Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Mashgiach's Sefer Torah!!

Sefer Torah

Sefer Torah

Sefer Torah

506 - Vayigash

After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he sent wagons to Cana'an to bring his father and extended family to Mitzrayim. The Torah enumerates all of Yaakov's descendants and ends with a tally of those mentioned: "All the person[s] of Yaakov's household who came to Mitzrayim numbered seventy."
Rashi, citing the Medrash, comments that while the Torah only enumerates six of Eisav's descendants, the Torah refers to them in the plural: "the people of his house" because the few people of his house all served different gods. In contrast, Yaakov had seventy descendants and, nevertheless, the Torah refers to them in the singular: "All the person coming with Yaakov."Since they all served a single G-d, they are referred to in the singular.
Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Vayigash 46:26) explains that the description of Bnei Yisrael as a singular unit was not meant to imply that they all had the exact same outlook on the world. A large group of people who all profess the exact same mindset in all areas of life is sometimes found among people devoid of spirituality. Those with a connection to spirituality will develop their individual talents and intellect into a unique approach to life which will determine the way they think and respond to any given situation.
Rather, Bnei Yisrael's quality of oneness was an expression of their living in harmony with one another (after making amends with Yosef). They loved each other and cared deeply about one another. Indeed, such solidarity is only possible if all those involved are serving a single G-d. When one finds a group of religious people who do not love and care about each other and are oblivious to the plight of those around them, it is a sign that they are not all serving a "single G-d." Such people must be serving the "gods" of desire, haughtiness and honor, for if they were truly serving Hashem then their service would breed love and friendship and not the opposite.
What is the secret ingredient that threads its way through all those who serve Hashem and fuses them into a single unit? It is precisely their common desire to serve Hashem - the single G-d - which unites them. One might be a fiery Chassid and his neighbor a mussar oriented Litvak, but as long as they are focused on the same goal, then love and friendship will reign. However, when personal desires sneak into their spiritual pursuits it will automatically promote animosity since every person has their own set of desires and preferences.
A difference in dress should not be the impetus for a lack of harmony. Distinctions such as wearing a velvet or knitted kippah, a white or blue shirt, a long or short jacket or a baseball cap or striemel, are not grounds for feelings of animosity. Nor should one's nusach ha'tefillah be a reason for enmity. If such differences irk a person, he must check his GPS to determine what life goal he is pursuing. For as Rav Meir Shapiro (the famed founder of Daf Yomi) put it, "Whether davening Nusach Ashkenaz, Sefard or Eidut HaMizrach, everyone joins together by Yehi chavod Hashem L'olam, because regardless of how one gets there the ultimate goal of every Jew is to bring glory to Hashem!"

505 - Chanukah (Mikeitz)

One of the miracles that we commemorate on Chanuka is the incredible victory of the Chashmonaim over the Greek army. It is mindboggling how literally a handful of Jews vanquished a mighty army that numbered in the hundreds of thousands! How did they accomplish such a feat? More correctly, what did they do to merit such an overt miracle?
Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) cites two statements made by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai which shed light on this question. Just prior to his passing, his disciples came to visit him and they asked him for a bracha. He replied, "May you fear Heaven to the extent that you fear another human being." "Is that all that is expected of us?" they inquired. He responded, "If only [people would fear Hashem to that extent] - for we know that when a person sins he says, 'I hope nobody sees me'" (Brachos 28b).
In a similar vein, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai explained why the Torah requires a ganev (a thief who steals when no one is looking) to pay double the principle while a gazlan (one who steals in broad daylight) only pays what he stole. "The gazlan equated the honor of the Master (Hashem) with the honor of the servant (human beings), while the ganev gave more honor to the servant than the Master. He made it appear as if Hashem does not see or hear what transpires on earth" (Bava Kama 79b).
With both of these statements, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai sought to impress upon his disciples one of the most fundamental ideas of our emunah - that ruchniyus(spirituality) is a reality! Many people find that they have trouble praying properly. This difficulty is caused by the fact that we cannot see or feel Hashem and only the tangible is a reality for us. Our avodah is to appreciate thatruchniyus is no less a reality than the chair on which one sits.
This idea became apparent at the time of krias Yam Suf (the splitting of the sea). The Torah tells us that with the "breath" of Hashem, the water both formed into walls for Bnei YIsrael and also drowned the Egyptians. Additionally, when Bnei Yisrael stood by Har Sinai, Hashem "tore upon all the Heavens" and His reality became palpably clear as they "saw" and heard Him speaking to them via prophecy.
When the Chashmonaim risked their lives to fight a war for the sake of Hashem, they were in effect endeavoring to "make His Name great and holy in the world" (Al Hanissim). Hashem's "Name" denotes the revelation of Hashem as a genuine reality. When spirituality is revealed in its truest sense, it is more of a reality i.e. a mightier force than any physical power. When empowered by ruchniyus, even a handful of untrained Jewish fighters can defeat a mighty army.
Yet, the Chashmonaim had to first prove themselves worthy of meriting such complete spiritual assistance. Every miracle necessitates that there be a person who generates the miracle. This is accomplished when a person overcomes his natural tendencies for the sake of Hashem. Once he has proven that he is "above nature" Hashem reciprocates with a supernatural occurrence. Chazal tell us that the sea split when it saw the coffin of Yosef. In the merit of Yosef overcoming the natural (and tremendous) inclination to sin with his master's wife, Hashem caused the sea to split and disregard its natural tendency to flow evenly. Likewise, when the Chashmonaim put their lives on the line for Hashem, Hashem reciprocated with a miraculous revelation of spirituality which was more powerful than the mighty and well-equipped Greek army against whom they were fighting.
This idea gives us a greater appreciation for one who keeps his mouth shut in the midst of an argument or despite a temptation to speak lashon hara. Such a person has in effect propelled himself out of his natural state and into the realm of the supernatural. The result of such an occurrence is truly miraculous, for spirituality has no limitations. If we can ingrain in ourselves the knowledge that spirituality is the truest reality, then we will have learned the lesson of Chanuka, integrated it into our lives and succeeded in acquiring the most vital asset that a Jew can seek!

504 - Vayeishev

Yosef, a young lad of seventeen, was sold into slavery in Egypt, the most depraved society of the time, and shortly after his arrival he was tested. His master's wife was bent on seducing him to sin with her, and she even began torturing him to this end. Despite her attempts day in and day out, week after week and month after month, Yosef emerged from the lion's den as righteous as he entered. The Torah relates how Yosef was then thrown into a dungeon and ultimately ended up as the viceroy to the king and the second most powerful person in the world.
Chazal tell us (Bereishis Rabba 90:3) that all the greatness that Yosef attained, really originated from Yosef himself. In other words, his behavior generated a parallel reward. Yosef ensured that his mouth would not kiss in sin, and in turn Pharaoh declared "By the word of yourmouth shall all my people be sustained." His body which did not sin was eventually garbed in royal clothes. His neck which did not bend to commit a sin was adorned with a golden necklace and his hand which did not transgress was bejeweled with Pharaoh's ring.
Rav Wolbe comments (Shiurei Chumash) that it is amazing to see how Hashgacha Pratis responds and relates precisely to each and every detail. This idea also apparent earlier in the parsha when Yosef was sold by his brothers to a group of Arab wayfarers. The Torah makes a point of mentioning the merchandise carried by the camels in the Arab caravan: "Their camels, bearing spices, balsam and lotus, were on their way to bring them down to Egypt." Rashi explains that although Arabs generally carry foul smelling cargo, Hashem orchestrated that the caravan which carried Yosef would have good smelling spices so that he not suffer from a foul odor on his way down toMitzrayim. Even the smells we smell are all ordained by Heaven!
The above Chazal gives us much food for thought and things to work on. Firstly, it is clear that every action and nuance has the ability to generate great results. This knowledge brings with it not only great responsibility but also tremendous opportunity. We should never belittle even the smallest positive deeds because they have the ability to bring much blessing in their wake.
The story is told about the wife of the Vilna Gaon who made a pact with a friend that whoever passes away first will come to the other one in a dream and inform them about what awaits her in the World to Come. The friend passed away first and after a few days she appeared to Vilna Gaon's wife in a dream. "I cannot reveal to you what awaits you" she said, "but I can tell you that for even the smallest mitzvah there is great reward. Do you remember how we collected money for tzedakah and you pointed to a woman for whom we were looking? Well, in Heaven you were given much greater reward for the mitzvah than I was, because of the added effort involved in picking up your hand to point for the sake of tzedakah!"
Additionally, Chazal are conveying to us that all that occurs to a person really originates from the person himself. No matter what happens to a person, the first place for him to turn is inward to discover why he was deserving of that which occurred. Every piece of jewelry worn by Yosef can be traced back to his behavior in his master's house. Indeed, the search for the treasure chest of answers should begin in one's own backyard!

