Post Archive for August 2017

Parashas Re’eh

This week’s parashah includes a segment on giving charity. The Torah states (Devarim 15:7-10): “If there is a destitute person in your midst … you shall surely open your hand to him … and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, for on account of this thing Hashem will bless you in all your work.” The Maggid explains this statement as follows. Imagine the following scenario: A person is walking in the marketplace one day with 100 gold coins in his pocket, and he loses them. The next day he visits the marketplace again, and finds a pouch with 200 gold coins. The new find gives him some consolation for his previous loss, but the consolation is incomplete, for he will say to himself that if he had not lost the 100 gold coins, he would now have 300. Now imagine another scenario: A person is walking across his field carrying a sack of grain. The sack has a hole, the grain falls out little by little, and he winds up coming home almost empty-handed. Some time later he finds stalks of grain spouting up all over his field, and eventually he reaps a bumper crop. In this case he will not say that had he not suffered his previous loss he would have had more, because he understands that if not for this previous loss he would not have gained the windfall that came to him in the end.
This second scenario brings out what the Torah is saying. A person should not feel upset about giving charity to a poor person, and think that had he not given he would have had more. He should understand giving charity is the key to his future success. As the Gemara in Taanis 9a puts it, עשר בשביל שתתעשר – give tithes so that you will become wealthy.
The Maggid links this idea to some prophecies of Yeshayah. In Yeshayah 12:1 it is written: “You will say on that day, ‘I thank you, Hashem, for You were angry with me, and Your anger turned back and You comforted me.’” And in verse 35:10 it is written: “Those redeemed by Hashem shall return and come to Zion with exuberant song, with eternal joy upon their heads. They shall attain gladness and joy, and anguish and groaning shall flee.” Yeshayah is teaching us that in the end of days we will see clearly that all the misfortunes we went through were in actuality acts of planting toward the final redemption. And in regard to each and every blessing that we obtain, we will identify the misfortune that produced that specific blessing.
In this vein it is written (ibid. 60:15): “On account of your being forsaken and hated, with no wayfarers, I will make you an eternal pride, a joy for generation after generation” [reading תחת as on account of, as in, for example, Devarim 28:47, instead of the usual rendering of in place of]. And similarly (Yeshayah 61:7): “On account of your shame which was double and [the] disgrace that they would bemoan as their portion, therefore they will inherit a double portion in their land and eternal joy will be theirs.” These verses identify, as if pointing with a finger, the misfortunes from which specific blessings sprouted. And so, in retrospect, we will thank Hashem for the kindnesses He secretly embedded in the hardships we suffered. “Anguish and groaning will flee” – we will regret the anguish we felt and the groaning we did in the wake of the difficulties that Hashem brought upon us.
David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 126:1): “When Hashem returns the captivity of Zion, it will be as if we had been dreaming.” David HaMelech likens our experiences throughout the course of history to a dream, saying that in the end of days the interpretation of the dream will be laid out for us, just as Yosef laid out for Pharaoh the interpretation of his dreams about the cows and the stalks of grain. It is common in the Bible for a false impression to be called a dream, just as people commonly refer to ridiculous beliefs and plans as dreams. Thus it is written (Yeshayah 29:7-8):
Like a dream, a vision of the night, will be the multitude of nations that muster themselves against Ariel, along all those who besiege her and beleaguer her and cause her distress. It will be as when a hungry man dreams, and, behold, he is eating, but he wakes up and his soul is empty, and as when a thirsty man dreams, and, behold, he is drinking, but he wakes up, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul craves drink – so shall be the multitude of all the nations that muster themselves against Mount Zion.
