Thursday, December 28, 2006

Vayigash - Sfas Emes

VaYigash 5631 Second Ma'amar

Sfas Emes

by Reb Moshe David Tokayer
Petach Tikvah, IL

“ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אתו כי נבהלו מפניו/Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?’ His brothers could not answer him because they were shocked before him.” The Midrash says that in this pasuk Yosef rebuked his brothers and they were not able to answer because of the shame they felt. The Midrash compares this with God’s rebuke on the ultimate day of judgment, “אוי לנו מיום הדין אוי לנו מיום התוכחה/Woe is to us on the day of judgment; woe is to us on the day of rebuke.” If the brothers could not withstand Yosef’s admonishment, how will we be able to withstand the ultimate admonishment before the redemption. Is the Midrash’s comparison simply one of degrees of rebuke or is there a fundamental connection between Yosef’s chiding his brothers and God’s chastisement on the final day of judgment?

The Sfas Emes explains that the rebukes are fundamentally the same. To understand why, we need to understand why the brothers were ashamed. The Sfas Emes explains that the brothers were mistaken about Yosef himself. The Zohar tells us that Yosef was שומר הברית/keeper of the covenant. Conventionally, this refers to his overcoming the temptations presented to him by the wife of Potiphar. The covenant that he kept was the covenant of the circumcision.

In this world holiness is hidden by gross physicality. The removal of the foreskin represents an unveiling of the holiness that lies within the physical world. (See VaYeira 5632 First Ma’amar for a detailed discussion of this concept.) Yosef, as the keeper of the covenant, represents the holiness that is within the physical world. The brothers, because this was hidden, did not realize it. Once Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, when they were confronted with their mistake, they stood in shame.

At the ultimate redemption as well, it will be made clear for all to see that the physical world in which we live is replete with holiness. God gave us the physical world and our circumstances to use to accomplish God’s will thereby rectifying ourselves and our environment. Before the final redemption, when this fact becomes clear to us we will look back at our lives and wonder how we could have used the physical world for purposes that were at odds with God’s will. Realizing our mistake, we will stand in shame before God. This is why the Midrash compares Yosef’s rebuke and the rebuke on the final day of judgment. They are fundamentally the same.

We can prevent the rebuke and our resulting shame by internalizing the understanding that everything around us and everything that happens to us are tools that God gave us in order to use to accomplish His will and come close to Him. On the day of judgment we will be able to stand before God, not in shame, but proudly having used these tools for their fundamental and ultimate purposes. Amen.

Vayigash by Reb Oizer

Parsha Potpourri
Parshas Vayigash – Vol. 2, Issue 6
Compiled by Oizer Alport

והיה כראותו כי אין הנער ומת והורידו עבדיך את שיבת עבדך אבינו ביגון שאלה (44:31)
In pleading for mercy from Yosef, Yehuda stressed the fact that if Binyomin remained in Egypt as a slave and didn’t return with them, their father Yaakov would suffer greatly and may even die from the agony. Why did Yehuda mention only the pain which would be caused to their father over the loss of a beloved son and made no mention of the intense pain which would be caused to Binyomin’s 10 sons over the loss of their unique and irreplaceable father?
The Kotzker Rebbe derives from here that the love of a father for every single one of his 12 children is greater than the collective love of all 10 children for their one and only father! Rav Dessler writes that contrary to common wisdom, feelings of love toward another person are generated not by receiving from that person but by giving to him. As any parent can attest, raising a child is an opportunity like no other to constantly give of oneself to help another person who is unable to help himself. The tremendous feelings of love generated by such extreme and continuous giving are unmatched and unparalleled, as Yehuda explained to Yosef!

ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו (45:3)
When Yosef’s brothers came to Egypt to purchase food during the years of famine, he was able to recognize them immediately, but after 22 years of separation they were unable to identify him. As a result, he was able to subject them to a dramatic and frightening series of events. After accusing them of being spies, he incarcerated Shimon in order to force them to return with his beloved maternal brother Binyomin. After confusing them by inviting them to join with him at a banquet, he had his goblet planted in Binyomin’s sack in order to frame him for stealing.
Finally, when Yehuda pleaded for mercy, explaining how much their father Yaakov would suffer if they failed to return with Binyomin, Yosef was unable to hold himself back anymore. He ordered all of his Egyptian officers and servants out of the room and revealed his true identity to his brothers, telling them, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?”
The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 93:10) understands Yosef’s words not as a factual question but as a rebuke of his brothers, and derives from their inability to answer him a hint to how great will be our shame and embarrassment when Hashem Himself rebukes us in His Heavenly Court. Yet many commentators struggle to understand exactly where the censure lies in Yosef’s words, which on the surface appear to represent a simple question about his father’s welfare.
The Beis HaLevi explains that Yehuda had been begging for mercy on behalf of Binyomin as a result of the unfathomable suffering which his imprisonment would cause to their father Yaakov. Yosef therefore subtly reminded them of their utter lack of concern for Yaakov’s well-being when they sold him as a slave, thereby demonstrating the contradiction in their actions and calculations, an argument to which they had no answer.
There was once a yeshiva student who was scheduled to fly home to visit his family during a break in the yeshiva studies. A few hours after setting out for the airport, he returned to yeshiva. He explained to his confused Rosh Yeshiva that he had arrived late to the airport and missed his flight, to which the Rosh Yeshiva happily exclaimed, “Boruch Hashem!” Now it was the boy’s turn to be confused.
The Rosh Yeshiva explained that every day the boy came late to prayers, to his studies, and to class. He worried that when the boy would eventually pass away, he would be asked about his tardiness, to which he would answer that he simply had a difficult time with punctuality. At that point he would be shown that when something was important to him, such as making a flight home, he had no problem arriving on time, and his defense would be contradicted and rejected. Now, however, the Rosh Yeshiva rejoiced, because the boy also arrived late to the airport, and while his attendance record in yeshiva was far from exemplary, at least his defense would remain intact!
There will also come a time when Hashem will similarly judge us. We think that when we are asked why we didn’t give more charity or spend more time studying Torah, we will defend ourselves by invoking our lack of extra funds and free time. Hashem will then “remind” us of all of the frivolous luxuries for which we had no difficulty finding money, and of all of the thousands of hours we wasted over the course of our lives involved in trivial nonsense, leaving us speechless and humiliated to the core.
We must take heed of the lesson of Yosef’s rebuke of his brothers and make sure to expend at least as much effort on our spiritual affairs as we do on physical matters. The same efforts we make in trying to maximize the return on our investments or on planning a trip in great detail to maximize our enjoyment should also carry over to matters of the soul, as we devote the same energy to our efforts to improving our returns on our spiritual portfolio and to getting the most out of the journey to this world on which our souls have been sent.

ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו (45:3)
When Yosef’s brothers came to Egypt to purchase food during the years of famine, he was able to recognize them immediately, but after 22 years of separation they were unable to identify him. As a result, he was able to subject them to a dramatic and frightening series of events. After accusing them of being spies, he incarcerated Shimon in order to force them to return with his beloved maternal brother Binyomin. After confusing them by inviting them to join with him at a banquet, he had his goblet planted in Binyomin’s sack in order to frame him for stealing.
Finally, when Yehuda pleaded for mercy, explaining how much their father Yaakov would suffer if they failed to return with Binyomin, Yosef was unable to hold himself back anymore. He ordered all of his Egyptian officers and servants out of the room and revealed his true identity to his brothers, telling them, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?”
The entire episode and ordeal of the brothers’ encounter with Yosef seemed so illogical and nonsensical as to seem more like a bad dream than reality, yet in a split second, in just two words, אני יוסף – I am Yosef – suddenly the entire picture became crystal clear. All of the seemingly inexplicable events and details fell into place, and everything made perfect sense.
The history of the Jewish nation has been fraught with lofty highs and awful lows. The life of every individual Jew follows a similar pattern. Many happy events seem too good to be true, while many struggles seem too great to bear. Certainly, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to them, no interconnecting links weaving them together as part of a larger picture and greater plan. The Chofetz Chaim writes that just as with Yosef’s brothers, there will come a time when we will merit Hashem’s revelation in all of His glory and splendor. Upon hearing just two words, אני ד' – I am Hashem – everything will immediately fall into place, and all of our questions will vanish into thin air.