503 - Vayishlach

In anticipation of his meeting with Eisav, Yaakov sent a peace offering of numerous animals, with the hope that his generous gift would assuage any ill feelings that Eisav might have had toward him. After receiving Yaakov's present, Eisav tried convincing Yaakov to take back his gift since he was not lacking monetarily. In response, Yaakov pushed Eisav to accept the gift, "For Hashem has been gracious to me and I have everything (kol)" (Bereishis 33:11). While the simple translation of "kol" certainly refers to Yaakov's many materialistic acquisitions, Chazal explained Yaakov's response in reference to the spiritual arena.
The Gemara tells us (Bava Basra 16b), "Hashem gave three people a taste of the next world while they were still living in this world: Avrahom, Yitzchak and Yaakov. This can be deduced from that which we find that the Torah writes "bakol" in reference to Avrahom, "mi'kol"in reference to Yitzchak and "kol" in reference to Yaakov." The subsequent Gemara makes another statement regarding the above pesukim. "There were three people whom the Yetzer Hara did not rule over: Avrahom, Yitzchak and Yaakov. This can be deduced from that which we find that the Torah writes "bakol" in reference to Avrahom, "mi'kol" in reference to Yitzchak and "kol" in reference to Yaakov."
Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Vayishlach 33:11) explains that there is no reason to understand that these two statements of Chazal disagree with one another. Our aim in this world is to reach a level where we "taste" Olam Haba while still living in this world. How does one achieve such a goal? It is achieved when, not merely does one rule over his Yetzer Hara, but actually succeeds in causing hisYetzer Hara to become subservient to him. In other words, the evil inclination is channeled toward the positive and thus transformed into "good." This is the idea intended by Chazal when they said, "Love Hashem with all your heart[s] i.e. your good inclination and your evil inclination"since even the evil inclination can be transformed into a tool which is used to achieve love of Hashem.
Rav Wolbe related that when he would pass the Monastery of the Silent (in Latrun Israel), his heart would go out to them. They are simply misguided. Not only do they live their lives in celibacy and poverty, they also refrain from speaking. This is a degrading lifestyle, because not only do they not use their talents to actualize their potential, often the very opposite is true. Since many of them cannot overcome their base desires, their cravings find expression in less than noble fashions.
The purpose of Yiddishkeit is to take all our talents and desires and channel them toward avodas Hashem. We are meant to marry, enjoy our food, sleep and talk as long as the goal behind these actions is serving Hashem. There is nothing greater, more fulfilling and better "tasting" than living an otherworldly existence right here in on earth!

502 - Vayeitzei

This week's parsha recounts the birth of theshevatim. When Leah gave birth to her fourth child, she exclaimed, "This time I will give thanks to Hashem; and she called him Yehuda" (Bereishis 29:35). Chazal tell us (Brachos 7b) that from the time the world was created, no one gave thanks to Hashem until Leah came along and gave thanks to Hashem. What prompted Leah to do what no one preceding her had ever done, and why did she wait until her fourth child to offer her thanks?
Rashi explains that our Matriarchs were prophetesses and they knew that Yaakov would beget twelve children. If they were divided equally, each of Yaakov's four wives would bear three children. Thus, when Leah gave birth to her fourth child, she realized that she had received more than her fair share, which inspired her to give thanks to Hashem.
Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II p. 282) elaborates on this idea. Regarding the mitzvah of bikkurim the Torah commands us to bring the first fruit to the Bais Hamikdosh and declare that the fruits are the produce of the land that Hashem promised our forefathers. Rashi (Devarim 26:3) explains that this declaration is necessary so that the farmer should not fall into the category of those who deny Hashem's kindness. Accordingly, we are obligated toacknowledge every kindness that Hashem bestows upon us. Yet, when He blesses a person with more than he deserves, he has an added obligation. He must now thankHashem for His great kindness.
Consequently, Chazal tell us there are four people that are obligated to give thanks to Hashem by offering akorban todah when the Beis Hamikdosh stands: one who survived a journey at sea, one who safely traversed a desert, a sick person who was healed and one who was freed from jail. These four people have received an added portion of Hashem's beneficence and therefore they must thank Hashem with a korban.
However, interestingly enough, we are witness to the fact that there are some sick people who, after being healed of their ailments, become weaker in theirruchniyos. Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv (The Alter of Kelm) writes that since the obligation to thank Hashem is so great at the time a person is healed, the yetzer hara does everything in his power to prevent the person from fulfilling this obligation. The yetzer hara contaminates this man's heart to prevent him from offering his thanks; thereby precluding any possibility for spiritual growth.
How many times a day are we the recipients of Hashem's kindness? The very least that we must do is to acknowledge these blessings. Truth be told, most of this kindness is more than we deserve. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to not only acknowledge His kindness but to thank Him for granting us more than is warranted by our merits. Indeed, every blessing is not only a kiss from Hashem, it is a test to see if we will ignore His benevolence, or fulfill our obligation and reciprocate by thanking Him for His lovingkindness!

501 - Toldos

In this week's parsha, the Torah introduces us to Yaakov Avinu and describes him as, "a wholesome man residing in tents" (Bereishis 25:27). While Rashi explains that the tents referred to here are the tents of Sheim and Eiver, Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Daas Shlomo) cites the mekubalim who explain that the Torah is referring to the tents of Avraham and Yitzchak. Avraham personified the attribute of chessed and Yitzchak personified the attribute of yir'ah/din (fear of Hashem/strict judgment).
In essence, these are two contradictory middos, since chessed implies overflowing kindness even to the undeserving, while din implies sticking to the letter of the law, and possibly even punishing those undeserving of kindness. Yaakov is referred to as the chosen of our three Avos because he took the attribute found in the tent of Avraham and the attribute found in the tent of Yitzchak and blended them together thereby creating within himself the middah of emes.
When Yaakov, disguised as Eisav, entered Yitzchak's tent in order to receive his blessings, Yitzchak declared, "The fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field which Hashem has blessed". Rashi explains that the fragrance of a field refers to the delicious smell of an apple orchard. How did the smell of apples personify Yaakov? Rav Wolbe explains that an apple is red on the outside and white on the inside. Red symbolizes din while white represents chessed. An apple combines bothchessed and din into a single entity, thus it parallels Yaakov who combined both these middos into a singlemiddah of emes.
The mixture of both chessed and yir'ah is imperative in a person's daily avodas Hashem. The Mesillas Yesharim writes that all aspects of this world are in reality various different trials to determine a person's level of Torah adherence: "Poverty poses a test and affluence poses a test, as Shlomo Hamelech stated, 'Lest I become satiated and declare 'Who is Hashem?' and lest I become impoverished and steal'... Thus whichever way one turns he is faced with a test. If he is a warrior and victorious on all fronts, he has achieved his goal and reached perfection."
Accordingly, perfection is a result of prevailing over the many challenges that come a person's way. How does one accomplish such a feat? He achieves this goal by employing both the middah of chessed and the middah ofyir'ah. Chessed - kindness - affects all of one's interpersonal relationships. A kind person will not steal from others - the test which faces the impoverished. On the other hand, yir'ah is the key to mitzvos bein adom laMakom since one who fears Hashem will do everything possible not to rebel against Him - the test which faces the affluent.
Unbridled chessed can be dangerous. Helping another person at the expense of one's bein adom laMakom, such as offering to shop for someone in a store which compromises one's religious standards, is not a truechessed. Conversely, yir'ah which prompts someone to double park in order to get to mincha, on time thereby causing another person aggravation, is not true yir'ah. Themiddah of Yaakov is truth because a combination ofchessed and yir'ah is the truest manifestation of both of these middos. We all have the ingredients needed, we just have to create the perfect blend.

