Post Archive for July 2008

Megillas Eichah

The “Three Weeks” is the time to focus on the great loss we suffered when the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, and to pray for its restoration. The Maggid’s commentary on Megillas Eichah is a source of inspiration on this topic. My translation of this work is described on the “Voice of Weepers” page of this site. That page provides links to two excerpts from the book. I present below another piece, slightly adapted from the printed version.
Yirmiyah exhorts us (Eichah 2:19): “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart before Hashem like water.” The Maggid says that the meaning of the word before in this verse is the same as in the verse (Bereishis 25:21): “And Yitzchak entreated the Hashem before his wife, for she was barren …. ” On this verse the Midrash comments that Yitzchak prayed for Rivkah without giving a thought to praying for himself (Bereishis Rabbah 63:5). In a similar vein, Yirmiyah tells us here that when we pray, we should not be focused on our own troubles and needs. Instead, we should concentrate exclusively on pleading for the exiled Divine Presence.
Another Midrash expresses the same idea. The Midrash states (Yalkut Shimoni II:679):
“Hashem shall answer you on the day of trouble” (Tehillim 20:2). Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “When trouble comes upon Yisrael, and they seek Me and combine concern for My honor with their concerns, at that time I answer them. …”
This is how Yirmiyah exhorts us to frame our prayers.
The Maggid presents an allegory to bring out the point. A man was put in prison, and conclusively sentenced to death. A certain kind gentleman resolved to redeem this man, but he could not amass the ransom money. The gentleman therefore took all his finest household goods and expensive jewelry and pawned everything for the ransom money. In this way he gained the prisoner’s release. Now this released prisoner has a duty to reciprocate the kind benefactor who rescued him. The least he should do is collect the money needed to redeem his rescuer’s possessions from the pawnbroker. To this end, he should work unceasingly, not allowing himself any sleep or rest. Moreover, he ought to be sparing on personal expenses, in order to save money to reimburse his rescuer. If instead he squanders his money thoughtlessly, his ill-conduct will be obvious to everyone.
The parallel is as follows. It is written (Shemos 38:21): “These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of testimony . …” The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 51:3) says that this verse, with its repetition of the word mishkan, hints at the fact that the Beis HaMikdash was to be pawned twice. [The Midrash builds on the similarity between the word mishkan and the word mashkon, meaning collateral.] Hashem pawned the Beis HaMikdash in order to ransom the Jewish People. Another Midrash brings out the idea further (Eichah Rabbah 4:14): “The Holy One Blessed Be He poured out His wrath on the wood and stones [of the Beis HaMikdash], and did not pour out His wrath on Yissrael.” We deserved a severe sentence, but the Beis HaMikdash was given as ransom to redeem us. Hence it is surely proper that we exert ourselves to gain the Beis HaMikdash’s restoration. When we offer our daily prayers, we should cast aside our personal needs and focus entirely on the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile of the Divine Presence. Our verse teaches us this lesson.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Masei

This week’s parashah contains a section describing the borders of the Land of Israel. The section begins as follows (Bamidbar 34:1-2): “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Command the Children of Israel and say to them, “When you come to the land of Canaan, this is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance, the land of Canaan according to its borders.”’” The Midrash remarks (Bamidbar Rabbah 23:5):
This teaches that the Holy One Blessed Be He showed Moshe all that happened and would happen in the future [in the land]. He showed him … each generation’s expounders, each generation’s judges, each generation’s leaders, each generation’s sinners, and each generation’s righteous men. And it is written (Devarim 34:4): “And Hashem said to him, ‘This is the land that I promised to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, saying, “To your descendants I shall give it.” I have let you see it with your eyes.’” … What does it mean, “This is the land … saying”? Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Moshe: “Tell Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov: ‘The oath I swore to you, I have fulfilled unto your descendants.’” On account of this it says, “saying.”
David HaMelech writes (Tehillim 105:6-11):
He [Hashem] remembered forever His covenant – the word He ordained for a thousand generations – that He made with Avraham, and His oath to Yitzchak. He established it for Yaakov as a statute, for Yisrael as an everlasting covenant, saying: “To you I shall give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance.”
And after Hashem showed Yaakov the vision of the ladder, He said to him (Bereishis 28:15): “I shall not forsake you until I have carried out what I have spoken regarding you.”
The Maggid elucidates Hashem’s promise to the Jewish People with a beautiful parable. A man went to a distant land to seek work. He acquired a position with a certain gentleman, and served in this position for a length of time. The gentleman grew very fond of him. Finally, the time came for the man to collect his wages and return home. The gentleman, out of his great love for this man, wished to make sure that the man would arrive home with all the money. He therefore made the man a special promise: If the man lost the money on the way home, he would replace it. Under no circumstances would he leave the man empty-handed.
This is the nature of Hashem’s promise to the Jewish People. At the Covenant Between the Parts, Hashem promised Avraham that he would inherit the land of Canaan. Avraham asked (Bereishis 15:8): “Through what will I know that I will inherit it?” Avraham was afraid that his descendants would sin and be expelled from the land. Hence Hashem repeated His promise to Yaakov and said: “I shall not forsake you until I have carried out what I have spoken regarding you.” Hashem was telling him: “Even if I give the land to your descendants and they lose it, I will serve as guarantor for them and give it to them again.” Thus, as David HaMelech says, Hashem established it as an everlasting covenant that He shall give us the land of Canaan. That is, even after He gave us the land, the words “shall give” remained in force, and they continue in force for eternity. Hashem will keep giving us the land until we secure our hold on it permanently.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Mattos

