Tuesday, May 24, 2016

527 - Behar

The second half of this week's parsha deals with numerous laws that pertain to a fellow Jew who becomes impoverished. If you lend him money, "Do not take from him interest." If he sells himself to you as a slave, "You shall not work him with slave labor." If the situation is such that he sells himself as a slave to a Non-Jew, we must make an effort to extract him from his undesirable environment. As the Torah instructs us, "He shall have redemption; one of his brothers shall redeem him" (Vayikra 25:36, 39, 48).

The final two pesukim in the parsha seem to be totally out of place. There the Torah commands us not to make idols or erect statues and it exhorts us to observe Shabbos. What do these mitzvos have anything to do with what was mentioned beforehand?

Rashi explains (ibid. 26:1) that these commandments are specifically directed to the Jew who sells himself to the gentile. When this slave observes his master's behavior, he should not look to imitate him. He should notsay, "Since my master engages in forbidden relationships, so will I. Since my master worships idols, so will I. Since my master desecrates the Shabbos, so will I." The Torah wrote a condensed book of the most basic prohibitions tailored specially for the Jew that finds himself in spiritually challenged circumstances.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that the Torah does not give up on anybody. A Jew can never reach a situation of total spiritual despair. His situation could be so bleak that he even sold himself to chop wood and draw water for a house of idol worship (see Rashi 25:47). Nevertheless, the Torah reaches out to him with a "Kitzur Shulchan Aruch" exhorting him to keep at least the basic tenets of Judaism.

The early twentieth century brought many Jews from Europe to America. At the time, America was a spiritual wasteland and many Jews lost any vestiges of Judaism. At that time the Chofetz Chaim wrote a condensed book of laws to aid his brethren in their newfound surroundings. Likewise, he wrote a special sefer geared specifically for those who had been drafted into the army for years on end and had limited access to anything religious.

It doesn't make any difference where the Jew finds himself for the Torah is always holding his hand and guiding him. Thus, there is no room or reason for despair since Hashem cares about every Jew even in the most depressing and bleak situations. So pick your chin up and smile, since the Creator of the world sees you, knows what you're going through, and is relating to you in your very situation!

526 - Emor

Toward the end of the parsha the Torah relates the incident of the "mekalel." A man, born to an Egyptian father and Jewish mother, got involved in a confrontation regarding the place he chose to pitch his tent. Being that his mother descended from the tribe of Dan, he set up his tent in the area designated for that tribe. His neighbors confronted him and asserted that since his father did not descend from Dan he could not remain among that tribe. The Torah clearly states, "Bnei Yisrael should encamp each man by his banner according to the insignias of theirfathers' household" (Bamidbar 2:2). The dispute was brought before Moshe's beis din. They ruled in favor of the tribe of Dan and the man went out and cursed Hashem.

The Torah continues, "They placed him under guard to clarify for themselves through Hashem" (Vayikra 24:12). Chazal tell us that this incident occurred at the same time as the incident of the mikosheish (the man who gathered sticks on Shabbos in a prohibited manner). Rashi infers from the pasuk that despite the fact that they were both placed in jail at the same time, nevertheless, they were not put in the same cell.

While the Torah does not use jail as a means of punishment, it is used to confine an offender when there is uncertainty as to the punishment deserved. Themikosheish was put into jail because although it was known that he deserved the capital punishment, the method of his execution was not known. In contrast, the man who cursed Hashem was jailed because it was not known if he deserved to be executed. Consequently, he was placed in a separate cell.
What would have been so terrible, asks Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) if they would have placed both transgressors in the same cell? He explains that although it is quite commonplace in our day and age for someone who was arrested at a protest rally to be placed in the same cell as a murderer, the Torah operates differently. Divine judgment is so exact to the extent that a transgressor who was stoned cannot be buried in the same cemetery as a transgressor who was beheaded. While they were both killed because of their aveiros, they cannot be equated. Likewise, a person who deserves to be executed cannot even be imprisoned alongside someone who might not deserve capital punishment.

There is a timely lesson to be learned from this incident. Rav Itzele Peterburger would say that if two people commit the very same transgression but one gives a groan as he performs the aveirah, the groan is recorded in heaven. Indeed, they both did commit the same aveirah, but they cannot be classified together because the difference between them is like night and day.

Conversely, when one performs a mitzvah, he is rewarded in heaven in proportion to the effort invested. Five minutes of Torah learning when one's body is aching for bed, is worth a whole lot more than when he is well rested and alert. In the same vein we cannot compare ourselves to our neighbors. While we all perform the exact same mitzvos, each mitzvah is so very different from another.

525 - Kedoshim

Please Note: We will be following the order of the Parshios as they are read in Eretz Yisrael - Those in Chutz La'Aretz please keep this dvar Torah handy to enjoy next week! 

This week's parsha begins with a bit of an ambiguous commandment: "Kedoshim te'hiyu" - You shall be holy. Kadosh (the root of the word kedusha) means to be separated, so while it is clear that the Torah wants us to distance ourselves from something, the commentators differ as to exactly what the Torah intended with this mitzvah. Rashi maintains that the Torah is instructing us to distance ourselves from forbidden marital relationships. Separating oneself specifically with regard to this matter has the ability to bring a person to holiness.

The Ramban contends that the Torah is not referring to a specific topic. Rather, it is a general commandment to separate oneself. He cites Chazal who often refer to talmidei chachomim as "perushim" i.e. those who separate themselves by way of their behavior from mainstream society. In a similar vein the Torah calls upon us to be perushim.

The mitzvos of the Torah do not deal with every possible scenario. After laying down the basic precepts, the Torah gives us an all encompassing directive "You shall be holy." The Torah doesn't tell us how much one is allowed to eat nor does it limit how many women a man can marry. Thus, a person can completely indulge himself in his food and marital life and talk using inappropriate language. As the Ramban writes, "one can act in a depraved manner with the 'permission' of the Torah." Therefore, the Torah instructs us to separate ourselves and not go overboard even when the issue at hand is not one that is specifically forbidden by the Torah.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Vayikra 19:1) comments that according to the Ramban's explanation, the Torah is, in effect, instructing every Jew to act like a talmid chachom! Practically it means that each person, proportionate to his spiritual level, should limit the amount he indulges despite the fact that such indulgence was not specifically prohibited by the Torah.

As a mashal, Rav Wolbe related that shortly after the founding of the State of Israel there was a big disagreement regarding the drafting of girls into the Israeli Army. While many felt that they should share the duties of protecting the country, the Gedolim, headed by the Chazon Ish, vehemently opposed the proposal. The Chazon Ish was asked in which of the four sections of Shulchan Aruch does it say that it is prohibited for women to be drafted into the army. He responded that the prohibition is written in the fifth section of Shulchan Aruch which only talmidei chachomim have the ability to decipher.

Rav Wolbe explains that the Chazon Ish was informing the questioners that after learning the entire Torah, a talmid chachom is able to deduce how the Torah desires that we act in any given situation. Indeed, it isn't written black on white, but it is implied, and those who comprehend the Torah's viewpoint are able to interpret its message clearly. In a similar vein, Hashem gave us limited parameters and then succinctly summed up His position with a directive to "be holy." Understand how you are intended to behave and act accordingly.

Yiddishkeit is not just a checklist of do's and don'ts. Nevertheless, unfortunately that is how many relate to Judaism. What they have done is they have separated the Jewish religion from Yiddishkeit. Yiddishkeit gives expression to the spirit of the religion and it signifies a spiritually aristocratic way of life. We are to become an island of noblemen in the middle of the ocean of a degraded society. We are instructed to separate ourselves from the gentile way of life because we are different. A prince conducts himself with nobility.

