Post Archive for July 2009

Megillas Eichah and Parashas Vaeschanan

In Eichah Rabbah Pesichasa 11, the Midrash remarks:
Had you merited, you would have encountered the verse (Vayikra 15:30): “For on this day He shall atone for you to purify you.” Now that you have not merited, you encounter the verse (Eichah 1:9): “Her filth was on her hems. She did not pay heed to what her end would be.”
The Maggid explains this verse in the context of a verse in parashas Vaeschanan (Devarim 4:9): “Just guard yourself and guard your soul well lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and they become removed from your heart all the days of your life. And make these things known to your children and your children’s children.” Note that the verse exhorts us about guarding twice: “Guard yourself and guard your soul well .…” We need to understand the message behind this double exhortation.
The Maggid explains that sin causes two types of loss. First, the sinner distorts the straight path that Hashem desired the world to follow, and damages the magnificent structure that He built. Regarding this it is written (Mishlei 1:25): “And you have set at naught all My counsel.” Second, he ravages his own soul. He extinguishes the love implanted in his heart for Torah and mitzvos. He dulls his intelligence: he puts out the lamp which was providing him light to distinguish between uprightness and crookedness. Regarding this, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Koheles 1:15): “The crooked cannot be made straight.” If the sinner’s soul were still intact as before the sin, it would urge him to make amends and straighten out the situation. He would be just as distraught over his misdeed as he would be over a great loss of money or property. The stirrings of his heart would spur him on to take action to rectify the loss. But the damaged soul does not feel the need to set things right.
Hence the Torah exhorts us: “Guard yourself and guard your soul well . …” We must guard ourselves against the damage itself: sin mutilates what Hashem has set in place. In addition we must guard our souls well, so that the light of intelligence and comprehension within us will not be extinguished, making the loss irretrievable. We must take care that they not “become removed from your heart all the days of your life.” For then we will no longer be aroused to rectify the misdeed.
The Midrash teaches us the consequences of failing to guard our souls. “Had you merited, you would have encountered the verse: ‘For on this day He shall atone for you to purify you.’” The atonement would be complete, with no remaining trace of the stains of sin. Moreover, our souls would return to their full strength, to be enlightened with the light of intelligence as before. But “now that you have not merited, you encounter the verse: ‘Her filth is on her hems.’” Yom Kippur still atones for us and absolves of the punishment that we deserve for our sins, but that is all. Our souls remain stained with the debility of sin, and we still walk in darkness. Thus, “Her filth is on her hems” – the mark of defilement remains in place. Let us strive to guard our souls, so that we may be cleansed completely of the effects of the sins we commit.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Five Megillos Series Now Completed

With thanks and praise to the Ribbono Shel Olam, I am pleased to announce that I have now published a new volume of Dubno Maggid translations: Voice of Nobles: Commentary of the Dubner Maggid on the Book of Ecclesiastes (Koheles). For more information on this volume, visit the page Voice of Nobles. The book will be available for sale in US and Israeli bookstores, and internationally through the Feldheim Publications website, in about a month or so. With the publication of this volume, I have completed the five volume series on the Five Megillos. It is my hope that the works I have published so far will be of benefit to the public, and that I will be able soon to go on to other works.

Parashas Devarim

In this week’s parashah, Moshe tells the Jewish People (Devarim 1:10-11): “Hashem your God has multiplied you, and, behold, today you are like the stars of the heavens in number. May Hashem, the God of your forefathers, magnify you a thousandfold, and bless you as He told you.” The Midrash relates (Devarim Rabbah 1:13):
[Said the Jewish People to Moshe:] “Moshe, our teacher! The Holy One Blessed Be He set no limit on our blessings, yet you say ‘a thousandfold’?” He replied: “I have blessed you with what is mine. When the Holy One Blessed Be He comes, He will bless you as He told you.”
Three questions arise regarding this Midrash. First, if Hashem was going to bless the people without limit, what need was there for Moshe’s blessing? Second, what did Moshe mean when he said he was giving them from what is his? It seems he was saying that he owned the blessing he was giving them. How could this be? Third, why did Moshe say specifically “a thousandfold”?
The Maggid explains that Moshe’s intent was to bless the Jewish People in terms of quality. He was telling them: “Now you match the stars of the heaven in number, but not in eminence. May Hashem magnify each of you a thousandfold in eminence, so that each of you will attain the spiritual excellence of Avraham Avinu.”The Jewish People, however, understood the blessing as relating to quantity. They therefore said: “The Holy One Blessed Be He set no limit to our blessings, yet you say ‘a thousandfold’?” Moshe replied: “I have blessed you with what is mine.” Here Moshe was saying: “You did not understand what I meant. My blessing was in terms of quality. I was blessing you with what is mine. I was saying that each of you should be blessed as I was blessed.”
Moshe chose the term “thousand” to express the idea that each Jew should be like a multitude. Our Sages say that Moshe was equivalent to the entire Jewish People (Mechilta, Yisro 1, quoted in Rashi on Shemos 18:1). In other words, he embodied their entire ensemble of virtue. Moreover, the our Sages say that everything is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven (Berachos 33b). Among everything in this world, the only thing man has a hold on is fear of Heaven. When Moshe told the people that he was blessing them with what was his, he was telling them that he was blessing them with what was in his hands but not in Hashem’s: fear of Heaven. And then Moshe added that Hashem would bless them as He had told them: a blessing in terms of quantity, which is in His hands – so that they would multiply and become numerous beyond measure.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Mattos-Masei

