Thursday, September 11, 2014

443 - Ki Savo

The entire world is full of pleasures. Some pleasures are a reality, while some pleasures are mere fantasy. Chazal tell us (Berachos 55b) that a wicked person is shown enjoyable dreams in order to give him pleasure, so that he will consume the reward for his good actions in this world. A vision totally disconnected from reality is also a source of pleasure. The truth is that even from a spiritual standpoint our purpose is to find pleasure through our actions. As the Mesilas Yesharim tells us (chap. 1), "A person was created to find pleasure in Hashem and to enjoy the radiance of His Shechina."

However, says Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) not all pleasures were created equal. A drunkard might immensely enjoy indulging in a favorite alcoholic drink. Yet, shortly thereafter his stomach hurts, he vomits, and, covered in filth, he falls asleep in the middle of the street. When he sobers up he is no better off since his mood is terrible and his entire body aches. His pleasure was short lived.

The uniqueness of the Torah is that it doesn't just guide us to pleasure; it guides us to lasting pleasure, i.e. true happiness and contentment. A quick perusal of this week's parsha reveals a veritable handbook to such pleasure. The parsha begins with the mitzvah of bikurim, "And you shall rejoice with all the goodness that Hashem has provided you and your family." We are meant to appreciate and enjoy whatever Hashem gives us. The parsha continues with vidui ma'aser where, regarding the mitzvos associated with the produce of the land, a person declares, "I have fulfilled all that You have commanded me to do" i.e. I was happy and I made others happy (see Rashi). Thereafter he petitions Hashem, "Look down from Your holy abode from the heavens and bless Your nation Yisrael and the land that You have given to them." 

Further on the Torah tells us, "Hashem has distinguished you today to be his treasured people. . . and to make you supreme over all the nations that He made - for praise, for prominence, and for splendor." We have a treasured and supreme connection to Hashem that elevates us above nature and beyond the confines of all other nations.

The Torah continues with the blessings and curses associated with the performance of mitzvos. We know that reward for mitzvos is not given in this world. If so, why are all the blessings given to those who perform the mitzvos connected to our physical needs which are limited to the present world? The Baalei Mussar explain that the blessings mentioned are not a reward for the mitzvos rather they are an automatic outcome of the mitzvos. One who travels on the beaten path will pass rest stops offering a wide array of amenities, while he who strays from the beaten path will encounter only thorns and thickets. The Torah is the guidebook to traverse life with all the proper amenities! On the other hand, the curses come as a result of, "Not serving Hashem with happiness and goodness of heart - despite great abundance." The Torah is rhetorically asking, "True happiness and contentment is found in the Torah. How could it be that you didn't find your happiness in all that the Torah has to offer?" 

The parsha ends with the pasuk (as explained by the Targum), "You shall guard the words of this covenant and perform them so that you will succeed in all that you do." Success is one of the defining factors of happiness and contentment.

For many people, happiness is limited to watching television, surfing the net, listening to music or enjoying a good book. Rav Wolbe related that in France they took a survey where they asked people, "What is happiness", and "Are you happy?" Most answered that happiness is "financial stability" and only eight percent answered that they are happy! What a pathetic world! In contrast, we have the ability to achieve true and lasting happiness through Torah, tefillah, Shabbos, and the many other opportunities that the Torah affords us!

442 - Ki Seitzei

What happens when two people have a dispute? The Torah describes the legal process: "When two people have a dispute and they approach the court and they judge them; the court vindicates the righteous one and finds the wicked one guilty. If the wicked one deserves lashes the judge should bend him over and hit him according to his wickedness. He shall hit him forty times, no more, lest he hit him an additional time and your brother will be degraded in your eyes" (Devarim 25, 1-3). 

Rashi points out the obvious question. Three times the pessukim refer to the one found liable as wicked and immediately thereafter the Torah refers to this same wicked man as your brother. What changed that the Torah ceased to refer to him as a wicked person and chose a more positive term? What changed is that he received forty lashes. Once he received his punishment he is no longer wicked. He is your brother - no different than any other Jew. 

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) notes the great difference between the way the Torah deals with a wrongdoer and the customary way a court of law deals with an offender nowadays. When a criminal is caught, he is brought to court and they open a file. Even after he receives his punishment, his name is forever tainted and he is black listed as a convict. Additionally, on a social level it is difficult for him to regain his former stature and renew his past relationships. In the world of Torah law this is not the case. As soon as the punishment has been meted out, the offender becomes your brother in every possible way. 

Moreover, Rav Itzele Blazer would say that from a Torah view, even a thief has to be dealt with in a respectable manner. If he has the money to repay what he stole, he must make restitution, and no one will know what occurred. This differs greatly from the way thieves are dealt with in contemporary society where as soon as someone is caught, his crime is publicized, which can ruin his entire life. The mitzvos bein adom l'chaveiro are not limited to those completely righteous. The halachos apply even to criminals, and if so, they most certainly apply to your neighbors and colleagues. Even if you do not see eye to eye with them on a few or even numerous occasions, this does not absolve you from acting toward them in the same way that you would act toward your close relative. Although the difficult person is not your blood relative, he is still your brother!

441 - Shoftim

Elul is a unique opportunity. Every year Hashem gives us a month packed with rachamim to be used in preparation for the upcoming judgment that will take place on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. What is the way to properly utilize this extraordinary gift? The answer can be found in the Ramban in this week's parsha.

The Torah exhorts, "Tzedek tzedek tirdof" - Righteousness righteousness shall you pursue so that you will live and inherit the land (Devarim 17, 20). After explaining the simple meaning of the pasuk, the Ramban quotes a Medrash which explains the pasuk with a kabbalistic approach. Although the complete intent behind his words is beyond our comprehension, there is still an important message that can be gleaned from the explanation: "Tzedek refers to the attribute of judgment in the world. If you judge yourself, 'You will live' and if you do not judge yourself, Hashem will judge you and force you to live."

How does one judge himself? Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) explains that he must answer the following question: "What do I want to achieve and accomplish with my life?" i.e. "What is my true desire?" The Gr"a (Mishlei 16, 2) writes that every person has an underlying core desire which is the source of all his actions and speech. This desire encapsulates the true aspiration of his life. However, this desire is buried deep inside a person and is therefore difficult to unearth. When one succeeds in discovering this desire he will have gained clarity into his essence and his truest aspiration.

This revelation has the ability to bring a person to teshuva. When he realizes that his actions are directed by a wayward desire, this should galvanize him to rectify the situation. Indeed, this is a difficult task and it can be compared to a heart transplant! He must uproot the desire and plant a new one in its place. This is not a task which can be completed in a day. It could very possibly take months or years to completely correct the situation. Yet, the very fact that he wishes to change his errant aspiration already places him in the category of "one who comes to purify himself" and is guaranteed that "he will be helped".

The teshuva process begins with the realization that one is straying after a core desire. This realization can only be achieved if one asks himself the above question. If one takes a minute each day of Elul to ask himself what he really wants from life, he will be well prepared for the Yomim HaNoraim. As the Ramchal writes (Derech Eitz Chaim) this pointed question is "the best and strongest remedy that one can find against the yetzer hara; it is simple and the results are tremendous!"

440 - Re'ei

Rav Wolbe cites the Seforno on the first pasuk of this week's parsha: "See that I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse" (Devarim 11, 26). The Seforno explains, "See to it that your actions are not mediocre like the behavior of most people. For I have placed before you today a blessing and a curse which are the two extremes. Blessing is bounty much greater than what one needs to manage and curse causes a deficiency where one does not have enough to manage. Both of these options are available for you to choose". 