The Gemara in Megillah 10b teaches that a verse beginning with the word vayehi is sign of woe, while a verse that begins with the word vehayah is a sign of good tidings. In the Kochav MiYaakov commentary on the weekly haftaros, the Maggid connects this teaching to this week’s haftarah.
The Maggid explains the Gemara as follows. The word vayehi a transformation of future (it will be) to past (it was), through the conversive prefix vav. This can be understood as referring to a burgeoning calamity that was due to emerge in full force in the future, but instead was brought before its time in order to reduce its severity. Similarly, the word vehayah, which involves a transformation of past to future, refers to a blessing that Hashem to a later time to allow it to fully ripen.
This idea is reflected in the following passage (Yeshayah 54:7-8): “‘For a moment I abandoned you, but I shall gather you in with great mercy. In a small flash of anger, I hid My face from you for an instant, but I shall favor you mercifully with eternal kindness,’ says Hashem, your Redeemer.” That is, Hashem hurries the anger along and brings it upon us instantly [homiletically reading in an instant in place of for an instant], while it is in a minimal stage, but defers the mercy so that it may grow great. In a similar vein, in our haftarah Yirmiyah prophesizes (verses 1:11-12): “And the word of Hashem came upon me, saying, ‘What do you see, Yirmiyah?’ And I said, ‘I see a staff of an almond tree (shahked).’ And Hashem said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I shall hasten (shohked) in doing what I have said.’” Here Hsahem indicates that He will hasten the onset of the calamity to produce the effect that we have described: a diminution of the calamity.
The Maggid illustrates the point with an analogy. Suppose a tailor needs to make a garment within a short amount of time. To do this, he must work very quickly. He can speed up the work in one of two ways. One way is to cut down on the time he spends on his personal needs, such as eating and sleeping, so that he can keep working day and night. The other way is to take shortcuts in the work, such as making one big stitch where he would normally make two stitches. If he cuts down on his personal needs to concentrate on the work, the garment will come out properly made. But if he takes shortcuts in the work, the garment will come out poorly done.
Yirmiyah was frightened when he saw the almond-tree staff. He was terrified by this portent that Hashem was going to hasten the onset of a calamity. He thought that Hashem’s plan was to hurry along the calamity by setting aside, so to speak, all His other activities. It appeared that Hashem was going to direct His wrath against the People of Israel day and night, far be it. The punishment would then be carried out in full measure. But Hashem replied that it was not so. He told Yirmiyah: “You have seen a good sign [reading heitavta liros (you have seen well) as meaning “you have seen a portent of good”]. It is a good thing for the People of Israel that I will hasten in doing what I have said. For I will not give the matter the attention it needs for it to be well carried out. Rather, I will bring the calamity upon them before its time, while it is yet undeveloped, and in this way the Jewish People’s souls will be saved.”
Another prophecy of Yirmiyah brings out the same idea (verse 44:27): “Behold, I shall deal with you in haste with bad but not with good …. [rendering the verse slightly differently than is usual to fit with the Maggid’s commentary]. Even though your rebelliousness is great and your careless sins are extremely numerous, still I shall act kindly toward you. I will hurry along the punishment and bring it upon you before it is fully developed, so that you will be able to bear it. But with blessing I will do just the opposite: I will not deliver the blessing I have in store for you until it is fully developed and has grown great beyond measure.
The Gemara states (Sanhedrin 38a):
It is written (Daniel 9:14): “Hashem hastened the calamity and brought it upon us. But Hashem our God is righteous in every deed that He has done, for we did not hearken to His voice.” What is this verse telling us? Is it because the Lord is righteous that He hastened the calamity and brought it upon us [before its time]? Yes! … Ulla said: “He brought the exile two years earlier than indicated by the word venoshantem [in Devarim 4:25].” [The gematria (numerical value) of the word venoshantem is 852. The First Commonwealth Period (from the time the Jewish People entered the Land of Israel under Yehoshua until the destruction of the First Temple) lasted 850 years.]
The Maggid notes that the discussion above illuminates this Gemara very well. Had Hashem not brought on the destruction of the Temple two years before its time, but instead had waited for the calamity to mature, the People of Israel would not – far be it – have been able to continue in existence. This is alluded to in the following verse from the haftarah of Shabbos Chazon (Yeshayah 1:9): “Had the Lord of Hosts not left us a small remnant, we would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah.” In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, the calamity was allowed to reach full maturity, and they were totally destroyed. Had Hashem not hastened the destruction and brought it upon us while it was still slightly unripe, the same would have happened – far be it – to us.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Mattos

