Post Archive for January 2014

Parashas Terumah

This week’s parashah describes the design of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), an abode for Hashem on earth. The Midrashim teach that this abode on earth parallels Hashem’s abode in heaven. In this vein, Shemos Rabbah 33:4 expounds:
It is written (Divrei HaYamim Alef 29:11, homiletically): “Yours, Hashem, is the greatness, and the strength, and the splendor, and the triumph, and the glory – for everything is in heaven and on earth.” In correspondence with every creation that Hashem placed in heaven, He placed a parallel creation on earth.
The Midrash then goes on to list several parallels. Last year, we presented one of the Maggid’s commentaries on this Midrash. We now present another one.
The above verse from Divrei HaYamim comes from David HaMelech’s final speech to the Jewish People. The account of this speech begins as follows (ibid. 29:10): “And David blessed Hashem in the presence of the entire congregation. David said: ‘Blessed are You, Hashem, God of Yisrael our forefather, from one world to the other.’” The Maggid sets out to explain why David decided specifically to offer the praise of Hashem that the Midrash quotes in the presence of the entire congregation of the Jewish People, as opposed to offering it in only the presence of his inner circle.
The Maggid takes another Midrash as his starting point. The Midrash expounds (Yalkut Shimoni, Nach 834, expounding on Tehillim 85:9-10):
On the day the Mishkan was set up, Moshe entered and heard a beautiful voice, a splendid voice. Moshe said: “I will listen to what Hashem, God, is saying – whether He is speaking of judgment or speaking of compassion. Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Moshe, “I am speaking to them of peace; I hold no grudge in My heart against My children. As it is written: For He speaks of peace to His people and to His devoted ones.It is only that His salvation is close to those who fear Him, to dwell in honor in our land.
Why did Moshe suspect that Hashem held a grudge against the Jewish People? He thought that, with the setting up of the Mishkan, Hashem had transferred His entire Presence from heaven to earth, and he was therefore concerned that Hashem held a grudge against the Jewish People over having to move His Presence out of heaven for their sake. But in truth Hashem did not have to make any such move. The Maggid explains elsewhere that whenever Hashem grants a special blessing to someone, He never takes away from someone else’s blessing in order to do so, but rather He generates an additional portion of blessing to give to His intended recipient. Thus it was here: Hashem did not move His Presence out of heaven, but rather He expanded His Presence so that it would abide on earth also. He therefore had no reason to hold a grudge against the Jewish People.
The same is true of Hashem’s giving the Jewish People the Torah. We can bring out the point as follows. When a person gives someone some item, the process involves two steps: the departure of the item from the hand of the giver and the arrival of the item into the hand of the recipient. But now suppose that the owner is not giving away the item in its entirety to another person, but rather is just enabling the other person to take hold of one end of the item, while he himself retains hold of the other end. This process involves only one step: the other person’s taking hold of the item.
Similarly, when Hashem gave the Jewish People the Torah, Moshe thought that this action involved two steps: the departure of the Torah from heaven and the arrival of the Torah on earth. And when he entered the Mishkan, he listened carefully to what Hashem was saying: Was He speaking of judgment or of compassion? Hashem replied that He was speaking of peace – that He held no grudge against the Jewish People. For, in truth, the inner light of the Torah remained in heaven and did not descend to earth. As it is written (Devarim 29:28): “The hidden matters belong to Hashem, while the revealed matters belong to us and to our children forever, that we may carry out all the words of this Torah.” The imparting of the Torah to earth thus involved only one step: Hashem simply extended the Torah to us and enabled us to take hold of one “end” it. Thus the passage in Tehillim 85 concludes (homiletically): It is only that (אך) His salvation is close to those who fear Him, to dwell in honor in our land. The Torah did not leave heaven – it only drew near to the earth.
We can now return to the Midrash with which we began. It is for good reason that David offered his praise to Hashem in the presence of the entire congregation. The leaders of the people already understood that Hashem does not move from place to place. It was only the common people who might err and think that Hashem’s Presence left heaven and descended to earth, and so David made a point of offering his praise to Hashem in their presence. David declared: “Blessed are You, Hashem, God of Yisrael our forefather, from one world to the other.” He then said afterward: “Everything is in heaven and on earth.” Nothing in heaven changed. Rather, Hashem’s holy Presence continued to abide in heaven; it simply became manifest on earth as well. As the Midrash teaches, everything in heaven is also, in parallel form, on earth.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Mishpatim

The second segment of this week’s parashah discusses the laws that apply when a father sells his daughter as a maidservant. The Midrash expounds homiletically on this segment, describing Hashem’s conveying His Torah to the Jewish People (Shemos Rabbah 30:5): “I had a lone daughter, and I sold her to you, but you cannot take her out unless she is encased in a chest.” The Maggid offers an interpretation of this enigmatic Midrash.
