Friday, August 16, 2019

Parshas Va'eschanan Messages 5779

בּ"ה
Parshas Va’eschanan

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And Hashem said to me, “It is much for you (רב לך)! . . .” (Devarim 3:26)
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In a different take on these words, explains the Or HaChaim HaKadosh that Hashem was actually telling Moshe Rabbeinu words of encouragement:  That all the merit of those who enter Eretz Yisroel, from the Mitzvos they perform which can specifically be only performed within the Land (Mitzvos t’luyos ba’aretz), he (Moshe Rabbeinu) would have a portion in all of them, because he is the one who commanded them -- through Him -- to do them. 

The verse says ‘רב לך’, ‘It is much for you’ -- meaning that the leadership [רבנות -- related to רב] of the upholding of the Mitzvos was Moshe Rabbeinu’s, and so he had a portion with everyone in everything they would do in Eretz Yisroel! (See also Rashi zt”l’s second explanation).

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And you shall guard yourselves (lit. Souls) very much (Devarim 4:15)
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We learn that this also teaches that we must maintain some manner of physical health, and take care of our bodily needs. (See Gemara Berachos 32b).

But it is interesting, notes the Chofetz Chaim zt”l, that when the Torah teaches us this, it doesn’t speak as if it is talking about guarding our body -- rather, it speaks about guarding our Soul!

This teaches us, he explains, that when we are involved in pursuing our physical needs such as eating, drinking, etc. we must contemplate and ascertain that this thing will not mess up our Soul.  Meaning: Before we involve ourselves in fulfilling our physical needs, we must think about whether what we are about to do contains something that is against the Will of Hashem. If it doesn’t, then we can do it.  But if it does, then we musn’t. For example, we must make sure our food and drink is kosher, our business ventures are honest, etc.

And furthermore, when we take care of our bodily needs, it should not be for a mundane reason, but for the purpose of fulfilling Hashem’s Will -- and this is part of His Will, that we keep ourselves living.

(Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah)

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And you will seek Hashem your G-d from there, and you will find [Him] if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your Soul.’ (Devarim 4:29)
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Here the Torah reveals to us the beautiful message that no matter where we are -- even if, Chas V’Shalom and Rachmana Litzlan, we have sunken to a low level -- if we truly seek out HaKadosh Baruch Hu, our Father in Heaven, with all our heart and Soul, we will find Him.  He is always there for us; we just need to seek Him out.

(Tal U’Matar)

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And you shall know today, and you shall return to your heart, that Hashem, He is the G-d, in the Heavens above, and upon the earth below -- there is none other.(Devarim 4:39)
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It is not enough, says HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt”l, to only know this, but we must also absorb this knowledge into our hearts, so that our will/desire and our traits go in the same direction as what we know.

There is a great gap between just knowing something, and really taking it to heart.

(Quoted in Maayanah Shel Torah)

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Then Moshe separated three cities across the Jordan [from Israel](Devarim 4:41)
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These cities, as explained in the next verse, were those to which someone who killed another person completely by accident could flee.

Rashi zt”l brings from Gemara Makkos 10a that even though these cities would not go into effect as cities of refuge until the ones in Eretz Yisroel proper were established, and Moshe would pass away before that, he said to himself: “A mitzvah which is possible to fulfill, I will fulfill it.” 

Several commentators (see Kli Yakar, Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah, and Shemen HaTov) draw out a wonderful message from this:  Even though Moshe Rabbeinu knew that he wasn’t going to be able to complete the mitzvah in its entirety, as these cities would not become cities of refuge yet, he still did what he could do.  So too, even if we know that we aren’t going to be able to complete a mitzvah, but we can at least start it, we must do that.  We must try to do as much as is in our power to fulfill as much of as many mitzvos as we can.

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I stood between Hashem and between you’ (Devarim 5:5)
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There is a wonderful lesson brought out from this quoted in the name of various Chassidishe Rebbes:  ‘I’ -- being too much about ourselves and concentrating too much on ‘me’ -- stands between you and Hashem.

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Go say to them, “Return for yourselves to your tents.” (Devarim 5:27)
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In this Parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu related to Bnei Yisroel dialogue, such as the above verse, that took place at the time of the Giving of the Torah.  

Here, by Har Sinai, says the Kotzker Rebbe zt”l, Hashem saw our great awe and cleaving to Him.  But now we had to try to maintain that when we returned to our houses. . . 

