Ahavas Yisroel Synagogue, Los Angeles

Ahavas Yisroel Synagogue Rabbi Citron

 

Dvar Torah

a Summary of the Parasha

 

© 2012-2016 by
Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

Click HERE for the latest Dvar Torah

 
     
 Breishis The Path to the Tree of Life
Why the Earth Didn't Listen
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
The Light of Hashem’s Garment
 
     
 Noach The Nature of Man's Heart
The Tower of Bavel
The Unhappy Raven
The Evil Impulse, Our Companion
 
     
 Lech Lecha Midrashic Teachings about our Father Avraham
Avraham and the King of Sodom
The Quest of Avraham and Sarah for a Child
Four Midrashic Passages
 
     
 Vayera The Story of Sodom
The Well of Contention, the Well of Peace
Avraham and Yishmael
Midrash, Halacha, Zohar, Chassidus
 
     
 Chayei Sara A Match for Yitzchok
“And Yitzchok Loved Rivkah”
Yitzchok represents the “heaven.”
 
     
 Toldos Rivkah's Role
Blessed Are Those Who Bless You
“And Yitzchak Loved Eisav”
 
     
 Vayetzei Was Yaakov a Thief?  
     
 Vayishlach Yaakov’s Journeys
The Families of Esav and of Yaakov
The Two Brothers Meet
 
     
 Vayeshev Yehuda and Tamar  
     
 Miketz Yehuda’s Choice
Reuven and Yehuda
Owning Up
 
     
 Vayigash The Seventieth Soul  
     
 Vayechi Yaakov Blesses His Sons  
     
     
 Shemot Roadblocks to Redemption  
     
 Va'eira Hashem Reveals His Name  
     
 Bo The Pesach Sacrifice  
     
 B'shalach The Song of the Sea  
     
 Yisro G-d Is Testing Us
Two Traditions - Ten Commandments
 
     
 Mishpatim Keep Away From Falsehood
An Eye For An Eye
 
     
 Ki Tisa And G-d Said, “Let Me Be!”
Moshe’s Prayer
 
     
 Vayikra Three Beginnings  
     
 Tzav Doing the Will of G-d  
     
 Achrei Where’s the Beef?  
     
 Emor The Cohanim: A Special Holiness
The Greatest Gift of All
The Pure Oil
 
     
 Behar A Slave Redeemed  
     
 Bechukosai The Time for Blessings  
     
 Naso The Hidden Agenda  
     
 Beha'alosecha The Humble Light  
     
 Shlach A Thank-You to Hashem
The spies according to Ramban, Abarbanel, Rashi, and the Rebbe
The Life of Challenge
 
     
 Korach Korach’s Bystanders
Speaking vs. Not Speaking
 
 
5776
 
 
5775
 
5774
 
 
5773
 
 
5772
 
 
5771
 

 


 

 

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Yitzchak appreciated Eisav’s risk-taking. Through risk, you can reach greater heights.

Unfortunately, in the case of Eisav, the risk did not pay off

 

Parashas Toldos

“And Yitzchak Loved Eisav”

by Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

“Yizchok loved Eisav because he trapped game for him to eat.”

 

The Midrash says he “trapped” his father with his mouth by asking seemingly pious questions: “How do you tithe straw, how do you tithe salt?” making Yitzchak think his son was very religious.

 

Many commentaries suggest different approaches as to why Yitzchak preferred Eisav, who, to us, comes across as a violent, evil man.

 

The Mei HaShiloach writes that there are two approaches to serving G-d: The first one is the cautious approach. One is very careful to create a spiritually safe lifestyle to avoid any impropriety and any chance of sin. A second approach is to take risks; to be willing to expose oneself to spiritual danger in order to achieve greater accomplishment.

 

Here’s an example: According to our Sages, when Shimon and Levi rescued Dinah from the hands of Shechem, Shimon agreed to marry her. Although marriage to a sister was technically permitted before the giving of the Torah, there was undoubtedly spiritual risk in marrying Dinah. Shimon was willing to take that risk, and indeed it turned out well. Levi represents the non-risk taker. He refused to marry Dinah. His descendants, the Cohanim and Leviim, served G-d in purity and holiness in the Holy Temple, far removed from any spiritual danger.

 

Shimon’s descendant Zimri took a risk, however, that didn’t end so well. He took the Midianite woman Cozbi and challenged Moshe: “If you could marry a Midianite, why can’t I?” According to the Mei HaShiloach, Zimri’s intention was honorable. He felt that there was a redeemable holiness in Cozbi that he could salvage. He was willing to take the risk of marrying Cozbi. Unfortunately, he failed to achieve what he wanted. Instead, he brought not only death upon himself, but disaster to the Jewish people.

 

Eisav was a risk-taker. What was the risk he took? In order to have a closer relationship with his father and receive his spiritual blessing, he showed off his piety by asking, “How does one tithe the salt?” etc. He wanted Yitzchak to see how exemplary he was. But it is dangerous to try to impress others. It is much safer to be quiet, to be yourself, and not try to ingratiate yourself to others. Yaakov chose this safe path. He remained a simple man, a dweller in tents, inward, and not trying for self-publicity.

 

Yitzchak appreciated Eisav’s risk-taking. Through risk, you can reach greater heights. Unfortunately, in the case of Eisav, the risk did not pay off. Willingness to show his best side turned in the end to dishonesty and corruption.

 

The Nesivos Shalom has two other approaches in understanding Yitzchak’s preference of Eisav.

 

Avraham served Hashem, especially with the quality of chesed, love and kindness. Yitzchak served with gevurah, awe and fear of G-d.

 

Rivkah, Yitzchak’s wife, provided the balance of chesed to Yitzchak’s gevurah. Thus, we see the selection of Rivkah to be Yitzchak’s wife was based on her kindness as she offered water to Avraham’s servant Eliezer and to his camels.

 

Yitzchak felt that this balance of chesed and gevurah would continue with his children. Yaakov would serve G-d with chesed and Eisav with gevurah. Since Yitzchak’s own approach was gevurah, he favored Eisav.

 

However, Eisav was not fit to continue as a partner in the future of the Jewish people. Instead, Yaakov assumed both qualities of love and fear, of chesed and gevurah, becoming the embodiment of the attribute of tiferes, which is a combination and balancing of chesed and gevurah.

 

The Nesivos Shalom suggests another way of understanding Yitzchak’s view of Eisav. Some righteous people are above temptation. They serve Hashem intensely and with pure holiness. Others have to struggle with the evil impulse and are constantly striving to overcome temptation and serve G-d.

 

Yitzchak looked at Eisav as a righteous man who has to struggle to overcome his lower nature. Yitzchak valued this as a greater way of serving G-d than the pure Tzadik and therefore wanted to bless Eisav.

 

The sages comment on the passage He (Yitzchak) smelled the fragrance of his garments: “Do not read b’gadav (garments), but bogdav (wicked ones),” that is to say that Yitzchak was blessing the wicked ones, the sinners who overcome their evil natures and return to G-d. This was something Yitzchak especially appreciated.

 

The Midrash tells two stories of extremely wicked people who returned to G-d and whose Tshuva was accepted.

 

Yosef M’shisa was a collaborator with the Romans during the period of the destruction of the Second Temple.

 

When the Romans pillaged the Temple, they asked Yosef to go in first and take whatever he wanted. Yosef entered and emerged with the Menorah. The Romans felt Yosef had overstepped his bounds. “The Menorah is too grand for you, but go in again and take what you like.”

 

Yosef suddenly felt the ignominy of his act. “I have angered my G-d once. I shall not do it again.”

 

The Romans insisted he go, but he steadfastly refused.

 

The Romans responded by brutally torturing and killing Yosef. All the while he cried out, “Woe, woe, I have angered my Creator.”

 

Another story: Yakum of Z’rorot was the nephew of the great sage Rabbi Yossi ben Yoezer. Rabbi Yossi was being led to his execution by the Syrian officials. (This was during the religious persecution in the era of the Chanuka story.) It was Shabbos, and Yakum was riding a horse in the procession of the government officials who were going to watch the execution.

 

Said Yakum to Rabbi Yossi, “See the horse that my master provided me with, and see the “horse” your master [Hashem] provided you with.” (Rabbi Yossi was walking towards his death.)

 

Rabbi Yossi responded, “If G-d so rewards those who anger Him, how much more will He reward those who obey His will?”

 

Said Yakum, “Has anyone fulfilled G-d’s will as much as you [and yet you receive such suffering]?”

 

Said Rabbi Yossi, “If this is the fate of those who obey His will, how much greater [will be the suffering] of those who anger Him.”

 

Rabbi Yossi’s words penetrated Yakum like a snakebite.

 

The Midrash goes on to describe how Yakum killed himself in order to atone for his sins. (It goes without saying that Halacha would not condone this. Yakum, however, acted on his own, with great sincerity.)

 

Rabbi Yossi had a vision of Yakum’s bier flying through the air. He remarked, “[Through his intense repentance], Yakum has preceded me into Gan Eden (Paradise).”

 

The rabbinic interpretation of Yitzchok blessing the bogdim, the sinners, reflects this notion of an appreciation of the power of repentance to totally transform the individual.

 

There are many more interpretations of what positive quality Yitzchak saw in Eisav. What all the interpretations have in common is that all the qualities Yitzchak saw in Eisav were at the end combined in Yaakov and thus in the Jewish people.

 

Some of us attempt to live lives of holiness separated to a certain extent from the world, while some of us are out there in the thick of it, taking risks aplenty. Some of us are more partial to the service of love and chesed, while others to the service of discipline and awe. For some of us, making the right choices in life seems to come easily. For others, there are terrible struggles, sometimes ending in falling spiritually. But we always have the strength to come back and return to G-d and the Torah.

 

We are a people filled with opposites and with contradictions. But each one of us has his or her part to play. Each one of us has a particular task to perform, a particular challenge to meet.

 

And all together, may we be worthy of the A-lmighty’s blessing.

 

 


 

 

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Loving one another doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything.

 

Parashat Chayei Sara

“And Yitzchok Loved Rivkah”

by Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

The Torah describes the marriage of Yitzchok and Rivkah: “And Yitzchok brought her to the tent of his mother Sarah. He took Rivkah, she became his wife, and he loved her. Yitzchok was comforted after his mother.”

 

The Ramban questions why the Torah mentions that Yitzchok loved Rivkah. I assume his question is that it is normal for a husband to love his wife. Why must the obvious be mentioned?

 

The Ramban gives two explanations: Yitzchok was heartbroken over his mother’s death. He was inconsolable, but Rivkah’s love healed that wound, and so Yitzchok was comforted.

 

Secondly, says the Ramban, Rivkah was equal to his mother in righteousness. Because of her goodness, he loved her and was comforted for the loss of his mother.

 

The Midrash elaborates on the shared qualities of Sarah and Rivkah. (Rashi quotes some of the Midrash in his commentary):

 

As long as Sarah lived, a cloud was attached to her tent. When she died, the cloud went away. When Rivkah came, the cloud returned.

 

As long as Sarah lived, the doors were open wide. When she died, they were no longer open wide. When Rivkah came, they were opened wide again.

 

As long as Sarah lived, there was a blessing in the dough. When she died, the blessing ceased. When Rivkah came, the blessing returned.

 

As long as Sarah lived, the lamp of Friday night would burn all week long. When she died, the lamp ceased. When Rivkah came, it returned.

 

The commentaries explain that these four miracles represent four qualities of Sarah and Rivkah:

 

The cloud represents the Shechinah, the Divine Presence. Rivkah possessed the quality of chochmah, wisdom, which is the vessel for the Shechinah.

 

The “open doors” speak for themselves. Rivkah was big-hearted and generous, ready at all times to welcome guests and help anyone in need.

 

The bread being blessed represents running the house responsibly, making sure that all material necessities were taken care of.

 

The Shabbos candles represent “peace in the home” as the sages teach. The peace of Shabbos extended throughout the whole week.

 

I would suggest another reason, perhaps, why the Torah mentions that Yitzchok loved Rivkah:

 

We read in Parashas Toldos about a serious disagreement between Yitzchok and Rivkah. Yitzchok favored his son Eisav, while Rivkah favored Yaakov. Rivkah went so far as to arrange that Yaakov receive the blessing rather than Eisav, contrary to Yitzchok’s original desire.

 

Knowing this, we might imagine that the relationship between Yitzchok and Rivkah was a poor one, maybe even acrimonious. So the Torah emphasizes the love between Yitzchok and Rivkah. Loving one another doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything. It doesn’t mean one partner has to submit dearly-held beliefs because of the other. Love means truly caring for one another. Love leaves room for disagreement, and because of love that disagreement is respected.

 

This parashah seems to have a lot of repetition. The story of Avraham enjoining his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchok and the story of how Eliezer went about doing that are repeated again when Eliezer recounts the whole story, detail by detail, to Rivkah’s parents and brother. The sages say, “Even the conversation of the servants of the Patriarchs is better than the Torah of the children (of Israel).” What does this mean?

 

The Midrash, early in the parashah, points out that the “sons of Cheis” (the people who lived in Chevron where Avraham sought to purchase a burial cave for Sarah) are mentioned no less than ten times in the parashah. Says the Midrash, “How much ink is spilled, how many reed-pens are broken to write ‘the sons of Cheis’ ten times! Ten stands for the Ten Commandments. Whoever helps to clarify and validate the purchase made by a Tzadik, it is as if he kept the Ten Commandments. The commentaries say that Ephron, the owner of the Cave of the Machpeila, wanted to renege on the deal. He acquiesced only under pressure from the local inhabitants, the Bnei Cheis, who insisted he go through with the deal.

 

This Torah portion marks a major turning point in the history of the Jewish people. Until now you had only two exceptionally great people – Avraham and Sarah – who proclaimed the message of monotheism. But now a nation had to be founded. Could the ideals of two individuals be passed on to their children and children’s children?