500 - Chayei Sarah

Parshas Chayei Sarah ends with a short account of Yishmael's life and his descendants. The last pasuk, which describes where his descendants resided, is a bit enigmatic. "They dwelled from Chavilah to Shur - which is near Egypt - toward Ashur, over all his brothers nafal" (Bereishis 25:18). Rashi understands that the word "nafal" is not meant to be translated literally "he fell," rather, "he dwelled," and is therefore bothered by the following question.
When the angel informed Hagar that she would bear a child, whom she was to name Yishmael, he added a short sketch of Yishmael's personality. "He will be a wild man, his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand will be against him, and over all his brothers he shall dwell (yishkon)" (ibid. 16:12). The angel was obviously describing what was recorded in this week's parsha that Yishmael dwelled over all his brothers. Accordingly, the Torah should have used the same word in both places. Why in Lech Lecha did the Torah write "yishkon" while in this week's parsha the Torah conveyed the very same message with the word "nafal" (lit. "he fell"). Rashi explains that when Avraham was alive Yishmael dwelled, but after Avraham died, Yishmael fell.
Rav Wolbe (Shiuri Chumash) elaborates that aslong as Avraham was alive, he ensured that Yishmael would maintain a certain level of spirituality. Once he passed away, Yishmael automatically fell because he lost his spiritual support. This concept also explains an incident mentioned earlier in the parsha. Rashi tells us that the constant spiritual blessing found in Sarah's home, manifested by the cloud above her tent, the candle which never extinguished and the bread which never spoiled, ceased after she passed away. When Yitzchok married Rivkah, the blessing returned and Yitzchok "was consoled after his mother." When Sarah passed away, Yitzchok's level of spirituality was affected. When he married a woman of his mother's spiritual caliber, he found solace because he regained his former spiritual status.
A few months after Rav Wolbe passed away, the Bais Hamussar began sending out a weekly Dvar Torah based upon his shmuessin and seforim. The intent was to aid in maintaining the spiritual strides that Rav Wolbe had helped people achieve during his lifetime, and to help them continue to grow, despite the passing of their spiritual guide and support. Over the past ten years the list of those subscribing to the weekly email has grown by more than a thousand, as more and more people wish to grow from the wisdom and guidance of the man who affected our generation positively in so many ways. His name is a household word, and nary a mussar shmuessgoes by where an idea of his is not mentioned.
This week, the Bais Hamussar has reached an amazing milestone as they send out the five hundredth Dvar Torah! As the author of the weekly Dvar Torah since its inception, I would like to thank all our readers, and specifically those who have sent their feedback, for giving me the drive to continue. As I look toward the future, I am debating whether to continue basing the Dvar Torah on the weekly parsha or to possible change to a different topic. I welcome any comments and suggestions.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hashem for His tremendous kindness in all areas of my life and particularly for giving me the ability to disseminate Rav Wolbe's Torah to the masses. In this week's parsha, when Eliezer was informed that Yitzchok would merit having Rivkah as a wife, he bowed to Hashem. Rashi comments that we learn from here that one should thank Hashem for good tidings. Accordingly, how much more so must one thank Hashem if he has not merely received good tidings, but has already been a beneficiary of His great kindness. Thus, I bow my head to Hashem in thanks, and ask Him to continue showering me and all of Klal Yisrael with His blessings, thereby enabling us to focus on our spiritual pursuits and bring Him true nachas ruach!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

499 - Vayeira

The parsha begins with Avraham inviting three angels guised as Arabs into his house and offering them a royal feast. The Torah describes the encounter in great detail thereby revealing an entire handbook for the proper performance of chessed. While most of the narrative focuses on the way a host should treat a guest, the story ends with the chessed a guest should perform with his host.

After the angels finished their meal, they asked Avraham where Sarah was, and he responded that she can be found inside the tent. Rashi explains that the angels certainly knew where Sarah was. The intent of their query was merely to endear Sarah to Avraham. Their question would prompt his answer, "She is in the tent," thusly highlighting her middah of modesty. Avraham's articulation of Sarah's qualities would bring him an added level of appreciation for his wife.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Parshas Vayeira 18:9) comments that it is amazing to think that there was a necessity to endear Sarah to Avraham. Chazal tell us that when Avraham married Sarah he was twenty five years old. When the angels paid their visit he was ninety nine - nearly seventy five years after their wedding. Endearing one's wife upon her husband would seem to be something necessary for a couple who were just married as opposed to a couple many years past their golden anniversary! Nevertheless, the Torah tells us that an essential aspect of marriage is ensuring that the husband and wife appreciate each another.

Interestingly enough, writes Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II p. 281), the closer the relationship between two people, the more difficult it is to show and voice appreciation for each other. The pair becomes so used to each other's contributions toward their relationship, that they begin thinking that the other party is indeed obligated to contribute all that he does. Thus, he is blamed if he fails to provide these services. This puts a damper on their relationship.

This is an idea which is particularly important in marriage. The house is a place of mutual chessed. Whether the husband works or learns, he spends his days toiling to bring material or spiritual sustenance into the house. The wife spends her days taking care of the house and looking after their children. Each of them must constantly find ways to show their appreciation of their spouse for all that they do. Focusing on the many things the spouse does, as opposed to focusing on the few things that they do not do, brings one to appreciate the numerous qualities of their spouse and the many contributions that they make. If the angels felt it necessary to endear Sarah to the elderly and holy Avraham, we can be certain that acknowledgment and appreciation of a spouse's qualities is imperative to a good marriage no matter how long one is married!

498 - Lech Lecha

When Avraham was already an elderly man, he received the long awaited tiding that he would bear children. The Torah tells us, "He believed in Hashem and He reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Bereishis 15:6). Rashi explains that the fact that he believed that he would bear children was a merit. The Ramban contends that there must be a different explanation because Avraham heard a prophecy directly from Hashem to this end, so what was so great about the fact that He believed what he heard straight from G-d? The Maharal counters that perfect belief isn't so simple because we find that even Moshe was taken to task after hitting the rock as the pasuk tells us, "Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me before the nation..." (Bamidbar 20:12). In light of this, Avraham's total belief was indeed meritorious.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Noach 7:7, Alei Shur vol. II pg. 338) elaborates that there are many levels of emunah. While we might refer to emunah simply as believing that there is a Creator, this is only the most basic level of emunah. The Torah is discussing a much greater level of emunah. Avraham believed in Hashem that he would bear children when all of nature belied such a possibility. He and his wife were well past their childbearing years, and moreover, Chazal tell us that Sarah did not even have the physical organs needed to bear children! The scientific impossibility did not sway Avraham even an iota from complete faith in what he was told.

In contrast, in Parshas Noach we read how Noach was forced into the teivah by the rainwater heralding the beginning of the deluge. Rashi (Bereishis 7:7) comments that Noach was lacking in emunah. He did not believe with full certainty that the flood would come, and consequently, he did not enter the teivah until the intensity of the rains precluded the possibility of him staying outside. He, too, had received his information regarding the future via a prophecy directly from Hashem. Nevertheless, he needed to experience something tangible in order to truly believe that the prophecy would come to fruition.