ויגידו לו לאמור עוד יוסף חי וכי הוא מושל בכל ארץ מצרים ויפג לבו כי לא האמין להם וידברו אליו את כל דברי יוסף ... וירא את העגלות אשר שלח יוסף לשאת אותו ותחי רוח יעקב אביהם (45:26-27)
סימן מסר להם במה היה עוסק כספירש ממנו – בפרשת עגלה ערופה (רש"י)
Yaakov’s initial reaction upon hearing the brothers’ report that Yosef was still alive and was a ruler in Egypt was one of disbelief. Even if they met somebody who claimed to be Yosef, Yaakov was convinced that it was nothing more than a fraud. Yet when the brothers added on that the person they met had also mentioned the last Torah subject that Yosef had learned together with Yaakov before being separated, Yaakov was convinced that he was indeed legitimate. The obvious question is that if until now Yaakov suspected that the person was an impostor, what proof did this additional knowledge constitute to the contrary, as this suspected con artist could easily have discovered this fact through thorough research?
The Darkei Mussar and Rav Shimshon Pinkus give a beautiful answer based on an amazing story involving the Vilna Gaon. In the times of the Gaon, there was a tragic case of an agunah in Vilna – a woman whose husband sadly disappeared without a trace not long after their wedding, leaving her forbidden to remarry. After more than ten years had passed, out of nowhere, one day a man appeared in Vilna claiming to be her long-lost husband.
The woman and her family were skeptical, and suspected that in reality he was a lowly swindler in pursuit of the family’s wealth, but to the surprise of all, he was able to answer every question they posed about things that presumably only the real husband would know. He even took his “wife” aside and privately reminded her of intimate details which had transpired between the two of them and which nobody else could possibly know.
Still unsure, they consulted the Vilna Gaon, who instructed them to say nothing further and to wait until the coming Shabbos. That Friday night, the Gaon escorted them to the synagogue. Upon entering, he asked the man to identify the family’s regular seats. His guise up, the man was humiliated and immediately fled.
Amazed, the family asked the Gaon for an explanation of his brilliant detective work. He explained that it was indeed quite straightforward. It was clear that this had been either the real husband or somebody who had encountered him and paid him to reveal all of his detailed knowledge about his wife and family so that he could pass as him and make off with the family’s fortune. The Gaon knew that it would never occur to an impostor to ask the real husband about spiritual matters, so asking the man to point out the family’s seats in the synagogue was the perfect litmus test, which the man clearly failed!
Similarly, Yaakov was skeptical about the identity of the purported Yosef whom the brothers had met in Egypt. After all, they had had extensive interactions with him until now and not one of them was able to recognize him as their long-lost brother. Perhaps the man had similarly extracted from Yosef details about his family which he could then use for his own ulterior motives. Only when he proved that he remembered the last Torah topic that they had learned together, a spiritual matter, was Yaakov convinced that this could be none other than the true Yosef!

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi (44:18) writes that Yehuda challenged Yosef by comparing him to Pharaoh, arguing that just as Pharaoh makes decrees but fails to follow through, so too you (Yosef) haven’t kept your promises. Where did Pharaoh make a decree that he subsequently neglected to keep? And where did Yosef make a promise that he later ignored? (Tosefos Rid, Moshav Z’keinim, Bartenura)
2) Just prior to sending his brothers back to Yaakov in Canaan, Yosef warned them (45:24) not to become agitated on the journey. According to one of Rashi’s explanations, Yosef was advising them not to travel too quickly by taking large steps, as the Gemora in Taanis (10b) states that doing so causes a person to lose 1/500th of his eyesight. What can a person who has done so do as a remedy in order to restore his lost vision? (Mishnah Berurah 271:48)
3) Rashi writes (46:10) that after Shimon and Levi killed Sh’chem and the men of his town, Dina refused to exit Sh’chem’s tent until Shimon promised to marry her (34:26). How was Shimon permitted to marry his sister Dina? (Moshav Z’keinim, Panieach Raza, Tur HeAruch, Gur Aryeh, Mizrachi, Kli Chemda, Mas’as HaMelech, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Emunas Itecha, M’rafsin Igri)
4) Which two people who are mentioned explicitly by name in Parshas Vayigash were twin brothers? (Seder HaDoros, HaK’sav V’HaKaballa, HaDrash V’HaIyun, Torah L’Daas Vol. 7)
5) At the emotional reunion between Yaakov and Yosef, the Torah relates (46:29) that Yosef fell on his father Yaakov’s neck and wept. Rashi explains that Yaakov didn’t reciprocate by falling on Yosef’s neck and kissing him because he was in the middle of reciting the Shema. The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 66:1) that a person should interrupt the Shema even in the middle of a verse in order to greet a king or other great man whom one is obligated to honor and respect. As Rashi writes (48:2) that Yaakov exerted himself to sit up in his bed to honor Yosef’s royal position, why didn’t he similarly stop his recitation of the Shema in order to greet and honor Yosef? (Taz Orach Chaim 66:1, Biur HaGra Orach Chaim 66:4, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
6) From which act of Yosef’s can one derive an obligation to express one’s gratitude for acts of kindness done for him even by a non-Jew? (Targum Yonason 47:22, Shelah HaKadosh)

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Vayigash by Reb Jay

In this week’s parsha, there is the culmination to the story of Yoseph and his brothers.

We see that the written and oral law do not whitewash the stories of our ancestors. If Yehudah and his brothers had simply wanted Yoseph out of the picture for malicious reasons, there is no way they would have been worthy in the eyes of Hashem to be the progenitors of the Jewish nation. So there must be more to the story.

The 12 tribes represented a unified Klal Yisroel—nation of Israel, with each brother taking a different role. Yehudah, as leader of the brothers, felt there was something in Yoseph which would lead to the ultimate disentigration of the tribes. These ideas were not produced out of thin air. When he saw Yoseph coming forward with dreams proclaiming that the brothers would eventually bow down to him, and when Yoseph would report anything that he perceived as negative back to Yaakov, Yehudah seriously worried for the future of the 12 tribes. He, along with the brothers, deemed it necessary for Yoseph to be out of the picture. Their first thought was to kill him. Later, they decided to sell him, and they told Yaakov he had been killed by a wild animal.

Why did Yoseph do these things that created such acrimony between him and his brothers? It says in Psalms: “Turn away from evil and do good.” This is manifest in the 2 types of commandments: positive commandments such as praying, tefilin, etc, and negative commandments such as not to steal, not to eat non-kosher animals, etc. Yoseph saw it as his responsibility to rebuke his brothers, to persuade them to turn away from evil (for this reason Yoseph “told” on his brothers to Yaakov. In reality he had judged them wrongly). In fact, when the Jewish people are redeemed, there will be 2 steps: first there will be the Moshiach from the house of Yoseph. His job will be to turn the Jews away from evil. Then shall come the Moshiach from the house of David, who will lead them in doing good. So although Yehudah fears of the disunity that Yoseph would cause were not unfounded (Rav Tzadok in fact explains, that, to a degree, these fears proved true 700 years later, when 10 tribes broke off, led by Yeravam, the leader of the tribe of Ephraim, who was the son of Yoseph) he misunderstood Yoseph’s motivation. And Yoseph was too impetuous in how he carried out his behavior.

After being sold, Yoseph ended up in Egypt where many miraculous events occurred to his benefit. Eventually Yoseph ended up as Prime Minister. Not knowing he was their brother Yoseph the brothers came to him to procure food , as a terrible famine is raging throughout the region.

Yoseph gave them a very hard time. He went so far as to plant a goblet in his brother Binyamin’s bag, accused him of stealing it, and told the brothers Binyamin must remain in an Egyptian prison. Only after Yehudah confronted him did he admit that he is their long lost brother Yoseph.

Why did he do this? Yoseph, now a man, still understood that it was his role to rebuke the brothers. Not rebuke them needlessly, but to improve them. The greatest test to see if a person regrets an action taken is to put him in the exact same situation. So Yoseph took Binyamin, who like Yoseph was the son of Rachel (they were the only two children Rachel had) and put him in a situation where he would be torn away from the family. It was the same situation as twenty two years earlier, when Yoseph was torn away from his father . Would they stand up for him? This time the brothers got it right and fought for their brother. When Yoseph saw this, he realized they had truly atoned for their earlier actions.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Vayishlach by Reb Jay

“Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he could not overcome him (Yaakov), he struck the socket of his hip...Therefore the Children of Israel are not to eat the gid hanasheh to this day, because he struck Yaakov’s hip socket on the displaced sinew” (Bereshis 32:25-26, 32).

There are many questions to be asked from this incident. Who wrestled with Yaakov? What did he want from him? What does it mean, when he (the malach) could not overcome Yaakov, he injured him? And finally, why do we not eat of the gid hanasheh till this very day?

The Midrash states that Yaakov’s wrestling partner was actually the sar of Esav. Obviously a nation’s angel stands for the interest of the nation that it is representing. The Michtav M’Eliyahu writes that the angel that represented Esav was the yetzer hara itself.

How was Esav’s evil manifest? In his mocking of all things good. We see this in the answer that the angel of Esav gave to Yaakov when asked his name: “why do you ask me for my name?” The simple meaning of this answer is, why do you care what my name is? But it could also be read, my name is, “why is this?” To anything that is worthwhile or serious, the response of Eisav is to mock, and to scorn, to ask “why is this” (this, in fact, was what Esav said regarding his birthright, “what is this birthright to me?”).