This idea of going to the extreme with one's actions is rooted in the Gemara in Brachos (63a). "Bar Kapara taught, 'What is a small parsha that encapsulates the entire Torah? In all your ways you shall know Him.'" Every single action should be carried out with the aim of "knowing Hashem." If one's decision to follow the path paved by the Torah is halfhearted, his actions will be mediocre. Rather, one's commitment, and hopefully in turn his actions, should be passionate. His mind should be focused on a single path, and all actions should be performed with the intent of doing the will of the Creator. 

Such a directive seems to deny us any possibility for pleasure. However, if we take a look at another pasuk a little later in the parsha, we will find that this notion is totally incorrect. Regarding the mitzvah of ma'aser sheni (the tenth of one's produce which must be eaten in Yerushalayim), the Torah explains part of the rationale behind the mitzvah. "You shall eat before Hashem in the place that He has chosen to reside in, the tithes of your grain, your wine, your oil, your cattle and your sheep so that you will learn to fear Hashem your G-d all the days" (ibid. 14, 23). The Torah "forces" us to eat our produce in the environs of the Bais Hamikdosh, because such a visit has the ability to ingrain yiras Shamayim in a person. 

Yet, a few pesukim later the Torah states that one who does not have the ability to bring all his produce to Yerushalayim, should redeem the produce with money, take the money to Yerushayim and buy produce there. "And you shall eat there before Hashem and rejoice - you and your family." Wasn't the purpose of eating the produce in Yerushlayim to instill fear? How does happiness make its way into the parsha of ma'aser? The answer is the secret of a Torah true existence. Only in Judaism do fear and happiness go hand in hand. The very focus on doing Hashem's will and fearing Him is what brings a person true happiness! Directing all of our thoughts and actions toward one goal is a tall order, but at least we know where we should be heading. Moreover, if we knew how much happiness it could bring us, we would have started heading there a long time ago!

439 - Eikev

Twice in this week's parsha, we are urged to follow in Hashem's ways: "Now Yisrael, what does Hashem ask of you? Only to fear Hashem your G-d, to follow all His ways and to love Him" (Devarim 10, 12). The parsha ends with the second mention of this idea: "For if you will fulfill this mitzvah that I command you, to love Hashem your G-d, to walk in His ways, and cleave to Him . . ." (ibid. 11, 22). These are two of the numerous times that the Torah refers to the idea of our actions mirroring Hashem's actions, which refers to perfecting one's middos.

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) notes that we find this concept mentioned even before Bnei Yisrael received the Torah. After experiencing the awesome Heavenly revelation during the splitting of the sea, Bnei Yisrael declared, "zeh Keili v'anveihu." Rashi, in one explanation, writes that v'anveihu is composed of two words, ani v'Hu - I and Him: I will make myself like Him by cleaving to His ways. The Maharal writes that the common denominator of all the interpretations of zeh Keili v'anveihu is the publicizing of Hashem's Name in this world. With this in mind it would seem that the objective of ani v'Hu is to glorify Hashem's Name in this world, rather when perfecting one's way.

Accordingly, following in Hashem's ways has two different purposes. The mitzvah to walk in His ways was given to us as a means of attaining perfection. If we emulate Hashem's deeds then we, too, will attain a certain level of His perfection. However, there is another aspect to following in Hashem's ways that is not focused on the person performing the deeds, rather, on his Creator. If we act in a manner that mirrors the ways of Hashem, we will have succeeded in creating a kiddush Hashem, glorifying His Name in the world. 

Which ever aspect you choose to focus on, it is clear that the Torah places a great emphasis on the importance of good middos. Moreover, it is clear from Chazal that they perceived negative middos as the reason behind the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. Baseless hatred is singled out as the cause for the destruction. Additionally, the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza where a man was publicly embarrassed due to his strained relationship with his host, was perceived by Chazal as the catalyst for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh.

Summer months generally bring us into close proximity with many other families in a way different from the rest of the year. Other people's dirt, noise or inconsideration are great ways to get us angry. If we can control our middos then we have succeeded in walking in Hashem's way, thereby perfecting ourselves and glorifying Hashem's Name in the world!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

438 - Va'eschanan

Rav Wolbe visited a cannon brigade during the Yom Kippur war. He writes (Iggros V'Kesavim II pg. 6) that he was amazed by their living conditions. They live extremely simply without any comforts. They sleep in their clothing and they do not even take off their shoes! The constant tension and the fact that they are so far from home add to the difficulty. 

He thought to himself that if only we would fight the "war of Torah" with the same mindset as those soldiers - living with only the most basic necessities - we would grow to great heights in Torah. The problem is that we think that such an existence is only for soldiers; and we're simply not soldiers. So, we allow ourselves a little more comfort, a little more relaxation and a little more fun. After all we deserve it. The result is that instead of becoming big, we remain very small people spiritually!

Unfortunately, Eretz Yisrael is once again in the midst of a war. Nothing has changed with regard to the living conditions of the soldiers. They sleep in their clothing and they shower every few days with water bottles. Most probably nothing has changed with our mindset either. "Thank goodness we don't have to live under the conditions which the soldiers live," we think to ourselves. 

Although we certainly do not expect people to begin sleeping in their clothing with their head resting on sandbags, there are definitely aspects of a soldier's lifestyle that we can incorporate into our avodas Hashem. Not everything has to be exactly perfect before sitting down to learn or embarking on a mitzvah. Grab the opportunity whenever it presents itself. Additionally, before entering the battlefield, the soldiers must give in their cell phones. Before we enter the Torah battlefield i.e. the Beis Medrash, we should also give in, or at least turn off, our cell phones. 

Summer is a time for relaxation for many. Nevertheless, let us not forget that at all times we are soldiers in Hashem's army. Our conscientiousness with our avodas Hashem has the ability to bring the soldiers fighting in Gaza home safely (and keep them home!) and restore peace to those living in Eretz Yisrael!

437 - Devarim - Tisha B'av

The Gemara (Chagiga 5a) tells us, "Rebbi was holding a sefer Eichah and reading from it. When he reached the pasuk, 'He threw the glory of Yisrael down from the heavens to the earth" the sefer fell from his hands and he exclaimed, '[Bnei Yisrael were hurled] from a tall roof to a deep pit.'" The pasuk already told us that Bnei Yisrael were thrown down from the heavens to the earth; what was Rebbi adding when he exclaimed that they were cast into a deep pit?

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) explains that we have a basic misconception with regard to the Churban. We perceive the mourning associated with the Churban specifically in regard to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, the holiest site on earth. While the destruction of this hallowed abode was an enormous tragedy, it is not the only aspect we mourn on Tisha B'Av.

When the Bais Hamikdosh stood, the Jewish Nation lived a "heavenly" existence. Their entire lives revolved around spirituality. Ruach Hakodesh abounded and the simplest Jew lived and breathed ruchniyus and constantly strived to attain higher levels in this area. Their actions were a constant display of kavod Shamayim. It is quite probable that even the non-Jews lived on an altogether different level.

When the Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed, we did not merely lose a holy building; our entire world drastically changed for the worse. The Jewish People were cast from their heavenly existence down to the ground. However, Rebbi felt that Bnei YIsrael did not land on the ground. They fell into a deep pit devoid of any spiritual light and air. The physical world became the focus of attention, and with its great allure it draws people in - hook, line and sinker. Money and honor became the name of the game. Bnei Yisrael had landed in a deep pit. This pain is compounded with the pain felt by the Shechina being sent into galus. This is the tragedy that we mourn on Tisha B'Av.

Rav Wolbe adds a timely idea connected to the above pasuk. Rashi explains that after Hashem raised Bnei Yisrael to the highest heights of the heavens, he threw them down in one swift motion and not little by little. The Medrash adds that while the climb up was an arduous journey, the tumble down happened in a split second. When middas hadin (strict judgment) strikes, it strikes suddenly without warning. However, we find the same idea regarding the geulah, as the pasuk states (Malachi 3, 1), "Suddenly the Master whom you are awaiting will enter His Sanctuary" with the arrival of Moshiach. [May we merit his speedy arrival!]

