Post Archive for October 2009

Parashas Lech-Lecha

At the Bris Bein HaBesarim (Covenant Between the Parts), Hashem tells Avraham (then called Avram) that he will inherit the land. Avraham asks: “Through what will I know that I will inherit it?” Hashem tells Avraham to bring various animals and birds, and Avraham does so, and then cuts the animals into pieces. (Bereishis Rabbah 44:14 states that the animals symbolized offerings.) Afterward, Hashem puts Avraham into a deep sleep, and tells him that his descendants will be enslaved and oppressed in a land not their own [Egypt], and will then leave with great wealth.
The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 44:14 explains that Avraham did not mean to challenge Hashem, far be it; rather, he wanted to know in what merit he would inherit the land. We are thus led to wonder why Hashem announced to Avraham, apparently as a punishment, about the bitter enslavement in Egypt. The Maggid gives two explanations.
1. The first explanation is that the announcement was not a punishment at all, but rather an answer to Avraham’s question. The Maggid draws a analogy to a doctor being asked by a patient what treatment he plans to administer as a cure, with the patient’s intent being simply to understand what will be taking place. If the doctor informs the patient that he will be giving him unpleasant medicines, he is just telling the patient what he wanted to know. Similarly, Avraham was asking Hashem what means He would use to settle his descendants in the land, and when Hashem informed him of the enslavement in Egypt, he was simply telling Avraham what he asked for. Just as plowing and planting is a preparatory step toward harvesting a crop, the enslavement was a preparatory step toward inheriting the land.
2. The second explanation is that the announcement was indeed a punishment of sorts, but it was designed to achieve the goal Avraham was seeking. Ramban explains that Avraham was led to ask his question out of worry that some later sin on his part would nullify the promise. The pain Hashem caused Avraham by telling him of the enslavement was meant to pre-empt Avraham’s worry. The Maggid notes that hearing about impending oppression causes a person distress similar to that caused actually beholding or experiencing the oppresion. By suffering the distress caused by Hashem’s announcement, Avraham was paying in advance for any sin he might later commit that could nullify the promise. By exacting this advance payment, Hashem obviated any possible need for Him to nullify the promise, and thereby locked in the promise with certainty.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Noach

The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 27:1):
“And Hashem saw that the evil of man was great” (Bereishis 6:5). It is written (Koheles 2:21): “There is a man who labors with wisdom, with knowledge, and with skill.” Said R. Yudan: “Great is the power of the prophets, who compare the creation to its Creator. As it is written (Daniel 8:16): ‘And I heard a human voice in the middle of the Ulai [Stream].’” Said R. Yehudah bar Siemon: “We have another verse that is clearer than that one. As it is written (Yechezkel 1:26), ‘And on the form of the throne, above it, there was a form having an appearance like that of a man.’” … “But gives over his portion to someone who did not labor for it” (end of Koheles 2:21)—this refers to the generation of the flood. “This, too, is futility and a great evil.” [Thus (Bereishis 6:5):] “And Hashem saw that the evil of man was great within the world.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. When Shlomo HaMelech, in Koheles 2:21, speaks of man’s laboring with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, he is referring to the fact that man acts entirely out of free choice. And when the Midrash speaks of man’s being compared to his Creator, it is referring to this power of free choice. In the generation of the flood, all the creations of the world adopted deviant patterns of behavior (Sanhedrin 108a), but only man did so out of free will. The other creations were forced into deviant behavior, due to the rupture in the fabric of nature that man’s evil had produced. Hence the Torah puts all the blame on man, declaring: “The evil of man was great within the world.” The perversion among the creations of the world reflected the evil of man, for this was the root cause.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Bereishis

