Post Archive for July 2012

Megillas Eichah

In Megillas Eichah it is written (verses 3:17-22):
My soul has given up on having peace; I have forsaken good. And I said, “Gone is my sustaining power and my expectation from Hashem.” Remember my poverty and degradation, the wormwood and the gall. My soul remembers well, and is bowed down within me. This I shall take to heart, and thereby I shall gain hope. The kindnesses of Hashem surely have not come to an end; His mercies surely have not ceased.
The Maggid interprets this passage by linking it with an earlier verse in Eichah (verse 1:3): “Yehudah was exiled on account of poverty and great toil. She dwelt among the nations and did not find rest. …” The Midrash remarks (Eichah Rabbah 1:29): “Had she found rest, she would not have returned. This is like the following case (Bereishis 8:9): ‘And the dove did not find rest’ [but had she found rest, she would not have returned].”
Hashem keeps going after us, the Maggid says, with a steady stream of afflictions. He never lets us rest. Why is He pursuing us so relentlessly? There are two types of pursuit. One type is where the pursuer wishes merely to chase someone out and get rid of him. The other type is where the pursuer wishes to catch someone and bring him back. We can discern the pursuer’s intent by observing how he acts when the one he is chasing has gotten far away. If the pursuer turns back, then it is clear that his intent was merely to chase the person away. But if the pursuer keeps on chasing, then it is clear that his intent is to bring the person back.
Now we, the Jewish People, have seen how Hashem has chased and persecuted us. He took away all our treasures and evicted us from His land. We might have doubts and think perhaps – far be it – that He chased us away from Him out of hatred and disgust. Indeed, it is written (Yirmiyah 15:1): “My soul would have no desire for this people – send them away from Me and let them leave.” Perhaps – far be it – His intent is to cast us away to another land once and for all. But then we see that Hashem continues to chase us with fierce vigor, even though we have been chased far away. He has not let up even though we have been chased to the very depths of the grave. This is a sign that His intent is to return us back to Him once again – in complete repentance.
In this light, the Maggid says, we can understand the passage from Eichah 3 that we quoted at the outset. Yirmiyahu “My soul has given up on having peace; I have forsaken good. And I said, ‘Gone is my sustaining power and my expectation from Hashem.’” My future seemed bleak and my hope in Hashem faded away. But then I recall “my poverty and degradation, the wormwood and the gall.” I see that there is no day whose curse is not greater than the day before (Sotah 49a). And “this I shall take to heart, and thereby I shall have hope – the kindnesses of Hashem have surely not come to an end, and His mercies surely have not ceased.” Because of His relentless pursuit, I realize that His intent is to make us repent and thus return us to our proper station.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Masei

