Post Archive for August 2012

Parashas Ki Seitzei

This week’s parashah begins (Devarim 21:10-14):
When you go out to battle against your enemies, and Hashem your God delivers them into your hands, and you capture captives among them, and you see among the captives a woman of goodly form, and you desire her and take her as a wife, you shall then bring her into your house, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. And she shall take off the garb of her captivity, and shall remain in your house, and weep over her father and her mother a full month. Afterward you may come to her and consort with her, and she shall be unto you as a wife. And it shall be, if you do not want her, then you shall send her out on her own, but you must not sell her for money; you must not treat her as a slave, because you have afflicted her.
Regarding the statement “if you do not want her,” the Midrash remarks (Sifrei 214): “The Torah is notifying you that you will come to hate her.” This remark is puzzling, for seemingly it takes a phrase that expresses a condition (and, notably, is literally written in the past tense – “if you did not want her”) and interprets it as a notice – “you will come to hate her.” The Maggid explains the remark as follows. There are two types of people who commit sins: ordinary people and thoroughly wicked people. Even when they are doing the same act, their mindsets are very different. In this connection, our Sages teach that a thoroughly wicked person is driven entirely by his evil inclination, while an ordinary person is driven by both his good inclination and his evil inclination (Berachos 61b). A wicked person is completely at peace with his evildoing. He is like the members of the rabble among the Jewish People in the wilderness, who “desired a desire” (Bamidbar 11:4). Of such a person, Yirmiyahu declares (verse 11:15): “When you do evil, you then jubilate.” When an ordinary person yields to his evil inclination, by contrast, he nonetheless still dreads the evil he has done and is upset over it. He may even feel a wish that he had overcome his evil inclination and kept himself from doing what he did. In this light, we can see that it is no accident that the Torah uses a past tense construction in speaking about a Jew who finds he does not want a woman he has taken captive. The Torah is discussing a situation where a Jew’s evil inclination has led him to take a foreign woman into his house intending to make her his wife, but at the very moment he took her home he felt unease with what he was doing – in the depths of his heart he really did not want her. The Midrash is telling us that we can know for sure that a Jew in this situation will eventually come to hate his captive woman and send her out of his house.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shoftim

In this week’s parashah, the Torah says (Devarim 18:13): “You shall be wholehearted with Hashem your God.” The Midrash remarks (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah 919): “When you are wholehearted, your portion is with Hashem your God.” To explain this Midrash, the Maggid builds on another Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 3:3):
It is written (Yeshayah 55:7): “Let the wicked abandon his way, and the crooked man his thoughts, and let him return to Hashem, and He will show him mercy, and to our God, for He is abundantly forgiving.” R. Yitzchak said: “Like a person who puts two planks next to each other and binds them together.” R. Yosi bar Chanina said: “Like a person who attaches two legs to a bed and thereby connects them.”
The Maggid explains the matter as follows. When we consider the process of attaching two items together, we can envision two scenarios: attaching two straight pieces together or attaching two curved pieces together. When attaching two curved pieces together, one must take great pains effort to work out how to fit the two curves together. When attaching two straight pieces, however, no great effort is needed, for the two pieces will fit together easily. These two scenarios represent two possible forms that a person’s relationship with Hashem can take. The Torah exhorts us to attach ourselves to Hashem (Devarim 11:22, 13:5, and 30:20), and we can understand this notion as being similar to two physical objects being attached to each other. David HaMelech, speaking of Hashem, says (Tehillim 18:26-27): “With the wholehearted You act wholeheartedly … and with the crooked You act contortedly.” To form a healthy relationship with Hashem, a person must make himself straight, and in so doing he automatically leads Hashem to be straight in his dealings with him. In order for a person to attach himself properly to Hashem, he must abandon whatever evil he commits and purge his mind of all crookedness. As David HaMelech puts it (Tehillim 18:24): “I was wholehearted with him, and I guarded myself against my sinning.” If a person is crooked, then Hashem must contort His ways, so to speak, in parallel with the person’s crookedness.
R. Yitzchak’s analogy of binding two planks together represents the ideal case of a person who makes himself straight on his own and thereby becomes easily attached to Hashem. R. Yosi bar Chanina’s analogy, on the other hand, represents the case of a crooked person for whom Hashem must take the initiative and employ forced measures to establish a connection, just as a degree of forcing is needed to put together the pieces of a bed. The Torah exhorts us to be straight so that Hashem can, so to speak, be straight along with us.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Re’eh