 

That is why every detail of the story of the marriage of Yitzchok and Rivkah is so important. It is the foundation of Judaism as a faith of a nation rather than just a faith of individuals. The foundation must be strong to succeed. Every detail of that foundation, that is, of the marriage of Yitzchok and Rivkah, is of critical importance. Even “the conversation of the servants” must be repeated. For only with the strongest foundation can the transition from individual faith to national faith succeed.

 

The beginning of the parashah – the burial of Sarah – is when the transition to the new generation begins. Here, too, the foundation is strong. The foundation is integrity as exhibited by the Bnei Cheis. Therefore, the Torah repeats their name ten times. Ten times represents a completion and a wholeness. Thus it represents the Ten Commandments. With integrity as the foundation, the Jewish people will grow into wholeness and completeness.

 

The love of Yitzchok and Rivkah represents that wholeness and completeness. The “way of G-d,” the way Avraham and Sarah followed, was successfully carried forward into the second generation, and from there into all future generations.

 


 

 

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Avraham was heartbroken to have to send Yishmael away.

 

Parashat Vayeira

Avraham and Yishmael

By Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

It is interesting to note the similarities and contrasts in the different Midrashim dealing with the story of the sending away of Yishmael and Hagar from Avraham’s house.

 

In the Midrash Rabah, Rabbi Shimon says that his teacher Rabbi Akiva interpreted Yishmael’s action as described in the passage “Sarah saw the son of Hagar…playing” in a negative manner, but that he, Rabbi Shimon, interpreted it much more mildly.

 

Rabbi Akiva says Yishmael was engaged in immoral activity while Rabbi Yishmael opines he was engaged with idolatry, and Rabbi Elazar holds he was engaged in bloodshed. Rabbi Levi said he shot arrows at Yitzchok, pretending to be playing.

 

But Rabbi Shimon said he merely argued with Yitzchok over the birthright. Yishmael claimed that, as the firstborn, he would receive a double inheritance from Avraham.

 

Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer (chapter 30) takes the harsh view like Rabbi Levi, that Yishmael was shooting arrows at Yitzchok, trying to kill him.

 

Yet this same Midrash says Avraham suffered great anguish at having to expel Yishmael. “Sarah said to Avraham, ‘Divorce the maidservant. Send her and her son away from my son….’ Of all bad things that happened to Avraham this was the worst.”

 

Avraham was heartbroken to have to send Yishmael away.

 

Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer continues… “G-d appeared to Avraham that night and said “Don’t you know that Sarah is your true wife? Hagar is not your wife; Sarah is your wife. Hagar is your servant.”

 

Why was it necessary to remind Avraham that Sarah was his true wife and not Hagar? And why was the sending away of Yishmael the worst thing that happened to Avraham?

 

Perhaps Avraham hoped that Yishmael would be part of the future of the Jewish people. Commentaries say that Yitzchok hoped that Esav and Yaakov would, in a similar vein, somehow form one people. But that was not to be. Maybe Avraham was hoping that Yishmael’s people and Yitzchok’s people could form some sort of friendly relationship and coexist in some type of partnership. When this proved to be impossible, Avraham had in a sense lost his son. This is why he was so saddened. This explains why Hashem had to emphasize to him that only Sarah was his true wife, not Hagar. A partnership between Yishmael and Yitzchok was not to be. True, Yishmael was blessed to be a great nation. But Yitzchok’s children, that is, the future Jewish people, had their own unique destiny in order to fulfill G-d’s plan.

 

Here follows another contrasting view between Midrash Rabah and Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer:

 

The Midrash says that despite Avraham’s generosity, he only gave Hagar some bread and a jug of water, presumably because he now had no love for Yishmael.

 

The version of Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer says that in Avraham’s merit the water in the jug always replenished itself. It was only when Hagar turned back to her ancestral idolatry that the jug ran dry.

 

As far as the spring that Hagar found, Midrash Rabah says on the passage, “G-d opened her eyes,” that “everyone is blind until G-d gives their eyes light.”  In other words, the well was already there; G-d just allowed Hagar to see it. Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer says it was the well that was created at the miraculous dusk of the sixth day of creation that was revealed to Hagar!

 

Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer goes on to recount a lovely story about the connection Avraham continued to have with Yishmael:

 

Once Avraham wanted to visit Yishmael to see how he was doing. Sarah okayed his visit on condition that he didn’t get off of the camel. So Avraham traveled through the desert to the home of Yishmael. When he arrived, Yishmael’s wife, Eysa, told Avraham that Yishmael had gone with his mother, Hagar, to gather dates in the desert. Avraham said he was weary from his journey, might he be served some bread and water?  Eysa refused, claiming she had none.

 

“Please tell your husband” Avraham told her, “that an old man from Canaan came to see him. Tell him his threshold is broken.”

 

When Yishmael returned, his wife gave him the message. He understood that his father had attempted to visit him, and he understood from his message how cruel his wife had been. Yishmael divorced his wife.

 

Hagar found a wife for Yishmael from Egypt. Her name was Fatuma.

 

Once more Avraham went to visit Yishmael, promising Sarah not to get off the camel. He arrived at Yishmael’s house only to learn from Fatuma that Yishmael and Hagar had gone into the desert to gather dates. Avraham told her how weary from his journey he was, could she perhaps serve him bread and water?  Fatuma gladly went into her house and brought Avraham food and drink. Avraham blessed Yishmael’s house, and it became filled with plenty.

 

When Yishmael returned, Fatuma told him of the visit of the old man from Canaan. Yishmael rejoiced for he knew that his father still loved him.

 

Although the story of this Midrash speaks for itself, I will allow myself to learn another lesson from it. Perhaps I am stretching it a bit, but I still think the lesson is true.

 

Sometimes our fellow-Jews seem lost to us. They are so far from our Torah and our Torah way of life. Sometimes it may be our own children, our own friends, or perhaps a stranger whom we befriended.

 

They may be far away from our way of life like Yishmael who left Avraham under very unpleasant circumstances.

 

Yet, despite it all, Avraham maintained a relationship. In spite of how far away our fellow-Jew may seem to be we should maintain contact, maintain interest, remain caring. Yishmael realized that his father still loved him. Every Jew we know must realize that wherever his journey has taken him, we still care, we still love him.

 

The Sages say Yishmael became a “Baal Teshuva” and returned to the way of Avraham.

 

We must keep the door open to those who have strayed. Who knows, they may return. And if they do not, they must still know our love.

 


 

 

 

By being circumcised, a barrier was created between himself and the rest of the world. Avraham was unhappy about this.

 

Parashat Lech-Lecha

Four Midrashic Passages and Their Explanations

By Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

 

 

I’m going to start by quoting (in summary) four passages from the Midrash Rabba and then offer a few comments on them and their relationship to each other.

 

            Said Rabbi Akiva, “There are four orla’s” (uncircumcised or blocked or impeded).

 

            The first are the ears, as it says, “Their ears are blocked and cannot listen.” (Jeremiah 6:10)

 

            There are the lips, as it says, “Behold, I am of impeded lips.” (Shmos 30:6)

 

            Then the heart, “All of the house of Israel have uncircumcised hearts.” (Jeremiah 9:25)

 

            And, of course, the uncircumcised body, as it says, “And an uncircumcised male” (Bereishis 17:14)

 

The Midrash goes on to say that the mitzvah of circumcision cannot be of the ears, lips, or heart, for that would make the person blemished. Furthermore, it would impair hearing, speaking, or thinking. Therefore, circumcision must be “of the body.”

 

The second Midrash recounts this story:

 

Two (non-Jewish) princes of the country of Adiabene, Munbaz and Uzavatus, were studying the book of B’reishis when they reached the passage, “You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin.”  Upon reading this passage, each of the brothers turned his face to the wall and cried. Each then went off and had himself circumcised (without the other’s knowledge).

 

Once more Munbaz and Uzavatus were studying B’reishis when they reached the passage, “You shall circumcise.” Each one said to his brother, “Woe is you,” for you are uncircumcised. Then they realized that in fact each one of them had been circumcised and was fully Jewish

 

Their mother, the queen, realized that the princes would get into trouble if their father found out that they had become Jewish. She told the king that they had been circumcised for medical reasons.

 

How did G-d repay Uzavatus?  Once, in battle, the enemy sought to kill him. An angel came down and saved him.

 

The third Midrash:

 

            Rabbi Abba bar Kahana said, “Abraham experienced great pain during his circumcision. For this he was greatly rewarded.”

 

            Rabbi Levi said, “The text says, ‘He became circumcised.’  It was painless. After the fact, Abraham saw that he was circumcised, for during the circumcision he felt no pain.”

 

            “You lie,” said Rabbi Abba. “He did feel the pain and merited a greater reward.”

 

Finally, the fourth Midrash:

 

            Abraham said (to G-d), “Before I was circumcised, wayfarers used to come to me. Now they no longer come.”

 

Said G-d, “Before you were circumcised, human beings came to you; now I will reveal Myself to you in all My glory.”

 

Here is my interpretation:

 

What is the point of the first Midrash? Surely, no one seriously entertained the idea of “circumcising” one’s lips, ears, or heart!

 

Perhaps the Midrash is teaching us that we have to have the full use of our faculties, of our hearing, speaking, thinking, and feeling. Circumcision represents a certain diminishment of our power. A heart of stone or an ear that doesn’t hear is not a good thing, but G-d does not want us to curtail our hearts, ears, and lips. Because we have free will, we can misuse the qualities represented by these three organs, but our minds and hearts have to be working at full capacity without impediment as we grapple with the moral and intellectual challenges of our lives.

 

It is only the circumcision of the “body” that the Torah asks for. Traditionally, this is understood as a curtailment of physical pleasure-seeking; hedonism and the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake should be “circumcised,” i.e., curtailed. Mindless pleasure-seeking does not allow us to fulfill our particularly human and Jewish potential. It must be limited.

 

But do not limit your ability to feel (the heart), to learn (the hearing of the ear), and to communicate (the lips). Learn to use them wisely. Learn to choose well.

 

In the third Midrash, Rabbi Abba disagreed with Rabbi Levi who said Avraham felt no pain when he was circumcised. But why did he disagree so vehemently, calling Rabbi Levi a liar? This is most unusual for the Talmudic Sages.

 

Perhaps their argument was as follows: Rabbi Levi felt living a Torah life should be a delight. Many mitzvos are indeed difficult, but if you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t seem difficult at all. Thus, as hard as circumcision is for an adult, Avraham’s delight in serving G-d caused him to not feel the pain in the sense that it didn’t bother him.

 

But Rabbi Abba objects strongly. Who can disagree that a well-lived life is pleasurable and not a burden? But sometimes things are, in fact, difficult. Sometimes we do suffer pain. Sometimes it hurts to do the right thing. Rabbi Abba doesn’t want you to think Judaism is always fun. If you think that way, you may decide to do the fun things, but you won’t do things that are a burden, that seem difficult or even painful. That’s why Rabbi Abba has to strongly object to Rabbi Levi. Do what’s right even when it costs you something, even when it is not pleasant. For that, you will be rewarded.

 

This ties in with the second story of the two brothers who converted to Judaism under adverse conditions. Because they didn’t only do what was right but risked a great deal in doing so, one of them merited “an angel of G-d’ coming to save him.

 

Here’s what I have to say on the last Midrash: Avraham was a man of goodness and kindness who wanted to bring all people closer to G-d. By being circumcised, a barrier was created between himself and the rest of the world. Avraham was unhappy about this.

 

But Hashem said to him that by circumcision G-d would reveal Himself to Avraham.

 

Judaism contains within it universalistic elements. Just read the prophets who speak of all mankind living in peace and worshipping one G-d. Just read the Aleinu prayer which we say three times a day and proclaim “to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty … to turn to You all the wicked of the earth.”

 

One might feel that the mitzvos separate us from mankind. Wouldn’t it be easier to just teach ethical behavior?

 

But G-d said to Avraham, “No!”  There is the particularistic aspect of Judaism. We, as Jews, must live a full and complete Jewish life which in many ways does separate us from other people. We must do this to reveal the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, in our own lives. Only with the “Bris Milah” and with all other mitzvos can we be fulfilled as Jews. And only that way can we bring G-d into our lives and into the world.

 

When we live as Jews with Torah and mitzvos, we don’t abandon the world. The message of the one, true G-d of all of mankind is transmitted to the world. By being ourselves, we bring the light of G-d to others as well. By affirming our covenant with G-d, we ultimately make G-d the province of all mankind.

 


 

 

Parashat Noach

The Evil Impulse, Our Companion

by Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

After the flood, Noach brings sacrifices to Hashem, after which Hashem says to Himself, “Never again will I curse the earth because of man, for the impulses of man’s heart are evil from his youth.”

 

It seems strange that G-d gives as a reason for not destroying the earth that man has an evil impulse from his youth. On the contrary, isn’t that a reason to potentially destroy the earth? (See earlier at the end of Bereishis where the Torah gives as a reason for Hashem’s destroying the earth: “All of the impulses and thoughts of his heart are only evil all day long”).

 

The Malbim suggests that one of the reasons man sinned was that the earth was so rich and good that man led a carefree life wherein people lived nearly a thousand years. Humans were very self-centered and materialistic. By Hashem’s cursing the earth, diminishing its fertility, and decreasing people’s life spans, man would have to contend only with his evil impulse and not with the external influence of the overly abundant material good. Therefore G-d would not destroy the earth again because only the evil impulse was the problem.

