Post Archive for December 2013

Parashas Vaeira

In the opening section of this week’s parashah, Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 6:6-7): “Therefore, say to the Children of Israel, ‘I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I shall rescue you from their service; I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I shall take you unto Me as a people, and I shall be a God to you.’” The Midrash remarks (Shemos Rabbah 6:4):
The term therefore signifies an oath, as it is written (Shmuel Alef 3:14), “Therefore, I have sworn regarding the house of Eli.” The Holy One Blessed Be He swore that He would redeem them.
The daily Shacharis and Maariv prayers include a berachah praising Hashem for redeeming us from slavery in Egypt and other plights; the berachah concludes with the words, “Blessed are You, Hashem, who redeemed Yisrael.” Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 111:1 states a halachah calling for an uninterrupted juxtaposition of the Amidah to these concluding words (smichas geulah l’tefillah). Yerushalmi Berachos 1:1 (quoted by Rashi on Berachos 4b) finds an indication for this practice from a juxtaposition of verses:
1. Tehillim 19:15: “May the words of my mouth and the mediations of my heart find favor before You, Hashem, My Rock and My Redeemer.”
2. Tehillim 20:1-2: “For the conductor, a psalm by David. May Hashem answer you on the day of distress; may the Name of the God of Yaakov fortify you.”
The Maggid suggests that the above-quoted Midrash provides a reason for this practice. He builds his explanation on another halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 218:5): “If a person has had several miracles done for him, when he arrives at one of the places where a miracle was done for him he must mention all the other places and include them all in one berachah.” The Maggid explains this halachah via the example of a traveler who survived an attack by a bandit and afterward survived another attack by a lion. Had he been killed by the bandit, he would never have experienced the rescue from the lion. On the other hand, had the lion killed him, his rescue from the bandit’s attack would have been for naught. Thus, when a person reaches a place where he experienced a miraculous rescue, it is fitting for him to mention other miraculous rescues he experienced, for these other miracles provided him the capacity to benefit, or continue to benefit, from the miracle he experienced in the place where he now stands.
In the same way, our redemption from the Egyptian enslavement was not a permanent redemption, but it served as a clear guarantee from Hashem – in effect an oath, as the above-quoted Midrash indicates – that He would ultimately grant us a final redemption. Indeed, another Midrash about the redemption from Egypt describes an explicit promise from Hashem to redeem us in the future as well. Hashem told Moshe, in response to his query, that the Divine Name he should convey to the Jewish People was the Name “I Shall Be as I Shall Be” (Shemos 3:14). The Midrash explains that Hashem was telling Moshe that just as He was with the Jewish People in their current plight, so, too, He would be with them in future times of trouble (Shemos Rabbah 3:6). Moreover, Yirmiyahu (in verse 3:14) conveyed to us Hashem’s promise that He would ultimately bring us to Zion. Whenever we are faced with a threat, we know that Hashem will eventually rescue us, for otherwise the redemption from Egypt would have been for naught and Hashem’s promise of a final redemption would be nullified. It is in this vein that David HaMelech, in asking Hashem to save him from his enemies, referred to Hashem as “Hashem, My Rock and My Redeemer” – just as Hashem was our Redeemer in the past, so, too, will He be at all times. As indicated in the adjacent set of verses, Hashem will answer us and fortify us when we face distress. This is a key idea behind the halachah of smichas geulah l’tefillah: We say to Hashem, “Just as You preserved us in the past, please preserve us and care for our needs now.”
The above explanation sheds light on the opinion that holds that smichas geulah l’tefillah is not absolutely essential on Shabbos as it is on weekdays (Rema on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 111:1). In the weekday Amidah, we pray for the things we need for survival: health, livelihood, rescue from troubles, and other basic needs. These are things we need to continue in existence until the time of the final redemption, and without which the final redemption would not be possible. Hence, it is fitting to juxtapose without a break the berachah praising Hashem as our Redeemer to the Amidah, for the topics of the two prayers are directly related. But in the Shabbos Amidah, we appeal to Hashem’s generosity (“open your mouth wide and I will fill it” – Tehillim 81:11) and ask for joy, pleasure, contentment, and tranquility. Since these requests go beyond what we need to survive to see the final redemption, they are not directly related to Hashem’s role as our Redeemer, and thus do not call so strongly for smichas geulah l’tefillah.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Shemos

In Hashem’s first meeting with Moshe at the burning bush, He tells him (Shemos 3:7): “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their screams on account of their taskmasters, for I have known of their sufferings.” We have previously presented several of the Maggid’s interpretations of this statement. We now present another.