One who possesses total belief in Hashem's word, believes in everything Hashem said even if he has not heard the prophecy himself. His belief is so ironclad that he is even willing to put his life on the line should the need arise. The Gemara (Gittin 56b) relates that during the siege of Yerushalayim just prior to the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdosh, R' Yochanan ben Zakkai arranged a secret meeting between himself and the Roman general Vespasian. As they met, he extended his greetings, "Peace unto you, king." Vespasian replied that such a greeting warrants the death penalty because it implied that he had rebelled against the reigning emperor and wished to coronate Vespasian in his stead! R' Yochanan replied that indeed he must be a king, because Chazal inferred from a pasuk that the Bais Hamikdosh would be destroyed only by a king. (Immediately thereafter, a messenger arrived from Rome with the news that the emperor had died and the higher echelons in the Roman government decided to coronate Vespasian as his successor!) The fact that R' Yochanan saw a general in front of him did not influence his behavior in any fashion. He was willing to valiantly address Vespasian as king; knowing that had he erred, his mistake would be fatal.

This idea has many practical applications for every one of us, and is especially relevant in light of the terror attacks in Israel. Earlier in this week's parsha, after the war with the four kings, we read how Avraham agreed to accept payment for the food eaten by the soldiers who fought the war and those who sat watching the vessels. Rashi infers that those who fought in battle and those who manned the base received equal portions of the spoils. Accordingly, David Hamelech would apportion the spoils of the battles that he fought, in a similar fashion.

Why do they both deserve the same amount of booty? Doesn't the soldier fighting the war deserve more than those sitting effortlessly at the base? Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Lech Lecha 14:24) cites the meforshim in Shmuel (I, 30:24) who explain that soldiers only deserve more if they are fighting a "natural" war. However, when wars are fought by Hashem, it makes no difference who puts in more or less effort, so long as each person is doing what is incumbent upon him to do. Thus, while the soldiers are the ones holding the weapons, it is us who have the ability to bring them (and all the civilians) home safely each night. If our emunah would be concrete and we genuinely believed that, although it appears as if the guns decide the outcome, the truth is that our Torah and tefillah call the shots, then our prayers would be with an intensity that rivals the intensity of a soldier in battle!

497 - Noach

Following Noach's exodus from the teivah, the Torah tells us, "Noach became mundane and planted a vineyard" (Bereishis 9:20). Chazal (Bereishis Rabba 36:4 cited by Rashi) explain that he should have first planted wheat or another more essential food. In other words, the planting of the vineyard was not a problem per se; rather, the planting of other crops should have taken priority and only afterward should he have planted a vineyard. Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) comments that an error simply in the proper order of events, caused Noach - referred to earlier in the parsha as "righteous and pure" - to become mundane!

It appears that acting with seder (proper orderliness), is not merely an added plus, it is an imperative aspect of one's avodas Hashem. Chazal tell us (Shabbos 31a) that when one arrives in the Next World, the very first questions he is asked are, "Were you honest in your business dealings?" and "Did you designate time for learning?" However, in Sanhedrin (7a) Chazal assert that the judgment in the Next World focuses first not on a person's honesty in business; rather it focuses on one's Torah learning.

Tosafos deals with this seeming contradiction, and explains that the Gemara in Sanhedrin is referring to someone who had not learned Torah at all, while the Gemara in Shabbos deals with someone who learned Torah but did not set aside a specific time for Torah study. While he might have studied Torah regularly, he is judged specifically whether or not he set aside a designated time for learning, because seder is so crucial. Whether the subject is planting crops or learning Torah; random performance leaves room for error.

Furthermore, in tefillas ma'ariv we praise Hashem for, "setting the stars in a specific order in their heavenly constellations as He wills." Orderliness testifies to the will and intent of the one who arranged the order. (Parenthetically, Rav Wolbe adds, that this idea is one of the clearest proofs that there is a Creator. The fact that the entire universe is arranged so methodically and all of nature runs so systematically proves that there must be Someone who organized it all.) If a person lacks orderliness in his Torah study or his avodas Hashem, he must make an honest reckoning whether he has a genuine interest in serving Hashem or perhaps his Torah and mitzvos are performed without a clear sense of direction.

The month of Cheshvan affords us the opportunity to "get back on schedule." For some, the return to Yeshiva or Kollel allows them to designate specific times for Torah learning that might have been lacking during bein hazmanim. For others, the steady weekly schedule of the winter months that was absent during the month of Tishrei, provides them with continuity that enables them to actualize their kabbalos for the new year. Cheshvan is the time to take the spiritual gains of the Yamim Noraim and create seder in our avodah, thereby showing Hashem that it is our true desire to serve Him!

496 - Bereishis

The Torah begins with the account of the six days of creation. On the fifth day Hashem created the animals: "Hashem made the beast of the earth according to its kind, and the animal according to its kind and every creeping being of the ground according to its kind" (Bereishis 1:25). If one would take a cat, raise it in solitary confinement and then set it free, it would establish companionship only with other cats. Did the cat ever see itself in the mirror? How does it know where to find a home? The cat has what we call instinct, but who put the instinct into the cat? Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains that when Hashem made all the animals "according to their kind," He gave each animal a spiritual intuition to enable it to determine its own species.

There is no way to deny that the instincts possessed by animals clearly point to the hand of a Creator. A fly lays its eggs in a soft pod and then it bores a hole in the pod, because if it doesn't, the pod will harden and the offspring will not be able to exit their cocoon. There is a type of wasp which lays eggs and covers them with a thin layer of sand to protect them from other creatures. To ensure food for its offspring it catches flies, paralyzes them and leaves them in the nest together with the eggs. It does not kill the flies since they would spoil by the time the eggs hatch! Additionally, pigeons have an extraordinary sense of direction which guides them to their nests. A study was done in Germany where they flew pigeons to Brazil in an airplane and the birds made their way back to Berlin on their own. Then they flew them to London and the story repeated itself! The rooster, armed with an uncanny sense of when dawn is about to break, has acted as an alarm clock for innumerable generations. Who gave these creatures all this knowledge?

In a similar vein, Chazal assert that had the Torah not been given, we would have been able to learn modesty from a cat, and from an ant we would learn not to steal (Eiruvin 100b). The Torah delineates the proper procedure for one who must relieve himself: "You shall have a shovel with your tools, and it will be that when you sit outside, you shall dig with it; you shall go back and cover your excrement" (Devarim 23:14). The cat instinctively does what the Torah instructs us to do. Furthermore, people understand that it is incumbent upon them to refrain from stealing because the Torah restricts it and their intellect understands that it is wrong. Yet, Chazal inform us that most people violate this prohibition in one way or another. In contrast, the ant is instinctively meticulous not to take what does not belong to it! From where do these animals derive these amazing intuitive tendencies?

Instincts in reality are nothing less than clear revelations of Hashem in our world. There is no other explanation for an instinct other than a spiritual asset implanted in them by their Creator. Avraham Avinu discovered the Creator through contemplation of our awesome world, and the Rambam writes that every person could use the world as means of connecting to Hashem. All of creation screams emunah, so long as we do not close our ears to their cry!

495 - Yom Kippur

The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Rav Wolbe (Iggros U'Kesavim vol. II p. 158) to his "dearest loved ones."

The Ramban writes (Vayikra 23:24) that Rosh Hashana can be described as a yom din b'rachamim - predominately a day of strict judgment, yet Hashem adds a measure of compassion to the judgment. In contrast, Yom Kippur is a yom rachamim b'din - a day of abundant compassion notwithstanding the judgment which also takes place. Additionally, by means of the five restrictions of the day, Hashem elevates us to otherworldly levels. Chazal tell us regarding Olam Haba (Brachos 17a), "There is no food, drink, procreation...jealousy, hatred or competition...the righteous sit...and enjoy the radiance of the Shechina;" an apt description for Yom Kippur.