(Brought in Maayanah Shel Torah)

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In order that you will learn to fear Hashem, to guard all His Decrees and His Mitzvos. . . you, your son, and your son’s son, all the days of your life. (Devarim 6:2)
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Asks HaRav Meir Simcha HaKohen of Dvinsk zt”l; the order of this verse seems different than what it should be.  It seemingly should have said ‘all the days of your life’, and then ‘you, your son’, etc.  Why was it written the way it was?

Explains Rav Meir Simcha; the Mishnah in Avos (2:4; see Machzor Vitri there) teaches us ‘Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death’ -- meaning that we can’t just trust that we won’t commit a transgression; we have to safeguard the fences that Chazal erected which aid us to not possibly violate something.  And if need be in certain situations, we must set up our own protective “fences” for ourselves, so that we don’t come to sin (see Mesilas Yesharim, beginning of the section on abstinence).  

In fact, the Talmud Yerushalmi Masechta Shabbos (1:3) tells us about what happened with the man who thought that the Mishnah’s text would be more accurate as ‘Don’t believe in yourself until your old age’, as he thought that now, since he was older, and his desires were not nearly as strong, he didn’t need to fear that he would commit a transgression.  Heaven tested him in a certain way, and he was going to succumb to temptation, when it was revealed to him what was going on.

Now we understand what the passuk means to tell us with the interesting order of the wording, says Rav Meir Simcha:  We must keep Hashem’s Mitzvos, and also the fences erected around them to prevent us from coming to sin.  Even when we are already elderly, and have grandkids -- like it says ‘your son’s son’ -- and our Yetzer hara is weaker, we still have to continue to be very vigilant and on guard, continuing to keep the fences as well, ‘all the days of your life’, because we still can’t trust that we won’t come to do a sin.

(Meshech Chochmah)

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Hear Yisroel, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One! -- שמע ישראל ה׳ אלקינו ה׳ אחד’ (Devarim 6:4)
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The word שמע, if you look, is the first letters of the words עול מלכות שמים -- the Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is what we accept upon ourselves when we say it.

(Tal U’Matar)

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Hear Yisroel, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One! -- שמע ישראל ה׳ אלקינו ה׳ אחד’ (Devarim 6:4)
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HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt”l used to say:  When a Jew says שמע ישראל ה׳ אלקינו ה׳ אחד, and they are intending to declare Hashem as King over all the four corners of the world, they musn’t forget at that time to also make Him King over themselves. . .

(Cited in Maayanah Shel Torah)

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And you shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, and with all your Soul, and with all your might/resources (Devarim 6:5)
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Rabbi Akiva taught:  What does it mean that we should love Hashem with all our Soul?  It means that we should love Him even when He takes our Soul -- i.e. our life.

And there is a story to go with this teaching:  One time, the evil Roman kingdom had decreed that Jews were not allowed to engage in Torah study.  But Rabbi Akiva, with great courage and self-sacrifice, defied the decree and continued to study and teach Torah!

It wasn’t long before the evil Romans caught him and put him into jail.  When they brought him out to be executed, it was the time for Kerias Shema.  The Romans carried out the execution in a horrific manner -- tearing his skin with iron combs!  But even during this, Rabbi Akiva was, as Rashi zt”l explains, reciting Kerias Shema, accepting upon himself the Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven!

His students questioned him regarding this, and he replied in such a beautifully inspiring way, “All my days I was pained regarding this phrase, ‘with all your Soul’, -- [which means] even when He takes your Soul.  I said, ‘When will it come to my hands and I will [be able to] fulfill it?’ And now that it has come to my hands, shall I not fulfill it?!”

Rabbi Akiva drew out the word Echad, One -- declaring Hashem’s Oneness, until his Soul left him.  A Voice from Heaven went out and said “Fortunate are you, Rabbi Akiva, that your Soul departed on Echad.” And another one went out and said, “Fortunate are you, Rabbi Akiva, for you are destined for the World to Come!”

(Gemara Berachos 61b)

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And these words that I command you today, shall be upon your hearts. . . (Devarim 6:6)
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Aside from the simple beautiful meaning of the phrase, we see another wonderful lesson from it:  The words of the Torah should be literally upon our hearts, meaning that not only our actions, but also our hearts -- our desires, passions, and thoughts -- should be subjugated to Hashem’s Torah.

(Tal U’Matar)

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In a different tact, the Kotzker Rebbe, HaRav Menachem Mendel Morgenstern zt”l, explains that the words of the Torah should always be upon our hearts, so that when our heart does “open up”, they will fall right in. . .

