Friday, August 31, 2018
Parshas Ki Savo
‘And you shall take from the first of all the fruit of the ground, that you bring in from your land that Hashem your G-d gives to you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place which Hashem will choose to dwell His Name there.’ (Devarim 26:2)
This is the Commandment of Bikkurim -- First Fruits. When the Beis HaMikdash stood (may it soon stand once again), we would take the first of all the seven species of produce which Israel is known for (see Rashi HaKadosh to the second verse), put it a basket, and bring it to the Beis HaMikdash. But what about now; what about when we don’t have a Beis HaMikdash and cannot perform Bikkurim in the prescribed way? How can we, in a way, fulfill it?
Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa zt”l asks a very similar question -- and he gives an answer too: Says the Rebbe Reb Bunim zt”l: In our generation, we can keep the Mitzvah of Bikkurim by making the beginning of the day holy. (Instead of sanctifying the first fruits, we sanctify the first moments of the day). After rising in the morning, our first thoughts, words, and deeds should be dedicated for the Service of Hashem.
‘And you shall rejoice in all the good that Hashem your G-d gave to you…’ (Devarim 26:11)
If read in a slightly different fashion, the verse can be understood as ‘And you shall rejoice in all/everything -- the good. . .’ How do we rejoice in all that happens? When we understand and realize that everything -- yes, even the difficult things -- are really good and for our benefit.
‘This day Hashem your G-d commands you to do these Decrees and Ordinances, and you shall guard and you shall do them with all your heart and with all your Soul.’ (Devarim 26:16)
Every day, they should be new in your eyes, as if on that day you were commanded regarding them.
(Rashi HaKadosh from Midrash Tanchuma)
Maaseh: A person once came to the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l (named after his great-grandfather, the Alter of Slabodka zt”l), and asked him what he should think of (i.e. what concentrations/intentions he should have) when he blew the Shofar.
Now you would expect that perhaps the Rosh Yeshiva would reply that he should study Zohar and make sure to learn all the Halachos of blowing Shofar very well (which are, of course, also very important), but Rav Nosson Tzvi zt”l answered one word: “Others.”
(Heard from my Rebbe, HaRav Elyakim Rosenblatt shlit”a)
A Gut Shabbos to all!
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Friday, August 24, 2018
‘You shall not see the donkey of your fellow or his ox falling on the way, and conceal yourself from them; you surely raise it up with him.’ (Devarim 22:4)
One is obligated to help load the burden back onto the animal (see Rashi HaKadosh). However, explains the Sifri, if the owner of the animal goes and says to the person that basically, since there is a Mitzvah upon them to help, then they should go ahead and do so, and they themselves do not aid in the job, then the person is exempt from helping reload the animal.
Says the Chofetz Chaim zt”l: So it is with a person; if we sanctify ourselves below [i.e. here on earth], then we are sanctified from Above [i.e. aided in the process]. If a person asks Hashem at the end of Shemoneh Esrei ‘Guard my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking deceit’, and they themselves try to be careful not to do those things, then from Heaven they will be helped. But if a person just flings this behind their back, as it were, and doesn’t do anything to actually try to guard from speaking such things; how can they petition the above Tefillah from Hashem?!
And similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, we ask in our Tefillah, ‘And enlighten our eyes in Your Torah’: But if we do not, immediately after Davening, go and learn, then our Tefillah is not accepted!
This is like someone who asked their fellow to lend them a certain sum, and the lender agrees to do so, but he asks that the person come to his house, and there he would give him the loan. Now if the borrower is slack in going, he certainly cannot be upset against the lender for not lending to him!
So too is the matter in our case; a person petitions HaKadosh Baruch Hu to enlighten their eyes in His Torah, and Hashem answers, “Good is the thing that you requested; return to the table and take a Gemara or a Mishnayos [or any sefer] in your hand, and I will enlighten your eyes.”. . .
(Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah)
Gut Shabbos to All!
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Friday, August 17, 2018
‘Judges and officers you shall put for yourself in all your gates…’ (Devarim 16:18)
Various Gedolim explain: We, personally, must appoint “judges” at all of our “gates”. Meaning: We must judge what goes out from or comes into (depending) our mouth, nose, eyes, ears, etc.