Regarding the creation of man, the Torah states (Bereishis 2:7): “And Hashem God formed man out of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being (ויהי האדם לנפש חיה). Ramban remarks that the prefix ל- in the word לנפש seems superfluous. He notes that the prefix ל- generally serves to describe something being transformed into something else, such as in the phrase והיו לדם in Shemos 4:9, which describes water turning into blood. Accordingly, he explains that Hashem’s action transformed man from a lump of clay into a living being.
Let us bring out the meaning of what Ramban says. There are several key differences between the works of man and the works of Hashem. One of them is as follows. When a man creates some item, he invests energy into the item only while he puts it together. After he puts it together, forming it so that it will last a certain length of time, it will last for that length of time without any further intervention from him. By contrast, Hashem constantly infuses His creations with sustaining force, moment after moment, and if He would halt the flow of sustaining force to some creation, it would immediately cease to exist. In this vein, the Midrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 14:9, expounding on Tehillim 150:6: “Let all souls (כל הנשמה) praise Y-h, Hallelujah”) that it behooves a person to praise Hashem for each and every breath (נשימה). Similarly, Nechemiah 9:6 states that Hashem “sustains them all.” And the Gemara (Yoma 71a) teaches that when one Sage would take leave of another, he would say: “May the One who provides life grant you life” – that is, may Hashem continue to infuse into you the spirit of life. It is just like a person blowing into a pouch whose mouth is open – so long as the person keeps blowing, the pouch remains inflated, but when he stops blowing the air goes out and the pouch deflates.
This being the case, we may well ask: What exactly did Hashem accomplish, in His initial creation of man, by blowing into him the breath of life, given that He must continue “blowing” for man to continue in existence? We can answer this question as follows. A seed planted in the ground produces a developing plant that draws its sustenance for continued growth from the earth. Had the seed not been planted, the earth would not have been able to transmit sustaining force. Similarly, the first breath of life that Hashem blew into man enabled a continued flow of sustaining force into him from then on. This is what the Torah means when it says that the initial breath of life from Hashem caused man to become a living being: The initial breath of life gave man the capacity to receive the flow of sustaining force from above.
A similar pattern is seen with Hashem’s giving His holy Torah to man. It is a fact that Hashem gave the Torah over into our hands. Nonetheless, we are in constant need of a flow of wisdom from above to understand the Torah’s teachings. Thus, Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 2:6): “For Hashem grants wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” Shlomo does not say that Hashem granted us wisdom sometime in the past, but rather that Hashem is constantly granting us wisdom at every moment: The phrasing is יתן חכמה – with the future tense verb form being used to indicate continual action. [Cf. Rashi on Shemos 15:1.] In truth, although Hashem gave us the Torah, the principal corpus of Torah wisdom remained in heaven. This corpus includes the hidden reasons behind the mitzvos and the profound secrets that the Torah encompasses. These are concepts that the human intellect cannot fully grasp on its own; we must ask Hashem for help. In this vein, David HaMelech pleads (Tehillim 119:18): “Open my eyes, so that I may perceive wonders from Your Torah.”
Shlomo HaMelech exhorts (Mishlei 4:1-2): “Hear, O children, the Father’s instruction, and be attentive to know understanding. ‘For I have giving you a good teaching (לקח) – do not forsake My Torah.’” Here, Shlomo is speaking of how a person must make himself fit to receive the Torah’s wisdom by diligently working to probe its depths. And Hashem is telling us that He has given us a means whereby we can take possession (לקחת) of the Torah. It is just like a person handing to someone else a long object: Once the recipient grasps of one end, he can pull the object toward him and take hold of the whole object. Thus, the Torah that Hashem gave over to us is called a לקח, because it enables us to take hold of the Torah’s inner wisdom. 
The idea we just brought out is reflected in a teaching in the Gemara (Shabbos 89a):
When Moshe descended from before the Holy One Blessed Be He, the Adversarial Angel (שטן) came and asked Him: “Master of the Universe! Where is the Torah?” God replied: “I have given it to the Earth.” The Adversary went to the Earth and asked: “Where is the Torah?” The Earth replied (Iyov 28:23): “God [alone] understands its way, and He [alone] knows its plan.”
Seemingly, the Earth gave the Adversarial Angel a false answer. But in fact the answer was the absolute truth. True, Hashem gave the legislative portion of the Torah to the Earth. But, as we explained, the primary corpus of the Torah – the hidden inner meanings – remained in Hashem’s possession: God alone understands its way.
