Friday, September 30, 2016

Parshas Nitzavim

This Week’s Parsha – Nitzavim:

The first two Passukim/verses of this parsha are ‘Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lif’nei Hashem Elokeichem; rasheichem, shivteichem, zikneichem, vi’shotreichem, kol ish Yisroel.  Topchem, ni’sheichem, vi’geri’cha asher bi’kerev machanecha; mei’choteiv eitzecha ad shoeiv meimecha/You are standing today before Hashem your G-d; your heads of your tribes (following Rashi zt”l’s translation), your elders, every man of Israel.  Your young children, your wives, and your convert that is in the midst of your camp; from the hewer of your wood until the drawer of your water.’  There are a lot of beautiful Mefarshim/commentaries which I would like to share with you here: 

1) Rashi zt”l explains that these verses speak about Moshe entering the Jews into Hashem’s Covenant. 

2) But didn’t the Jews already enter Hashem’s Covenant?  Explains the Or HaChaim (HaRav Chaim ben Attar zt”l):  This was a new Covenant, which obligated every single Jew to help their fellow to serve Hashem, and to try to make sure that they all did.  Thus this one made all Jews “guarantors” for each other, so to speak.  And he even continues and explains that the listing of so many different people teaches us that everyone had to do what they could.  Meaning that this Covenant obligated every single Jew – no matter who he or she was – to influence for good those that they were able to.  And the Netziv (HaRav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin zt”l) says something very similar to this.  May Hashem help everyone to influence whoever they can to serve Him properly, Amein. 

3) The Alshich (HaRav Moshe Alshich zt”l) discusses the fact that the Torah lists Jews from the ‘heads of your Tribes’ until ‘the drawer of your water’, and he explains that in our eyes, maybe the very important people are most important.  But in Hashem’s eyes, he says, who knows who is best.  Maybe it is the simple water-drawer.  And he continues beautifully, and says that when we all ‘stand before Hashem’, there is no higher or lower.[1]  This is very important. 

4) The Alter Rebbe (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe – Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi zt”l) kind of adds to this concept, and explains that just like a body, where even the smallest part is just as important to it as the biggest part, so too it is with the Jews:  Every single Jew – from the ‘heads of your Tribes’ to the ‘drawer of your water’ is very important, and the “body” of the Jewish People would not be the same without any of them.[2]  You might think that you are not important because you are not a great Rav.  But this is not at all so:  We are all important to Hashem, and the Jewish People would not be the same without us.  And this goes for every Jew.  You are important, and you can become very great.  We must remember this, and may Hashem help everyone to, Amein. 

5) The Kotzker Rebbe (Rebbe Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk zt”l) explains that the word אתּם, has the same letters as the word אמת.  What does this teach us?  Explains the Kotzker zt”l:  This teaches us that one who is very careful with truth will, as the next word of the parsha says, be ‘standing’, i.e. they will stand.[3]  It is very important to always be truthful, and may Hashem help everyone to be, always, Amein. 

6) Why does the verse say ‘hayom/today’?  What does this teach us?  The Midrash tells us that the word ‘hayom/today’ can imply every day.  So let us now say this:  This verse is telling us that ‘You are standing before Hashem today’ – every single one of us is standing before Hashem every single day!  And we must behave like we are in the presence of a king, because we are always in the Presence of the Holy Great King!  Imagine if you were standing before a king, and he had given special orders of how to act.  You would be fearful to do anything not in accordance with his will.  But let us all realize:  We are always standing before Hashem – the Blessed King.  And He gave us special orders of how to act.  So how can we possibly not be fearful to act not in accordance with His Will, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid.  This is very important for always as this is essentially what the Torah commands us to do when Hashem tells us to fear Him. 

Okay, now back to the parsha:  The third and final verse of the first Aliyah talks about how we were standing before Hashem in order to enter into His Covenant and oath.  Shaini/the second Aliyah tells us that this was in order to establish us as a People to Him and to establish Him as G-d to us.  However, we are told, this Covenant was not just with us; it was also with everyone who wasn’t even there.  (According to Rashi quoting from Tanchuma this is referring to later generations, i.e. the people who were not born yet).  Some of those unborn generations must then be all of us who are alive today! 

Okay, so in Shlishi/the third Aliyah, the Torah tells us about how we dwelled in Mitzraim/Egypt and how we passed through nations and saw their disgusting idols.  And the Torah says ‘Perhaps there is among you a man, woman, family, or tribe, whose heart turns this day from Hashem our G-d, to go and worship the idols of those nations; perhaps there is among you a root that produces gall and wormwood.’  Now, the question is asked by many; perhaps there are people like that among the Jews?!  Aren’t we talking about the generation who saw firsthand Hashem’s great miracles (we would too, if we looked) and was extremely learned?  Could any of them possibly have thought of serving idols, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid?!  There are some answers to this question which I would like to share with you: 

1) The Maggid of Yerushalayim (HaRav Shalom Schwadron zt”l) explains a beautiful answer here:  He emphasizes the fact that the Torah tells us that we saw the nations’ disgusting idols.  You have to understand the power of sight; he explains, and when you see something bad, it could, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid go from just seeing it to actually wanting it.  And then wanting it could, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid lead to trying to serving those disgusting, terrible idols.[4]  We must guard our eyes!  You are only allowed to see some things, and you must adhere to these standards – no matter who you are.  We are all people, so we are all susceptible to taavos/desires.  May Hashem help every person to guard their eyes and only see what they are allowed to, always, Amein. 

2) The Mirrer Mashgiach, HaRav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l explains a different possible answer though, and he says that though this generation knew a lot, knowing a lot will not stop us from going astray.  You could know every single thing in the world and still be a terrible person (Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid).  You cannot just rely on your learning – you have to also fortify your traits and fix them.  You must also make sure that you act good and guard against bad deeds.[5]  This is very, very important. 