 

While this is an interesting interpretation, it doesn’t fit the simple meaning of the text. The Ramban (Nachmanides) says that the Torah is saying that man has an evil impulse in his youth, implying that the impulse diminishes as he gets older and becomes more mature. The Be’er Mayim Chaim explains that it is man’s task to perfect the world. Grain cannot be eaten as is. One must separate the straw and chaff from the edible grain. To make gold or silver you must process the ore and refine it, separating the sludge from the gold or silver. So, too, our personalities have to be refined and purified. Through our efforts, we cast off the coarse part of our natures, and step by step as we go through life, we purify ourselves. Yes, a person’s impulses are bad from his youth, but as he matures he casts off the bad and becomes a better and better person. This is our task in life, and therefore Hashem says He will not destroy us. Rather He gives mankind the opportunity to grow and develop.

 

The Akeidas Yitzchak understands our passage as signifying that the evil impulse, while very strong in one’s youth, diminishes gradually as one gets older. He reads this interpretation into a passage of the Gemara (Succah 52a).

 

The Gemara says that the evil impulse has seven names. Hashem Himself called it “evil” as the passage states, “The impulses of man’s heart are evil.”

 

Moshe called it “the uncircumcised.”

 

David called it “impure.”

 

Shlomo called it “the enemy.”

 

Yeshayahu called it “a stumbling block.”

 

Yechezkal called it “a stone.”

 

Yoel called it “the hidden one.”

 

Akeidas Yitzchak sees the seven names as corresponding to the seven decades allotted for our lifetimes. The evil impulse is gradually diminished until in the end it becomes “hidden.”

 

In marked contrast to the above interpretation, the Alshich sees the seven names as seven stages of worsening of the evil impulse.

 

For example, “uncircumcised” refers to mere selfishness, but “impure” refers to a greater evil, like stealing. “Enemy” is when the evil impulse totally controls your life. “Stumbling block” is when your evil spills over to influence others. “Stone” is when your heart is so hard that repentance is very difficult. And worst of all, “the hidden one” is when the evil impulse is hidden, and you are perversely convinced that evil is good and good is evil.

 

So which way is it?  Does our evil impulse diminish or increase with age?

 

G-d creates us with our built-in limitations and our built-in struggles. Life is not about standing in one place and stagnating. Life is about change and growth. We can choose to let our evil impulse fester and grow, eating away at our potential for goodness until we become monsters.

 

Or we can struggle to overcome our spiritual shortcomings. We can work without cease to diminish the bad within us and develop the holy and the good.

 

And G-d gives us the choice. He recognizes that we have to struggle. Indeed he created the need for the struggle in the first place.

 

We cannot stand still. The choice is ours.

 

Copyright 2012, Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 


 

 

Parashat B’raishis:

The Light of Hashem’s Garment

By Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

The Midrash “Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer” has some amazing things to say about the nature of the creation of the world. But before discussing them, I would like to summarize the first two chapters which tell the story of the author, Rabbi Eliezer’s beginnings.

 

Once Rabbi Eliezer’s father, Hurkenus, found his son, who was plowing a field, crying. “Is it because you’re plowing rocky soil that you’re crying?” his father asked. “Come plow this even furrow.” 

 

Rabbi Eliezer plowed but continued to cry.

 

Said his father, “Why are you still crying?” 

 

“I want to study Torah,” Rabbi Eliezer replied.

 

“Come on now” said Hurkenus, “you’re twenty eight years old. Get married. Have children. Then you can take the children to school to learn Torah.”

 

Rabbi Eliezer was so distressed that he didn’t eat for two weeks. Eliyahu, the prophet, appeared to him, “Why are you crying?” he asked.

 

“I want to study Torah,” Rabbi Eliezer replied.

 

“Go to Jerusalem and study with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai,” said Eliyahu.

 

Rabbi Eliezer went to Rabbi Yochanan and started crying. “Why are you crying?” asked Rabbi Yochanan.

 

“I want to study Torah,” Rabbi Eliezer replied.

 

Rabbi Yochanan taught him the Shema, the Shemoneh Esrei, and the Birkas Hamazon. But Rabbi Eliezer was not satisfied, so Rabbi Yochanan taught him two Halachos each week.

 

Eight days passed. Rabbi Eliezer had eaten nothing. Rabbi Yochanan smelled foul breath in the room and asked Rabbi Eliezer to leave. Rabbi Eliezer started to cry. “You ask me to leave as if I have some contagious disease,” he said.

 

Rabbi Yochanan replied, “Just as your breath ascended to my nostrils so may your Torah learning ascent to the Heavens. My son,” he continued, “who is your father?” 

 

“Hurkenus,” answered Rabbi Eliezer.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me you come from such a prominent family?  Come eat at my house today.” 

 

“I already ate where I’m staying with R’ Yehoshua and R’ Yossi.” 

 

Rabbi Yochanan inquired of R’ Yehoshua and R’ Yossi and found out that Rabbi Eliezer had in fact not eaten by them. (Rabbi Eliezer was too unassuming to admit he had had nothing to eat.)

 

Such was Rabbi Eliezer’s love for Torah.

 

Meanwhile Hurkenus’ other sons urged him to go to Jerusalem and legally disinherit Rabbi Eliezer.

 

When Hurkenus arrived in Jerusalem, he found Rabbi Yochanan in the middle of a celebration. Rabbi Yochanan noticed Hurkenus and invited him to sit at the head of the table. Then Rabbi Yochanan asked Rabbi Eliezer to say Torah. Rabbi Eliezer did not want to speak, but Rabbi Yochanan told him, “You are like a spring that flows with new water, so you can say new insights of Torah.”

 

As Rabbi Eliezer spoke, his face shown like the sun. Rays of light emanated from him, just like Moshe Rabeinu.

 

When his father saw this, he informed his son that now he would disinherit his other sons and give everything to Rabbi Eliezer.

 

But Rabbi Eliezer did not accept this proposal. He said to his father, “If I wanted land from Hashem, He would give it to me. If I wanted silver and gold, He would give it to me. But all I ask of Hashem is Torah.”

 

I am going to quote a few teachings of Rabbi Eliezer from chapter three of Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer.

 

“Before the world was created, only the Holy One and His Name existed.”

 

“When G-d created the world, it could not stand. So He created Teshuva (repentance) to be the world’s foundation.”

 

Rabbi Eliezer certainly didn’t mean that Hashem didn’t do a good job in creating the world at first so that it collapsed and He had to redo it. I think what he means is that a world without a means of repair, i.e., Teshuva, cannot stand. Created beings, namely man, make mistakes. From the start there must be the mechanism of Teshuva; otherwise there could not be a world.

 

Here’s another teaching:

 

“From where was the Heaven created?

From the light of the Holy One’s garment.

 

From where was the earth created?

From the snow which is under the Throne of Glory.”

 

In the Guide for the Perplexed, the Rambam has difficulty with the above-mentioned passage. G-d created the world out of nothing. Why do you ask from where the Heaven and earth were created? They were created out of nothing!  Surely Rabbi Eliezer is not suggesting that the world was created from an eternal something!  (The garment or the snow of the Divine chair). I would add that Rabbi Eliezer clearly states in a passage cited above that there was nothing but G-d and His name before the creation.

 

From the point of view of Kabbalah we can understand Rabbi Eliezer and answer the Rambam’s question.

 

In the beginning there was nothing but G-d. G-d concealed His infinite self and emanated the Sefirot (Divine attributes). Everything that follows is derived from these Sefirot. Every star, every creature, indeed, every blade of grass has its root somewhere in the metaphysical Sefirot. In this sense, the Heavens are derived from a particular spiritual source (the light of G-d’s garment) and the earth from another Sefirah.

 

The Kabbalistic approach enhances our understanding of Torah and Mitzvot. When we perform a Mitzvah, it isn’t simply an isolated good deed that a little person (us) does on a little planet (earth). Rather a Mitzvah is a link in a chain, a chain of the Divine attributes that stretches up to the original creation. A Mitzvah opens the door for the Divine creative energy to flow from the infinite, from the “nothing” into the Sefirot and ultimately into our world. We are the bottom link of the chain, but the chain stretches up, up to the Heavens, up to the light of G-d’s garment, up to the creation and the Creator Himself.

 

When we perform Mitzvot and study Torah we become actual partners in creation. Each Mitzvah is linked to a particular Sefirah. Each word of Torah is linked to the Divine wisdom. Torah and Mitzvot bring the Divine light down into this world and into all the worlds.

 

 

Copyright 2012,  Rabbi  Chaim Zev Citron

 


 

 

We struggle to find G-d, and we sometimes fail. Life itself is frequently a struggle; poverty, illness, suffering of all kinds are often our lot. We, like the moon, can justly complain.

 

Parashat Pinchas: The Shrinking Moon

By Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

In describing the Chatas–the sin offering–that is offered on Rosh Chodesh, the Torah uses the term “a sin offering for Hashem.” This can be understood as if you are offering a sin offering to atone for Hashem!  Rashi says, according to an Aggadic interpretation, that that is indeed the case. “[Hashem says,] “Bring an atonement for me because I made the moon small.”

 

The source of this interpretation is in the Gemara Chulin 60a. The Gemara recounts that originally the sun and the moon were the same size, as it says, “The two great luminaries.”  (What that means physically I don’t know, perhaps a double-star system?)  The moon complained that two equal kings can’t share one crown. So G-d told the moon to make itself small.

 

The moon was upset. “Because I said a correct point, I have to be small?!?”

 

G-d tried to mollify the moon by saying that the moon, unlike the sun, can be seen by day (sometimes) as well as by night.

 

But the moon replied that its daytime light is outshined by the sun, (“What good is a little candle at high noon?”)

 

G-d said that the moon would be used for the Jewish calendar.

 

But the moon said that the sun is also used to form the calendar since the lunar year is adjusted to the solar year.

 

G-d said that the righteous are called little as in “little Jacob” and “little David.”

 

But the moon was not satisfied. Finally, G-d said, “Bring an atonement for me because I made the moon become small.”

 

On the face of it, this Aggada is preposterous. G-d needs an atonement?!?  How is He atoned for, by bringing a sacrifice to Himself? How are we to understand this Chazal?

 

The Maharal explains that the word kaparah, while usually translated atonement, actually means removal and cleansing. Cheit (the root of chatas) is usually translated as sin, but it actually means lack or imperfection. Therefore, bringing a kaparah with a chatas means removing or cleaning the imperfection.

 

G-d did create a world lacking perfection. This is symbolized by the moon becoming small. How is this imperfection healed? By bringing a korbon, a sacrifice. The root of korban (krv) means to come close. By coming closer to G-d, the imperfection is healed. Rosh Chodesh is not a holy day, and yet it has the additional sacrifice (musaf) .Rosh Chodesh is the beginning of the new moon, the rebirth of light after darkness. The moon’s light had been taken away; it is fixed by approaching G-d and receiving light. The moon, in a sense, can be said to be restored.

 

But what does this mean to us?  In a sense, creation in general and human life in particular is a descent. (The moon is made small). Our souls are holy, spiritual beings, “a part of G-d.”  Then we come down to a world where G-d’s presence is barely discernable. We are plunged into darkness. We struggle to find G-d, and we sometimes fail. Life itself is frequently a struggle; poverty, illness, suffering of all kinds are often our lot. We, like the moon, can justly complain. Why did You plunge us into darkness?!

 

But the answer is, as Chassidus says, “A descent in order to ascend.” 

 

The sun is always bright, never dark. But it doesn’t change. Similarly, the heavenly hosts, the angels, are always holy. They spend their lives singing G-d’s praises. They know no suffering or pain. But they do not grow. They remain the same.

 

But we who live on this earth must struggle to find some light in the darkness. We must overcome so many difficulties, both spiritual and physical, to find G-d and ascend to a level of closeness to Him that was impossible for our souls in the unchanging heavens. Because of our struggle, we grow, we find a connection to G-d more exalted, more sublime than any angel can hope to have. The moon is reborn. The light is restored after the darkness, and it is a more powerful and greater light than we could have ever imagined.

 

In a manner of speaking, it is an imperfection in the creation in the sense that we must undergo a loss of Divine consciousness, a loss of light. But that is the nature of G-d’s creation. To rise, you must fall. To grow, you must shrink. But G-d says He will remove the “imperfection.” He will bring about the Korban, the act of becoming close, the renewal of the deepest connection with G-d.

 

Addendum:  Here is how the Maharal explains the dialogue between Hashem and the moon: Hashem attempts to appease the moon by saying it will be seen by day and by night. Everything must have some imperfection. The sun, which is so mighty and powerful, has an imperfection, it is not seen by night. But the very fact that the moon is small is in itself an imperfection so at least it can have the power to appear by night and even by day. The moon, however, was not satisfied.

 

Next Hashem appeases the moon by saying that the Jewish people use it to establish the calendar. The moon, as it were, is the “head of the foxes,”(the highest level within this lowly world) so we relate more to it in our lowly world, and for this reason it determines the calendar in our world. The moon, however, was not satisfied.

 

Next Hashem appeases the moon by saying that the righteous Tzadikim are called little. The moon complained about its smallness. But smallness is actually a good thing. A Tzadik is called small because he is focused on one point, he does not expand this way and that. That centeredness is righteousness, from which the Tzadik does not deviate. Nevertheless, the moon was not satisfied.

 

Then Hashem said, “Bring an atonement for Me.” And the moon was satisfied as explained above.

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

 


 

Parashat Balak

The Deed of Pinchas

Copyright 2012 by Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

In Parashat Balak, when the B’nei Yisroel first stray after Moabite women and subsequently worship the idol Ba’al Peor, Hashem says to Moshe, “Take all of the heads of the people. Have them impaled before G-d in the face of the sun (in public).” (25:4)

 

The Torah continues, “Moshe said to Israel’s judges, ‘Each one of you kill his people who attached themselves to Ba’al Peor.’” (25:5)

 

Does verse 4 cited above mean that the leaders of the Jewish people were to be killed?