524 - Pesach

Yetzias Mitzrayim was the event that took the numerous individuals who were all offspring of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov and forged them into a single nation. This process of redemption not only turned us into a nation, but also demonstrated our uniqueness. While the water in the Egyptian's cup turned into blood, the Jew could drink from the very same cup and enjoy crystal clear water. The Egyptians endured extreme darkness and at the very same time the Jew enjoyed the radiance of daytime. The redemption demonstrated that the Jew was part of a Divine nation, and thus he merited a unique level of Divine Providence.

Chazal tell us (Medrash Tehillim 114) that the creation of the Jewish Nation was not a simple process. The Torah describes this event as, "taking out one nation from inside another nation." Accordingly, the Medrash compares the process to a cow experiencing difficulty giving birth to its calf. The shepherd must insert his hand into the womb of the cow, grab hold of the calf and pull it out of the mother. In a similar vein, Bnei Yisrael were so entrenched in the Egyptian society that they had to be yanked "from inside" the womb of the nation which enveloped them.

Rav Wolbe comments that this might very well be the reason why, as stated in the Hagaddah, the redemption was performed, not by an angel or any other intermediary, but by Hashem Himself. Had the purpose of the midnight revelation merely been to kill the firstborn, an angel certainly could have sufficed. However, there was another aspect that had to be accomplished: Bnei Yisrael had to be completely severed from their previous surroundings and only the Omnipotent One had the ability to accomplish this feat.

The exodus from Mitzrayim was not meant to be a onetime occurrence. Chazal tell us (Pesachim 116b), "In each and every generation a person is obligated to perceive himself as if he went out of Mitzrayim." Whenever and wherever the Jew finds himself, he must make an effort to free himself from the non-Jewish culture which has permeated every nook and cranny of our planet. This idea is hinted to in the Haggadah, for we declare, "Originally our forefathers were idol worshippers and now Hashem has brought us close to His service." What do we mean by "now" Hashem brought us into His service? Didn't Yetzias Mitzrayim occur more than three thousand years ago? Indeed, we left back then, but each and every year we must once again disengage ourselves from the nations around us.

The Seder Night affords us an opportunity to turn off the internet i.e. disconnect from the outside world, and spend a good few hours focusing on inculcating ourselves and our children with the beauty of being part of the Jewish Nation. We are supposed to experience our uniqueness, appreciate that we are very different from the nations around us and realize that Hashem intended it to be that way. While we live amongst the other nations we must ensure that we don't live "inside" of them. May we merit ridding ourselves of all non-Jewish trappings, thereby experiencing Yetzias Mitzrayim in its truest form!

Chag Kasher V'Sameiach!

523 - Metzora

Parshas Metzora deals with various types of tumah. The Kuzari (2:60) explains that all forms of tumah are in reality offshoots of the primary tumah - the tumah of a corpse (See also Ramban in this week's parsha 15:11 who mentions this idea). Chazal tell us that the metzora is likened to a dead person. The tumos of niddah, zivah and shichvas zera are all created by bodily discharges which could have contributed to the creation of a living being. A lack of creating life, in effect, constitutes a form of death.

Rav Wolbe explains (Daas Shlomo) that death is a phenomenon that was not built into the fabric of creation. Only after the advent of cheit in general, and the sin of eating from the eitz hadaas in particular, did death become the way of the world. Thus, cheit and tumah are closely related since cheit caused death and death is the root of all tumah. For this reason, the Torah imposed laws that necessitate various levels of distance that must be maintained from those who are tamei, since the Torah wishes that we distance ourselves from sin and all its consequences.

Chazal tell us, "Sin covers over the heart of a person" (Yoma 39a). Every sin causes the heart to be covered with a thin film of impurity that dulls its innate sensitivities. This dulling of the senses is similar to death since, to a certain degree, the clarity of the heart's perception ceases to exist.

Kedusha stands diametrically opposite tumah: it signifies life and it allows one to experience life in its truest form. Moreover, it instills one's heart with sensitivities that are unknown to those who lack his level of kedusha. Such a person can sense a cheit that might have gone unnoticed by someone who does not possess such a high level of kedusha.

Every sin obstructs the spiritual arteries of the heart thereby dulling its ability to discern right from wrong. Not being offended by seeing an indecent sight is not something to be proud of. One of our great leaders compared it to a peasant who walks barefoot on pebbles without it affecting him: Both have simply become desensitized to the point where things that should set off bells simply go unnoticed.

Indeed, there are many things that while they do not affect gentiles, they definitely have a negative effect on Jews. We are aristocrats and we can sense even the smallest deviation from kedusha. Appreciate your innate greatness and guard this virtue as you would the apple of your eye!

522 - Tazria

While discussing the laws pertaining to a woman who gives birth which are mentioned at the beginning of this week's parsha, the Torah includes the mitzvah of bris milah: "On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised" (Vayikra 12:3). Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) cites a Gemara which highlights the uniqueness of this mitzvah.

"Hashem surrounds Bnei Yisrael with mitzvos. They don tefillin on their heads and arms, they wear tzitzis on their clothing and they affix a mezuzah upon their doors. About these mitzvos Dovid declared, 'Regarding seven [mitzvos i.e. two tefillin, four tzitzis and one mezuzah] do I praise You daily.' When Dovid entered the bathhouse and was aware that he was undressed, he lamented, 'Woe unto me that I stand bare of mitzvos.' After he remembered the bris milah he was comforted, and upon leaving he composed a chapter in Tehillim, "lam'natzeiach al ha'sheminis" - referring to the bris milah which is performed on the eighth day" (Menachos 43b).

What bothered Dovid about the fact that he was bare of mitzvos? After all, he had not been derelict in their performance, rather, he was standing in a bathhouse where there simply was no obligation to perform these mitzvos! Indeed, the Torah gauges a person by how they act in a situation where they are exempt from performing mitzvos.

This idea is expressed by Chazal (Avodah Zara 2b) when describing the scenario that will unfold when Moshiach comes. The nations of the world clamor for reward despite their lack of performing Hashem's will and they will plead to give them a mitzvah for them to merit reward." Hashem will command them to perform the mitzvah of sukkah, and each person will build a sukkah on their rooftop. Hashem will then cause the sun to beat down mercilessly thereby causing them to leave their sukkahs, but not before delivering a sound kick to its walls. The Gemara continues that although one who is suffering is not obligated to sit in the sukkah, nevertheless, they should not have kicked the sukkah before exiting. The Torah defines a person by his behavior when exempted from mitzvos. The nations act disdainfully, while a Jew who is exempt from this mitzvah takes leave of the sukkahsubmissively, as would "a servant who offered water to his master and the master threw the water back in his face" (Sukkah 28b).

With this in mind, we can understand Dovid Hamelech's distress when he realized that he stood bare of mitzvos. He was bothered that a situation existed where a person could be totally free from any mitzvos. The potential to enter a place where one is devoid of mitzvos indicates that the mitzvos are merely external acts to be performed and not spiritual deeds that are fused into a person's makeup and part and parcel of his being. He then remembered about the bris milah imprinted upon his flesh and was comforted by the awareness that mitzvos are ingrained into a person's body and they become part of his very essence. Thus, there is no situation where one is free from mitzvos.

Upon leaving the bathhouse he sang about the mitzvah of "the eighth day." The number seven represents nature. The seven mitzvos of tefillin, tzitzis and mezuzahsurround a person i.e they do not actually change a person, rather they sanctify his natural existence. In contrast, the number eight is symbolic of those things which are above the realm of nature. The bris milah takes the physical body and elevates it into a world of spirituality high above the realm of nature.

