Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Teachings, Sayings and Stories: 2nd of Adar

Just as one must believe in Hashem, so too one must believe in himself.  This means that one must believe that Hashem is interested in him…… This is the meaning of the verse ‘the [nation] believed in Hashem and in Moshe His servant.  Moshe represents all 600,000 Yidden of that generation.  They believe that Hashem desires them and that He has Nachas Ruach from their good side….” (From Tzidkas HaTzaddik 154; by Rebbe Tzaddok HaKohen of Lublin zt”l)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Teachings, Sayings and Stories: Rosh Chodesh - 1st of Adar

Anyone who gets angry, all kinds of Gehinnom rule over him.” (Gemara Nedarim 22a)

Parshas Mishpatim 5777

פּרשׁת משׁפּטים

Okay then; with Hashem’s Help, I would like to give around 10 hopefully inspiring insights on the parsha:  

1) So the first word of this parsha (as we mentioned before) is ‘Vi’Eileh/And these’.  Rashi HaKadosh comments from Midrash Tanchuma (the first part) and Mechilta (the second part), and says: “All places where it says ‘Eileh/these’ it disqualifies [i.e. is not connected so much to] what came before.  ‘Vi’Eileh/And these’ - it adds onto what came before.  Just as as what came before [i.e. The Ten Commandments] were from Sinai; so too these are from Sinai.”

Explains HaRav Shlomo Yosef Zevin zt”l:  The Nations of the world have laws - and so do we.  But the difference between them is in the Vav at the start of this parsha - because it means that our laws between Man and his fellow all came from Hashem at Sinai.  (Of course all did).  They are not for the betterment of society or based on human logic like the rules of the other Nations; no; they are straight from the G-d of the World.

The rules that the Nations make up cannot withstand someone who has a desire; the person will be able to find any excuse to break them.  But our Laws are from Hashem, and can withstand desires.  They are from the King. (From LaTorah V’LaMoadim).

2) As we know, most children begin learning Gemara with Masechta Bava Metzia - dealing with Halachos regarding theft, guarding, damages, etc.  

So, some teachers once wished to change this custom - and start with Gemara Berachos, and they asked HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l what he thought.  And he answered them that the custom should not be changed:  To be a good Jew, to Daven properly, etc. when you are in the Beis Midrash or something like that is very important.  However, it is harder to keep all the Halachos and be a good person in the street - dealing with people.  And people need to learn the rules regarding Man and his fellow at a young age, in order to stay on the True Path even while dealing with people. (Quoted in Yam Simcha).

3) So, the first rule really in this parsha is the law of an Eved Ivri - Hebrew Slave.  But many ask; why is this specifically the first law in this parsha full of Commandments?  Why this one first?  

Baruch Hashem, an answer came to me:  And let’s start out with three points:  

#1, What is a slave?  Someone who has to do someone else’s will instead of theirs.  They have less Mitzvos, and they also have to take more time working for their human master - and have less time to serve the Real Master.  

#2, The Sages tell us that this person who was a Hebrew Slave had to become one because they stole and could not pay back.

And #3, As I have quoted many times, the Rambam zt”l in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah tells us that everyone actually wants to do what Hashem says.  That is what we want.  But our Yetzer Hara tries to enslave us to himself and make us do what he wants instead, (may Hashem save us all).

Now let’s put these all together:  In the first Commandment of this parsha, Hashem wants to teach us what freedom is:  He wants to let us know that we have the choice to be free - to do what is right.  But, on the other hand, to have to listen to a human being (including our own body and materiality) instead of Hashem, Chas V’Shalom, is being a slave.  

And there is another thing we can infer from it:  Being a slave is not exactly the most fun thing, often.  Probably not the best life.  But this person had to become a slave because they enslaved themselves to their Yetzer Hara.  This should serve as a lesson for us that bad things come out of sins.  You think you’re going to get great stuff and feel good if you satisfy the will of your Yetzer Hara?  No; on the contrary; you will not feel good, and in fact, you will suffer.  

4) The Torah says ‘If you acquire a Hebrew slave, six years he shall work and in the seventh year he shall go free at no cost.’

Teaches us the Nikolsburger Rebbe shlita (partly based on something from Rebbe Yisroel M’Kozhnitz zt”l):  If a person wants to acquire being a Hebrew slave - meaning to be a servant of Hashem - they should work on themselves all week (six years symbolizing six days); and then on Shabbos, they will be free from their Yetzer Hara! (From Nikolsburg.org).

