Post Archive for September 2008

Haftaras Nitzavim

This week’s haftarah begins with the following verse (Yeshayah 61:10): “I shall rejoice greatly in Hashem – my soul shall jubilate in my God. For He has clothed me in the raiment of salvation and cloaked me in a robe of nobility – like a bridegroom who attires himself with splendor, and a bride who bedecks herself with her jewelry.” Yeshayah compares our rejoicing and jubilation in Hashem to the rejoicing of a bride and groom. The Maggid explains that the comparison is not in terms of the supreme intensity of their rejoicing, but rather in terms of the nature of their rejoicing.
The Maggid brings out the idea with an analogy. If we take a person off the street and give him a fine suit to wear, he will feel pleasure over the elegance of the clothes. But if we dress a bridegroom in a similar suit on his wedding day, he will hardly notice how nice the suit is, for the joy of getting married overshadows the pleasure of wearing a fine suit.
Such is the love that the wholly righteous have for Hashem. Thus, Aharon HaKohen took no notice of the beauty of his priestly vestments; his great love for Hashem, Who commanded him to wear them, overshadowed the splendor of the attire. It was the same when Aharon entered the Holy of Holies. Although the Holy of Holies contained captivatingly glorious vessels, such as the golden Holy Ark and the golden cherubs, Aharon took no notice of this splendor. His mind was riveted on his love of Hashem and his fervent desire to do His will.
This is the idea behind our declaration (Shir HaShirim 1:5): “We shall jubilate and rejoice in You.” Although we are surrounded with splendor when we stand in Hashem’s inner chamber, this splendor is not what moves us. Rather, it is in Hashem Himself that we rejoice.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Nitzavim

In this week’s parashah it is written (Devarim 30:6-8):
Hashem your God shall circumcise your heart and the hearts of your offspring, to love Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul, on account of your life. And Hashem your God shall place all these curses upon your enemies and those who hated you, who pursued you. And you shall return and hearken unto the voice of Hashem, and you shall observe all His commandments that I command you today.
In his commentary on Shir HaShirim 1:5, the Maggid explains this passage as follows. In the first verse of the passage, Hashem promises us that He will remove the foreskin-like shell that covers our hearts, and cure us of the spiritual malaise that now plagues us (see Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Dei’os 2:1). We then will sense the sweetness of Torah and mitzvos, just as we now sense the sweetness of worldly pleasures. The Torah says that we will love Hashem with all our heart, “on account of your life.” Just as we love physical pleasures because they bring us physical vitality, so, too, we will come to appreciate the sweetness of Torah and mitzvos because we will see how they bring us spiritual vitality. Nonetheless, we will receive reward, because our observance will be motivated not by the sweetness of the mitzvos, but rather by the wish to serve Hashem. Thus the passage above concludes: “And you shall return and hearken unto the voice of Hashem, and you shall observe all His commandments that I command you today.” Even though Hashem will lead us to sense the sweetness of His commandments, we will not focus on this sweetness. Rather, we will focus simply on carrying out Hashem’s command. This state of being is the apex of spiritual greatness.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Savo, Part 3

A major element of this week’s parashah is the tochachah: the litany of curses that will come upon us if we do not heed Hashem’s word. One of the verses in the tochachah reads as follows (Devarim 28:61): “Also every sickness and every plague that is not written in this book of law, Hashem shall put upon you until you are destroyed.” The Maggid notes that, at first glance, this verse is hard to understand – did Hashem tire out or run out of parchment so as to be unable to write down these other curses?
The Maggid then explains as follows. We suffer exile and affliction in order to purge the sins of our fathers that still influence our behavior. As Yirmiyah puts it (Eichah 5:7): “Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we have borne their iniquities.” The Torah itself puts the matter in the following way (Devarim 4:25-26): “When you beget children and grandchildren and become old-time residents of the land, and become corrupt, and make all sorts of graven images, and do evil in the eyes of Hashem to anger Him. I appoint today Heaven and Earth as witnesses concerning you, that you shall surely become lost quickly from upon the land .…” At a specified point, our measure of sin will be filled and we will go into exile.
The Torah pronounced curses upon us according to the measure of our fathers’ sins, as reckoned by the number of years they dwelled in the land (see Rashi on Devarim 4:25). But if we sin further, beyond the measure of our fathers’ sins, the curses stated in the Torah do not suffice. Moreover, just as our deeds are indeterminate, so too the curses are indeterminate. It is regarding this that the Torah states: “Also all every sickness and every plague that is not written ….” The verse is referring to the punishment for the extra sins, beyond the measure that the Torah specifies.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Savo, Part 2

