Post Archive for 2014

Parashas V’zos HaBrachah

Parashas V’zos HaBrachah presents Moshe’s final blessings to the Jewish People, tribe by tribe, and then records Moshe’s death in the land of Moav, near the border of Eretz Yisrael. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 100:4 notes a difference between the Torah’s account of the mourning period following Moshe’s death and its account of the mourning period following Yaakov’s death. Regarding Moshe, the Torah states (Devarim 34:8): “The Children of Yisrael wept over Moshe in the plains of Moav thirty days, and then the days of weeping in the mourning for Moshe ended.” By contrast, regarding Yaakov, the Torah states (Bereishis 50:3-4): “… Egypt wept over him for seventy days. And the days of weeping for him passed ….” The Midrash remarks: “Regarding Moshe, for whom there was not [further] weeping, it is written ended, whereas regarding Yaakov, for whom there was [further] weeping, it is written passed.” Eitz Yosef explains that the mourning over Moshe ended after a short period because he was buried right after his death, whereas the mourning over Yaakov extended over a long period, passing from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael, where Yaakov’s body was taken for burial. The Maggid explains the Midrash in a different way. Yaakov’s family knew that Yaakov’s death was a milestone in the process of their being enslaved in Egypt, and so his death was followed by extended and bitter weeping. At the time of Moshe’s death, by contrast, the Jewish People were poised to enter Eretz Yisrael, conquer it, and settle securely within it, and so his death was followed by a short period of weeping, after which the people charged ahead.
The Maggid goes on to discuss how people tend not to appreciate the great loss they suffer when a righteous person dies. He builds on a passage in Yeshayah (verses 57:1-6): “The righteous man has perished, and no one notices … And now come over here, you children of the sorceress … Can I relent regarding these deeds?” Upon the death of a person who focused his life on worldly indulgences, his departure is clearly noticed and mourned by those he patronized – the food, liquor, clothing, or jewelry merchants – for they have now lost a good customer. But upon the death of a righteous person who refrained from worldly indulgences, no one notices, for no one feels a significant loss of profit. But, in truth, when a righteous person dies, his community suffers a great loss, for they lose the protection against Divine wrath that the righteous person provided them, and now face punishment. The Maggid brings out the point with an analogy. When a young boy aggravates his father and makes him ready to lash out against him, often the boy’s mother saves him from being punished. But if the mother has to take a trip, the father is then free to call his son over and dish out heavy punishment.
One of Shlomo HaMelech’s teachings reflects this type of scenario. Shlomo declares (Mishlei 16:14): “The king’s wrath is [like] angels of death, but a wise man will appease it.” The Zohar (parashas Korach 177a) expounds: “It is like when a man is angry at someone, and they bring in the angry man’s young son – his great love for his son makes him forget his anger. … Likewise, so long as a righteous person is present, Hashem holds back His anger on his account and refrains from meting out punishment to sinners.”
The Maggid then notes a verse in Yirmiyah which, under a homiletical interpretation, chastises people who fail to take notice of a righteous person’s death. Yirmiyahu declares (verse 22:20): “Do not weep over a dead man, and do not shake your head over him – instead weep over the one walking on his way …” The Maggid brings out the point with a parable. A man went out collecting for a fund for ransoming Jews taken captive. He approached a miser and asked him to contribute also, but he did not want to do so. The collector then said to him: “You should know that you are also at risk of being taken captive, so you really ought to contribute to the ransom fund, if not for the benefit of the Jew who is now being held captive, then for your own benefit. At the moment you are free to walk on your way, but at any moment you could also be imprisoned.” Similarly, a person might not be moved to cry over a righteous person who has died, but he at least ought to cry over his own self – that the righteous person’s departure means that he has lost a measure of protection against Divine wrath and is now at higher risk of being punished for his sins.