5) Okay; so, the Hebrew Slave serves for 6 years, and in the 7th, they go free.  However, if they choose not to, and they want to stay; the verse says ‘His master shall bring him to the judges, and he shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever.’

So, HaRav Dov Weinberger shlita quotes from Rashi HaKadosh: “Says Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai: ‘The ear that heard on Har Sinai ‘You shall not steal’ and went and stole; shall be bored [with the awl].  And if he sold himself, the ear that heard on Har Sinai ‘For to Me the Bnei Yisroel shall be servants’ and he went and acquired a [human] master for himself, shall be bored [with the awl].’” (From Gemara Kiddushin 22b).  

Asks Rav Weinberger shlita - a question that is asked by some; why is the slave’s ear now pierced, if he went and stole or acquired a human master for himself 6-7 years ago; why wasn’t his ear pierced then?  Why now?  

And he answers beautifully that this slave is wanting to stay in the same place.  He is happy with his life as a slave - not moving forward.  And that attitude, says Rav Weinberger shlita, deserves having the ear pierced by the awl. (From Shemen HaTov).

6) Hashem tells us that we should be holy people to Him.  The Kotzker Rebbe zt”l used to emphasize that Hashem wants holy people. (Quoted in Sfas Emes).

7)  The Torah says towards the end of the fourth Aliyah that if we see the ox or donkey of our enemy wandering we must return it to our fellow.  

Says the Chofetz Chaim zt”l:  If the Torah cares so much that we return an item of our fellow to them - then surely it cares so much about returning our fellow themselves:  

Sometimes, may Hashem save us all, people wander from the proper way - the way of Torah.  And it is our job to return them.  

And he adds that most people who sin are actually not doing so to anger Hashem - rather, they are just wandering….

8) In this parsha is the Commandment that should be taken to heart more - the Commandment not to lie.  The Torah says ‘From a false word you shall stay far away’:  

Rebbe Simcha Bunim M’Peshischa zt”l comments on this, and explains that this is the only time in the Torah where we are commanded to stay far away from something.  So badly does Hashem hate falsehood that He commands us to stay far away from it. (Quoted in The Stone Edition Chumash).  And I might just add that falsehood is actually perhaps the root of all evil.

9) The Torah tells us in the last verse of this fifth Aliyah ‘The choicest of the first fruits of your land you shall bring to the House of the Hashem your G-d; you shall not cook a kid [baby goat] in its mother's milk.’

So, Rebbe Yitzchok Isaac M’Kaalov zt”l explains the connection between the two parts of the verse:  Some people think that they can wait until they are old to do Teshuva, because their parents lived a long time, so they probably will.

But he says that the above verse implies that the baby goat is of course dead - but it does not say that the mother is.  Therefore we can say that she is not.  

So the verse teaches us this, he explains:  We need to bring the first of our fruits - our strength and energy when we are young - to the House of Hashem.  Meaning that we must return to Hashem when we are young if we need - who doesn’t?? (Of course, though, if we are already older and need to repent - we should do so now.)  

A person cannot wait until they are old because how does anyone know if they will live as long as their parents did - or even close?

10) The Ibn Ezra zt”l says that when Moshe Rabbeinu went up on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights to receive the Torah, it was the biggest Miracle.  What causes him to say this?

Explains HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt”l; as we are told, Moshe Rabbeinu asked to become even a fly to stay more time in this world.  He wanted every precious second to be able to serve Hashem!  Yet he gave up so much time going up to Heaven to receive the Torah for the Jews.  He was willing to do this for the Jews.  This was perhaps the biggest Miracle. (Told over by HaRav Shalom Rosner shlita on OU.org).
There are 118 verses in this parsha.  
I wish everyone a wonderful week!!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Mussar Drosha: Mishpatim

Mussar Drosha: Mishpatim:

Baruch Hashem, we are now heading into Parshas Mishpatim - a parsha with a lot of Commandments - 53, according to the Sefer HaChinuch!

But, unfortunately, there is a very common phenomenon regarding rules:  Often times, people (at least myself) don’t seem to be as excited or inspired to learn about them.  We aren’t as fiery and passionate about them - especially the ones regarding things which almost seem boring (Chas V’Shalom!).  So why is this?  How could we possibly find a Commandment boring?  

Whether we know it or not, a lot of times it may be because we don’t feel Hashem in them.   Laws of primary damagers and subcategory damagers are not nearly as uplifting, inspiring and connecting as when Hashem revealed Himself at Sinai, right?  So oftentimes, we won’t be as zealous or excited to learn them.  But this is sort of a problem……

So, let’s first ask; what is a Mitzvah really?  Is it just a rule?  Absolutely not.  It is the Word of Hashem - His Command.  It is a vehicle to come closer to Him; to get blessings in This World and the Next; the key to having a good and meaningful life, and so much more!  It is not a restriction; it is a gift…...

