Post Archive for August 2013

Parashas Nitzavim-Vayeilech

In this week’s parashah, the Torah says (Devarim 30:1-3): “And it will be, when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have set before you, and you take the matter unto your heart amidst the nations among whom Hashem your God has cast you … that Hashem your God will then return your captivity and have compassion on you.” The Maggid links this passage to the following Midrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:31): “‘Show Me your appearance (מראיך)’ (Shir HaShirim 2:14). Thus it is written (Shemos 14:13): ‘Stand fast and see the salvation of Hashem.’” The Maggid explains this enigmatic Midrash with a parable.
A man got angry at his only son and banished him from his house. The lad wandered from place to place, totally bereft. The father was pained over his son’s suffering, but held himself back from taking action, so that  his would son receive his due punishment and learn his lesson. One of the father’s friends came across the son, and saw how his visage had blackened. He said to the lad: “Let me give you a piece of advice. You should know that although your father sits comfortably in his house, his visage has also blackened with anguish over you. So go quickly, buy yourself a mirror (מראה), and go stand before your father with the mirror hung over your chest. Plead before him, saying: ‘Please, my dear father, see how you look. See how the glow is gone from your face. And then, please, take me back, if not for my sake then for yours.”
The parallel is as follows. The Zohar teaches (Vayeishev 182a):
When the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, the Divine Presence was exiled among foreign nations. Regarding this it is written (Yeshayah 33:7):  “The angels scream out, and the agents of peace cry bitterly.” They all cried over this, and banded together in crying and mourning. All this over the fact that the Divine Presence was exiled from her abode, over the way her appearance had changed. So, too, it was with her husband. His light no longer shined forth, and his appearance was changed. Thus it is written (Yeshayah 13:10): “The sun is darkened in its going forth.” And regarding this it is written (ibid. 52:14): “For marred was his visage unlike that of a man, and his form unlike that of the sons of men.”
Without attempting to grasp all the mystical aspects of this teaching, we see overall that, so to speak, our suffering in exile causes Hashem’s appearance to change. Now, Yirmiyahu advises us (Eichah 2:19): “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before Hashem.” Water acts like a mirror. Yirmiyahu is telling us, so to speak, to place a sheet of water before Hashem so that He can see His reflection and observe how His visage has been marred. Where is the radiance of His glory and splendor? And then we can say to Him: “Save us, for Your sake, not for ours.”
This is the idea behind the Midrash we quoted at the outset. Hashem says: “Show Me your appearance.” This charge can be rendered homiletically: “Display Me with your mirror.” And thus the Midrash links this charge to the following one: “Stand fast [present yourselves] and see the salvation of Hashem.” Regarding the “salvation of Hashem,” the Midrash comments elsewhere (Shemos Rabbah 30:24):
“For My salvation in near in coming” (Yeshayah 56:1). Hashem does not say “for your salvation is near in coming,” but rather “My salvation.” … He says: “All the days that you are there [in exile], I am with you in your distress.” As it is written (Tehillim 90:15): “I am with him in distress.”
In Yalkut Shimoni, Nach 679, the Midrash teaches:
“Hashem will answer you on the day of trouble” (Tehillim 20:2). Said the Holy One Blessed Be He: “When trouble comes upon Yisrael, and they seek Me and combine concern for My honor with their concerns, at that time I will answer them.” As it is written (Tehillim 91:15): “He shall call out for Me and I shall answer him. I am with him in distress – I shall release him and bring him honor.”