Just as the day is overflowing with Heavenly compassion and love, similarly, Klal Yisrael must act with compassion and love toward one another. Accordingly, Chazal tell us that a lack of love can have serious repercussions, for Yom Kippur does not atone for sins between man and his fellow man unless the offended party is appeased (Yoma 85b). Thus, the most essential preparation for this holy day is for people to forgive and appease each other, and the more one does in this area the more praiseworthy he is. Therefore, I am asking of you: On Erev Yom Kippur please call to wish each other a good and sweet year, appease each other and sincerely forgive each other.

Yes, I know that sometimes a person has feelings of anger bottled up inside himself. The way to quell these feelings and overcome the anger is by arousing feelings of compassion toward the other party - see what I have written in Alei Shur vol. II p. 221. After all, as mentioned, this is the avodah of the day: to arouse feelings of love and compassion toward our fellow man. Moreover, Chazal tell us that Heaven will act compassionately toward one who has compassion on his fellow man - and who does not need a big dose of Heavenly compassion?!

Hence, please prepare for this tremendous avodah which is much greater and more important than searching for white chickens for kaparos and the like. Furthermore, hurry to carry out this endeavor and don't wait for the other party to call you. Rather, you should be the first one to pick up the phone to call. Don't make calculations such as, "I am angry at him, why should I be the one to initiate?" Many have the custom of learning the sefer Orchos Chaim L'HaRosh during these days and he writes (Siman 61), "Do not hold your anger against a fellow Jew for an entire day. Bend over toward him and be the first one to ask for forgiveness." Similarly, Rabbeinu Yonah writes, "Even if he has sinned toward you, you should go to him to obtain appeasement and don't say, 'He wronged me, he should initiate the appeasement.' Rather subdue your yetzer and go over to him" (Sefer Hayirah 175).

Everyone is in need of Heavenly mercy during these Days of Awe, whether it be in the area of health, livelihood, children or any other spiritual or material lacking. What I have written is a wonderful way to arouse mercy upon oneself and his family: be compassionate and merciful toward another person, and run to be the one to appease and make amends. The timing is especially significant, because in light of the seriousness of these days, one often finds that he might not have been as right as he thought he was when the incident occurred in the middle of the year.

My dearest loved ones, I am guaranteeing you that if you follow my instructions you will b'ezras Hashem have a feeling of utmost pleasantness on this Holy Day which is approaching. However, Chazal guarantee that if you follow these instructions, Heaven will have mercy upon you!

May you all be blessed with a sweet year and a bounty of success in body and soul!

494 - Rosh Hashana

The Ramban, in his introduction to the story of Akeidos Yitzchok (Bereishis 22:1), explains the purpose of a nisoyon. A person is tested for his own benefit: so that he can be rewarded for a good deed and not merely a good heart. Although Avraham Avinu succeeded in purifying his heart to the nth degree, nevertheless this greatness remained merely potential (b'koach). The ten nisyonos with which Avraham was tested, were a means of turning his greatness from potential into concrete actions (b'po'el), because the ultimate objective is perfecting one's actions.

Rav Wolbe (Ma'amerei Yemei Ratzon pg. 97) writes, with this in mind let us try to understand the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (2, 13). R' Yochanan ben Zakkai asks his disciples to, "Seek out the proper path to which a man should cling." They returned with various answers: a good eye, a good friend, a good neighbor, one who considers the outcome of his deeds and a good heart. Said R' Yochanan ben Zakkai, "I prefer the words of R' Elazar (who chose a good heart), for your words are included in his words."

The other four responses all focused on tangible actions and a practical way of life (b'po'el). A good eye rids one of much evil. He judges others favorably and he is cleansed from hatred and jealousy. A good friend will perform kindness, share in another's grief, forgive and forget and many other positive middos. A good neighbor surpasses a good friend, for he contains all those qualities and, moreover, he acts beneficially to even those who are not his closest confidantes. Someone who considers the outcome of his actions fears Hashem, and his every action is made with an acute awareness of its ramifications. If so, in what aspect does a good heart, which represents potential (b'koach), supersede all these other positive qualities?

Rav Wolbe explains that a good heart is the best preparation for life, because it encompasses all good actions. The actions are the most important aspect of one's avodah, and they properly portray the goodness of the heart of one who is performing those actions. A lack of an ability to perform reflects a flaw in the "goodness" of the heart. He who truly possesses a good heart will in time come to be a person who possesses a good eye, is a good friend and neighbor, and one who considers the consequences of his deeds. Because Avraham possessed a good heart, he had the ability to pass all ten nisyonos with which he was tested.

Rosh Hashana is the day on which we are supposed to accept upon ourselves the yoke of Heavenly Kingship. Accepting this yoke is akin to possessing the good heart mentioned in the Mishna; it is a general concept that encompasses all aspects of our lives. However, just like a good heart, accepting the yoke of Heaven cannot remain only b'koach - it must translate into actions. We must make an effort to focus on Hashem's loftiness, His Kingship and the great advantage gained by accepting this yoke upon oneself. However, it can't end there. This knowledge must translate into actions, and the b'po'el of accepting the yoke of Heaven fine tunes our middos to act solely in accordance with the will of Hashem.

We should not try to be someone we are not. In each person's specific situation - with his friends and family, his house and necessities - he must make an effort to act in accordance with the will of Hashem. Our actions after Rosh Hashana will mirror the extent to which we accepted the yoke of Hashem on Rosh Hashana!

May we all merit a Kesiva V'Chasima Tova!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

493 - Ki Savo

A large portion of this week's parsha is dedicated to the tochacha (chastisement). Ninety-eight curses in all are spelled out for those who fail to abide by Hashem's commandments. It is scary to read it and even scarier to know that these prophecies all came true when the curses materialized into a reality during the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdosh (see Ramban to Vayikra 26:16). The severity of middas ha'din is overwhelming and one must stop and ask, "What could possibly be the reason behind all these calamities?"

Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) explains that the world was created with an option for wickedness and iniquity. Our goal is to remain righteous despite the many challenges, temptations and enticements offered by the various evil forces present in the world. When one strays from the proper course, the purpose of middas ha'din is to alert the transgressor that he has veered from the beaten path.

Dovid Hamelech declared, "The judgments of Hashem are true, altogether righteous" (Tehillim 19:10). Rav Wolbe explains that just as this declaration refers to the rulings and penalties found in the Torah, it applies as well to Hashem's judgments manifested through middas ha'din. The numerous persecutions and expulsions which the Jewish People have suffered over the past two and half millennia are actually the very secret of their survival (Rashi to Devarim 29:12).

Rav Wolbe related a most astounding conversation he once had. He was talking to man who was in Auschwitz and worked near the gas chambers for two years. This man had the terrible misfortune of witnessing complete transports of Jews being led to their deaths. He related that many of the Jews barely even knew that they were Jewish but every single Jew,without exception, cried out at the last second, "Shema Yisrael!" Jews who, had their lives continued peacefully, would have had no chance of earning a proper portion in the next world, due to middas ha'din earned themselves a ticket to Olam Habba in their last moments of life! While it does not explain all the atrocities that occurred, it gives us a whole new outlook on middas ha'din. It drives home the reality that we have no way of comprehending the depth of Heavenly calculations.

Although middas ha'din also strikes the other nations of the world, there is a fundamental difference between their punishments and the punishments meted out to the Jewish Nation. Other nations suffer from middas ha'din only after the fact. When they have already failed their purpose in creation and lost their right of survival, Hashem metes out a punishment that obliterates them from the face of the earth. In contrast, the Jewish Nation is castigated and disciplined before things get too out of hand. The result is that we are punished more than once, but this suffering is the key to our continuity.

