Post Archive for February 2012

Parashas Terumah

This week’s parashah presents the design of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its vessels. The Midrash records the following discussion that took place when Hashem instructed Moshe about building the Mishkan (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah 369, slightly paraphrased; cf. Tanchuma, Terumah 9):
Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Moshe: “Make for Me a Tabernacle, for I desire to dwell among My children.” When the ministering angels heard this, they began to protest: “Master of the Universe! Why are You descending to the earthly realm? Your glory calls for you to abide in heaven. As it is written (Tehillim 8:2): “You who has set Your glory within the heavens!’ Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to them: “By your lives, I have been doing as you said, but My praise is infused through the earth [cf. Havakkuk 3:3].
The Maggid explains this Midrash using an insight from Rav Yosef Albo’s Sefer HaIkarim. Some prominent philosophers denied that Hashem manages the affairs of our world, arguing that He is too lofty to concern Himself with earthly matters. They claimed that heaven is the only place fit for Hashem to emplace His presence – earth is too lowly to serve as His abode. Rav Albo says that these philosophers thought they were promoting Hashem’s honor, but they were actually denigrating it. By saying that heaven is an abode that suits Hashem’s honor, they were implicitly setting a limit on the honor He is due. In truth, heaven is not a fitting abode for Hashem either; even heaven is infinitesimally puny in comparison with Hashem’s infinitude.
The discussion in the Midrash reflects the philosophers’ argument and Rav Albo’s counterargument. The angels protested Hashem’s seeking a dwelling place on earth, arguing that His glory called for Him to abide in heaven. They were asserting that heaven was the abode that befits His glory. Hashem replied: “By your lives, I have been doing as you said.” He was saying: “Here in heaven, I have already put Myself in the situation you I said I would be in by establishing an abode on earth, for heaven is equally ill-suited to My glory. Emplacing My presence on earth will actually bring Me praise, for it will make it all the more clear that, despite My greatness, I am prepared to humble Myself.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Mishpatim

This week’s parashah presents some basic elements of the Torah’s code of civil and criminal law. In connection with the general topic of law, the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 30:1, middle) relates a discussion the Jewish People have with Hashem about when He will impose judgment on our their enemies. The Jewish People ask Hashem: “Until when will You delay bringing our enemies to justice?” Hashem answers: “Until the time comes to harvest them up.” The Midrash elaborates:
As it is written (Yeshayah 27:2): “On that day it will be proclaimed about them – a vineyard yielding fine wine.’” No one harvests his vineyard before the grapes have ripened. It is after they have ripened that he picks them, puts them in the winepress, and tramples them. Then he sings, and those with him respond in song after him. In this vein, Hashem said to the Jewish People: “Wait for Me until Edom’s time comes, and then I will trample them.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. Retribution against an evildoer can be set in motion in one of two ways: either Hashem decides on His own that it is time to bring the evildoer to justice or someone petitions Hashem to do so. The Taz on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 118 uses a similar idea to explain the difference in the eleventh blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei between the ending “the King of justice” that we use during the Ten Days of Repentance and the ending “King who loves righteousness and justice” that we use during the rest of the year: During the Ten Days of Repentance, Hashem Himself initiates the process of justice, whereas during the rest of the year He carries out justice only when someone enters a complaint that he has been wronged. In regard to retribution against evildoers, Hashem generally does not take action on His own initiative until the evildoer reaches his measure of sin, but He can be petitioned to take action. A person who puts forward a petition is taking a risk, however, for he himself will be judged either before or along with whoever he complained about. As the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 16b says: “One who submits a case against his fellowman is punished first [for his own wrongdoings].” The reason is that a petition for Divine judgment leads Hashem to open His records and examine the petitioner’s file to see whether he is worthy of calling others to justice.
Accordingly, if we submit a complaint against our enemies to Hashem when we ourselves are not clean, we take the risk of having Hashem punish us for our misdeeds. It is thus better for us to keep quiet and wait until our enemies reach their measure of sin and Hashem brings them to justice on His own. This is what the Midrash is teaching. Once our enemies “ripen” – that is, they reach their measure of sin – Hashem will proceed to trample them. He then will sing, and we will be able to sing after Him – we will be able to present our indictments against our enemies without any risk of harm.
This message is reflected in the passage in Yeshayah which begins with the verse that the Midrash quotes. The passage runs as follows (Yeshayah 27:2-8, slightly paraphrased):
On that day it will be proclaimed about them – a vineyard yielding fine wine. … I have no wrath – if only I were at war with the weeds and thorns, I would trample them and set them altogether afire. Or let them grasp onto My stronghold and make peace with Me – yea, let them make peace with Me. … According to their measure [of sin] He contended against their farmland.
Hashem is saying: “I Myself have no wrath against your enemies now, for they have not yet reached their measure of sin. And if you lead Me to wage war against your enemies, you may be trampled together with them. Alternatively, you can grasp onto My stronghold – cling to My Torah and make yourselves whole, free of any defect or impurity. If you do so, you will be at peace with Me – you will be able to ask Me to bring your enemies to justice without putting yourselves at any risk that My wrath will also be turned toward you. But until then, it will be best for you to be quiet.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Yisro

This week’s parashah recounts the revelation at Sinai. In the period leading up to the revelation, Hashem told Moshe (Shemos 19:9): “Behold, I am going to come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people will hear as I speak with you, and also will believe in you forever.” The Maggid asks why Hashem used the phrasing “believe in you” (yaaminu becha) rather than simply saying “believe you” (yaaminu lecha)? Seemingly it would have been more correct to say “believe you,” just as Moshe said previously – when Hashem first told him to lead the Jewish People out of Egypt – “but they will not believe me (yaaminu li)” (Shemos 4:1). The Maggid asks further: What did Hashem mean by “forever”?
The Maggid explains as follows. It is a basic principle that the strength of a person’s belief depends on how critical-minded he is. Some people readily accept anything they hear. But such people can be just as readily convinced to abandon an idea they accepted previously, in favor of a contrary one. With a critical-minded person, it is just the opposite. He will not accept any claim until he investigates it thoroughly and obtains clear evidence for it. Once he is convinced, however, his belief is firm and unwavering.
This principle played a pivotal role in the discussion between Hashem and Moshe at their first meeting at the burning bush. Moshe told Hashem that the Jewish People “will not believe me.” Hashem replied (Shemos Rabbah 3:12): “They are believers, the children of believers.” Hashem was telling Moshe: “I call them believers because they are critical-minded.” We can see a hint to this idea in a homiletical reading of Yeshayah 25:1: “Hashem, You are my God. I shall exalt you and give thanks to Your Name, for You have done wondrously. From a distance, faith was firmly adopted.” That is, Hashem performed a wonder in implanting into the Jewish soul a critical nature, so that they would accept only claims that are proven reliable, and their faith would thus have a firm basis.
The Jewish People refuse to listen to charlatans who try to peddle their own fabricated ideas. In matters of basic world outlook, they accept only those ideas that are reliably known to have been taught by Moshe and handed down from generation to generation. When critical analysis reveals that a claim runs counter to this tradition, the claim is rejected.
This is what Hashem meant when He told Moshe that He will come down to him and speak with him before the Jewish People, in order that the people will “believe in you forever.” The revelation at Sinai firmly established the authenticity of Moshe’s teachings. The Torah testifies elsewhere to Moshe’s status as a true prophet of the highest order, saying (Bamidbar 12:17): “In My entire house, he is the trusted one.” By virtue of Moshe’s status, the one whom Moshe ordained as a reliable teacher – Yehoshua – is worthy of our trust, and is worthy as well of ordaining his successor. In this way, our faith is handed down through the chain of tradition, from teacher to teacher and from generation to generation. Moshe is the foundation of the entire chain, and thus our reliance on him continues forever.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Beshallach

In the middle of this week’s parashah, the Torah discusses the manna that the Jewish People ate in the wilderness. Hashem says to Moshe (Shemos 16:4): “Behold, I shall cause bread from heaven to rain down for you, and the people shall go out and gather each day’s portion every day, so that I can test them, whether they will walk in My law, or not.” The Maggid analyzes how the manna represented such a test. He begins with the following Midrash about the manna (Shemos Rabbah 25:9):
“The people shall go out and gather each day’s portion every day.” It is written (Tehillim 68:20): “Blessed is Hashem day after day.” Said Hashem to the People of Israel: “It is with the instrument that a person uses for measuring that I measure out for him. I gave you the Torah so that you should involve yourselves with it day after day, as it is written (Mishlei 8:34): ‘Praiseworthy is the man who listens to Me, to keep watch at My doors day after day.’ And similarly (Yeshayah 58:2): ‘They seek Me day after day and desire to know My ways.’ By your lives, I will satiate you with bread from heaven day after day.’”
The Maggid expounds on the verse from Mishlei that the Midrash quotes. He notes that just as Hashem provides us with sustenance for the body, in the form of food and drink, He provides us also with sustenance for the soul, in the form of Torah, mitzvos, and good deeds. In this vein, Shlomo HaMelech compares wisdom to bread and wine (Mishlei 9:5). And just as a person can choose to subsist on a bare minimum of food and drink, so, too, a person can choose to subsist on a bare minimum of Torah – the daily morning and evening recital of the Shema, which covers the obligation to study Torah day and night (Menachos 99b). Commoners suffice with this minimum ration of Torah, but the eminent seek more. Thus David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 111:1): “Praiseworthy is the man who fears Hashem and greatly cherishes His commandments.” Here, David is speaking of the man whose soul thirsts and yearns for Hashem’s word so much that even if he studied Torah day and night for a lifetime, his desire would not be satisfied.
The Maggid brings out the idea with an analogy. He describes two similar scenarios. The first scenario involves a servant is standing in an outer room of his master’s house waiting for orders. He is not allowed to leave – he must remain in the room ready for his master’s call. The second scenario involves a merchant is standing in an outer room of someone’s house waiting to show him merchandise. The man of the house is busy, and tells the merchant that he will call him when he is able to speak with him. In the first scenario, the servant is waiting for his master’s call but he is actually hoping not to be called – he would rather stand idle than do chores. In the second scenario, by contrast, the merchant is eagerly awaiting his customer’s call.
In the verse from Mishlei, the Maggid says, Shlomo HaMelech is teaching us the attitude we should take toward Hashem’s directives. We should not be like the servant, hoping to be left alone. Rather, we should be like the merchant, eagerly awaiting Hashem’s call. Shlomo describes Hashem as saying: “Praiseworthy is the man who listens to Me.” Note the phrasing: “listens to Me” rather than “listens to My word.” Hashem’s statement can also be rendered another way: “Praiseworthy is the man who listens for Me.” Under this rendering, we can understand the statement as referring to the man who inclines his ear toward Hashem and waits expectantly for Hashem’s call – the man who serves Hashem out of love and constantly strives for added duties.
Now, it is generally not possible to tell how much a person cherishes Hashem’s word, for what the person shows to the outside world does not fully reflect what is in his heart. But there is one way to get a clear indication: by seeing how the person reacts to errands that will interrupt his Torah study. If a person considers such errands a nuisance, and is thankful whenever a friend offers to take care of such errands, this shows he loves Torah. But if a person is happy to have the chance to close his books and go out on an errand, this shows he lacks interest in Torah. We can now see easily how the manna represented a test of whether or not the Jewish People desired to walk in Hashem’s law. The manna relieved them of the need to work for their sustenance; they could gather their daily portion without any effort. If they rejoiced over being free to spend their time in Torah study, it would be clear that they considered the Torah precious.