Additionally, says Rav Wolbe, we find that Hashem often tests a person by seeing how they react when suddenly placed in a specific situation. The Medrash tells us that Kayin, Bilam, and Chizkiyahu all failed to properly answer Hashem when He appeared to them without warning. Had they had time to think about their response they certainly would have answered differently, but the litmus test to determine a person's level of spirituality is how he reacts when suddenly faced with a test. Preparation in advance arms a person for all scenarios. The summer months often come along with various situations that arise during vacation. One should prepare himself before embarking on his vacation lest he lose his bearings when faced with scenarios that might compromise his normal level of observance.

436 - Masei

The Torah commands us, "The land shall not be sold forever, because the land belongs to Me; for you are sojourners and residents with Me" (Vayikra 25, 23). The Seforno explains that although the pasuk in Tehillim states "The heavens are the heavens for Hashem and the land He gave to mankind," nevertheless, Eretz Yisrael is not included in that declaration. The land still belongs to Hashem, and we are mere sojourners in His land.

Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. I pg. 282) comments that accordingly our entire inheritance is merely a kinyan peiros -the ability to eat the fruits of the land, while the ground itself remains in the possession of Hashem. This idea is emphasized in the words of the bracha achrona. We thank Hashem, "For the desirable, good and spacious land that You were pleased to give our forefathers as an inheritance, to eat from its fruit and to be satisfied from its goodness." Our ownership of the land is limited to eating its produce.

The truth is that the ability to eat the produce of the Eretz Yisrael is a gift much greater than the superficial ingestion of food. In the bracha achrona we ask Hashem to return us to Eretz Yisrael "And we will eat its fruit and be satisfied by its goodness." Some poskim (see Tur O. C. Siman 208) maintain that these words should not be mentioned because the reasons that we desire to return to the Promised Land is not for material benefits i.e. to partake of its produce. Rather, we yearn to return to enable us to perform the mitzvos that can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael.

However, the Bach (ibid.) asserts that the words should be mentioned, and he bases his opinion on a pasuk in this week's parsha: "Do not defile the land in which you dwell, in whose midst I reside, for I am Hashem Who resides in Bnei Yisrael" (Bamidbar 35, 34). He explains that when Bnei Yisrael refrain from aveiros, Hashem literally resides inside the Land. Hence when they ate the fruit of the land they were, so to speak, ingesting the Shechina! Accordingly, the Shechina resided inside of Bnei Yisrael! Should the land become contaminated with sin, the Shechina that resided in the Land will depart. Moreover, when the fruit which draws its nutrients from this impure land is eaten, the impurity will then be transferred into the one eating the fruit, thereby ejecting the Shechina from his body too! Hence, when we make a bracha achrona we are expressing our spiritual desire to once again merit to eat from the fruits of the land that are imbued with the Shechina, thereby transforming our physical bodies into an abode for the Shechina! Indeed, acquiring "merely" the produce of the land is no small achievement! It is the conduit for hashra'as ha'Shechina; the very reason we were given the land. 

With this, says Rav Wolbe, we can understand an interesting Gemara. Chazal ask (Sotah 14a) why Moshe Rabbeinu had such a great desire to enter Eretz Yisrael. "Was he interested in eating its fruit or becoming satisfied from its goodness? Rather, he wanted to perform the mitzvos that are connected to the land and can only be performed there." Chazal specifically focused on the eating the fruits and goodness of the land because, as mentioned, they are a means of connecting to Hashem. Chazal were wondering; could it be that Moshe needed the fruits to connect to Hashem? Even without ingesting the fruit Moshe had achieved the level where he had turned his body into an abode for the Shechina!

During the Three Weeks we mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh and our galus from Eretz Yisrael. This idea gives us an added appreciation for just what we are missing. Hopefully it will also give us an added impetus for a heartfelt prayer for the much needed Geulah Shleimah bimheirah b'yameinu!

435 - Matos

Parshas Matos begins with the laws regarding one who makes a neder or a shevua: "A man who takes a vow to Hashem or swears an oath . . . he shall not desecrate his word, whatever comes out of his mouth he must fulfill" (Bamidbar 30, 3). Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) quotes Rav Yeruchom Levovitz who would say that from this parsha we can glean the greatness of man. A person has the ability to create a prohibition with an utterance of his lips! His very words obligate him in a manner no different than the rest of the mitzvos of the Torah. Should he fail to fulfill this obligation, says the Torah, he has desecrated something holy.

The idea is presented very clearly by the Rambam. He writes (Hilchos Me'ilah), "Wood and stones, dirt and ash; once the name of the Master of the World is proclaimed upon them with mere words, they have become holy and one who uses them in a mundane fashion has profaned [something holy]." It is incredible to think that the basest objects turn into an object of kedusha when one, by way of his words, donates them to the Beis Hamikdosh. 

How does a human have such an awesome ability? How can his words be so powerful? Every Jew has a neshama which was given to him from on high and connects him to the source of all kedusha, and it is so great and holy that we cannot truly comprehend just how awesome it really is. It is via this holy neshama that one can draw on the wellsprings of kedusha, and with a declaration of his mouth he can change sticks and stones into objects of holiness! (Da'as Shlomo)

Let us not forget just how great we really are. Our words are powerful. Not only do they have the ability to create Torah prohibitions, they have the ability to change the mechanism of the world through our tefillos and our Torah learning. We have such a powerful storehouse of ammunition; it would be a waste not to use it! Israel is at war and every prayer is vital. The truth is that we should implore Hashem to send Moshiach, and then all of our issues will be resolved. There is no better time than the three weeks to beseech Hashem that He have compassion on us bring about the Geulah Shleimah bimheira b'yameinu!

434 - Pinchos

When Moshe was informed of his imminent passing, Rashi tells us that instead of focusing on his personal needs he busied himself with the needs of Bnei Yisrael. The Torah recounts Moshe's tefilla to Hashem that He appoint a leader to take over the position that Moshe had filled for the last forty years.

Rashi (Bamidbar 27, 16) tells us that Moshe actually had a specific person in mind: He wished that his son would fill the position. Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that Moshe was not concerned with employment for his child. He felt that it would be beneficial for Bnei Yisrael to have a leader whose approach paralleled that of his predecessor, and thus the best candidate for the position would be one of Moshe's sons. 

However, Hashem replied that He had someone else in mind: Yehoshua would be his successor. What did Yehoshua do to deserve the loftiest spiritual position on Earth? Rashi (ibid.) citing Chazal enlightens us to the secret of his success. This merit came as a reward for his constant presence and service in Moshe's tent. More specifically, the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabba 21, 14) tells us that he arranged the benches and spread out the mats for those who came to learn Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu.

Rav Wolbe points out that it is amazing to think about the fact that such a seemingly small act should garner such awesome reward. However, truth be told, every single positive action performed in the spiritual arena merits awesome reward. There are numerous examples found in Chazal. Moreover, many of the actions were performed with ulterior motives and nevertheless earned those who performed them great reward.

Over the course of his encounter with Bilam, Balak offered forty two korbanos. Chazal tell us (Sotah 47a) that in this merit he was rewarded with a descendant, Rus, who was the grandmother of Shlomo who brought thousands of korbanos in the Bais Hamikdosh. Despite the fact that Balak's intention was far from altruistic, he received great reward for his actions. Nevuchadnetzer merited ruling over the entire world because he walked four steps to enhance Hashem's honor. Moshe feared Og, the king of Bashan, because five hundred years earlier he informed Avraham Avinu that Lot had been taken captive. Although his intention behind this superficial act of kindness was the desire that Avraham be killed in battle so that he would be able to marry Sarah, this did not preclude the possibility for great reward.

