Yisrael with his own two eyes, because one's very being is deeply affected by what he perceives. The success of the curse depended on the impression that seeing Bnei Yisrael would make upon Bilam's heart. 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) notes that we find a similar situation with Moshe Rabbeinu. When Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim, Amaleik came out to greet them with a sword in hand. Yehoshua gathered a group of men who would wage war, while Moshe went to the top of the mountain to daven for their success. There, too, the Ramban (Shemos 17, 9) explains that Moshe specifically chose a spot from which he would be able to see those below (and they too would be able to see him) for it would positively affect his prayers. 

Rav Wolbe continues that true awareness is only achieved when one perceives something before his eyes. If one wants to truly feel the pain and suffering of a poor person, he should take a walk to his house and view his dire living quarters.

We can take his concept a little further. If we can perceive an event in our mind even if we cannot actually see it, this will affect us and improve our emunah in a way that cannot be fathomed by one who has simply read about these events in a sefer. Chazal tell us that on the Seder night we are supposed to perceive ourselves as if we left Mitzrayim. If we can recreate and depict in our minds the exodus, then we can succeed in truly feeling as if we too left Mitzrayim. Moreover, Rav Wolbe often quoted the Kuzari who writes that imagination was given to us as a tool to conjure up pictures of our rich past, such as the Akeidah, Ma'amad Har Sinai and the Beis Hamikdosh. Seeing something, whether with our eyes or our mind, allows us to appreciate its true impact.