Parashas Mattos recounts the war the Jewish People waged against Midian for luring them into licentious conduct, which led to a major chillul Hashem. The Midrash, in Bamidbar Rabbah 22:5, notes that Moshe yearned to behold this act of vengeance before his death, and Hashem granted this wish. The Midrash links the episode to the following verse (Tehillim 58:11): “The righteous one rejoiced when he beheld vengeance.”
The Maggid brings out the message of this Midrash with a shrewd parable. A certain rich man had a son who was addicted to wine, and would get drunk day after day. Naturally, the father was very upset. Then a sage came to town, and offered to cure the lad of his addiction; he promised that, when he was through, the lad would despise wine like roaches and rats. The father handed his son over to the sage, and some time later the sage returned, saying: “You can take your boy back now – I have drilled into him a total disgust of alcohol.”
Despite this proclamation of success, the father took care not to bring any alcohol into the house. And he saw that, indeed, his son did not ask for wine as he always had before. Eventually, the father decided to put his son to a more challenging test. He told him: “Go, my son, to the liquor store, and buy me a bottle of wine.” When the lad entered the store, the very sight of wine and liquor made him livid, and he started smashing bottles left and right. The storeowner restrained the boy, and then went to the father to complain: “Your son has caused me enormous damage by destroying my merchandise!” Upon hearing this, the father broke out in a grin. He said: “Don’t worry, I’ll pay for all the damage. Not only that, but I’m happy to hear what my son did, for now I really know how much he hates alcohol.”
The parallel is as follows. Moshe wanted to know how the Jewish People felt about the despicable conduct the Midianites had lured them into. He therefore yearned to witness the battle of vengeance that the Jewish People would wage against them. He was concerned that the people still harbored some leanings toward licentiousness, which would lead them to fight half-heartedly. But when he saw the Jews mercilessly beating the living pulp out the Midianites, Moshe knew for sure that the Jews were filled with disgust with what the Midianites had led them to do. And, upon beholding this zealous vengeance, he rejoiced.     
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Pinchas

The end of last week’s parashah describes how Pinchas took vengeance on the Jewish man Zimri and the Midianite woman Cozbi for committing an act of immorality. The beginning of this week’s parashah recounts that, as reward for this heroic deed, Hashem granted Pinchas “a covenant of eternal priesthood.” The Midrash remarks (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:1): “Said the Holy Only Blessed Be He, ‘It is just that he should collect his reward.’”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. When a person serves Hashem in an exemplary fashion, Hashem grants him more responsibility in the realm of mitzvos. Pinchas serves as a paradigm for this principle: because of his heroic deed, Hashem granted him the status of kohen, along with the merit of passing this status down to his descendants. (As Rashi explains, although Pinchas was Aharon’s grandson, he did not inherit kohen status, because he was born before Aharon and his sons were annointed as kohanim.) A person who is promoted in this way acquires the opportunity to accumulate credit for additional mitzvos, which generate additional reward for him in the World to Come. We can well say that it is just for the person to collect this additional reward, because his initial exemplary service earned him the more advanced position through which he gained the added credit leading to it.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Balak

Bilaam’s second blessing to the Jewish People begins with a praise of Hashem (Bamidbar 23:19-20): “God is not a man, that He would be false, nor a son of man that He would retract. Would He proclaim and not perform, speak and not fulfill?” The Maggid notes that, on the surface, this praise seems odd. Ostensibly, Bilaam is praising Hashem for taking care not to go back on His word. This seems not much of a praise. Indeed, even in regard to a mortal man, it is not really a praise to say “He keeps his word.” We expect people to keep their word; we would not regard doing so as a point of merit, but rather would regard failing to so so as a flaw. How, then, can we view Bilaam’s statement about Hashem as a genuine praise?
After raising this question, the Maggid proceeds to sharpen it. The Midrash, in Bereishis Rabbah 53:4, links Bilaam’s words to the verse that begins the Torah’s account of Yitzchak’s birth (Bereishis 21:1): “Hashem remembered Sarah as He had said, and Hashem did for Sarah as He had spoken.” Slightly earlier, in Bereishis Rabbah 53:1, the Midrash notes that Hashem makes a point of telling us that He is not like those who speak but do not do. He directs Yechezkel HaNavi to declare in His Name (Yechezkel 17:24): “I am Hashem – I have spoken and I have done.” Here we find Hashem Himself taking pride that He does as He says. Why does Hashem view such conduct as showing His greatness?
The Maggid then answers as follows. For mortal man, speech and action are separate processes. Hence, it is possible for a person to make a promise and not fulfill it. The promise could be a false one, i.e., made with the intent not to fulfill it. Or the person could retract on a promise he initially intended to fulfill, and later decide not to fulfill it. But with Hashem, both of these scenarios are logically impossible, because, for Him, speech and action are not separate processes. Rather, when Hashem declares that something should come to be, the declaration itself makes it come to be. As David HaMelech says regarding Hashem’s creation of the world (Tehillim 33:9): “He spoke, and it came to be – He commanded, and it stood firm.”
Thus, when the Torah states “Hashem remembered Sarah as He had said,” the Torah is indicating that at very moment that Hashem promised Sarah a child, He set in motion the process leading to this outcome.  We can see this hint by reading the Hebrew phrase ka’asher amar not as “in the manner that He had said” but rather as “when He had said.” The message is that when Hashem made the promise, its eventual fulfillment was an automatic result.
Blessed Be the One Who spoke, and the world came to be!
David Zucker, Site Administrator