Sometimes we forget, or perhaps we never realized: a smile, a good word, or Torah learning even for just a minute is worth its weight in gold. Next time we're contemplating opening a sefer or performing a small act of kindness, we should bear in mind the lesson learned from Yehoshua. Every mitzvah planted yields a crop that boggles the mind!

432 - Chukas

When Aharon passed away, Bnei Yisrael lost the clouds of glory and the protection that they afforded. As a result, the Cana'anim took the opportunity to wage war against Bnei Yisrael. The Torah tells us that during this battle they succeeded in taking hostages. Rashi explains that in reality only one single maidservant was taken captive.

Nevertheless, says Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) Bnei Yisrael made a big deal about what had happened. They davened to Hashem to deliver their enemy into their hands, and additionally pledged to donate any spoils toward the service of Hashem. 

During the Second World War the heads of the allied countries gathered to brainstorm how to proceed. At one point, one of the generals mentioned a possible option for attack, but he added that it would probably cost the lives of a half a million soldiers. Stalin replied, "So what? Let them fall." While other nations might not even care about hundreds of thousands of lives, the Jewish Nation notices and cares about every individual. Even the capture of a single simple maidservant galvanized Bnei Yisrael to tefillah and tzeddaka.

If the capture of a single person is taken so seriously, how much more so must we be concerned when the number of hostages taken is three times that amount. The kidnapping of these three precious boys is a calamity that is not limited to a specific sect or even to Jews of a specific country. It is a tzara of the entire Klal Yisrael. We must make a big deal about what happened, which includes intensifying our tefillos and acts of tzeddaka and kindness. May our chizuk in these areas be a zechus for the immediate and safe return of Yaakov Naftoli ben Rachel Devorah, Gilad Michael ben Bat-Galim and Eyal ben Iris Teshura!

431 - Korach

When Korach challenged Moshe, Dasan and Aviram joined the fray. Although Moshe was certainly not at fault, nevertheless, he sought to appease them. To this end, Moshe sent a messenger to Dasan and Avirom requesting that they appear before him. Rashi cites the Medrash which deduces from Moshe's conduct that, "One should not maintain an argument, for we see that Moshe sent for them to make peace."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) notes that it is clear from Rashi that "not maintaining an argument" does not simply mean that one shouldn't fight. It means that one should make positive attempts to achieve peace. Moshe could have ignored Dasan and Avirom. Instead he attempted to initiate a meeting in order to placate them.

Although we should emulate Moshe's conduct, the ability to disagree without taking the argument personally is definitely not an easy trait to master. All too often, when people disagree, their difference of opinion snowballs into a full-fledged "war" which ultimately results in a situation where the two sides refuse to even speak to each other. What happened is, they took their difference of opinion personally and it affected their relationship.

A glimpse of a Torah true disagreement can be gleaned from the dispute between the pre-war European Yeshivos regarding the learning of Mussar. While Rav Baruch Ber Lebowitz zt"l was of the opinion that fulltime Torah study obviated the need for a set time for mussar study, the Alter of Slabodaka felt that today most boys need to compliment their Torah study with a daily regimen of Mussar. Thus, the Alter left Rav Baruch Ber's Yeshiva, Kenesses Beis YItzchok, and opened his own Yeshiva Kenesses Beis Yisrael. Sometime thereafter, Rav Baruch Ber took one of the Alter's most dedicated disciples as a son-in-law! Their dispute did not affect their relationship.

It is well known that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach stated at his wife's funeral that they lived in peace together and thus there was no need for him to ask her forgiveness. Sometime later, he met a disciple who had recently got married. He asked how things were going, and the disciple responded that things are great and they never argue. Rav Shlomo Zalman then inquired if everything was alright with his wife and if she was healthy. The disciple responded that Baruch Hashem everything is fine, and inquired why Rav Shlomo Zalman was asking. Rav Shlomo Zalman said that it is not normal to have such a relationship without having any disagreements. "But didn't you yourself say that you did not have to ask your wife for forgiveness?" asked the bewildered disciple. "Absolutely," he responded. "Since our disagreements did not affect our relationship, there was no reason to ask for forgiveness!"

Life is full of disagreements but it is up to us to determine whether or not it will be full of fights!

430 - Shelach

When the spies returned from Eretz Cana'an and painted a bleak picture of the land, Bnei Yisrael lost interest in the Promised Land: "And they said one to another, 'Let us appoint a head and return to Mitzrayim'" (Bamidbar 14, 4). Rashi cites two possible explanations for the term "a head." According to the Targum their intention was to appoint a new king, while according to Chazal they were expressing an interest to create an avodah zara which would lead them back to Mitzrayim.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that these two explanations are actually very similar. It was clear to all that Moshe was Hashem's emissary, and he led Bnei Yisrael in exact accordance to the will of Hashem. If Bnei Yisrael would replace Moshe with a king whom they themselves had appointed, they would be declaring that they are no longer interested in following the will of Hashem. This, to a certain extent, is like avodah zara.

Shortly afterward, the Torah describes Bnei Yisrael's deviation from Hashem as adultery. "Your children will roam the desert for forty years and bear your ze'nus" (ibid. 14, 33). Bnei Yisrael were afraid to enter Eretz Yisrael because in the natural course of events there was absolutely no way they could conquer a land full of giants. Therein lay their problem. Hashem had performed numerous miracles for them which should have allowed them to realize that nature simply does not stand in His way. Since Bnei Yisrael are, so to speak, married to Hashem, when they deviated and gave supremacy to nature as opposed to Hashem, they were, to a certain extent, guilty of adultery.

Although we cannot fully comprehend the transgressions of that spiritually awesome generation, we can take a lesson from the Torah's description of their sins. Ascribing greatness or power to anything which runs contrary to Hashem's will contains slight traces of avodah zara and adultery. On the other hand, one who, despite all forms of pressure, faithfully heeds His will, stands to gain not only in the next world but also in this world. As mentioned in this week's parsha, Yehoshua and Kaleiv who refused to go along with the other spies would be the only two men from that generation who would merit entering the Promised Land!

429 - Naso - Shavuos

On Shavuos Klal Yisrael received the Aseres Ha'dibros; a veritable formula for self perfection. The Aseres Ha'dibros begin with "Anochi Hashem" and end with "Lo sachmod" - do not desire anything which belongs to another, and as Rav Wolbe points out, there is a direct correlation between these two commandments. (Da'as Shlomo, Zman Matan Toraseinu pg. 477)

The Ibn Ezra (Shemos 20, 14) cites the obvious question. How can we be commanded "not to desire?" How can a person possibly not desire a beautiful item that belongs to someone else? The Ibn Ezra answers with a parable. A peasant who beholds a princess will not even entertain a thought of marrying her because he knows that it is absolutely impossible. Likewise, a person must know that a beautiful wife or affluence is not bestowed upon a person as a result of his brains or his brawn. Rather, everything is decided and allotted by Hashem. One must realize that because the Torah forbids his friend's wife to him, the possibility of marrying her is more remote than the possibility of the peasant marrying the princess.

The question posed was a difficult one: How is one capable of ensuring that the feelings of desire do not even arise in his heart? The answer, says the Ibn Ezra, is to appreciate the impossibility of the desire coming to fruition. When one comes to this realization, the desire will not even cross his mind nor enter his heart. How does one come to such a realization? This is achieved by inculcating the idea of Hashgacha Pratis, as the Ibn Ezra continues:

"Therefore, he will be happy with his lot and his heart will not desire that which is not his, because he knows that Hashem did not want to give it to him and he cannot take it by force or through schemes. Therefore, he should place his trust in his Creator that He will sustain him and do what is best in His eyes."