In the prophecy of this week’s haftarah, there is a verse (not part of the haftarah itself, but in a nearby passage) that describes Hashem exclaiming (Yirmiyah 2:31): “Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of deep darkness?” In Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas, chapter 18, the Maggid discusses this verse. The Torah writes (Vayikra 18:1-2): “Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them – “I am Hashem your God.”’” According to Sifra Acharei Mos 9, Hashem’s declaration comprised a number of messages, including the message “I am faithful to pay reward.” The Maggid interprets this message as meaning that Hashem is the source of all bounty, and faithfully sustains us in a miraculous manner under all conditions.
In the Jewish People’s initial days as an independent nation, when they went out of Egypt, they traversed a path of dry land in the middle of the Sea of Reeds, and afterward saw the Egyptians drown to death in the sea. At that point, they could easily have gone back to Egypt, taken the country over, and enjoyed the benefits of the fertile land there. But instead they listened to Moshe and followed him into the wilderness, a barren area riddled with snake and scorpions. The entire nation – men, women, and children, young and old – entered an area that afforded no means of procuring food. Hashem regarded this act of loyalty as a merit for the people, as is written in last week’s haftarah (Yirmiyah 2:2): “Go forth and cry out in the ears of [the people of] Yerushalayim, saying, ‘Thus said Hashem, “I recall on your behalf the devotion of your youth, the love your bridal days – how you followed after Me in the wilderness, in a land unsown.’” And He provided all our needs in the wilderness for forty years.
The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 1:2, commenting on the verse from this week’s haftarah that we quoted at the outset, elaborates on the way Hashem cared for us. He transported us on cushions like kings; He provided us three great teachers, Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam; He caused manna to stream down from heaven for us to eat; He enveloped us in clouds of glory, which protected us, exterminated snakes and scorpions, and leveled our path; and He provided us a well of water that accompanied used throughout our travels. We had no feeling of being in a wilderness; there was nothing that we lacked.
At present we are just like the wilderness generation, for we have been exiled from our land and wander as strangers across the globe. And now, just as then, Hashem sustains us with magnanimous and wondrous kindness. There is no difference between our situation now and our situation in the wilderness, except that in the wilderness the miracles that Hashem worked for us were open miracles that all men could see with their physical eyes, whereas the miracles that He works for us now can be perceived only by the eye of the intellect. Hoshea 2 can be interpreted as describing how Hashem cast us into exile because of our sins, how He cares for us in the exile as He cared for us in the wilderness, and how we will ultimately come to recognize His constant providence.
The truth is that our entire existence, including all our sustenance, flows from Hashem through wondrous means. Although we cannot physically see Hashem at work, if we ponder matters carefully, we will realize that we cannot attribute the bounty we acquire to the actions we take within an “automatic” system of nature. And when we recognize this fact, we will understand how fitting it is to follow the counsel of our Sages (Avos 2:4): “Nullify your will before Hashem’s will.” We will know that the mitzvos of Torah are what provide us our life and vitality, as it is written (Mishlei 4:22): “For they are life to he who finds them, and healing for all his flesh.” May we all reach this realization, and then see the day when Hashem will bring blessing to Zion and rebuild the walls of Yerushalayim.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Pinchas

This week’s parashas concludes with a long section describing the daily tamid offering and the special musaf offerings for Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and the various festivals. In this connection, I present a teaching of the Maggid regarding the festivals (taken from his commentary on Shir HaShirim 1:2-4).
The Torah commands us to rejoice on the festivals. Yet the concept of set times for rejoicing is puzzling. Usually a person feels happy when he is doing well and sad when he is doing poorly. How can the Torah legislate a time for rejoicing?
The Maggid answers as follows. Hashem manages our affairs like a guardian manages the affairs of an orphan. The guardian invests the orphan’s money, with the orphan having no direct knowledge of the status of these investments. The orphan relies solely on what the guardian tells him. If the guardian tells him that he has made a profit, he is happy, and if the guardian tells him that he has suffered a loss, he is sad. In the same way, we rely on Hashem to let us know what results have ensued from our actions. In this vein, it is written (Divrei HaYamim Beis 20:12): “We do not know what we do – our eyes are upon You” (a verse we recite in the closing section of the weekday Tachanun prayer). We ourselves do not know what effects our actions have. Only Hashem perceives all the ramifications of what we do.
In particular, when we perform mitzvos, we do not fully grasp what we are accomplishing. We simply do what Hashem commands us to do. Hashem alone is aware of the true significance and purpose of the mitzvos, and the beneficial effects they have on the upper worlds. Hence, our eyes are turned toward Hashem to tell us how matters are faring. If He holds us back from rejoicing, we know that our actions have produced only a minimal benefit, and so it is not fitting to rejoice. Conversely, if He tells us that it is time to rejoice, we know that our actions have wrought great things. Even if we see no sign of blessing at that time, we rely on Hashem’s word that we have gained a great profit. Thus, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 31:20): “How great is the blessing that You have hidden in store for those who fear You!” This explains the Torah commandment to rejoice at certain designated times.
The Midrash relates (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:32):
It is written (Tehillim 118:24): “This is the day that Hashem has wrought – we shall jubilate and rejoice bo.” Said R. Avin: “We cannot tell what we should rejoice over – the day or the Holy One Blessed Be He. [The word bo can mean either in it or in Him.] Shlomo came and explained it (Shir HaShirim 1:4): ‘We shall jubilate and rejoice in You (bach) – the Holy One Blessed Be He – in Your salvation, in Your Torah, in Your awesomeness.” Said R. Yitzchak: “The word bach refers to the twenty-two letters [of the Hebrew alphabet] that You have written down for us in the Torah. The letter with the numerical value of two is beis, and the letter with the numerical value of twenty is kaf/chaf – thus bach.”
The Midrash asks what the word bo refers to. It could be referring to the day – that is, to the success that we experienced at that time. Or it could be referring to Hashem – that is, to the fact that Hashem commanded us to rejoice, and we rely on His word that a hidden treasure lays in store for us. The Midrash concludes, based on the verse from Shir HaShirim, that it is in Hashem that we jubilate and rejoice. The main cause of our rejoicing is that Hashem – who knows the true nature of the times – has told us to rejoice.
The Midrash continues by elaborating on the nature of our rejoicing. The Midrash says that we rejoice in the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet – that is, in the Torah and the mitzvos. The Torah is the root of the Hebrew alphabet, and is infused with deep secrets. Hashem alone is aware of these secrets, and of the effects that result when we perform the mitzvos. These things have not been revealed to us. And so we rely on Hashem to tell us when to rejoice.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Balak