 

In a rare show of unanimity, Onkelos, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Ramban all agree that, no, the leaders were not to be killed. We should understand the passage as meaning: gather the leaders who should act as judges and execute those they find guilty of idolatry.

 

Accordingly, sentence 5,  also cited above,  is Moshe’s implementation of what G-d told him in sentence 4. Moshe is telling the judges to mete out punishment to the sinners.

 

Is it possible to understand posuk 4 as meaning to actually kill the leaders?  I found one source who does just so! Rabbi Yuden in Midrash Rabah (20:23) says, “They were worthy of death because they were in a position to stop the sin of idolatry or at least to attempt to stop it and they did not.”

 

Although this interpretation is not accepted by the vast majority of commentators, it should give us pause to consider the awesome responsibility of being in a leadership position. A leader must speak out forcefully against wrongdoing. He (or she) shares a great deal of responsibility for remaining silent in the face of evil.

 

The parsha continues with an Israelite man coming forward with a Midianite woman and basically daring anyone to stop him.

 

Rashi explains that the man, Zimri, taunted Moshe. If Moshe could marry a Midianite woman, why couldn’t he? Of course, Zimri conveniently ignored the absolutely differently circumstances of Moshe’s marriage and his consorting with the Midianite woman Cozbi.

 

Pinchas then stepped forward and slew Zimri and Cozbi. This stopped the plague that had been raging among the Israelites. Later the Torah lauds Pinchas. Because of Pinchas’ act, G-d says, “I did not wipe out the Israelite people.”

 

Did the judges actually execute the worshipers of Ba’al Peor? The text doesn’t say. Perhaps we can assume that they did. However, the Ramban suggests that before they had a chance to carry out the trials and punishments, Pinchas came forward and slew Zimri and Cozbi. The plague that had been raging in Israel ceased, and it was no longer necessary for the judges to go forward with the trials.

 

The question that I pose is why was it Pinchas whose act saved the Jews? The judges already did their duty in punishing the idolaters. According to the Ramban, they were ready to do their duty. So why wouldn’t that be enough? Why was the one act of Pinchas so important?

 

Before continuing, I feel it necessary to make a very important comment. Even though we learn much from the stories of the Torah, our guide to practical day-to-day living is Halacha. Pinchas’ action was a one-of-a-kind, unique-to-the-moment event. While his action is a model for standing up and doing something against evil, it does not sanction us to kill someone who is doing something wrong. Halacha, with certain life-and-death exceptions, does not condone taking punishment into our own hands,

 

Our extolling of Pinchas must not be misconstrued as a sanctioning of violence against sinners but rather as lauding the quality of acting appropriately in the face of evil and not standing by passively.

 

Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk in his commentary Meshech Chochmah cites the Gemara in Sanhedrin (64a) that comments on the passage “who attached themselves to Ba’al Peor.”   “Attached” (tzamid) is used in the way a bracelet (tzamid) is attached to the arm; it’s only loosely attached; it’s not part of the arm. However, concerning our relationship with G-d, it is written, “you who cleave (Davak) to G-d.” To cleave means to be truly connected and attached.

 

Rav Meir Simcha explains that a sin of our animal desires and passions is, in a sense, superficial; it is not cleaving to sin. We know that we are going against our better natures. We suffered a temporary lapse. On the other hand, a sin of the intellect not dictated by passion is much more serious. We are moved, not by pleasure or passion, but by belief. If that belief is idolatry, then the transgression is much deeper. Our very souls are stained, as it were.

 

What the Talmud is saying is that the worship of Ba’al Peor was not a sin of the mind. Rather, it was a sin of passion that the Jews committed to ingratiate themselves to the Moabite women. They were only “attached” to the Ba’al Peor. They were not cleaving to it.

 

In light of this comment, we might understand the challenge posed by Zimri to the Jewish people. Zimri was not acting out of passion. He was publicly defending his action and saying there was nothing wrong with his taking a Midianite woman (see Rashi for details of Zimri’s claim.)

 

This was a new challenge. The original instruction to the judges was to punish the worshippers of Ba’al Peor. They had sinned, not out of conviction, but out of desire and passion. Zimri, however, posed an altogether different threat. He said it was right to take the Midianite woman. Had the Jews accepted this point of view, they would indeed have been cleaving to evil, not just attaching to it.

 

Pinchas was clear-sighted and decisive in his response. Zimri’s action was unjustified. It was wrong. Pinchas made it clear to the Jewish people what was wrong and what was right. It was this clarity, this ability to tell wrong from right, that saved the Jewish people. For had the Jewish people accepted Zimri’s point of view, that wrong was right, they would have been doomed.

 

Our task in serving G-d is two-fold. We must overcome our baser desires to not indulge in what we know to be wrong. But the more difficult task is to be able to distinguish between right and wrong when the answers are not always obvious. We must take a stand on these questions and pursue the truth wholeheartedly.

 

 


 

Parashat Chukas

The Inexplicable Mitzvot

Copyright 2012 by Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

The Midrash Rabah (Bamidbar 19:5) says that there are four mitzvos, each one of which is designated as a “chok,” which the evil impulse (the Yetzer Harah) questions.

 

The Torah forbids marrying your brother’s ex-wife. It is considered incest. Yet if your brother dies without children, it is a mitzvah to marry his wife. This is known as the mitzvah of yibum.

 

The Torah forbids wearing a garment that contains wool and linen. Yet in a four-cornered linen garment, it is a mitzvah to make tzitzis out of wool (provided that the tzitzis has a thread of the special blue dye known as t’cheles).

 

The Se’ir L’azazel (the goat that was sent out to the desert on Yom Kippur to represent the casting away of the sins of Israel) atones for the sins of the Jewish people. Yet the person who escorts and sends off the goat becomes Tamei (spiritually unclean).

 

Finally, there is the Parah Adumah, the red heifer. Its ashes mixed with water are used to purify those who have come in contact with the dead, and yet all the people who are involved in preparing the Parah Adumah become tamei – ritually unclean.

 

The Midrash gives the reason that the evil impulse challenges these mitzvos. It is because each of these mitzvos contains a seemingly illogical inconsistency. The same act is sometimes prohibited and sometimes permitted (or even required). The same act sometimes purifies and sometimes defiles.

 

The Talmud (Yoma 87b) lists five things that Satan questions. (One version adds “and that the nations of the world criticize.”)

 

The Talmud’s list of five contains three of the Midrash’s list (marrying the sister-in-law, wool and linen garments, and the sending away of the goat.) and adds two more of its own:  The prohibition of eating pig and the purification of the leper. What is particularly contradictory about these latter two?

 

The Ramban explains that complaints against the red heifer and the goat of Yom Kippur are based on the fact that these rituals are performed outside of the Temple. It appears to the nations of the world and to the Yetzer Harah that these mitzvos resemble pagan superstitions. In both cases, it looks like we are appeasing or, G-d forbid, sacrificing to demonic or impure forces. Therefore, these acts are criticized.

 

Perhaps this is the reason for the criticism of the purification of the leper. That ceremony includes taking two birds (outside of the Temple), slaughtering one and using its blood for purification and sending away the other bird. This mitzvah, too, can be misconstrued as some kind of pagan ritual propitiating the forces of uncleanness.

 

As for the eating of pig, perhaps there is a contradiction to be found. Although an animal with split hooves is kosher, a pig has split hooves and is not kosher.

 

Rashi, however, comments on the Talmudic passage and says simply that the critique of these Mitzvos is “What good do all of these mitzvos do?”

 

If that’s the criticism, couldn’t that be made of many of the mitzvos, not only these five?

 

To understand the nature of mitzvos better, I would like to summarize a teaching of the Alter Rebbe (Likutei Torah, Bamidbar 40:a et al).

 

The Sages say that one who reads the Shma without Tefillin is like one who brings an animal sacrifice without the accompanying nesachim (flour, oil and wine). Why is Shma compared to a sacrifice, and why is Tefillin compared to nesachim?

 

Prayer in general, and the Shma in particular, is the equivalent of sacrifice. We have two natures within us. One is human nature, known in Chassidus as the natural soul or the animal soul. The other is the Divine nature known in Chassidus as the G-dly soul. Both of these souls have passions that may be compared to fire. The G-dly soul seeks to passionately cleave to G-d. The animal soul seeks to indulge in all of the pleasures of the material world.

 

The Shma is the time to contemplate the greatness of G-d who is above time and beyond change. Because our souls are derived from the Divine wisdom, we have the capacity to transcend worldly pleasures and instead delight in closeness to G-d. When we experience this love and passion for G-d, the fire in our souls consumes the fire of worldly passion of the natural soul.  In other words, we lose our interest in the delight of the world and instead exult and delight in G-d.

 

This parallels sacrifice. The fire of the altar consumes the animal. So, too, the fire of the G-dly soul consumes the fire of the animal soul.

 

But we cannot maintain the Divine ecstasy that we experience during the meditation of the Shma throughout the day. Instead, during the course of the day we perform mitzvos. Tefillin is an example and a prototype of all mitzvos. The highest spiritual and metaphysical principles are transformed into something physical. The holy Divine Sefirot which Tefillin represent are “lowered,” as it were, into the physical form of letters of ink on a parchment scroll. The physical act of putting on Tefillin (or doing any other mitzvah) brings the Divine revelation into the physical world.

 

The mitzvos are symbolized by the nesachim. Unlike the animal sacrifices which represent something living and fiery (like the soul of an animal), the nesachim are made of plants and even of inanimate substances (salt). They represent physical action; not passion, not fiery love, but the act, the deed of the mitzvah.

 

Judaism is the balance of these forces. The spiritual fire and the physical act. Both are indispensable.

 

This may be the claim of the Yetzer Harah against all physical mitzvos. The Yetzer Harah says, I understand spirituality and passion. But doing a physical act? Come on! What religious benefit is there in that? It’s just a ritual!

 

Now we can understand Rashi’s comment that the Yetzer Hara claims, “What good do these mitzvos do?”

 

This applies actually to all mitzvos. Since the mitzvos are simply physical acts, what good are they? They’re not spiritual and uplifting. The five mitzvos chosen in the Gemara are perhaps chosen because they also have contradictions. But in fact the Yetzer Hara is criticizing the concept of all mitzvos as Rashi says.

 

In reality, the act of a mitzvah has a deeper element in it than prayer or spirituality. When you pray, it’s all about you. You have the experience. You feel love of G-d. These are good things, but it’s still you. When you perform a physical act not because you understand it fully but because G-d wants you to do it, you are subjugating your will to G-d’s will. You are doing the mitzvah because G-d wants you to, not because you are necessarily having a great experience.

 

Spiritual passion, ecstasy, and experience on the one hand; action, selflessness, and dedication on the other. These are the two pivots upon which our Judaism should revolve.

 


 

Parashat Korach

Speaking vs. Not Speaking

Copyright 2012 by Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

After the argument against Moshe Rabeinu by Korach, Dassan, and Aviram breaks out, Moshe attempts to resolve the issues. First he suggests that Korach’s party offer ketores (incense) to Hashem, and Hashem will choose the one who is truly holy. Then he reasons with Korach’s group telling them that they should be happy with the role of being Leviim (Levites) and not seek the role of Kehuna (priesthood) as well.

 

Next, Moshe attempts to speak to Dassan and Aviram. They refuse to speak to him. Instead they send a message berating Moshe for taking them out of a land of milk and honey (Egypt!) and instead leading them into the desert to die.

 

Moshe is upset. He prays that Hashem not accept their offering. The Midrash explains that Moshe was upset because they refused to even speak to him. If you argue with someone face to face and you can respond to their argument, you have a certain measure of relief. But if they refuse to even talk to you, you feel very frustrated and upset.

 

Rashi, in his first explanation, says that Moshe prayed that when the next day Korach’s people would bring the ketores offering, G-d should reject it.

 

Rashi gives a second explanation. Every Jew contributed equally (1/2 shekel) to the daily offering (the Tamid). Moshe prayed that the share contributed by Dassan and Aviram not be accepted. The fire that consumed the offering on the Mizbeach (altar) should not burn the bit of the offering contributed by Dassan and Aviram.

 

The Ramban questions Rashi’s first interpretation. It was Korach’s party who were to bring the ketores, not Dassan and Aviram. Therefore, he explains the passage in a way closer to Rashi’s second explanation. Any offering they bring, any prayer that they pray, should be rejected.

 

Why was Moshe so harsh with them, asking G-d not to accept any of their prayers?

 

The Ohr HaChaim says that Dassan and Aviram represent an ultimate level of evil that has no good at all in it.

 

In general, the Sages teach us that even bad people have some good in them. Therefore, Hashem rewards them for the small amount of good that they have done, even though they will be punished for their great evil. In this case, Moshe prayed that even the reward for their good deeds should be denied to them  The Ohr Hachaim compares this to the power that the Beis Din (a Jewish court) has to remove ownership of property from an individual (similar to the secular concept of eminent domain) in the same manner. A Tzadik, like Moshe, was able to nullify any small good deeds Dassan and Aviram might have accrued.

 

I think by examining a passage in the 32nd chapter of Tanya, we can get a better idea of why Dassan and Aviram had no credit for good deeds.

 

The Alter Rebbe writes about the great importance of Ahavas Yisroel, the Mitzvah to love each Jew. He raises the question that the Talmud says that if you see your friend sinning, it is a mitzvah to hate him. The Alter Rebbe explains that this refers only to a friend whom you have communicated with and sought to correct his behavior. He refused and did not do t’shuvah. As far as a person whom you are not close to and whom you are not in a position to admonish, you may not hate him. On the contrary, you must draw him or her lovingly to the Torah. Even the friend whom you should hate, you should also love him or her at the same time!  You hate the evil that he did, but you love him because he contains a G-dly soul within him.

