Post Archive for May 2010

Voice of Jacob on the Five Megillos Now Available as a Boxed Set


I am very pleased to announce that my translation of the Dubno Maggid’s commentary Kol Yaakov (Voice of Jacob) on the Five Megillos is now available as a five-volume boxed set. To access the webpage for the set on the Feldheim Publishers website, click here.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Behaalosecha

In this week’s parashah, Hashem tells Moshe to make trumpets, which are to be sounded on various occasions. The Torah describes how the trumpets are to be used to assemble the entire Jewish People or their leaders. The Torah then continues (Bamidbar 10:9-10):
When you go to war in your Land against an oppressor who harasses you, you shall sound a series of short blasts with the trumpets, and you shall be recalled before Hashem your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies. And on your days of rejoicing, your festivals, and your new moons, you shall sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over your peace offerings, and they shall be a remembrance for you before your God; I am Hashem, your God.
The Maggid elaborates on these uses of the trumpets.
The trumpet blasts on days of rejoicing, and, likewise, the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah, play a dual role in arousing fear. On earth, the blasts jolt our evil inclination and lead us to abandon sin; in heaven, the blasts confound the adversarial angel and lead him to abandon his accusations against us. These two effects are linked. Indeed, as our Sages teach, the evil inclination and the adversarial angel are one and the same (Bava Basra 16a). Thus, when the blasts are sounded, the degree to which we let up from sinning determines the degree to which the adversarial angel lets up from his accusations.
Similarly, the trumpets and the shofar play a dual role in arousing remembrance. They lead us to remember Hashem, and they lead Hashem, so to speak, to remember us. These two effects are linked as well. The way we relate to Hashem determines the way Hashem relates to us. As the Maggid explains elsewhere (in his commentary on Shir HaShirim 3:11), a person’s relationship with Hashem can be compared to his relationship with his own reflection in a mirror. As a person steps toward or away from the mirror, his reflection automatically appears closer to or farther from him. Similarly, as we step toward or away from Hashem, we automatically find Him stepping – so to speak – toward or away from us.
In times of trouble, the trumpets are sounded mainly for the effects they produce in heaven. There is less need for trumpet blasts to strike us with fear and make us remember Hashem, for the afflictions themselves serve this function. Hence, regarding days of distress, the Torah highlights the trumpets’ effect in heaven, saying that they will cause us to be “recalled before Hashem your God.” In times of joy, on the other hand, there is a danger that revelry will lead us to forget Hashem. The trumpets are therefore needed to make us remember Him. Thus, regarding days of rejoicing, the Torah highlghts the trumpets’ effect on us, saying that they “shall be a remembrance for you before your God.” Let us take steps to ensure that we remember Hashem at all times, and thereby merit having Him constantly “remember” us with goodness.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Naso

One of the many topics in this week’s parashah is that of the nazir (Nazirite) – a person who commits to a Torah-specified regimen of abstinence for a set period. During this period, a nazir is forbidden to drink wine, consume any grape products, cut his hair, or defile himself through contact (directly or in certain indirect ways) with a human corpse. At the end of the period, the nazir shaves his hair and brings offerings.
The Torah introduces the laws of the nazir as follows (Bamidbar 6:2-3): “A man or woman who shall set himself apart by swearing a Nazrite vow of abstinence, designating himself a Nazirite unto Hashem – from new or aged wine he shall abstain ….” The word yafli, “set himself apart,” is related to the word pele, meaning a “a wonder.” Thus, the Torah is hinting that genuine nazirus is a wondrous act of piety.
What is genuine nazirus? The Maggid explains that a genuine nazir is one who takes on his nazirus with a full awareness of what it entails and a firm commitment to fulfill it. The Maggid brings out the point with a analogy. Suppose a person has finished a big meal, and he then vows to fast for the next three days. It is uncertain whether he will keep his vow, because he probably did not fully recognize, when he made the vow, how hungry he would be two days later. But now consider a person who has just completed a three-day fast, is sitting down at a set table, and then, with great fortitude, takes upon himself to fast another three days, to gain the merit of fasting for a full stretch of six weekdays. This person, amidst pangs of hunger, has quashed his natural inclinations is a wondrous way. He has stood up to a powerful urge and pushed it aside. Such a person, the Maggid says, is sure to keep his vow.
The Maggid applies this idea to explain a Gemara in Nedarim 9b about nazirus. The Torah states that when a nazir accidentally becomes defiled though a corpse, he must bring a special offering and then begin his nazirus again. The offering is known as a “defiled nazir offering.” Shimon HaTzaddik, the Gemara says, declared that he ate of such an offering only once his entire life. The Maggid explains that Shimon HaTzaddik did not want to eat of an offering of a person who, had the accident not happened, might still not have kept his nazirus. Shimon HaTzaddik then tells of the one occasion when he did eat of a defiled nazir offering. A young man, a handsome fellow with beautiful locks of hair, came to bring such an offering. Shimon HaTzaddik marveled over this young man’s decision to become a nazir, which would ultimately require him to shave his hair. He asked him: “What, my son, made you decide to destroy your beautiful hair?” The young man replied: “Once, while at a pool of water, I saw my reflection, and I was overcome by my good looks. I then said to myself: ‘Wicked one!’ Why do you pride yourself over what is not truly yours? Over a body that is destined to be overrun by maggots and worms? I will shave off this hair for the sake of heaven!’” Shimon HaTzaddik then kissed him on the head and told him: “My son, may there be many nazirim like you in Israel. It is in regard to you that it is written – ‘a man or woman who shall [wondrously] set himself apart by swearing a Nazrite vow of abstinence.’” This young man knew full well what he was giving up, and, in an wondrous exercise of willpower, he gave it up wholeheartedly for the sake of heaven.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Bamidbar