The month of Nissan and the Yom Tov of Pesach afford many people a break from their daily schedules in general and their learning sessions in particular. We are defined by the way we behave during our "off hours." The very essence of a Jew is ingrained with mitzvos andkedusha and we should make every effort to ensure that we maintain our unique holiness despite the lack of a structured schedule.

521 - Shemini

Society at large defines an educated person as one who has amassed wisdom. In contrast, the Torah defines an educated individual as one who has integrated his wisdom into the very fiber of his being. In the eyes of the Torah, one begins to educate himself when he "goes against his grain" and chooses to follow his intellect rather than his impulse.

This idea holds true not only with regard to Torah learning, but also with regard to the performance of mitzvos. Many mitzvos are not "natural" actions that would have been otherwise performed if not for the commandment. Laying tefillin, wearing tzitzis, affixing a mezuza, blowing a shofar and shaking a lulav are but a few such examples. The performance of these mitzvos requires a certain amount of subjugation of the body to the mind. One's natural tendency would be not to carry out these deeds and thus their performance requires a person to once again place intellect over impulse.

However, there are mitzvos that seem to work entirely in tandem with our nature. Examples of this type of mitzvah would include eating in general and more specifically eating matzah or the korban Pesach. If the bottom line of avodas Hashem is to get us to go against our grain, how is that accomplished when one performs a mitzvah that is completely normal for his body? Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) explains that these mitzvos also necessitate a struggle against one's natural tendencies.

In explanation of the pasuk at the end of this week's parsha, Chazal tell us, "'And you are to sanctify yourselves' refers to the mayim reshonim - washing one's hands before partaking of bread, 'and you shall become holy' refers to the mayim achronim - washing one's hands after eating" (Brachos 53b). Obviously, the directive to wash mayim achronim was not meant solely as a means of ridding our fingers of salts that may have dangerous properties. Had this been the case, the Torah would not have described this washing as a means of becoming holy. So what indeed lies behind this act of sanctification? The answer offers us valuable instruction on the proper approach to those mitzvos that seem to jive completely with our nature.

The need to sanctify oneself before eating is understandable since eating is a holy endeavor. At the very least it is a fulfillment of the Torah's commandment to guard one's health (Devarim 4:15). On its highest level, ingesting the food on one's table parallels the partaking of korbanos which are brought upon the mizbeiach (see Kesubos 105b). Conversely, eating is also a pleasurable activity which is often arouses one's ta'avah - base desires. We are instructed to wash mayim achronim to cleanse ourselves from the arousal of any such ta'avos.

Chazal are informing us that on the one hand if a person perceives eating as an entirely animalistic instinct, he will never succeed in elevating himself to a level of kedusha since he perceives himself in a very physical manner. On the other hand, if he views eating as an exclusively holy endeavor he will fool himself into thinking that he can indulge to his heart's content, for after all he is involving himself in a most holy pursuit. Thus, it is clear that even those mitzvos which comply with our natural tendencies also necessitate an avodah. We must prepare for them as we would do for something holy, but we must constantly confirm that we are not fooling ourselves into believing that we have already reached the level where the physical actions are purely an expression of the spiritual.

Every time we eat or drink we are afforded an opportunity for avodas Hashem. A small amount of preparation before engaging in these completely natural actions can reap immeasurable reward. When one is cognizant of the fact that that he is about to engage in a mitzvah, and he takes care not to indulge for the sake of indulging, he will succeed in "sanctifying himself and making himself holy!"

520 - Tzav

The world gives the impression as if it operates by itself. Although a nonbiased individual should be able to discern the Grand Puppeteer behind the stage, it seems that most people are simply oblivious to the Creator. A fascinating explanation of a mitzvah in this week's parsha offered by the Sefer HaChinuch, illustrates to just what degree Hashem's presence in this world is hidden.

The Torah commands us, "A permanent fire shall be lit upon the mizbeiach, it shall not be extinguished" (Vayikra 6:6). The Chinuch writes that it is well known that even awesome miracles performed by Hashem are somewhat concealed. They appear as if they are simply an element of nature. Prior to the splitting of the sea, arguably the most astounding miracle in all of history, "Hashem moved the sea with a strong east wind all night" thereby giving the impression that the whole incident was the result of a natural disaster. The force of a powerful tornado caused the waters to split thereby allowing the Jews to pass through the parted waters. In a similar vein, despite the fact that a fire descended from Heaven onto the mizbeiach, we are commanded to light our own fire upon it to veil the otherwise overt miracle. Indeed, even when Hashem's reveals Himself, He makes sure to hide behind the veil of nature.

When the Navi exhorts us, "Walk with tzenius with Hashem" (Michah 6:8), he is not merely instructing those who look for publicity to conceal their good deeds. He is informing us that when one conceals his actions he is actually following in Hashem's ways, since He also hides what He does.

Rav Wolbe writes (Alei Shur vol. II p. 594) that many people define tzenius very superficially. The virtue of tzenius being discussed here refers not to an external dress code; rather, it refers to one's internal spiritual composition. The pasuk states, "Tzenius goes together with wisdom" (Proverbs 11:2). Rabbeinu Yonah explains that tzenius is a virtue which is attributed to the wise, "for they hear and listen and they do not desire to reveal what lies in their hearts." They do not feel compelled to reveal everything they have seen and heard. This quality allows them to live a life of penimiyus, since they have created for themselves a world that is not dependent on the opinions and desires of others. They are able to focus on their spiritual state without being affected by outside influences.

It takes one to know one. Only a person who lives with tzenius and conceals his actions has the ability to discern Hashem's concealed hand conducting the world. Had Mordechai and Esther not written the Megillah in a manner which highlights the various milestones that occurred over a twelve year period, most people would have perceived these occurrences as happenstance. Vashti happened to disobey Achashveirosh, Esther happened to be chosen as queen and Mordechai happened to overhear the plot of Bigson and Seresh. It takes a wise man to connect the dots in a way that produces a "picture" of Hashem's involvement.

We live in the internet generation where anything and everything is public. Anything anybody says, publishes or captures on camera is recorded and posted for the world to perceive. People have a hard time keeping anything inside themselves. Creating a relationship with Hashem means one is cognizant of His presence in his life - something inaccessible to a person who perceives the world superficially. Imbibing wine on Purim allows one to discover who he really is. Dig a little under the surface of your skin. Not only will you begin creating a world of penimiyus, but you will also succeed in scraping the veneer off this world thereby revealing the Creator in all His glory!

A Freilichen Purim!

519 - Purim

Chazal tell us (Shabbos 88a) that even after Matan Torah, if Bnei Yisrael would fail to comply with the mitzvos of the Torah, they could be exonerated due to a disclaimer: They had lacked a willful acceptance of the commandments since Hashem had held a mountain over their head thereby forcing them to accept the Torah. Tosafos explains that although they had already declared na'aseh v'nishma, they might have reneged on their acceptance after perceiving the tremendous fire that accompanied Matan Torah. The Gemara continues that nevertheless, they lost this excuse during the reign of Achashveirosh when they willingly reaccepted the Torah as a result of the great miracle performed for them.

How is it possible, asks Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo Geulah), that the generation of Mordechai was on a greater spiritual level than the generation that left Mitzrayim? After all, it is known that the Moshe's generation (the dor dei'ah) was the only generation in the course of all of history that was suited and spiritually capable of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai.

The answer lies in a close analysis of what occurred during Matan Torah. Hashem warned Moshe, "Set boundaries for the people around [Har Sinai], saying, 'Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge'" (Shemos 19:12). This warning was given once and repeated again just prior to the Aseres Hadibros. Additionally, the kohanim were warned not to rely upon their elevated status and try to ascend the mountain when hearing Hashem speaking to them. In other words, the natural reaction should have been that when Hashem revealed Himself to Bnei Yisrael, they would have instinctively rushed forward to try to get a closer "glimpse" of their Creator.