The Gemara relates (Berachos 56b): “Ben Dama, the son of R. Yishmael’s sister, asked R. Yishmael: ‘I dreamt that both my jaws fell out; [what does it mean]?’ He replied to him: ‘Two Roman counsellors made a plot against you, but they have died.’” It is the way with people that when someone has a bad dream he is shaken, even after he wakes up, but others explain to him that it is a good sign. Similarly, in the end of days it will be made clear to us that all the misfortunes we have suffered, from the time of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and onward, were orchestrated by Hashem for our good. And then, as David says, it will be as if we had been dreaming. We view all the difficulties we go through as misfortunes, for they appear that way on the surface, but in the end of days we will realize that we were only imagining this to be so. And then, David continues (Tehillim 126:2), “our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with joyous song.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Eikev

In this week’s parashah, Moshe says (Devarim 10:12): “And now, Yisrael, what does Hashem your God ask of you? Only to fear Hashem your God ….” The Gemara expounds (Berachos 33b):
Is fear of heaven such a small thing? … Yes, with Moshe it was a small thing. As R. Chaninah said: “By way of analogy, if someone is asked for a large vessel and he has one, it seems to him like a small vessel, but if he is asked for a small vessel and he does not have one, it seems to him like a large vessel.”
The Maggid says that this Gemara cannot be read at a simple level. He asks: Does the fact that for Moshe fear of heaven was a small thing justify his demanding it of the rest of the Jews of his generation? Does the fact that a rich person has a large vessel justify his demanding that his poor neighbor bring one also? To understand the Gemara properly, we must look deeper.
The Maggid takes as his starting point an idea he developed in the first essay in his commentary on the Book of Ruth. When Noach and his family left the ark after the flood, Hashem told them (Bereishis 9:2): “And the fear and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the field and every bird of the sky – upon all that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea.” Why did Hashem convey this message to Noach and his family? On first thought, it seems that it would have made more sense for Hashem to speak to the animals and command them to fear people. What point was Hashem making?
To explain the idea behind Hashem’s words, the Maggid introduces two additional sources. The first source is a Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 70:11 and Midrash Seichel Tov (Buber ed.), Bereishis Chapter 29, Paragraph 10. It is written (Tehillim 34:8): “The angel of Hashem encamps around those who fear Him and rescues them.” The Midrash applies this verse to Rachel. Yisro’s daughters would be chased away from their local well by the shepherds. But when Rachel went to her local well, the shepherds never disturbed her; her fear of God precluded them from doing so. The second source is the following verse (Devarim 28:10): “And all the nations of the world will see the Name of Hashem written upon you, and they shall be fearful on account of you.” 
The idea is as follows. Speaking of the Torah, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 119:105): “Your words are a lamp unto my feet.” In a similar way, the fear of God within the soul of a God-fearing person is like a lamp. When a person lights a lamp for himself, the light spreads to others as well. As Gemara in Shabbos 122b says, a lamp for one person is a lamp for a hundred people. A person whose heart is full of fear of God radiates his fear of God onto his surroundings. This fact is reflected in the verse from Devarim quoted above. We can now understand what Hashem was telling Noach and his family. He was telling them that they should fear Him so intensely that the fear will radiate out to the animals and make them tremble. Without the fear of God, a person looks to the animals like just another animal (cf. Shabbos 151b), but a person who radiates fear of God is immune from harm, as was the case with Rachel.
The Maggid quotes the Vilna Gaon as saying that there is a certain critical level of fear of God that a person must have in order for his fear of God to radiate onto others. By way of analogy, imagine a small basin placed inside a larger basin, with a person pouring water into the small basin. So long as the small basin is not yet full, no water will reach the larger basin, but if the person continues pouring after the small basin is full, the excess water will spill into the larger basin. It is similar with fear of God. When a person’s soul is completely filled with fear of God, then fear of God will spill out from him onto his surroundings.