The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 1:1 calls the Torah the blueprint of creation. The Maggid says this means that Hashem crafted the world specifically as a medium through which the Torah’s laws can operate. Take, for example, the concept of property. Among the heavenly hosts there are no property owners, except, of course, for Hashem Himself, who owns all His creations. Similarly, within the animal kingdom, there are no property owners; all the animals have equal “rights” to whatever food is available. Consistency would dictate that there be no concept of property at all. Yet, within the human realm, there is a concept of property. Why did Hashem make the world this way? He did so in order to give effect to certain Torah laws, such as the prohibition against stealing and coveting others’ property, the obligation to give charity and lend items to others who need them, and so on.
The Maggid draws an analogy to a person hiring an artisan to do some complex work in his home. The employer must prepare a work room for the artisan and equip it with the requisite tools. Similarly, in order to enable the Torah to function within the world, Hashem had to equip the world with the requisite features. Thus, the Torah dictated how the world should be set up, and hence served as the blueprint of creation.
 The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 1:10 relates:
For twenty-six generations the letter alef complained to Hashem, saying: “Master of the Universe! I am the first letter in the alphabet, but not not create Your world with me [rather, Hashem used the letter beis, with which Bereishis begins].” Replied Hashem: “The world and all it contains was created solely for the sake of the Torah, as it is written (Mishlei 3:19): ‘Hashem founded the world upon wisdom.’ In the future, I will be giving the Torah at Sinai, and I will begin the revelation with you, as it is written (Shemos 20:2): ‘I (anochi – beginning with an alef) am Hashem, your God.’”
The letter alef was upset over not having been the letter used to create the world. Hashem’s plan to begin the revelation at Sinai with the alef did not preclude using the alef also for the creation of the world. How, then, Hashem’s reply calm the alef down?
Hashem was telling the alef that the Torah is His primary creation, while the world is a subordinate. The sole function of the world is to serve as a medium for Torah. Hence, the alef has no reason to complain, for, in fact, Hashem gave it the true lead position. 
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Sukkos