The Yomim Ha'Noraim were given to us to prompt us to evaluate if we have veered from the proper path and enable us to straighten ourselves out should the need arise. This yearly occasion prevents the buildup of sin and enables us to start each year with a clean slate. Take a moment to review the various manifestations of middas ha'din this past year: the Har Nof massacre, the Sasson Family tragedy, the Arab hostilities worldwide to mention a few. These jolts might very well have been sent to prompt us to improve our davening, Shabbos observance or our relationships bein adom l'chaveiro.

Chazal tell us (Megillah 31b) that we read the curses in parshas Ki Savo before Rosh Hashana so that "the year and all its curses should end." Our heartfelt tefillah to Hashem is to please put an end to the tragedies - but allow their message to remain. We have an opportunity to clear the slate and start anew. Let us grab the opportunity and run with it before these holy days are behind us!

Monday, August 31, 2015

492 - Ki Seitzei

The mitzvah regarding the ben sorer u'moreh is extremely unique and a bit difficult to understand. At face value it seems that a thirteen year old boy who is merely found eating and drinking gluttonously is to be put to death. What has he done to deserve such a severe punishment? Chazal fill in numerous details which are not mentioned explicitly in the Torah. Among other details, the boy must be between the ages of thirteen and thirteen and three months. He must eat a specific amount of meat and drink a specific amount of wine in an extremely ravenous manner. Additionally, the food and drink must be bought with money stolen from his parents in order for him to conform to the requirements of a ben sorer u'moreh.

We still have some basic questions. Exactly which commandment did this boy transgress that warrants his receiving a death penalty? Moreover, if what he did was so terrible, why is the time frame for this transgression restricted to three months out of a person's entire life? The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 248) enlightens us to some of the rationale behind this mitzvah. He writes that the ben sorer u'moreh is guilty of transgressing the sin of "lo sochlu al hadam - lit. Do not eat over the blood" (Vayikra 19:26). Based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin (63a), the Chinuch explains that the Torah is exhorting us not to eat a meal that can bring one to spill blood i.e. cause himself to receive the death penalty. (See Ramban to Devarim 21:18 who differs).

He elaborates on the emphasis the Torah places on the boy's gluttonous ingestion of meat and wine. He asserts that excessive eating and drinking leads to the commission of a multitude of aveiros, as the Torah tells us, "Yeshurun became fat and rebelled" (Devarim 32:15). Food nourishes the body and cultivates materialism while reflecting upon mitzvos and yiras shamayim nourishes the soul and cultivates spirituality. Excessive intake of food weakens the "spiritual immune system" of the body which in turn leads to sin. Therefore, the Torah cautions us regarding excessive eating and attaches a death penalty to show the danger and severity of such behavior. However, the Torah specifically directs its message toward the thirteen year old boy who has just reached physical and spiritual maturity. The age when the intensity of adolescence is combined with a new sense of responsibility for one's actions, is the perfect time to hammer home the gravity of such wayward behavior: Don't overindulge. The lesson is taught once to this young boy and it is meant to last a lifetime.

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) comments that while we might have thought that refraining from unnecessary eating is an area of avodas Hashem limited to the pious and righteous, the Chinuch lets us know that this is not the case. This is an idea which must be inculcated into children from a young age: Eating is not an end in and of itself. We are to eat so that we can be healthy and properly serve Hashem. The holiness of mealtime is apparent from the procedure required by Chazal when partaking of food. We must purify ourselves by washing our hands and then we make a bracha before eating. After we conclude our meal, once again we must wash our hands (mayim achronim) to wash away any negative materialistic consequences and once again bless Hashem and thank Him for the food.

Yet, continues Rav Wolbe, there is an even broader lesson to be learned from the Sefer Chinuch. The mitzvah of ben sorer u'moreh gives us an outlook on life in general. We most certainly can partake from the pleasures available to us, but these pleasures should be "pleasures with a purpose." When the pleasure is beneficial to our avodas Hashem, then such pleasure is imperative. However, one who engages in a lifestyle where pleasure becomes the objective, has fallen prey to the "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" dogma of the other nations.

Our eye must always be on our ultimate goal i.e. the next world. Elul is the time to reevaluate our mindsets and lifestyles and properly align them, should there be a need. While the Torah's message was aimed at a thirteen year old, the significance of the message must accompany us throughout our lifetime!

491 - Shoftim - Elul

Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) cites a mind boggling Medrash (Bereishis Rabba 2:7). Reb Avahu said, "From the beginning of time Hashem gazed at both the actions of the righteous and the actions of the wicked. Yet, it is not clear whose actions He desired. Once the Torah writes, 'And Hashem saw the light that it was good' it is clear that He desires the actions of the righteous and not the actions of the wicked." What is this supposed to mean? Could there be a possibility that Hashem prefers the actions of the wicked over the actions of the righteous?

Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm, offers a beautiful explanation. Indeed, even the wicked perform good deeds. However, they limit their good deeds to grandiose actions whose effects can be heard around the world. They will found organizations, create moral ideologies and give their lives for the sake of their country. In contrast, the righteous focus on the small, even minuscule, actions. Chazal were asking who's good deeds are superior - those performed by the righteous or those performed by the wicked? The answer was provided by the Torah: Hashem prefers the small actions of the righteous over the high-flying deeds of the wicked. A similar idea is mentioned by the Rambam. He asserts that for one who wishes to give tzeddaka, it is better that he give many small donations than one big donation. Many small mitzvos are preferential to a single big action.

Rav Yisrael Salanter writes that the focus of teshuva also must be on the small actions. Many are overcome with despair when faced with the prospect of teshuva. "There is no possible way for me to stop speaking lashon hara" or "I simply can't overcome this middah" they lament. However, there is no room for despair when the topic is teshuva. They are absolutely right; at the present time they cannot entirely overcome their inclinations. Nevertheless, they can greatly reduce the severity of their actions if they would merely desist at the times when it is easy for them to refrain from transgressing. If they would take small steps and resist for five minutes here and there, they will already have progressed tremendously down the road of teshuva.

With this in mind, our understanding of Chazal's well known statement becomes even more profound. "Hashem says to Klal Yisrael, 'Open for me a hole like the eye of a needle and I will open for you gateways that wagons and carriages will be able to pass through!'" Hashem specifically is interested in the small holes. Teshuva must begin with a focus on the small actions.

"Just five minutes" is a mantra that can change your life. I will refrain from lashon hara just for five minutes. I will learn just for five minutes. I will spend just five minutes on helping another Yid. The truth is that sometimes one doesn't even need five minutes. A wave of the hand to motion that one can't talk now can save a person from pages of bittul Torah or loads of lashon hara. Moreover, Hashem guarantees that He will reciprocate our small gesture with a huge dose of Heavenly assistance, as He waves us through big gateways of teshuva!

490 - Re'ei

Parshas Re'ei discusses an ir ha'nidachas - a situation where an entire city of people is found guilty of worshipping avodah zara. The punishment is as extreme as the transgression: The city is to be wiped out, all its contents must be burnt, and the city may never be rebuilt. The Torah concludes with an assurance, "And nothing from the banned property shall remain in your hands so that Hashem with turn back from His wrath, and He will give you mercy and He will be merciful to you" (Devarim 13:18).

The Gemara (Shabbos 151b) expounds on this pasuk. "Rebbi Gamliel the son of Rebbe says, 'And He will give you mercy and He will be merciful to you: Whoever shows mercy to people, Heaven will act with mercy toward him, and whoever is not merciful toward others, will not be shown mercy by Heaven.'" Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) comments that while the first half of Chazal's declaration is logical, the second half is more difficult to understand. We can understand why one who does not have many merits can succeed in garnering heavenly mercy, since he acts with mercy toward other people and thus Hashem will deal with him mercifully. However, how are we to understand that one who learns Torah, acts honestly and possesses an abundance of other good middos, will nevertheless not be a recipient of heavenly mercy simply because he is not merciful to others?