The simple explanation of how to fulfill the mitzvah of "Lo Sachmod" is to be happy with one's lot and to trust Hashem that He is doing what is truly best for him. This, in effect, is the first mitzvah of the Aseres Ha'dibros; "I am Hashem who took you out of Mitzrayim." This is a declaration which encompasses all aspects of Divine Providence. Yetzias Mitzrayim was the ultimate demonstration of Hashem's involvement in all aspects of everyone's lives.

How does a person know if he has properly fulfilled the first commandment? He can gauge his success when given the opportunity to fulfill the last of the commandments. Does he desire his neighbor's wife, car or house, or is he entirely content with what Hashem has allotted him?

Shavuos is the time to strengthen our commitment to what we accepted many years ago on Har Sinai. The Rikanti writes that "Lo Sachmod" is the root of all the mitzvos. In light of what is written above this is quite understandable because this mitzvah's fulfillment is contingent on our emunah and bitachon in Hashem which is the root of the entire Torah. Strengthening our emunah will in turn aid our fulfillment of Lo Sachmod and intensify our performance of all the mitzvos, and ultimately it will bring us to the self perfection intended by the Giver of the Torah!

Good Yom Tov!

428 - Bamidbar

This week's parsha delineates the various responsibilities of the Levi'im. "And the assignment of Elazar ben Aharon HaKohein is the oil of illumination, the spices of the incense, the daily flour offering and the anointment oil" (Bamidbar 4, 16). Rashi cites the Gemara Yerushalmi which explains that Elazar was not merely charged with overseeing that the above items were transferred from place to place; he actually carried all of them himself!

The Ramban (ibid.) calculates the enormous load that Elazar carried. The illumination oil for an entire year amounted to one hundred eighty-three lug (a lug is approximately ½ liter), and the spices for the incense weighed 365 maneh (a maneh is approximately ½ kilo). Rav Wolbe figured that altogether he probably carried more than 1000 kilo! He was charged with this physical assignment in addition to the other jobs that were delegated to him. These jobs included coordinating and supervising the transportation of the vessels of the Mishkan carried by the Bnei Kehos, which entailed assigning each and every Levi their individual task. The amount of responsibilities Heavenly assigned to a person is in direct proportion to his greatness. The greater the person is the greater the load he is given.

How was Elazar able to accomplish all of this? The answer, says Rav Wolbe, can be found in the above Ramban. He concludes, "And those whose hope is in Hashem will have renewed strength" (Yeshaya 40, 31). It might be heavy and difficult, but he must bear the burden of responsibility with the knowledge that Hashem delegated it specifically to him. This will give him the strength to endure and succeed.

Rav Wolbe continues that this is something that we must constantly bear in mind. One who is a Rav, a Rebbi, a Gabbai or a teacher might sometimes get overwhelmed with the amount of responsibility he has been given. We might add that in truth every single Yid has numerous responsibilities toward Klal Yisrael. These might include raising a Torah true family, helping out in the Shul, donating his time, money or other resources to benefit the Klal or learning with those less knowledgeable than us. Recognizing that Hashem specifically chose us for these tasks, not only prevents us from "throwing in the towel," it infuses us with vigor and an intense desire to succeed!

427 - Bechukosai

It is written in the Zohar, "My children, [I swear] by your lives that there is nothing closer to Hashem than a person's heart, and He is happier with it more than all sacrifices in the world." One's heart is the "holy of holies" of his spiritual makeup says Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 65). If a person would direct his desires and thoughts towards his Creator, Hashem would be closer to him than anything else in the world. Being that the heart is the location of the closeness, within the heart lies a natural yearning towards the Creator.

This idea is mentioned by Rashi in this week's parsha. "And if you behave with me "keri" and you do not listen to me, I will continue to smite you seven ways like your sins" (Vayikra 26, 21). Rashi cites Menachem who explains that the word "keri" can be translated as refraining. Rashi elaborates, that this is similar to the Aramaic translation offered by Onkelos - with hardness - because "they harden their hearts to refrain from coming close to Hashem." Rav Wolbe notes that it is within the very nature of the heart to strive for closeness to Hashem. Only if one deliberately chooses to harden his heart will he succeed in silencing this inherent drive!

This idea runs contrary to popular belief. Most people are of the opinion that yearning and longing for Hashem are solely the lot of spiritually lofty people. However, this is not the case. The basic nature of the heart is to crave Hashem's closeness. The most fundamental sin is to suppress this innate yearning of the heart, and it is around this aveirah that the entire tochacha revolves.

With this we can understand the punishment that follows in its wake. "And I will incite the animals of the field against you..." Rashi explains that not only will wild animals attack as is their nature; even domestic animals will act out of character and attack people. Rav Wolbe explains that this punishment is meted out measure - for - measure. The people went against their grain and suppressed their natural yearning towards Hashem, and in turn Hashem caused the normally domestic animals to go against their nature and attack the evildoers.

When can one feel this closeness to Hashem that the heart desires? One can feel it during tefilla. It could very well be that our tefillos are "dry" because we do not have a true desire to come close to Hashem. We have in effect "hardened our hearts to refrain from coming closer to Hashem." Our first step is to truly want a relationship with our Creator, and then, through our tefillos we will strengthen our natural inclination for kirvah and bring ourselves closer to Hashem.

426 - Behar

Regarding a Jewish servant, the Torah commands us, "You shall not subjugate him with hard labor; you shall fear Hashem" (Vayikra 25, 43). Rashi explains that one should not make his servant work needlessly. "Do not tell him, 'Warm up this drink for me' if he does not intend on drinking it. [Do not tell him], 'Hoe under this vine until I arrive' [just to keep him busy]. You might think to yourself, 'No one will know whether I need the work done or not.' Therefore it says, 'You shall fear [Hashem].'"

This is an idea which Rashi mentions numerous times throughout the parashios of Kedoshim and Emor: The litmus test for true yiras Shamayim is the way one acts when there is no one around to observe and scrutinize his behavior, and the Creator is the only One Who will know what he has done or his intention behind the action.

We are often exhorted to live our lives with a focus on penimiyus. How does one go about doing this? The answer, says Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash), is by beginning to focus on those mitzvos and actions that are unbeknownst to anyone except Hashem. These actions are free from all external pressure, and therefore, they force a person to define for himself who he is, and consequently, how he will behave.

While this is certainly true on a personal level, it is also imperative to internalize this idea for the benefit of our interpersonal relationships. We often ascertain a person's level of Yiras Shamayim by their mode of dress or the shul where they daven. However, truthfully, these superficial trappings are not a valid barometer of one's yiras Shamayim. We only have the capacity to ensure that we ourselves fear Hashem, and act in accordance with His will regardless of whether or not we are being observed by other people.

425 - Emor

If we were to give a heading to this week's parsha, says Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash), the heading would be "kavod" - honor. The parsha delineates numerous aspects of kavod pertaining to Hashem, kohanim, theKoheinGadol, the korbanos, BneiYisrael, and the Yomim Tovim. The tremendous amount of kavod befitting a Jewish person can be gleaned from the halachos of meis mitzvah - a Jew who dies and has no one to care for his burial.

In contrast to all other kohanim, the Kohein Gadol is commanded to continue to perform the avodah in the Bais Hamikdosh even when faced with the death of a parent. The Rashbam (Vayikra 10, 3) explains that he must set aside his own feelings and continue the avodah because a cessation of the avodah would be a disgrace to Hashem. Nevertheless, if a Kohein Gadol comes upon a meis mitzvah while on his way to perform the avodah on Yom Kippur, he must take the time to bury the dead person instead of performing the avodah! The fact that a tzelem Elokim's body is laying in disgrace without anyone to tend to him, overrides even the avodah of the Kohein Gadol on Yom Kippur.