In Bamidbar Rabbah 2:1 and Tanchuma, Bamidbar 2, the Midrash describes how the sea, the mountains, and the wilderness reacted when Hashem “approached” them. The sea fled (Tehillim 114:3, referring to the splitting of the Sea of Reeds), and the mountains quaked with fear (ibid. 114:4, referring to the revelation at Sinai), but the wilderness sang (Yeshayah 42:11). The Midrash illustrates the idea with a parable about a king touring his provinces: When the king arrived at the first province, the people there fled from him. The same happened at the second province. The king then visited a barren city, and the people there greeted him with praises. Said the king: “Here I will build a fine palace; here I will reside.” 
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. A man of great might can show his power in one of two ways. He can go to a well-built city and knock down a solid wall with a slight tap. Or he can go to a run-down city where all the walls are about to fall, and, applying his strength, set them all firmly upright. In the first case, the onlookers are impressed, but they are also upset over the damage. In the second case, by contrast, the onlookers are not only impressed, but are also glad that their city has been restored. Similarly, Hashem can show His power through various modes. He can unleash the forces of nature against the wicked to destroy them, as He did with the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds. Or He can produce a fearsome display of His presence within the world, as He did at Sinai. Finally, He can bring miraculous blessing, as He did when turned the harsh wilderness into a comfortable abode for the Jewish People, through the manna, the traveling well, and the clouds of glory. All three modes impress us with Hashem’s awesomeness, but the mode of miraculous blessing also makes us sing to Him with joy.
Indeed, the mode of miraculous blessing is the mode that Hashem Himself prefers. An earlier segment of the Midrash describes the Jewish People lamenting over the loss of the Beis HaMikdash and the departure of the Divine Presence from their midst. They exclaim to Hashem (Yirmiyah 2:31): “We will no longer [be able to] come to You.” Hashem replies: “‘Would that I could have a lodging-house in the wilderness!’ (Yirmiyah 9:1). If only I could now be in the wilderness, where I wrought so many miracles for you!”
Hashem urges us to return with Him to the glory of the wilderness, as it is written (Hoshea 2:16, in this week’s haftarah): “Therefore, behold, I will coax her [Knesses Yisrael], and I will lead her to the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart.” May we heed Hashem’s call, and soon merit to see the day of which it is written (Yeshayah 35:1-2, referred to in the Midrash): “The wilderness and the wasteland shall rejoice over them; the desert shall jubilate and blossom like a rose. It shall blossom abundantly and jubilate with joyous song. The glory of Lebanon will have been granted it, the majesty of the Carmel and the Sharon; they shall see the glory of Hashem, the majesty of our God.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Behar – Bechukosai

The second half of this week’s double parashah presents the tochachah – the litany of grievous afflictions that Hashem will cast upon us if we abandon the Torah. The Maggid draws some insights into the tochachah through a passage in Yeshayah (verses 2:6-9):
For You abandoned Your People, the House of Jacob – because they became filled with [the idolatries of] the east [Aram] and divinations, like the Philistines, and involved themselves with the children of foreigners. … The commoner will have bent over and the lofty one will have brought himself low, yet You will not forgive them.
The first verse of the passage indicates why Hashem sends us into exile. If we follow the practices of foreign nations, then Hashem expels us from the Land of Israel and casts us into the lands of these nations, in accord with our affinities.
The last verse of the passage indicates why Hashem punishes us so harshly. The Maggid brings out the point with a parable. A king had among his courtiers a talented musician. He cherished this man greatly, and provided him a luxurious home and fine clothing. But one day he saw the man in a tavern, guzzling liquor and and carousing with the drunkards. He promptly took away all he had given him, and banished him to a distant city. In a short time, the ex-courtier was out on the street naked, barefoot, and starving; no one would take him in, for everyone knew that the king was disgusted with him.
Some time later, the musician wrote the king a long letter expressing remorse over having acted so unbefittingly, promising never to do so again, and pleading with the king to show him favor. The king, filled with pity, restored the man to his former station. Some time later, the musician asked the king why he had punished him so harshly for his indiscretion. The king replied: “I acted for your own good. I knew that if you continued on the path you had taken, you would end up as a destitute drunk. And you would not be able to plead with me for mercy, for you yourself would have been the one responsible. So I stepped in and cast you into poverty first. This way, since I was the one who was responsible for your misery, you could plead to me for mercy, and I could forgive you and restore you to your high position.”
Similarly, when we stray, Hashem must take forceful action. If He would leave us alone or treat us lightly, we ultimately would “bring ourselves low,” down to the utter depths. And then He would have little basis for showing us mercy and forgiveness, because our misery would be our own doing. He therefore steps in first and brings us harsh affliction, so that we will turn to Him and mend our ways. Once we do so, Hashem will gladly restore us to our original glory.
David Zucker, Site Administrator