This is the message of the Midrash we quoted at the outset. Hashem gave us the Torah, but we do not have the capacity to bring its secrets out into the open. Rather, these secrets remain hidden, encased within the Torah’s simple meanings.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Yisro

In the beginning of this week’s parashah, Yisro comes to meet Moshe, and Moshe tells him about the Jewish People’s experiences – the harsh slavery in Egypt and the wondrous redemption. Yisro then declares (Shemos 18:10-11): “Blessed is Hashem, who has rescued you from the hand of Egypt and from the hand of Pharaoh …. Now I know that Hashem is greater than all gods ….” The Gemara remarks (Sanhedrin 94a): “It is a disgrace to Moshe and the 600,000 [Jews] that they did not say ‘blessed is Hashem’ but Yisro did.” It is indeed astonishing that Moshe and the Jewish People did not say “blessed is Hashem.” Didn’t they see everything that Yisro saw?
To explain the matter, the Maggid turns to the following Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 20:2):
I said to the carousers, “do not revel” (Tehillim 75:5).  Cursed be they, who bring curse to the world! And to the wicked, “do not raise your pride” (ibid, end). … Said Hashem to the wicked: “The righteous do not rejoice in My world, and yet you seek to rejoice?” … Yisrael shall rejoice in their Maker (Tehillim 149:2). It is not written “rejoice,” but rather “shall rejoice” – only in the end of days will they rejoice in Hashem’s works. Hashem shall rejoice in His works (Tehillim 104:31). It is not written “rejoiced,” but rather “shall rejoice” – only in the end of days will Hashem rejoice in the deeds of the righteous.
We are led to wonder: It may be that the righteous do not yet rejoice, but is this reason to curse the wicked who seek to rejoice, and think that the righteous should also rejoice? The answer to this question is as follows. The Gemara in Shabbos 88a teaches that heaven and earth were in limbo until the Jewish People accepted the Torah – only then were they firmly set in place. Similarly, the world to come and all its blessings are in limbo until the Torah is upheld in its entirety and the wicked totally disappear. So long as the wicked walk the earth, even the righteous are unsure whether they will merit experiencing the world to come. They fear, as did Yaakov and David (Berachos 4a), that sin may cause them to lose the blessing they have been promised. There is a constant danger that the evil influence of the wicked may lead them to fall from their lofty spiritual state. As Shlomo HaMelech puts it (Koheles 9:18): “A single sinner can ruin much good.” Thus, the wicked deserve to be cursed for seeking to rejoice.
The Maggid brings out the point with a parable. A certain man was under threat of calamity. All his relatives mourned and cried over the threat. Word then got out that the endangered man himself was sitting at home having a good time. People cursed him, saying: “How is it that your relatives, who have reason to rejoice, restrain themselves and mourn your plight, while you yourself make merry?” The wicked endanger themselves and their fellow men through their behavior. The righteous, who have reason to be content with their record of good deeds, refrain from rejoicing and instead worry over the peril that the wicked cause to themselves and to others. Meantime, the wicked themselves seek to rejoice.
So long as the wicked are present, neither the righteous nor Hashem can rejoice. The righteous are held back from rejoicing because they see themselves as being in peril of spiritual downfall, as we have explained. And Hashem also is held back from rejoicing; He cannot rejoice while the world has not yet reached its final state of perfection. David HaMelech thus says (Tehillim 104:31): “Hashem shall rejoice in His works” – Hashem cannot rejoice now, but both He and the righteous will rejoice in the end of days when the wicked are gone. And thus David concludes (ibid. 104:35): “Sinners will cease from the earth, and the wicked will be no more. Bless Hashem, O my soul, Hallelujah.”
We now return to the Gemara in Sanhedrin: “It is a disgrace to Moshe and the 600,000 that they did not say ‘blessed is Hashem’ but Yisro did” To bring out the meaning of this remark, the Maggid presents a parable. A matchmaker made a match between a young man and a young lady. The two respective families arranged the traditional engagement party. At the party, the matchmaker rejoiced profusely – more than the two families themselves. The families were held back from complete rejoicing because they did not know whether the match would lead to a successful and harmonious marriage – only much later would they see how the match turned out. But the matchmaker could rejoice the moment the engagement was made final and he got his matchmaking fee.