3) Okay, one last answer for right now on this:  HaRav Chaim Friedlander zt”l says that the answer to our above question could be that, yes the Jews knew all that, and they recognized Hashem, but they also had taavos/desires.  If a person gets a bad desire, and they let it go too far, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid, it can overpower their fear of Hashem, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid.  However, he adds beautifully, having a lot of fear of Hashem and being strong in it can overpower any desire.[6]  This is very important to remember. 

Okay, back to the parsha:  So the person who had a bad thought like we listed above, would just think that even though they went after their heart’s desires, they would have peace.  However, the Torah tells us that if they did stuff like that, Hashem would not forgive them, and that the entire curse would come upon that person.  And the Torah tells us about a lot of bad things that would come out of a thing like that.  However, at the beginning of Rivii/the fourth Aliyah, the Torah tells us that when all these things come upon us; the blessing and the curse, we will return to Hashem.  And then Hashem will redeem us and gather us in!  If we do Teshuva and all return to Hashem, then He will redeem us immediately. 

This parsha just really talks a lot about how we must follow Hashem and serve Him, and if we do He will give us good.  However, if, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid we don’t, He will punish us.  Also, it talks about us returning to Him and doing Teshuva.  We must do so now! 

And another thing that this parsha tells us is that the ‘matter’ is not across a sea or in the Heavens; it is very close to us.  Rashi interprets this ‘matter’ as the Torah, and others interpret it as Teshuva.  Either way, we get from this that serving Hashem is close to us; not far away.  And we can do it – everyone can.  Every person needs to remember this always, and may Hashem help every single person to do so, Amein vi’Amein.  This parsha has 40 Passukim/verses. 

This Rosh Hashanah should be for everyone full of Teshuva and everything like that.  Then, Hashem, He is Blessed, will send us Mashiach very, very speedily, as we are told in this parsha.  (May He do so, Amein).  Now, all anybody can do is encourage us, inspire us, etc.  But only we can decide to change, and return to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.  And we can try to help others to, also, B’Ezras Hashem/with the Help of Hashem.  However, we must remember:  No one will make us do Teshuva except for us.  It is up to every single individual to return to Hashem wholeheartedly.  We are only a few days from the Day of Judgment.  But, as we said in the Rosh Hashanah post, (from the Chiddushei HaRim zt”l), that is still enough time to correct the entire year.  These last days can be like an entire year if we, B’Ezras Hashem/with the Help of Hashem use them right and return to Hashem.  May Hashem, the King of kings, write and inscribe us all in the Book of Good Life, Amein vi’Amein. 

Have a wonderful, wonderful Shabbos everyone, and also a L’Shana Tovah U'mesukah, si’kaseivu vi’sichaseimu l’chaim!!!

Refoel Berel

[1]©.  Parshah In-Depth - Nitzavim.
[2]©.  Parshah In-Depth - Nitzavim.
[3]©.  Short Nitzavim Chassidic Vort:  Remember Us for A True Life.  Shiur given by Ari Mirzoeff shlita. 
[4]©.  Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5773.  Shiur given by HaRav Shalom Rosner shlita. 
[5]©.  Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5773.  Shiur given by HaRav Shalom Rosner shlita. 

A Rebbe Story: Yom Kippur in Babroisk

A Rebbe Story: Yom Kippur in Babroisk:

One Erev Yom Kippur, the Alter of Novhardok (HaRav Yosef Yoizel Hurwitz zt”l) happened to be in Bobroisk.  In Shul, he noticed an important looking Jew wearing leather shoes, on this day where leather shoes are forbidden. 

Reb Yosef Yoizel asked the Jew why he was wearing them, and the man replied that he had no socks, and he was embarrassed to be seen walking barefoot.  Without hesitating, Reb Yosef Yoizel took off his own socks, handed them to the man, and went barefoot all that Yom Kippur. 

At a later time, Reb Yosef Yoizel was asked why that man’s honor superseded his own.  And he replied that that man was a resident in Bobroisk, and it might hurt his position in the eyes of the town if he was seen walking barefoot. “But I am just passing through town” he continued “what do I care what they think of me?”[1] (However, we must know that even if he lived in that town, he likely would have done the same thing). 

What a big lesson!  A person should be so conscience of their fellow's honor, for that is the right thing.  Sometimes, it would even be best to spare their honor without sparing your own. 

We are coming into the Yom HaDin, and this would be a very opportune time to take this to heart, and B'Ezras Hashem, put it into action.  May we all be zocheh and may Hashem help everyone to, Amein vi'Amein. 

Have a wonderful, wonderful Shabbos everyone, and also a L’Shana Tovah U'mesukah, si’kaseivu vi’sichaseimu l’chaim!!!  May we all be written and inscribed in the Book of Good Life for a good healthy year, full of joy and Avodas Hashem, Amein. 

Refoel Berel

[1] Sparks of Mussar, pages 122-123.  By HaRav Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik zt"l.  Feldheim Publications Ltd©.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rosh Hashanah 5777

Rosh Hashanah 5777:

Most of Elul has already come and gone!  The special, special month, in which, it is easier to return to Hashem.  And we are already almost at Rosh Hashanah - the Day of Judgment.  So I think it is time to share with you all some inspiring insights on Rosh Hashanah - the time we are about to be at: 

Rosh Hashanah and the time around it are especially for Teshuva – returning to Hashem.  And during this year, we have strayed (in some ways)!  Try to think about a lot of what you (me, all of us) have done through the year.  I am sure that if we all look even a little hard, we will likely find a lot of sins and the like. 