As an example, before we say something, let us think how it may affect people. Perhaps it will hurt someone’s feelings! Prior to employing our senses, we must contemplate what Hashem would want us to do.
‘Judges and officers you shall put for yourself (תתן לך)…’ (Devarim 16:18)
Asks HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l; here, with the appointment of authority, why is the word לך, for yourself, used?
But it is to teach, says Reb Moshe, that the judge and the officer that you will appoint; this will be a gift to you, that you will learn from them how to conduct yourself with righteousness and with justice, and in all the traits and the way of the Service of Hashem Yisbarach. And it turns out that it is a gift from you to yourself.
‘Righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue’ (Devarim 16:20)
Says Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa zt”l: One must pursue righteousness with righteousness. Righteous things cannot be sought with the wrong means. Both what you are seeking and how you seek it need to be righteous.
‘Righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue’ (Devarim 16:20)
The fact that the Torah says ‘righteousness’ twice teaches us a valuable lesson: So many of us strive for righteousness. But what if, when we try, things get in the way, may Hashem help us? Or perhaps it feels very far away from us? What should we do?
The verse tells us: ‘Righteousness, righteousness’ -- righteousness and holiness may not come right away, but keep trying. Twice, thrice, and many more times. You will get there, with the aid of Hashem.
Parshas Shoftim falls out in the month of Elul: A person might, Chas V’Shalom think that since they have gone through so many Eluls and have tried to change, but have always gone back to their old habits -- how are they going to become better? Will now be any different?*
But we must take to heart the above message and keep trying. Because, as we are taught, if the Torah says it, you can do it.
* See HaMeoros HaGedolim pages 153-154.
Maaseh: One time, when HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt”l was with his students, one of the important baalei batim (pl. of baal habayis; head of household) entered to ask him a question. Around the beginning of the conversation, Rav Yisroel sighed a very, very deep sigh, and those near him did not know the reason why.
Afterwards, Rav Yisroel explained: “At the moment that the respected baal habayis came before me, I saw and I was very embarrassed, for the sleeve of my garment at that time was torn. But afterwards, I raised a kal vachomer (a fortiori) in myself: If before flesh and blood [i.e. a human being], the shame covered my face because of a light tear in the sleeve of my garment, how great and bitter will be the shame in the World to Come, if all the tears and stains that are in the Soul are not fixed while there is still time!”
A Gut Shabbos to all!
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Friday, August 10, 2018
‘See I put before you today a blessing and a curse.’ (Devarim 11:26)
Says HaRav Zelig Pliskin shlit”a: On the first word of this verse, Re’eh, the Ibn Ezra zt”l comments: “He (Moshe) is talking to each one individually.”
Although Moshe was speaking to the entire Jewish People, says Rav Pliskin, he started off in the singular to tell everyone to listen to what he had to say as if he were speaking to him alone. When someone is delivering a lecture or giving a class, it is easy to think, “He is speaking to everyone else here. I don’t have to take what he says seriously since he is not really directing his words to me.” But this is an error. The way to grow from lectures and classes is to view the words of the speaker as if they were directed only to you. Try it out. The next time you are in an audience listening to inspiring words tell yourself, “The speaker has me in mind. Let me see how I can utilize what he says for self-improvement.”*
(Growth Through Torah)
* This is, in fact, also how we should learn Mussar: As if the words are directed exclusively at us.
‘If there will arise in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream…saying: “We will go after other gods…and we will serve them.” You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of a dream…and that prophet or that dreamer of a dream shall be put to death…’ (Devarim 13:2-4,6)
We now read the portion dealing with a meisis u’madiach -- someone who, Rachmana Litzlan (may Hashem save us), tries to lead people to worship idols.
Says the Alter of Kelm [HaRav Simcha Zissel Ziv zt”l]: With a meisis u’madiach, it is written ‘who sought to cause you to stray’ -- even though he wasn’t successful in his quest, nevertheless, he is still liable to death.