This week’s parashah presents the declaration that a person is supposed to make to testify that he has properly separated and distributed his tithes. The declaration includes the following statement (Devarim 26:14): “I have hearkened unto the voice of Hashem, my God; I have carried through according to all You have commanded me (k’chol asher tzivisani).” The Maggid notes the prefix kaf on the word k’chol. Without the kaf, the statement would read: “I have carried through all You commanded me.” The kaf has the effect of adding the phase “according to.” What is the import of this phrase?
The Maggid explains as follows. The statement “I have carried through all You commanded me” implies that the speaker has done as he has solely because he was compelled by Hashem’s command. It is like a soldier involuntarily following the orders of his commander, and then reporting that the orders have been carried out. The statement “I have carried through according to all You commanded me,” however, has a different meaning. This statement implies that the speaker understands that Hashem has given him good counsel, and he has willingly acted according to Hashem’s directions. He realizes that Hashem has told him to do certain things because they are necessary for the well-being of his soul.
It is in this vein, the Maggid says, that the Sifrei comments that the verse carries an implicit message: “I have rejoiced and caused others to rejoice on account of this.” A person who does something out of compulsion does not rejoice in doing it. But a person who does something because a wise and caring counselor has told him to do so rejoices fervently.
We can interpret in the same way the following verse (Tehillim 119:9): “How can a youth purify his path? By observing according to Your word.” If one enthusiastically acts according to Hashem’s directives out of knowledge that they are designed for his benefit, he will purify his path.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Savo

For a masterful essay from the Maggid’s commentary on Eichah that relates to both the tochachah section and the bikkurim section of this week’s parashah, see
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Ki Seitzei

The Midrash relates (Shemos Rabbah 34:1, end):
When the Holy One Blessed Be He said to Moshe (Shemos 25:8), “Make Me a sanctuary,” he broke out in wonder: “The glory of the Holy One Blessed Be He fills the heavenly realm and the earthly realm, and He is telling me, ‘Make Me a sanctuary’?” Moreover, he looked out [with prophetic vision] and saw Shlomo standing and building the Beis HaMikdash, which was larger than the Mishkan, and saying before the Holy One Blessed Be He (Melachim Aleph 8:27): “Will God indeed dwell on earth?” Moshe declared: “If in the case of the Beis HaMikdash, which is much larger than the Mishkan, Shlomo speaks thus, how much more so with the Mishkan!” … Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “Not as you think do I think. Rather, [just] twenty planks on the north side, twenty on the south side, and eight on the west side. Moreover, I will descend and contract My Presence into a space of a cubit by a cubit” [the dimensions of the Luchos, which were contained within the Aron].
The Maggid explains that Hashem had a different perspective on the Mishkan than Moshe did. Moshe thought that the Mishkan would remain forever in its proper state of purity, with the Divine Presence eternally abiding within it. And if this were so, it would be fitting to make the Mishkan expansive. But Hashem was concerned that the Mishkan would become defiled through the Jewish People’s sins. He therefore directed that the Mishkan be built on a small scale: “twenty planks on the north side, twenty on the south side, and eight on the west side.” Indeed, because of the Jewish People’s sins the Divine Presence eventually fled the Beis HaMikdash, leaving just a physical shell that was ultimately destroyed.
The Maggid then notes that in this week’s haftarah we see the other side of the coin. Yeshayah declares (verse 54:2): “Expand the area of your tent and let the sheet walls of your dwellings extend out – do not be sparing; lengthen your tent-cords and strengthen your tent-pegs.” The original Mishkan and Batei Mikdash had to be built on a limited scale, because they were destined to become defaced and defiled. But with the Mikdash of the future era there will be no need to be sparing. Thus Yeshayah says further (verse 54:4): “Do not be afraid, for you shall not be shamed. Do not feel humiliated, for you shall not be disgraced. For you shall forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you shall remember no longer.” In the end of days, we will need no longer fear that our Mikdash might be defiled, for the forces of spiritual impurity will be driven from the face of the earth. It will then be fitting to make the Mikdash expansive – there will be no need to hold back.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Seitzei