But Hashem, in His Great Kindness has sent us a time like this that is, as we are told, an easier time to return to Him.  Also, He, in His Great Kindness has given us the Parshios at this time, which talk about Teshuva, to remind us, give us more encouragement, and to inspire us to do what we must right now.  The time is here!  Have any of us served Hashem even close to properly?!  Can any of us say that we have?  We have gone against Hashem, the Most Blessed, the Great King, for our own desires.  Do you realize just how awful this is?  Hashem is so, so kind to us and gives us only good, yet we find a way to still defy Him!  The gravity of this is more than any of us know, likely.  A lot of people think of a sin as “Well, it’s just one sin”, but it is much more serious than that!!  And if we think about it, we have really sinned a lot.  We have strayed far from Hashem!  So, with all this, how do we return to Him?

There is a Passuk in Tehillim (103:12), which says "As far as from east to west, so may Hashem distance our sins." There is a beautiful comment on this from HaRav Naftali Trop zt"l and the Chasam Sofer zt"l, which we will use to explain our above question:  At first, they say, this verse from Tehillim seems very strange:  The distance from east to west is huge!  However, they say beautifully, think about if a person is facing eastward.  If he now wants to turn to the west, all he has to do is just turn around!  Then you will be facing the proper direction.[1] 

So too, this is what we must do:  We might have been facing the wrong direction in life.  But we must just decide to return to Hashem!  Then we can turn around, so to speak, and be facing the right direction!  Then we must just follow this road, and stay on it all the way to the destination.  It is for every single person to do - turn around your life!  You can do it!  Everyone can!  We must remember this. 

But, we must know:  It is never too late.  No matter who we are, no matter what we do and have done, we can and must return to Hashem wholeheartedly and cling to Him.  And the time to do it is right now!  Some might, Rachmana Li’tzlan, get depressed about themselves though.  And they might think; “How can I even try to stand before Hashem?  I have sinned so much!” But the first verses of this week's parsha - Nitzavim - teach us otherwise:  The Torah says that all of us are standing before Hashem – all of us!  No matter who we are, we can still stand before Hashem, and return to Him.  You can never be too evil or too far to return!  Hashem, in His Great Kindness lets – not only that, but wants – everyone to come to Him and return. 

All of us are the children of Hashem, and there is no point where any of us are beyond return, as we have discussed.  No matter how far we feel from Hashem, He is still always there, and waiting patiently for us to return wholeheartedly and in truth to Him.  So let’s, B’Ezras Hashem try to do so right now!  It is time! 

In fact, the holy Reb Itzele Peterburger (HaRav Yitzchok Blazer zt”l) quotes from the Sages, who tell us that the Shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah confuse the Satan so that he will think that this is the Great Shofar, and Mashiach is here.  Even though for so many years we have been blowing Shofar, and Mashiach has not come, the Satan still thinks that maybe this year, we really did do Teshuva  and brought Mashiach.  Some people, says Reb Itzele, give up hope of getting better.  They say “I have lived through so many Rosh Hashanahs and heard so many Shofar blasts without doing Teshuva – I’m hopeless.” People who think along those lines, concluded Reb Itzele, are worse than the Satan himself.[2]

Hashem has given us all a holy Soul – part of Him, so to speak.  Don’t think that just because we haven’t done Teshuva yet doesn’t mean we won’t now:  True, we sinned this year, and defied Hashem; but now we are ready to do Teshuva!  We are not hopeless!  Nobody is!  We must remember this coming into the Day of Judgment. 

And remember; a good beginning is so important for the entire journey, and if we, B'Ezras Hashem Yisbarech, start 5777 off with true Teshuva, we will likely, B'Ezras Hashem, (if we keep the mindset with us) have a good year in serving Him. 

But what about the rest of this year?  It is lost, and what is done is done right?  The Chiddushei HaRim asks a very similar question about the Minchah prayer of Erev Rosh Hashanah:  We say in Shmoneh Esrei every single regular weekday "Bareich aleinu es hashana hazos...' - 'Bless upon us (for us) this year...' But he asks; how can we say this on Erev Rosh Hashanah?  What do we mean 'this year'?  The year is basically over!  There are only some hours (or days, as the case may be) left! 

Answers the Chiddushei HaRim beautifully:  Even with only some minutes left in the year, we can still correct the entire year.  As long as we return to Hashem in absolute truth, and say sorry and feel regret for all the sins of this past year, then we can correct the entire year!  Amazing!  Think about this! 

So now, it is time for all of us to think about what we are doing and what time is coming.  The Day of Judgment!  It is very, very soon!  And Hashem is waiting for us to return to Him and recognize Him.  And we must all do this.  We must!! 

And when we hear these last Shofar blasts of 5776, we must all remember, B'Ezras Hashem, what they are for:  The Rambam zt"l tells us that the Shofar blast is to wake us up from our slumber.  We have been essentially sleeping spiritually.  But now it is time to hear the Shofar, wake up, and return to Hashem Yisbarech, the King of kings, wholeheartedly and in truth. 

And may HaKadosh Baruch Hu help every single Jew to return completely and truly to Him, and stay with Him, right now and always, Amein vi'Amein, Kein Yi'hi Ratzon. 

I wish every single person a wonderful, wonderful night, a L'Shana Tovah U'mesukah, and Kesivah V'Chasima Tovah.  And may Hashem Yisbarech help everyone to have this, and may He inscribe us all in the Book of Life, Amein vi'Amein.