One striking feature of the above statement is that it seems repetitive. The Maggid compares the statement to a passage in Tehillim that also exhibits a form of repetition (Tehillim 45:11): “Listen, O daughter, and see, and incline your ear – and forget your people and your father’s house.” We can ask: Why does the psalmist exhort the daughter both to listen and to see?
The Maggid addresses this question by elaborating on the senses of sight and hearing. At a basic level, the sense of sight enables a person to examine things that are close to him, while the sense of hearing enables a person to gain information about things that are too far away for him to see. For instance, through a series of vocal messages from one person to another, a person can obtain a report about some object or event from someone who saw it. Now, we might think that in regard to something that a person himself can see, there is no need for him to use the sense of hearing. But in fact there are situations where a person needs to use both senses together. Specifically, some things appear good but carry a hidden hazard, while others appear bad but carry a hidden benefit. In this case, just looking at the thing in question is not enough to get a true grasp of its nature; one must listen to information about it from people who are familiar with all its features. In this vein, Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Mishlei 20:12): “The ear that hears, and the eye that sees – and Hashem has also made both of them.” That is, Hashem made the eye and the ear so that a person can also use both of them together when necessary.
The main area where a person needs to use both the ear and the eye is where he has to decide on a course of conduct. Often an action appears appropriate but leads to a bad outcome. Thus Shlomo teaches elsewhere (ibid. 14:12): “There is a route that seems right to a man, but at its end are the paths of death.” When a person chooses a route solely on the basis of what seems right to him, he can easily fail to think properly about what he is doing, for he will naturally tend to put firm faith in his initial perception. Accordingly, the psalmist exhorts: “Listen, O daughter, and see!” Listening comes first, and then seeing. One must first listen to guidance from the leaders, and only then apply his own power of sight. After a person has heard proper guidance from appropriate authorities, he is able to see and perceive accurately whatever he encounters, and will not lead himself astray. Perhaps Shlomo also meant to indicate that hearing comes before seeing when he spoke of the ear that hears and the eye that sees, mentioning the ear before the eye.
We can link the above idea to a Midrash concerning sight. The Midrash says (Esther Rabbah 7:9):
“And Haman saw that Mordechai did not bow down and prostrate himself before him” (Esther 3:5). Said R. Eivo: “Regarding the wicked, it is written (Tehillim 69:24, homiletically): ‘Their eyes are darkened from seeing’ [i.e., what they have looked at has caused them harm]. For the sights that a wicked person’s eyes see carry him down to Gehinnom. [The Midrash brings several proof-texts, the last of which is the above verse about Haman.] But the sights that a righteous person’s eyes see brings him light, for what his eyes see elevates him to a lofty level. Thus it is written (Bereishis 18:2): ‘And he lifted up his eyes, and he saw – and behold – three men were standing before him.’ [The Midrash brings further proof-texts.]”
The wicked man follows the sights of his eyes and the inclinations of his heart. He therefore sees things incorrectly. But the righteous man lifts up his eyes to contemplate the consequences of every action from beginning to end, and he therefore does not falter.
Let us now turn our attention to Hashem’s statement to Moshe. We bring out the meaning of the statement through an analogy. If we see a person hit someone with force, we can readily recognize from what we saw the pain that the victim suffered. But if we see a person give someone just a light slap, the pain inflicted is not immediately obvious. The victim may be an eminent person and the assaulter a lowly person, in which case, the victim will be deeply hurt: As the Mishnah says (Bava Kamma 8:1), the damages for embarrassment caused by an assault vary according to the stature of the assaulter and the victim. But if we did not know the people involved, we would not know of the victim’s pain simply by seeing the scene. We would recognize the victim’s pain only by hearing his cry of indignation: “Oy! That I should be slapped by such a scoundrel!” The ear gathers additional information not gathered by the eye.
Furthermore, in some cases even the victim himself does not recognize the full gravity of the offense committed against him – others, who are more aware of the stature of the victim’s family, may well recognize it better. Thus, an assault potentially involves three levels of damage: the physical pain, the embarrassment that the victim himself feels, and the affront to the victim’s honor that others recognize.
Hashem’s statement to Moshe encompasses all three of these levels. I have indeed seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt – this refers to the physical pain that the Jews suffered from the crushing burden of labor they bore and the beatings inflicted on them. And I have heard their screams on account of their taskmasters – this refers to the humiliation the Jews felt over being oppressed by people as lowly as the Egyptians. For I have known of their sufferings – this refers to the degree of affront to the Jews that Hashem alone recognized, beyond the humiliation that they themselves felt.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayechi

This week’s parashah recounts Yaakov’s parting words of admonition and blessing to his sons before his death. Regarding Shimon and Levi, Yaakov said (Bereishis 49:5-7):
Shimon and Levi are brothers – their weapons (מכרותיהם) are pilfered tools. Into their council may my soul not enter; with their assembly, O my honor, do not associate. For in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was harsh; I will separate them with Yaakov, and scatter them in Yisrael.