The “fight” between Yaakov and the angel of Esav was not a physical one. It was a spiritual battle for the neshamos of future generations. Will we look at our birthright as an honor and as an obligation to improve the world, as Yaakov did, or will we look at it as a joke, at something to make fun of, as Esav did. This was truly a battle for the ages.

What does it mean, “and he (the malach) saw that he was unable to over come him (Yaakov)”? This posuk teaches us that there is no inherent weakness in Klal Yisrael. If so, how did the malach injure Yaakov? And when the angel of Esav saw that Yaakov was going to be triumphant, he found a spiritual weakness in him. The Zohar says this weakness was lack of support for Torah study, that Klal Yisrael would not take the study of Torah seriously enough. And it was this weakness which was able to prevent the clear victory of Yaakov. In other words, it is never possible for any nation to overcome Klal Yisrael on their own merits/strength; only through our own weakness are we vulnerable.

The Chinuch gives a moving explanation as to why we do not eat the gid hanasheh until today. He writes that when we do not eat this gid hanasheh, it is to remind us that in the course of our galus, we will undergo much pain and suffering. But we must always remember that as dark as it may seem, just as Yaakov was healed by the first rays of the sun, so will all of Israel be redeemed at the dawn of the Moshiach, after our long night of galus.

It is incumbent upon us to remember what the weakness the angel of Esav—the yetzer hara—found in Yaakov, and how only through strengthening ourselves in Torah—both learning and supporting—can we can fight and overcome the yetzer hara.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Vayetzei by Reb Jay

After arriving at the house of Lavan, Yaakov Avinu arranges with Lavan that he will marry Rochel.

Of course, Lavan replaces Leah with Rochel, and the deception is able to succeed because Rochel tells Leah the simanim that she had pre-arranged with Yaakov.

When Yaakov realized the morning after the chasuna that it was in fact Leah that he had married, Yaakov was upset. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah) relates that he confronted Leah and asked her how she could have tricked him. Leah replied that who was Yaakov to say anything, as Yaakov tricked his own father and brother in order to receive the brocha.

How are we to understand the answer of Leah? Was she trying to one up Yaakov, by telling him that since he had deceived, that she was allowed to deceive as well? Furthermore, the Gemara in Kesubos tells us that if a person marries someone under false pretenses, the Kiddushin is not tofes (see Tosfos “Chazaka” Kesubos 10a), and is in fact a mekach ta’us (an acquisition made under false pretences that is invalid). How could Leah and Rochel have been involved in such a michshol?

Let us try to understand the answer that Leah gave Yaakov when asked how she could have played a role in the deception. Leah was not saying that since you deceived, I deceived as well. Leah was in fact telling Yaakov that the moment he took the brochos from Eisav, everything changed. Why did Yaakov take the brochos from Eisav? The Shelah Hakadosh writes that ideally, there were meant to be four avos: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov and Eisav. Eisav would have been a melech of gashmiyus, and Yaakov a melech of ruchniyus. While Yaakov realized his potential, Eisav did not. Therefore, Yaakov needed to usurp Eisav’s role. This was understood by Rivkah, and was the reason she told Yaakov to take the brochos. This also extended to their prospective wives. The zivug of Yaakov was Rochel and the zivug of Eisav was Leah. Once Eisav did not fulfill his role, the responsibility of marrying Leah fell to Yaakov.

That is what Leah meant by her reply to Yaakov. She was saying that once Yaakov deceived his father and took the brochos, he also accepted the responsibility to marry her. And knowing this to be true is what allowed Rochel and Leah to conspire that Yaakov marry Leah. And when Yaakov heard this from Leah, he did not opt out of the marriage as he had every right to (being that it was a mekach ta’us), but stayed with Leah.
Later on, when Yaakov escaped and Lavan caught up to him, Yaakov confronts Lavan with all the evil he has perpetuated upon Yaakov. But he never confronts him with the fact that he switched Leah and Rochel, because Yaakov knows that this particular act was Min Hashamayim, and for the good of Klal Yisroel.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Toldos by Reb Jay

Of the three Avos--Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov--least mention is made of Yitzchok.

Who was Yitzchok? Was he merely a bridge between Avrohom and Yaakov? Or was he as much of a “founding father” of Judaism as Avrohom and Yaakov.

What does it mean to be a “founding father” or “mother” (Sorah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah)? When a tree is planted and the owner of the tree realizes the tree will grow in an undesirable direction, it is very simple to rectify the problem in the first couple of years of the tree’s life.

So too in Judaism. When Avrohom discovered Hashem and started the process of the Jewish nation any act he did would have consequences for thousands of years. Any test which he and the other “fathers” and “mothers” were given was something that was neccessary to ensure our survival as a people.

Avrohom’s primary characteristic was Chesed—lovingkindness. This was expressed by the expansion of his message. Thousands of people followed Avrohom and Sorah to hear their message of belief in Hashem and the idea that life has purpose.

Yitzchok’s primary character trait was Gevura—strength of conviction; discipline. While the role of Avrohom was in building, Yitzchok’s role was in strengthening the building—internalizing the message of his parents.

Hashem’s communication with Avrohom was totally different from the way it was with Yitzchok. For example, while Hashem told Avrohom to bring Yitzchok up as an offering, He never directly told Yitzchok—Yitzchok only heard it from his father. But Yitzchok’s strong conviction allowed him to impicitly trust Hashem.

Over the course of his life Avrohom dug many wells. In the time of Yitzchok most of these wells were filled in by the Phillistines. Yitzchok redug these same wells. Thus we see his reaction was never to lose hope, but to see adversity only as a temporary setback. This is metaphorical of the Jewish role after destruction of our Temples and other setbacks we have suffered as a nation.

Just as Avrohom’s quality—willingness to sacrifice all that is dear for Hashem—enabled so many Jews throughout the generations togive their lives for Judaism, similarly Yitzchok’s strong conviction has enabled us to come back from so many setbacks.

What happenned to the thousands of followers Avrohom and Sorah attracted? When these people heard the message of Avrohom and Sorah, it struck a chord in them. However, when they saw what Yitzchok had to go through, they decided they would “keep” what they had learned from Avrohom and Sorah, but the next step was too much for them. This is why Avraham is considered “father of all nations”, while Yitzchok is exclusively a Jewish father.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Vayera by Reb Jay

In this week’s parsha, the Torah records the incident of the Akeidah, the binding of Yitzchok. This story holds a place of paramount importance in Judaism. It is the truest act of devotion to Hashem that indicates that, even in circumstances that appear to be beyond our understanding, we should still place our trust in Hashem.

Every aspect of this narrative has many lessons and ramifications for future generations. It is no exaggeration to say that from these verses, we can understand our destiny.

Let us focus on the latter part of the story, after Avraham had already been told by Hashem to lay down his knife and not to slaughter Yitzchok.

The Torah tells us: “And Avraham raised his eyes and saw a ram afterwards, caught in the thicket by its horns” (Bereshis 22:13).

There a few obvious questions on this verse. What does it mean by “afterwards”? Furthermore, what is the significance of the ram being caught in the thicket?

The Midrash tells us (Bereshis Rabbah) that the word “afterwards” contains a hint to the future. When the Children of Israel sin, they can repair their fractured relationship with Hashem afterwards by blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. The Gemara (Yerushalmi Ta’anis Chapter 4 Law 2) explains that when we are entangled by our sins, and get caught in the web of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians and Romans (the four exiles we are to endure), we will be redeemed with the sound of the ram’s horn.

Similarly on an individual level, just as the ram was entangled in the thicket, when we are entangled by our sins, we free ourselves through offering ourselves up to Hashem (in a figurative, not literal manner) just as this ram was offered up to Hashem.

The ram seen by Avraham and ultimately sacrificed is listed in Pirkei Avos (Chapter 5 Mishna 6) as being one of the things created at dusk between the sixth and seventh day of creation.

The Midrash tells us that Hashem always creates the antidote before He creates the sickness. The reason this ram was created, then, is because the ram’s horn, the Shofar, is used not only on Rosh Hashanah, as a tool to accept the Kingship of Hashem, but also to herald the receiving of the Torah, and to announce the coming of the Moshiach. Even as mankind may suffer personal exiles due to their sins, or when the Jewish people are undergoing a national exile, the antidote — the Shofar and the subservience to Hashem it represents — has already been created.