Refoel Berel

[1]  Selichot, Teshuva and Elul.  Shiur given by HaRav Noach Isaac Oelbaum shlita.  Also, The Torah of Brisk and other Gedolim:  Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.  Teshuvah: Changing direction.  Pages 32-33.  By HaRav Shimon Yosef Meller shlita. 
[2] Sparks of Mussar, pages 122-123.  By HaRav Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik zt"l.  Feldheim Publications Ltd©.  
[3]  Selichot, Teshuva and Elul.  Shiur given by HaRav Noach Isaac Oelbaum shlita. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Parshas Ki Savo

This Week’s Parsha – Ki Savo:
This week’s parsha is Ki Savo, and the first topic it talks about is Bikurim/first fruits.  We take the first ripened fruits, as we are told, of each of the seven species (according to Rashi zt”l quoting from Sifri), and bring them to the Beis HaMikdash, to the Kohen.  First off, the seven species are:  Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, dates, and olives.  But the point of this discussion lies in another thing:  I would like to talk a little bit about gratitude to Hashem and stuff like that.  HaRav Nosson Scherman shlita explains that the concept of Bikurim/first fruits represents the fact that we use everything for serving Hashem.  Even things that we invested so much hard work into, we give the first of it to Hashem.[1]  This is very important. 
And there are just so many things to be said on the topic of Bikurim/first fruits:  We take the first of our fruits of the seven species off for Hashem.  This is the foundation of Bikurim/first fruits.  Growing things take a long time, a lot of work, dedication, etc.  After all of our hard work, all we want is to receive the fruits of our labors, right?  But we have to always remember that it is not our work that really makes the fruits grow – it is Hashem!  It might be hard, though, to remember this throughout all the time it takes for things to grow, and we are liable, if we are not careful about it, to, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid forget Who really makes things grow.  But, behold, the truth of the matter is this:  How could we not, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid remember Hashem, when we realize that He is making our food grow?!  How could we possibly forget Him?!  Would we forget a king who provided for us for even a year?!  Yet the King of kings, HaKadosh Baruch Hu provides for us at all times!  Do we realize this?  And what does Hashem ask of us from all that He bestows upon us, aside from a tiny bit of the seven species?  With these thoughts in mind, how could we not remember Him the entire time that our fruits are growing, and after.  Another thing:  The first of things have a very special thing about them.  For example, imagine planting a blueberry bush and it takes however long to grow.  You are watering it, waiting, and watering it, and waiting, etc.  Finally, after a long time, you get some fruits.  Imagine how happy and excited you would feel at the moment that you pick your very first “home-grown” blueberry and are going to taste – after all that time!  After some time, you might not feel the same excitement, but the first time is very exciting.   

Bikurim/first fruits is when we take the first ripened (according to Rashi zt”l from Sifri) fruits of ours that grew, and instead of jumping and grabbing them for ourselves, we hold back our own excitement, and we realize that they are a gift from Hashem.  Then we designate them for Him.  Instead of taking the first for ourselves, we give it for Hashem!  We have to be able to control our emotions for ourselves, and channel them for Hashem.  Such as in this case, where we channel the excitement of the first fruits we have to the tune of designating them to Hashem.  An example in today’s world that is sort of like Bikurim/first fruits is that we get this great new thing, but before we use it, we say a Bracha/blessing, thanking Hashem for it.  We are so excited – we just got this great new thing!  But, wait, Hashem in the One Who lets us have it, so first we must take time to realize this, and show thanks to Him by saying a blessing.  This is sort of like what Bikurim/first fruits is.  Yet another thing:  My esteemed father, HaRav Chesler shlita discusses the fact that Bikurim/first fruits can also represent the fact that no matter what we get, we must always remember that it is from Hashem, and that thanks to Him and appreciation to Him comes first.  This is very similar to the idea we just discussed.  May Hashem help everyone to feel the proper gratitude to Him for all the good that He gives us, always, and may He redeem us from this Exile very, very speedily in everyone’s days, and then rebuild the Holy Beis HaMikdash, so that we can all bring Bikurim/first fruits once again, Amein, vi’Amein. 

Now on to the parsha:  The first verse of this parsha is ‘V’haya ki savo el ha’aretz asher Hashem Elokecha nosein li’cha nachalah, vi’rishtah, vi’yashavtah bah/And it will be when you will come to the Land that Hashem your G-d gives to you as an inheritance, and you take possession of it and settle in it.’  The verse after this discusses how we must take the Bikurim/first fruits, etc.  Thus, when we came into Israel, took possession of it, and settled in it, we had to bring the Bikurim/first fruits to the Beis HaMikdash, to the Kohen, and the Torah lists the procedure.  The first verse emphasizes that the Land is given to us by Hashem, and, as we know, all things that grow are in some way connected to the ground – the Land.  Thus, the first verse – the one before the Torah tells us about taking Bikurim/first fruits, teaches us to remember that the reason we can grow things, the reason we have the land to grow things on, etc. is solely because of Hashem.  With this in mind, we can then properly fulfill the Mitzvah/Commandment of Bikurim/first fruits. 

Back to the parsha:  There is a procedure that must be done and a thing we must say when we bring the Bikurim/first fruits, and the Holy Torah lists it.  This parsha just really talks so much about keeping the Commandments of Hashem and not breaking them.  So I’m just asking; why would the Torah talk about Bikurim/first fruits in the same parsha as the blessings and curses if we keep or, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid don’t keep the Commandments?  Perhaps the answer we can propose is that such an important thing in serving Hashem properly is gratitude to Him and remembering that it is He Who provides for us.  The Bikurim/first fruits, as we discussed above, can represent the concepts, among many others, of gratitude to Hashem, and remembering that it is He Who gives us everything.  This thing is just so important in serving Hashem, and it is such a huge foundation, that it comes at the very start of the parsha!  Thus we see how important in serving Hashem these concepts are. 