However, what actually unfolded was a different scenario altogether. As soon as they heard Hashem's voice, they quaked with fear and retreated nearly ten miles from Har Sinai. Moreover, Chazal tell us that they actually had to be revived since they died as a result of hearing Hashem speak. Consequently, they begged Moshe to act as an intermediary: he would hear the word of Hashem and relay it to the rest of Bnei Yisrael. Many years later, when Moshe castigated them, he referred back to this event and stated, "You weakened me [with your reaction]." He was distressed because he realized that they did not have the craving to connect to Hashem through love. Instead, their acceptance of the Torah was fueled by their fear of Hashem, and had the mountain not been held above their heads who knows if they would have accepted the Torah. Although their minds internalized the veracity of all they had heard, their hearts failed to internalize Hashem's word and merely followed the lead of the mind blindly.

We can appreciate Bnei Yisrael's behavior, because we also encounter similar feelings when we experience moments of spiritual elevation. Yom Kippur is a unique day which brings to extraordinary levels of loftiness, but who truly feels a desire to live on such a spiritual plateau all year long?

After experiencing the astounding miracle in the days of Achashveirosh, Bnei Yisrael's hearts matured and developed to the point that the heart did not have to blindly follow the mind's perception. The demonstration of Hashem's tremendous devotion toward Bnei Yisrael brought them to a whole new level of love of Hashem. They had no reserves about Hashem's commandments and they willingly accepted the Torah. Their spiritual level might not have been greater than that of their predecessors, but their hearts had been opened by Hashem's unique display of love for them. The Arizal said that in some aspects Yom Kippur is secondary to the day of Purim. Rav Wolbe posits that this idea might be manifested in the spiritual acquisitions made possible during these days. While Yom Kippur can sometimes foster certain feelings of rebellion, the tremendous outpouring of Hashem's love experienced on Purim negates any feelings of hesitation.

The essence of Purim is the heart. Love is the focal point of all the mitzvos of the day: Love of Hashem (Megillah), love of fellow Jews (mishloach manos, matanos l'evyonim) and even love of oneself (seudas Purim). On Purim our hearts are opened wide and it would be a shame if all we fill it with is candies and lightheadedness. It's a once a year opportunity to get "drunk" on love of Hashem and feel a true connection to every person in the Jewish Nation!

518 - Pekudei

The week's parsha begins, "These are the reckonings of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of Testimony, which were reckoned by Moshe" (Vayikra 38:21). Rashi, commenting on the redundancy in the pasuk, cites the Medrash which explains that the double mention of the Mishkan is the Torah's way of hinting to the two Batei Mikdash which were destroyed. They were both seized by Hashem as "collateral" - mashkon - in lieu of the debt created by the sins of Bnei Yisrael. Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) offers a beautiful explanation of this Medrash.

Chazal exhort us (Yerushalmi Brachos 9:5) "Serve [Hashem] out of love and serve [Hashem] out of fear. Serve out of love because if you become inclined to hate, you will bear in mind that one who loves does not hate. Serve out of fear because if you decide to rebel, you will bear in mind that one who fears does not rebel." There are two possible relationships that one can have with Hashem; one of closeness or one of feeling distant. Both of these scenarios each have a positive and negative facet. Closeness can breed a tremendous love of Hashem. On the other hand, this closeness has the ability to develop into hatred. We find that Hashem said to Bnei Yisrael that if not for the fact that He rested His Shechina amongst them they would not have sinned in kivros ha'taava (Rashi to Bamidbar 11:20). Familiarity breeds contempt which in turn caused them to rebel against Hashem.

Disconnection obviously has the ability to breed hatred. Yet, there is also a positive side to this situation. The acknowledgment of the distance between the Creator and oneself, and the cognizance of the infinite greatness of Hashem in contrast to his own finiteness, will bring a person to yiras Shamayim. The Maharal explains that we refer to fear of Hashem as "yiras Shamayim"in contrast to love of Hashem which is not referred to as ahavas Shamayim. This is to emphasize the distance between man and his Creator: it is as great as the distance between heaven and earth.

Man is meant to utilize the inherent distance between him and his Creator to produce a fear of Hashem, and use the inborn closeness of being created in Hashem's image as a catalyst to obtain a deep love of Hashem. These two qualities will keep his relationship with Hashem in check. The love created by the closeness will prevent any feelings of hatred that might have been generated by the distance, and the fear borne out of the distance will preclude the possibility of any rebellious actions engendered by the closeness.

Yet, there is another situation which also exists. When the intensity of the closeness or distance is so strong, nothing in the world can change that situation. Chazal refer to the yetzer hara as "a foreign god." Its very essence is one of isolation and distance from Hashem and there is nothing that can be done to change that fact. The converse is also true. Chazal tell us, "A cherished one (Shlomo) the son of a cherished one (Dovid) will build a cherished edifice (the Bais Hamikdosh) for the Cherished One (Hashem) in the portion of the cherished one (Binyomin) wherein the cherished ones (Bnei Yisrael) will find forgiveness" (Yalkut Shemoni Shmuel II 12:149). We should be awestruck by Chazal's description of the intensity of the love between Hashem and Klal Yisrael. The connection is so deep that there is no way out of it.

With this idea in mind, we can appreciate the Rashi at the beginning of the parsha. Collateral is something which despite the fact that it is being held by the lender, nevertheless, remains to an extent in the possession of the borrower. Likewise, the love manifested by the Bais Hamikdosh, which was taken as collateral in lieu of the debt created by the iniquities of Bnei Yisrael, still remains intact despite their wayward behavior. The connection to Hashem is so intrinsic that there is nothing in the world that can sever that bond.

Appreciate the greatness of Klal Yisrael. No matter what and no matter when, they remain cherished beyond words. Even the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, and certainly any spiritually depraved situation in which one finds himself, cannot wipe away the tremendous love that Hashem has for us. Next time you daven, thank Hashem for the zechus of being part of the Chosen Nation. It's a fortune much greater than winning the billion dollar Powerball lottery!

517 - Vayakhel

Although Moshe was the one told by Hashem to instruct Bnei Yisrael to build the Mishkan, nevertheless, he was not in charge of the actual construction. In this week's parsha the Torah informs us that there were two people charged with that mission. The first was Betzalel and the second was Ohaliav. Rashi points out (Shemos 35:34) that Ohaliav came from sheivet Dan which was regarded as one of the "lowly" shevatim since Dan was begotten by Bilha who was a maidservant of Rachel. On the other hand, Betzalel came from sheivet Yehuda which was regarded as one of the greatest shevatim. Despite the difference in their lineages, the Torah equated the two in the construction of the Mishkan.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) comments that Hashem does not examine a person's ancestry before choosing him for a specific position. The criteria for obtaining the position is the person's aptitude in the specific task needed to be filled. Ohaliav was the perfect man for the job and thus he was chosen to work hand in hand with Betzalel who was of a much more prestigious lineage.

Betzalel and Ohaliav were the men in charge of creating the Mishkan. Who merited executing the actual construction of the Mishkan and the numerous vessels therein? We can find the answer earlier in the parsha. "Every man whose heart inspired him came, and everyone whose spirit motivated him brought the portion of Hashem for the Mishkan" (ibid. 35:21). The Ramban explains that Bnei Yisrael had no one to train them into these highly skilled and detail oriented vocations. Nevertheless, those whose spirit motivated them to join the workforce of constructing an abode for Hashem, found the skills within themselves despite their lack of training. "Their hearts soared in the service of Hashem" and they came before Moshe and declared that they were ready to perform any task required of them.

Bnei Yisrael had spent their entire lives in Mitzrayim performing backbreaking labor. They were familiar with mortar and bricks and had never been exposed to jobs that required precision and dexterity. Yet, they had a sincere desire to contribute to the building of the Mishkan and this motivation brought them to discover within themselves skills that were hitherto unknown. Once again, the positions were filled not with those who brought the most impressive ancestry, but with those who desired to participate and thereby made themselves truly worthy for the position.

In the realm of spirituality, our advancement is up to us. One's lineage doesn't make a difference, nor do any other aspects of his background such as his schooling or the community in which he grew up. It all depends on how much one desires to advance in his avodas Hashem. Moreover, it doesn't make a difference if one obtains a coveted position or not, since what really counts is where one is positioned in the eyes of Hashem!

516 - Ki Sisa

"After He finished speaking with him on Har Sinai, He gave to Moshe two tablets of testimony; stone tablets written by the finger of Hashem" (Shemos 31:18). Since this conversation which took place was one sided with only Hashem speaking to Moshe, shouldn't the Torah have written, "After He finished speaking to him" instead of "with him?" Rashi explains that actually a discussion took place. After Moshe heard all the commandments from Hashem they then discussed them together! The only question is, for what reason did Hashem feel it necessary to discuss together with Moshe everything that He had just finished teaching him?

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash ibid; Parshas Yisro19:17) cites the Maharal's explanation of this event. He writes that the commandments of the Torah differ greatly from the decrees and edicts enacted by human monarchs. Their decrees might have been composed by whim, and all of them are subjective since they are based on the ruler's own intellect and understanding. Thus, there is no reason for the monarch to discuss his decrees with his constituents because regardless of their truth the decrees must be accepted. In contrast, the commandments of the Torah are absolute and incontrovertible. After Hashem taught Moshe the entire Torah, He discussed each mitzvah with him and showed him how every aspect of the Torah is necessary and indispensable.

With this idea, we can elucidate a Rashi earlier inSefer Shemos. The Torah tells us (Shemos 19:17) that during Matan Torah Bnei Yisrael stood "under the mountain." Rashi, quoting Chazal, explains that Hashem uprooted the mountain and held it threateningly above their heads, thereby forcing them to accept Torah. Elsewhere Chazal tell us that after Moshiach comes and Bnei Yisrael will receive their just reward for performing the mitzvos of the Torah, the other nations will step forward and complain to Hashem: "Why didn't You hold the mountain above our heads and force us to accept the Torah like you did to Bnei Yisrael?" Hashem will respond that they cannot complain, since even the seven mitzvos that they were commanded they did not fulfill (Avodah Zara 2b).

Rav Wolbe explains that Hashem held the mountain over the heads of Bnei Yisrael only after they had decided on their own volition to accept the Torah with their wholehearted declaration of "na'aseh v'nishma." After they made the first step, Hashem rewarded them with a dose of Heavenly assistance, and He, so to speak, "held the mountain over their heads." In other words, after Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah, Hashem revealed to them what He discussed with Moshe. He showed Bnei Yisrael how every aspect of the Torah is entirely necessary and crucial for the existence of the world. Chazal are telling us that they were intellectually forced to accept the Torah because its truth was made glaringly clear. The other nations did not take the first step by fulfilling the seven mitzvos given to them. Therefore, they did not merit the Heavenly assistance which comes to those who demonstrate their eagerness to submit themselves to Hashem's will.

Some turn their eyes heavenward and wait for Hashem to help them in their spiritual struggles. Should it not come, they complain, "Why don't you help me like you helped Yankel and Shmerel." Chazal are informing us that to merit Hashem's assistance, one has to take the first step himself. Show Hashem that you believe in Him, show Him that you trust Him or how you are interested in growing in your avodas Hashem and yiras Shamayim. All you have to do is initiate, and Hashem will respond with a generous dose of Heavenly assistance!

515 - Tetzaveh

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) comments that one who is very particular about his clothing, will only buy a suit from a tailor. A suit tailored to their specific body sits better on them than a store bought suit. In this regard, the world of ruchniyus is no different from the material world. There are "ordinary" articles of spiritual clothing, and there are articles that are "hand tailored" to fit a person.

Rabbeinu Yonah writes (Sha'arei Teshuvah 1:10) that every person should be aware that, "Hashem has blown into my nostrils a living spirit, wisdom of the heart... to enable me... to fear Him." Why does Rabbeinu Yonah emphasize that the wisdom given to us is wisdom "of the heart?" The answer can be found in the menorah oil discussed in this week's parsha.

Parshas Tetzaveh commences with Hashem instructing Moshe to command Bnei Yisrael to prepare the purest olive oil for the lighting of the menorah. In Parshas Vayakhel (35:14) this unique oil is listed among the various components of the Mishkan whose preparation required the expertise of "wise hearted men." Rashi explains that this was so because this oil was different from all other oils. Only the ripest olives from the top of the tree were used, and only the very first drop squeezed from each olive qualified to be used as oil for the menorah.

Just as the oil of the menorah needed the expertise of "wise hearted" men because it differed from ordinary oil, so too, the fear of Hashem requires "wisdom of the heart" because it differs from ordinary fear. The Navi Yeshaya (29:13), relaying Hashem's castigation of Bnei Yisrael, declares, "Their fear of Me is like commands performed by rote." Indeed they feared Hashem, but their fear was robotic. They practiced their fear by rote as if was a standard item that one acquires in any store. Their fear was not tailored to fit their individuality.

So who is the tailor that can outfit a person with a perfect garb of yiras Shamayim? The tailor is the person himself! Each person for himself, after becoming cognizant of his specific set of virtues and deficiencies, can fashion a spiritual suit that should fit him like a glove. The wisdom required to achieve this goal cannot be found in a sefer. No two people are the same and no two situations are the same, and thus, the guidelines set down for Reuven will not work for Shimon. Rather, this knowledge can be found by each person in the wisdom of his heart.

Just because your neighbor eats in a specific restaurant doesn't mean that you should, and just because your friend dresses in a specific manner doesn't mean that you have to. The only place to look to the find the answers to what you should or should not be doing is in the mirror. Take a deep breath, smile, and define for yourself where you stand in the spiritual arena. This exercise will enable you to stop wearing borrowed clothing and begin enjoying the advantage of wearing a perfectly tailored suit!

514 - Terumah

When Adam was created, he entered a spiritually pure world. In a sin-free setting, Hashem's presence is palpable and it is quite comprehensible that one living in such an environment would be able to converse with the Creator Himself as was the case with Adam. Unfortunately, this utopia lasted only a number of hours. He sinned by eating from the eitz hada'as and thereby plunged the world into a spiritual darkness. This darkness culminated with the destruction of most of mankind during the flood.

Avraham Avinu began building a new world of spirituality. Seven generations later his offspring stood by Har Sinai and declared na'aseh v'nishma and thereby restored the world to its original state of spiritual purity. Once again those present at that time merited hearing words emanating from Hashem Himself. However, shortly thereafter the original course of events recurred: a sin was committed and it hurled the world downward into a spiritual abyss.

According to the Seforno, the building of theMishkan was meant to rectify this situation and create an edifice which would act as a substitute for the former world of purity. The Mishkan was in effect a microcosm of the universe. When Moshe Rabbeinu entered this abode which was untainted by sin, he immediately heard the voice of Hashem. Indeed, anyone who entered encountered numerous miracles that proclaimed Hashem's presence.