The parallel is as follows. Moshe and the Jewish People had already received great beneficience from Hashem, including the miracles He did for them in Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds, and, greatest of all, the Giving of the Torah [apparently the Maggid is following the opinion of R. Elazar HaModai, who says that the episode with Yisro occurred after the Giving of the Torah (see Mechilta on Shemos 18:1)]. But, nonetheless, they could not yet fully rejoice over the relationship they had formed with Hashem, for they did not yet see how the relationship would ultimately end up. Yisro, on the other hand, could rejoice over his dealings the moment he converted and became Jewish; he knew for sure that he had done well, for he cast aside falsehood and embraced the truth. He therefore declared: “Blessed is Hashem, who has rescued you from the hand of Egypt and out of the hand of Pharaoh.” He then goes on to explain why he said what he said: “Now I know that Hashem is greater than all gods.” He achieved a great gain by acquiring the knowledge of Hashem’s greatness – knowledge that he did not have beforehand. The Jews were not to blame for not saying “Blessed is Hashem” – on the contrary, under the circumstances it was right for them to refrain from making this declaration. Nonetheless, it was a disgrace to them that they were not yet able to make the declaration because of their uncertain position.

David Zucker, Site Administrator

Haftaras Beshallach

This week’s haftarah recounts the Jewish People’s victory over Sisera and his army in the days of the prophetess Devorah, and records the song of praise to Hashem that Devorah sang afterward (paralleling the song of praise that the Jewish People sang after the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, as recorded in this week’s Torah parashah). Devorah declares (Shoftim 5:3): “I unto Hashem, I will sing – I will sing praise to Hashem, God of Yisrael.” An explanation of this verse appears in the collection Kochav MiYaakov of the Maggid’s commentaries on the haftaros. The explanation begins with an analysis of the following passage (Tehillim 8:2-7):
Hashem, our Lord, what glory (מה אדיר) accords to Your Name through all the earth – [You], who has placed Your majesty upon the heavens. Through the mouths of babes and sucklings You have founded strength ….What is man (מה אנוש), that You are mindful of him? And the son of man, that You take note of him? Yet You have made him but a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with honor and glory. You have granted him dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put everything under his feet.
The last two verses in this passage tell us that Hashem has made the operation of all creations in the entire universe depend on the acts of man – with him they rise, and with him they fall. A prime example is the Beis HaMikdash, which is called the “gateway to heaven” (Bereishis 28:17). Through the service in the Mikdash we would draw life-imparting sustenance and blessing down from heaven to all the creations of the world. In the verse that begins “What is man,” David HaMelech marvels over Hashem’s placing man in this lofty position.
Elsewhere, as the Mahari Mintz (15th century) explains in the fifth discourse in Shneim Asar Drashos, David HaMelech again speaks of the power Hashem granted man. David declares (Tehillim 111:1-2, homiletically): “Hallelujah! I will thank Hashem with all my heart among the council of the upright and the congregation. The works of Hashem are great – available for all that they desire.” David describes the greatness of Hashem’s works in heaven and on earth, and then tells us that Hashem entrusted the universe, in all its greatness, to man. We have seen striking examples of the power that man can exercise. Moshe caused the creations of the heavens to cease their motion and remain still (Sifrei 106 on Devarim 32:1). Yehoshua caused the sun to stand still in Givon (Yehoshua 10:12). Other righteous men wrought similar wonders. Hashem put the vast universe at the righteous man’s disposal, to operate according to his wishes.
In regard to the first verse of the above passage from Tehillim 8, Zohar, Beshallach 49 notes an apparent grammatical irregularity in the phrase “who has placed Your majesty,” which in the Hebrew is written אשר תנה הודך. The verb תנה appears to be the command form of the verb לתת (to place), making the phrase sound odd. Instead, says the Zohar, David should have written either אשר נתת הודך (the straightforward way of saying “who has placed Your majesty”) or תנה הודך without the word אשר (which then would make the verse a plea: “place Your majesty”). I suggest that the use of the word תנה in this verse is along the lines of the phrase 'שָׁם יְתַנּוּ צִדְקוֹת ה in Devorah’s song (Shoftim 5:11), meaning “there they will recount Hashem’s righteous deeds” [similar to the phrase ונתנו תוקף קדושת היום (and we shall recount the holiness of the day) which opens a prominent High Holiday prayer]. We can thus read the phrase אשר תנה הודך על השמים as referring to the praises of Hashem recounted by the celestial beings: ereilim, chashmalim, serafim, and nogahim, and all the rest of the celestial hosts.