We present two of the Maggid’s commentaries on this passage, the first from his commentary on Rus 1:8-9 and the second from his commentary on the parashah.
1. Commenting on our passage, the Midrash elaborates (Bereishis Rabbah 98:5): “These tools (מכרות) that you have taken hold of are stolen property in your hands. Who are they suited for? For Eisav, who sold (מכר) the birthright.” The Maggid notes a difficulty with this remark. Seemingly, for Yaakov to deliver an effective rebuke, it would have been enough simply to say that the weapons were stolen. Why did he need to say who the weapons were suited for? What need was there to say who the lord of murder was? And how did Yaakov conclude that it was Eisav? 
The Maggid explains as follows. Eisav was the firstborn. As such, he was in a position to assume the duty of performing the sacrificial service: This duty was originally the calling of the firstborn, before it was given over to the Kohanim and Levites. Eisav was therefore born ruddy (Bereishis 25:25), with a tendency for bloodshed (Bereishis Rabbah 63:8). He was supposed to use this tendency for performing sacrifices. But Eisav despised the sacrificial service. He was, as Rashi tells us in a comment on Bereishis 25:32, repelled by its many laws, and by the severe penalties – including death in some cases – for failing to observe these laws. So Eisav sold his birthright to Yaakov, casting aside the sacrificial service. This left him to exercise his inborn tendency for bloodshed through murder.
When Yaakov declared that Shimon and Levi’s weapons were pilfered tools, stolen from Eisav, he was saying: “Although I took the birthright from Eisav, I am not driven to murder. On the contrary, he is left with the path of murder. When Eisav sold the birthright, he gave up the noble outlet he had for his tendency for bloodshed. Hence he was led to turn to murder. And so the tools of murder suit him. But you, Shimon and Levi, still have available the noble outlet – circumcision and slaughtering sacrifices. Thus, when you turn to killing, you exercise a stolen trait.”
2. The Midrash comments further (Bereishis Rabbah 99:7): “He [Yaakov] cursed only their anger.” The Maggid notes that many commentators have expressed puzzlement over the import of Yaakov’s cursing only Shimon and Levi’s anger. He says that Yaakov was in fact casting a sharp curse on Shimon and Levi themselves, but he held himself back from expressing the curse explicitly, and instead directed his words toward their anger.
He explains the matter as follows. Consider a person with an angry nature who always wants to pour out his wrath on others. If he is rich, his position gives him the power to cast his wrath about however he wishes. But if he is poor, he cannot do so. Instead, he must keep his anger bottled up inside. And then his anger becomes a curse, raging within him and causing him anguish. This is what Yaakov had in mind when he said, “Cursed be their anger.” And, indeed, the Midrash (ibid.) says that ultimately the Shimonites and Levites were put in the position of having to go door to door for their sustenance – the Shimonites to collect alms, for they were poor, and the Levites to collect their tithes.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vayiggash

In this week’s parashah, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers. He then says to them (Bereishis 45:4-7):
I am Yosef your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be upset or angry with yourselves that you sold me here, for God sent me ahead of you to be a provider. For now for two years there has been famine in the land, and there are yet five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on the earth and to sustain you for a great deliverance.
The Maggid notes that this statement is repetitive: Yosef tells his brothers twice, almost consecutively, that Hashem sent him ahead of them to sustain them. He then sets out to explain the import of this repetitive language.
The Maggid builds on the following Gemara (Shabbos 30a):
What is meant by the verse (Tehillim 86:17): “Perform with me a sign for good, so that my enemies will see it and be ashamed”? Said David to Hashem: “Master of the Universe! Pardon me for that sin [with Bas-Sheva].” Hashem replied: “You are pardoned.” David said: “Perform with me a sign in my lifetime.” Hashem replied: “In your lifetime I will not publicize it, but in the lifetime of your son Shlomo I will publicize it.” When Shlomo built the Holy Temple, he sought to bring the ark into the Holy of Holies, but the gates clung to each other. Shlomo made twenty-four pleas, but he was not answered. He then went forward and exclaimed (Tehillim 24:7): “Raise up your head, O gates, and be lifted up, O everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may enter.” … Yet he was not answered. But when he said (Divrei HaYamim Beis 6:42): “Hashem, God, do not turn away Your anointed one, remember the good deeds of your servant David,” he was answered immediately. At that moment, the faces of all of David’s enemies turned black like the bottom of a pot, and the entire Nation of Yisrael then knew that Hashem had pardoned him for that sin. Did not Shlomo thus speak well when he said (Koheles 4:2): “I esteem the dead who have already died more than the living who are still alive”?
