Post Archive for 2008

Parashas Vayiggash

This week’s parashah begins with the showdown between Yosef, as Viceroy of Egypt, and his brothers, and follows with Yosef’s disclosing his identity to them. The Torah relates (Bereishis 45:3-4): “And Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him because they were taken aback before him.” The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 93:10):
Woe to us over the day of judgment! Woe to us over the day of rebuke! Bilaam, who was the wisest of the gentiles, could not stand up to the rebuke of his donkey. … Yosef was the the least among the sons of Yaakov [involved in the debate], yet the others could not stand up to his rebuke. … All the more so when the Holy One Blessed Be He rebukes each and every person according to his nature, as it is written (Tehillim 50:21): “I shall judge you before your eyes and rebuke you.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. Everyone does what he thinks is right; as Shlomo HaMelech say (Mishlei 21:2): “All a man’s ways are proper in his eyes.” The problem is that the evil inclination tricks a person into thinking that a bad course of action is good. In effect, the evil inclination casts a person under a spell of delusion; as the Gemara in Sotah 3a says, a person sins only when a spirit of madness comes upon him. When he regains his senses, he regrets what he did. Rebuke blows away the smokescreen created by the evil inclination. Sometimes this effect is due mainly to the logic of the rebuke. On other occasions, it is due mainly to the identity of the one delivering it.
The Maggid gives a parable about a person who owed a sum of money to the local baron, and decided he would try to get away with paying less than the full amount. He devised various arguments for why he should pay less. When practicing his spiel at home, he felt very confident, and brusquely pushed aside any criticisms of his arguments from his family. But when came before the baron himself, and beheld the majesty of the baron and his court, he froze from fear and was unable to even begin his spiel.
When the brothers sold Yosef to the Egyptians, they surely did not do so with deliberate evil intent. They had various reasons, misguided but seemingly compelling, for believing that getting Yosef out of the way was a proper, essentially necessary, course of action. But when they were confronted with Yosef himself, all their reasons fell by the wayside. And it will be same with each of us when we come before Hashem’s throne of glory to be judged.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Chanukah

The Torah reading for Chanukah consists of the section describing the offerings the twelve tribal princes brought during the Mishkan’s dedication ceremony, followed by the section presenting Hashem’s command to Aharon to light the menorah in the Mishkan every day. These two sections appear one right after the other in the Torah, and the Midrash comments on the juxtapostion (Bamidbar Rabbah 15:6). The Midrash relates that Aharon was upset that his tribe, the tribe of Levi, did not have the chance to bring a dedication offering. He was worried that some flaw in him caused the tribe of Levi to lose out. Hashem responded by telling him that his lot is better than that of the princes, for the practice of bringing offerings will continue only while the Mishkan or Beis HaMikdash is standing, but the practice of lighting a menorah will remain in effect forever – through the festival of Chanukah.
The Maggid discusses this Midrash in his commentary on Koheles 7:8. He notes an engima in Hashem’s response to Aharon. If a rich man’s son passes away, we would not try to console him by pointing out how wealthy he is. Thinking about his wealth will not make him stop mourning for his son; the two matters are unrelated. Similarly, there seems to be no connection between the menorah and Aharon’s lack of participation in the dedication ceremony. But the Maggid shows that there in fact is a connection.
Every creation has a certain natural potency, but eventually it dies out. A person should therefore safeguard from the very start whatever comes into his hands, and take steps to enhance its potency. Such steps will be of great benefit in the long run, as the natural potency weakens. A creation’s natural potency is sufficient to sustain it through midlife, but at the end of its life its mainstay is the extra potency added to it in its early days. Thus, R. Chanina said that the hot baths and oil his mother plied him with during his childhood is what kept him vigorous in his old age (Chullin 24b).
Hoshea declared in Hashem’s name (verse 11:1): “When Israel was a lad I loved him, and from Egypt I have called out to My son.” Hoshea likens the Jewish People to a lad and to a son. It is the way of parents to pamper a child when he is young, and to fortify him with various forms of special care, and this treatment sustains him in his old age after his natural potency is gone. Similarly, during the Jewish People’s formative days, in Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds, Hashem performed awesome miracles for them, in order to fortify their weak faith – to lead them to love and fear Him with all their hearts. This regimen of faith was just like the hot bath and oil treatment that R. Chanina received when he was a child.
The same idea underlies the dedication offerings of the princes. The contribution of worthy offerings by worthy men provided a spiritual foundation that sustained the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdash for an extended length of time, and nutured the Beis HaMikdash in its latter years. But Aharon did not need to participate in this activity, because his lot – the menorah – is destined to abide forever. Since Aharon’s lot is not subject to decline, it did not need fortification through any dedication ceremony.
The Maggid brings out the point with a charming parable. A man had a number of sons. Almost all of them were sickly and of weak constitution, but one was very healthy and strong. The man consulted a doctor, who prescribed some pleasant-tasting medicine. When the man came home, he gave the medicine to his sickly sons, and they were very happy. When the healthy son saw that he got no share, he was upset – he wondered why he was being treated less generously than his brothers. His father told him: “Don’t be foolish and wish for nice-tasting medicine. You are better off with the good health that Hashem gave you, which keeps you from needing any medicine.”
This is how Hashem responded to Aharon when he got upset over not bringing any offering during the Mishkan’s dedication ceremony. Hashem told him: “On the contrary, your lot is better than theirs. You do not need to perform any dedicatory act. What I have assigned to you will abide forever, without any act of this kind.”
Chanukah Sameach!
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayeishev

In the opening section of this week’s parashah, Yosef tells his brothers of a dream he had, in which he and they were binding sheaves in the field, and their sheaves bowed down to his. The Maggid explains that although Yosef actually was not trying to be haughty toward his brothers (but had a different reason for telling them the dream), his brothers thought that he was. And so they responded caustically, saying: “Will you indeed be a sovereign unto us? Or will you rule in domination over us?” The Maggid discusses this interchange from several angles. Here we present one of these thoughts, which, like many of the Maggid’s commentaries, offers a striking perspective.
The Maggid explains that Yosef’s brothers misjudged Yosef to be a person who seeks to grab rulership. They therefore told him that even if he gained rulership over them, it would be no honor to him. He would not be regarded as a respected sovereign, but rather as a contemptible despot.
The Maggid elaborates on the theme, drawing on Midrashim about Moshe Rabbeinu and Shaul HaMelech (Vayikra Rabbah 1:5 on Mishlei 25:7; Tanchuma Vayikra 3 on Mishlei 29:23). He notes that honor comes not to those who seek it, but rather to those who act humbly and shy away from it. True honor results when others place a person in a position of prominence, not when a person grabs such a position himself. When others bestow eminence on someone of initially modest station, it shows how highly they regard him. But when a person grabs a high position, it leads to his disgrace – people start chattering about how unbecoming it is for a person as lowly as he to push himself to the fore. An unworthy person who grabs a high position is like a little boy who puts on a grown-up suit – simply put, he looks ridiculous.
PS: I am happy to note that I have now had this blog going for a full year. I hope that, with Hashem’s help, I will be able to keep it going.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Koheles Update and Donation Appeal

The piece I just posted comes from the Maggid’s commentary on Koheles, which I am in the process of translating. I have a complete first draft of the book, and have completed the “pre-editing” on the first segment (about a third of the book) and sent it for editing. The “pre-editing” of the remainder of the book is in progress. I am hoping, with Hashem’s help, to publish the book in time for Sukkos 5770.
Because this is a noncommissioned work, I must cover the production costs of the book on my own. The estimated overall cost of the project is $7,000. This cost figure includes up-front production costs (editing, proofreading, cover design) and printing/binding costs (for 1,000-1,200 copies, standard for a first printing of this type of book). I am now seeking donations to defray the cost. Any contribution will be greatly appreciated. When sending a donation, you should also send an email notice of the donation to donations@jlm-dubno-maggid.org, so that I know your donation is coming. After your donation is received, I will send you an official Nimla Tal receipt. Those who want a US tax deduction may make out the check to “American Friends of Nimla Tal,” marking the subject line “Dubner Maggid,” and an official receipt will be sent. Contributors may place a printed dedication in the book. The dedication categories are as follows: Full page – $1000, Half page –  $500, Quarter page –  $250, 1/8 page –  $125, two lines – $50, one line – $25.
My contact information is as follows: David Zucker, 11/3 Neiman Street, Neve Yaakov Mizrach, Jerusalem, dmzucker@jlm-dubno-maggid.org. You may convey the text of your dedication to me either by regular mail or by email. US-based contributors who wish a US tax deduction may mail their checks directly to the Baltimore office of “Nimla Tal,” addressing the envelope as follows: American Friends of Nimla Tal, c/o Cooper, 2509 Willow Glen Drive, Baltimore MD 21209. It is also possible to donate by credit card online, with the donation being US tax-deductible through “Nimla Tal.” The donation site is http://jlm-dubno-maggid.org/blog/donate/ .
I’ll be grateful for any help that anyone can give, either by donating or by passing the word on to others who may be interested in donating.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayishlach

This week’s parashah features Yaakov’s encounter with Eisav. Yaakov prepared for this encounter in a number of ways, including splitting his cohort into two camps, saying (Bereishis 32:9): “If Eisav comes upon the one camp and strikes it down, the remaining camp shall be for an escape (l’fleitah).” The Maggid, in his commentary on Koheles 9:12, discusses this maneuver. He raises two questions. First, why exactly did the people in each camp have a better chance of escaping after the division into two camps than while the people were all together? Second, the phrase “shall be for an escape,” with the prefix lamed added to the word pleitah, is peculiar – it should have been written simply “shall escape.”
To bring out what Yaakov had in mind, the Maggid turns to a Midrash that discusses Yaakov’s statement (Bereishis Rabbah 76:3):
“If Eisav comes upon the one camp and strikes it down” – these are our brothers of the south [the group of great Torah scholars who did not go into exile]. “The remaining camp shall be for an escape” – these are our brothers in the exile. Said R. Hoshaiah: “Even though they survived and escaped, they fasted for us on Mondays and Thursdays.”
Yaakov was praying that calamity not beset the entire Jewish People at once, but rather each calamity should beset only part of the people, with the other part being spared from trouble at that time. Suffering should come upon different parts of the Jewish People in alternation. In that way, the people who are spared from a given calamity can pray for those who are beset by it. By way of analogy, suppose that a grave illness comes upon a family and strikes a number of its members. If some family members remain healthy, then the sick ones have some hope, for the healthy ones can attend to them and make efforts to get them healed. But if the entire family falls ill, with no one coming to care for them, then the illness will weigh heavily upon them and they will have little hope.
Thus Yaakov said: “If Eisav comes upon the one camp and strikes it down, the remaining camp shall be for an escape.” In addition to the simple meaning, Yaakov had a prophetic intent relating to the Jewish People’s future exile: that while one segment of the people faces calamity, the other segment should pray for them to secure their salvation. This is the idea behind the unusual phrase “shall be for an escape” – that the prayers of the safe camp serve to bring the besieged camp their means of escape. This is what the Midrash is referring to when it speaks of the remaining camp fasting for their brethren on Mondays and Thursdays. In a related vein, Tanchuma Nitzavim 1 states that when the Jewish People form themselves into a single band, they will stand and not fall. The message is that if all Jews bond together, sharing in each other’s suffering and praying for each other, then the Jewish People will prevail and forever stand firm.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayeitzei

This week’s parashah begins with Yaakov’s vision of the ladder upon which angels were going up and down. The Midrash teaches that these angels were the heavenly ministers of the leading world kingdoms (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah, 117). Yaakov saw the minister of Babylonia go up 70 rungs and come down. He then saw the minister of Persia/Media go up 52 rungs and come down, and afterwards he saw the minister of Greece go up 180 rungs and come down. Finally, he saw the minister of Edom go up the ladder, but he did not see how many rungs this minister had climbed, and did not see him go down. This foreboding sight struck Yaakov with terror. But Hashem told Yaakov not to fear, assuring him with Ovadiah’s prophesy regarding Edom (verse 1:4): “Even if you raise yourself up like an eagle or set your nest among the stars, I shall bring you down from there.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash with a beautiful parable. A man died, leaving behind a young son and a fine house. The boy was placed under the care of a guardian. The guardian put the house up for rent, with the proceeds to be held in trust for the boy. Since the house was spacious and attractive, many people sought to rent it, and they began to argue with each other. The guardian offered a solution: “Let us make a compromise. Each of you will rent the house for a set period of time, and then someone else will have a turn.” The plan was agreed upon. The guardian then drew up a document listing the starting dates and ending dates of the various rental terms. For the last tenant, though, he listed just a starting date with no ending date, saying that it was not necessary to list an ending date for the last term. He explained that when the owner’s son came of age, the last tenant’s term would automatically come to an end, and the son would move in.
Similarly, each of the four major world kingdoms was granted a term of dominion over the Land of Israel. For the first three kingdoms, the duration of the term was indicated explicitly in Yaakov’s dream. But for the last kingdom, Edom, there was no need for Hashem to indicate the duration. When we become spiritually mature enough to take over the Land of Israel, Hashem Himself will force Edom out – and settle us, His beloved children, into the land for good.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Toldos