Chazal tell us (Shemos Rabba 34:1) that when Hashem instructed Moshe to build the Mishkan, Moshe wondered aloud: "His presence fills the entire universe and He is asking me to build an abode for Him?" Hashem responded, "I did not intend it to be as big as you think it should be. Erect twenty beams on the northern side, twenty beams on the southern side and eight beams on the western side. Moreover, I will descend and rest My Shechina within a space of a cubit by a cubit." Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo) quotes Rav Yeruchom Levovitz's explanation of Moshe's surprise. Moshe did not assume that Hashem intended to maintain His presence in the world and merely occupy an additional personal abode. Had this been the case then there would be no place for his question since such an endeavor would not necessitate a huge building. Rather, Moshe understood that Hashem was planning on removing His presence from the entire universe and dwelling solely in the Mishkan! Hashem responded with the concept of tzimtzum Ha'Shechina - He would condense His presence and limit it to a single square cubit!

Alas, the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdosh have been destroyed and Hashem's presence on earth is no longer felt. Do we have any hope of regaining His presence in a fashion similar to what was felt in the previous generations? Chazal (Brachos 8a) enlighten us and assert, "From the time that the Beis Hamiksosh was destroyed Hashem has no place in this world aside from the four cubits of halacha." We are left without a Mishkanand without any of its vessels, but Hashem still finds a way to condense and concentrate His presence i.e. on a person who delves into the Torah l'halacha.

Reb Naftoli Amsterdam once lamented to his Rebbi Reb Yisroel Salanter that he feels inadequate to properly serve Hashem. "If only I had the brilliant mind of theShaagas Aryeh, the passionate heart of the Yesod V'Shoresh Ha'Avodah and your sterling middos, then I would be able to properly serve Hashem!" Reb Yisroel Salanter replied, "Naftoli, with your mind, with your heart and with your middos you have the ability to be a trueoveid Hashem!" Rav Yeruchom Levovitz comments that Reb Yisroel Salanter was informing his disciple of just how far this idea of tzimtzum Ha'Shechina goes. Hashem will even condense His Shechina and rest it upon a person with limited intellectual abilities, a small heart and unpolished middos, as long as he serves Hashem with seriousness and wholesomeness. We have the ability to build a Mishkan. We do not even have to travel to Yerushalayim since the building is to take place in our own backyard. The most lucrative investment is the investment of time one spends in building himself into an abode for the Shechina!

513 - Mishpatim

When Adam was created, good and evil were clearly defined. After he sinned by eating from the eitz hadaas, the evil entered his body. It became part of his spiritual makeup, thereby causing the ability to distinguish between good and evil to become much more difficult. Fortunately, as we will see, this confusion is a malady which is limited to the confines of the heart.

The Chovos Ha'Levovos tells us (Avodas Ha'Elokim chap. 5) that our intellect does not suffer from this difficulty. Moreover, it is clear from his words that the intellect is the tool that we were given to enable us to properly navigate our way through this world without crashing into the roadblocks of evil that were erected after Adam's sin. "One is to acknowledge Hashem by way of his intellect... What brings a person to this acknowledgment is one's clarity of the fact that Hashem implanted in the intellect the ability to recognize the praiseworthiness of truth and the deceit of falsehood, and the value to choose good and to refrain from evil." What people refer to as one's "conscience," should more correctly be labeled "the intellect granted to him by his Creator."

However, says Rav Wolbe (Daas Shlomo), there is a hitch in the intellect's ability to guide a person. This obstacle is spelled out in this week's parsha. "Do not accept a bribe (shochad), for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise" (Shemos 23:8). The Gemara in Kesubos (105b) explains that the word "shochad" is actually a compound word - "she'hu chad" - "that he is one." A judge who accepts a bribe becomes one with the person who offered the bribe, and consequently does not have the ability to evaluate the situation objectively.

When one's hand accepts a bribe, his intellect becomes paralyzed. Additionally, a bribe does not have to come solely by way of the transfer of money from hand to hand. Our heart's desires are one of the biggest bribes that will ever be offered to us. These too have the ability to cause our hearts and minds to become one and cause the intellect to no longer be able to properly appraise life's circumstances. Our intellect can be compared to a compass. The needle of a compass always points to the north. However, put a small magnet next to the compass and it will throw off its sense of direction. Likewise, when we place a small desire next to our intellect, it throws off our sense of direction and thus our ability to navigate through the world.

So what are we supposed to do? How can we be guaranteed that what our intellect tells us is really true? The answer to this question can also be found in the Chovos Ha'Levovos (ibid. chap. 3). It was for this reason that we were given the Torah. The Torah is the ultimate compass. It was given to us from the hand of the Creator and therefore it is certainly not adulterated by human desires. He Who created the maze, also gave us the guide to find our way. Even if we ourselves have not succeeded in mastering the information, we always have our Torah leaders who are happy to show us the way.

512 - Yisro

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) cites a fascinating statement made by Rav Sadya Goan. He asserts that all the mitzvos in the Torah are alluded to in the aseres ha'dibros (Ten Commandments). Moreover, the aseres ha'dibros are all encapsulated in the first commandment, and not only that, all the words in the first commandment are encapsulated within the first word of that commandment - "Anochi." In other words, all the mitzvos can be condensed into a single mitzvah. In Parshas Mishpatim (24:12) the Torah relates that Hashem said to Moshe, "Ascend the mountain to Me and remain there and I will give you the stone luchos and the Torah and the mitzvah." The Torah refers to all the mitzvos in the singular because all of them together really boil down to a single commandment.

Regarding this idea, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz would cite the Gemara in Sukka (46a) which brings an opinion that one who is about to fulfill several mitzvos in succession should only recite a single bracha, "Asher kideshanu b'mitzvosav v'tzivanu al ha'mitzvos." Although at face value it looks like he is performing many unrelated mitzvos - tefillin, lulav, tzitzis and sukkah - nevertheless, the bottom line of all the mitzvos is the same and a singlebracha suffices for them all. In a similar vein, the Gemara at the end of Makkos tells us that Chavakuk encapsulated the entire Torah in a single commandment.

How are we to understand this? What does it mean that the entire Torah can be found in the word "Anochi?"Rav Wolbe explains as follows. There are many aspects that make up a society, such as its country, government, elections, army, police force and so on. In addition, there are many facets that are included in its culture, such as science, music and the arts. Religion can be thrown in there too.
Let us take for example, a cultured gentleman in such a society, who enjoys a concert once in a while, attends services on Sunday, reads the paper each day and takes an interest in sports and finances. Imagine, that this fine gentleman was present at Har Sinai when Hashem revealed Himself and declared "I [am Hashem your G-d]!" From that moment on, his life would change drastically. His entire value system would crumble with the knowledge that there is a Creator of the world. Religion is no longer a facet of culture; it is life itself. All Hashem had to do was declare, "Anochi" - I exist! The awareness that a Creator exists, in and of itself, is enough to compel a person to do everything in his ability to fulfill the will of the One Who created him.

It is quite possible for a person to fulfill all the commandments - he keeps Shabbos and kashrus, wearstefillin and tzitzis, davens, bentches and even washesmayim achronim - and nevertheless is missing the boat of Yiddishkeit. For him, sports are a more significant part of his life than religion. Although they are both things that he wants to fit into his daily schedule, sports are a more central part of that schedule than his religious obligations. Judaism is not comprised of religious ceremonies that have to be attended similar to the opera and the Super Bowl. Yiddishkeit is life. Chazal assert, "What is a small portion of the Torah upon which all aspects of the Torah are dependant? - 'Know Him in all your ways' - all your actions should be performed for the sake of Heaven"(Brachos 63a).