In the Hebrew, Devarim 30:1 reads:
וְהָיָה כִי יָבֹאוּ עָלֶיךָ כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל לְבָבֶךָ בְּכָל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר הִדִּיחֲךָ ה' אֱלֹקֶךָ שָׁמָּה:
The last three words of the verse can be rendered: “Hashem your God is there.” This is the matter that we must take to heart: that as we suffer in exile, Hashem is there with us. And we should focus on not on our own pain, but on Hashem’s pain. This is a merit that will help bring the final redemption.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Savo

This week’s parashah describes the blessings we will receive if we obey Hashem’s will and the curses we will suffer if we do not. In the passage of the blessings, the Torah says (Devarim 28:2): “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you, for you will be harkening to the voice of Hashem, your God.” The Torah later says further (ibid. 28:13-14): “Hashem will open for you His storehouse of good, the heavens, to provide your land’s rain in its time and bless all your handiwork … for you will be harkening to the commandments of Hashem your God.” The Maggid says that there is a storehouse of good from which the righteous receive their assets, and a storehouse of bad from which the wicked receive their assets. The Maggid then goes on to explain what this means.
A wicked person is obsessed with material benefits, and he will use any means to gain them. He will rob and cheat others to get the money he needs for his indulgences. His assets therefore come from the storehouse of bad. No matter how much he gets, he is never satisfied. If he gets one hundred, he wants two hundred (cf. Koheles Rabbah 3:12). In this vein, Yeshayah says (verse 56:11): “The dogs are greedy, they do not know when they have enough.” The pleasures he gains actually wear him down, and cause him pain and anxiety. Regarding such a person, Michah wonders (verse 6:10): “Are there still stores of wickedness in the house of the wicked, or a lean measure that provokes anger?” Because he acquires his assets unjustly, he gains no blessing from them. The goods he obtains never satisfy him, and he always feels he has too lean a measure of worldly benefits.
In describing the affliction He will bring on the wicked, Hashem says (Yechezkel 5:16): “When I send upon [you] the evil arrows of famine that cause destruction, which I send to destroy you, I will further set famine upon you, and I will break your staff of bread.” At first glance, this statement seems odd; it as if Hashem is saying: “I will make you suffer famine, and, furthermore, I will make you suffer famine.” But in light of what we explained above, we can understand the statement well. Even before Hashem punishes the wicked they feel famine, for they are constantly working, through evil means, to gain more and more. Eventually Hashem adds to their suffering by punishing them with actual famine.
A righteous person, on the other hand, sees material benefits only as a means of sustaining himself so that he can serve Hashem. He certainly will not violate Hashem’s will in acquiring them. He makes his living only through honest means, spurning theft and deceit. His assets therefore come from the storehouse of good. David HaMelech says (Tehillim 145:16): “You [Hashem] open Your hand, and satisfy every living thing with favor.” One whose assets come from the storehouse of good is satisfied with what he gets. As Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 10:22): “Hashem’s blessing brings riches, and does not bring with it an increase of grief.” The righteous man does not feel grief over not having received more. Hashem therefore readily opens His hand to him, for He knows that he will be satisfied.
Moshe pleads (Tehillim 90:14): “Satisfy us in the morning with Your kindness, and we will we jubilate and rejoice all our days.” The term satisfy does not refer only to fulfillment of the need for food; it is also used in other senses, as we find in several Biblical verses (Bereishis 35:29, Iyov 42:17, Divrei HaYamim Alef 23:1, Tehillim 85:4 and 123:3). In general, the term satisfy refers to a process reaching completion, either for good or for bad. Now, when a wicked person has gained his fill (for the moment) of wealth and worldly pleasures, he has reached his goal. This is not so of a righteous person, for, as we said, he sees material benefits only as a means to enable him to serve Hashem through mitzvos. Even if he lives in comfort, with his table loaded with plenty, he does regard himself as having “made it.” His material assets in themselves do not lead him to rejoice. Rather, he takes the attitude that Shlomo HaMelech advocates (Koheles 2:24): “It is not good for man to eat and drink, and show his soul satisfaction in his labor.” He feels that he has reached his goal only when he has used his material assets to perform righteous deeds. This is the idea behind Moshe’s plea: “Satisfy us in the morning with Your kindness, and we will we jubilate and rejoice all our days.” He is saying: “Please, in Your kindness, enable us to reach the ultimate goal in this world, to serve You in a complete way. And then we will jubilate and rejoice all our days.”