David Zucker, Site Administrator


On Sukkos, when saying Birkas HaMazon after a meal, we add the following brief prayer: “The Compassionate One, may He raise up for us the fallen sukkah of David.” This prayer is patterned after a passage in Amos (verses 9:11-12): “On that day will I raise up the fallen sukkah of David, and I will close up its breaches and raise up its ruins, and I will build it up as in the days of old.” This passage appears in a section of Amos that is read as the haftarah of parashas Acharei Mos according to some customs and as the haftarah of parashas Kedoshim according to other customs. I present here a brief essay on the passage taken from Kochav MiYaakov, haftaras Acharei Mos. The essay is marked as being “from Naftali Maskileison,” who collaborated with Rav Avraham Beirush Flamm in the publication of Kochav MiYaakov. A number of commentaries in Kochav MiYaakov bear this annotation. I am not sure whether the annotation means that the commentary is one that the Maggid developed and Rav Maskileison had seen or heard, and passed on for inclusion in Kochav MiYaakov, or one that Rav Maskileison developed himself. In any event the commentary is an appropriate one for Sukkos.
The term “sukkah” generally denotes a booth of the type that is built in a field or vineyard to provide shelter for a watchman. A sukkah is typically a flimsy temporary structure made up of thin wooden beams, branches of trees, or straw. A regular building, by contrast, is built of thick wooden beams or stone or bricks, and is designed to last a long time. Each of these two types of structure has an advantage and a disadvantage relative to the other. A sukkah has the disadvantage of being flimsy and prone to collapse, but has the advantage of being easy to build and rebuild; the process of building a sukkah takes only a short time and does not require trained building personnel. A regular building, on the other hand, has the advantage of being strong and capable of standing for a long time – not being prone to collapse like a sukkah, but has the disadvantage that if it does fall it takes a lot of time, effort, and money to rebuild.
Now, the Beis HaMikdash is referred to as a sukkah. This name reflects the fact that it was destroyed, rebuilt, and then destroyed again. But the name also brings us encouragement, by calling to our attention that the Beis HaMikdash can be easily rebuilt whenever Hashem decides to do so. This dual meaning behind the use of the term “sukkah” is reflected in the passage from Amos. Hashem promises us that He will raise up the “fallen sukkah of David,” indicating that, when the time comes, the process of building the Beis HaMikdash will be quick and easy. But, lest we think that the third Beis HaMikdash will be like a sukkah in the sense of being destined to be destroyed just as the first two Batei Mikdash were destroyed, Hashem informs us otherwise. The third Beis HaMikdash will be like a sukkah only in that it will be built quickly; the Beis HaMikdash will never again fall. Hashem will close up the breaches that the Beis HaMikdash had in the past and raise up its ruins, and build it up as a firm, everlasting structure.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Yom Kippur

The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 65:15):
“Behold my brother Eisav is a hairy man, while I am a smooth-skinned man” (Bereishis 27:11). This is comparable to a curly-headed man and a bald-headed man standing on the edge of the granary. When the chaff would alight upon the curly-headed man, it would get stuck in his hair. But when the chaff would alight upon the bald-headed man, he would draw his hand across his head and clear it away. Similarly, the wicked Eisav gets soiled with sins, and he has nothing through which to gain atonement. Yaakov, too, gets soiled with sins throughout the year. But then Yom Kippur comes and provides him with a means to gain atonement.
The Maggid explains this Midrash as reflecting two character types. One type is the person who is driven by wanton passion. Such a person sins willfully and eagerly. With him, the evil gets stuck in well, to the point where no atonement is possible. This type of person is like a curly-headed man, who cannot easily shake out the chaff that gets caught up in his hair. The other character type is a person who heart is essentially pure and whose true desire is to do only good. Although he occasionally falls into the net of sin, he does so only out of compulsion: the great wiles of the evil inclination and the pressures of circumstances overcome him and cause him to sin. But his heart is not in it when he sins – he does not commit evil willfully and with relish. Moreover, when he commits an evil deed, he regrets it immediately. Every Jew – every member of the nation of Yaakov – is of this type in the inner core of his soul. The Midrash therefore compares Yaakov to a bald-headed man – a man upon whom chaff does not get stuck. We can easily shake ourselves off from sin in one day – Yom Kippur – for then we repent with a whole heart.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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

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 ….