 

There is one exception, though, to Ahavas Yisroel. King David says in Tehillim about wicked people: “I hate them with an absolute hatred.”  Who are these wicked people? The Alter Rebbe says these are the heretics who have no share in the G-d of Israel.

 

I ask the question: Why not love such people too because of their G-dly souls while at the same time hating their evil? Perhaps the explanation lies in another interpretation that the Alter Rebbe gives on this passage in Tehillim earlier in the Tanya, in Chapter Ten. There he says this passage refers to pure evil (Sitra Achra). We are to absolutely hate pure evil. If so, in Chapter 32, the heretic referred to is someone who is totally evil and has no vestige of goodness left in him. Only a person (if you could actually identify him) of pure evil may you hate.

 

Back to our parsha. Korach and his group can be seen as people who had some good in them. At least they engaged in dialogue with Moshe. Korach’s own sons did T’shuva and were spared from death. The Sages say that after they were swallowed up, the congregation of Korach acknowledged, “Moshe is true, the Torah is true, and we lied.” They were redeemable.

 

Dassan and Aviram represent total evil without any redeeming qualities. Thus, they refused to even speak to Moshe. Accordingly, Moshe’s prayer was justified. Their prayers, their so-called good deeds were worthless and of no value.

 

We are commemorating the third of Tamuz, the Yartzeit of our Rebbe, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

 

The Rebbe was able to talk to every individual across the religious spectrum, from “non-believing” leftists, to Reform and Conservative Rabbis, to Rosh Yeshivas and Rebbes, and to everyone in between. The Rebbe found something good in each person, and he found a way to bring out that good. He was able to touch the Jewish spark of non-religious Jews. He was able to inspire religious Jews to a deeper and more intense Yiddishkeit. He was able to motivate Jews and leaders to climb to greater heights and to greater devotion. This is all because he was able to speak to each person as an individual and to see in him the unique goodness that each person possesses. I don’t think he ever encountered a Dassan and Aviram whom he couldn’t communicate with and touch in some way.

 

May we be inspired to walk in his ways, to demand the very best of ourselves, and to be able to speak with love to every Jew.

 


 

Parashat Shlach

The Life of Challenge

Copyright 2012 by Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

The only way your faith can grow, deepen, and become more authentic is through challenge and struggle.

 

 

Let’s begin by citing five statements from the Midrash Raba (Parashat Shlach), and then see how putting them together can perhaps give us a better insight into the “Chait HaMeraglim,” the sin of the spies.

 

The Midrash (16:5) says the spies who went to scout the land of Canaan were chosen by the Jewish people, by G-d, and by Moshe. Furthermore, Moshe consulted with Hashem about each individual scout, and G-d answered him that they were fit.

 

The next Midrash (16:7) recounts a parable. A king chose a woman for his son to marry. She was beautiful, from a good family, and wealthy. The son did not trust his father and insisted on seeing the woman first. The father said I’ll let you see her so you’ll know that I wasn’t lying, but because you didn’t trust me, I won’t let you marry her. So, too, when the Jews insisted on scouting the promised land, Hashem let them. But because they hadn’t trusted him, He declared that the entire generation would not enter the land.

 

This Midrash is quite surprising, for it states that the very asking to see the land brought about the generation’s punishment not to enter the land. The story in the Torah clearly states that it was the lack of faith after the spies returned, not the original desire to see it, which brought about the punishment of the Jewish people.

 

The third passage (16:20) states that the Jews could have avoided punishment had they not listened to the spies. Since they did so, not only were they punished then, but it was decreed that, in the future, the Beis Hamikdosh would be destroyed.

 

This third passage in the Midrash seems to contradict the second passage, which says they were punished as soon as they asked to see the land. It is also difficult to understand why it was decreed that the Beis Hamikdosh be destroyed. Why did this one sin have such a long-lasting consequence?

 

The fourth Midrash (17;2) states that after Avraham was tested for the tenth time by being told to sacrifice his son, he insisted to Hashem that he not be tested anymore. Avraham said, “If I were to fail G-d’s test, I would lose everything I toiled for my entire life.” G-d agreed and promised not to give Avraham any more tests. The Midrash continues that if not for this promise, G-d would have tested Avraham with the suffering of Job.

 

Why, we may ask, would Avraham have to be continually tested and no less with the proverbial troubles of Job?  Also why did G-d agree not to test him anymore?

 

The final Midrash (17:3) tells a parable explaining the accusation that the Jews made “Because G-d hated us, He took us out of the land of Egypt.” A king had two children. He gave one child a well-irrigated field. To the other, he gave a field that was totally dependent on rainfall. Surely, he must hate the son whom he gave the non-irrigated field.

 

Likewise, Egypt was irrigated by the flooding of the Nile while Israel was dependent on rainfall. Therefore, the Jews said G-d hated them by giving them an inferior land.

 

I suggest that there is one underlying theme connecting all of these Midrashim and indeed the whole story of the spies, as I will explain.

 

The first Midrash says that even in G-d’s eyes the spies were good people. The second says that the desire alone to see Israel in advance was a sin. How do we reconcile these two approaches?

 

You can live your life with faith, trust and love of G-d. Yet that faith is always being challenged and tested. It is not that G-d is playing a game with you by testing you. Rather, the only way your faith can grow, deepen, and become more authentic is through challenge and struggle.

 

The spies started out as good people. To a certain extent, we all start out as good people with a clean slate. Then came the challenge: the niggling doubt that perhaps the land of Canaan is not really a good land, or perhaps, even if it is, we cannot conquer it. If this doubt remained, the Jews would have forfeited the land immediately as the Midrash says. But it was a challenge and a test. They could have overcome that doubt and with a deeper, renewed faith entered the land after all.

 

But if they allowed the doubt to persist they would lose all. Even the Beis Hamikdosh would not last, as the third Midrash says. For the Jews to remain in Israel, they needed the relationship of faith, trust, and love of G-d. Without it, even after the second generation after the spies did enter Israel, their being in Israel would only be temporary.

 

The fifth Midrash faults the Jews for saying G-d hated them and gives the parable of the field that depends on rainwater. The Jews were able to say G-d hated them only because they did not love Him. They did not rise to the challenge posed by the meraglim to deepen their faith.

 

In fact, the reason G-d gave them the land of Israel was because it needed rain. A land like that, by definition, calls upon you to deepen your trust in G-d. Unlike irrigation, rain is not in your control. It’s in the hands of G-d. But when you trust and love G-d that’s a plus and not a minus. G-d takes care of you; He waters your land.

 

Back to the fourth Midrash. Why, at least in theory, would G-d have to continue testing Avraham even with the trials of Job?  Because the nature of life is to be tested and challenged in order for us to grow closer to G-d. Why were the tests suspended when Avraham said “enough!”?  Because when Avraham acknowledged that if he failed a test he would lose everything, he was demonstrating that his whole being was his connection to and relationship with G-d. If he lost that connection, he became nothing. Once Avraham reached the level of experiencing his own self-nullification and awareness that there was only G-d, no further tests were necessary. He had achieved an absolute cleaving to G-d.

 

While we are not on Avraham’s level, we must be aware that the daily challenges of life, be they large or small, must be dealt with by becoming deeper and better people. They must be dealt with by our greater awareness of G-d and with our enhanced relationship with Him.

 

May we merit the epitome of the relationship with Hashem with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our day.

 

 


 

Parashat B’haalos’cha

The Delayed Pesach Sacrifice: Who’s to Blame?

Copyright 2012 by Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

 

We must always examine, improve and deepen our Torah and Mitzvos observance.

 

In Parashat B’haalos’cha, the Torah tells the people of Israel to bring the Pascal sacrifice on the 14th day of the first month of the second year from the Exodus. The Book of Bamidbar starts with Hashem speaking to Moshe on the first day of the second month of the second year of the Exodus. Hashem commands Moshe to take a census of the Israelites. Other events follow: The organizing of the tribes into four divisions, counting of the Levites and the assignments of their tasks, the inauguration of the Levites, among others. All of these events take place in the second month. So why does the Torah position the commandment of the Pesach which was in the first month, out of chronological order?

 

Rashi says that the Torah does not want to start Bamidbar with the account of the Pascal sacrifice because it would reflect negatively on the Jewish people. This was the only Pascal sacrifice they brought to the desert; for the remaining 38 years they did not offer this sacrifice.

 

The Ramban gives another explanation for the non-chronological order. First the Torah tells us about the set-up of the Mishkan (the Sanctuary) that was to last for the entire time in the desert. This includes the setting up of the camp around the Mishkan, the appointments of the Cohanim and Leviim, etc. After this, the Torah goes back to the specific events of the time in the desert starting with the second Pascal sacrifice.

 

As mentioned, Rashi says that the fact that the Jewish people only brought the Pascal sacrifice once in the desert reflects badly on them. But why indeed did they bring it only once?

 

Tosafos in Kidushin (37b) says that according to one opinion the Pesach sacrifice was to be brought only upon entering and conquering Eretz Yisroel as the Torah writes, “When you come to the land.” The one time that they did bring it in the desert was at Hashem’s specific and exceptional command.

 

If indeed the Jews weren’t supposed to bring the Pesach in the desert, why are the Jewish people criticized for not bringing it? Tosafos answers because it was their fault that they spent 40 years in the desert. Had they not sinned with the incident of the Meraglim (the spies that reported negatively about Israel, prompting the Jews to not wanting to go there), the people of Israel would have immediately entered the land and would have been required to bring the Pesach offering. Because they rebelled against G-d and were punished by the delaying of an entire generation’s entrance to Israel, they are blamed for not bringing the Pesach sacrifice all of those years.

 

Tosafos offers another explanation as to why the Jews didn’t bring the Pascal offering in the desert.

 

There is an opinion that the Pesach sacrifice was required even before conquering Israel. The passage ‘when you will come into the land” can be understood as in the merit of keeping the mitzvah (before you get to the land) you will be worthy of inheriting the land.

 

So, according to this view they could have brought it. So why didn’t they?  Tosafos answers because the children were uncircumcised, and the rule is if any male members of the family are uncircumcised you cannot bring the Pascal sacrifice. But we ask, so why didn’t they circumcise their children?

 

The Gemora in Yoma (71b, 72a) gives two reasons. One is that it was dangerous since they had to travel. Presumably, this is referring to the fact that the people of Israel had to move without prior notice whenever Hashem indicated that they should journey. It would have been dangerous for a just-circumcised baby to travel in the desert. Therefore, the Jews could not circumcise their babies. A second reason is that “the north wind didn’t blow for them” meaning that the weather conditions were harsh, and it would have been dangerous to perform circumcision.

 

In either case, the Jews were responsible for this because, as mentioned earlier, it was their rebellion against Hashem that caused them to be in the desert for 40 years.

 

Tosafos in Yebamos (72a) offers a novel approach:

 

If a child is uncircumcised because of illness (or in this case because of potential danger to life), the parents may indeed bring the Pascal sacrifice. In fact, they did bring the sacrifice every year in the desert! But they didn’t bring it under proper ideal conditions (i.e. with all of the family being circumcised), so the blame cast upon the Jews for not bringing the sacrifice for all the years in the desert actually is the blame for not bringing an exemplary sacrifice. They brought the sacrifice under non-ideal circumstances and not in the most proper manner.

 

One thing we can certainly learn from this interpretation of Tosafos is the importance of doing mitzvos in the best possible way. If not, even though the mitzvah is technically done on a minimal level, we are blamed, and it’s (almost) as if we haven’t done the mitzvah. This thought should give us pause when it comes to our religious observance.

 

Sure, we daven three times daily, but do we pour our hearts and souls into our prayers, or are they merely recited perfunctorily?

 

Of course, we set aside time for Torah study daily, but do we engage our minds fully in intellectual effort, or do we sort of coast along as we study in a mental haze?

 

Surely, we do acts of kindness and charity, but is it an active awareness about the needs of our community and our institutions that we vigorously participate in and contribute to, or is it the occasional writing of a check?

 

Bringing a half-hearted Pascal sacrifice is not enough. Practicing a half-hearted Judaism is not enough. We must always examine, improve and deepen our Torah and mitzvos observance.

 

May we merit to bring the actual Pesach offering with the coming of Moshiach in our time.

 

 


 

The Real Story of Ruth

 

In the book of Ruth, we read how Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, urges her to anoint herself with oil, dress up, and make her way surreptitiously to the field where Boaz is supervising the harvest. She is to find where Boaz is sleeping and lay down at his feet.

 

Ruth follows these instructions. At midnight, Boaz wakes up with a start. There is a woman lying at his feet. Ruth announces herself and asks Boaz to “spread his garment over your handmaid.”

 

Boaz tells Ruth that he is willing to redeem her (which means to redeem her late husband’s property and to marry Ruth). However, there is a closer relative who has priority to redeem her. If he does not want to redeem her, Boaz swears that he will redeem her, i.e., marry her.

 

The question here is obvious. Why did Naomi and Ruth have to resort to this strategy? Surely, it was a moral test for Boaz. The Chazal give Boaz great credit for refraining to be with Ruth that night. But was it fair to put Boaz in the way of such temptation?

 

The Chazal see Naomi’s action as noble. Naomi tells Ruth, “Bathe, anoint yourself, [and] dress up.” The Midrash comments: “Bathe” – clean yourself of any vestiges of idolatry – “Anoint yourself” with good deeds – “Dress up” – with Shabbos clothing. (By the way, the Midrash derives from this passage that a person should have a special set of clothing for Shabbos).

 

Boaz, too, is described as a righteous man. “Boaz ate and drank and with a happy heart went to lie down.” Why was he happy? Says the Midrash: because he said the grace after meals. Another explanation: he was happy because he studied Torah.

 

So why does Ruth go down to the field to put Boaz in a compromising position?

 

The Alshich HaKadosh suggests that Boaz and Naomi knew that a descendant of Lot by his eldest daughter would become the King of Israel, and eventually a descendant of his would be Moshiach. But was Ruth that descendant?