This week’s parashah opens with a passage dealing with vows. The Torah tells us not to make our word profane. The simple meaning of this exhortation is that we should keep the vows we make. The Maggid takes the matter a level deeper. The Maggid says that the Torah is telling us not to make vows in a casual way. One who wishes to make a vow is obligated to take care that the vow comes from the depths of his heart, so that the words he utters will have sanctity. And if a person makes a vow with proper intent, he will surely gain the merit of keeping it. Thus, in regard to the pledges of materials for the Beis HaMikdash that the Jewish People made in response to David HaMelech’s call, it is written (Divrei HaYamim Aleph 29:9): “The people rejoiced in their pledges, for they had pledged wholeheartedly to Hashem.” Since the people had pledged wholeheartedly, they were sure that they would be able to fulfill their pledges, and therefore they rejoiced.
The same idea surfaces in the interchange between Moshe and the tribes of Reuven and Gad that appears later on in the parashah. Moshe tells these tribes that if they keep their pledge to help the rest of the Jewish People conquer the Land of Israel, they will then be granted the land they asked for. Moshe then continues (Bamidbar 32:23): “But if you do not [as you have pledged], behold – you have sinned against Hashem, and be aware that your sin will meet up with you.” On the surface, the Maggid says, it seems that Moshe was holding the tribes of Reuven and Gad to an impossible standard: How could they guarantee that they would be as committed to what they pledged when the time came to enter the Land of Israel as they were when they made the pledge? It seems untenable for people to make a promise about the intent they will have at a future time. But, in light of the idea brought out above, we can understand what Moshe meant. Moshe was telling the tribes of Reuven and Gad that it was their duty to make sure that they were making their vow wholeheartedly and with upright intent. By doing so, they would ensure from the outset that they would ultimately keep their pledge. And if they failed to make their pledge with proper intent and then reneged, it would be counted against them as a sin—not merely as of the time of the reneging, but as of the the time they made the pledge. The reneging would show that their initial intent was not wholehearted.
Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Koheles 5:3-4): “When you make a pledge to God, do not delay in paying it, for [He] has no liking for fools – what you pledge, pay. It is better not to pledge than to pledge and not pay.” Shlomo is telling us that it is better not to make a pledge at all than to make a pledge that is not wholehearted. In this vein, the Torah exhorts elsewhere (Devarim 23:24): “Guard the utterance of your lips, and fulfill what you vowed to Hashem your God, and the pledge of a voluntary offering that your mouth spoke out.” The Torah is telling us that if we guard the utterance of our lips by making only vows that are wholehearted, then we are guaranteed to merit fulfilling the vows we make.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Pinchas