Last year we presented one of the Maggid’s interpretations of this passage (link here). We now present another one.
The key idea is that Hashem is the one and only absolute king in the universe. Various nations across the world are ruled by a person who acts as a king, but an earthly, mortal king holds his position as sovereign only because Hashem placed him in this position. An earthly king is merely a tool that Hashem uses to manage the world according to His will, bringing blessing and honor as He wishes to the upright and good, and bringing punishment as He wishes to evildoers. Shlomo HaMelech puts the matter as follows (Mishlei 21:1): “Like streams of water is a king’s heart in Hashem’s hand – to wherever He wishes he directs it.” Consequently, a person who is oppressed by an earthly king should not make the king the target of his complaints, for the king is not the one who decided to cause him suffering, but rather it is Hashem who willed it so. When Hashem decides that a certain person should receive blessing or suffer affliction, He puts into the king’s heart to act accordingly, thus carrying out His will.
A number of verses reflect this principle. One such verse describes Hashem declaring (Yeshayah 10:5): “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger; My wrath is a staff in their hand.” Similarly, the Assyrian king Sancheirev declares (Yeshayah 36:10): “And now, is it without [a directive from] Hashem that I have come up to this land to destroy it? Hashem told me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.’” In the same vein, Hashem declares elsewhere (Yeshayah 44:24-28): “I am Hashem, who has made everything … who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd – he will fulfill all My wishes.’”
Whenever someone brings blessing or misfortune to someone else, both the person who is acting and the person who is being acted upon should understand clearly what is really taking place, and recognize that nothing happens in this world, either for good or for bad, other than what Hashem wills. Thus it is written (Eichah 3:37): “Who [ever] spoke and it came to pass, something that Hashem did not command.” In particular, when a person is being oppressed, it is not his earthly oppressor whom he should fear, but rather Hashem. He should tremble over Hashem’s wrath, which He is channeling through the earthly oppressor, using the oppressor as a tool to mete out retribution according to His will.
In this vein, Yeshayah exclaims (verses 42:18-19): “O deaf ones, listen; and blind ones, gaze to see! Who is blind but My servant, and deaf as My messenger whom I send?” As we know, the term “deaf” is often used to refer to someone who does not understand what he hears, and the term “blind” is often used to refer to someone who does not properly interpret what he sees. We can regard the passage we just quoted as speaking of a situation where one person is causing suffering to another. The “messenger” is the person doing the acting, and the “servant” is the one being acted upon. The person being acted upon fails to see and recognize that Hashem is the true source of the suffering he is experiencing, while the person doing the acting does not understand that Hashem is directing his actions in a deliberately calculated way. Elsewhere, Michah uses the metaphor of hearing to convey a similar message (verse 6:9): “Listen to the rod [of punishment] and [recognize] who directed it.” 
This is the message that Yeshayah is conveying in our haftarah. He asks us: “Why do you fear your mortal oppressor? You perceive the oppressor preparing to exercise force against you and destroy you, and so all day long you fear him. But where is the oppressor’s fury? That is, what is the source of the oppressor’s fury? Think carefully and understand that it is from the One On High that the fury is pouring forth. It is Hashem alone that you should fear. Repent from your wayward conduct and plead to Him for atonement.”
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David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Re’eh

In this week’s parashah, it is written (Devarim 13:1): “The entire word that I am commanding you, guard it to fulfill it – do not add to it and do not subtract from it.” The directive not to add to or subtract from the Torah is stated previously in parashas Vaeschanan (Devarim 4:2), and I present here an explanation based on the Maggid’s commentary on that parashah.
