Post Archive for May 2009

Kabbalas HaTorah

The Midrash states (Vayikra Rabbah 27:7):
All the sublime good works that the Holy One Blessed Be He will bring about for Israel in the end of days are only on account of the simple call that you gave forth before Me at Sinai, when you said (Shemos 24:4): “All that Hashem has spoken we shall do and we shall listen.”
The Maggid expounds on this teaching in Ohel Yaakov, parashas Emor. He notes that the bulk of our good deeds is the not the result of our own efforts, but rather of the support Hashem gives us. Our only contribution is the simple step of choosing to follow the Torah path. Once we decide that we want to follow the Torah, Hashem gives us the ability to do so – as the Gemara says (Yoma 38b), when a person decides to purify himself, Hashem helps him achieve this goal.
This explanation ties in with an idea I heard in a drashah some time ago. The Gemara says (Berachos 33b): “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven.” On the other hand, in our prayers we repeatedly ask Hashem to imbue us with fear of Heaven (along with love of Torah and other good traits). So which is it? Is fear of Heaven in our hands, or Hashem’s? The darshan answered that, in truth, fear of Heaven is also in Hashem’s hands. Our part is simply to form the desire to attain fear of Heaven. If we form the desire, Hashem will take care of all the rest. But there is one condition: Our desire to attain fear of Heaven must be firm, not half-hearted. If we want spiritual greatness, Hashem will grant it to us. But we have to really want it. Forming a whole-hearted desire to obey Hashem’s will is the essence of kabbalas HaTorah.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Bamidbar

Sefer Bamidbar begins with a census of the Jewish People. Our Sages therefore selected, as the haftarah for parashas Bamidbar, a portion beginning with the following verse (Hoshea 2:1): “Still, the number of the Children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured our counted.” Although the regular haftarah for Bamidbar is preempted this year by the special haftarah for erev Rosh Chodesh, I felt it would still be interesting to present one of the Maggid’s teachings relating to the regular haftarah.
In Bamdibar Rabbah 2:18, the Midrash notes that Hoshea’s statement seems self-contradictory. Hoshea first speaks of the number of the Children of Israel, and then says that they will be beyond number. The Midrash resolves the difficulty by saying that when the Jewish People do not fulfill Hashem’s will they are numbered, but when they do fulfill Hashem’s will they are beyond number.
In explaining this Midrash, the Maggid draws an analogy to how a person outfits his home. Certain items, such as earthenware, have value only in terms of their functionality. People usually own only the minimum number of such items that they need. Other items, such as silver and gold vessels, not only serve a function, but are also appealing and of value in their own right. People therefore tend to own many more such items than they need. 
The Jewish Nation is the only nation that has accepted Hashem’s Torah and thereby is bonded to Him. Accordingly, as the Maggid explains in his last essay on the Book of Ruth, the Jewish Nation is an indispensible component of the world. When Jews are lax in fulfilling God’s will, there is only one justification for the existence of the Jewish Nation: the simple fact that it is necessary for the continued existence of the world. In this situation, Hashem keeps the world stocked with only the minimum necessary complement of Jews, making the Jewish People numbered. But when the Jewish People fulfill Hashem’s will diligently, Hashem regards them as delightful treasures, as it is written (Yeshayah 62:4): “You shall be called ‘My desire is for her.’” He therefore makes them abundant beyond number.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Behar Bechukosai

Parashas Behar begins with the laws of shmittah and yovel. This laws involve groupings of years into, respectively, seven-year and fifty-year units. The Maggid notes that we can learn a moral lesson from these groupings. He gives an analogy to a beggar collecting coins. When he amasses a thousand pennies, it looks like he has collected a lot. But his intake becomes much less impressive when we note that it amounts to just ten one-dollar bills, and just one ten-dollar bill. Similarly, a typical person’s lifespan is seventy years (Tehillim 90:10). At first, it seems like a lot. But this lifespan becomes much less impressive when we note that it amounts to just ten shmittah units, and a bit under a yovel and a half.
I note that the same idea is reflected in the mitzvah of birkas ha-chamah, which we performed last month. Once in twenty-eight years, the sun completes a full cycle and returns to the position where it was at the time of creation, on the same day of the week as when Hashem first placed it in the heavens. For this occasion, our Sages instituted a berachah: “Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who makes the work of creation.” It is a berachah that we have the chance to say only two or three times (or perhaps four) in a lifetime. When we stand before Hashem to say this special praise to Him for His wondrous creation, realizing that we have but a few chances to experience this exalted event, we naturally come to view ourselves much more humbly.
David HaMelech entreats Hashem (Tehillim 39:5): “Let me know my end, Hashem – and the measure of my days, what it is, so that I will know [clearly] when I will cease to be.” The Maggid explains that David is not asking Hashem to tell him how many days he has to live. Rather, he is asking Hashem to tell him how few days he has to live, in order to dispel any feelings of complacency and make him rush to purify his deeds.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Emor

In this week’s parashah, the Torah tells us (Vayikra 22:27): “When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain under its mother for seven days – and from the eighth day and on, it shall be acceptable as a fire-offering unto Hashem.” The Torah continues with some laws concerning offerings. The Midrash expounds on the above verse as follows (Vayikra Rabbah 27:7, end, building on Yeshayah 41:24):
“Behold, you came from nothingness, and you simply gave forth voice.” … Said R. Levi: “All the sublime good works that the Holy One Blessed Be He will bring about for Israel in the end of days are only on account of the simple call that you gave forth before Me at Sinai, when you said (Shemos 24:4): ‘All that Hashem has spoken we shall do and we shall listen.’” “The abominable one shall choose you” – this refers to the abominable one of which it is written (Shemos 32:8): “They made for themselves a molten calf.” From this very “abominable one,” bring before Me an offering, as it is written: “An ox or a sheep ….”
The Maggid inteprets this Midrash with a parable. A rich man decided to marry a certain young lady from a poor family, because she was of fine character. In the past, the young lady often went knocking on neighbors’ doors to borrow various things, as poor people usually do. The rich man sought to educate her in the mode of conduct that it would befit her to follow when she became his wife. He told her: “Once you are married to me, you will have no need to go to the neighbors anymore. You should just stay at home.” The young lady asked: “Will I have to be a shut-in?” The man answered: “Of course not. But when you are married to me, it will be different from how it was before. Up to now, you had to go out to seek others. From now on, others will come to seek you.”
The explanation is as follows. When we were slaves in Egypt, we were suffused with Egypt’s idolatrous culture, and thus virtually in a state of spiritual nothingness. Then, with a mere word – the simple call we gave forth at Sinai – we became bound to Hashem and thereby rose to a supremely lofty station. But, as the episode of the golden calf showed, we were still drawn toward the lowly idolatrous practices to which we had been accustomed. (While the Kuzari explains that the golden calf was not an idol in the usual sense, it was clearly patterned after idolatry.) Hashem sought to wean us from these practices, and educate us in the mode of conduct we would follow as a nation of ministers devoted to carrying out His word. He therefore told us: “It will not be as it was in Egypt, where people turned to the constellations to draw bounty from them. On the contrary, the animals that these constellations represent will run to put themselves at your disposal – and as you bring these animals as offerings to Me, the entire universe will draw sustenance through your holy service.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator