Post Archive for June 2010

Parashas Pinchas

The second half of this week’s parashah discusses the daily tamid offerings and the additional musaf offerings brought on Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and the Yomim Tovim. Over the seven days of Sukkos, a total of seventy bulls are offered, corresponding to the seventy nations of the world. On Shemini Atzeres, a single bull is offered, corresponding to the Jewish People, the unique nation devoted to Hashem and His Torah. The Maggid cites the Gemara in Sukkah 55b which teaches that Shemini Atzeres is a day when Hashem and the Jewish People get together, so to speak, for a modest intimate meal and delight in each other’s company.
The Maggid then goes on to expound on a more somber teaching about the Yomim Tovim. It is written (Tzefaniah 3:18): “I have gathered together those who mourned for the appointed time – they came from you, who carried a burden of shame for it.” The Gemara in Berachos 28a, discussing this verse, says that the Jewish People are shattered because of the postponement of the festival assemblies in Yerushalayim. The Maggid comments as follows. When the Beis HaMikdash was standing, it served as the Jewish People’s designated place for national rejoicing, as it is written (Devarim 12:11-12): “It shall be that the place where Hashem your God will choose to lodge His Name – there you shall bring [all your various offerings], and you shall rejoice before Hashem your God.” But now, with the Beis HaMikdash having been destroyed, we no longer have any designated place for national rejoicing. Moreover, the role of the Yomim Tovim as times for rejoicing has been weakened, for now our fortune is bound up with that of the other nations of the world. Thus, David HaMelech writes (Tehillim 4:8, homiletically): “You brought joy to my heart at the time their grain and wine became abundant” – we rejoice when the nations of the world are enriched, for the main bounty we receive now is what filters down from them to us. And who caused this situation to come about? Tzefaniah points his finger at us, so to speak, and says: “It came from you.” Our own sins put us in this state.
David HaMelech writes further (Tehillim 137:4): “How can we sing the song of Hashem on foreign soil?” This verse, the Maggid says, applies even to those of us who live in Eretz Yisrael. In the days of yore, when we were firmly established in Eretz Yisrael, Hashem channeled our portion of blessing to us directly through our own land. But now, as we explained, He delivers our portion of blessing to other nations, and then arranges for it to come to us from them. How can we sing the song of Hashem when our lives depend on the bounty of foreign lands?
Yet, with all our pain, we can still gain solace. In the last chapter of Hallel, it is written (Tehillim 118:22-24):
The stone that the builders rejected is the one that was made the foundation stone. From Hashem this has come about; it is wondrous in our eyes. This is the day that Hashem has wrought; we shall jubilate and rejoice in it/Him (bo).
The nations of the world deny our stature, and claim that Hashem brings blessing to the world only for their benefit. They assert that Hashem has no regard for us at all. But we know that Hashem still cherishes us. And even though He grants more material blessing to other nations than to us, we still jubilate and rejoice in our relationship with Him. We can still delight in His company. [Certain Midrashim link the last verse in the above passage from Tehillim with Shemini Atzeres.] And we faithfully await the day when He will wipe away all our pain and restore us to our former glory, as it is written (Yeshayah 35:10): “Those redeemed by Hashem shall return, and shall come to Zion with jubilant song, with eternal joy upon their heads. They shall attain gladness and joy, and anguish and groaning shall flee.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Balak

This parashah relates the unsuccessful attempt of Balak, King of Moab, to weaken the Jewish People by getting the sorcerer Bilaam to curse them. Our Sages regard Bilaam as the archetype of a wicked person. In Avos 5:22, they describe Bilaam as having an “expansive drive,” meaning that he had a voracious desire for physical pleasure. Obsession with physical pleasure is the mark of a wicked man. Here, we present one of the Maggid’s teachings about how the righteous and the wicked differ in their relationship to one of man’s basic physical activities: eating.
Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 13:25): “The righteous man eats to satisfy himself, while the wicked man’s stomach is lacking.” The Maggid explains this verse as follows. A righteous man eats solely in order to sustain himself, so when has eaten enough to serve this purpose, he is content. He feels no drive to eat more, even if he gained little enjoyment from his meal. A wicked man, by contrast, eats mainly for pleasure. Even when he is stuffed, he desires to eat more, and he is held back only because his stomach cannot not take any more. Thus, the wicked man finds that his stomach is lacking; it does not have enough room to hold all the food he wishes to eat in order to gratify his desire.
The Maggid reinforces the point with a parable. Two brothers lived in the same town, a considerable distance from where their father lived. One of the brothers was rich, while the other was poor. The rich brother longed to spend time with his father, but his hectic business schedule kept him from leaving town. Finally, he made plans to take some time off, set aside his business affairs, and go visit his father. At the same time, the poor brother’s situation became desparate, so he decided to travel to beg for charity. In order to hide his plight from the neighbors, he told them that he missed his father and had decided to go visit him. He indeed had decided to travel to his father’s town, but he planned to make detours on the way to seek charity.
When the rich brother heard that the poor brother was planning to visit their father, he approached him, told him that he had the same plan, and suggested that they travel together. So the two brothers set out together for their father’s town, each for his own reason. Meantime, a short time before, the father was struck with a longing to see his sons, and had set out for their town. As soon as the sons had reached the outskirts of their town, they saw their father coming toward them. The rich brother was overjoyed, for he had achieved his goal with little effort. But the poor brother was crestfallen, for his plan had been pre-empted. 
The parallel is as follows. A righteous man, as we said, eats for the purpose of sustaining himself. A wicked also eats to sustain himself, but in the process he likes to make gastronomic detours to gratify his desire for pleasure. Thus, when a small amount of food is unexpectedly satiating, the righteous man is glad, for he prefers to minimize the time he spends engaged in the animalistic act of eating. The wicked man, on the other hand, is dejected, for his enjoyment has been curtailed.
In regard to the end of days, the prophet Yoel declares (verse 2:26): “You shall eat well, to satiation, and you shall praise the Name of Hashem your God Who has done wondrously for you – and My people shall be free of shame eternally.” Hashem will bless us so that a small amount of food will satisfy us, and we will praise His Name for this wondrous kindness. And we will no longer need to be ashamed over eating, for it will be clear that we eat only for sustenance, and have no interest in the ignoble pursuit of gorging for pleasure.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Chukas

Parashas Chukas opens with the law of the red heifer, the prime example of a chok – a Divine decree whose rationale is not revealed. In this context, the Maggid provides a general discussion of chukim. We present a portion of this discussion, based on a passage in Tehillim 50.
The passage begins (verses 16-18):
To the wicked man, God said: “What does it avail you to recount My decrees (chukai), and bear My covenant upon your lips? For you have hated moral counsel, and have cast My words behind you. If you see a thief, you emulate him, and with adulterers is your lot.”
The Maggid explains these three verses as follows. Many people try to justify their disregard for the Torah’s laws on the grounds that the laws have no apparent rationale. Often, however, this argument is just a dodge, disingenuously put forward by a person who cavalierly casts aside whatever rules he considers a hindrance, even those – such as the prohibition against theft in any form – whose rationale is easily grasped. Hashem is rebuking those who act with such duplicity.
The passage continues (verse 19-21):
“[Yet] you let your mouth loose against evil, your tongue adhering to deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; against your mother’s son you cast aspersions. These things you have done, and I kept silent. You imagined I would be as you were. I shall tellingly rebuke you, and lay out the matter fittingly to your eyes.”
Here, the Maggid explains, Hashem is addressing the wicked man’s violation of moral laws, undercutting his attempt to argue that he did not realize his behavior was wrong. Hashem tells him: “When you emulated the thieves and adulterers, I kept silent. You imagined I would maintain the stance that you took, projecting lack of awareness of the difference between right and wrong. But I will remain silent no longer. The way you act shows what your eyes truly perceive, and in accord with this I will prove to your face that you were dissembling. You let your mouth loose against evil, so it is clear that you can tell right from wrong. Thus, you cannot excuse your own wrongdoing by saying that you did not know better.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Korach

