Post Archive for October 2008

Haftaras Noach

This week’s haftarah contains the following passage (Yeshayah 54:4-8):
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. For the One Who has wed you is your Maker – the Lord of Hosts is His Name. Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel – God of the entire world shall He be called. For like a wife who had been abandoned and melancholy has Hashem called you, and like the wife of youth who had been cast off, says your God. 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 moment, but I shall favor you mercifully with eternal kindness, says Hashem, your Redeemer.
The Maggid presents a beautiful interpretation of this passage. Usually when a husband sends his wife away it is because he is upset with her. Thus, if he later reconciles with her and takes her back, she still feels shame over having been sent away. But there are situations where a husband separates from his wife temporarily out of love. One example is where doctors recommend a temporary separation in order to enable the couple to have children. In this case, the wife feels no shame at all when her husband takes her back. For she knows that her husband’s intent in sending her away was to bring her the glorious joy of motherhood.
In a similar way, the exile that we experience now is designed to lead to our ultimate glory, which will come with the final redemption, just as plowing and planting is done in order to produce a crop. Thus, when the final redemption takes place, we will feel no shame over having previously been exiled. We will be aware that Hashem exiled us out of love, in order to bring us eternal glory. The One Who will re-wed Himself to us is our Maker – the One Who has directed our entire history toward this end. The entire world will acknowledge Hashem’s power and recognize how He directed all the events of history to lead to our final redemption. Hashem hid His face from us for a short time – a moment, so to speak – in order to favor us with eternal kindness.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Noach

It is a basic tenet of Judaism that the mitzvos are decrees from Hashem, and we are obligated to obey them whether the conduct Hashem mandated makes sense to us or not. We see this clearly in regard to the mitzvos that are presented as pure decrees without any reason. But, says the Maggid, it is also true of a mitzvah for which the Torah states a reason, or for which there is an evident reason. Even if the reason does not appear to apply, we must keep the mitzvah anyway. For in addition to the revealed reason behind the mitzvah, there are deeper hidden reasons of which only Hashem is aware.
The Maggid connects this idea with the following Midrash on this week’s parashah (Bereishis Rabbah 34:4):
It is written (Koheles 10:4): “If the spirit of the Ruler comes upon you, do not leave your place.” This verse refers to Noach. Said Noach: “Just as I entered the ark only with authorization, so, too, I will leave the ark only with authorization.” [It is written:] “Enter the ark,” [and then], “And Noach entered.” [It is written:] “Go out from the ark,” [and then], “And Noach went out.”
When the flood came to an end, Noach remained in the ark. Since Hashem had commanded him to enter the ark, he understood that he was to keep staying there, even though the apparent reason for his being there no longer applied. Only after Hashem told him to leave did he leave.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Bereishis

In his commentary on Shir HaShirim 3:1, the Maggid analyzes the struggle with the evil inclination. As part of this discourse, he discusses the interchange between Hashem and Kayin (Cain) in this week’s parashah. Hashem tells Kayin (Bereishis 4:7): “Behold, if you improve your ways, you will gain favor. But if you do not improve your ways, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is cast toward you, but you can rule over it.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 22:6, end):
R. Chanina bar Pappa explained: “If your evil inclination comes to play tricks on you, push it away with words of Torah. … And if you say that it is not subject to your dominion, … I have already written down for you in the Torah, ‘its desire is cast toward you, but you can rule over it.’” R. Siemon explained: “If your evil inclination comes to play tricks on you, gladden it with words of Torah. … And if you say that it is not subject to your dominion, I have already written down in the Torah, ‘its desire is cast toward you,’ etc.”
The Maggid explains this discussion as follows. R. Chanina bar Pappa teaches that a person has the capacity, by instilling the fear of Hashem in his heart, to subdue his evil inclination and direct himself to serving Hashem. A person may be confronted from within by waves of desire that tempt him to sin, but he can halt them through fear of Divine punishment. R. Siemon goes a step further. He teaches that a person can redirect his inner drive from evil to good; he can essentially wipe out all his physical lusts, and reach the point where his sole desire is to cling to Torah and serve Hashem. Both Sages build on the same verse, but from different viewpoints. R. Chanina bar Pappa interprets the verse according to its simple meaning. He regards the phrase “you can rule over it” as teaching that a person can place his evil inclination under the rule of his intellect, and break the force of desire that lures him toward illusory pleasures. R. Siemon, on the other hand, builds on a homiletical reading of the phrase “its desire is cast toward you.” He interprets this phrase as teaching that a person’s force of desire is cast into his own hands, enabling him to redirect it toward advancing his own will. Thus, a person can train his inner spirit to long for Torah and mitzvos, to love justice, and to hate evil and crookedness.
We can elaborate on the Maggid’s explanation and say that the two views represent two succesive stages in the process of taming the evil inclination. In parallel, in line with the Mesillas Yesharim, we can identify two successive stages in dealing with the material world. The first stage is prishus – abstaining as much as possible from material benefits. The second stage, after several intermediate steps of character development, is kedushah – making free use of material benefits, but infusing this use with holiness by directing it entirely toward the purpose of serving Hashem.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Megillas Koheles