Below are three Dubno Maggid teachings relating to Sukkos: one about the four species, one about a verse in Koheles, and one about parashas V’Zos HaBrachah. (I will not be posting next week.) Chag Sameach!
The Mitzvah of the Four Species – Insurance for a Good Year
In Vayikra Rabbah 30:3, it is written (paraphrased):
David HaMelech taught the People of Israel: “If you have fulfilled the mitzvah of lulav, which is called “pleasant” (naim) [alluding to the beauty of the four species, or to how they move when we wave them (the verb “na” means “move”), or to the beautiful praise of Hallel that we sing to Hashem while holding them], then you can be assured that you have prevailed (nitzachta) …. Thus, he wrote (Tehillim 16:11): “Pleasantness is at your right hand for eternity (netzach).” For it is written (Shmuel Alef 15:29): “The Eternal One of Israel (Netzach Yisrael)neither speaks falsely nor retracts.” Hence, Moshe exhorts the People of Israel (Vayikra 23:40): “You shall take for yourselves on the first day [the four species].”
The Maggid explains this Midrash with a parable. A poor man bought an item from a rich man at a low price, letting the seller hold onto the item until he received payment. On his way home, the poor man met one of his friends and told him the story. He then added: “I am worried, though, that the seller will change his mind.” The friend replied: “You fool! The rich man certainly will not renege. It is you who must make sure not to renege and fail to pay, for then the deal definitely will fall through.”
The message is as follows. We can surely trust Hashem’s promise to grant us blessing, for He neither speaks falsely or reneges. What we should concern ourselves with is making sure we are trustworthy in following His directives. How do we go about this? By training ourselves in mitzvah observance at the very beginning of the year, through the mitzvah of the four species (along with the other mitzvos associated with this time of the year). If we train ourselves well, we will have the Torah’s pleasant ways at our right hand perpetually thoughout the entire year. And then we can be certain that Hashem will follow through with His end of the bargain.   
Megillas Koheles
Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Koheles 2:24): “It is not good for man to eat and drink, and show his soul satisfaction in his labor. For that, too, I saw, is from the hand of God.” The Maggid notes that Shlomo repeatedly decries investing excessive exertion in worldly affairs. Shlomo advances several arguments for this view. One argument is that such exertion simply does not pay. It is a mistake for a person to think that he will reap all the fruits of his labors; in actuality, he will reap only a small fraction, and others will reap the rest. Another argument is that toiling constantly for worldly benefits leaves a person little time to enjoy them.
Then there is a third argument, which the Maggid brings out with a parable. A pauper visited a village where there were two inns. The owner of one inn was honorable and good, while the owner of the other was wicked and stingy. The pauper happened to go to the inn with the wicked owner. He asked for a bit of food. The owner replied: “If you want to indulge yourself this evening with food and drink, I will give you a job to do, and then I will arrange a meal for you in which you can eat your fill of fine food.” The pauper agreed, and he did the work the innkeeper gave him, with great exertion. When he had finished, the innkeeper told him: “Go now to the other inn. I have told the servants there to give you a fine meal.” The pauper made his way to the other inn. When he arrived, he received a cordial welcome, was served a fine meal, ate his fill, and had a very comfortable overnight stay. He imagined that all the fine treatment he had received was in compensation for the work he had done at the first inn. Later, he told his friends the story. They responded: “You have it all wrong. Had you gone to the second inn to begin with, you would have gotten the same fine treatment without doing any work. You sweated for nothing, and got your nice meal for free.”
The message of this parable is as follows. It is true that we must work for a living; indeed, Hashem decreed that we do so. Ultimately, however, everything we acquire comes from the hand of Hashem, and not from our own efforts. Hence, we ought not pat ourselves on the back in self-satisfaction over what we have acquired. Moreover, Hashem has the power to provide a person’s needs regardless of whether he works a lot or a little. Therefore, while working for a living is necessary, strenuous labor is needless and out of place.
Parashas V’zos HaBrachah
It is written (Devarim 33:2): “Hashem came from Sinai – having shone forth to them from Seir, having appeared from Mount Paran – and approached with a contingent of His holy myriads. From His right hand, He laid out for them [the Jewish People] the fiery Torah.” The Midrash remarks (Yalkut Shimoni I:951, slightly paraphrased): “When the word came out of the Holy One’s mouth, it went forth from His right, opposite the Jewish People’s left. It made a circuit around the Jewish People’s camp, …, and came back again, from the Jewish People’s right, opposite the All-Present One’s left.” The Maggid discusses the meaning of “right” and “left” here.
In general, “right” symbolizes the primary concern, while “left” symbolizes the subsidiary. Thus, in regard to the Torah, Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 3:16), “Length of days is at its right; at its left, wealth and honor.” Length of days, i.e., life itself, is the primary concern, whereas wealth and honor play a supporting role, helping our lives run smoothly.
Now, when Hashem gave us the Torah, He did so for our benefit, not for His. When we do mitzvos, we are not helping Him or giving Him a gift, for He needs no help or gifts. Rather, the mitzvos are meant to bring us good. Yet, in doing mitzvos, we are supposed to focus on the goal of serving Hashem, not on what we ourselves gain through these deeds. As the Mishnah says (Avos 1:3): “Do not be like servants who serve their master for the purpose of receiving a reward, but rather be like servants who serve their master not for the purpose of receiving a reward.” Why are we supposed to take this attitude, when the mitzvos are in truth solely for our benefit? The answer is that the mitzvos yield us benefit only if, when doing them, we connect ourselves to Hashem, the ultimate source. (Indeed, the main purpose of mitzvos is to make us firmly bonded to Hashem.) We establish a connection with Hashem by focusing ourselves on serving Him.
Thus, there are two sides to Torah: what we gain, and our striving to serve Hashem. From Hashem’s standpoint, the former is primary and the latter is secondary. We, however, are supposed to view the latter as primary and the former as secondary. Hence, the benefit the Torah brings us is set at Hashem’s right and at our left, while the goal of serving Hashem is set at Hashem’s left and our right.
David Zucker, Site Administrator