Fear of Hashem depends on comprehension of Hashem. Fear of Hashem is present in heaven because the heavenly beings have a substantial level of comprehension of Hashem. They behold Hashem’s awesome glory and they are overcome with fear that makes them sweat so much that their sweat forms the Dinur River (Chagiggah 13b). But the average person sits in darkness, with a very low level of comprehension of Hashem. If a person lacks wisdom, he surely cannot have any appreciable fear of Hashem. The only way to attain fear of Hashem is to study the Torah and perform the mitzvos that Hashem brought down from heaven and conveyed to us. By analogy, suppose a person wants to cultivate a certain spice that grows only in certain areas. He must then bring soil from one of these areas, embed this soil into a section of his property, and plant seeds of the spice in this soil. Similarly, Hashem brought part of heaven down to our world so that fear of Him could develop here. Often certain products that come from a certain place are named after the place they come from. In this vein, fear of Hashem is called “fear of heaven” because heaven is the primary source of fear of Hashem.
For us, fear of God is indeed not a small thing. But it is far from a person’s reach only if his community lacks righteous people. If a righteous person is present in a person’s community, then fear of God is well within his reach. This fact is reflected in a verse we quoted previously: “The angel of Hashem encamps around those who fear Him and rescues them.” The surroundings of a God-fearing person are suffused with holiness.
Certain gems can be found only in distant places. But if a merchant travels to the appropriate area and brings a stock of these gems to a certain city, the people of the city can easily obtain them. They can do so, however, only if they approach the merchant and buy them or ask for them as a gift. Similarly, a righteous person can imbue other members of his community with fear of Hashem, but only if they draw close to him. We can link this idea to a teaching in Bava Kamma 41b. It is written (Devarim 6:13): “את ה' אלוקיך תירא – Hashem, your God, you shall fear.” The Gemara says that that extra word את in the verse comes to extend the exhortation to a directive to fear Torah scholars. It is essential for us to follow this directive, for that is the only way we have to attain fear of Hashem.
We can now understand what the Gemara in Berachos 33b means when it says that with Moshe fear of Hashem is a small thing, and appreciate R. Chaninah’s analogy about the large vessel and the small vessel. For people who were placed “with Moshe” – in his vicinity – fear of Hashem was easily attainable. For Moshe was filled with fear of Hashem, and the fear spilled over from him to his surroundings. When the Gemara speaks of a person who is asked for a large vessel and has one, it is speaking of a person who can obtain the large vessel from someone else. Thus, when Hashem granted some of Moshe’s powers of prophecy to the elders of the Jewish People, He described this process by saying that he was going to “take from the spirit that is upon you and place it upon them” (Bamidbar 11:17). The phrase “upon you” indicates Moshe’s abundant fear of Hashem – so abundant that it overflowed, spilling onto him and those nearby him. In a similar vein, in the first paragraph of the Shema, Hashem tells us (Devarim 6:6): “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” A Jew’s heart should be so filled with words of Torah that the words spill out onto it.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Parashas Vaeschanan

This week’s parashah begins with Moshe describing his (unsuccessful) prayers to Hashem to be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael. This prompts the Midrash to present various teachings regarding prayer. Thus, the Midrash expounds (Devarim Rabbah 2:11):
It is written (Tehillim 20:2): “Hashem will answer you on the day of distress; the Name of the God of Yaakov will raise you up.” Reish Lakish taught: “We can give an analogy. A woman giving birth was feeling pain during the delivery. They said to her: ‘The One who answered your mother will also answer you.’ Thus said David HaMelech to the Jewish People: ‘The One who answered Yaakov will answer you. What did Yaakov pray? He prayed (Bereishis 35:3): “I will make there an altar to the God who answers me on the day of my distress.” Also with you: “Hashem will answer you on the day of distress; the Name of the God of Yaakov will raise you up.”’