The Word of Hashem; this is such an important thing to realize - and perhaps realizing it is the solution to our problem:  

Think about it deeply; all the rules we keep and perform in our everyday lives are Hashem’s Word.  The things that the G-d of the entire World spoke!  They are so holy!

The Torah says when “introducing” the Ten Commandments: ‘And G-d spoke all these words, saying.’ So, as I have quoted before, the Maggid of Mezeritch zt”l asks (quoted in Likutei Sichos); why does the Torah here say ‘saying’?  We are told that when the Torah says ‘saying’, it means that we should say over to others this thing.  But wait; he says; the Midrash tells us that every single Jewish Soul that would come into the world was at Har Sinai!  So there is nobody else to say this over to - since we were all there!

And I believe we can explain it in the following manner (very similar to what he answered):  When it says ‘saying’, it is trying to teach us how to view the entire Torah:  As Hashem speaking - ‘saying’ to us.  

It is not just words on parchment (or paper) - they are literally Hashem’s Words; and He is speaking them to us.  He didn’t just speak them to us at Sinai; He says them to us every day!  The Torah is Hashem speaking to us personally!

And a proof for this:  What is the first word of this parsha?  ‘Vi’Eileh/And these’.  Rashi HaKadosh comments from Midrash Tanchuma, and says: “All places where it says ‘Eileh/these’ it disqualifies [i.e. is not connected so much to] what came before.  ‘Vi’Eileh/And these’ - it adds onto what came before.”

Meaning that this parsha is connected to last one!  And what was in last one?  Hashem revealing Himself at Sinai, speaking to us and giving us the Ten Commandments!  

And Rashi HaKadosh says further from Mechilta: “Just as as what came before [i.e. The Ten Commandments] were from Sinai; so too these are from Sinai.”

Meaning that this parsha - which is full of rules, some of which might not feel the same - is also Hashem speaking to us!  And when we realize that all Commandments are Hashem speaking to us - how can we not be inspired or excited?  How can we not be excited to read them as we know that Hashem is speaking to us personally with personal messages in all of the Laws for our lives specifically?!  Hashem, in His Infinitely Great Wisdom gave us such deep and uplifting Commandments, which guide us - each in their own way - through life.  

So now we see the solution:  Some Laws might seem “less inspiring”, and not as easy to feel Hashem in.  But when we realize that they are all Him speaking directly to us, then both of those things just slip away…… Not one Mitzvah is less important:  Any and every one we do are extremely important to Hashem.  

And when you perform a Mitzvah, it is not just obeying what Hashem said so long ago; no.  It is obeying what He said on that very day in His Torah.  The Torah is Eternal.  

In truth, we should be excited and inspired to learn every bit of the Torah - but we must feel the warmth and Hashem in it.  

When we learn Hashem’s Torah, He, in His Great Kindness, is right there, speaking to us personally; but can you hear Him?  In every single word (and, of course, Commandment), He is there, but the question is; do you feel Him?

I wish everyone a wonderful, Kedushadikke week.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Parshas Yisro 5777

פּרשׁת יתרוֹ

Okay; so, with Hashem’s Help, I would like to list at least 10 hopefully inspiring insights on this parsha:  


1) So, Yisro came to the Jewish People to convert, and one of the things he said was ‘Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the “other gods” for in the matter that they plotted against them.’


So, there are many commentators who say a beautiful explanation on this:  They explain that Yisro saw that the Egyptians got punished for even the stuff which they plotted to do to the Jews - and Hashem thwarted.  Yisro, who Gemara Sotah says was one of Paroah’s advisers, would know Hashem’s Wonders more than the Jews, even!  


And there is a wonderful story on this:  There was a wealthy minister who hated all Jews - but his Jewish neighbor more than the rest.  His neighbor happened to be a very saintly man, who got up very early every morning to go to the Beis Midrash, and come home very late at night.  So, one time, the minister plotted to kill this Jew.  He sent out a servant to go and dig a ditch on the route that the Jew would take every morning to the Beis Midrash.  But since he would get up before dawn even, it would still be dark, he wouldn’t see the ditch, and he would fall in and break his neck!  


