Post Archive for September 2014

The Ten Days of Repentance

In last week’s parashah, it is written (Devarim 30:19-20):
I call heaven and earth today to bear witness against you, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so that you may live, you and you offspring, to love Hashem your God, to hearken to His voice, and to cleave to Him. For this is your life and the length of your days ….
The Maggid links this passage to one of the special prayers we say during the Ten Days of Repentance. We pray: “Remember us for life, O King Who desires life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life – for Your sake, O Living God.” The reason we ask for continued life is not so we may indulge further in the pleasures of this world. Rather, we ask for continued life so that we may continue to serve Hashem. Thus, David HaMelech says (Tehillim 115:17-18): “The dead cannot praise God, nor can all those who descend into silence, but we will bless God from this time and forever, Hallelujah.” Continued life enables us to bring Hashem honor. A person of wisdom yearns to serve Hashem; as Yeshayah says (verse 26:8): “Your Name and remembrance of You are the desire of the soul.”
In the Torah passage we quoted above, the Torah is telling us to choose real life, turning away from petty matters and focusing on loving Hashem and hearkening to Him. This is the true essence of our lives and the length of our days.
Ksiva V’Chasima Tovah!
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Nitzavim-Vayeilech

In the second half of parashas Vayeilech, Hashem informs Moshe that he is about to die, and tells him to come to the Tent of Meeting, along with Yehoshua, for some final instructions. Hashem says to Moshe (Devarim 31:14-21):
Behold, you will lie with your forefathers, but this people will rise up and stray … My anger will flare against it [the nation] … So now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Yisrael, … so this song will be for Me as a witness concerning the Children of Yisrael. … And it shall be, that when many evils and troubles come upon it, that this song shall speak up before it as a witness ….
Rashi tells us that the song Hashem is referring to is the song recorded in parashas Haazinu.
The Maggid explains this passage with a parable. A wealthy man’s only son fell sick, and all the doctors whom the father consulted said that the case was hopeless. Just at that time, the local baron visited the city, with his doctor as part of his entourage. The father ran to the doctor and pleaded with him for help, and the so the doctor examined the boy. The doctor said that there was a cure, but only he could administer the treatment, and the baron was soon going to leave the city. The father pleaded with the baron to let the doctor stay a bit longer so that he could treat his son, and the baron assented and went on his way. The doctor applied various medicinal salves and bandaged the boy so that the salves would remain in place until he was cured.
A short time later, a messenger came and told the doctor that there was a medical emergency in the baron’s family and he had to return immediately. The doctor was very upset: He feared that the boy would get worse rather than better, and no one would be able to help. He told the father: “I was afraid that I would be called away, so I hesitated to take this case. Now I must go, so I will tell you how to care for your son.” The doctor then proceeded to describe all the changes that the boy would undergo during his recovery, and told the father what he should do as each change occurred. Finally, he gave the father a sign indicating when the medications had finished the job, and cautioned him to wash off all the salves immediately after the sign emerged, so that the medications would not do him harm.
The parallel is as follows. Hashem wanted to give the Jewish People the Torah. But doing so involved some risk; the Torah, as the Gemara tells us, acts as a drug that brings life to those who are worthy, but death to those who are unworthy (Yoma 72b). So Hashem asked Moshe to take the Torah, bring it to the people, and teach them to implement it properly. Moshe hesitated over taking this mission. He feared that he might die in the middle, leaving the people without a suitable teacher, and that the people would then misuse the Torah and perish. Hashem strongly urged Moshe to accept the mission, and in the end he was forced to accept. The plan was predicated on the assumption that Moshe would bring the people into Eretz Yisrael and would then continue as their leader, conveying Hashem’s commands to them. But afterward Hashem decreed that Moshe and his associates had to die while the people were still in the wilderness. Moshe was very upset at this turn of events. He told the people (Devarim 11:26): “Behold, I set before you today blessing and curse.” Speaking out of love and compassion for the people, Moshe lamented that now, today, given the new state of affairs, it appeared uncertain whether his conveying the Torah to the people had brought them a blessing or a curse.
Moshe anticipated that the people would stray and have to suffer afflictions (Devarim 31:29): “I know that after my death you will act corruptly, and you will stray from the path that I have commanded you, and evil will befall you in the end of days, if you do what is evil in Hashem’s eyes, to anger Him through the work of your hands.” Moshe therefore conveyed to the people, in the song Haazinu, a prophetic description from Hashem of all the misfortunes and exiles that they would undergo over the course of time. It is like the doctor in our parable, who described to the sick boy’s father all the changes the boy would undergo over the course of his treatment. Moshe had previously described to the people how they would stray, and suffer misfortune, and then repent (Devarim 4:25-30): “You will do evil in the eyes of Hashem, your God, to anger him. … When you are in distress and all these things have befallen you, in the end of days, you will return to Hashem your God and harken to His voice.” Moshe told the people that after they experienced all the suffering described in the song Haazinu, it will be a clear sign that they will have been purged of the evil influences of their ancestors’ sinning, and he urged them not to cause themselves further misfortune by straying into new paths of evildoing. Rather, we should strive to arouse Hashem’s love and compassion, so as to lead Him to judge us as being cured. He will then no longer find it necessary to administer suffering to us as a remedy.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Savo