Okay, back to the parsha:  Shlishi/the third Aliyah talks about how we chose Hashem to be our G-d and to walk in His ways, to guard His decrees, statutes and ordinances, and to listen to Him.  And Hashem chose us to be His Treasured People, and to put us above all the other nations of the world.  We are Jews!  Hashem chose us to be a special people!  So we must be special.  Every single Jew is Hashem’s child; nobody can ever be too far to return completely to Hashem.  And now is a perfect time to be talking about this:  It is Elul, coming to the High Holidays.  This time is a time for Teshuva/repentance, and it is a time to try to return to Hashem.  I have to tell the truth; all of us have sinned in some way or another.  But don’t let your Yetzer Hara/Evil Inclination think that we are too far to return to Hashem.  He is waiting patiently for us to do Teshuva/repentance, and return back to Him.  The time is here!  It is time!  No need to wait:  We can return to Hashem wholly right this instant!  Let’s try to, B’Ezras Hashem/With the Help of Hashem do this.  We are soon going to be summoned to the Heavenly Court to be judged for all of our deeds.  We cannot hide any of our deeds from Hashem.  He knows everything!  Even if we sinned in private and no person ever knew about it, it is not at all hidden.  Hashem sees it clearly, and He judges us on it.  We are always standing (sitting, laying, etc.) before the Holies of Holies; the King of kings, the Judge of all judges – Hashem, He is Blessed!  All people must remember this.  We are always standing in the King’s Presence.  This topic could be discussed for so long, but we need to get back to the parsha, so back to the parsha: 

In Rivi’i/the fourth Aliyah, Moshe tells the Jews that when we cross over the Yardein/Jordan, we have to set up big stones, and write upon them the words of the Torah.  We had to write the words clearly, and Rashi zt”l quotes from Gemara Sotah 32a which explains that this means that the words had to be written in all seventy languages.  Wow!  At the beginning of Chamishi/the fifth Aliyah, Moshe commanded the Jews that when we entered Israel, the Tribes of Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissachar, Yosef (Menashe and Ephraim), and Benyamin would stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people.  And Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Don, and Naftali would stand on Mount Eival for the curse.  Rashi zt”l  quotes from Gemara Sotah 32a again, which explains that six Tribes (the ones listed above) would stand on Mount Gerizim, the other six Tribes (the ones listed above) would stand on Mount Eival, and the Kohanim, Leviim, and the Aron Kodesh/Holy Ark would stand in the middle of the two mountains.  The Leviim would turn their faces towards Mount Gerizim, and list a blessing, and everybody would answer “Amein”.  Then they would turn their faces towards Mount Eival, and list a curse, and everybody would answer “Amein”, and so on with all the others. 

Back to the parsha:  These are the curses that the Leviim would say, as the Torah says them listed in Italic:  ‘”Cursed be the man who makes any graven or molten image an abomination to the Lord, the handiwork of a craftsman and sets it up in secret”, and all the people shall respond, saying, “Amein!”. “Cursed be he who degrades his father and mother”, and all the people shall say, “Amein!”.  “Cursed be he who moves back his neighbor's landmark”, and all the people shall say, “Amein!”.  “Cursed be he who misguides a blind person on the way”, and all the people shall say, “Amein!”.  “Cursed be he who perverts the judgment of the stranger, the orphan, or the widow”, and all the people shall say, “Amein!”.  “Cursed be he who lies with his father's wife, thus uncovering the corner of his father's garment”, and all the people shall say, “Amein!”.  “Cursed be he who lies with any animal”, and all the people shall say, “Amein!”.  “Cursed be he who lies with his sister, his father's daughter or his mother's daughter”, and all the people shall say, “Amein!”.  “Cursed be he who lies with his mother in law”, and all the people shall say, “Amein!”.  “Cursed be he who strikes his fellow in secret”, and all the people shall say, “Amein!”.  (On this, Rashi zt”l quotes from Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, which explains that ‘striking his fellow in secret’ refers to the sin of Lashon Hara/Evil Speech – speaking badly of a fellow Jew behind their back).  “Cursed be he who takes a bribe to put an innocent person to death”, and all the people shall say, 'Amein!”.  “Cursed be he who does not uphold the words of this Torah, to fulfill them”, and all the people shall say, “Amein!”. 

After that, the Torah tells us that if we (B’Ezras Hashem/With the Help of Hashem!!) listen to Hashem and keep the Commandments, then we will get all these blessings, and the Torah lists a lot of blessings.  But then, in the middle of Shishi/the sixth Aliyah, the Torah tells us that if we (Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid!!) don’t listen to Hashem and keep the Commandments, then all these curses will come upon us, and the Torah lists a lot of curses.  We must all try our hardest – not just what we call “our hardest” to truly serve Hashem and keep His Holy Commandments always, and then He will give us the incredible blessing listed in this parsha. 

I will just quickly list one last ‘Rebbe commentary’ in this parsha report by quoting a beautiful thing from the holy Nikolsburger Rebbe (Rebbe Yosef Yechiel Michel Lebovits shlita) that I have listed before, but that is just so appropriate for right here:  He explains a beautiful concept in life: Hashem is always close to us (not physically, but spiritually), and He never moves away. However, how then can a person be far from Hashem? Answers the Nikolsburger shlita, if we, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid do aveiros/transgressions (sins) then Hashem does not move away from us – He never does. However, we move away from Him!!!  He is naturally close to us, and we are supposed to move even closer to Him – getting closer and closer always. 

But if a person, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid sins, then they move away and farther from Hashem. And Reb Lebovits shlita even goes further and explains that the person who moves away from Hashem will not receive the Berachos/Blessings which Hashem always sends us.  Hashem always sends us blessings, however, he explains beautifully, if a person, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid sins and moves farther from Hashem, then these blessings that Hashem always sends us won’t even reach us (again, spiritually)!!  Hashem continues to send us all the blessings, but they just don’t reach us, because we moved too far away. (This is a deep concept, and it requires thought or maybe a better explanation.  Also, it is not to be taken on a physical level. You can find the original text on Nikolsburg on Parshas Pinchas, with the title ‘Reward for Mitzvohs’)[2].  The first and final thing is to serve Hashem, Blessed is He, and keep His Commandments.  This is life, and there is nothing else.  May Hashem, the Blessed One help every single person serve Him to the highest level, forever, Amein vi’Amein, so may it be His Will. 
There are 122 pessukim/verses in this parsha.