In explaining this Midrash, the Maggid presents the following parable. A rich man had an only son who was a fool. He realized that after his death his son would not hold onto his great wealth, but was sure to lose it all. He took all his silver and gold and put it in a chest. And at the bottom of the chest, underneath all the silver and gold, he placed a set of letters asking for help, of the kind beggars carry with them. The rich man said to himself: “Let my son take the gold and silver from this chest as he needs, and when he uses it all up at least he’ll have these letters that he can take wherever he goes to plead to people to have pity on him and help him.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem prepared a great treasure for us: The Beis HaMikdash and all its vessels, the order of service in the Beis HaMikdash, the laws of Eretz Yisrael, and so on. But He knew that the Beis HaMikdash eventually would be destroyed, and the Jewish People would be exiled from their land, bereft of all the many blessings they had in their initial days of glory. All we would have left would be the opportunity to plead to Hashem to be gracious toward us and grant us blessing out of sheer compassion. He therefore placed within the hearts of David HaMelech and his associates to prepare for us prayers that we could recite and thereby sustain ourselves during the exile. Thus, David declares (Tehillim 22:3): “My God, I call out by day, and You do not answer me; and at night, and there is no abatement for me.” In a homiletical vein, we can understand David as saying the following: “Now, as I call upon my God, there is not yet need for Him to answer my prayers, for the light of the day is still shining, and it is not a time of need. But when the darkness of night comes – when the Beis HaMikdash is destroyed and we go into exile – my pleas will resound without abatement.” It is along the lines of the Rabbinic saying (e.g., Yevamos 97a): “Whenever a person relates a teaching in the name of a certain Torah scholar, the scholar’s lips move within the grave.” David says: “When the night of exile comes, my Jewish brothers will give me no rest – they will constantly recite the prayers I prepared for them.”  Similarly, the sons of Korach declare (Tehillim 88:2): “Hashem, God of my salvation, in the day I cried out, in the night before You.” That is: “I composed my prayer in the tranquility of day, but in the night I will pour it forth before You.”
We turn now to the verse from Tehillim that the Midrash quotes: “Hashem will answer you on the day of distress; the Name of the God of Yaakov will raise you up.” Seemingly this statement is truncated at the beginning; it should have been written: “When you pray to Hashem, He will answer you on the day of distress.” Our Sages therefore explain the statement as follows. When our forefather Yaakov prayed before Hashem, he had in mind that he was not praying on his own behalf, but rather on behalf of us – Hashem would be granting relief to us, not to him.
Usually when a person prays, he is not answered right away; rather there is some interval of time before Hashem sends aid. Thus, the Midrash states (Devarim Rabbah 2:17): “Some prayers are answered after forty days … and some prayers are answered after twenty days ….” But David declares that Hashem will answer on the day of distress – on the very day itself. And then David explains why: “The Name of the God of Yaakov will raise you up.”
The Maggid brings out the idea with an analogy. Suppose some people did business together, and after the venture was over they made an accounting and settled up. And then, shortly afterward, one of them approaches the other and says: “I went over the accounts and I discovered that I owe you some money.” Surely the second partner will not press the first partner for immediate payment. But now let us imagine another scenario. A person’s father does business with someone, and they settle up. Fifty years pass, the father dies, the son goes through his father’s papers, and discovers that his father’s partner in this transaction actually owed his father a considerable sum of money. It will then be no surprise if the son presses the partner to pay right away.
The parallel is as follows. When a person prays for a specific need at a specific moment, his stock of merit might be too small for him to be helped right away, so that the relief is held up. But it is different when a person offers a prayer that our holy forefathers offered thousands of years ago. He might well receive help from Hashem right away, and yet there is still a long interval between the time the prayer was first offered and the time it was answered. David is saying that it is on account of Yaakov (and Avraham and Yitzchak) that we receive an immediate answer; Yaakov submitted the request on our behalf long ago. In a similar vein, on another occasion David cries out (Tehillim 22:2): “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me; why so far from saving me, from the words of my roar?” David is saying: “Hashem, I feel as if You have forsaken me. And if You ask why I am pressing You, it is because it is so far from the time the request I am making of You was put forward on our behalf by our forefathers.” 
David Zucker, Site Administrator