The Maggid explains the directive with a parable. A man of modest means made a match for his son with the daughter of a close friend. In the discussions over the marriage arrangements, the man promised to furnish his son with three sets of clothes. His counterpart replied: “My dear friend, I know that you can afford only two sets of clothes. If you take it upon yourself to make an extra effort and provide three sets, which is beyond your means, you will be forced to have them made with cheap, low-quality material, and then the three sets taken together will be inferior to two good sets. So I ask for just two.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem knows our capabilities, and He designed the Torah’s mitzvos match them. He took care not to overburden us. In this vein, it is written (Micah 6:3): “O My people, what have I done to you, and how have I wearied you? Answer Me!” In connection with this verse, the Midrash expounds (Vayikra Rabbah 27:6):
In the edicts I have issued you, I have not burdened you. When you read the Shema, I have not required you to stand or [as a gesture of fear] to appear before Me with your hair disheveled, but rather I have told you to read it in your usual state, “as you sit in your house and as you walk on the way, as you get up and as you lie down” (Devarim 6:7). … I gave over to you ten species of animals [as permitted for food – they are listed in a later segment of this week’s parashah, Devarim 14:4-5]. Three of them are domesticated: the ox, the sheep, and the goat. And seven of them are undomesticated: the hart, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the pygarg, the antelope, and the mountain-sheep. But I have not burdened you and told you weary yourselves on the mountains to catch undomesticated animals to bring them as offerings before Me. Rather, I told you to bring Me domesticated animals as offerings.
Since Hashem carefully tailored the Torah to our capabilities, He told us not to add to the Torah by taking extra obligations upon ourselves and performing acts of service that He did not command. For if we do, we will inevitably come to subtract from the Torah in some other way, paying insufficient attention to some of the existing mitzvos and performing them sloppily or tardily.
In the directive we quoted at the outset, Hashem tells us to “guard” the mitzvos. The charge to “guard the mitzvos” is repeated in the Torah many times; we see that Hashem stresses this matter. The duty to guard the mitzvos is a key aspect of our relationship with Hashem. We should bear in mind the great love Hashem has for us. He regards us like a son. Thus, later in our parashah, the Torah states (Devarim 14:1): “You are children of Hashem your God.” Similarly, David HaMelech speaks of how Hashem regards him like a son (Tehillim 2:7): “You are My son; I have begotten you this day.” Hashem delights in us the way a father delights in an only son who was born to him in his old age. We can easily imagine how such a father watches over his son day and night. In the same way, Hashem constantly watches over us. If we consider how Hashem cherishes us and cares for us, we should feel great joy over our relationship with Him, and should keep Hashem and His Torah constantly in the forefront of our minds. Thus, in the first paragraph of the Shema, the Torah tells us (Devarim 6:5-6): “You shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon thy heart.” In the same vein, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 16:7-8): “I bless Hashem who advises me … I have placed Hashem before me constantly.”
Thus, rather than adding to the Torah, we should pay proper attention to what Hashem told us to do, fulfilling the mitzvos meticulously, eagerly, and with great love. Avraham set an example for us in the way he fulfilled Hashem’s command to bring his son Yitzchak as an offering (Bereishis 22): He woke up early, and personally saddled his donkey, chopped the wood, and carried the knife, and made sure that all necessary preparations had been made so that there would be no delays in fulfilling the mitzvah. If we follow his example, our deeds will shine with splendor.
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David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Eikev

In this week’s parashah, Moshe says (Devarim 10:12-14):
And now, Yisrael, what does Hashem your God ask of you? Only to revere Hashem your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep Hashem’s commandments and His statutes which I command you this day, for your good. Behold – to Hashem your God belongs the heaven and the highest heaven, the earth and all it contains.
The Maggid discusses the directive to revere and love Hashem. We are Hashem’s servants, exerting ourselves throughout our lifetime to perform the 613 mitzvos that He commanded us, along with various rabbinical enactments, and receiving reward in return. Now, a servant must do what his master tells him in order to receive his wage, but he is not obliged to revere and love his master. Why is it different between us and Hashem, that we are obliged not only to serve Him, but also to revere and love Him?