The Maggid analyzes this Gemara as follows. Consider a garment that has been torn. An accomplished tailor may fix the tear in a way that makes the repair unnoticeable, but nonetheless the garment will not have the same value as it did before the tear. It is the same with any other item that is damaged and then repaired. Certainly the item will not be worth more after the repair than before. Similarly, when a person sins and then properly repents, Hashem will pardon him and erase all trace of the sin, but still it would have been better if the person had not sinned in the first place. If so, what shame would David’s enemies feel when the saw that Hashem pardoned his sin? Yet from the Gemara above we see that, in fact, David became much more eminent after the pardon than he was before he had sinned. Why?
The Maggid explains what happened with David through a parable. A nobleman had a very valuable sapphire which suffered glaring damage. He consulted expert gem-cutters and asked if the stone could be fixed, and was told that even after repair some trace of the damage would remain. Later, a very accomplished expert gem-cutter came to him and said: “Let me give you some advice. Your gem, even as it is now, is very valuable. But it would be even more valuable if I adorned it with beautiful engravings. If you allow me, I will do so, and I will start my work with this very scratch – from there the engraving line will begin.” In this case, we definitely would say that the flaw introduced into the stone was the cause of its becoming much more valuable than it was before it was damaged.
Thus it was with David. The Gemara says (Avodah Zarah 4b-5a):
David was not of the sort to do that act [the liaison with Bas-Sheva], and the Jewish People were not of the sort to do that act [the making of the golden calf]. … So why did they do these acts? [The Gemara explains that they did so in order to provide examples that both an individual and a community can repent and gain pardon.] This is as was taught by R. Shmuel bar Nachmani in the name of R. Yochanan: “What is the meaning of the verse (Shmuel Beis 23:1): ‘The words of David the son of Yishai, and the words of the man raised on high (על).’? [It means:] The words of David the son of Yishai, who raised up the yoke (עול) of repentance.”
This being the case, it is not really fitting to consider David guilty of a sin. Thus the Gemara says elsewhere (Shabbos 56a): “Whoever says David sinned is simply mistaken. For it is written (Shmuel Alef 18:14): ‘And David was successful in all his ways, and Hashem was with him.’” That is, Hashem orchestrated the liaison, for the reason the Gemara in Avodah Zarah gives. As a result, David’s eminence after he repented was much greater than before the liaison, for through his repentance he paved for others the path of repentance, and thus brought about incalculable benefit.
We can now understand David’s plea: “Perform with me a sign for good, so that my enemies will see it and be ashamed.” Note that David uses the phrasing “perform with me (עשה עמי)” rather than the more natural “perform for me (עשה לי).” David was not only asking Hashem to pardon him for his sin. He was asking Hashem to publicize the good that was brought into the world through what he did – that the world was provided an example showing that an individual can be repent and be pardoned. Hashem replied: “In your lifetime I will not publicize it, but in the lifetime of your son Shlomo I will publicize it.” And when Shlomo prayed to be able to bring the ark into the Holy of Holies, he was answered only when he invoked David’s merit. The people then saw clearly that David’s eminence after his repentance was much greater than it had been before, even exceeding that of other righteous men.
The episode of Yosef and his brothers was along exactly the same lines. The brothers sold Yosef as a slave, an apparently ignoble act. But in actuality, as our Sages teach, the sale was purposely orchestrated by Hashem, in order to bring Yaakov and his family to Egypt. It is to bring out this point that Yosef told his brothers twice that Hashem sent him to Egypt. Yosef first says: “And now, do not be upset or angry with yourselves that you sold me here, for Hashem sent me ahead of you to be a provider.” Given this statement alone, it might be thought that the brothers’ act in itself was an evil deed, but Hashem afterward arranged subsequent developments so that a benefit would result – similar to the case of an item that was damaged and then later repaired by an expert craftsman. Yosef therefore continues: “And God sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on the earth and to sustain you for a great deliverance.” Yosef was telling his brothers that after the result of his being sold and brought to Egypt had come to light, it was clear that the sale was not really their doing – rather, Hashem had orchestrated it from the outset, to achieve a specific goal.
David Zucker, Site Administrator