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And these words that I command you today shall be upon your hearts, and you shall teach them to your sons (Devarim 6:6-7)
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Explains the Alshich HaKadosh:  If we are teaching someone Torah, our words will only have the proper impression and influence on them if we ourselves practice what we are preaching.  This is what the Torah means to tell us by first saying that these words should be upon our hearts, and only afterwards does it say that we should teach our children Torah.  Because first and foremost, we must accept wholeheartedly the words of Torah upon our own hearts, and only then will they enter the heart of the people we are teaching.

(Toras Moshe)

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Shabbos Nachamu virtually always fall out the week of Parshas Va’eschanan.  My father shlit”a once asked at the Shabbos table; what is the connection between the two?  How do we find consolation in Parshas Va’eschanan?

I would like to propose the following answer:  As Chazal tell us, Moshe Rabbeinu davened many, many times to be able to enter Eretz Yisroel.  But he still wasn’t allowed, because it had been decreed that he would not be able to, as a punishment for his sin at Merivah.

But here is the inspiration and consolation for us:  As far as we know, there is no decree upon us that we not enter Eretz Yisroel or live to see Mashiach!  So if we daven enough and with adequate devotion, surely we will be zoche to enter the Holy Land -- whether by making aliyah, or with the coming of Mashiach Tzidkeinu, speedily.

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Maasim Tovim 
You have been shown to know, that Hashem, He is the G-d, there is no other besides from Him -- אין עוד מלבדו. (Devarim 4:35).  

Shortly after their marriage, my Rebbe, HaRav Daniel Yaakov Travis shlit”a and his wife were down in Brazil for something.  He relates:  

“I had always heard that the Brazilian beaches are some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with feathery sands of the softest white and water so blue it could melt your heart.  For obvious reasons I wasn’t able to visit the beach during the regular hours most people frequented it, which left me two options -- very late at night or very early in the morning. Late at night meant I wouldn’t be able to see the water, which left an early-morning visit as the only viable option.  

“I left my in-laws’ home early in the morning while most of Brazil slept, and headed to the beach, drinking in the absolute beauty of my surroundings.  I planned on immersing myself in the ocean (which can serve as a mikveh), followed by davening.  It was Elul, I had just gotten married, our entire life lay ahead of us, and this was the perfect place to daven.  The beach was completely empty, and I found a spot and prepared myself to enter the tranquil early-morning waters.

“One moment everything was fine, relaxed, nonthreatening.  The next moment, two extremely tough-looking Brazilians approached me, seemingly from nowhere.  One grabbed me, placed me in a headlock, and stuck my head into the sand and held it there, while the other man began going through my belongings, searching for money. “Where’s your money, amigo?!” he bellowed at me.

“I hadn’t brought any money with me, but the absence of financial incentive wasn’t stopping them from killing me.  I literally couldn’t breathe. At first I still had a little bit of air in my lungs, but after about a minute, there was nothing left and I felt my body beginning to slow down as all systems went into shutdown mode.  Brilliant shapes and colors swam before my eyes as the last remaining oxygen left my brain. Everything receded and a black light began filling my head -- a black light that spread farther and farther, taking over everything in its path.

“I had left the house that morning just wanting to immerse in the ocean and purify myself in honor of Elul, and here I was literally moments away from death.

“Suddenly my brain recalled a story I had heard a few weeks before about the Brisker Rav’s escape from the Nazis during World War II.  I don’t know how I was able to focus sufficiently to remember anything, but the details filtered through my consciousness.

Every time the Rav and his family had been in danger of discovery by the Nazis, the Rav concentrated on the words “ein od milvado”, and every single time he did this, it was as if the entire family had become invisible.  Thus the family survived the war.

“At that moment, as the very last vestiges of oxygen dissapeared from my brain, I concentrated for a millisecond on the words ‘ein of milvado.’ Even as I saw the words in mind’s eye, I felt the absence of the pressure that had been weighing me down, as my would-be murderer released me from the chokehold and allowed me to turn over and open my mouth.  Fresh air had never tasted so delicious as I took deep breaths of salty, tangy, ocean-scented breeze. With every breath, I felt my brain regaining its functions.

“Meanwhile, the two Brazilians, having finished riffling through my belongings with nothing to show for their efforts, shouted, “Mafioso Brazil!” and raced away, leaving me still gasping for breath on the soft, sandy carpet.  They were gone and I was still alive.

“It was difficult to comprehend how very close I had come to losing my life on that forsaken stretch of beach.  It took me time to recover, but eventually I was able to stand without shaking, the recipient of a miracle and still determined as before to immerse myself in Hashem’s ocean in honor of Elul.  Which I did.”

(Encounters With Greatness)

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Gut and meaningful Shabbos to all!