Chazal are teaching us that if one does not act mercifully to other people it is impossible for him to receive heavenly mercy. A person's middos are vessels through which he is able to acquire heavenly bounty. Exactly proportional to the utensil prepared can one obtain heavenly bounty, and therefore, one who has not created a "receptacle" to store mercy cannot be a beneficiary of heavenly mercy.

In a similar vein, the Gemara (Rosh Hahasana 17a) tells us. "Said Rava, 'Anyone who is forgiving to another will be forgiven for all his sins as the pasuk says, 'He bears iniquity and forgives sins.' To whom does He bear iniquity? To one who forgives sins.'" One who is not forgiving simply lacks the tools needed to open the conduits of forgiveness. This concept is illustrated by a story related in the Gemara (Taanis 25b). One year there was a famine and Rebbi Eliezer, acting as chazzan, recited the twenty four brachos instituted when praying for rain but his prayers were not answered. Then Rebbi Akiva stood before the amud, recited two petitions and his prayers were answered immediately. Understandably, this caused people to question the greatness of Rebbi Eliezer. A bas kol was heard from Heaven: "It is not because one is greater than the other, rather one acts forgivingly while the other does not."

Rebbi Eliezer was a disciple of Bais Shammai and was of the opinion that one cannot just forgive and forget when it comes to an infraction to a talmid chochom because it undermines kavod Hatorah. He was not wrong in his opinion, but the reality was that he did not have the tools needed to access rain when Heaven had declared that the generation was undeserving. Only someone who practiced overlooking iniquity was able to influence Hashem to overlook the generation's shortcomings and provide rain.

This concept applies to all of a person's middos. Truth be told, most middos find expression between man and his fellow man. The manner in which we act toward others is the way Hashem acts with us. It's both frightening and exhilarating. How can a miser or an irritable person approach Rosh Hashana? On the other hand, there is nothing more invigorating than knowing that acting kindly, being merciful and forgiving others can rid oneself of mounds of aveiros! Elul is the time to take this knowledge and put it into practice!

489 - Eikev

In Parshas Eikev there is a single pasuk which encapsulates all of what is expected from us in this world."Now Yisrael, what does Hashem ask of you? Only that you fear Hashem your G-d, to go in all His ways and to love Him..." (Devarim 10:12). While the pasuk seems to be quite straightforward, Chazal explain it homiletically. "Do not read the word "mah" (what) rather "mei'ah" (one hundred). Hashem asks of you one hundred blessings a day. It would seem that fulfilling this dictate of Chazal, answers all of what Hashem asks of a person.

In explaining the significance of every bracha, Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. I p. 112) cites the Radak in Yeshaya who explains words of praise penned by Chizkiyahu Hamelech. Chizkiyahu was deathly ill and after his miraculous recovery he wrote a letter in which he stated "I said with my days cut short I will go to the gates of the grave deprived of the rest of my years. I had said I will not see Hashem" (Yeshayah 38:10, 11). The Radak quotes Rav Saadyah Gaon, who explains that "seeing Hashem" is a reference to giving thanks. The Radak concurs, explaining that "perceiving Hashem means thanking and praising Him and contemplating His ways."

How can one "see" Hashem? We can see Him through recognizing His kindness and thanking Him for it. We are supposed to review over and over again - a hundred times each day - the truth that Hashem is the King of the world and it is He Who has given us every pleasure of which we partake. It is He Who gave us our body and our soul, and it is He Who gave us the Torah and the mitzvos. Everything we have is a result of His infinite kindness and we must thank Him for His beneficence. The extent that we will see Hashem on a daily basis is proportionate to the amount of attention we pay to what we are saying.

There is an added dimension to the daily requirement to make one hundred brachos. We don't thank Hashem once and for all for giving us water or giving us clothes. Every day calls for an additional thanks. Every drink calls for a new bracha. Chazal wanted us to appreciate that the world is not to be perceived as an ancient phenomenon. Rather, each and every day, and numerous times throughout the day, Hashem renews His kindness and recreates the world in its entirety. Thus, Chazal instituted daily brachos to thank Him for His constant kindness and never-ending bounty.

A well known gadol was wont to say that the length of a bracha depends on the height of a person. Thebracha begins when the food is taken into his hand and the bracha ends just before the food enters his mouth. Hence, the taller the person the longer the time he has to make a bracha! It's quite humorous, it's often true, and it's very unfortunate. We literally have in our hands the recipe for seeing Hashem, and we let it fly off into the breeze when we mumble the bracha under our breath or have our minds on a conversation with a friend. Choose a singlebracha that is going to be "yours," give it the proper frame of mind and this will open your eyes to see Hashem in a way that you never previously experienced!

488 - Va'eschanan

Chazal tell us that a person must say, "When will my actions rival the actions of my forefathers, Avraham, YItzchok and Yaakov." The source for this obligation, writes Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur vol. II p. 159), can be found in this week's parsha. In the first paragraph of Shema Hashem commands us, "You shall love Hashem with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources"(Devarim 6:5). The Medrash (Yalkut Shemoni 837) cites Rebbi Meir's explanation: "You shall love Hashem with all your heart like Avraham, with all your soul like Yitzchok and with all your resources like Yaakov."

Focusing on the greatness of our forefathers and striving to emulate their love for Hashem, forces every Jew to acknowledge the innate greatness that can be found in each and every individual who is part of our exalted Nation. This idea is extremely important for anyone engaged in bettering himself. Before one begins working on rectifying his negative character traits, it is imperativethat he be cognizant of and familiar with his positive character traits. Otherwise, as he learns through a mussarsefer, he will end up concentrating solely on the negative aspects of his own personality. Such behavior is a sure-fire way to bring about depression or to cause him to give up the possibility of curing his spiritual maladies.

Before starting Mesillas Yesharim, one should open to the table of contents and peruse the various different chapters. He must become aware of the fact that, not only do the virtues of zehirus, zerizus, nikius and taharah etc. exist,they are very much within a person's reach. Moreover, it is advisable that the first time he learns through the sefer, he should not stop after each chapter to size up where he stands in relation to what the Mesillas Yesharim writes. Rather, he should simply appreciate themiddah being discussed and yearn to achieve it himself.

The Ramchal writes in Derech Eitz Chaim, that merely thinking about the awesome spiritual levels attainable, aids a person in his journey toward perfection."A person should spend some time free of all distractions and think about what we have mentioned. He should ask himself, 'What did our forefathers do that caused Hashem to cherish them? What did Moshe Rabbeinu do? What did Dovid, the anointed of Hashem, and all the great people who preceded us do? Then He should think how worthy it is for a person to act in a similar fashion so that it will be good for him! He should then contemplate where he stands in relationship to the path followed by the great men of prior generations...The bottom line is that for one who does not think about this, it is exceedingly difficult to reach perfection, while the person who does think about this is very close to perfection." Even just thinking about the greatness attained by our predecessors helps us achieve the goal for which we strive.

The first step to self improvement is being cognizant of one's ma'alos, because if we would appreciate our innate greatness we wouldn't bother ourselves with the pettiness that brings about most lapses in avodas Hashem. The summer is a time which affords many people some extra time for relaxation. It might be very worthwhile to relax with a book about one of the greats of the past century. Their spiritual stature is something to strive toward, and if they could do it so could we! The purpose of reading these books is not to imitate those portrayed, rather to appreciate what we too can achieve if we would utilize our virtues to the best of our ability!

487 - Devarim

Devarim opens with Moshe addressing Bnei Yisrael. The Torah describes the location of this speech with eight or nine different names of places. Rashi explains that the locations mentioned refer not to actual places; rather, they are allusions to the various transgressions Bnei Yisrael committed over the course of their travels through the desert. Moshe was admonishing Bnei YIsrael and, not wanting to embarrass them, he made veiled references to their sins.