This week’s parashah begins as follows (Bereishis 25:19): “These are the generations of Yitzchak son of Avraham – Avraham fathered Yitzchak.” The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 63:1) links this statement with the following verses:
1. Mishlei 23:24: “The father of a righteous man shall surely jubilate, and one who fathers a wise man shall rejoice in him.”
2. Mishlei 23:15: “My child, if your heart becomes wise, my heart, too, shall rejoice.”
3. Mishlei 17:6: “The crown of elders is their offspring [literally, grandchildren], and the glory of children is their fathers.”
The Maggid, in turn, links the Midrash with the following passage (Tehillim 112:1-4):
Fortunate is the man who fears Hashem, who greatly desires His commandments. Mighty in the land shall be his offspring, a generation of upright ones who shall be blessed.
The Maggid explains the message as follows. If a person harbors negative tendencies and performs mitzvos only out of compulsion, he will pass on negative tendencies to his children. But if he serves Hashem gladly, he will pass on good values to his children, and they will become righteous. Hence, when a person fathers a righteous son, he rejoices not only over his son’s righteousness in its own right, but also over the fact that his son’s conduct reflects positively on him.
The Maggid goes on to note a link with a Gemara in Nedarim 81a that discusses why certain Torah scholars do not father Torah scholars. The Gemara gives a number of answers. One of them is because they do not recite a blessing before learning Torah. The Maggid explains that a person who does not recite a blessing over the Torah is showing that he is not happy with the Torah. He follows the Torah because he has to, but he would rather that the Torah not have been given in the first place. Hence he does not pass on Torah values to his children. In order to have children who are Torah scholars, one must be glad to have Torah.
This interpretation matches Rav Moshe Feinstein’s explanation of why the children of many observant American immigrants gave up Jewish observance. Rav Moshe noted that such immigrants, while they observed the Torah, conveyed the message that it is a burden, saying: “Schver tzu zain a Yid – It’s tough to be a Jew.” Hence they did not pass Torah commitment on to their children.
If we want to pass Torah values on to our children, we must show that we are happy with the Torah, by performing mitzvos with joy and not with reluctance. This is a critical element in raising children in the Torah path.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Chaiyei Sarah

In this week’s parashah, the Torah relates (Bereishis 24:1): “Now, Avraham was old, advanced in years [literally, had come to days], and Hashem blessed Avraham with everything.” The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 59:6) remarks that Avraham had come to the days of which Shlomo HaMelech speaks in the following verse (Koheles 12:1): “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the bad days come, and the years arrive of which you will say, ‘I have no desire for them.’” The Maggid, in his commentary on Koheles 5:14-15, expounds on this Midrash. He notes that Koheles 12:1 can be re-rendered homiletically as follows: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, so that the bad days will not come, and let the years arrive of which you will say, ‘I have no desire for them.’” The Maggid explains the idea as follows. For wicked pleasure-seekers, the final phase of life is a time of bad, for it is a time when they are unable to satisfy their desires. But for those who remember their Creator, the experience in the final phase of life is different. Hashem allows their physical faculties to remain completely intact in their old age. Yet they no longer have any desire for life in this world, for they have come to set all their sights on the next world.
In relation to this world, the Maggid says, the righteous are like worthy guests, while the wicked are like unworthy guests. A worthy guest is given lavish treatment by his host; he is served choice portions and urged to partake. But he refrains from indulging – he limits himself to just a very little. By contrast, the unworthy guest comes with a voracious appetite, but the host does not cater to him. Similarly, the wicked, as they reach their prime, are increasingly consumed with a wild passion for worldly vanities, but Hashem holds back from satisfying their desires. Instead, Hashem weakens their senses and drives bit by bit, until they are fit for the grave. With the righteous, however, it is just the opposite. Hashem maintains their physical faculties in excellent condition and provides them with plenty – they lack nothing. But they hold back on their own from material blessings, and yearn to depart from this world. Avraham is a case in point. As he reached old age, his intellect matured to the point where he felt utter disdain for worldly vanities. Hashem therefore treated him as a worthy guest, and blessed him with everything.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayeira

This week’s parashah begins with the angels coming to Avraham to announce the news that he and his wife Sarah would have a son in a year’s time. The Torah relates (Bereishis 18:12-14):
And Sarah laughed to herself, saying: “After I have withered am I again becoming flushed? And my husband is old!” The Hashem said to Avraham: “Why is it that Sarah laughed, saying, ‘Shall I really bear a child, although I have become old?’ Is anything beyond Hashem? At the appointed time I shall return to you, when it is time to rejuvenate you, and Sarah shall have a son.”
The Maggid explains this passage as follows. Sarah was not, far be it, expressing lack of faith in Hashem’s power to enable her to have a son. Rather, she was expressing astonishment over the fact that, although she was soon due to have a son, she was still in an aged state. She expected to be returned gradually to a youthful state. But instead, while still in an aged state, and with her husband still in an aged state as well, she suddenly saw a menstrual flow on the day that the angels came (Bereishis Rabbah 48:14). This wondrous occurence is what made Sarah laugh.  Hashem responded by saying that there was no cause for her to laugh: unlike mortal man, who can bring only gradual relief, He can bring deliverance in an instant. And upon arrival of the appointed time for Sarah to conceive a son through Avraham, He would instantly rejuvenate them both.
The Maggid notes that Hashem often brings sudden deliverance at the last moment, when the situation seems beyond all remedy. For example, when Moshe was taken out to be executed for killing the Egyptian, and the executioner’s sword reached his neck, Hashem suddenly turned his neck into a hard pillar of ivory (Shemos Rabbah 1:31). Thus, we should never give up hope in Hashem’s saving power, even when we see our situation growing ever bleaker, with no sign of improvement, and it looks like we have approached the point of no return. Hashem’s salvation is like the blink of an eye. And so, no matter how bleak our situation looks, we should continue praying to Hashem and awaiting His salvation.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Lech-Lecha

This week’s haftarah concludes with the following passage (Yeshayah 41:14-16):
“Fear not, O worm-like Jacob, O hosts of Israel – I am your helper,” says Hashem, “and your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I have made you like a threshing sledge, with freshly-sharpened teeth – you shall thresh mountains and grind them down fine, and you shall turn hills into chaff. You shall cast them up, and a wind shall carry them, and a storm shall scatter them; and you shall jubilate in Hashem – in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.”
Yalkut Shimoni Nach, para. 540, comments on this passage. The Midrash says that just as the worm’s source of strength is its mouth, so, too, the Jewish People’s source of power is their mouths – through prayer.
The Maggid, in his commentary on Eichah 3:39-41, discusses why Yeshayah compares us specifically to a worm, and not to one of the predatory creatures, whose strength also is the mouth. He explains that there is a key difference between the worm and other species, which points to an important idea. With other species, an individual animal has the power to accomplish its goal even when it is alone, with no fellow creature helping out. Not so with the worm: an individual worm can do nothing. The worm manifests its great strength only when mounds of worms gather together. When many worms work in concert, no mountain can stand up against them, and their strength is incalculable. This idea is reflected Tanchuma Nitzavim 1, which compares us to sticks. Like sticks, we are individually thin and weak. But when we are gathered into a single bundle, then we are strong.
But how can we gather ourselves together when we are scattered across all corners of the globe? The Maggid answers that the matter does not depend on physical proximity, but rather on kindredness of spirit. We must all set our sights on a single target, and focus our efforts on a common appeal that concerns all of us together. As Yirmiyah declares (verses 50:4-5): “‘In those days and in that time,’ says Hashem,’ the Children of Israel and the Children of Judah shall come together, going on their way with weeping, and they shall seek Hashem their God. They shall ask for Zion .…’” We can join forces even when we are scattered, some here and some there. Kindredness of spirit is our salvation.
David Zucker, Site Administrator