Bilaam introduces his third blessing to the Jewish People with the following preface (Bamidbar 24:3-4): “The word of Bilaam son of Beor, the word of the man of the open eye. The word of the one who hears God’s utterances and beholds the Almighty’s vision ….” His final blessing has a similar preface. Rashi, following the Gemara in Sanhedrin 105a, notes that Bilaam’s use of the phrase “man of the open eye” rather than “man of open eyes” alludes to his being blind in one of his eyes. The Maggid asks: Why was Bilaam led to call attention to his being blind in one eye – what relevance does this have to his message? The Maggid then offers a remarkable answer.
He begins by noting that the word “see” is often used to signify perceptiveness or discernment.  For example, in ancient times, a prophet was called a “seer” (Shmuel Alef 9:9). Similarly, the Sages distinguish between’s Moshe’s prophetic level and that of other prophets by saying that Moshe saw like a person looking through a clear glass, while the other prophets saw like a person looking through a clouded glass (Yevamos 49b).
The Maggid then presents the following analogy. Consider two merchants selling their wares at a fair. The first merchant has superb merchandise, while the second has merchandise with some drawbacks. If a very knowlegebleable customer shows up, the first merchant will be overjoyed. He knows he will not need to spend a lot of time haggling with the customer and trying to explain to him how good his merchandise is; the customer will readily buy at a price appropriate to top-quality goods. The second merchant, on the other hand, will prefer not to deal with this customer, for he knows that he will recognize the faults in his merchandise. The second merchant would rather deal with a customer who is not knowledgeable – or, better yet, a customer with impaired eyesight, or one who arrives at dusk, who will not be able to see well enough to notice the faults.
Hashem acted similarly, the Maggid says. Hashem planned to present someone a panoramic vision of the Jewish People over the course of history, in order to induce him to give all Jewish generations a copious blessing. Now, He knew that certain generations would have, along with their merits, some significant faults. He therefore did not want to present the vision to someone of exemplary perceptiveness and discerning, for such a person would see the faults and would be less effusive in blessing the people. Instead, He chose to present the vision to Bilaam, a man of impaired vision. Bilaam was the one who “beholds the Almighty’s vision” – he sees only what Hashem shows him, only what Hashem wants him to see. He would see only the virtues openly exhibited by the people, and not their hidden faults. He therefore would bless the people with a full heart.
David Zucker, Site Administrator