Since we know that Hashem’s reward for a good deed is bigger than His punishment for a bad one, when a person endeavors to bring merit to their fellow and to bring them to Teshuva, how great is their merit (reward)!
‘You are children to Hashem your G-d; you shall not cut yourselves…’ (Devarim 14:1)
The Midrash uses a play on the word for not cutting ourselves (תתגּדדוּ) and says that we should not make different groups (אגדות) and be arguing with each other. However; says the Chofetz Chaim zt”l, about groups who are arguing, it says that we should not cut ourselves -- or, as applied here, break into different factions. But there is nothing wrong with two Rabbinical Courts being in one city (Gemara Yevamos 14a).
And one time, the Chofetz Chaim zt”l was asked by someone, why does the world need Chassidim and Misnagdim (non-Chassidim, in this case)? And even amongst Chassidim there are many different sects. There are those who engage more in learning, others more with Davening, and there are yet others who put a strong focus on song and praise or dancing. What is the world lacking -- couldn’t there just be one group of Judaism with the same customs in things?
To this the Chofetz Chaim answered that before he asks about the sects with us, he should go and ask about the Caesar (Czar) of Russia. Why do they need so many types of army? Foot soldiers, cavalry, navy, etc. And what is the world lacking -- couldn’t there just be one type of soldiers using one kind of weapon, with one general over them all?
Answering his own question, and thus the question of the man, the Chofetz Chaim explained that since the army needs to defeat the enemy, they need different ways, and each way has their own special thing that other ones don’t.
So it is with the war with the Yetzer Hara, said the Chofetz Chaim zt”l: All the types of Chassidim -- aside even from the Misnagdim; all are soldiers in the army of Hashem, part of the war against the Yetzer Hara, and everyone does their something to vanquish the Enemy; this one with their Davening and this one with their learning. These with their praise and others with their blowing of Shofar [i.e. using music as praise to Hashem; an aid to serving Him, an expression of it, etc.]. Provided, he concludes, that they direct (alt. concentrate) their hearts to their Father in Heaven.
(Chofetz Chaim Al HaTorah)
This piece is an especially important one for now: Many people, if they disagree with someone else’s way of serving Hashem, they think that way is wrong. But we need to understand what the Chofetz Chaim zt”l is teaching us; there are many good paths and many ways to serve Hashem properly, and they are all right -- as long as they are within the Torah Laws and Halacha. Indeed we must truly believe what is said ‘These and these are the words of the Living G-d.’
‘The Festival of Succos you shall make for yourself for seven days…And you shall rejoice in your Festival…and you will be only happy (והיתה אך שׂמח).’ (Devarim 16:13-15)
The first letters of the words ‘אך שׂמח’ spell the word ‘אשׁ’ (since the שׂ and שׁ can be interchangable). This alludes to the fact that true happiness comes when we light up a spiritual Aish Kodesh (holy fire) within ourselves. A burning love for Hashem and His Torah and Mitzvos; a burning desire to serve Him; and an overall warmth.
Maaseh: The following harrowing episode occurred in Auschwitz where so many of our people went to their death. It is recorded in the preface to a book entitled M’Kadshei HaShem (“Those Who Sanctify The Name”) by Rabbi Tzvi Meisels of Chicago. Rabbi Meisels was an inmate of Auschwitz and personally witnessed the unparalleled suffering of the Kedoshim (holy ones). With G-d’s help, he survived to record this testimony that the Power of Joy is so mighty that it broke through the iron wall of bloody Auschwitz. The following is a free translation by Zalman Aryeh Hilsenrad who was the founder and first editor of JEWISH LIFE, published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America:
It was the night of Simchas Torah in Auschwitz. With Satanic glee, the Nazis, yemach sh’mam v'zichram (may their names and memories be erased) would select a Jewish holiday on which to carry out their murderous work. So they picked fifty of our younger people and led them from the camp to the crematorium. There they were instructed to wash themselves clean, “since the sanitary accommodations in the camp were not the best.” Thus did these sadistic murderers taunt and deceive their helpless victims -- they would tell them that they would be “washed” in the gas-ovens. The purpose of this cat-and-mouse game was to break the spirits of their victims, so that they would go to their death in the docile manner of sheep being led to the slaughter.