But that evening, the good Jew had a distinguished guest over; they dined together, and they dallied over the meal, talking in learning until late at night.  The good Jew went to bed much later than usual and overslept the next morning.  By the time he left his house for the Beis Midrash, it was already light!  When he came to the ditch, he went around it and continued on his way.  


The minister was certain that the Jew had met his death that morning, and rushed out to examine the ditch.  To his surprise, he saw the Jew on his way to the Beis Midrash!  He ran up to him and asked “Why are you so late this morning?” The righteous Jew explained to him about his guest and he had gone to sleep so late.  


The minister could not hide his wonder at his enemy’s escape, and cried out “Praised be the G-d of the Jews Who devises all kinds of ways to rescue His devoted sons!” (From Tales of Tzaddikim; Shemos)


2) So, as we know, Yisro comes and makes a very public conversion.  Makes a “big splash”, etc.  Asks HaRav Yosef Tzvi Salant zt”l; why was all this needed?  


And he answers beautifully that Yisro was rectifying what Amalek (YM”S) did.  They publicly attacked Hashem’s Nation and, as Rashi HaKadosh tells us from Tanchuma (at the end of  Parshas Ki Seitzei), they cooled us down.  We were “boiling hot” - no nation would attack us.  But when they did, they “cooled us down”, and made it more likely that nations would want to attack us.  They tried to make it like there was nothing special about the Jewish Nation.  So Amalek did a lot of terrible things!


So Yisro heard about this, explains Reb Yosef Tzvi zt”l, and he wanted to rectify it by making his conversion as public as possible.  Then everyone would hear about this tremendous Kiddush - a priest who had tried all types of idol worship (see Rashi HaKadosh) converting to become one of Hashem’s Nation proudly! (From Sefer Be’er Yosef Al HaTorah)


3) There is a question asked and discussed by many commentators:  What did Yisro hear from Moshe Rabbeinu about what Hashem had done that he hadn’t heard already?  Why did he rejoice when he Moshe Rabbeinu told him?


Says HaRav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l; hearing it from a great man makes a huge difference.  Yisro might have heard about a lot of Hashem’s Awesome Miracles; but it’s not the same as hearing it from a great man.  And that is why, he explains, he specifically rejoiced, etc. after Moshe Rabbeinu told him about the Great Miracles. (Quoted in Sefer Shalheves Yosef)


4) So, Yisro brings Tzipporah with him, and Gershom and Eliezer, as well.  Asks HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (among others);  why did he name Gershom (that he sojourned in a foreign land) - the older son - this name, when this happened after Hashem saving him from Paroah’s sword (Eliezer)?  Not only this; what good thing is the name ‘Gershom’ - meaning because he was a stranger in a foreign land?  What is that?


And he answers beautifully that the name Gershom was thanking Hashem for helping me remain a stranger (sojourner) in the land of Midyan, and not become a resident there, becoming like them.  


But this is why he named the firstborn son Gershom and the second son Eliezer, says Reb Moshe zt”l:  Because Hashem helped him to stay separate from other nations; but only because he stayed separate from the Goyim, was it applicable and “worth it” for Hashem to save him from the sword of Paroah. (From Sefer Darash Moshe)


5) This will be a very short insight - but it just so powerful: The Torah tells us that Aharon and all the Elders of Israel came to eat bread with Yisro before G-d.  Says Rashi HaKadosh from Mechilta and Targum Yonasan zt”l:  


And where did Moshe go?  And was it not him who went out to greet him [Yisro] and made for him all the honor?  Rather, he was standing and serving them.”


Moshe Rabbeinu, perhaps the greatest man to ever live was waiting on them and serving them!  Great people treat themselves like they are small; “small” people treat themselves like they are great.


6) Okay; so, as we know, Yisro saw Moshe Rabbeinu judging the people and he thought it wasn’t the right way to do it - and he advised Moshe Rabbeinu to set up judges who would judge the “small” matters.  


Now, when listing who the judges should be, he listed some pretty fine qualities!  Says HaRav Shimshon Dovid Pinkus zt”l:  Yisro here was teaching us that there doesn’t just have to be one big Gadol; there can be many leading Rabbonim.  


But Moshe Rabbeinu, he explains, as we can see, chose people who had some of the qualities - but, according to Rashi HaKadosh in Sefer Devarim, he couldn’t find people who had all the qualities.  


Moshe Rabbeinu was teaching us, says Rav Pinkus zt”l, that, even though the people going down the line might be on a lower level (the Rebbeim today might not be as great as, say the Baal Shem Tov zt”l), they are still leaders.  