When Avraham saw the ram caught in the thicket, this ram had been waiting for him for two thousand years. Why didn’t Avraham see it immediately? The Midrash tells us that the Soton hid it from Avraham. But when Avraham performed the will of Hashem, he was no longer able to hide it. The Soton, especially in his role as our evil inclination, is the master of obfuscation, but as long as we do the will of Hashem, his tricks are unable to deceive us.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Lech - Lecho by Oizer

Parshas Lech Lecha

Compiled by Oizer Alport

ויוצא אתו החוצה ויאמר הבט נא השמימה וספר הכוכבים

אם תוכל לספר אתם ויאמר לו כה יהיה זרעך (15:5)

After Avrohom Avinu miraculously defeated the armies of the four kings and rescued the captured people and possessions, he feared that the miracles Hashem performed on his behalf had detracted from the reward awaiting him in the World to Come. Hashem reassured him and promised that his reward would indeed be very great. Avrohom then expressed his worry that he had no children to inherit him, to which Hashem replied by promising that he would indeed merit to have children.

Hashem then took Avrohom outside and instructed him to gaze toward the Heavens. Hashem challenged him to attempt to count the number of stars and cryptically added, “so shall your offspring be.” Why did Hashem present Avrohom with such an impossible task, and what did He mean with His blessing, “so will your offspring be?”

Rav Meir Shapiro beautifully explains that although finite, the number of stars is clearly so great as to be beyond human comprehension and certainly uncountable with the naked eye. An intelligent person who is challenged to do so will likely decline the impossible task. Knowing that he will be unable to successfully finish the project, he will choose not to even begin. Avrohom Avinu was also aware of this reality. Nevertheless, when Hashem suggested that he attempt to count the stars, he quickly went outside, looked up in the sky, and began counting, “One, two, three.”

Avrohom was undaunted by apparent restrictions and natural limitations, recognizing that the power of one’s will and commitment to a project can allow him to succeed where others foresaw only failure. Upon recognizing Avrohom’s contagious enthusiasm and willingness to disregard naysayers, Hashem quickly blessed him that so should his offspring be a nation known for their dedication and perseverance against all odds.

Not surprisingly, Rav Meir Shapiro – whose yahrtzeit (7 Cheshvan) traditionally falls in the week of Parshas Lech Lecha – lived by his own teachings. More than any other single figure in the 20th century, he singlehandedly revolutionized Torah study as we know it today through his development of the concept of Daf Yomi – learning one page of Gemora daily. The odds of his program spreading and taking off were clearly stacked against him. The potential for any of a number of obstacles to derail his plan before it got off the ground was great. Yet like his forefather Avrohom before him, he ignored the probability of not succeeding, realizing that with the aid of the fire which burned within him, he would be able to reach the stars, and beyond!

ויאמר אד-ני ד' במה אדע כי אירשנה (15:8) ׁ

The Gemora in Berachos (7b) derives from our verse that Avrohom Avinu was the first person in history to call Hashem אדון – Master. The story is told (see introduction to Shu”t Kanfei Yonah) that the author of a new commentary on the Siddur (prayer-book) brought his manuscript to the great Vilna Gaon to receive his comments and request a letter of approbation. The Gaon began to examine the work and noticed that the author suggested an original insight explaining why the morning prayers begin with Adon Olam (Master of the World).

The Gemora in Berachos (26b) states that each of the forefathers instituted one of the three daily prayers: Avrohom enacted Shacharis, Yitzchok originated Mincha, and Yaakov introduced Maariv. As the morning prayers were instituted by Avrohom Avinu, who was the first person to refer to Hashem as אדון, we therefore begin Shacharis with Adon Olam. Upon reading this, the Gaon was overcome with joy and remarked that if only for the beauty and truth of this one insight, the publication of the entire work is justified!

In a similar vein, the Meshech Chochmah notes that although the mitzvos of wearing a Tallis and Tefillin are applicable the entire day, we are accustomed to wear them only during the morning prayers. After miraculously defeating the armies of the four kings, Avrohom brought back all of the people and possessions which had been taken captive. The King of Sodom suggested that Avrohom return to him the people while keeping the possessions for himself. Lest the wicked king of Sodom take credit for making him rich, Avrohom refused to accept any gifts, emphatically swearing (14:23) that he wouldn’t accept even a thread or a shoestrap. The Gemora in Sotah (17a) states that in the merit of this statement, Avrohom’s descendants received the mitzvos of Tallis and Tefillin. Although they may be worn the entire day, because we merited to receive them through the actions of Avrohom, we are accustomed to commemorate this by wearing them during the morning prayers which he instituted!

ותקח שרי אשת אברם את הגר המצרית שפחתה מקץ עשר שנים

לשבת אברם בארץ כנען ותתן אתה לאברם אישה לו לאשה (16:3)

ותקח שרי - לקחתה בדברים אשריך שזכית לידבק בגוף קדוש כזה (רש"י)

After ten years of not bearing any children to Avrohom, Sorah suggested that perhaps she would merit to give birth if she allowed Avrohom to marry her maidservant Hagar. Rashi writes that after Sorah spoke to Hagar to persuade her to agree to this plan, Hagar was convince and willing to go along with it. Rashi previously commented (16:1) that Hagar was none other than the daughter of the wicked Paroh. When she heard of the miraculous punishments which Hashem meted out there for the sake of Sorah (12:17), she decided to attach herself to this family in any way possible.

Although this surely required tremendous personal sacrifice on her part, she nobly preferred to be a maidservant to such holy people rather than a prestigious woman in Egypt. If Hagar had already given up everything she knew and enjoyed in life – wealth, honor, fame – in order to draw become even minimally attached to this holy family, why was it necessary for Sorah to convince Hagar to agree to be married to the righteous Avrohom?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz answers with a beautiful insight into human nature. At the end of Dovid HaMelech’s life, he gave his final instructions to his son Shlomo, who would succeed him as king. He commanded Shlomo (Melochim 1 2:8-9) to remember the vicious curses which Shimi ben Geira had heaped upon him (Shmuel 2 16:7-8). However, because Dovid had sworn to Shimi that he wouldn’t kill him for his actions, he advised Shlomo to use his wisdom to find a means to avenge his disgrace and execute Shimi.

Shlomo dutifully called Shimi and commanded him to build a house in Jerusalem, informing him that he must remain within the city limits, for on the day that he departs he will be killed (2:36-37). Shimi agreed to the terms and indeed built a house in Jerusalem and refrained from departing the city for 3 years. At that time, two of his slaves escaped and he pursued them out of the city in order to bring them back. Upon hearing of this, Shlomo had Shimi summoned and decreed that because he had violated the conditions of their agreement he was to be killed.

Although in hindsight this represented a brilliant method of reconciling Dovid’s promise not to directly kill Shimi for his act of rebellion with Dovid's desire to have Shimi punished, how did Shlomo know that his plan would succeed, as we indeed find that Shimi managed to abide by the condition for 3 years before an unexpected episode caused him to stumble? Why did Shimi, who was a wise man who understood the consequences of leaving Jerusalem and managed to refrain from doing so for 3 years, suddenly commit such a foolish mistake, one for which he paid dearly with his life?

The Alshich HaKadosh explains that Shlomo, in his infinite wisdom, understood human nature profoundly. A person’s natural inclination is to crave freedom and resist any restraint on it whatsoever. Although Shimi’s “jail” didn’t resemble the typical cell, in that he was free to enjoy everything offered by the greatest city on earth, he was nevertheless artificially confined. Shlomo recognized that sooner or later Shimi’s need to feel free and unrestrained would win out and he would violate the terms of their arrangement. When that eventually occurred, Shlomo was ready and waiting to execute Shimi in a dignified manner, just as his father had requested.

Similarly, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz suggests that Hagar had demonstrated tremendous dedication and commitment to her ideals in willingly leaving behind the splendor of her father’s palace in Egypt. She was willing to give up everything in order to take a menial job serving the family of the holy Avrohom in degrading ways. Nevertheless, she knew deep down that at any time, she was free to change her mind and return to her homeland. Although a marriage to Avrohom would offer her the unique opportunity of being married to the man who introduced the knowledge of Hashem to the world and to bear a child with him, it would also require a commitment on her part to voluntarily renounce her independence and autonomy, and it was for this reason that Sorah needed to convince Hagar to overcome her internal resistance.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Tosefos writes (Berachos 7b d.h. lo) that the events in Parsha Lech Lecha are related out of chronological order. Avrohom was 73 years old when he fought the war against the four kings (14:14-16), but he was only 70 at the time of the ברית בין הבתרים (covenant between the parts), even though it is related later (15:7-21). The commandment at the beginning of the parsha to leave his homeland (12:1-3) occurred when Avrohom was 75 (12:4). As the covenant between the parts took place in the land of Canaan (15:7), why did Avrohom go there before Hashem commanded him to do so (12:1-3), and once he had gone there why did he return to Charan?