With the first word of the aseres ha'dibros Hashem revealed Himself and gave us His business card, so to speak. We now know He exists and our life is to be lived accordingly. In addition to the overtly spiritual activities such as davening and learning, we also have to eat, sleep, engage in conversation, work and relax. However, all these activities should be performed with the knowledge that ultimately everything we do is with the purpose of bringing us closer to Hashem. If you think about it for a minute, you might be surprised to discover that most of your daily schedule is subconsciously executed for that very reason. All that is left are just a few actions that have to be fine tuned to sing in harmony with Hashem's solo "Anochi!"

511 - Beshalach

After the awesome miracles witnessed at the splitting of the sea, the Torah tells us - and we recite it daily during Shachris - "Bnei Yisrael saw the great hand that Hashem inflicted upon Mitzrayim and the nation feared Hashem and they believed in Hashem and in Moshe His servant." Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Beshalach 14:31) asks the obvious question. How is it that their fear of Hashem preceded their belief in Hashem? Shouldn't the order have been reversed? Only after one believes in the Creator is there the possibility of fearing Him.

He quoted the answer given by his Rebbi, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz, the Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva in prewar Europe. Rav Yeruchom was wont to say, "One cannot discuss emunah with a drunkard." It is only after the drunkard sobers up that he has the clarity of mind needed to discuss belief in the Creator.

Rav Wolbe cites a Medrash (Shemos Rabba 30:11) that corroborates this idea. Iyov, who suffered tremendous misfortunes, declared in his misery, "If only I knew how to find Him... I would set out my case before Him" (Iyov 23:3). Chazal explained his declaration with a parable. An officer once proclaimed, "Show me the king and I'll teach him a lesson." They then brought the officer to the palace and he observed the king blind a lieutenant, jail a princess, exile a general, cripple a captain and banish a prime minister. Consequently the officer announced, "I apologize for I was drunk and did not realize the power of the king." Likewise, Iyov was shown how Hashem caused Yitzchak to become blind, Miriam to remain in solitude due to her tzara'as, Avraham's offspring to be exiled, Yaakov to be crippled (in his fight with the angel) and Moshe to be banished from Eretz Yisrael. Consequently Iyov announced, "I apologize for I was drunk and did not realize the power of The King."

Without a proper appreciation of Hashem's exacting standards of retribution, a person is, to an extent, "in the dark." The emunah discussed in the Torah is not the basic knowledge that there is a Creator. After the miraculous redemption from Egypt, the fact that there is a G-d was not a subject for debate. The Torah is referring to an understanding and acknowledgment that every single aspect of the world is run completely and solely by Hashem. Although they had previously questioned the prudence of their exodus from Egypt, they were aroused from their "stupor" by the exacting punishment meted upon the Egyptians. This occurrence initiated a new level of appreciation of Hashem's providence in every aspect of the running of the world. The fear brought them to faith.

In a similar vein, continues Rav Wolbe, someone who is entirely caught up in a materialistic lifestyle, is for all intents and purposes a drunkard. There is no way to speak to him about emunah when he can't see past his bottle of wine i.e. his self-indulgent lifestyle. Only after he awakens from his stupor can he have the clarity of mind to discuss spirituality in general and belief in Hashem in particular.

Unfortunately, we have all too many alarm clocks trying to awaken us from our slumber. The terror in Eretz Yisrael, the tragedies and suffering that have befallen numerous people are all wake up calls from The King. These occurrences should instill awe in our hearts so that we wake up and realize that, "If this is the power of the King, then we indeed have been drunk up until now." Since we haven't appreciated His omnipotence and providence in every last aspect of the running of the world, He is trying to teach us a lesson in emunah. We need to wake up from the deep slumber brought upon us by our very materialistic world and rub our eyes to enable ourselves to discern Hashem in every facet of our lives!

510 - Bo

Many people, says Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, Bo 12:6), feel that mitzvos performed without the accompaniment of feelings of spiritual loftiness are almost insignificant. People love to learn the reasons behind the mitzvos because a rational explanation for the commandments satisfies their intellectual hunger. This knowledge gives their actions purpose and leaves them with a good feeling. However, no matter how sensible the reasons offered for the performance of the mitzvos might be, they cannot be the ultimate motive for one's fulfillment of Hashem's commandments.

We perform the mitzvos because we are servants of Hashem and therefore must heed His commandments whether we understand them or not. Yet, mitzvos performed with attention to detail, even if they lack any spiritual sensation, have the ability to completely transform a person for the better. Every mitzvah makes an indelible impression which, when accumulated, change a person in a way he could have never imagined.

The converse is also true. Even if a person feels no spiritual regression when wearing shatnez, Chazal (cited in the Siddur HaGra) tell us that wearing shatnez hinders one's ability to concentrate on his prayers. Indeed, even without being cognizant of the power of both mitzvos and aveiros, they wield a strong influence upon a person.

Rashi in this week's parsha (Shemos 12:6) tells us that the time was ripe for Bnei Yisrael to be redeemed from bondage but they had no spiritual acquisitions to warrant their redemption. Hence, Hashem gave them the opportunity to perform two mitzvos: bris milah and korban Pesach. The Pesach offering involved many details including examining it for four days prior to the slaughtering, eating it roasted and in a hurried manner while taking care not to break any of its bones.

The bris milah, as explained by the Maharal, is the mitzvah which symbolizes the Jew's servitude to his Creator. His flesh is branded with the mark of his Creator. Meticulousness regarding all the details of the mitzvah coupled with this symbol on their bodies primed them for the redemption. The purpose of both these mitzvos was to enable Bnei Yisrael to demonstrate their complete subservience to Hashem.

The importance of learning halacha and obtaining clarity with regard to the details of each mitzvah is something which cannot be ignored. The proper performance of mitzvos is the key to attaining the perfection for which we all strive. Reviewing hilchos Shabbos at the Shabbos table will not only enhance one's seudos Shabbos, it will enhance his relationship with the Creator.

509 - Va'eira

This week's parsha commences with Hashem describing to Moshe the relationship that He had with the Avos. "I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as Keil Shakai, but with My Name Ado-nai I did not make Myself known to them" (Shemos 6:3). Rashi explains that the name "Ado-nai" connotes Hashem's attribute of truth i.e. being true to His word. Hashem promised numerous things to the Avos, but they were only to come to fruition in the future. The fulfillment of His promises would be the manifestation of His attribute of truth indicated by the Name "Ado-nai."

When Yisro suggested to Moshe that he find men to assist in judging Bnei Yisrael, he added that the candidates should be "men of truth" (ibid. 18:21). Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) points out that, here too, Rashi explains that this appellation refers to men whose guarantee can be relied upon. Truth is not defined solely by not falsifying facts of the past; it pertains also to one's pledges regarding the future. There was no question that Hashem would fulfill His promises. Nevertheless, He felt that His name of truth had not been revealed because those promises were not fulfilled in the lifetime of the Avos. Likewise, even if a person has full intention of fulfilling his promises, unless he actually makes good on his word he cannot be considered a man of truth.

A similar idea can be found in the bracha of Kiddush Levana. Once a month we declare about the heavenly orbs, "A fixed time was given to them that they not change their instructions... doers of truth." Rashi (Sanhedrin 42a) explains that "doers of truth" refers to the fact that they never change their course. The world is not eternal, but as long as it does exist, it exists without change. It is possible to calculate the exact time, down to the second, that the moon will begin its monthly cycle in one thousand years from now. The truth of the sun and the moon is defined by their constancy and lack of deviation from their defined course. Chazal tell us (Shabbos 104a) that truth has stability and permanence since the letters of the word "emes" all stand firmly on their bases while the letters of "sheker" lack the same stability.