This week’s parashah includes a segment that deals with the cancellation of debts at the end of the shemitah (sabbatical) year (a year during which ordinary agricultural activity is also prohibited, as described in Vayikra 25), followed by a segment that deals with extending loans and giving charity to the needy. In this latter segment, the Torah warns (Devarim 15:9): “Beware lest there be a villainous thought in your heart, saying: ‘The seventh year is approaching, the year of remission,’ and you look with ill will upon your destitute brother and you refuse to give to him, so that he cries out against you to Hashem, and it will be a sin upon you.” The Maggid offers several interpretations of this warning; here we present two of them.
In the first interpretation, the Maggid explains that the Torah is telling us that it is a wealthy man’s duty to give to the poor not only when he is doing financially well, but also when he is facing financial difficulties of his own. He should reason with himself: “If I am feeling a pinch, surely my needy neighbor is in straits.” In this vein, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 40:1, homiletically): “Praiseworthy is the one who is attentive to the needy on a day of hardship – Hashem will deliver him.” Similarly, the Torah says elsewhere (Vayikra 25:35): “If your brother becomes impoverished, and he falters financially in your midst, you must bolster him – [this includes a] convert or resident gentile – so that he may live along with you.” When the Torah speaks of your faltering financially “in your midst,” it is referring to a situation where you also are facing financial difficulties. The Torah says that if you help your impoverished neighbor under such circumstances, Hashem will send relief both to him and to you, so that he and you will live “along each other” in greater ease.
The Maggid continues, in a side discussion, with another explanation of what it means for your impoverished neighbor to “live along with you.” There are, the Maggid says, two types of charity givers. The first type is the one who diligently sets aside his tithes and distributes these funds to the poor. Thus, when he is successful and reaps a gain, the poor reap a gain also; he and his needy neighbors both rejoice. The second type of charity giver is the hard-hearted type – the one who forgets the poor when he himself is doing well, and is stirred to give charity only when he faces trouble, such as illness, and seeks merits that will lead Hashem to save him. When a person is in this category, he and his needy neighbors are always, so to speak, on opposite sides of the fence: When he does well they suffer, and when he suffers they do well. The Torah exhorts us to put ourselves in the first category of givers – we should see to it that our needy neighbors should “live along” with us and rejoice along with us in good fortune. Each of us should be able to say, as the Midrash puts it (Sifrei 303): “I have rejoiced over the bounty You granted me, and I have also used it to bring others joy.”
In a second interpretation of the verse we quoted initially, the Maggid seeks to explain the double language of the verse, warning against showing ill will to a poor person in addition to warning against refusing to give. He says that the Torah aims to include in its discussion the man who, as described in Avos 5:13, wishes not to give and also wishes that others not give. We need to consider why a person would want to induce others not to give. The Maggid explains the matter as follows. There are two types of misers. A miser of the first type, when asked why he refuses to give to a certain poor person, answers honestly that he loves his money more than he loves the person. This response will induce others to show the poor man pity and give to him. A miser of the second type is more evil-hearted: When asked why he refuses to give to a certain poor person, he tries to make an excuse for himself by claiming that the person does not deserve donations. This response induces others not to give to the person.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Eikev

Near the end of this week’s parashah, the Torah presents the second paragraph of the Shema. This paragraph describes the reward for obeying Hashem’s mitzvos and the punishment for worshipping other gods, and discusses the mitzvos of Torah study, tefillin, and mezuzah. The paragraph concludes (Devarim 11:21): “In order that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, upon the land which Hashem swore unto your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth.” The Maggid asks about the meaning of measuring the days of our lives in terms of the days of heaven and earth, whose number we do not know. He builds on two verses:
1. Mishlei 10:27: “Fear of Hashem adds days, while the years of the wicked are shortened.”
2. Tehillim 50:4: “He calls on the heavens above and on the earth, that He may pass judgment on His people.”
In regard to the second verse, it is clear that heaven and earth do not literally act as judges or constables – rather, the verse is a metaphor. The Maggid explains its intent as follows. There are two factors that determine how long a person should live: the person’s physical constitution and the spiritual merit he has accrued through his conduct. One factor may dictate a short lifespan, while other dictates a longer one. Now, a person’s physical constitution is the concern of the earth, while his spiritual merit is the concern of heaven. When the psalmist speaks of Hashem calling on heaven and earth to join Him in passing judgment on a person, the intent is to say that Hashem considers both physical and spiritual factors.
A saintly man’s spiritual attainments can lead to a verdict in heaven that he live a longer lifespan than he naturally would have on the basis of his physical constitution. Conversely, a person can be physically very robust and fit to live many years, but be so wicked that a verdict is issued in heaven that his life be cut short, so that he does not degenerate further. It is in this vein that Shlomo HaMelech says that “fear of Hashem adds days, while the years of the wicked are shortened.” In regard to the latter, in particular, it is written (Tehillim 73:4): “For there are no pangs at their death, and their physical health sound.” Here, the psalmist is speaking of a person who dies in his physical prime due to spiritual degeneracy. The heavenly verdict can override the earthly verdict.
If a person firmly commits himself to raise his children in the Torah path and train them to act uprightly, a verdict is issued in heaven for him to live longer than his natural physical lifespan. He is granted added days, for he needs the extra time to inculcate Torah values into his children to the full extent that he wishes. And so the Torah says: “And you shall teach them [the Torah’s words] to your children … in order that your days may be multiplied … as the days of the heavens above the earth.” When a person dedicates himself to teaching his children Torah, he receives from heaven an added allotment of days, above and beyond those accorded to him by earthly factors.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vaeschanan