2) Rashi writes (12:5) that in addition to Lot, when setting out for the land of Canaan Avrohom and Sorah also took the people whom they had converted during their time in Charan. What happened to all of these converts and their descendants, as no subsequent mention is made of them? (Meshech Chochmah 21:33, Ayeles HaShachar)

3) Rashi writes (12:11) that due to his great level of modesty, Avrohom never looked at Sorah until they were about to enter Egypt. How was he permitted never to look at her when the Gemora in Kiddushin (41a) rules that if it is forbidden to marry a woman until he has looked at her to ensure that she will find favor in his eyes? (Maharsha Bava Basra 16a, Oznayim L’Torah, Mishmeres Ariel, Eebay’ei L’hu, Maharsha Yevamos 100b)

4) When approaching Egypt, Avrohom asked Sorah to pretend to be his sister so that the Egyptians won’t kill him in order to be permitted to marry her (12:12-13). As forbidden relationships are one of the three categories of sins for which one is required to give up his life rather than transgress them (Rambam Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:6), how could he ask her to do so in order to save his life? (Nesivos Rabboseinu, Taam V’Daas, HaK’sav V’HaKaballa, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Chaim Kanievsky quoted in M’rafsin Igri, Eebay’ei L’hu)

5) Rashi writes (13:14) that as long as the wicked Lot remained with Avrohom, Hashem didn’t speak to him. How can this be reconciled with an explicit verse which states (12:7) that Hashem did speak to Avrohom during the time that he was traveling with Lot? (Moshav Z’keinim, Paneiach Raza, Rav Ovadiah Bartenura, Akeidas Yitzchok)

6) A person who sees a large and impressive lake recites the blessing עושה מעשה בראשית – Who makes the work of Creation (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 228:1). However, this is only the case if the lake was created in that location at the time the world was formed, but not if it was subsequently formed through the actions of man (Mishnah Berurah 228:6). Does one who sees the Dead Sea recite this blessing, as the Torah seems to indicate that it was only created in the time of Avrohom (Rashi 14:3), but the Gemora in Bava Basra (74b) seems to indicate that it was one of the 7 lakes which was formed at the time of Creation to surround the land of Israel? (Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv quoted in Ayeles HaShachar, Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 9:47, Mor U’Ketziah Orach Chaim 228, Sefer Pardes quoted in Nimukei Orach Chaim 228:2, Piskei Teshuvos 228:3)

7) After Avrohom miraculously defeated the four kings and rescued the captured Lot (14:14-16), he feared that the miracles performed on his behalf had detracted from the reward which awaited him in the World to Come. Hashem reassured him and promised him that his reward would indeed be great (Rashi 15:1). Of what concern was this to Avrohom, as the Mishnah in Avos (1:3) advises one to serve Hashem without concern for the reward he may receive for his actions? (Ayeles HaShachar, Ruach Chaim)

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Lech - Lecho by Reb Jay

In this week’s parsha there is the chronicle of the relationship between Avraham, the father of the Jewish people, and Hashem.

Avraham had been involved in a war. After the war, and the rescue of his nephew Lot, and after Avraham had seen miraculous acts performed by Hashem, Avraham said to Him, “You have given me no offspring.” Avraham was not complaining. In fact the Midrash relates (Bereshis Rabbah) that he was worried that perhaps when Hashem performed these miracles for him, his merit had run out. Furthermore, he saw in the stars that he was to have no children. The Torah tells us: Hashem took him outside and said “gaze now towards the heavens and count the stars if you are able. And He said to him, so shall your offspring be” (Bereshis 15:3-5).

Hashem told Avraham to go outside for two reasons. The first reason is logical, to show Avraham the vast number of stars and how they are uncountable. The second reason is much deeper. The Gemara explains (Shabbos 156a) that Hashem was telling Avraham to see outside of nature. Yes, according to nature Avraham was not able to father children, and the astronomers were reading the stars correctly. Hashem was telling Avraham to see outside of his perceptions, in that not only was Avraham outside nature, but it had to be that way, for he was to father a nation that would be outside nature. Ain mazal l’Yisroel-the Jewish people are not under astronomical influence.

For example, a nation usually starts when a group of people live in a regional area, decide to form a government, write a set of laws, form an army, and become a nation. Rarely is the constitution written before the area is even settled. Yet that is what the Jewish people did, by receiving the Torah and then going to Israel. It is outside the natural order of the world for a group of people to identify both as a religion and a nation while away from that land for close to two thousand years, but that is what the Jewish people have done.

Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato writes in Da’as Tevunos, that Hashem runs the world with two traits. The first trait is the way of judgment, in that the world runs through reward and punishment. The second trait is through His goodness, as due to His perfection He desires to return the world to a state of perfection, to rectify the world. The first trait is how Hashem runs the world through nature; the second trait is above nature. It must be our will to perform the will of Hashem. We elevate ourselves through performance of His will, the Torah, and cling to His trait of running the world above nature, leading to the perfection of the world.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Parshas Noach by Reb Jay Spero

In this week’s parsha we have the famous story of Noach and his ark. As we know, every story that is mentioned in the Torah is not mentioned merely as an historical guide. It is mentioned to us as information that is relevant and meaningful to our lives.

What are we to glean from the story of Noach and the water that rained down on the earth?

“Hashem said to Noach: The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with robbery through them; I am about to destroy them from the earth” (Bereshis 6:13). When Hashem tells this to Noach, He is not telling him something that will happen in the next week. In fact, it took Noach one hundred and twenty years to build the ark. The Midrash mentions that Hashem gave Noach specific instructions on which trees to plant in order to obtain the proper wood for the ark. The Zohar explains that the reason for this was that the ark had a strong degree of holiness, similar to the Tabernacle. That just as the tabernacle was a place where Hashem “concentrated” His Shechina—Divine presence— so too the ark was a place on earth where Noach and the Shechina would be able to dwell while the world underwent a purification process (obviously Hashem does not need a place to dwell, as He has no physical needs, but one of the reasons He created the world, was that man should perfect it enough that He would be able to dwell amongst man, which is precisely what He was doing here.)

What was supposed to happen in these one hundred and twenty years? Noach was meant to have an effect on the people around him. That when they would see him building the ark, they would ask him what he was doing, and he would tell them that he was preparing for the end of the world. He would then explain to them why Hashem desired to destroy His own handiwork. Although the people themselves had not heard the voice of Hashem there is an obvious imperative to be a moral human being, and in this society, the thievery was so rampant, that it was not worthwhile for them to continue to exist.

From this we learn an extremely important lesson: the ability for one person to make a difference.

Hashem would not have had Noach build the ark for all those years if He didn’t think it there was potential for change. This shows the tremendous power we have to effect change. And although at the end, Noach did not have a positive effect on the world, he did have a positive effect on his family and himself.

The significance of the water was a purification process. “I will send rain upon the earth, forty days and forty nights” (Bereshis7:4). The number forty has a lot of meaning in Jewish thought: forty days of the flood, a mikvah—ritual bath—requires forty s’ah (a s’ah is a measurement), forty days from conception to formation of fetus, etc. This number signifies change, from nothing to something, from impurity to purity.

When Hashem made it rain for forty days, He was purifying the world. This is a lesson for us, because as we know, each person is a miniature world, and we have the ability to purify ourselves, just as Hashem purified the world.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Breishis by Reb Jay

In this week’s parsha, the Torah brings the story of Kayin and Hevel. Kayin and Hevel are famous in history for being the first known case of fratricide. Their story is thought to be a simple one. Two brothers, who were unable to get along, the tension rising until one finally killed the other.

The reality of this story is much more complex than that. What really happened between Kayin and Hevel contains lessons and implications that can used to learn from, even today, some fifty seven hundred years later.

Kayin and Hevel were the children of Adom and Chavah. They literally had the whole world for the taking. Kayin was a farmer, and Hevel a shepherd.

Although popular perception has Kayin as the “bad guy” and Hevel as the “good guy”, Kayin, in fact, was the first of the two brothers who thought of offering up a sacrifice to Hashem. Offering up a sacrificial offering is meant to be a difficult thing. It is hard for human beings to part with their physical possessions. When we offer them up to Hashem, our giving shows our love for Him, as giving is a sign of love (obviously Hashem does not need these offerings, as He has no needs; sacrificial offerings, as all commandments, are done for us). For Kayin this was particularly difficult. Kayin’s name means acquisition. He was a person who desired to acquire possessions. For him to bring an offering from the ground was very difficult - so difficult, that Kayin’s offering was of an inferior quality.

Hevel, although it was not his idea to bring an offering, offered up the choicest sheep of his flock.

Hevel’s offering was accepted, and Kayin’s was not: “Hashem turned to Hevel and his offering, but to Kayin, He did not turn. This upset Kayin and his face fell”. Hashem told Kayin: “Why are you upset and why has your face fallen? Surely if you improve yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, your sin is preserved, its desire (“it” being the evil inclination, which is the part of us that demands instant gratification) is toward you, yet you can conquer it” (Bereshis 4:5-7).