And, there is one thing I would like to add:  I know it is sort of a Chabad “holiday”, but this week was Chai Elul.  What is Chai Elul?  It is the eighteenth of Elul, which is the birthday of both the Baal Shem Tov (Rebbe Yisroel Ben Eliezer zt”l) and the first Lubavitcher Rebbe – Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi zt”l.  So, even though a lot of likely don’t celebrate this day, it should still be remembered that it truly is a happy day for all. 

Have a wonderful, wonderful Shabbos everyone!!!

Refoel Berel

[1] Stone Edition Chumash, Parshas Ki Savo. Artscroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.©
[2]  Parshas Pinchas 5776 - Reward for Mitzvohs. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Parshas Ki Seitzei

This Week’s Parsha – Ki Seitzei:

This week’s parsha is Ki Seitzei, and it has a lot of Commandments.  I believe it actually has 72 Commandments.  But there is a different kind of thing I would like to, B’Ezras Hashem/With the Help of Hashem discuss in this introduction to the parsha:  This parsha falls in Elul, and there must be a reason for this.  Well, let us first look at the name of the parsha:  ‘Ki Seitzei’ literally means ‘When you will go out’.  This definitely ties in with the month of Elul, when we are supposed to; B’Ezras Hashem/With the Help of Hashem ‘go out’ from our evil ways.  And there is yet another connection in the name:  The Hebrew words כּי תצא' has the Gematria/numerical value of 521.  This is the same as the Gematria/numerical value of the word ‘אכּשׁר’ which means ‘I will Kasher’.  This is essentially what ‘going out’ from our evil ways is:  Kashering ourselves – repenting to Hashem for our “treife” acts, and becoming a “Kosher” person, so to speak.  It is a time when Hashem, makes it even easier to turn back to Him, and how could we not, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid, take advantage of this time of favor?!  Can you imagine a person being given this wonderful, amazing gift, just looking at it, and then disregarding it completely?!  Yet, Hashem gave us the incredible, incredible gift of the month of Elul and the Yomim Noraim/High Holidays, and we must utilize them to propel our service of Hashem forward.  True, every single time is a time to return to Hashem, but right now – in this time period, i.e. Elul and the High Holidays – Hashem has made it even easier for us to return to Him in truth.  Why would we not, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid take this wonderful opportunity?!  And using this time properly will, B’Ezras Hashem/With the Help of Hashem help us for these times, for the rest of the year, and for the next one, as well.  If we do Teshuva/repentance now, then it will help us for the next year.  If we haven’t already returned to Hashem, let us do so now!  “There is no time like the present”, as people like to say.  This goes for every single moment; at every single moment, we can get better and return to Hashem.  Each moment is a new opportunity for us!  But now back to the connections between this parsha and Elul:  This is a parsha that has many, many Commandments – more than most parshios!  And the name of the parsha, as we said before, is Ki Seitzei, which means ‘When you will go out’. 