Although of tender years, the fifty boys were mature enough to fully understand the fate which awaited them this night. But even in these last moments of their young lives, they did not permit themselves the luxury of abject surrender. In this terrible moment, they did not forget that they were created b’tzelem Elokim (in the Image of G-d). They lived as Jews, and as Jews they prepared to return their souls to their Creator.
Suddenly, an indomitable spirit from on High rested on one of the boys, and he called out: “Dear Chaverim (friends): Tonight is Simchas Torah! True, we have no Sefer Torah with which to dance, but the Ribbono Shel Olam is surely here with us . . . so let us dance with Him before they burn our bodies.”
The words which emanated from the innermost recesses of a heart overflowing with blood, convulsed and seared by a G-dly fire . . . flew swiftly into the hearts of the fifty boys, and stirred them into motion. As one, they broke out into a song of exultation which spilled out into a tempestuous dance of such fervor that it obliterated all thought of the terrible fate which awaited them. The heavenly spirit which pervaded their dancing and singing purified their souls and lifted them to the highest spiritual realm. Faster and still faster the tempo rose as they sang: ‘How happy is our portion, and how pleasant our lot!’ The Simchas Torah spirit flowed into every organ of their bodies . . . as they recalled wistfully how they had danced with Sifrei Torah in a serene peaceful era . . . how many ages ago it all seemed . . . now all was desolate . . .devastated by a fiendish enemy bent on destroying all our people . . . but he will not succeed! G-d is in Heaven . . . this we must not forget for a moment! And now a new niggun (tune) gave them new strength . . . new courage . . . new faith . . . Purify our hearts that we may serve You with truth . . . Oh G-d, dear G-d, do purify our hearts, that we may truly serve You . . . please G-d!
The fiery ecstacy of their singing and dancing broke all barriers; it seeped through brick and steel! The abysmal Nazi brutes who had made all the necessary preparations, and stood ready to open the gas-jets, heard these wild songs of exultation . . . and ran in to investigate. As they opened the door, a wave of joyous song and dance stopped them in their tracks. For a moment, they stood, struck-dumb by what they saw and heard. What manner of men were these who sang and danced with such seemingly reckless abandon a few moments before their death?
The officer in charge finally found his tongue and bellowed: “What is the meaning of this?” Out of tear-drenched souls, almost broken with despair, came a dignified reply: “We realize you plan to destroy us any moment. So we are happy that we shall leave a world ruled by such wild dogs as you. We also rejoice that we shall soon be reunited with our beloved parents and families whom you cursed murderers have killed!”
The Nazi sadist, the devil’s own disciple, let his blood-thirsty eyes rest first on one, then on another of his intended victims. A hellish fire flamed up in his black soul. Like a mad dog he screamed: “I will teach you manners! Instead of killing you quickly, I will find a slow, lingering death for you. We will chop you to death slowly, piece by piece.”
The boys refused to listen to the depraved murderer’s ranting and his words were lost, drowned out as they renewed their triumphant singing and dancing . . . right up to his face. Livid with rage, the chief murderer ordered that the fifty boys be taken out of the crematorium and locked up separately, until he would find a more hideous form of torment before destroying them.
But the murderer’s plans were never carried out. The heavenly spirit with which they [the boys] were imbued and which broke through brick and steel, rose right up to the very heavens . . . even in the blackness of Hastoras Panim (Concealment of Hashem’s Countenance).
Each one of the fifty boys survived! What happened?
Next day -- Simchas Torah -- a large number of people were transported from Auschwitz to labor camps in Germany. Somehow most of the fifty were included in this group. The few who were left were herded into other groups and each one was saved. The remnants of our poor people in Auschwitz heard of this great miracle . . . and gained new spirit . . . new faith . . . and renewed hope.
Such is the Power of Joy.
(The Jewish Observer, Tishrei 5727)*
* See M’Kadshei HaShem, Cheilek 1, pages 16-17 for the Hebrew source of this story.
A Gut Shabbos and a Guten Rosh Chodesh Elul to all!
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