In a similar vein, writes Rav Wolbe (Iggros V'Kesavom vol. II pg. 179, 180), there is a concept of a "chai mitzvah" - a living Jew who has no one to nurture and tend to him. The significance of this concept is also extraordinary, to the degree that Chazal tell us (Berachos 19b), "Kavod ha'brios is so important that it even overrides a negative commandment of the Torah." 

Who can be classified as a "chai mitzvah?" A child who learns Torah but has no one to guide him. When a person is born, he is likened to a wild donkey. The aim is to turn this wild donkey into a mentch: "Let one who is [like] a wild donkey be reborn as a man" (Iyov 11, 12). Yet, we cannot expect a child to be reborn if there is no "midwife" to "deliver" him. Even if a child learns well in school, nevertheless, derech eretz and Yiras Shamayim do not simply evolve by themselves. In addition to the great amounts of Torah he is being taught, every child needs someone to nurture and guide him.

This chinuch is a skill. The interesting thing is that most parents think they have mastered this skill! Another interesting phenomenon regarding chinuch is that while some results of chinuch are recognizable immediately, others can only be seen many years down the road. For example, a child who misbehaves in school and is screamed at or slapped, might not repeat that misdemeanor ever again in school. However, the real litmus test is how he behaves when he is thirty years old. Chinuch must always be implemented with an eye to the future. A spur-of-the-moment response generally does not take into account the long term effects.

Proper chinuch takes a lot of foresight and consideration. Every encounter we have with our children has the ability to affect them positively or, G-d forbid negatively, for many years to come. Indeed, chinuch is a time consuming job, but there is no better investment of your time than the time spent cultivating your child into the tzelem Elokim he is meant to personify!

421 - Tazria

There is a most fascinating halacha mentioned in this week's parsha with regard to tzora'as. Even a small patch of tzora'as has the ability to cause a person to become tamei. Yet, if the tzora'as spreads to the entire body and covers the person from head to toe, the Torah tells us that the person is tahor (see Vayikra 13, 13).

While it seems that this is an unexplainable spiritual law, it is clear from the Chazal that we can extrapolate from this concept to other areas of life. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 97a) states, "Said Rebbi Yitzchok, 'Moshiach will not arrive until the entire government turns to heresy.' Said Rava, 'Where is this mentioned in the Torah? The entire [affliction of tzora'as] has turned white; it is pure.'" When the entire government turns immoral, one can be sure that purity (i.e. Moshiach) is on its way. How are we to understand this concept which seems to conflict with logic? How can it be that the worse something gets, the better it really is?

Rav Wolbe (Ma'amarei Yemei Ratzon pg. 443) explains as follows. We relate to good and evil as two entities but with different values. Good is positive while evil is negative. However, it is clear that the Torah does not relate to evil in the same that we do. In many places the Torah equates good with life and evil with death. The Torah views good as a reality while evil is something which is not real at all. As we perceive the world today, it is hard for us to digest such a concept. Evil seems to be all too much of a reality, greatly overshadowing the good which seems to pale in comparison. It takes a perceptive eye to be able to discern the truth behind this fa├žade.

When the spies returned from scouting out the Land of Israel, they prefaced their negative appraisal of the land with some positive aspects. "We have seen the land and indeed it flows with milk and honey" (Bamidbar 13, 27). Rashi tells us that they deliberately added some truth to their false account because, "A falsehood cannot endure unless it begins with a little bit of truth." Evil has no continuation unless it attaches itself to good. Every regime places either freedom or justice on their ideological banner because it is this virtuous aspect which gives them some degree of continuity. Consequently, when that aspect of good is lacking, the entire ideology crumbles along with the regime, because evil by itself has no continuity.

Thus, Chazal tell us that when the entire government turns to heresy, Moshiach will come. It was the minute amount of emunah that gave their regime its foundation, and when they lose that last bit of emunah the government will automatically self destruct, making way for the ultimate dominion of Moshiach. Rava finds proof for this concept from the halacha that when tzora'as covers the entire body it is tahor. Impurity cannot exist unless there is some purity for it to latch onto.

With this in mind, we can begin to understand the Ba'al Teshuvah movement of the past few decades. When ideologies lose any semblance of righteousness and crumble one after another, people begin to realize that all that is left is the truth and immortality of the Torah. 

This is the key to understanding the Torah's guarantee that Klal Yisrael will do teshuva in the end of days (see Devarim 30, 1). When society loses all its morals, the glamour of the outside world crumbles and the truth shines in all its glory thereby bringing people to teshuva. We have definitely reached that point. The outside world has absolutely no morals, and they also have nothing positive to show for this permissiveness. The only absolute truth is the Torah and only it has the ability to bring us true fulfillment and serenity!

420 - Shemini

Parshas Shemini recounts the eighth and final day of the inauguration of the Mishkan. On that day Aharon made his first appearance as the Kohein Gadol. Although hesitant at first, at Moshe's prodding he entered to perform the Avodah. He brought the appropriate korbanos, performed the related avodah and blessed Bnei Yisrael. Nevertheless, he did not succeed in bringing the Shechina down into the abode that had been created for this purpose.

Rashi (Vayikra 9, 23) tells us that Aharon was sure that it was his involvement in the making of the golden calf that was preventing the Shechina from descending into the Mishkan. He expressed his disappointment to Moshe, and Moshe entered the Mishkan along with Aharon and together they davened and successfully caused the Shechina to descend.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that the lesson to be learned applies to each and every one of us and on a daily basis. Bnei Yisrael spent many days and months building the Mishkan and crafting its vessels, and thereafter, the kohanim spent eight consecutive days in its inauguration. Yet, they were not successful in these most lofty endeavors until their actions were accompanied with tefillah. So too, even when we toil greatly and invest much effort into our spiritual growth, we must not forget that tefillah must accompany our avodah.

The Gemara (Niddah 70b) relates that Reb Yehoshua ben Chananya was once asked by a group of people, "What is the proper way to acquire wisdom?" He answered, "He should spend much time studying and limit the time spent working." They countered that many have followed such advice, and nevertheless have not succeeded. He responded, "He should ask for compassion from the One Who is the source of all wisdom." The Gemara asks if acquiring wisdom is dependent entirely on prayer, why did Reb Yehoshua originally answer that wisdom is acquired through spending much time learning? The Gemara answers that it was to teach them that one is not sufficient without the other.

The Gemara seems to imply that the actual learning is secondary to the tefillah! Yes, one also must learn, but the main ingredient for success in Torah study is tefillah. We can understand how one who fails to open a sefer and merely spends the entire day praying that he succeed in learning, will not acquire wisdom. However, it is harder to understand how one who spends the entire day immersed in learning will not succeed because he did not ask for Heavenly help. Yet, if Chazal say so then it is absolutely true. The Chazon Ish said that on certain days he toiled more in his Tefillah than he did in his study of Torah!

Reb Yehonason Eibshitz zt"l, who was known as a genius, wrote that he found on days when he davened with kavana he succeeded in his learning while the opposite was true when his tefillos lacked kavana. He continues, "Therefore, do not say that one person is greater than another because of his intelligence or awesome wisdom and understanding. This is not the case! It is a falsehood! Rather, it is a present from Hashem, when one anticipates His abundant goodness and compassion by means of abundant prayer and pleading. There is nothing that grants a person proper understanding and helps decipher difficulties like a tearful tefillah that He have compassion, for Hashem listens to all those who call out to Him truthfully" (Ya'aros Devash).

We all know that all material pursuits must be accompanied with a prayer for success. However, it is not so obvious that the same applies for our ruchniyos endeavors. So much could be accomplished if we added a heartfelt tefillah! Try it and see for yourself!

419 - Purim

Shlomo Hamelech counsels us, "If you seek it like silver and you search for it like a treasure, [only] then will you understand the fear of Hashem and will you find da'as Elokim (the knowledge of Hashem)" (Mishlei 2, 4-5). What is this da'as Elokim for which we are searching?

Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt"l explains that the main objective of krias Yam Suf, was not the awesome miracle and Divine revelation caused by the splitting of the sea. Rather, Hashem wished to surround Bnei Yisrael with perils from all sides to force them to acknowledge that there was no natural way out of their predicament. Such a situation would compel them to turn to Hashem. When Bnei Yisrael directed their focus toward Hashem, He responded by splitting the sea simply as a means of extracting them from their predicament. 

In a similar vein, Sarah Imeinu was not merely barren; she was physically unable to bear children as she did not even have a womb. Hashem created her in such a manner so that she and Avraham realize that the laws of nature left no room for a child and they would be forced to invest all their efforts in petitioning Hashem. The subsequent miracle of her bearing a child was merely to extract her from her difficulty. In summation, Divine Providence often removes all viable options in order to redirect our focus, so that instead of turning to outsiders for help we are forced to turn our gaze inward and come to the realization that it is only Hashem Who can help. 

With this introduction, says Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo Geulah pg. 211), we can gain an understanding of what da'as Elokim is. It is a heartfelt sense of clarity that the Creator exists beyond any shadow of a doubt. 

How can one attain this da'as Elokim? There are two possible ways. The first, as mentioned above, is by coming to the realization that salvation can only be achieved through Hashem. Chazal tell us (Megillah 14a), "Greater was the removal of the signet ring [from Achashveirosh to Haman], than the forty eight prophets. While none of the prophets succeeded in causing Bnei Yisrael to repent, the [decree written by Haman after the] removal of the signet ring succeeded in bringing them back to the proper path." Despite the many foreboding prophecies, Bnei Yisrael always thought that there was a way out other than teshuva. However, when they were faced with Haman's evil threats of annihilation, they could not ignore their impending doom. This brought them to the realization that there was no natural way out and salvation could only come from Hashem.

The second way of attaining da'as Elokim can be gleaned from the Radak on the pasuk, "I had said I would not see Hashem" (Yeshaya 38, 11). He quotes Rav Saadya Gaon who explains that "seeing Hashem" is a reference to giving thanks. The Radak concurs with this explanation, "Since perceiving Hashem is thanking and praising Him and contemplating His ways." Someone who possesses the trait of hakaras hatov, sees Hashem in every single thing given to him by Hashem. He appreciates the many gifts he receives, and he thanks Hashem for each and every one of them. Thus, he sees Hashem in every aspect of his life.

The Purim miracle only occurred after Bnei Yisrael acknowledged that the only way out was with Hashem's help. This internal revelation was so strong that it brought them to new spiritual heights and was the impetus for renewing their acceptance of the Torah. They had gained a new appreciation of the Torah and mitzvos, as Chazal explain the pasuk, "The Jews had light, happiness, rejoicing and splendor. Light refers to the Torah, happiness refers to Yom Tov, rejoicing refers to the mitzvah of bris milah and splendor is a reference to the mitzvah of tefillin" (Megillah 16b). While we might have difficulty seeing the light of the Torah or the splendor of tefillin, Mordechai and his generation, after being forced to turn inward and perceive Hashem internally, attained da'as Elokim andwere able to tap into the pnimiyus of the Torah and mitzvos.

In conclusion, Rav Wolbe cites the Ramban (Shemos 24, 11) who writes that whenever there was a great revelation of the Shechina, Bnei Yisrael celebrated with food and drink. Rav Wolbe suggests that the mitzvah of feasting on Purim was enacted by Chazal as a celebration of the revelation attained by Mordechai and his generation, and the possible revelation that can be achieved each and every year when we revisit this awesome time. Purim has so much spiritual potential; let us make sure not to lose this awesome opportunity for growth! 

A Freilichin Purim!

418 - Vayikra

How would one describe an oveid Hashem? The Gemara in Chagiga (9b) answers this question: "Said Bar Hei Hei to Hillel, 'How can we understand the [redundancy of the] pasuk, 'And you will return and discern the difference between a tzaddik and a rasha and one who serves Hashem and one who does not serve Him.' Is a tzaddik not one and the same as he who serves Hashem, and is a rasha not one and the same as he who does not serve Hashem?' Hillel responded, 'Both he who serves Hashem and he who does not serve Hashem [mentioned in the pasuk] refer to completely righteous individuals. Yet, one cannot compare someone who reviews his learning [only] one hundred times to one who reviews his learning one hundred and one times.'"

Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol I pg. 63) points out that the Gemara did not give an example of a person who learns one hundred pages as opposed to a person who learns one hundred and one pages. The reason is that Chazal (cited in Rashi to Vayikra 1, 17) tell us regarding quantity "[it makes no difference] whether [one gives or accomplishes] a lot or a little, as long as his heart is directed toward Heaven." Rather, the Gemara defines "one who serves Hashem" with regard to the quality of learning. He, who after reaching the awesome plateau of reviewing his learning one hundred times, decides to review his learning yet one more time, has demonstrated that he strives for even greater level of clarity and profundity in his learning. It is this attempt for greater quality that places him in the category of an "oveid Hashem."

Throughout the generations all Jews, from the greatest to the simplest, have performed the same mitzvos. They all put on tefillin and tzitzis, they all davened and learned, and they all kept Shabbos. In the spiritual arena, what set one apart from another was the quality of their mitzvos: The level of clarity they had in their learning, the amount of kavana they had during their davening, and the sincerity they felt regarding love and fear of Hashem. 

Baruch Hashem, we are all full of mitzvos "like a pomegranate is full of seeds." Yet, our avodas Hashem is not defined so much quantitatively as it is qualitatively. For example, although starting a new learning session to study the Yomim Tovim is definitely praiseworthy, it might be even more worthwhile to start a learning session to gain a greater understanding of the Shema and Shemoneh Esrei that we say on a daily basis. Striving for greater clarity is the manifestation of true avodas Hashem!

417 - Pekudei

The first Rashi in Pekudei explains why there is yet another parsha dealing with the Mishkan and its keilim. This parsha enumerates all the donations and shows how all the money was used. Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) cites the Medrash (Shemos Rabba 51, 1) which explains the pasuk (Mishlei 28, 20), "An honest man will increase blessing" as referring to Moshe. Moshe was able to account for every donation given toward the building of the Mishkan down to the last penny. Due to his unwavering integrity, the money he was entrusted with benefitted from Hashem's blessing, and it was exactly sufficient for the needs of the Mishkan. Moreover, the Medrash continues, when Moshe would count the yearly donations to the Mishkan he would wear a special garment that had no pockets thereby leaving no room for suspicion.

It is interesting to note that just as Sefer Shemos ends with the monetary integrity of Moshe Rabbeinu, likewise, it begins with the monetary integrity of his mother Yocheved. When Moshe was three months old and his mother could no longer hide him, she put him in a bassinet and placed it in the reeds on the banks of the river. The Torah tells us that the bassinet was made out of gomeh - cane. Being that Yocheved was trying to protect her son, it would have made more sense to build the bassinet out of strong sturdy cedar wood as opposed to cheap soft cane. The Gemara (Sotah 12a) infers from this incident that righteous people show more care regarding their money than they show regarding their bodies!

What do Chazal mean? Why do the righteous care so much about their monetary possessions? They are so careful with their money because every penny was earned honestly (ibid.). They don't steal and they don't cheat and therefore every dollar they receive is Heavenly ordained. If Hashem decided to entrust them with the money then obviously it was given to them for a purpose. Yocheved was extremely careful how she earned her money and therefore she was extremely careful how she used her money. She determined that a bassinet made out cane would suffice, and therefore, she did not want to use heaven sent money on an unnecessary expensive material. 

To a certain extent many of us have lost this sensitivity toward money. We might forget something somewhere and decide that it is simply not worth going back for it. If Yaakov Avinu felt it imperative to expend the effort to retrieve some small bottles, shouldn't we at least be careful with expensive items that were forgotten? After all, if this is the money that Hashem has entrusted us with, we should do our best to protect it. 