 

Naomi wanted to convince Boaz that this was indeed the case. To prove this to him, Ruth would assume the role of Lot’s daughter and Boaz the role of Lot. They and their descendants would be the ancestors of the future King of Israel. The Alshich even suggests that Ruth was a gilgul – a reincarnation – of Lot’s daughter. According to this interpretation Ruth’s going down to the field to be with Boaz and re-enacting the Lot story was a necessary and integral element in succeeding in progenerating Israel’s future king.

 

Based on this approach, perhaps we can carry the analogy to Lot and his daughter further. Lot’s daughter’s intention in having a child was honorable – leshem shamayim — while Lot’s was not. Thus, their offspring, the people of Moav, had an unusual legal standing vis-à-vis the people of Israel. A Jew could not marry males of Moavite descent who had converted to Judaism. But a Jew could marry a woman of Moavite descent. The Talmud gives a reason for this anomaly. The Moavites did not provide food and water to the Israelites who passed by Moav on their way from Egypt to Israel. The Moavite men were responsible for this and are therefore ostracized. But the women were not expected to go out in a public place and deliver food and water to the Jews. Therefore they were not penalized.

 

In light of what we previously said, however, we can explain the discrepancy of the male/female status quite simply. Lot’s action in begetting Moav was reprehensible. Therefore, an Israelite may not marry a Moavite man. But Lot’s daughter acted honorably – leshem shamayim  – so the female descendents are permitted to marry into the Jewish people.

 

Now, in the reenactment of the story by Ruth and Boaz, an opportunity is given to rectify Lot’s mistake. Lot did not act honorably, but Boaz has the opportunity to fix this, to act leshem shamayim  and to be the ancestor of the kings.

 

But Boaz realizes that there’s one thing wrong: Although marrying Ruth would indeed be a mitzvah the equivalent of Yibum, the levirate marriage, Boaz was not the first in line. There was a closer relative of Elimelech (Ruth’s father-in-law) and Machlon (Ruth’s late husband) who must be given the opportunity to perform the Yibum marriage with Ruth first.

 

So Boaz is faced with a great temptation. Should he perform the levirate marriage with Ruth that night? The Midrash says that the evil impulse urged Boaz to proceed. “You are single, you seek a wife; she is single, she seeks a husband.” Perform the marriage now!  Do the mitzvah of Yibum now!  Become the ancestor of Moshiach now!

 

But Boaz was not swayed by these arguments. Despite the mitzvah, despite the potential to bring Moshiach, it was wrong to proceed with the marriage. The relative who was closest must be given the opportunity first. Only if he demurred, would Boaz marry Ruth.

 

And so Boaz told Ruth to wait. On the next day, the matter would be resolved.

 

It is precisely because Boaz practiced restraint that his subsequent marriage to Ruth was able to bring about the ultimate redemption. Boaz practiced a pure leshem shamayim, which meant he was willing to give up the opportunity to be the progenitor of Moshiach. Thus, he rectified the dishonorable conduct of Lot totally and at the end, as we know, he married Ruth and set the wheels in motion for the birth of King David and the birth of Moshiach and the final redemption.

 


 

 

Dvar Torah on Parashat Emor – a Summary

 

 

The Pure Oil

 

In the parsha of Emor, the making of the pure olive oil for lighting the menorah is described.

 

But, we may ask, this was already commanded in detail at the beginning of Parashat T’tzaveh in the book of Shmos.

 

Rashi explains that in T’tzaveh the Torah was explaining what you need the Menorah for. When it said, “Command the Children of Israel to take pure olive oil,” it meant I will command you in the future to take the oil, and that’s what you’ll do with the Menorah—light lamps with the oil. The commandment to actually take the oil appears only much later in our Parsha of Emor.

 

The Ramban objects to Rashi’s interpretation for a number of reasons. First, the commandment of the oil in T’tzaveh is not written in proximity to the making of the Menorah. Secondly, in the book of Shmos they did in fact make the oil and, in fact, light the Menorah.

 

The Ramban suggests that Parashat T’tzaveh describes the commandment of making the original oil when the Mishkan was built. Once that oil was used up, the Torah once more issues the commandment for making the oil for all future time. Also, in T’tzaveh it says to make the oil and light the lamps. But it doesn’t explicitly say to light the Menorah. This is stated in our Parsha: “Upon the pure Menorah shall you arrange the lamps.”

 

The Ohr HaChaim raises another question. Why is the making of the oil and the lighting of the Menorah mentioned here specifically following the laws of the holy days? He suggests that the Torah is telling us about the special holiness of “Seven.”  Pesach and Succos are seven days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are in the seventh month. (I would add that Shavuot is celebrated after the count of seven weeks). So, too, the Menorah has seven branches. The table upon which the bread, known as lechem hapanim, is offered (the details of the bread- making is also in our Parsha, right after the making of the oil) is also related to seven. There are stacks of six loaves and together with the table itself, that makes seven.

 

I would suggest another approach that would explain the positioning of the commandment about the oil in this parsha specifically, and I think it would also strengthen Rashi’s interpretation. (Some aspects of this approach are found in Abarbanel.)

 

The second half of the book of Shmos is about making a sanctuary to Hashem. First, it talks about the vessels/furniture. Next, it talks about the structure (mostly in Parashat Trumah). Then it talks about the Cohanim’s garments that are required for the service (Parashat T’tzaveh). It talks about the materials needed to perform the services, the oil for lighting (T’tzaveh), the oil for anointing, incense (Ki Tisa). The Torah goes on to describe the actual building of the sanctuary (Vayakhel, Pekudei) and the rituals for inauguration (T’tzaveh, Pekudei). In short, we are dealing with the sanctuary itself as the center of the camp of the people of Israel and of the dwelling of the Divine Presence. We are not yet talking about the services in the Sanctuary.

 

The Book of Vayikra deals with the offerings which the people bring in the Sanctuary. First, we deal with individual voluntary sacrifices and then with individual obligatory sacrifices (Vayikra, Tzav, Tazriah, Metzorah). The Torah goes on to expand the concept of holiness to other areas of life; eating (Shmini), male/female relationships (Achrei Mos and Kedoshim), and ethical and humane conduct (Kedoshim).

 

In our parsha, Emor, the Torah tells us of the special regulations and qualifications of the Cohanim and the prohibition of using a blemished animal for a sacrifice. Then we have the laws of the holy days.

 

It seems to me that these laws are placed here for the reason, as mentioned earlier, that the Torah wishes to extend holiness into other areas of life. The special days starting with the Shabbos and continuing on to all of the festivals brings a special holiness into those appointed times.

 

A second reason is that here we begin talking about public required sacrifice. The Torah has already prescribed private sacrifice. Now the Torah discusses the public obligatory sacrifices of all of the holidays.

 

Afterwards, it concludes the required public offerings with the details of the daily menorah-lighting and of the weekly bread (lechem hapanim) that is baked and placed on the Temple’s table.

 

Indeed, this is Rashi’s point. The Torah is quite organized in describing the sacrifices. First, the building of the place (including the Menorah and its oil), then the private sacrifices, and it concludes with the public sacrifices. Our Parsha is the perfect place to explain the law of the olive-oil preparation and Menorah- kindling.

 

In the book of M’lachim (Kings), a woman of Shunam sets up a room for the visiting prophet Elisha. She prepares for him “a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp stand.”  These define a living quarter.

 

The Mishkan is the symbolic dwelling place of Hashem. He doesn’t need a symbolic bed because He doesn’t sleep. But the chair is the Ark of the Covenant. Hashem “sits upon the Keruvim – the golden angels on the Ark cover.” The table is the altar for meat, and the Shulchan a table for bread. The Menorah is the lamp stand for light.

 

Hashem does not need our food or our light. What we offer to Him He gives back to us. We offer the sacrifices. He gives us atonement. We offer the bread. He gives us sustenance. We offer light. He gives us His light, the light of wisdom and inspiration.

 

We must be holy by doing good and holy deeds. But we must also do this, not mechanically, but with inspiration. That is the meaning of the Menorah: It is the light of Divine wisdom that inspires our souls.

 


 

 

 

Dvar Torah on Parashat Tazria-Metzorah – a Summary

 

 

 

The Seventh and Worst Sin

 

There are several places that our Sages list the sins that result in the punishment of leprosy.

 

The teaching that I am discussing is in the beginning of the Midrash Rabah in the portion Metzorah. A passage in Proverbs (Mishlei 6:16) is quoted. “Six things G-d hates; seven are an abomination to Him.” The Sages understand this not as six plus seven (that is the view of Rabbi Meir), but as first six and then one more, the seventh, which is the worst of them all. What are the seven?

 

  1. “Haughty eyes”
  2. “A lying tongue”
  3. “Hands that shed innocent blood”
  4. “A heart that schemes evil plots”
  5. “Feet that hasten to run to evil”
  6. “A speaker of lies; a false witness”  and
  7. “He who incites strife among brothers”

 

The Midrash then goes on to give examples of each of the seven and to offer proof-texts that they are punished by leprosy.

 

  1. “Haughty eyes” – These are the arrogant women of Jerusalem described by the prophet Isaiah
  2. “A lying tongue — This is Miriam who slandered Moshe
  3. “Hands that shed innocent blood”— This is David’s general Iyov who was guilty of spilling innocent blood
  4. “A heart that schemes evil plots”— This is King Uziah who “schemed an evil plot”
  5. “Feet that hasten to run to evil” –  This is Geichazi, the student of Elisha, who ran after Na’aman to ask for a gift (which, in truth, Elisha had rejected).

     

 (The Midrash Raba leaves out the sixth, “a speaker of lies.” The Midrash Tanchuma says that the sixth refers to the makers of the golden calf who testified falsely that the calf was a G-d.)

 

7. “He who incites strife among brothers” – This is Pharaoh who “incited strife,” as it were, between Avraham and Sarah by seizing Sarah.

     

The Midrash concludes that Moshe warned the Jews about leprosy and said, “This is the law of the Metzorah (leper).” Metzorah can be read as Motzi Rah, one who speaks slander which leads to leprosy.

 

I have two questions to ask about this Midrash.

 

The Midrash seems to be saying that Lashon Hara is the worst of the sins that lead to leprosy. But the worst sin (number seven) as listed here is causing strife. (Lashon Hara is listed as one of the earlier sins (number two), the sin of Miriam).

 

My second question is:  How can causing strife be the worst sin?  Murder is listed as one of the six (number three). Without a doubt, murder is the worst sin.

 

I would suggest that there are two forms of Lashon Hara. One is when you criticize someone because in your perception he or she did wrong. This was the nature of Miriam’s sin. She thought Moshe had done wrong (for becoming separated from his wife), so she criticized him. But she was wrong because Hashem had told Moshe to do that in order that he be holy and ready to receive Hashem’s revelation at any time. It was a “lie” (although by mistake).

 

There’s another type of Lashon Hara. It’s not because you think someone did wrong. It’s because you despise people and seek to ruin them. It comes from a baseless hatred and from a perverse desire of wanting to inflict pain and suffering on others. You derive pleasure from destroying others. This is a far worse type of Lashon Hara. It is inciting strife between “brothers,” the worst of the seven sins.

 

But how can this be worse than murder?

 

We can understand this by the teaching of the Sages that “thinking sinful thoughts (i.e., of an immoral nature) is worse than the actual sin.” How can this be?

 

The Alter Rebbe explains that while you are not punished unless you actually commit a sin, the internal corruption of the immoral thought defiles your soul to a greater degree then the actual sin. A sin is an act. As terrible as it is, it is over and done with. But the spiritual and mental obsession with evil pollutes and destroys your soul.

 

Perhaps we can apply this to our question. Murder is, in fact, the greatest sin. But as far as the destruction of your own soul, the attitude of hatred towards another person and the pleasure of causing pain and suffering is the worse thing. Your mind, your heart, and your soul are corroded and destroyed by this hateful form of Lashon Hara.

 

May Hashem cleanse our hearts from hatred and may we always strive to follow in His ways.

 


 

 

 

Dvar Torah on Parashat Shemini – a Summary

 

 

The Two Kinds of Joy

 

The Parsha of Shemini recounts the sin of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon. They brought a “strange fire” to G-d that they were not commanded to bring. A fire from G-d came forth and consumed them.

 

The Gemara and commentaries have many explanations for their sin. The Zohar gives a mystical explanation. Their sin was that they drank wine before entering the Mishkan. Although a Cohen is supposed to serve G-d with joy, wine brings forth the wrong kind of joy. Wine is the joy of Binah. It is an outward joy corresponding to speaking. It is the service of the Levites, not of the Cohanim. The joy of the Cohen is a quiet, inner joy corresponding to thinking. It is derived from chochmah and is associated with water. The Cohanim are supposed to serve with this quiet, constant joy, not with the loud joy of the Leviim.

 

I’ll come back to this concept in a moment.

 

Later in the Parasha, the Torah tells us that the Chatos, the sin offering, was burned. Moshe was upset. He criticized Elazar and Isamar for not eating the sacrifice as it was an atonement for the people of Israel. Aharon defended their action; since he had suffered the tragic loss of his sons (and of their brothers), it would not be appropriate to eat the Chatos. Moshe accepted Aharon’s point of view.

 

What was the basis of this argument?  Why did Moshe think they should have eaten it?  Why was Aharon able to convince him otherwise?

 

The Chazal explain that in addition to the two Chatos offerings mentioned in our parasha (one on behalf of the Cohanim which was supposed to be burned and one on behalf of the people of Israel which was supposed to be eaten), there were two others. One was the offering of Rosh Chodesh since the day of the dedication of the Mishkan coincided with Rosh Chodesh Nisan according to the Chazal. The other was the Chatos brought on behalf of Nachshon, the first of the twelve princes who brought their special sacrifices on the first twelve days of Nisan.