A major theme in this week’s parashah is jealousy. Although we can cannot equate Korach’s mindset to the cruder forms of jealousy that we deal with in our own lives, this week is nonetheless an opportune time to delve into the topic of jealousy. I present here a digest of the Maggid’s teachings on this topic from Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaSinah, Chapter 2.
Jealousy takes two main forms. The more common form is a sense of agitation that comes upon a person when he sees that someone else has something he lacks. He feels that he  ought to have what the other person has. This is a serious mistake. In truth, a person has nothing coming to him. His very existence is a gift from Hashem. All the more so the assets that Hashem, in His wisdom, decided to grant him. When a person covets someone else’s assets, he displays gross ingratitude for Hashem’s kindness toward him. A person must rejoice in what Hashem gave him. If he broods over what he does not have, Hashem may take away what He has given him, since he evidently does not properly appreciate it. A person should think to himself: “How would I feel if I gave someone a gift, and I saw he was upset that I did not give him more?” If a person feels a need, he can ask Hashem to fulfill it, but he must do so humbly, not by issuing brash complaints.
A person must also realize that Hashem assigned everyone his own special role, and granted each person what he needs to carry out his role. If somehow a person got hold of something Hashem did not intend to give him, having done so would in no way make him better equipped to fulfill his role. Moreover, people have different natures. Some are quick to get angry, while others are tolerant and compassionate. Some are stingy, while others are generous. Hashem tailors what He gives a person to his nature. He grants wealth to the generous and unassuming, who will give liberally to others and not grow haughty. To others he grants more limited material assets, in order to lead them to focus on Torah study, to counter tendencies toward haughtiness and belligerence, or for some other reason. It will not help a person to have something that Hashem did not see fit to give him; in fact, if he did, it would ruin him. We must recognize that Hashem created each of us, and, accordingly, knows what is best for each of us. We then will come to appreciate what we have.
The other form of jealousy, even worse than the the first one, is a drive to be superior to others. This form of jealousy is a sort of mirror image of the first form: a person who is stricken with it is not hoping to get what others have, but rather is hoping that others do not get what he has. The first form of jealousy can produce good, as when a person is spurred to advance in wisdom when he encounters a person wiser than he. The second form, by contrast, has no such potential. The person who harbors it seeks merely to knock others down. A person must realize that, just as Hashem is his Creator and Father, He is his fellow man’s Creator and Father as well. Hashem regards with contempt those who relate to others with ill will. When a person seeks to diminish others, Hashem may respond by diminishing him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shelach

This week’s parashah tells of the scouts who were sent to survey the land of Canaan and came back with an evil report. Hashem tells Moshe: “Send out for yourself men, and let them scout the land of Canaan.” As Rashi explains, Hashem was not ordering Moshe to send scouts, but merely acceding to the Jewish People’s desire to send them. The Midrash elaborates (Bamidbar Rabbah 16:7): “The Holy One Blessed Be He had told the People of Israel that the land is good, but they did not believe. Instead they sought to see the land first, saying, ‘Let us send men ahead of us, and let them spy out the land for us.’ Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: ‘If I restrain them, they will say that it is because the land is not good that I did not show it to them. Rather, let them see it, and I swear that not one of them will enter it.’”
The Maggid asks: How could Hashem write the Jewish People off in advance, before the scouts delivered their report? The scouts and the people, having free will, could have taken a positive view of the observed facts. How could Hashem act as if a fiasco was certain?
The Maggid answers with a parable. A man with serious intestinal trouble called in a famous medical expert. The doctor examined him, and said: “Have no fear, my friend. I recently treated so-and-so for the same condition, and brought him back to full health. Here is a potion that will make you fall into a deep sleep. Take it, and then I will be able to do my work.” The patient asked: “What exactly are you going to do to me?” The doctor asked back: “Why do you need to know?” The patient responded: “If you won’t tell me, I’ll go to the other patient and ask him.” Said the doctor: “If you don’t believe that I can cure you, I swear that you will die of this illness!” He then stalked out of the patient’s house.
The onlookers asked: “What made you swear that this fellow will die just because he was planning to ask your other patient about the treatment?” The doctor replied: “After I gave the other patient the potion and he went to sleep, I cut him open and re-arranged all his internal organs so as to put them in the proper position. Now, this fellow here has so little faith in me that he want to go to the other patient first and find out what I am going to do. I know that when he finds out, he will be struck with fear and refuse the treatment. So he is sure to die.”
The parallel is as follows. The land of Canaan was, as the Torah relates, populated with mighty giants. Hashem was planning to smite these giants through great miracles, and then give the land to the Jewish People. Hashem had set up this whole scenario for the Jewish People’s benefit. He meant for the Land of Israel to be His special gift to them. He wanted to convey the land to them in a way that would show both His great power and His great love for them – by wiping out mighty giants to make way for them. After seeing all the miracles Hashem had done for them in Egypt and in the wilderness, and hearing Him promise to give them the land, the Jewish People should have realized that Hashem was going to take care of the conquest of the land for them. But the Jewish People asked Moshe to let them scout the land first, in order to plan a good military strategy. This showed that they were expecting to conquer the land through natural means. The people living in the land were so strong, however, that no ordinary form of warfare could possibly overcome them. It was thus inevitable that, when the scouts saw these giants, they would panic and give up. The moment the people asked to send scouts, a fiasco was indeed certain, and Hashem therefore made His declaration of doom.
Hashem has promised that He will redeem us. Although, from a natural standpoint, our situation may seem shaky, we must not weaken in our hope. Let us keep in mind that the redemption can come at any moment; Hashem brings salvation in the blink of an eye.
David Zucker, Site Administrator