So this can teach us, I think, that a way to go out from our evil deeds is to do a bunch of Mitzvos/Commandments and do good things (thus the many Commandments in the parsha called ‘Ki Seitzei/When you will go out’).  And this is very similar to an explanation of the Chiddushei HaRim (The first Gerrer Rebbe – Rebbe Yitzchok Meir Alter zt”l) on the words from Tehillim (34:15) ‘Sur mei’raa va’asei tov/Turn from evil and do good.’  He explains that these words teach us that a way for us to ‘turn from evil’ is to ‘do good’.[1]  On the physical level, we would say that if we are occupied with performing Commandments, and doing good things, we won’t have the time to even think about or do bad things.  However, spiritually, (and the truth of the matter is) if we do good things like we are supposed to, it will bring us closer to Hashem, and will make us more spiritual.  This will then make us on a higher level, and then things will feel different.  When you come closer to Hashem, you become farther from evil.  May HaKadosh Baruch Hu help every single person to ‘turn from evil, and do good’ – especially right now, in Elul and coming to Rosh HaShanah – but also at all times, Amein, vi’Amein. 
Now on to the parsha:  The first passuk/verse in the parsha is ‘Ki seitzei la’milchamah al oy’vecha, u’nisano Hashem Elokecha bi’yadecha, vi’shavisa shiv’yo/When you will go out to war upon (against) your enemies, and Hashem your G-d will deliver them (literally ‘him’) into your hand, and you will capture his captives.’  There are some nice Mefarshim/commentaries which I would like to share with you on this verse: 
1) The Baal HaTurim (Rabbeinu Yaakov ben Asher zt”l) explains that the Torah talks about ‘going out to war’, and he explains that it teaches us to be proactive in war, by ‘going out’ to our enemies, instead of having them come to us.  And I think that we can learn a big lesson from this:  Instead of waiting for our enemy, the Yetzer Hara/Evil Inclination to come and wage war on us and try to entice us to sin, we should ‘ go out to war’ on him!  Don’t wait for him to come to us, go out and fight him before he can even try to trap you. 
2) The Rebbe Reb Simcha Bunim of P’shischa zt”l explains that this passuk/verse teaches us a big lesson:  The Hebrew word ‘כּי’ can also mean ‘if’, and so Reb Simcha Bunim zt”l explains the verse this way:  ‘If you will, go out to war on your enemy’ – if we will truly wage war on our real enemy – the Yetzer Hara/Evil Inclination, and we will truly try to fight it, then ‘Hashem will deliver him into our hands’.[2]  Meaning that Hashem will make sure that we beat our Yetzer Hara/Evil Inclination if we really, really, truly try to beat it.  The obvious question does arise though; why do we sometimes lose to our Yetzer Hara/Evil Inclination even though we tried really hard?  Why didn’t Hashem make sure that we beat it?  An answer to this, I believe, is that when we say that “I tried my best” or “I tried so hard” we are not really telling the truth.  Do we even know how much Hashem makes us capable of?!  If we really tried our hardest, we wouldn’t have done whatever bad thing that we did.  And the fact that we did is a proof that we, in fact did not try nearly as hard as we should have.  This is a good thing to remember. 
3) The Chassidishe Masters harp on the words in this passuk/verse ‘Al oy’vecha/on your enemy’, and they explain that this is one of the things which we must concentrate on if in battle:  True, we interpret in this case the Hebrew word ‘על’ as implying ‘against’ but the true meaning of the word is ‘upon’.  So they explain that the way to win the battle against our enemies is to remain ‘upon our enemies’, meaning over them.  We must not fight evil on its own turf; we can’t stoop down to its level.  But rather, as this verse tells us, we must stay ‘upon’ our enemies.  And then, they conclude beautifully, as the verse says next ‘and Hashem your G-d will deliver them into your hands’ – meaning that if we stay spiritually above our enemies, then Hashem will make sure that we beat them.[3]  We could use this method, B’Ezras Hashem/With the Help of Hashem when dealing with the Yetzer Hara/ Evil Inclination, or in any situation dealing with a bad person (if we ever, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid, have to).  This is very important to remember in life. 
Alright, now back to the parsha:  The Torah discusses in this Aliyah the case if a man had two wives (having two wives is not a recommended thing though), one of them he loves and one of them he hates.  And the hated wife has the firstborn child, then the father still has to give the double portion that child, because he is still the firstborn.  Though he came from the hated wife, he has the rights to the double portion.  Now, what lesson does this case teach us for nowadays?  I believe that it can teach us to not let our emotions get in the way of things, as “Love” and “Hate” are emotions.  Though the man loves one wife and is personally partial to her, the rule (that the firstborn son gets the double portion) is the rule, and it must not be broken.  This goes for us in our lives:  Even if, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid, it is hard for us to keep a Commandment for some reason, for example, it will make us look bad to people, we cannot let that get in the way:  If Hashem, He is Blessed commanded something, it must be kept, no matter if we want to or not (Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid that we don’t).  However, let me add that, in reality, all of our Souls (as the Rambam and others explain) always want to do the right thing.  So, for real, our true selves, i.e. our Souls never ‘not want’ to do a good thing. 
Now back to the parsha:  The Torah also discusses a case if a man (Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid!) has a son who is extremely rebellious, and he does not listen to his parents even after they discipline him.  The parents then have to bring him to the Elders of the city, to the gate.  And they have to tell them ‘This son of ours is wayward and rebellious; he does not listen to us; [he is] a glutton and a guzzler.’  Rashi zt”l quotes from Gemara Sanhedrin 72b, which explains that there are specific things which the son must do for him to be categorized as a Ben Sorer U’Moreh (the child we are talking about here), and he lists the things.  However I will not get into them now.  So the kid who is a Ben Sorer U’Moreh was to be pelted with stones, and he would die.  Though the Torah lists the rules for it, we are told that, (Baruch Hashem!!) there never occurred a case like this, where we had to do the instructions which the Torah gives for it. 
So, at the beginning of Sheini/the second Aliyah, the Torah discusses if a person commits a sin for which they are to be put to death, and they are put to death, then we should hang him on a pole.  Wait, none of the four deaths administered by the court are hanging someone, right?  Ah, but Rashi zt”l quotes from Gemara Sanhedrin 45b, which explains that “All who are stoned [by the court] must [afterwards] be hanged”.  So anyway, the next verse tells us that we are not allowed to leave the body hanging on a pole overnight, rather, we should bury him on the same day he was put there, because a hanging human corpse is a blasphemy of Hashem. 
Now, Rashi zt”l quotes from Gemara Sanhedrin 46a, which explains that this is because we are created in Hashem’s Image (so to speak), so any defacement to a human body is almost, Ki’vi’yachol (literally ‘like it was able’, but we use it to say that we are using human terms to try to describe Hashem) like a defacement to Hashem.  The Alter of Slobodka (HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l) used to emphasize this concept very much. 
But, anyway, there is another commentary on this verse:  The Torah says that the corpse cannot be left hanging overnight; it has to be buried on the same day.  Says the Baal Shem Tov (Rebbe Yisroel ben Eliezer zt”l), our sins are like a corpse; and if we, Chas V’Shalom/Hashem forbid do one, then we must not let them ‘hang overnight’.  Rather, he explains beautifully, this verse teaches us that we must ‘bury them’ on the same day which we did them.  Don’t just wait for the Days of Teshuva/repentance (i.e., Elul, Rosh HaShanah, and Yom Kippur), repent for them on the very day which we did them!  We shouldn’t let a sin just “hang there”, so to speak, but rather, we should repent for it nearly once we realize that we have done it, with the intention to not return to it.[4]  This is very important to remember, take to heart, and, B’Ezras Hashem/With the Help of Hashem put it into action.