A parallel principle applies to misfortunes. When a wicked person is stricken with poverty or bodily afflictions, these misfortunes make him suffer, but have no further effect. But when a righteous person is stricken in such a way, the misfortunes hamper him in his effort to do good deeds, and so the misfortunes cause double damage. In this vein, David HaMelech pleads (Tehillim 123:3): “Be gracious to us, Hashem, be gracious to us, for we are fully sated with disgrace.” David repeats his plea to Hashem to be gracious because of the great measure of disgrace that our misfortunes cause us – a much greater measure than they would cause others. Elsewhere, the sons of Korach present a similar plea (ibid. 88:3-4): “Let my prayer come before You, incline Your ear to my cry, for my soul is sated with troubles.” The thought behind this plea is the same.
The Torah describes the righteous person’s response when he receives his portion from the storehouse of good (Devarim 8:10): “You will eat, and be satisfied, and bless Hashem.” In blessing Hashem, the righteous person reflects on the fact that the bounty he received will enable him to perform mitzvos. As it is written (Tehillim 85:13-14): “Hashem, too, will provide bounty, and our land will bring forth its produce” – and then, as a result, “righteousness will proceed before Him, and set its footsteps on the way.” In parallel, the Torah likewise describes the wicked person’s response when he receives his portion from the storehouse of bad (Devarim 31:20): “They will eat, and be satisfied, and grow fat, and turn to other gods and serve them; they will anger Me and violate My covenant.”
We return now to the verse we quoted at the outset: “All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, for you will be hearkening to the voice of Hashem, your God.” When the righteous person hearkens to Hashem’s voice and performs mitzvos, Hashem showers him with blessing, for He knows that the blessing will lead him to continue hearkening to His voice and performing mitzvos.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Seitzei

In this week’s parashah, the Torah says (Devarim 25:13): “You shall not have (לא יהיה לך) in your pouch one weight and another weight, a large one and a small one.” The Midrash expounds (Vayikra Rabbah 15:7): “If you do so, you will not have (לא יהיה לך) what to do business with, what to buy and what to sell.” The Maggid explains this Midrash via one of Shlomo HaMelech’s teachings (Mishlei 3:31-33): “Do not envy the pillager, and do not choose any of his ways. … Hashem’s curse is upon the house of the wicked, while the abode of the righteous He blesses.” When a person enters this world, the Maggid notes, Hashem brings into the world along with him his means of sustenance. Thus the Gemara says (Niddah 31b): “When a male (זכר) comes into the world, his loaf comes into his hand: the word זכר can be broken up to read זה כר (this is a loaf).” Similarly, Shlomo HaMelech teaches elsewhere (Mishlei 5:15): “Drink water from your own cistern and flowing water from your own well.” Hashem, the Chief Provider, has the capacity to bless each person with what he needs.
In general, the Maggid says, the source of a person’s designated portion of blessing is called his “house.” Thus, when Elisha came to aid Ovadiah’s impoverished widow, he asked her (Melachim Beis 4:2): “Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And the Sages refer to a family’s portion of blessing as ברכת הבית  – “blessing of the house” (Kesuvos 103a). A righteous person sustains himself through his house, that is, through the assets that Hashem granted him. A wicked person, on the other hand, leaves aside his own source of blessing and endeavors to sustain himself through assets that Hashem granted others, by means of stealing and cheating. This type of behavior is reflected in Hashem’s lament (Yirmiyah 2:13): “They have forsaken Me, the source of living waters, to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that cannot hold the water.” The wicked person abandons his own portion, and nothing he possesses is his. Regarding this situation, Michah exclaims (verse 6:10): “Are there still stores of wickedness in the house of the wicked, or a lean measure that provokes anger?” When a person takes from other people’s property, the flow of Divine blessing to his own property ceases. Our Sages teach (Avos 4:1): “Who is rich? One who rejoices in his portion” – in his own portion, and not in that of others.