Kayin’s despondency was understandable, having just had his offering rejected by Hashem. But Hashem does not reject him. He simply tells him that he has sinned through his lack of gratitude. But this is easily rectified. All Kayin must do is improve. But Hashem warns him that if he does not improve, sin will overtake him. The nature of man is not to be stagnant, but rather to improve or, Hashem forbid, regress.

What does Kayin do after Hashem reaches out to him? He ignores Hashem’s entreaties. He goes to Hevel and provokes him into an argument and kills him. The Midrash (Bereshis Rabbah) explains that Kayin proposed to Hevel that they divide the world. Kayin’s intention in making this formal split was to provoke Hevel into an argument and kill him, a ruse that worked.

Kayin kills Hevel because he is jealous. If there had been no Hevel, Kayin would not have found it difficult to achieve atonement for his sin. But once he saw that Hevel’s sacrifice had been accepted he could not bear it.

The commentators ask, why did Hevel deserve to die? The Maharal explains that Hevel was complicit in this tragic story, because he brought his offering to trump Kayin. Obviously, this was not the only reason, as his offering was accepted, but nonetheless, it was a strong motivating factor of his offering (the Gra learns differently; see the Gaon's peirush to Koheles). These are the tragic results of jealousy: the death of one brother and the exiling of the second (to wander the earth was the punishment Hashem meted out to Kayin).

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos counts jealousy as something that pulls a person out of the world (Chapter 4 Mishna 21). The meaning is obvious. When a person focuses not on what he needs to accomplish, but on his friend’s accomplishments, he has lost his purpose, i.e., he has pulled himself out of the world.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Painting your Masterpiece

Read painting-your-masterpiece by Rabbi Frand. Neil Harris from Chicago wrote it over and he did a masterful job. Chazak U'Boruch!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Avinu Malkeinu

By Ben Adler

Our Father, our King, erase through Your abundant compassion all records of our guilt

If we have asked Hashem to forgive and wipe away our sins, why do we now beseech Him to erase through His abundant compassion all records of our guilt?

This question can be answered as follows: The commentaries wonder why Yaakov rebuked Reuven for his sin of switching his mother’s bed, if Reuven had already repented. The Ohr Hachaim[1] and Reb Elya Lapian[2] answer that although Reuven had repented from his sin, the impression of his action was still evident, and Yaakov chastised Reuven on his middah of being haste. [This may be comparable to one who received a speeding ticket and is absolved from paying the fine, but earns a point on his record. The point reflects his driving habits, and to feel truly innocent, one would ask to have the points removed from his record.] In this vein we can explain our request here. Although You have forgiven our sins and wiped away and removed our willful sins and errors, we are still concerned with our records of our guilt. Therefore we ask Hashem to erase our records of guilt entirely, so even the impression of sin is obliterated.

Our Father, our King, [remember us for merit] inscribe us in the book of merits

What does it mean to be remembered for merit? The Chofetz Chaim asks regarding the supplication that we recite during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, Avinu Malkeinu kasveinu b’seifer zechuyos, Our Father, our King, inscribe us in the book of merits. If we are meritorious, then we do not need to be inscribed in the book of merits. If we are not meritorious, then of what benefit is it to be inscribed in the book of merits? Let us examine the word zechuyos, merits. The Sefarim write that the word zechus is derived from the word zach, pure. We ask Hashem to remember us for merits, and essentially we are requesting that Hashem purify us, because Hashem is the Only One Who can judge us as meritorious. Similarly, during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, we ask Hashem to inscribe us in the book of merits, because we were judged on Rosh Hashanah, but we do not know the outcome of the judgment. Therefore we ask Hashem to purify us, and then we can be inscribed for life and merits together with the righteous.

[1] Breishis 49:4

[2] Lev Eliyahu Ibid

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why Apples?

Rabbi Jay Spero

Why do we eat an apple on Rosh Hashana? Sure an apple is sweet, but so are grapes. What is special about the apple?

When Yakov came in to receive the brocha from Yitzchok, Yitzchok smelled
the scent of Yakov's clothing, and said, "see the smell of my son is
like the smell of a field" (Toldos 27:27). Rashi quotes the Gemara in Ta'anis that says that Yaakov smelled like an apple orchard. The Shelah writes that this is why we use on apple on Rosh Hashana.

What is the significance of a Tzadik (Yaakov Aveinu) smelling like an
apple orchard? What is the reasoning behind the Shelah's comment?
The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) asks what is the meaning of the posuk in Shir
Hashirim (2:3): "Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest"? The
Gemara answers that this refers to the Jewish people, that just as an
apple tree is unique in that its fruit comes before its leaves (unlike
other trees whose leaves come before its fruit), so too the Jewish
people, who said "we will do and we will listen" (na'aseh v'nishma) are
unique-- unlike other nations who want to know what they are accepting
before they accept it.

Tosfos questions the Gemara and states that this posuk in Shir Hashirim
is not referring to the Jewish people, but to Hashem ? Tosfos does not offer
an answer (but suggests a different posuk in Shir Hashirim).

However, the Nefesh Hachaim gives a beautiful answer. Shir Hashirim is a
series of dialogues between the Jewish people and the Hashem. The Nefesh
Hachaim explains that if the Jewish people perceived Hashem to be similar
to an apple tree, that is because the Jewish people are similar to an apple
tree. The Gemara in Brochos (6a) explains that just as we wear Tefilin
that expound on the oneness of Hashem (Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu
Hashem Echad), so does Hashem wear Tefilin that expounds on the oneness
of His beloved nation (Who is like Yisroel, a unique nation in the world;
Divre Hayamim 1). This shows that Hashem gave us a tremendous gift: the
ability to have a reciprocal relationship with Him. That is how we have
the awesome responsibility on Rosh Hashana to crown Hashem as King.

And when Hashem sings our praises and says we are special,because we had
so much trust in Him that even before we knew what was in the Torah we
were willing to accept it, what is the reciprocal side of this? When
Hashem was willing to give us the Torah based on our acceptance, even
before there was act, because He had trust in us. This illuminates the
special relationship we have with Hashem, and when we eat the apple
this Friday night, we must contemplate while eating the apple the
uniqueness of this relationship.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Not for our Welfare

Tefillah on Rosh Hashanah
is not for our Welfare

The Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avodah writes that all the Tefillos that we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that the Name of Hashem should be sanctified amongst the nations and throughout the whole world. One should be distressed and cry on this Day of Judgment, as we are praying regarding the desecration of Hashem’s great name. One should pray with this intention regarding Hashem’s Name even more than the intentions that he has concerning his own welfare. In exile, one should always cry and be distressed on the desecration of Hashem’s Name amongst the nations who worship wood and stone, the handiwork of man. The nations taunt us and wonder, “where is your G-d, let Him stand and help you.”

The strategy that one must adopt to awaken his heart to crying is by reciting the words of the Tefillos with deliberation, and he should pause wherever there is a break in the recital, and this will arouse him to weeping. For example, when reciting u’vchen ten pachdecha Hashem Elokeinu al kol maassecha, he should have in mind the following: “until when will Your great Name be desecrated amongst the nations, and for this reason instill Your awe upon all Your works, that they should all recognize that there is no G-d other than You, and Your Name will grow exalted amongst the nations.” These are the intentions that one should have with great weeping and tremendous distress. Similarly, when reciting the words v’aimascho al kol mah shebarasa…. v’yeiasu kulam agudah echos… one should weep with the same intention mentioned previously.

When one recited the words u’vchen ten kavod Hashem le’amecha, he should have the following intention: “grant honor to Your people, not for our sake, rather for Your great Name that will grow exalted and sanctified amongst the nations, because now, we, the Holy Nation, are at a low and in great disgrace, and the nations scorn us and wonder, “where is your G-d?” The same intentions apply to the rest of the bracha, specifically the words: V’simloch atah Hashem levadecha Then You, Hashem, will reign alone over all Your works. One should have kavanah when reciting these words, and he should weep and be in great distress.

Keep Davening in “Mar-Cheshvan”

Daven in Tishrei,
Keep Davening in “Mar-Cheshvan”

Rav Shimshon Pinkus writes that whenever Elul comes, people wonder what is required of them during the forty-day period from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur. In truth, there is a unique idea that is reflected during this time period. The month of Cheshvan is referred to as Mar Cheshvan. This alludes to the idea that Cheshvan is a month where meracshin sifevovasei, the lips stir and are in motion. Once the month of Elul has passed, and we then proceed to Rosh Hashanah, Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, and Yom Kippur with the selichos and Tefillos that we recite, we conclude with Sukkos, Hoshanah Rabbah, and Simchas Torah. We have become so accustomed to reciting Tefillos and praises to Hashem in those two months of Elul and Tishrei, when we enter into the month of Cheshvan, our lips are still moving and reciting the Tefillos and offering praises to Hashem.
The concept that the lips can move subconsciously only exists when the words that we recite are internalized in the very depths of our hearts. Normal speech emanates from the brain that decides what words a person should utter. When the lips move by themselves, however, this is a sign that there are thoughts in the deep recesses of ones consciousness that he may not even be aware of, and at any particular moment these thoughts are expressed on their own. The reason for this phenomenon is due to the tremendous impact that the recital of the words had on the person.