The word מה appears twice in our passage. In general, the word מה serves two roles. One of its roles is to emphasize extraordinary eminence, as in “How awesome is this place!” (Bereishis 28:17), “How precious is Your kindness, O God!” (Tehillim 36:8), “How great are your tents, O Yaakov!” (Bamidbar 24:5), and many other similar verses. The other role is just the opposite – to emphasize lack of eminence, as in “Hashem, what is man, that You recognize him?” and “What are we?” (Shemos 16:8). According to Sefer HaIkarim (Fourth Discourse, Chapter 10), both appearances of the word מה in Tehillim 8 are instances of the word serving in the second role. At the start, David declares: “Hashem, our Lord, what glory (מה אדיר) accords to Your Name through all out the earth – [You], who has placed Your majesty upon the heavens.” By analogy, consider someone who praises a great and mighty king who rules over many provinces by noting that he is king over some small village. The remark does not exalt the king at all – on the contrary, it denigrates him. Now, the Hashem’s kingdom extends over the entire universe, including the uppermost heavens. Yet He identifies Himself as the “God of Yisrael,” our Lord, sovereign over a small nation. Why does He assume this meager title? Indeed, what glory does He gain through the praises offered Him from the lowly earth? Even taking together all the praises Hashem receives from the entire human race, of what significance is all this compared with the glory Hashem gains through the celestial hosts? Nonetheless, “through the mouths of babes and sucklings You have founded strength” – Hashem values and comes to hear the praises of even the most insignificant.
We now turn to Devorah’s words: “I unto Hashem, I will sing – I will sing praise to Hashem, God of Yisrael.” On the surface, it seems that Devorah is just using repetitive language, but in fact she is conveying two distinct messages. Initially she declares: “I unto Hashem, I will sing.” In her modesty and piety, she marvels over the fact that she gained the privilege to sing praise to Hashem, the King of Kings, before whom the angels tremble with fear. And she declares that this privilege is in itself a cause for jubilant song. She then goes further: Not only is it a wonder that Hashem values the praise of a lone woman – it is also a wonder that Hashem accords eminence to the Jewish People, a group of mortals, and calls Himself “God of Yisrael.” Over this as well it is fitting to sing.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Bo

After the ninth plague (darkness), Hashem tells Moshe (Shemos 11:1): “Yet one more plague shall I bring upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterward he will let you go from here. He will send you away totally; he will firmly drive you out from here.” The Maggid calls attention to the fact that Hashem had initially asked Pharaoh only to let the Jews go for a three-day sojourn in the wilderness. Pharaoh had repeatedly refused, until finally the tenth plague (the slaying of the firstborn) forced him to yield. It might be thought that Pharaoh agreed only to what Hashem had originally asked for – to let the Jews take a three-day trip. Hashem therefore tells Moshe that the final stroke in the series of awesome plagues will ultimately lead Pharaoh to regard the Jews as a liability and drive them out, never to return again. Hashem puts added emphasis on the finality of the eviction by telling Moshe that Pharaoh will let the Jews go and drive them out “from here” – the phrase “from here,” which Hashem uses twice, is not really necessary, for Moshe knew well where the Jews were. The Egyptians were glad to see the Jews go; David HaMelech, recounting the exodus, declares (Tehillim 105:38): “Egypt rejoiced when they departed, for the fear of them had fallen upon them.”
The Maggid explains the Egyptians’ rejoicing as follows. Hashem’s honor demands that when a person experiences Divine judgment, he should trust Hashem’s ways and thank Him genially for what He decreed upon him. And if the person is of flawed character, and will not naturally accept Hashem’s judgment genially, Hashem shrewdly arranges circumstances that lead the person to adopt the proper attitude. Suppose, for example, that Hashem decides that a certain person must suffer a loss of 100 dollars, but He knows that the person will be agitated by this loss and will not accept it as he should. He then arranges for a thief to burgle his house at night and steal his valuables, causing him a loss of several thousand dollars. The person will then spend 100 dollars trying to catch the thief, and Hashem will lead him to succeed and get his valuables back. He will then be overjoyed, and will heartily thank Hashem for his good fortune.
The way Hashem dealt with Pharaoh and the Egyptians was along the same lines. He cast fearsome plagues upon them, striking them with terror and leading them to exclaim (Shemos 12:33): “We are all dying!” They then pressed the Jews to leave. And as the Jews set out on their way, the Egyptians willingly gave them all their valuables and finery. As the Torah recounts (Shemos 12:36): “And Hashem gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, so that they urged them to make requests, and they emptied Egypt out.” As Rashi notes, the Egyptians even gave the Jews things they did not ask for, and when a Jew asked for something, the reply was “take two, and go” (cf. Tanchuma Bo 8). The Egyptians saw the Jews as a source of grief, and wished to be rid of them. And when the Jews left, the Egyptians were overjoyed, just as Hashem had intended.
David Zucker, Site Administrator