If one is careless with his money, says Rav Wolbe, sometimes it might be an indication that it was not earned honestly and therefore he doesn't appreciate the money as having come from Hashem. If we realize that our money was given to us to be used in our avodas Hashem, it might revolutionize the way we spend our money!

416 - Vayakhel

While the parshiyos of Terumah and Tetzaveh recount Hashem's commandment to build the Mishkan, the parshiyos of Vayakhel and Pekudei recount the actual construction of the Mishkan. Regarding each aspect of the Mishkan the Torah writes simply, "And he made. . ." Yet, when describing the construction of the Aron, the Torah writes, "And Betzalel made the Aron." Rashi explains that because Betzalel expended great effort in building the Aron, it was "called by his name."

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) cites another few places that we find this idea. Shimon and Levi are described as, "Dinah's brothers" (Bereishis 34, 25) because they put their lives on the line to save her from the clutches of Shechem. Miriam is referred to as, "the sister of Moshe" (Shemos 15, 20) because she was moser nefesh for him when he was placed in the Nile. The very last prophecy recorded in Tanach, "Remember the Torah of Moshe My servant" (Malachi 3, 22) refers to the Torah as belonging to Moshe because he was moser nefesh on behalf of the Torah. 

We might add that while the Torah is specifically referred to as belonging to Moshe, Chazal tell us that the Torah becomes the personal acquisition of anyone who expends effort and toils in its study. "Said Rava, 'initially the Torah is ascribed to Hashem, and eventually it is ascribed to him'" (Avodah Zara 19a). Rashi explains that, "him" refers to the student who toiled in the study of Torah. This acquisition is not external, says Rav Wolbe, for the Torah changes the very essence of he who toils in its precepts. 

We can learn, daven and perform numerous mitzvos without them having a profound effect upon us. If we want the Torah and mitzvos to be truly ours, to change our essence and create a real connection to Hashem, then we must expend effort in their performance. This might translate into an extra five minutes of learning after one has decided that he is ready to close the Gemara, or making an added effort to concentrate during Shema or the first bracha in Shemoneh Esrei. In the area of chesed it might mean helping someone at the expense of a personal pleasure or making a difficult phone call that might help someone with a shidduch. The opportunities are endless, and many can be found in one's very own home! People are wont to say, "You get what you pay for." Similarly the spiritual reward in this world is directly proportionate to the effort expended in the performance of Hashem's will!

Monday, February 17, 2014

415 - Ki Sisa

Most people are worried by one type of fear or another. Little children get scared when their mothers leave them. When they get a little older they frightened by the dark. When they grow up a little more they become afraid of dogs and cats. Many adults are worried about robbers. A store owner might double check that all the windows and doors are locked, and then go through the store once more just to be sure. Where do all these fears come from? Psychologists have been grappling with this question for many years.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) says that the answer can be found in a Rashi in this week's parsha! When Moshe descended from Har Sinai after receiving the second set of luchos, his face was shining: "Aharon and the entire Bnei Yisrael saw Moshe and the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to approach him" (Shemos 34, 30). When they stood at Har Sinai they were able to gaze at the Shechina even though it was, "like a fiery furnace on top of the mountain" and they were not frightened. What happened that they suddenly became frightened from Moshe's shining countenance? 

Rashi enlightens us with the answer. The fear came as a result of an aveirah! Har Sinai occurred before they sinned with the golden calf. They were on a higher spiritual level, and therefore, even the fire accompanying the Shechina did not scare them. In contrast, after they sinned, they quaked and they trembled from the mere radiance of Moshe's countenance. A low spiritual level, e.g. after committing a transgression, brings fear in its wake. 

What can be done about this situation? How can we rid ourselves of these fears? Torah has the ability to raise a person into a spiritual world devoid of fear. However, this will only occur as long as we do not drag the Torah itself into our fears! For some, the mitzvos are a source of anxiety. When they wash their hands, they worry maybe they didn't use a revi'is, maybe his fingernails were dirty, maybe the water didn't cover their whole hand, maybe their hands weren't dry previously and a plethora of other fears. These concerns have nothing to do with meticulousness in the performance of mitzvos. The Chafeitz Chaim only heard one series of a hundred shofar blasts. He didn't run to hear another set of blasts because "maybe he didn't fulfill his obligation." 

The more we involve ourselves in Torah and mitzvos, the more elevated we will become. As we climb the spiritual ladder, the fears and anxieties of the physical world will slowly and surely disappear, for the Torah is the ultimate panacea!

414 - Tetzaveh

Parshas Tetzaveh commences with the commandment to light the menorah in the Beis Hamikdosh each evening. What is the purpose of this mitzvah; does Hashem need us to illuminate the darkness for Him? The Medrash (Shemos Raba 36, 2) answers this question with a mashal.

"A blind man was walking with a friend. The friend turned to the blind man and said, 'Hold on to me and I will lead you.' Once they entered their house, the friend asked the blind man to light a torch to illuminate the area for them, 'So that you will not feel indebted to me for leading you.' The man gifted with sight symbolizes Hashem. The blind man refers to Bnei Yisrael who "groped in darkness" when they committed the sin of the golden calf. Despite their transgression, Hashem continued to lead them through the desert with the pillar of fire. Once Bnei Yisrael began building the Mishkan, Hashem commanded Moshe to light the Menorah. This way, Bnei Yisrael would, so to speak, illuminate the Mishkan for Hashem just as He illuminated the way in the desert for them." 

Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II pg. 281) quotes Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt"l, who said that we can glean from this Medrash how to perform a perfect act of chesed. After helping out another person, the benefactor should ask the beneficiary for a small favor, since no one likes to feel indebted. Asking for a small favor will prevent the beneficiary from feeling indebted to the one who performed the chesed. 

Often we assist others and decline any remuneration. For example, we might give them a ride and refuse to accept any payment. Whether or not we accept the payment, we have performed a mitzvah De'Oraisa of gemillus chasadim. Yet, while sometimes a complete chesed entails not accepting money, at other times a complete chesed necessitates accepting the payment.By accepting their money you are allowing them to express their hakaras hatov, thereby preventing them from feeling indebted to you in the future. Mi k'amcha Yisrael! Who else looks to do chesed without expecting a pat on the back?

413 - Terumah

This week's parsha begins with the mitzvah of donating toward the building of the Mishkan. "Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they should take for Me a donation, from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take my donation" (Shemos 25, 2). The question is obvious. Why did the Torah say that Bnei Yisrael should "take" a donation for Hashem; wouldn't it be more correct to say that they should "give" a donation to Hashem?

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) cites a Gemara in Kiddushin (7a) to answer this question. Halachah mandates that in order to be mekadeish a woman, the man must give her something of value (Nowadays a ring is used to fulfill this requirement). Yet, there is one instance where the kiddushin can be accomplished by way of the woman giving the man something of value. When the man accepting the present is someone held in high regard, then the fact that he accepted her present gives her pleasure. This pleasure has the value of money and thereby fulfills the halachic requirement to be mekadeish a woman with something of value. Similarly, the Torah is implying that when one gives a donation and it is accepted by Hashem, in effect the donor is really the recipient. He has indeed "taken" a donation!

When we daven, learn or perform a mitzvah, we tend to think that we have done Hashem a favor. However, such an outlook is totally incorrect. Hashem does not need our Torah and mitzvos. He gives us the opportunity to learn and daven for our benefit. Dovid HaMelech declared, "And I, in Your abundant kindness, will enter Your Sanctuary." It is due to Hashem's great kindness that He allows us to serve Him. The gain is solely ours. If we bear this in mind, it will give us a fresh outlook on our avodas Hashem!