This week’s parashah begins with Moshe Rabbeinu telling the Jewish People the following (Devarim 3:23-27):
And I pleaded to Hashem at that time, saying, “My Lord, God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand …. Let me, please, cross over and see the goodly land on the other side of the Jordan – this goodly mountain and the Levanon.” And Hashem got angry at me on your account, and He did not listen to me. And Hashem said to me: “It is enough for you. Do not speak to Me again further about this matter. Go up to the top of the cliff and lift up your eyes westward, northward, southward, and eastward and see with your eyes, for you will not cross this Jordan.”
The Maggid notes that Hashem’s reply to Moshe contains a duplicative phrase: “Do not speak to Me again further (al tosef dabeir eilai od).” It would have been enough to say, “Do not speak to Me further” – the word “again” is apparently extra. The Maggid sets out to explain the double language.
He builds on the following teaching (Vayikra Rabbah 5:8):
R. Shimon taught: “The Jewish People are well-skilled in gaining their Creator’s good will.” Said R. Yudan: “Like those Cuthites, who are clever in begging for a handout. One of them went to a woman’s home and asked her: ‘If you have an onion to spare, please give it to me.’ When she gave it to him, he asked: ‘Can a person eat an onion without bread?’ When she gave him bread, he asked: ‘Can a person eat without drinking?’ In this way, he obtained ample food and drink.” … Similarly, David HaMelech was clever in negotiating with Hashem. He began with a lyrical praise (Tehillim 19:2): “The heavens proclaim the glory of God.” … Hashem asked him: “What are you seeking?” He replied (ibid. 19:13): “Errors, who can understand?” – “I seek pardon for the transgressions I committed in error.” Hashem replied: “You are pardoned.” David then continued (ibid. 19:13, end): “From the secret things, cleanse me” – “Pardon the sins that I committed deliberately in secret.” Hashem replied: “You are pardoned.” David then continued further (ibid 19:14): “Also from the rebellious sins [committed openly], spare Your servant.”
It is the way of righteous men to ask Hashem at first for just a little, and then, if they see that it is a time of favor, they turn to Hashem again and ask for something further. David HaMelech’s series of pleas in the above Midrash is an example of this approach. Another example is Avraham’s pleading on behalf of Sodom. At first, he asked Hashem to spare the city if it contained fifty righteous men. He then progressively reduced the number down to ten.
In the interchange recorded at the beginning of this week’s parashah, Moshe intended to take the same approach. He asked Hashem: “Let me, please, cross over and see.” He was asking Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael for a short time and take a look at the land, even if he would die right afterward. He was planning, if this request were granted, to ask for more. But Hashem preempted him, telling him: “Look, I will grant your request to see the land. Go up to the top of the cliff and lift up your eyes westward, northward, southward, and eastward and see with your eyes. But only on condition that you do not ask Me for something else afterward, as you planned to do. It is enough for you that I am granting your request to see the land. Do not turn to Me again with a further request.”
The Maggid uses the idea of iterated requests to explain a verse that we say every day in our prayers (Tehillim 85:8): “Show us, Hashem, Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation.” He brings out the point with a parable. A man went off on a business trip. Before leaving, he promised his son to bring him back a gift, and while he was away he bought him one. But when he came home, he found out that his son had hit his mother and spoken insolently to his teacher, and so he hid the gift. Now, the boy felt sure that his father had kept his promise, so he stayed quiet. A few days later, when his father’s anger  had died down, he approached his father and said: “Father, please show me the gift you bought me during your trip, so that at least I will know what it is.” His father showed his son the gift, and then the boy said: “Thank you, Father. Now please give it to me.” Similarly, we first ask Hashem to show us the kindness He has in store for us, and then we turn to Him again and ask Him to grant it to us.
David Zucker, Site Administrator