This week’s parashah discusses a wide variety of mitzvos, some presented previously and some presented now for the first time. One of these mitzvos is hashavas aveidah – returning a lost object. This mitzvah was presented previously in parashas Mishpatim (Shemos 23:4): “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey straying, you must surely return it to him.” The Maggid, in his commentary on this week’s parashah (Ohel Yaakov, parashas Ki Seitzei), notes that there are three verses in Tanach that contain the word “straying” (to’eh). One of them is the verse we just quoted. The second is the following (Bereishis 37:15): “And a man found him [Yosef] straying in the field, and the man asked him, saying, ‘What are you seeking?’” The third is the following (Mishlei 21:16): “The man who strays from the path of sense shall lie with the congregation of the dead.”
The Maggid says that these three verses allude to the three basic ways that a person can come to stray from the proper path. The verse that speaks of straying in the field alludes to straying as a result of being too wrapped up in one’s livelihood and other similar worldly pursuits. The verse about returning straying animals alludes to straying as a result of being overcome by physical desire – the Hebrew word for donkey, chamor, is related to the Hebrew word for physicality, chomrius. Finally, the verse about straying from the path of sense alludes to straying as a result of heretical thoughts and beliefs. The Maggid notes that the word to’eh in the first two verses is written in incomplete spelling, without a vav, while in the third verse it is written in complete spelling. This hints at the fact that straying due to heretical thoughts is the worst form of straying – a person who has become convinced of a false view is unlikely to mend his ways, for he believes what he is doing is right.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Shoftim

In this week’s haftarah, Yeshayah HaNavi exhorts (verse 52:2): “Shake yourself off from the dirt, arise!” The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 75:1) interprets this exhortation as a charge to be “like a hen that shakes its wings off from ashes.” The Maggid explains the Midrash as follows. A hen might roll around in the dirt and thrash about in the sand, and get covered with dust from head to foot. But, still, her state of cleanliness is hers to choose. If a person would try to wipe her totally clean, he would have a very hard time. But if she would decide on her own to shake herself off, she would quickly and easily become totally clean again, without a trace of dust. So it is with us, Hashem’s holy people. Our level of purity is ours to choose: It is within our own power to return to Hashem in repentance with complete regret for our misdeeds. As soon as we are stirred to cleanse ourselves, our impurities will be easily wiped away.
In Eichah 4:1, Yirmiyah likens the Jewish People to pure gold and fine vessels. As we know, these items do not corrode and are easy to clean. Even when they get full of mud, a mere light wiping will render them spotless, making them shine as before. So it is with us. Hashem implanted each of us with a pure heart. Our souls are clean and pure, refined like fine silver and gold. We are not subject to irreparable corrosion. Only because our souls are lying in the dirt, sunken in the quagmire of exile, are we soiled with sin and stained with the grime of iniquity.
In Eichah 1:6, Yirmiyah laments that the Jewish People “walked without strength before the pursuer.” The Maggid, in his commentary on this verse, presents a novel homiletical interpretation which describes with striking accuracy the state of affairs in our times. He builds on the following verse (Devarim 28:33): “And you will be just oppressed and pressured all your days.” The Maggid explains that when we are exposed to the horrid pall of a degenerate culture, we are are “just oppressed” – oppressed without an oppressor. We go along before the pursuer without the pursuer applying any force. We simply absorb the evil influences that engulf us, and the oppression takes place by itself.
But we have a way to escape this oppression. If we take the initiative, we can shake off the evil influences – like a hen that shakes its wings off from ashes.
David Zucker, Site Administrator