 

Now, earlier in the parsha, Moshe had told Aharon that he and his sons should eat the rest of the Minchah (matza) and of the Shlamim offering. Even though a Cohen who has just suffered the loss of a close relative may not partake of sacrifices, these were an exception. As the Torah says earlier – Aharon and his sons were not supposed to observe the rules of mourning.

 

Based on this special circumstance, the Chazal say Aharon and his sons did, in fact, eat the Chatos brought for the atonement of Israel despite the loss of their sons/brothers. However, they felt that this exception only applied to the exceptional offerings, that is the one-time special Chatos for Israel and the one-time special offering of Nachshon. The Rosh Chodesh offering was not exceptional for it is brought every single Rosh Chodesh. Thus Aharon reasoned that the dispensation to eat the sacrifices even in a state of extreme mourning (aninus in Hebrew) did not apply to the Rosh Chodesh sacrifice, and thus they had to burn it.

 

Moshe failed to make this distinction and felt that all sacrifices should have been eaten. Once Aharon explained his point of view differentiating between two types of sacrifices, Moshe accepted his reasoning.

 

The advantage of the preceding interpretation is that it explains what Aharon and Moshe were disagreeing about. The weakness is that the text does not mention the Chatos of Rosh Chodesh at all. We are forced to extrapolate that fact to explain their argument.

 

It is possible to learn that it was, in fact, the Chatos of the people Israel that was burned and not eaten. When Moshe earlier told Aharon and his sons to eat the sacrifices, he mentioned the Minchah and the Shlamim, not the Chatos. Aharon felt that since the Chatos wasn’t explicitly mentioned, it was not an exception to the rule and could not be eaten in mourning. Moshe at first felt that although not explicitly mentioned it, too, should be eaten Aharon convinced him that he was correct in not eating it because of his mourning.

 

This interpretation is found in the Targum of Yonasan ben Uziel.

 

What is left unexplained is why in fact the Chatos was not to be eaten in a state of mourning while the Minchah and Shlamim were.

 

Perhaps we can explain this in light of the Zohar quoted earlier. The essence of the service of the Cohanim was a steady internal joy, a deep cleaving to G-d, rather than an exuberant outward manifestation. Aharon realized that to atone for the Jewish people, he had to be able to be in that place of inner joy. Because of the death of his sons he was unable to be on that level, and he could not eat the sacrifice and atone for Israel. Moshe realized that Aharon was correct and accepted his action.

 

Although we are not Cohanim serving in the Holy Temple, the teaching of the Zohar is important to us. There are two forms of Divine worship. The more externally joyous, the singing and dancing before G-d, corresponds to the role of the Leviim. But we should also strive for the deeper joy, the quiet joy of the Cohanim. Being able to serve the Almighty, being able to study His Torah and do His will, should leave us with an inner sense of happiness and contentment, a quiet joy, a joy of peace.

 


 

 

Dvar Torah on Parashat Mishpatim – a Summary

 

The Torah says that if you injure someone, you shall give “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, an arm for an arm, a leg for a leg.”  Rashi quotes the Gemara (1 Bava Kama 53:89) that this means monetary compensation.

 

Perhaps Rashi felt that the simple meaning of the text can be either literal or symbolic. He therefore cites the Gemara which offers many arguments to prove that the passage is to be understood as symbolic and not literally.

 

The Ibn Ezra argues in the name of Rav Saadiah Gaon that we cannot understand the passage literally because “an eye for an eye” cannot  be duplicated. For example, if someone injured his fellow by making him lose one third of his vision, how can you duplicate that loss no more or no less?  Perhaps you’ll totally blind the perpetrator! Or you might attempt to duplicate a blow and wind up killing the perpetrator.

 

The Ibn Ezra regards a debate on this issue between Rav Saadiah and Ben Zota, a Karaite scholar. I’ll quote just one of the arguments. Said Ben Zota (who was arguing that an eye for an eye, etc. should be taken literally), “It says, ‘As he has done so shall be done to him.’”

 

Rav Saadiah replied, “Shimshon said of the Philistines, ‘As they did to me, so I did to them.’”  What had the Philistines done to Shimshon? They had taken his wife and given her to another man. So did Shimshon take their wives and give them to other men? No, he burned down their grain. Therefore, “as they did to me so I do to them” means I punished them for what they did to me.

 

The Ramban offers another argument. The Torah says that if you injure someone, you must pay for his time lost from work and for his medical expenses.  But if let’s say your eye was blinded for blinding someone else’s eye, then you were already punished by losing work and having medical expenses. The only way you might answer this is by saying that the passage that talks about reimbursing expenses is talking about a case when he did not inflict permanent damage (like an eye for an eye) but just beat someone who, as a result, lost work and had medical expenses. But that explanation doesn’t work, for our passage includes not just “an eye for an eye” but also a “wound for a wound” and “a bruise for a bruise.”  The only possible explanation is that you pay for the loss of the eye or for the bruise and you also pay for the other expenses.

 

It is interesting that the Gemara brings down the Ibn Ezra’s and the Ramban’s explanations but hesitates at accepting them as absolute proof. Perhaps we do take an eye for an eye, approximating it as best we can. If we fail, it’s not our fault; we did the best we could.

 

Perhaps you have to pay medical expenses, etc. when the perpetrator was punished “an eye for an eye” but recovered more quickly, lost less work, had less medical expenses. Perhaps then he pays the difference in expenses to the victim.

 

The truth is that the sages didn’t analyze the text and come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t actually take an eye for an eye but pay money. They knew from the start that you were supposed to pay money because they had an oral tradition from Sinai to that effect. They sought biblical texts to affirm that tradition, not to create it. So, too, in many cases of oral law, the “proof texts” are not the source of the law; the oral tradition is, and the written text is an allusion to that tradition.

 

The commentaries point out that by saying “an eye for an eye” the Torah is telling us that for blinding someone else’s eye you do indeed deserve to lose your eye, measure for measure. However, the Torah offers the payment of restitution as an alternative.

 

The Torah forbids accepting restitution to avoid punishment for murder, as is written, “You may not accept ransom for the life of a murderer … he must be put to death.” This implies that you may, in fact, accept “ransom,” i.e. payment for one who has injured but not killed his fellow.

 

One of the things we can learn from this is to be sensitive to the pain and suffering we cause others. What you do to someone else, you deserve to have done to you. If you yell at someone or insult or embarrass him or her, think for a moment how you would feel being yelled at or insulted. What you do to others should be done to you. You’ll find often that it’s the people closest to us that we don’t always treat properly. We shout at our spouses. We embarrass our children. We insult our colleagues or employees.

 

Remember that what you say to someone and how you say it is how you deserve to be treated yourself. Reflecting upon this will surely make you a kinder and more considerate person.

 


 

 

Dvar Torah on Parashat Yisro – a Summary

 

There are two traditions about how the Ten Commandments were given to Bnei Yisroel.

 

Rashi (Shemos 20:1) quotes the Mechilta that teaches that all of the Ten Commandments were uttered simultaneously and then repeated one at a time.

 

There is another tradition (Makor 24a) that the Jews heard only the first two commandments from Hashem. Moshe heard the rest and conveyed them to the Jewish people.

 

Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi understands Rashi as combining both views. First Hashem said all of the ten utterances together. Then He repeated them individually. The Jewish people heard only the first two and the rest were heard by Moshe and conveyed to the people.

 

The Maharal learns according to the Mechilta that Hashem said the Ten Commandments all together, the Torah being an expression of the one G-d. Because in its source it is a unity, it was first offered simultaneously, and only after did Hashem repeat each one separately for the Jews to hear.

 

The Rambam (Guide 2:33) holds that the Jews only heard Hashem once in the form of an undifferentiated sound. They were, however, able to understand from this sound the first two commandments, for the existence of G-d and His Oneness are knowable and understandable to man. Moshe, on the other hand, heard the enunciation of the words of all the Ten Commandments and not just the sound.

 

The Ramban learns that Hashem said all of the Ten Commandments to the Bnei Yisroel. But although they heard all of them, they only understood the first two. That is why those commandments are in first person (“I am The L-rd, your G-d”) and the others are in third person (“For in six days G-d made the heavens and the earth”).

 

I would like to raise the following question: If the first two commandments which deal with the faith in, and unity of, G-d could be understood by the people, how come the later ones, which are more simple (“Do not murder,” “Do not steal”), could not be understood?

 

Perhaps we might say that on a certain level it is easy to affirm the major principles of belief and unity of G-d. This is especially true according to Chassidus which explains that we have this faith built into our souls. What is difficult is translating this faith into every little detail of our lives. The Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya that even though almost every Jew would give his life rather than deny G-d, he still sins in many small ways.

 

Really every wrong act that we do, no matter how small, is a form of denial of G-d. Every good act we do is a form of affirmation. But we recognize only the big picture. We fail to carry through our faith in every detail of our lives.

 

This, then, is our task: To hear not only the first two commandments but to bring our faith down to the other eight, to all 613 and even beyond the commandments themselves. To sense “I am the L-rd, your G-d” in every moment of our lives, in every act that we do, and in every breath that we breathe.

 


 

Torah Thoughts – Parashat Chayei-Sarah

 

Midrash

 

“Sow your seed in the morning, and don’t hold your hand back in the evening; you don’t know which will succeed, the one or the other, or if both are equally good.” (Koheles 11:16)

 

Said Rabbi Eliezer, “If you planted the early crop, plant the later crop too.”

 

Said Rabbi Yehoshua, “If a poor person comes to you in the morning, give him. If a poor person comes to you in the evening, give him. For you don’t know which one Hashem will credit you for, ‘the one or the other or both.’”

 

Said Rabbi Yishmael, “If you studied Torah in your youth, study Torah in your old age, for you don’t know which will be retained, ‘the one or the other or both.’”

 

Said Rabbi Akiva, “If you had students in your youth, obtain students in your old age, for you don’t know which students will be successful, ‘the one or the other or both.’”

 

Said Rabbi Dostai, “If you had children in your youth, marry again in your old age, and have more children. From whom do we learn this? From Avraham Avinu who had children when he was younger and remarried when he was older and had more children, as the Torah says, “And Avraham took another wife whose name was Keturah.”

 

Halacha

 

When one sleeps at night, his soul departs, and a spirit of tumah descends upon him. When he wakes up, the spirit departs, except for on his hands. The tumah is removed by washing the hands three times, alternating from one hand to the other.

 

The Zohar is strict about not walking four cubits without washing your hands, so it is a good idea to prepare water next to your bed so you can wash immediately. Meticulous people wash as soon as they awake. (K’tzos Hashulchan 2:1)

 

Zohar

 

G-d created man’s body with four components. When he is alive, the four components are combined. When he dies, they separate from one another. Accordingly, we can interpret the pasuk (symbolically). “Sarah died,” that is the body. “In Kiryas Arba, the City of the Four,” these are the four component elements. “That is Chevron.” They were combined (root of Chevron is Ch, B, R = combined) when the person lived. “In the land of Canaan,” in this world whose time is short. “And Abraham came to lament and cry over Sarah,” for seven days the soul visits the dead body and mourns, as it says, “He feels only the pain of his flesh, and his spirit mourns in him” (Job 14:22)  Abraham is the soul who mourns for Sarah, the body.

 

Chassidus

 

The Midrash says that there are three people whose prayers were answered immediately: Eliezer when he prayed to find a wife for Yitzchok, Moshe when he prayed for the punishment of Korach to vindicate Moshe as a prophet, and Shlomo who prayed for Hashem to reveal Himself in the Beis Hamikdosh.

 

The reason those prayers were immediately answered is because they deal with “D’veikus,” cleaving to Hashem. When one cleaves to Hashem, he is not separate from Him. Therefore, there is no time lapse between the prayer and the answer.

 

There are three forms of d’veikus to Hashem: the world’s, the human’s, and that accomplished through Torah.

 

Moshe represents the cleaving of man to G-d since he was the greatest prophet.

Shlomo represents G-d’s revealing himself in the world through the Beis Hamikdosh. Yitzchok’s marriage to Rivkah represents the cleaving that takes place through the giving of the Torah.

 

The Torah accomplishes the connection between the heavens and the earth, i.e., G-d’s infinite will becomes manifest in the world through fulfillment of Mitzvos. Yitzchok represents the “heaven.” He was on the highest spiritual level. Rivkah who was trapped, as it were, in the house of Besual and Lavan, represents the earth. Rivkah’s being rescued from Aram and marrying Yitzchok represents the joining of heaven and earth and is the prelude for the Jewish people receiving the Torah.                                                                                        (Likutei Sichos, vol. 20)

 

Between Man and Fellow-Man

 

Compassion is a wonderful trait, one of the 13 traits attributed to G-d. One should exercise this trait as much as possible. Just as you want others to show mercy to you in a time of need, so too you should have mercy and compassion for any one in need. As the Torah says, “Love your fellow as yourself.”  

                                                                                                (Orchot Tzadikim, chap. 7)

 


 

Torah Thoughts – Parashat Va’yeira

 

MIDRASH

 

“When G-d is pleased with a man’s conduct, he causes even the man’s enemies to make peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:17) The enemy is the Yetzer Harah (evil inclination). Usually, if a man lives in the same city with his fellow for two or three years, he becomes friends with him. But the Yetzer Harah is with a person from his youth, yet if he can cause the person’s downfall at age 70, he will do it. If he can cause it at age 80, he will do it. Of the Yetzer Harah, King David said, “All my bones shall say ‘G-d, who is like You? You save the poor from one stronger than he, the poor and the needy from he who robs him!” 