This essentially is the goal of this time period, in which one should acquire such an intensity of Torah study, prayer, and fear of heaven, that the words should penetrate to the very depth of his heart, and they should descend to the depths of his soul. Even when the Days of Awe have passed, in the month of Cheshvan the lips should still be uttering the words of the living G-d on their own accord. This process should continue until Elul of the following year. This is the time when one should fill up his spiritual storehouses for the upcoming year that will be upon us for the good.

Praying in a State of Awe

Rabbi Yitzchok Margareten

The Medrash states that Hashem told Adam Harishon after he sinned and repented, “just like you were judged and were vindicated on Rosh Hashanah, so too your children in the future will be judged on Rosh Hashanah and they will be vindicated. It is interesting to note that when Adam Harishon responded to Hashem’s question , “Where are you?” Adam did not express any form of regret. In fact, Adam placed the blame for his violation of Hashem’s command on Chava, claiming , “Haisha asher nasata imadi hi nasna li min haeitz v’ochel, the woman whom You gave to be with me-she gave me of the tree and I ate.” Why then is our judgment on Rosh Hashanah considered to be a replica of Adam’s situation, when Adam denied his complicity in the eating from forbidden fruit?

Although not apparent from the narrative recorded in the Torah, Adam expressed acknowledgement of his sin by stating , “Es kolcha shamati bagan v’ira ki eirom anochi v’aeichavei I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I am naked, so I hid. Essentially, Adam was declaring that he had achieved a level of Yiras Shamayim, fear of heaven, and this earned him vindication. The lesson for future generations is that on Rosh Hashanah we should realize that we are standing in front of the Melech Malchei Hamelochim, the King of all kings. This recognition will surely instill fear of heaven in us, and then we too can be zoche badin, be vindicated in judgment.

We find a similar lesson in the blowing of the Shofar. It is said: Im yitaka Shofar ba’ir v’am lo yecheradu, is the Shofar ever sounded in a city and the people not tremble? The very essence of hearing the Shofar blasts inspires fear. Once we are instilled with fear of heaven, we can proceed with the correct protocol of Teshuvah and earn atonement.

There are two aspects to Shofar blowing. One idea is that we use the Shofar of a ram to merit the act of Akeidas Yitzchak, the binding of Yitzchak on the altar. The second aspect is that we use a Shofar that is bent, and this reflects our hearts that are bent towards serving Hashem. The question is, if one has a choice of using a straight Shofar of a ram or a bent Shofar of a different kosher animal, which Shofar is the preferred one? The Ritva writes that it is more important to blow from a bent Shofar. We see that the essence of our Tefillos on Rosh Hashanah and the blowing of the Shofar is that we should be humbled and in awe of Hashem.

Further proof of this idea that we can only recognize Hashem as our King through Yiras Shamayim can be found in the words of the Medrash . It is said: todieini orach chaim You will make known to me the way of life. Dovid HaMelech said to Hashem: “Show me the way of life.” Hashem responded, “Dovid, you ask for life? Anticipate yirah, fear of heaven, as it is said: Yiras Hashem tosif yamim the fear of Hashem will increase days. Reb Noson Vachtfogel explains that the theme of malchiyus, kingship of Hashem, can be found in the verse: Ben yechabed av v’eved adonav v’im av ani ayeih kevodi v’im adonim ani ayeih moraii a son will honor his father and a servant his master. If I am a Father where is My honor? And if I am a Master where is My fear? In order to have a connection to the King, one must have Yiras Shamayim, fear of heaven. If we discover that we are not afraid of the Day of Judgment, it is because we do not have Yiras Shamayim instilled in ourselves.

Similarly, the Medrash states regarding the verse: Vayecherad Yitzchak charada gedolah ad meod then Yitzchak trembled in very great perplexity, that the fear that Yitzchak experienced upon realizing that he had given Yaakov the brachos was a greater fear than he felt when he had been offered up by Avraham at the akeidah. The Medrash states that by the akeidah, Yitzchak’s soul left his body. What distinguished the fear by the brachos where Yitzchak’s soul did not leave his body with the fear of the akeidah? Reb Noson answers that at the akeidah, Yitzchak felt the fear of death upon him, and this was the vehicle for his soul to exit his body. By the brachos, Yitzchak was overcome with Yiras Shamayim, as he had erred regarding to whom he should have proffered the brachos. Based on the verse: Yiras Hashem tosif yamim the fear of Hashem will increase days, it follows that Yitzchak’s Yiras Shamayim would not be the cause for his soul to leave his body, which is a form of death. Similarly, when we pray on Rosh Hashanah and experience true Yiras Shamayim, we will be filled with joy and this gives us strength and allows us to ascend on the spiritual ladder.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Elul by Ben

The Baal HaTurim writes that the words לולא האמנתי are a רמז to Elul, as the word לולא spells out אלול. It is said regarding bringing Binyomin going down to Mitzrayim כי לולא התמהמנו כי עתה שבנו זה פעמים, for had we not delayed, by now we could have returned twice. Following the style of the Baal HaTurim, this verse can be interpreted homiletically in two manners. One is that the Gemara states , אחרי הארי ולא אחרי האשה it is preferable to follow a lion than to follow a woman. The sefarim write that this alludes to the idea that the month of אב is represented by the מזל אריה, and the month of אלול is represented by the מזל בתולה. Thus, the Gemara is exhorting us to repent after the month of the ארי, i.e. the month of אב, rather than to repent after the אשה, i.e. the month of אלול. This is alluded to in the verse that states כי לולא התמהמנו כי עתה שבנו זה פעמים. If one had not delayed until לולא, which spells out אלול, one could have repented twice, i.e. after the month of אלול and after the month of אב. Alternatively, this verse can be explained by citing the famous contradiction. On the one hand it is said השיבנו ה' אליך ונשובה, where we ask HaShem, bring us back to You, HaShem, and we shall return. Yet a different verse states שובו אלי ואשובה אליכם, return to Me and I will return to you. Apparently we need both approaches, as we need HaShem to return to us so that we can return to HaShem. This is also alluded to in the above-mentioned verse. If we had not delayed, we could have returned “twice,” i.e. HaShem would have returned us and we would have then returned to Him. Let us merit that we do not delay any further and that we repent our ways and return to HaShem, and may we all merit being inscribed immediately in the Book of Life.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Positive Chinuch

by Rafi G.

NOTE: no halachic conclusions should be drawn from this article. A competent Orthodox Rabbi must be consulted regarding any practical questions that might arise. The following is a discussion for hashkafic thought alone and has not been fully researched for the purpose of psak.

On daf 82a of Masechet Yoma we have a discussion in the gemara regarding what age a parent must begin training his child to fast on fast days, specifically Yom Kippur.

The Tosefos Yeshanim asks an interesting question: There is a rule in halacha that says if one sees a child eating neveilos (non-kosher food) one must not (or need not) stop him. So what is the big discussion on what age to train him to fast, we should be discussing what age to stop him from actually transgressing something assur!!??

The Tosefos Yeshanim answers the question by bringing the opinion of R' Eliezer from Mitz. R' Eliezer from Mitz is of the opinion that the two issues are completely separate. There is an inyan of "chinuch" which entails training and educating the child to do a mitzva - to do what is right. Then there is an inyan of abstaining from issur. Chinuch, he says, has no bearing on abstaining from issur, only doing mitzvos. That is why we are discussing training him to fast rather than stopping him from issur.

The idea R' Eliezer is telling us is mind boggling (to me). The mitzva of chinuch is only for positive mitzvos, not to stop him from doing something wrong (though that too might be admirable to teach a child when possible). If one sees the candy-man in shul give a child a candy with a questionable hechsher (or even no hechsher), one should talk to the candy-man about no longer providing those candies, but he should not take away the candy from the child! Let the child finish eating it. To me that is an amazing chiddush in chinnuch!

Why is that so?

I was thinking about it and considered this thought. We want to give our children a positive outlook on Yiddishkeit and mitzvos. The obligation of chinnuch incorporates that idea. The obligation to educate your child in mitzvos is, on the one hand, to train the child in the habit of actually doing the mitzvos. On the other hand, it is also to engender within the child the positive attitude towards doing mitzvos. We urge him to do mitzvos, but we do not stop him when he does issurim. We want to give over the positive aspect and not the negative.