The Maggid answers through an analogy. Imagine a rich man with a houseful of servants. Suppose he finds a destitute person on the street, and hires him as an additional servant. Surely this servant is obliged to love his master, for he should recognize that the rich man hired him not out of need (for he had plenty of more capable servants already) but out of compassion for him. Now let us consider a modified version of this story. Suppose the rich man comes across an orphan boy who has no one to look after him, and he takes the boy into his home, treats him like a son, and says to him: “I will provide you food and fine clothing, and I will pay you ten gold pieces a month, and your duty will be to serve as a study companion to my son, studying with a tutor along with him.” If this boy has an understanding heart, he will realize that he owes great love to his master, for his master is giving him food, clothing, and a salary, and his only duty involves an activity that is really for his own good.  
This is how it is between us and Hashem. Hashem has taken us on as His servants, and commanded us to carry out certain activities He has specified in the Torah, i.e., mitzvos. But He gains no benefit from what we do, for the entire universe is His, and there is nothing we can give Him. As it is written (Iyov 35:7): “If you have been righteous, what have you given Him, or what could He take from your hand?” Rather, the mitzvos are really for our own good. All that Hashem asks of us, Moshe tells us, is to revere and love Him as we carry out His directives. And surely we can see, if we reflect on what Hashem gives us, that we owe Him this reverence and love. Moshe goes on to elaborate, noting that Hashem, as master of heaven and earth and all they contain, has no lack of servants. He already has myriads of servants much more eminent than we are: the ereilim, serafim, ofanim, and other celestial beings. It is thus clear that He took us on as His servants not out of need, but out of compassion for us.
Later in the parashah, we read the second paragraph of the Shema. This paragraph begins as follows (Devarim 11:13): “And it will be, if you earnestly pay heed to My mitzvos which I command you this day, to love Hashem your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul.…” We can read this verse as calling on us to reflect earnestly on our foundation of our relationship with Hashem and gain an understanding of the true nature of this relationship, along the lines we have explained above. Mitzvos – they are not meant for Hashem’s benefit, for, as we explained, Hashem has no need to receive anything from us. Which I command you – even though Hashem has myriads of celestial beings ready to serve Him, nonetheless He has directed the mitzvos specifically to us, mortal man, creatures with a coarse physical body. This day – it is only in this world, during our limited earthly lifetime, that we are required to perform the mitzvos, while in the next world we receive eternal reward. If we reflect on these points, we will be automatically led to draw close to Hashem – to love Him so dearly that we are eager to serve Him personally, rather than just support others who serve Him. With all your heart (בכל לבבכם) – here the use of the term לבבכם rather than לבכם indicates that we are to serve Hashem with “both our hearts,” e.g. with both our good inclination and our evil inclination.
The evil inclination focuses on the pursuit of pleasure. It naturally tends to regard the mitzvos as chores that Hashem wants us to do for His benefit, and hence to be lackadaisical about carrying them out, saying to ourselves, “Not them and not their reward.” But if we lead our evil inclination to reflect carefully on the mitzvos, it will realize that they are in fact a kindness that Hashem extends to us, to bring us blessing and grant us eternal life in the next world. And when the evil inclination comes to grasp the true nature of the mitzvos, it will agree to perform them. It is just as in the analogy we presented above. There, the servant boy takes note of everything his master gives him – a place to stay, sumptuous food to eat, and a tutor to educate him – and he sees that the payment arrangement between him and his master should really go the other way around: Instead of the master paying him, he should be paying his master for all the benefits he provides him. Similarly, if we reflect carefully, we can see that we should be paying Hashem for arranging for us to partake of the sublimity of His holy Torah, with its mitzvos that bring blessing and eternal life.
A verse in Tehillim reflects this idea. David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 116:12): “How can I repay Hashem for all the good He has bestowed upon me (מה אשיב לה' כל תגמולוהי עלי)?” Note that the term David uses for “good” is גמול, a term often used to mean “compensation.” Accordingly, on a homiletical level we can break up the verse into two parts – מה אשיב לה'? כל תגמולוהי עלי! – and read it as follows: “How can I repay Hashem? He gives me compensation for keeping the Torah, but in truth all this compensation should be going from me to Him!”
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David Zucker, Site Administrator