This week’s parashah presents the tochachah, the litany of curses that will befall us if we stray from the Torah path. I present here two selections from the Maggid’s commentary on this passage.
1. The Torah states (Devarim 28:34): “And you will turn crazy at the sight of your eyes that you will see.” Usually a crazy person believes that he is behaving appropriately, and only others recognize that he is crazy. But sometimes a person is forced to act in a peculiar way that he himself knows is crazy. For example, when David was captured by the Philistines, he feigned insanity, scribbling on the doors of the gateway and letting saliva drip into his beard, in order to gain his release (Shmuel Alef 21:14). This is the state of affairs that the Torah is describing – in our great distress we will be forced to take such bizarre actions that in the sight of our own eyes we will be crazy.
2. A few verses later, the Torah states further (Devarim 28:39): “You will plant vineyards and work them, but you will not drink and not gather in, for the worm will eat it.” In interpreting this verse, the Maggid directs our attention to two related verses. Yeshayah prophesies (verse 16:10): “Gladness and joy will cease from fertile field, and in the vineyards there will be no rejoicing or shouting for joy. The treader will not tread out wine in the winepresses – I have put an end to [the joyous cry of] ‘Heidad.’” Yirmiyah 48:33 presents a prophecy along the same lines. The Maggid expounds on the pathetic situation where a vineyard owner is unable to partake of wine from his vineyard.
In describing the workings of the world that Hashem created, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 104:14-15): He [Hashem] causes vegetation to sprout for the animal, and plants, through man’s labor, to bring forth bread from the earth and wine that gladdens man’s heart.” The Maggid tells us that this verse contains both a description of blessing and an allusion to misfortune. A person may enjoy blessing: He may have an estate comprising many fields and vineyards yielding every type of crop and meeting all his needs, so that he has no need to buy and sell in the marketplace. He then dwells in security “beneath his vineyard and beneath his fig tree” (Melachim Alef 5:5), and is satisfied with his bread and gladdened by his wine. And the workers trampling grapes in the winepress joyously cry out “Heidad,” anticipating the joy they will feel when the drink the wine. Conversely, a person may suffer misfortune, having only a small share in some vineyard, and forced to sell the wine he produces to obtain bread and other necessities. He wishes for a natural state of affairs, with his bread coming from the earth rather than through sale of wine, and with his wine serving its natural function of bringing gladness to his heart. We can now understand the verses from Yeshayah and Yirmiyah that we cited – in the poor man’s small vineyard there is no cry of “Heidad” when the workers trample the grapes, for they will partake only a little, if at all, of the wine they are producing.
The Maggid brings out the idea further with a parable. A man married a woman who had previously been married and had children from her previous marriage. The time came for her first son to get married, and there was much dancing and rejoicing at his wedding. The guests urged the stepfather to join in the rejoicing, but he declined. He said: “The main reason a father rejoices at a son’s wedding is as an expression of thanks for the new beginning that is being made – the father has in mind the joy he will have as he sees the marriage flourishing over time, with the couple having children and achieving success. But here, the boy getting married is not my own son, but rather my wife’s son. I know I will not gain as much satisfaction from him as I would from a son of my own. I hope only that I suffer no aggravation from him.” Similarly, the poor man with his humble vineyard does not rejoice when the grapes are trampled, for he knows that wine being produced will not be his; he hopes only that he will make enough money on the sale of the wine to meet his basic needs.
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David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Ki Seitzei