The Maggid brings out the point further with a parable. Two brothers inherited an estate from their father. One of the brothers made his living through his portion of the estate. He planted his fields, tended his vineyards, and sustained himself through the produce. The other brother left aside his portion of the estate and set out to make his living as a merchant. He traveled long distances for business trips. In periods when he was successful, he made a nice living. But in periods when he could not travel for one reason or another, he found himself stuck at home with fields overrun with weeds and no income at all. The parallel is clear.
Shlomo HaMelech tells us: “Do not envy the pillager, and do not choose any of his ways.” Shlomo is warning us not to follow the path of the pillager and try to make a living off of other people’s property, for if we do so, our own portion that Hashem set aside for us will lie fallow, and we will ultimately be left empty-handed. And thus, “Hashem’s curse is upon the house of the wicked.” By contrast, “the abode of the righteous He blesses” – as David HaMelech says (Tehillim 112:3): “Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.” We can now appreciate the message of the Midrash: “You shall not have in your pouch one weight and another weight, a large one and a small one. If you do so, you will not have.” If you seek to sustain yourself by cheating others and pilfering from their portion, you will not have any blessing in your house – you will lose the portion that Hashem designated for you, and in the end you will not have anything.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Shoftim

This week’s haftarah begins as follows (Yeshayah 51:12-15):
I, yea I, am the One who comforts you. Who are you, that you are afraid of mortal man, of a son of man who will be made to be like grass – and have forgotten Hashem your Maker, who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth, and fear continually all day long because of the oppressor’s fury, as he prepares to destroy – and where is the oppressor’s fury? … I am Hashem, your God ….
The Maggid offers several explanations of this passage. Here we present one of them, which is based on a parable. A king got angry at his son and banished him from his palace and his capital city. The lad went wandering, begging for bread. Eventually, out of force of need, he knocked on the door of a lowly villager, hoping that he would at least find there a place to lodge. The villager heard him and let him in. He noticed that the lad was handsome, with a face that radiated with wisdom. So he had pity on him and took him into his household, to work as a servant. Several years passed, and the lad forgot his people and his father’s house, and did peasant work as if he were a servant from birth. After some time, the villager died, and the lad began working for his son. The son was a scoundrel, and afflicted the lad with crushing toil. The lad grew very bitter and wished he were dead.
Meantime, the king began to feel anguish over his son, for he had not heard anything from him for some years, and he had no idea where he was or what was happening with him. He decided to take a tour through his kingdom to try to find him. At each place he visited, he had one of his ministers announce that any man who had a claim against his neighbor or any servant who had a claim against his master could bring his claim before him. Each time, a number of servants would approach the king with various requests. On one occasion, the prince was one of the petitioners. He came to complain against his master, and he did not recognize his father. He cried and pleaded: “Please have pity on me, for I am a servant to a very evil and cruel master. When his father was alive, he supplied my needs, giving me proper food and drink. But from the day the old man died, I have known no peace – I am weary with groaning.” When the king saw his precious son and heard his complaint, he fell upon his neck, kissed him, and began to cry bitterly. He exclaimed: “My son, my son! How could you have forgotten your glory? How could you have forgotten that you were in line to be king, and that when you were in my house all the ministers would bow down before you? Now you have fallen astoundingly. You have forgotten all your glory, and you seek only to gain this villager’s favor, to get him to lighten your burden and give you more food.”
The parallel is clear. We have forgotten our special position and distinguished lineage.  As Yeshayah puts it (verse 63:19): “We have become as if You never ruled over [us], as if Your Name had not been called upon [us].” As the enemy draws his arrows to destroy us, we cry out to Hashem saying: “Please save us, and relieve us from the bitterness of death!” And thus, in our haftarah, Yeshayah exclaims in wonder: “Who are you, pleading and groaning like this? How could you have forgotten who you are, and grown unaware of your lofty stature? Now, on the contrary, you are afraid of mortal man. You have forgotten Hashem your Maker. You fear continually all day long because of the oppressor’s fury, as he prepares to destroy. Why didn’t you ask your Father to take you back into His house, and grant you eternal deliverance?”
David Zucker, Site Administrator