 

Said Rav Acha, “Is there a greater robber than the Yetzer Harah?” King Shlomo said, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; if he is thirsty give him water to drink.”  This means, feed the Yetzer Harah the bread of Torah and let him drink the water of Torah [and then he will make peace with you].” (B. R. 54:1)

 

HALACHA

 

A great rule in serving G-d is to fulfill the passage, “I always place G-d’s presence before me.”  (Psalms 16, 8)

 

A person acts quite differently when he is in the presence of a king. The Holy One, Blessed is He, is the great king whose glory fills the universe. If we take this to heart, we will always feel humble, filled with awe, and contrite before Him. We will perform His will unabashedly. (Ramah, Orach Chaim 1:1)

 

 

ZOHAR

 

When G-d told Noach he would destroy the world, Noach remained quiet. But Avraham was like a compassionate father who prayed for Sodom. Said Rabbi Elazar, “Avraham did not do the best that he could. It was right that Avraham prayed that the righteous not die with the wicked. However, he did not pray for the wicked, for he did not want to demand reward for his deeds.

 

The best was Moshe. After the sin of the golden calf, he prayed for everyone, including the wicked. He said, ‘Forgive them, and, if not, wipe me out of Your book.’  And G-d did forgive them. There was no one who protected his generation like Moshe, the faithful shepherd. (Zohar I, 106a)

 

[The Nitzutzei Oros explains that when Moshe asked to be erased he meant that all of his merit should be taken from him and used to save the Jewish people.]

 

CHASSIDUS

 

Why is the self-sacrifice of Avraham unique?  After all, there have been many people who gave up their lives for Hashem’s sake.

 

One answer is that Avraham was the first. He had no one to model himself after. Rather, he became the role model for everyone else, opening the path to mesiras

Nefesh, self-sacrifice.

 

But, if so, why isn’t Avraham’s willingness to be burned in the furnace at Ur Kasdim held up as the first example of mesiras nefesh?

 

True mesiras nefesh is when you give your all to Hashem and receive no benefit of any kind. When Avraham was willing to be burned in the furnace, he knew that, through this, G-d’s name would be sanctified in the world. So, although he sacrificed himself, he had the satisfaction of knowing that his act would benefit the world.

 

However, by the Akeidah there was no such benefit. First of all, it was done in private. Furthermore, it had the potential of diminishing G-dliness in the world since Yitzchok who was supposed to be Avraham’s successor would have been killed. Thus, the mesiras nefesh at the Akeidah was truly altruistic; Avraham gave his all without expecting any benefit whatsoever. (Likutei Sichos v. 20)

 

 

BETWEEN MAN AND HIS FELLOW-MAN

 

A person who is cruel is far from all good character-traits. He will not pity the poor. He will not lend money to those in need. In fact, he will give them nothing. The proverb says, “One who is gracious to the poor lends to G-d.”  The Psalm says, “A good man acts graciously and lends.” It is also written, “Happy is the man who understands the needs of the poor, G-d will save him in the day of evil.”  All of those traits are the opposite of cruelty. (Orchos Tzadikim, chap. 8)

 


 

Torah Thoughts – Parashat Lech Lecha

 

 

Midrash

 

The Midrash expresses two differing views on Avraham’s parting with Lot:

 

Said Rabbi Yehuda, G-d was angry with Avraham for sending Lot away. Hashem said, “Everyone else you bring close, but not Lot.”

 

Rabbi Nechemiah says G-d was angry with Avraham for not sending Lot away earlier. Hashem said, “I told you I would give the land to your children, and you keep your nephew Lot with you!”  Of this it is said, “Expel the scoffer,” i.e., Lot, “and quarrel will cease.” (Midrash Rabah 41:8)

 

Halachah

 

When one is praying the Shemonah Esrey, one should understand and think about the meaning of each blessing. If it’s hard for him, he should at least concentrate on the ending of each blessing. The absolute minimum concentration and understanding is for the first blessing of the Shemonah Esrey (Avos). One should study the meaning of the Hebrew so that he knows what he’s saying. If he doesn’t understand it at all, he’s better off praying in a language he understands. (Orach Chaim 101)

 

Zohar

 

A young man named Yossi said to Rabbi Abba that he wanted to study Torah in order to be rich. Rabbi Abba agreed. After a while Yossi said to his Rabbi, “Where is my wealth?”  Rabbi Abba was concerned that Yossi was not studying Torah for its own sake. A heavenly voice said to Rabbi Abba, “Don’t punish him. One day he will be a great man.”  So Rabbi Abba said to Yossi, “Remain here, my son, I will give you wealth.”

 

One day a man came to Rabbi Abba and said that although he could not study Torah himself, he wanted someone to study on his behalf. He would give him wealth since he owned thirteen cups of the finest gold (paz). Rabbi Abba told Yossi to study on the man’s behalf, and he would give him riches.

 

Eventually the love of Torah penetrated Yossi. One day his Rabbi saw him crying, “I don’t want to study for someone else to obtain wealth. I want the Torah to be mine” (and not receive wealth). At last he was studying Torah for the sake of Heaven!

 

Rabbi Abba told the wealthy man to give his money to orphans and to the poor. He also told him that he, Rabbi Abba, would give him a share in all the Torah that he learns.

 

Yossi returned the cup of gold (paz) to the wealthy man. From that day onward, the young man was known as Rabbi Yossi ben Pazzi. (Zohar I Sisrai Torah 88 a, b)

 

Chassidus

 

Through the good deeds of Avraham and the other Avos, the infinite will of Hashem (Keser) was drawn down into the world. This set the stage for the Torah to be given since this is the function of Torah; to bring the infinite will of Hashem down through all of the worlds. Why, if so, wasn’t the Torah given to the Avos?

 

The Avos performed the mitzvos spiritually (with the exception of Bris Milah, which was physical). They brought infinite G-dliness down to the internal worlds, not to the external, i. e., physical. To be able to bring the infinite into the physical world of physical mitzvot, the Jewish people had to go down and struggle in Egypt first. (Torah Ohr 11, c, d)

 

Between Man and Fellow-Man

 

To curse anyone (including yourself) and using G-d’s name in any language is a serious violation. Even if not using G-d’s name, it is still wrong to curse someone. Even saying “May so and so not be blessed” is forbidden. (Orach Meisharim  chap. 10, 12)

 


 

Torah Thoughts for Succos

 

Midrash

 

Originally Hashem wanted every summer month to have a holiday.  In Nissan he gave us Pesach, in Iyar – Pesach Sheni, in Sivan – Shavuos.  He had planned to give us a great holiday on Tamuz but then we made the golden calf.  So Tamuz, Av and Elul had no holidays.  Finally when Tishrei came (and atonement for the golden calf was completed) Hashem gave us three holidays; Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succos to make up for the three months whose holidays were skipped.  But then Tishrei needed a holiday of its own.  So he gave us Shemini Atzeret.

 

Halachah

 

Eating bread in the Succah on the first night by Torah law and on the second night (by Rabbinic law) is a mitzvah.  The details of the mitzvah are learned by comparison to eating matzah of the first (and second rabbinical) night of Pesach.  On Pesach, you must not eat a lot on the previous afternoon so you should have an appetite for the matzah, you must eat matzah after night fall not when it’s still light, you must eat at least the size of an olive, you must eat before midnight and you must eat the matzah within a short time period (known as kday achilas pras).  All of these laws also apply to eating bread in the Succah on the first (and second) night.  According to another opinion you must eat bread that is the size of slightly larger than an egg.

 

Zohar

 

When a person sits in the Succah, in the “shade of Faith” the Shechinah spreads its wings above him.  Avraham and five other tzadikim dwell with him.  Said Rabbi Abba… King David also dwells with him.  Therefore the Torah says, “You shall dwell in the Succah seven days” not “for seven days” for the days themselves (i.e. the seven tzadikim corresponding to the seven sefirot) dwell in the Succah….

 

Said Rabbi Abba, Avraham used to stand on the crossroads every day to invite guests and to feed them.  On Succos when we invite Avraham, the other tzadikim and King David but do not invite guests, Avraham gets up from the table and says “Go away from the tents of the wicked” and he and the other tzadikim leave (Parashat Emor 104 a).

 

Chassidus

 

Leaving Egypt means leaving the limitations of the animal soul by accepting the yolk of heaven and immersing yourself in Torah and mitzvos.  You must study regularly.  You must pray real prayer not merely out of a sense of obligation.

 

After leaving Egypt Hashem settled us in the Succah.  This can be compared to a new born baby who is washed and put into a swaddling cloth of clean linen.  This protects him from dirt and strengthens his limbs.  So, too, the Succah protects us and strengthens us (to succeed in Torah and mitzvahs throughout the year).

                                         (Letter of the Rebbe Toras Menachem Vol. 2 pps. 11, 12)

 

Between Man and His Fellow Man

 

One must be very careful not to embarrass his fellow.  You should be aware of the sensitivities of your friend for you may embarrass him even with a small thing if you’re not careful.

 

Publicly embarrassing someone is especially bad and is considered a major sin.

                                                                                                 (Orach Mesharim chap. 5)

 


 

Week of Yom Kippur

 

Midrash

 

 

All sevens are precious.

 

There are seven heavens; the most precious is the seventh (Aravot).

 

There are seven names for the earth; the most precious is the seventh (Teyvel).

 

Among the early generations, the most precious is the seventh (Chanoch).

 

Among the Patriarchs, the most precious is the seventh (Moshe).

 

Among (Yishai’s) sons, the most precious is the seventh (David).

 

Among kings, the most precious is the seventh (Asa).

 

Among years, the most precious is the seventh (Shemitah).

 

Among the Shemitah cycles, the most precious is the seventh (Yovel).

 

Among days, the most precious is the seventh (Shabbos).

 

Among months, the most precious is the seventh (Tishrei).

 

 

Halachah

 

If one wronged his fellow, he should make amends and ask for forgiveness. This is especially important before Yom Kippur. You must entreat the injured party to forgive you again and again and again if necessary. You should present your request in different ways each time. You should take three people with you each time to plead your case.

 

The aggrieved party should be willing to forgive if the person asking forgiveness is sincere.

 

If the perpetrator defamed someone’s character, he need not forgive him since the damage is irreparable. Nevertheless, it is exemplary to forgive even in such a case.

 

Chassidus

 

On each of the Ten Days of Repentance, we fix one of the ten qualities of the soul.

 

For example, on the first day we fix Chochmah, which is wisdom. Wisdom which leads to arrogance is not good as it says in Proverbs, “There is more hope for a fool then for a person wise in his own eyes” (26:16). Instead, wisdom must be experienced in a humble way.

 

The tenth day (Yom Kippur) corresponds to Malchut which is leadership and exaltedness. One must practice leadership with humility. Everything about Yom Kippur represents self-nullification. You don’t eat, drink, or wear shoes. We bow many times to symbolize humility. (Likutei Torah II 27, c, d)

 

Zohar

 

The Cohen Gadol would enter the Holy of Holies, and the cloud would descend there. It would rest on the ark cover (the kapores), and the wings of the Cherubim would flap, and the Cherubim would begin to sing. The Cohen Gadol would listen to their song as he offered the incense in its proper place. He would concentrate his thoughts to bring down blessing to all the world. The wings of the Cherubim would go up and down as they sang. They hovered over the ark cover and ascended upward. (Acharei Mos 59a)

 


 

Torah Thoughts for Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech

Chaim Zev Citron

 

Midrash

 

A fool goes into a shul and sees people studying Torah. “How do you begin to study?” he asks.

 

“First you learn to read, then you learn Chumash, then Nach, then Mishnah and Gemara, then Halacha, then Agadah,” he is told.

 

The fool thinks to himself, “I can never learn so much,” and he leaves the shul.

 

We can compare this to a loaf of bread that is hanging high up on the ceiling. The fool thinks no one can reach it. But the wise man says, “If someone got it up there, I can get it down.”

 

So, too, the fool says, “I can never study all of the Torah,” but the wise man studies one chapter a day, day in and day out, until he learns all of the Torah.

 

Dvarim Rabah 8:3.

 

Halachah

 

The mitzvah of hearing the Shofar means to hear a long blast, a short blast, and a long blast, three times. Since there is disagreement about the nature of the short blast (three short sounds [shevarim] or nine very short sounds [t’ruah] or a combination of short and very short [shevarim t’ruah], we blow each variation three times. Thus the long blast (t’kiah), the short (shevarim), and t’kiah are blown three times. Then the t’kiah, truah (very short blasts), t’kiah three times, and finally the t’kiah shevarim truah t’kiah three times. When we hear this complete series, we have fulfilled the Torah obligation of hearing the Shofar. In shul, when we blow this entire series before the Mussaf prayer, we fulfill the Torah obligation. We also blow again during  the Mussaf Shmone esray to fulfill a Rabbinic obligation (more on that, IY”H, next week).

 

Zohar

 

When one answers “Amen,” he draws down from the wellspring the aleph (binah) to the King, the mem (Ze’er Anpin), and then to the Queen, the nun (Malchus). From the nun, blessings flow to the high and the low and spreads to every level.

 

Zohar III 285 a.

 

Chassidus

 

All of the Jewish people are like one body. They are like a circle with no beginning or end. This is why one must be humble before every person, for everyone has something unique that the other person doesn’t have. Each person needs every other person. For example, we usually think of the head as greater than the feet. Yet it is the feet that support the head, and the head is incomplete without the feet. All of Israel is like one body.

 

Likutei Torah – Devarim 44:a

 

Between Man and Fellow-Man

 

Pray for a friend in need. Pray for him and for all Israel. Pray for the sick to be healed, for the Torah scholars to succeed in their learning, and for the wicked to do teshuvah.

 

Orach Meisharim, Chap. 3

B”H

Ahavas Yisroel Synagogue

(323) 937-1247

Rabbi Chaim Zev Citron

731 N LA Brea Ave              ays@ayshul.com

Los Angeles, CA 90038

 

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