This first segment of this week’s parashah states (Devarim 21:10-13):
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.
The second segment of the parashah deals with a situation where a man has two wives, one he loves and one he hates, and the mother of his firstborn son is the wife he hates. The Torah states that the man may not deny this son the double portion of his estate to which a firstborn son is entitled. The third segment of the parashah discusses the law of a youth who has turned wayward and is on the way to becoming a degenerate. Rashi comments on the juxtaposition of these three segments. He first notes the Gemara’s statement in Kiddushin 21b that the grant of permission to marry a beautiful captive woman is a concession on account of the evil inclination. He then goes on to say that if a man marries such a captive woman, he will eventually come to hate her, and will father through her a wayward son. The Maggid remarks that it seems peculiar for the Torah to make a concession and permit an act that should have been forbidden. He then asks a question: Given that Torah grants permission to marry a captive woman, why is someone who does so punished with the misfortune of fathering a wayward son?
The Maggid explains the matter as follows. In considering the relationship a person has with his evil inclination – his internal enemy – we can identify three types (cf. Berachos 61b). At the bottom is the person who is completely dominated by his evil inclination. In the middle is the person who must fight his evil inclination, but is usually able to overcome it. And at the top is the person who has completely subdued his evil inclination and made peace with it. Shlomo HaMelech speaks of this third type (Mishlei 25:21-22): “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap coals of fire upon his head, and Hashem will reward you (ישלם לך).” The Gemara remarks (Sukkah 52a): “Do not read ישלם לך but rather ישלימנו לך – he will cause him to make peace with you. David HaMelech described how he had reached this lofty level (Tehillim 109:22): “My heart is empty within me” – David completely purged the evil inclination from his heart.
The relationship a person has with his external enemies parallels the relationship he has with his internal enemy. If he is dominated by his evil inclination, he is dominated by his external enemies. If he is fighting his evil inclination, he has to fight his external enemies, as occurred, for example, with the Jewish People in David HaMelech’s time. And if he has made peace with his evil inclination, he can make peace with his external enemies. Regarding this state of affairs, the Torah states (Devarim 11:25): “No man will stand up against you – Hashem, your God, will set fear and terror of you upon the entire face of the earth where you will tread.” Hashem made a similar promise to Yehoshua (verse 1:5): “No man will stand up against you all the days of your life.”
The section of the Torah presenting the law of the beautiful captive woman begins with a key introductory phrase: “When you go out to battle against your enemies.” The Torah is addressing a situation where the Jewish People are fighting enemy nations – and, in parallel, the individual Jews are fighting their evil inclination. When someone is in a constant fight against his evil inclination, the temptation to take a beautiful captive woman as a wife is too strong a temptation to resist. This is why the Torah, as a concession, permitted such a marriage. In a situation where the Jews have completely subdued their evil inclination, and accordingly are at peace with their external enemies, the Torah does not permit marrying a captive woman, for there is no need to do so. When someone avails himself of the permission in wartime to take a beautiful captive woman as a wife, Hashem arranges for this wife to bear him a wayward son. In this way, Hashem sends him a message that there is a higher level that he should strive for.
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David Zucker, Site Administrator