Indeed, the truth of a human being can also be determined by his constancy and lack of deviation from his pledges. A person faithful to his word is a man of truth, while not keep one's word indicates a serious flaw. The Gemara states (Bava Metzia 49a) that one who pays for an item (thereby committing to buy it) but has not yet taken possession with a kinyan, is halachically permitted to back out of his purchase. However, regarding such people it is said, "He Who brought retribution upon the Generation of the Flood and the Generation of Dispersion, will bring retribution upon one who does not stand by his word."

While most people refrain from outright lies, failing to fulfill one's promise is not perceived with the same severity. No politician could hope to be elected if his campaign was full of blatant falsehoods. Nevertheless, he might pledge more than he ever had intentions of fulfilling and often manage to win the election. He might not be a liar, but he is also not a man of truth! Yet, mussar dictates that we point a finger not at others, rather, at ourselves. We are to look in the mirror and determine if we conform to these criteria. Have we pledged on Yom Kippur to improve and failed to fulfill our word? Do we maintain a level of consistency with regard to Shacharis or do we bounce from minyan to minyan depending on the time we wake up? Reneging is always the easy way out. However, truth be told, it feels a lot better to be truthful and fulfill one's word thereby emulating the attribute of "Ado-nai!"

508 - Shemos

Chazal provide us with an enlightening description of Klal Yisrael: "The Torah says about one who returns a lost object to a gentile, 'Thereby equating the satiated to the craving" (Sanhedrin 76b). Rashi explains, that gentiles are described as "satiated" since they do not necessarily crave to know their Creator, while Jews are given the appellation "craving" since they thirst and crave to fear their Creator and to fulfill His commandments.

Rav Wolbe (Da'as Shlomo) elaborates on this idea. Jews have always been the revolutionaries - not only in the spiritual realm but also in the material world. In any movement that arises, you can always find Jews at the forefront. While gentiles are mostly complacent, the Jewish people thirst and crave, and are therefore always searching for fulfillment. Most importantly, this innate quality stands out with regard to spiritual cravings. Jewish People crave and search for a connection with their Creator.

Yet, Chazal inform us that spiritual searching can be dangerous. While proper yearning should lead one to become closer to Hashem, if one is not careful then he can end up with the opposite result - he will have distanced himself from his Creator. Following the exodus from Mitzrayim the Torah tells us that Bnei Yisrael, "tested Hashem saying, 'Is Hashem among us or not?'" (Shemos 17:7). Immediately thereafter, Amalek waged war against Bnei Yisrael. Rashi explains the juxtaposition analogously: A man carried his son upon his shoulders and set out on his way. The son saw an item and asked his father to purchase it for him. The father complied and the scene repeated itself time and time again. The pair then met a man and the son asked him if perhaps he knew where his father is. The father turned to his son and exclaimed, "You don't know where I am?!" He threw his son down and a dog came and bit him.

During their bondage in Mitzrayim and thereafter when Bnei Yisrael left in a most miraculous fashion culminating in the splitting of the sea, they had always searched for Hashem in a manner that cultivated closeness. They prayed and pleaded, and Hashem redeemed them from the bondage and their Egyptian pursuers despite the fact that they did not have the merits to deserve the redemption (see Ramban to Shemos 2:23). They craved His closeness and He reciprocated. However, subsequently they engaged in the negative type of searching: they began inquiring if Hashem was with them when they should have felt Him carrying them in His arms and turned to Him as they did earlier.

It is common to find people who learn Torah and perform mitzvos, and nevertheless, they are discontented. They had hoped to acquire all the levels of spiritual perfection enumerated by the Mesilas Yesharim, or they had aspired to learn the entire Shas or perfect their avodas Hashem and they did not achieve their dreams. Their failure leads them to dejection and despair. They crave and search for spiritual fulfillment but unfortunately they end their search not merely empty handed, but with the opposite result. They simply did not realize Hashem was cradling him in His arms with every word of Torah studied and every mitzvah performed.

Moreover, we merely need to yearn for true closeness to Hashem and the rest will follow automatically. The proof can be found in this week's parsha. When Moshe observed the burning bush, he moved toward it to inspect this miraculous sight. "Hashem saw that he turned aside to see, and Hashem called out to him" (Shemos 3:4). The Seforno explains that the Torah is informing us, "One who comes to purify himself, is given Heavenly assistance." By merely turning toward the bush, Moshe merited prophesy. The Seforno adds that when Moshe ascended Har Sinai the mere ascension of Har Sinai was the impetus for Hashem to call out to him.

Making strides in our avodas Hashem is hard work. Yet, our Sages tell us, "Nothing stands in the way of one's will." Some homiletically explain this to mean that nothing prevents us from willing! Moreover, in light of the Seforno, willing itself is the very springboard needed to catapult oneself directly into Hashem's arms!

507 - Vayechi

When Yaakov blessed his children, Yosef received an extra measure of blessings: "The blessings of your father gavru al (lit. surpassed) the blessings of my fathers... let them be upon Yosef's head" (Bereishis 49:26). The Targum translates "gavru al" not as 'surpassed,' but rather to mean 'in addition.' Accordingly, the pasuk should be read, "The blessings of your father in addition to the blessings of my fathers (Avraham and Yitzchok)... should all come to rest upon the head of Yosef." Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash, ibid.) comments, that Yaakov was informing Yosef that ultimately all blessings will come to rest upon the head of one who lives a life in accordance with the Torah, and he will not need to look elsewhere to find gratification.

The Ohr HaChaim (Bereishis 4:7) elaborates on this idea in his explanation of Hashem's response to Kayin's depression as a result of his sacrifice not being accepted by Hashem. "Hashem said to Kayin, 'Why are you annoyed and why has your face fallen? If you improve yourself you will be forgiven, but if you do not improve yourself then sin rests at the door.'" What did Hashem mean when asking Kayin why he was annoyed? Did he not have a good reason to be upset that his younger brother had found favor in Hashem's eyes while he did not? Additionally, Hashem's suggestion to improve sounds like an idea to help for the future, but it doesn't seem to be a response that would rectify the bitter past.

The Ohr HaChaim explains that Kayin was looking outward to find satisfaction and approval instead of inward. He looked over his shoulder and mistakenly thought that Hashem was interested only in his brother, which caused him great dejection. Hashem responded that a person does not need to look elsewhere for approval, because kedusha - i.e. proper behavior - needs no outside approval. Pure actions are majestic in and of themselves, and they inevitably raise he who performs them to an elevated spiritual stature. Thus, although his korban was not acknowledged by Hashem it was not an indication of His displeasure with Kayin per se. Rather, it came as a byproduct of an imperfection in Kayin's offering - a deficiency in his performance of the mitzvah. His dejection would have turned to elation had he understood that Hashem was as happy with him as He was with his brother, and the fact that his offering was not accepted was caused by a lacking in his own desire to connect with Hashem.

Accordingly, the Ohr HaChaim reads the above pasuk as follows: "If your actions are good, then both your spirit and your actions will become elevated and lofty. However, if your actions are not virtuous and worthy, then there all your actions will be lacking, which will negate the possibility of spiritual elevation."

The lesson to be learned is pertinent to each and every one of us. We constantly look outward for approval for our actions. Many deeds are performed or neglected because of the people around us. What will the neighbors say if I act that way? What will my friends think about me if I don't conform? Moreover, looking over one's shoulder to see the way others react breeds jealousy. "Why did my fellow shul member get showered with praise for his efforts while I was not the beneficiary of any accolades?" One should not eat himself up by trying to impress others. Rather, he should focus on the gifts with which Hashem has endowed him and use them to the best of his ability - and prepare to start feeling true satisfaction!