Again, this should not be used as a halachic guide. It is simply a thought on an idea presented by R' Eliezer from Mitz in the Tosefos Yeshanim. If the question arises and you need to know whether to stop your child from doign something that is assur, you must consult with your Rav.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Daf Yomi - Yoma 75 - Could the Manna Taste like Pig?

Daf Yomi - Yoma 75 - Could the Manna Taste like Pig?

Gilyonei Hashas writes that he saw in a certain sefer that discusses the issue of what would be if a person had in mind that the manna should taste like something which is forbidden to eat, such as chazir. What would you think should be the halacha?

As of now, there are 14 comments below.

Friday, August 18, 2006

100 Brochos

Daf Yomi - Yoma 70 - 100 Brochos

The Gemora states that two reasons explaining why a second sefer Torah was not brought to the kohen gadol for Parshas Pinchas. One is because it will look like the first one was possul. Secondly, it will cause him to make a new brocha unnecessarily.

The latter reason is brought down in Shulchan Aruch regarding a shochet who has many animals ready to be shechted. He should not talk in between the slaughterings for then he would be required to recite another brocha.

The Shalah rules that on Shabbos it is permitted to delay eating the fruits that were brought in middle of the meal and rather wait for the conclusion of the meal in order to enable a recital of a brocha acharona which will help one reach the goal of reciting one hundred brochos every day (which can be difficult on Shabbos).

The Magen Avrohom asks on this from our Gemora. Yom Kippur is even more difficult to reach this goal and nevertheless we do not permit the kohen gadol to bring another sefer Torah enabling him the opportunity of reciting another brocha.

Perhaps we can answer that this would be applicable only to the kohen gadol and therefore we apply the regular halacha of ברכה שאינה צריכה, however the fruits on Shabbos pertains to everyone and would be beneficial for all, so there we permit the extra brocha.

I just found in the אליהו רבה that the kohen gadol did not have the problem of one hundred brochos for he recited eight brochos on krias haTorah and he made a brocha on each and every avodah according to the Ramban.

posted by Avromi at 8/15/2006 04:52:00 PM

Aton said...

Maybe there's a difference between generating a brand new Beracha/set of Brachos (Borei Pri Ha'Eitz and Borei Nefashos, or Al Ha'Eitz depending) and causing the same Bracha to be repeated (Asher Bachar Banu, Al HaShechitah) -- it's clear when you make the same Bracha twice in a row on an item present at the outset that there's nothing new about this situation, thus no new real Mechayev of a Bracha, and it is undesirable to purposely be Mesi'ach Da'as so as to make a Bracha on that which you already know about (additional animals present at the first moment of Shechitah, e.g.). 100 Berachos maybe thus are parallel to Yitzchak's Me'ah She'arim, which are each distinct -- it's not the Beracha but Mechayev Bracha that you're supposed to experience and identify and be Mevarech. However, if it is a different Bracha to be said (thus identifying a different aspect of Beracha, like Ha'Eitz when previously HaMotzi was made), or if there are items now that weren't there initially so there's a new Mitzvah/Hana'ah/Mechayev Shevach, additional Berachos are appropriate?

Wed Aug 16, 10:22:49 AM 2006

Avromi said...

I spoke over your chiluk with two Roshe Kollel here, one from Montreal and one from Boston. One agreed and one didn't. Iy"H, we will research more.

Wed Aug 16, 01:52:35 PM 2006

Aton said...

Shkoyach!! Unfortunately I don't have too many Roshei Kollel here to run things by, at least not yet... I'm curious to hear what the objections were...

Wed Aug 16, 02:03:55 PM 2006

Avromi said...

Rabbi Zalman Leff from Boston objected by stating that the reason behind the issur of brocha sheaina tzricha is based on the possuk of lo sisa. Why should we be more lax if it is a different brocha? Lo sisa still applies.

Wed Aug 16, 02:05:35 PM 2006

Avromi said...

Rabbi Dovid Elias from Montreal concurred and said that the concept of 100 brochos is for different brochos and therefore we might be lenient on the eina tzricha if it's a benefit for the 100 brochos. As proof to this he cited the minhag of chasidim (although hes a Yekke - big time) to eat kneidlach on the eighth day of Pesach for a mezonos is really needed. (What about the other days?)

Wed Aug 16, 02:08:32 PM 2006

David said...

Ein min-ute! Speaking for the Chassidim of the world ( or at least those of us with chassidishe netiyos) the reason we eat knaidlach on eighth day Pesach has nothing to do with 100 berachos. The reason we eat it then is only because we couldnt eat it the first 7 days b/c of gebrokzt. Memailah, once the issur falls away, we ess.

Wed Aug 16, 05:13:05 PM 2006

Avromi said...

firstly, why is gebrokzt only seven days if its due to chametz issues?

secondly, there's more than one reason.

did you know some say the Baal Shem Tov found 40 kneidlach or something of the sort?

Wed Aug 16, 05:26:11 PM 2006

David said...

The real answer, I suppose, to your question, is that gebroktz is a minhag, and "aim mashivin al haminhag". Beleive me, everybody I know who doesnt eat gebrokzts asks himself the same question: ( " If this is really chometz, why can we eat it on the last day?"). Al minhag zeh ne'emar, "eeyasher chailee, avatlino". ( Looks better in hebrew).

But it's not b/c of the 100 berachos.

Wed Aug 16, 05:34:21 PM 2006

Avromi said...

I'll have to get you the mekor for it

Wed Aug 16, 05:39:20 PM 2006

ben said...

once we're on the topic of מאה ברכות it's worth knowing this בן איש חי שנה ראשונה פ' בלק

ודע דאע"ג דכל הברכות אנשי כנה"ג שהם עזרא הסופר ובית דינו תיקנום, אל תסבור לומר דמימות מרע"ה עד כנה"ג לא היו מברכים כלל, דדבר זה לא יתכן מכמה טעמי תריצי, אך העניין הוא כמו שהיה בתפילה דקודם אנשי כנה"ג היה כל אחד מסדר תפילתו כפי צחות לשונו, עד שבאו אנשי כנה"ג ותקנו י"ח ברכות על הסדר שיהיו ערוכות בפי הכל בשוה, וכן היה ענין הברכות שהיה כל או"א מברך ומסדר ברכותיו כפי צחות לשונו ובאו אנשי כנה"ג ותקנו נוסח כל הברכות שיהיו ערוכות בפי הכל בשוה וכמ"ש הרב ידי אליהו גאליפפה ז"ל ד ב' יע"ש, וקודם דאתא דוד ההע"ה לא היו מדקדקים לברך כל או"א מאה ברכות כפי צחות לשונו הן בדרך תפילו והן ע"פ הנאותיו אלא כאשר יזדמן יש מברך עשרים ברכות יש ארבעים יש ששים או יותר, עד שבא דוד הע"ה ותקן לברך כל או"א מאה ברכות בכל יום, אך עדיין אין הנוסח שוה ואתו כנה"ג ותתקנו נוסח שוה לכל אדם:

Thu Aug 17, 12:33:14 AM 2006

Aton said...

Just one point about Bracha She'Eino Tzricha in a different bracha- on Sukkah 27a it suggests that a way to make up a missed Sukkos Se'udah on Shmini Atzeres, according to R. Eliezer, would be to eat Minei Targima after the Se'udas Yom Tov. Ritva points out that you don't just have another meal because of B'racha She'Aino Tzricha. Could this be a Makor that making a different Bracha is indeed different than repeating the same one for the purposes of Lo Sisa?

Thu Aug 17, 01:52:43 PM 2006

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lo Osoh V'Lo Klum vs. Lo Osoh Klum

Daf Yomi - Yoma 60 - לא עשה ולא כלום and sometimes it states לא עשה כלום

There are several times in shas that it states לא עשה ולא כלום. The רמע מפאנו explains this statement as follows: לא עשה means that he did not fulfill the mitzva and ולא כלום means that he did not do an aveira either. The Mishna states that if the kohen gadol performed one avodah before the other - לא עשה כלום. This is referring to the sprinkling of the דם השעיר in the Kodesh Hakodoshim before the sprinkling from the פר. In this instance, besides not fulfilling the mitzva, there is an aveira as well, for he entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim unnecessarily and is considered a ביאה שלא לצורך. The Gemora on עמוד ב discusses a case where he performed the חפינת הקטרת prior to the slaughtering of the פר and here the Gemora says לא עשה ולא כלום. This is understood because there is no aveira being committed for the חפינה is done outside. There is no mitzva or aveira. (שערים מצויינים בהלכה)

Did you come across any instance of either one of those expressions recently? Tell us about it and lets see if the yesod fits. Thanks