This week’s parashah begins with an account of how Pinchas, as reward for taking vengeance upon Zimri and Cozbi, was granted a “covenant of peace.” The Maggid asks why Pinchas received such a reward while Moshe did not. He points out that Moshe saved the Jewish People from Hashem’s wrath many times, such as after the sin of the golden calf and the sin of the spies, yet he was not rewarded with a “covenant of peace.”
The Maggid answers, in his usual way, with a parable. A man owed debts to many people, and he was constantly hounded by his creditors. Each time the creditors would descend upon him, some friends of his would come to his defense and get the creditors to leave him alone. But after a time, the creditors would come back. This cycle continued for some time. Finally, one of the friends made a compromise with the creditors. The friend agreed to pay each creditor a percentage of the debt, and the creditors agreed to hand over the promissory notes and reliquish their claim on the remaining balance. The friend paid as agreed, took all the promissory notes, and tore them up.
This is the difference between Moshe and Pinchas. After the sin of the golden calf, the Attribute of Justice descended upon the Jewish People to demand retribution. Moshe’s plea led the Attribute of Justice to let up, but the debt remained and the claim would eventually be renewed. Indeed, in the aftermath of the sin, Hashem told Moshe (Shemos 32:34): “On the day that I make My account, I shall bring their sin to account against them.” [The Gemara, in Sanhedrin 102a, says that every punishment that Hashem imposes upon the Jewish People includes a smidgen of retribution for the sin of the golden calf.] It was similar with the sin of the spies. Pinchas, however, with his act of vengenance against the display of wantonness that he witnessed, disposed of the claim against the Jewish People for this sin entirely. It is for this accomplishment that he merited the “covenant of peace.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Balak, Part 2

In his first blessing to the Jewish People, Bilaam begins with the following words (Bamidbar 23:8): “From Aram, Balak the king of Moab led me, from the mountains of the east – ‘Come curse Yaakov for me, come bring anger upon Yisrael.’” The Maggid explains this preface with a parable. A preacher from a seedy town visited a city full of distinguished scholars. He went up to the lectern to give a sermon, and proceeded to vilify the people for committing abominations. Afterward, the city’s leading scholars approached him and chastised him for his speech. The preacher responded: “Doesn’t our holy Torah teach us to rebuke our fellow men?” The scholars replied: “True. But you have to know who you are dealing with. You come from a town of very lowly people, who commit all kinds of abominations. So you have a stock fire-and-brimstone speech for this crowd. But now, here in a city of scholars, you gave the same speech. It was ridiculous.” Similarly, Bilaam came from Aram, a place of wantonness. Balak called him in from Aram to pronounce a curse upon the Jewish People of the type that would be fit for the Arameans. So Bilaam’s prophetic message begins with a hint that Balak’s request was ridiculous.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Balak

The Torah states (Devarim 23:3-4): “An Ammonite or Moabite may not enter the congregation of Hashem, even their tenth generation may not enter the congregation of Hashem, unto eternity – because of the fact that they did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were going out of Egypt, and because he hired against you Bilaam son of Beor, of Pethor, Aram Naharim, to curse you.” The Maggid asks why the Torah needs to give two reasons for barring the Moabites from joining the Jewish People. He answers as follows. We might think that the reason they did not greet us with bread and water was because they did not have enough to share with others, or because they had a natural tendency toward hoarding. If this were the case, their offense would not be so heinous. The Torah therefore adds the second reason, the hiring of Bilaam. The Moabites offered Bilaam a fortune to curse the Jews, although they were not even sure he would succeed: “perhaps I will be able to smite it” (Bamidbar 22:8). Thus, they were clearly neither poor nor tight-fisted. Yet they still failed to offer bread and water to the Jews who were passing through. This failure reflects a fundamental character flaw, making Moabites unfit to join the Jewish People.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger — The Dubno Maggid’s Adopted Son