Back to the parsha:  This Aliyah also discusses Hashavas Aveidah/Returning lost articles.  In Shlishi/the third Aliyah, there is the Commandment of not planting kilayim/a mixture of seeds together.  Rashi zt”l quotes from Gemara Berachos 22b, which explains that the prohibition of planting seeds together means that we cannot plant different species of seeds in the same “throw of the hand” of each other. 
Anyway, towards the end of this Aliyah, the Torah tells us that an Ammoni or a Moavi cannot (ever) enter the congregation of Hashem (which means marry a Jewish woman, according to Rashi quoting from Gemara Yevamos 77b).  The Torah explains that this is because they did not greet us with bread and water on the way when we were going out from Mitzraim/Egypt, and because he (Balak, the king of Moav) hired Bilaam to curse us.  However, Hashem did not listen to  Bilaam’s curse; He turned it into a blessing, because He loves us.  The Torah says that we are not to seek their peace or their good all our days. 
The Radomsker Rebbe (I’m not quite sure which one) explains beautifully that this teaches us about goyim/non-Jews in general:  A lot of times, non-Jews (not all, of course) do what they want, and are pleasure seekers.  They like to live easy lives a lot of times as well, which to them is ‘peaceful’ and ‘good’.  Explains the Radomsker, this verse is telling us that we should not seek ‘their peace’ and ‘their good’ – meaning the ‘peaceful’ and ‘good’ lives that they have, which are easy.  Those are not the proper life to live; the proper way to live is to not live how we want, but how Hashem wants and told us to, whether it is easy or not.[5]  What a lesson for everyone! 
Okay, now back to the parsha:  The next Aliyos have a lot of rules, such as the laws of divorce, accurate measurements, etc.  And at the total end of the parsha, we are commanded to remember what Amalek (yi’mach shi’mo vi’zichro/obliterate his name and memory) did to us, when he happened upon us, and we must destroy their name from under the Heavens.  We must not forget! 

There are 110 Passukim/verses in this parsha.

Have a wonderful, awesome Shabbos everyone!!!!
[1]  Parshas Shoftim/Elul: Believing In Doing Good.  Shiur given by Ari Mirzoeff shlita. 
[2] Google Groups.  Be'er Mayim Chaim - Torah & ChassidusFwd: Torah Wellsprings - Ki Seitzei 5776:  Torah Wellsprings - Ki Seitzei 5776. 
[3]©.  Parshah In-Depth - Ki Teitzei.
[4]  Chassidic Gems:  Parashat Ki Tetzei.  Shiur given by HaRav Elyakim Rosenblatt shlita. 
[5]  Chassidic Gems:  Parashat Ki Tetzei.  Shiur given by HaRav Elyakim Rosenblatt shlita. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Rebbe Story: The Power of Bitochon

A Rebbe Story: The Power of Bitochon:

Sorry for not posting the Parshas Shoftim report.  However, here is a story which I saw that we all deserve to be able to read: 

So, one night, The Alter of Novhardok (HaRav Yosef Yoizel Hurwitz zt"l) was learning in his house of  solitude in the woods, and his only candle burned out.  Because of this, he was not able to continue his learning, and he was very upset about the Bitul Torah. 

But, Reb Yosef Yoizel zt"l , who was a total Baal Bitochon, had total faith that Hashem would help him.  He walked outside into the night air, and suddenly, a stranger (likely either Eliyahu HaNavi or a Malach) came up to him, handed him a candle, and disappeared.[1] Thus, Reb Yosef Yoizel was able to continue learning because Hashem had saved him. 

What a powerful story!!  Bitochon is a very important thing in life; as the Chazon Ish (HaRav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz zt"l) explained in his book Emunah U'Bitochon, Bitochon is the faith that Hashem controls the entire universe, and the things that happen to us in our every day lives our controlled by Hashem. 

With this in mind, why be scared of anything?  Why fear anything aside from the One Who controls everything?  Just go and serve Him and don't fear anything aside from Him!  And if we, B'Ezras Hashem understand this concept, then it will very much help our Avodas Hashem, He is Blessed. 

May HaKadosh Baruch Hu help every single person to rely on Him in all situations and at all times, and then we will all serve Him better.  And if we do this, then Hashem Yisbarech Shi'mo will send us Mashiach Tzidkeinu bi'm'heirah vi'yameinu, Amein, vi'Amein. 

Have a wonderful, awesome day everyone!!!

Refoel Berel

[1] Sparks of Mussar, pages 122-123.  By HaRav Chaim Ephraim Zaitchik zt"l.  Feldheim Publications©.  

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Rebbe Story: The Sanctity of Shuls

A Rebbe Story:  The Sanctity of Shuls:

Hello again everybody!  I would like to share with you this nice Rebbe story about the sanctity of the "Houses" of Hashem: 

Once, the Government officials came to Rimanov, and they said that they were taking the Shul to use as a warehouse for army supplies.  So the community leaders came to Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov zt"l for suggestions of how to save it.  One of the community leaders told Rebbe Menachem Mendel that maybe there was something that could save the Shul, because water leaked through the roof and it could damage supplies if they were stored there.  They could tell the Russians that, and then maybe they would not want to take the Shul anymore.  But Rebbe Menachem Mendel replied, "What?!  You have allowed the Shul to fall into disrepair?  No wonder this has happened!  Hashem has punished you for evidencing disrespect for His House.  Have the roof repaired immediately and see that all necessary repairs are done, and you will see that they will withdraw their plan." 

The townspeople did as Rebbe Menachem Mendel had said, and, miraculously, once the repairs had been made, they were informed that the Russians no longer needed it.[1] 

We might not have the Beis HaMikdash right now, (may Hashem rebuild it very, very speedily in our days), but we still have Shuls and Batei Midrashim!   They are His temporary Houses right now, and we cannot, Chas V'Shalom show them disrespect.  They are all we really have at this time!  This means we must not do things such as talking idle words in Shul, not behaving respectfully in Shul, etc.  And if we all act with the proper reverence in Hashem's Holy Houses, then He will rebuild His Permanent Holy House very, very speedily in our days.  May He do this extremely swiftly, Amein vi'Amein, so may it be His Will!!!

Have a terrific, awesome day everyone!!

Refoel Berel

[1] Four Chassidic Masters, page(s) 99-100.  A PocketScroll© book.  A Shaar Press© Publication.  By Rebbe Avraham J. Twerski M.D. shlita.