But Hashem went even farther than that, he explains beautifully:  At Har Sinai, Hashem made it clear that all of us - every single person can be a great leader. (From Sefer Tiferes Shimshon Al HaTorah)


7) In the fourth Aliyah, the Torah says ‘And Moshe ascended to the G-d and Hashem called to him from the mountain saying; so shall you say to the House of Yaakov and tell to the Bnei Yisroel.’  


Says Rashi HaKadosh from Mechilta: “‘To the House of Yaakov’; these are the women.  Say it to them in a gentle language.” And he further says from Mechilta and Gemara Sanhedrin 87a: “‘And tell to the Bnei Yisroel’; the punishments and details you shall explain to the males, things that are as harsh as wormwood.”


Says HaRav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l:  This teaches us that we must express the Torah properly to who we are telling it over to.  We must say it in a way that it will make an effect on them, etc.  We must know how to transmit Torah properly to each individual.  


And he quotes from HaRav Yeruchom Levovitz zt”l, who says that if we knew how to transmit Torah properly, every non-Jew would convert, because of how beautiful it would be. (From Shiurim M’HaRav Shlomo Wolbe)


8) So, in the sixth Aliyah, Hashem gives us the Ten Commandments:  


The Torah says ‘And G-d spoke all these words, saying.’  Asks the Maggid of Mezeritch zt”l; why does the Torah here say ‘saying’?  We are told that when the Torah says ‘saying’, it means that we should say over to others this thing.  But wait; he says; the Midrash tells us that every single Jewish Soul that would come into the world were at Har Sinai!  So there is nobody else to say this over to - since we were all there!


And he answers beautifully that it is to teach us that we must read the Torah in a way that it really speaks to us.  It shouldn’t just be words - but we need to read it in a way that it really hits home and inspires us as it should. (Quoted in Likutei Sichos)


9) But I might add a slightly different suggestion, and another answer:  #1, Perhaps the Torah is telling us that we need to say these words over to ourselves - we need to constantly remind ourselves of these Words for all generations.  


#2, But it also could be that the Maggid’s question is very simple (so to speak):  Perhaps we may say that even though we were all at Har Sinai, hearing the Words from Hashem; we must continue to tell them over for all centuries.  


10) Says the Abarbanel zt”l (I am putting his teaching very briefly):  The Ten Commandments are rules of everyday life because Hashem wants to show us that He is part of our lives.  Hashem is here in our everyday lives.  


11) Okay; so, as we know, the Third Commandment is that we are not allowed to use Hashem’s Name for no reason.  Hashem says ‘Lo sisa es Shem Hashem Elokecha lashav…./You shall not take the Name of Hashem your G-d in vain….’


Teaches us the Chofetz Chaim zt”l: ‘Sisa’ can also mean ‘to carry’.  We all carry the Name of Hashem on us, says Reb Yisroel Meir zt”l, and we must make sure that we do not carry It around in vain.  We must carry Hashem’s Name truthfully. (Quoted in Sefer V’Karasa L’Shabbos Oneg)


12) Two thoughts on the Tenth Commandment - not to covet:  Asks the Ibn Ezra zt”l; how can the Torah command us to control our emotions?  Our actions; okay, but our emotions?  Can a person really make sure that they are not jealous?


And he answers by way of a parable:  If a peasant were to see a princess, he would n’t covet her - because he would never dream of her ever marrying him.  She is beyond him!  Similarly, he says, a person would never think they could growing wings and flying.  


Says the Rav Avraham zt”l:  If a person realized that everything that another person has was given to them specially by Hashem, and it is just as inaccessible to us as the princess to the peasant, we wouldn’t covet.  


13) Okay; last insight for this Dvar:  The Torah says ‘You shall not covet the house of your fellow; you shall not covet the wife of your fellow; his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, and all that belongs to your fellow."


Asks HaRav Yaakov Galinsky zt”l:  Why does the Torah say all these specifics and then the overall?  


And he answers beautifully:  We sometimes desire something that our fellow has; whatever specific thing it may be.  But the Torah is telling us - you might look at certain specific things that you fellow has; but you should look at all that they have.  Because Hashem has given us all a certain portion - with lots of specific things.  And if you have one thing of your fellow; then you must have his entire portion - even with all their hardships - for that thing comes with their portion.


Concludes Reb Galinsky zt”l:  “And this is what is said: ‘And all that belongs to your fellow’; do not look at the specific this or another thing.  Look at all that is to your fellow, and certainly, you won’t covet anything…..” (Quoted in lots of Sefarim)


There are 72 verses in this parsha:  

I wish everyone a wonderful week, filled with holiness!