Today, the 30th of Sivan, is the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shlomo Kluger ztz”l, who may be regarded as the Dubno Maggid’s adopted son. Rabbi Shlomo Kluger was the son of Rabbi Yehudah Aharon Kluger of Komarov. When Rabbi Yehudah Aharon was stricken with an illness, he sought advice from doctors in the city of Zamosc, where the Dubno Maggid spent his last years. Rabbi Yehudah Aharon died suddenly in Zamosc, leaving his son Shlomo behind. The Maggid took Shlomo into his home and raised him like his own son.
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger was born in 1786. His father passed away in 1799, when Shlomo was 13 years old, and it was at this time that the Maggid took him in. After his marriage he engaged in business for a period of time, and then entered the rabbinate. He served as rabbi for a number of communities in Poland and Galicia. In 1820, at the age of 34, he moved to the city of Brody, where he served as the community halachic authority, chief of the Jewish law court, and sermonizer until his death in 1869 at the age of 83.
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger was one of the leading halachic authorities of his time. Halachic queries were sent to him even from distant provinces. He authored thousands of written halachic rulings (teshuvos) and over 100 books ranging over all areas of Torah. About 30 of his books were ultimately printed, including the following works:
1. HaEleph Lecha Shlomo: a book of approximately 1000 brief halachic rulings
2. Tuv Taam V’Daas: a commentary on Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah
3. Chiddushei Anshei Sheim: a commentary on Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer
4. Chochmas Shlomo and Sefer HaChayim: novellae (chiddushim) on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim
5. Mei Niddah: a work dealing with the halachic and conceptual aspects of the Jewish family purity laws
6. Shnot Chayim: a work containing responsa on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, and responsa and novellae for scribes
7. Sefer Stam: a work on laws for scribes
8. Sefer Avodas Avodah: novellae on meseches Avodah Zarah
9. Nidrei Zerizin:  novellae on meseches Nedarim
10. Maaseh Yedei Yotzer: a commentary on the Passover Haggadah
11. Imrei Shefer: a commentary on the Torah
The Maggid, in his commentary on Esther 2:5-7, discusses the kindness that Mordechai showed the orphaned Esther by taking her into his home, and the great salvation for the Jewish People that eventuated from this act. He examines a Gemara in Sukkah 49b that expounds on the following verse (Tehillim 103:17): “And kindness unto Hashem that lasts forever and ever is the province of those who fear Him.” The Maggid explains that if a person is pious and meticulous in fufilling all his mitzvah obligations, he will gain the extra merit of being able to perform a kindness that has a wide-ranging and everlasting effect. We can well say that the Maggid’s explanation applies to the Maggid himself: In the merit of his great piety, he gained the opportunity to raise an orphaned lad who grew up to become one of the greatest Torah giants of all time.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Chukas, Part 2

The Midrash relates that Shlomo HaMelech tried to discern the reason behind the mitzvah of the red heifer, but was unable to do so (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:3). The Midrash links Shlomo’s unsuccessful quest with the following passage (Koheles 7:23-24): “All this I probed with wisdom; I thought I would become enlightened, but it is far from me. It is as far as before: It is very deep – who can discover it?” [The phrase “it is as far as before” is a homiletical rendering of the Hebrew phrase rachok mah shehayah, which literally means “that which existed is beyond grasp.”] The Maggid compares Shlomo’s investigation to someone who attempts to travel by foot to the end of the world. No matter how far he travels, he never gets significantly closer to his destination than he was when he started – it remains essentially as far from him as before.
The Maggid elaborates further on why Hashem withheld from Shlomo an understanding of this mitzvah. He brings out the point with a clever parable. In a certain major city there was a large and splendid inn, the front door of which bore a sign saying that the inn provided any sort of food and drink that anyone could want. A traveler entered this inn and ordered venison. The innkeeper told him: “I am sorry, but we don’t have venison.” The visitor exclaimed: “But the sign on your front door says you offer food and drink of all types!” The innkeeper replied: “True. But recently a government order was issued not to eat venison. So there is no point for me to stock it, since no one will ask for it.”
The parallel is as follows. In Melachim Aleph 5:9 it is written that Hashem granted Shlomo wisdom “like the sand of the sea.” The Midrash we quoted above, Bamidbar Rabbah 19:3, explains that Shlomo was granted wisdom in correspondence with the entire Jewish People, who are compared to the sand of the sea (Hoshea 2:1). The meaning of this, says the Maggid, is that Shlomo was granted all the wisdom needed to be able to answer any question that any Jew would ask him. But the Torah proclaims the mitzvah of the red heifer to be a chok – a statute that we must accept without seeking its reason. Hence no Jew would think to ask about the reason for this mitzvah. And so there was no need for Hashem to reveal the reason to Shlomo, for he would never be faced with a question about it.
David Zucker, Site Administrator