When alluding to the golden calf, Moshe refers to this sin with the name "Di Zahav" translated as "more than enough gold." Rashi explains that Moshe was stating that it was the abundance of gold bestowed upon them at the time of the exodus from Mitzrayim that caused them to make the golden calf. Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) notes that the pasuk seems to imply that had they not had the gold they would not have sinned. This idea seems quite clear from Rashi in Shemos (32:31) where he writes that Moshe told Hashem that by blessing Bnei Yisrael with so much wealth He had in effect caused the sin of the golden calf! Bnei Yisrael's situation was analogous to a king who gives his son food and drink, beautifies him, hangs a pouch of money around his neck and places him at the harlot's door; what can you expect from the son? This being the case how could they be blamed for making the golden calf if they were basically forced into making it?

Although Bnei Yisrael were placed into a difficult situation, they certainly had the ability to overcome the test given to them. When Chazal tell us that their position caused them to sin, Chazal are conveying an important message to us. The Torah is teaching us the attitude that one should assume prior to placing himself into a situation of nisayon is that he will almost certainly fail the test. One cannot place himself into a situation and rely on his will power and past performance to enable him to prevail over the temptation to sin. Rather, it is always necessary to act with foresight. Before entering any possible problematic situation one must identify the potential issues and refrain from engaging in any questionable behavior.

This is a lesson we must heed for life. We cannot go away on vacation in the summer to a place that compromises our religious standards and wave away all concern with an assertion that "I won't be affected." When making your plans, take all possibilities into consideration. The same applies when choosing a job, a community, a school for your children and when choosing friends. Before entering into a questionable relationship, clarify your ideals and standards and act accordingly.

Additionally, Klal Yisrael has endured a great amount of suffering due to sinas chinam. The destruction of the second Bais Hamikdosh was caused by baseless hatred and thus the ensuing tragedies of the next nearly two thousand years can be attributed to this terrible trait. Moreover, how many marriages and other relationships have ended because of petty arguments? A little foresight - taking into account the possible ramifications before saying lashon hara or quarreling - will save a lot of physical and spiritual heartache. Moreover, it will also aid in the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh for which we so desperately yearn.

ובעזהי"ת צום החמישי יהפוך לנו לששון ולשמחה

486 - Matos-Masei

In Parshas Masei, when recounting the Bnei Yisrael's travels through the desert, the Torah enumerates each of the forty-two locations where Bnei Yisrael encamped on their journey toward Eretz Yisrael. Why did the Torah feel it pertinent to inform us of the specific spots in the desert where Bnei Yisrael stopped over?

The Ramban (Bamidbar 33:1) quotes the Rambam who explains why Hashem felt it imperative that all future generations know the route they followed through the desert. The Jewish people were miraculously sustained in the desert for forty years. They ate heavenly bread, they drank water which flowed from a rock, and their clothing grew along with them. Yet, after that generations would pass on, and the extraordinary survival in the desert would remain a mere oral legacy, people would begin doubting the awesomeness of what occurred: "After all, there are many people nowadays that reside in the desert." People might contend that the Jews probably never strayed too far from civilization which allowed them to procure the vital provisions needed to get them through their forty year trek in the desert.

Thus, the Torah tells all future generations: Here are all the places of encampment; go check the map. See for yourselves that they were nowhere near any populated towns, and for the most part there was nary an oasis where they pitched their tents. When one has a precise picture of where Bnei Yisrael slept at night, they can begin to imagine what miraculous events transpired and thereby appreciate the awesomeness of Hashem's miracles and the extent of His kindness.

Rav Wolbe adds that this ability to conjure up occurrences of the past, and to depict for one's self images that he has never observed, is the key to emunah. The Rambam describes emunah as "the belief in what is outside the realm of the intellect, as the mind depicts it." As people are wont to say seeing is believing. The first step toward believing is to use one's mind to make an artist's rendering of the events. The strength of one's belief is directly proportionate to the clarity and reality of the picture he conjures up.

Having emunah per se is not a problem. Everybody believes in something. Some believe in communism, some in capitalism and some in socialism and some believe in the numerous other isms floating around. The founders of these ideologies created such a vivid picture of a utopian life for anyone who buys into their doctrine that it inspires the masses to believe in their philosophies because the people "see" the results and feel the anticipated pleasure before anything has actually happened. Our belief in Yetzias Mitzrayim, the splitting of the sea and Matan Torah, hinges on the extent our minds depict these occurrences.

On Pesach we are supposed to feel as if we ourselves went out of Mitzrayim. During the three weeks we should feel as if we were evicted from Yerushalayim. If we depict the Bais Hamikdosh in its glory, its destruction and the ensuing exile, we can begin to mourn what we lost. Looking at pictures of the evacuations of the ghettos and the resulting horrors endured during the Holocaust causes one to feel the pain even if he was not born at the time of these events. The mind is powerful. We can relive events that we never even lived through in the first place! Take a virtual tour of the Bais Hamikdosh with your mind's eye and appreciate the remarkable effect that it had on the entire world. This exercise will not only enable you to mourn what was lost, it will give you the emunah needed to truly believe in and anticipate the final redemption. May we all merit seeing it speedily in our days!

485 - Pinchos

Bnei Yisrael's improper behavior in Shittim triggered a plague which claimed the lives of twenty- four thousand people. Immediately thereafter, Hashem requested that Moshe count Bnei Yisrael to determine how many people survived. Starting with the shevatim, the Torah goes on to list the various families. When enumerating the families of sheivet Reuvein, the Torah tells us that Dasan and Aviram were amongst Reuvein's progeny but they were not counted since they were swallowed alive along with Korach. Yet regarding Korach's children, the following pasuk informs us, "And the sons of Korach did not die" (Bamidbar 26:11). 

So what happened to Korach's sons? Rashi explains that although they were the ones who advised Korach to take his stance, nevertheless, they were spared from the terrible punishment which was meted out to their father, because when the quarrel began "thoughts of teshuva passed through their minds." It's amazing to think, says Rav Wolbe, that while Korach was swallowed alive and ended up in the depths of Gehinom, his sons were saved from such a death and they were given a special compartment in the heights of Gehinom. A single thought of teshuva had the ability to change their status for all of eternity. Moreover, Chazal (Megillah 14a, Sanhedrin 110a) tell us that they are sitting in "the highest heights" and singing songs [of Hashem's praise]. 

Indeed, the sons of Korach could have fared better. They could have done a proper teshuva and possibly been spared entirely. Yet, we have to appreciate what they did accomplish. Where do they stand and where does their father stand? They merited all this because of a simple solitary thought of teshuva: "We were wrong. We should have never argued with Moshe." Spirituality is a reality, and the effects of a good deed change the way the world is run. They should have perished alongside their father but their thoughts saved them. It is a lesson for us all. Even if things look bleak, a single thought of teshuva has the ability to change things forever. 

In the beginning of the parsha the Torah relates another scenario where a single positive action in a fleeting moment of a person's life had an enduring effect. Pinchos and his offspring were granted a covenant of eternal priesthood in reward for Pinchos's act of heroism. He saw what was transpiring and he took action. The Medrash tells us that he was not the only one who saw the sinful behavior that was taking place; everyone saw. However, he was the only one who took action. It was a single action and he received eternal reward. Moreover, his offspring for all generations benefited from this good deed. 

Every person has their moment. It might be a once in a lifetime opportunity and it might be an opportunity that presents itself frequently. We must seize that moment. When we hear something inspiring, it should arouse us to at least a thought of teshuva. The problem is that we are too busy to think and too busy to do. "I have other things on my mind" and "Someone else will take care of the spiritual deficiency in our community." It's true. We do have other things on our mind and someone else will take care of the issue. However, if you put your brains or brawn toward avodas Hashem, then even if the outcome is only a single thought or deed, it can tip the scale favorably for all of eternity!