I am pleased to announce that I have, with Hashem’s help, just completed the first draft of the book Voice of Nobles – Commentary of the Dubner Maggid on the Book of Ecclesiastes (Koheles). An excerpt from the book can be accessed from the Voice of Nobles page of this site. Another excerpt is presented below.
In the opening passage of Megillas Koheles, Shlomo HaMelech challenges: “What gain does a man achieve from all his labor that he will labor beneath the sun?” The Maggid brings out one facet of this challenge with a sharp parable.
A lad from a distant province came to a certain town and hired himself out as a servant to one of the residents. This lad was in a hapless state, for he was slow-witted and no connection with anyone in the town. One day, he went wandering in the marketplace, and then sat by one of the surrounding houses for an hour or two. The master of the house recognized him and exclaimed: “You are my own flesh and blood!” The lad was very happy, as is natural for a stranger who finds a relative in town who can look out for him. He took upon himself, as a volunteer effort, to spend one hour each day doing various jobs for this fellow. He happily did whatever he could to help. This fellow’s neighbors saw how diligently and faithfully the lad worked, and they all decided to take advantage of him. Each of them deceitfully befriended him and claimed to be his relative. He was quickly swamped with a large cadre of bogus relatives. And he would do favors for them all, taking care of odd jobs for them almost every day.
Eventually the lad’s employer found out what was going on. Naturally, he was very upset that his hired hand was wandering around and spending most of his time working for these other people, while putting aside the work he was supposed to be doing for him. He asked the lad: “I realize you are helping your relatives, but what are they doing for you?” The lad replied: “Far be it from me to accept any favors from my dear relatives for helping them. I wish only that I could spend all my time helping them.” The employer countered: “Seeing that they don’t do anything for you, how do you know that they are really your relatives? Maybe they are lying, and are treating you as family only for their own benefit.” 
The parallel is as follows. The creations of the world deceitfully beckon to man, leading him to labor for their benefit, doing all he can for them. He ends up spending all his time ministering to them. Shlomo therefore says: “True, your labor brings benefit to the world, but what benefit does it bring you? And if it brings you no benefit, perhaps it is a false pursuit.” Tellingly, when Shlomo speaks of the futility of such labor, he describes it as “labor beneath the sun.” This phrase alludes to work man does merely to serve the needs of the physical world, with no benefit to him.
Thus, it does not pay to get wrapped up in worldly pursuits and pleasures. It is better to limit one’s connection with the worldly realm to the minimum necessary. As our Sages teach (Avos 6:4): “This is the way of Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water by measure, and sleep on the ground; live a life of deprivation, and toil in the Torah. If you do so, then ‘you are fortunate, and it is well with you’ (Tehillim 128:2)—you will be fortunate in this world, and it will be well with you in the World to Come.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Yom Kippur

It is written (Eichah 5:21): “Return us to You, O Hashem, and we shall return. Renew our days as of old (k’kedem).” This verse plays a prominent role in the Selichos prayers of the days of repentence and Yom Kippur.
In his commentary on this verse, the Maggid makes a point of noting that it written k’kedem rather than k’mi-kedem. The Maggid says that if it had been written k’mi-kedem, we would be asking Hashem to restore our days to their original state. We would be speaking of days that we have damaged, but only to a modest degree, so that they can still be repaired. But instead it is written k’kedem. This, the Maggid says, means that we are asking Hashem to give us a new allotment of days like what we had at the beginning, so that we can begin again from the start. A mere repair is not possible, for the damage is too great. We approach Hashem with a broken heart, and tell Him that we know we have made a total wreck of our days. In this vein, we begin the confession with the word ashamnu. The Chayei Odom notes that the word ashamnu is related to the word shemamah, meaning desolation. He explains that we are admitting to Hashem that our souls deserve to be made desolate for what we have done. But it is also possible to interpret the declaration of ashamnu as an admission that we have devastated our own souls. We realize we have ruined ourselves by following an erroneous path. We thus plead with Hashem to renew our days as of old – to give us a second chance, and let us begin again anew.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Shuvah

This week’s haftarah begins with the following exhortation (Hoshea 14:2): “Return, O Israel, up to Hashem your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.” The Maggid notes that the verse does not say el Hashem, meaning simply to Hashem, but rather ad Hashem, which I have rendered as up to Hashem. He explains the idea behind this choice of language with an analogy.
Consider a person who has a legal dispute with his neighbor. If he says “let us go to the king,” this implies that he has already gone to the magistrates of law but did not prevail. Believing that they did not judge the case properly, he says: “I will go with the opposing litigant to the king himself.” But if the person says “let us go up to the king,” this means that he wishes to bypass the royal magistrates and bring his claim directly to the king.
The Maggid elaborates the analogy further. Suppose it is a pauper who is embroiled in the dispute, and he does not have the means to bribe the judges. He will then say to himself: “What will it help to go from officer to officer? I have nothing to offer them. Instead I will go straight to the king, who is not interested in bribes. Because he is kind, he will accept my claim and will not send me away empty-handed.”
The Maggid explains the parallel as follows. The Kingdom of Heaven operates like an earthly kingdom. There are Heavenly officers whose task is bring our prayers before Hashem. [Note: We do not pray to these officers, far be it. Rather, we pray to Hashem, and rely on the officers to carry out their appointed task.] These officers do not allow our prayers to pass on to Hashem unless the prayers are accompanied by a proper measure of good deeds. Without that, they do not register our prayers at all. Not so with Hashem Himself: in His great kindness, He pays attention even to the prayers of those barren of good deeds.
Thus, the way to seek acquittal is to turn directly up to Hashem. We cannot work with the usual channels, relying on our merits, for our iniquity is readily apparent. As our Sages put it (Berachos 31a): “What Torah and what mitzvah is there to protect us?” Turning directly up to Hashem is our only hope.
In the same vein, the Torah declares (Devarim 4:30): “In your distress, when all these things come upon you, in the end of days you shall return up to Hashem your God and you shall hearken unto His voice.” Here again, ad is used in place of el. When we are in distress, our only recourse is to return straight up to Hashem, since we have nothing to give the Heavenly officers. All this is hinted at in the Gemara’s statement (Yoma 86a): “Great is repentance, which reaches up to (ad) the Throne of Glory.” This teaching expresses precisely the same idea.
David Zucker, Site Administrator