Post Archive for 2018

Shabbos Parashas Shemos

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 9, Part 2
How can a person possibly exalt himself? Initially he was absent from this world, and eventually he will depart it. And even during his sojourn in this world, he is in a precarious state. He consists of a combination of components that would fall apart if not constantly watched over. He has no power to maintain his existence. Rather, his existence is a gracious gift from Hashem, the One who apportions life to every living being.
Wake up and contemplate the celestial beings! Despite their great loftiness, they humble themselves before their Creator, for they understand that their existence is not something that necessarily has to be. Thus it is written (Nechemiah 9:6): “And you sustain them all, and the celestial hosts bow down to you.” All the more so should you, a much lowlier being, humble yourself. Indeed, given that you have violated Hashem’s word many times, how could you possibly not feel abashed?
The Gemara in Megillah 15b teaches that a person should consider himself as unimportant as the leftovers from a meal. Certainly a person must not regard himself as the man of house whose presence is a matter of right. A person must realize that he is only a guest in this world. And he must take care not to regard himself as an eminent guest whose presence is an honor and a source of pleasure to his host. Rather, he should regard himself as a lowly pauper whom the man of the house has brought in despite having no need for him, simply out of pity. Just as the pauper sits at the host’s table in a state of extreme humility, so, too, we should conduct ourselves with extreme humility before Hashem. For indeed, Hashem – the Master of the Universe – has no need for us, neither to get our help nor to gain honor through our presence. It is only out of kindness that Hashem maintains our existence. In approaching Hashem, we must always bear in mind that, as we say in the Selichos prayers, “like the poor and the needy we knock at Your door.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Vayechi

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 9, Part 1
There are two factors that impede a person from recognizing the God of his father and maintaining firm faith in Him. The first factor is a person’s background from the early stages of life. From the time a person is born, he grows up surrounded by physical entities that can be detected by the physical senses. And during his early years, he finds that the greater significance a physical entity has, the stronger impression it makes on his senses. A person grows accustomed to the notion that his environment consists of physical entities. In addition, he grows accustomed to the pattern of entities initially not existing and then coming into existence. Hashem’s nature, however, is beyond all human comprehension, and we cannot detect His presence with our physical senses. He transcends all physicality and all limits of time. Consequently, it is hard for a person to develop faith in Hashem, just as it is hard for a person to accept anything that is completely new to him and far removed from his range of experience.
The second factor is haughtiness. A person develops the idea that his existence is something that has to be, and that he operates in a domain that is under his control. These misconceptions cloak a person’s heart and cause him to develop a feeling of dominance, which hardens his heart. As a result, it becomes difficult for him to develop faith and to turn away from the myriad fleeting worldly pleasures that dangle before him, lure him, and ruin his human splendor.
By way of analogy, in order for an animal hide to become fit as parchment that can be used in writing a Torah scroll, it must be tanned to soften it from its natural hardness. Otherwise, the writing will come out distorted. Similarly, it is impossible to inscribe any deep truth onto a person’s heart until it has been softened from the stubbornness that develops from the feeling of power and dominance that resides within him from his early years. Without this softening, the truths are not properly absorbed into a person’s heart; indeed, the tablet of his heart becomes riddled with distortions caused by the strange thoughts that arise within him. The effect of haughtiness is all the more harmful given that, as our Sages informed us, Hashem distances Himself from a haughty person. The Sages liken a haughty person to one who, so to speak, pushes away the feet of the Divine Presence (Berachos 43b, Kiddushin 31a). Hashem declares that He cannot dwell together with a haughty person (Sotah 5a).
Accordingly, so long has a person has not taken upon himself to soften his heart of stone and humble himself to the greatest possible degree, holiness cannot settle upon him and lofty spiritual truths cannot penetrate into his heart. Even if he declares with his mouth that he believes, it is if he declared that he does not believe. If you ponder what we have explained, you will see that it is true.
Thus, at the outset you must adopt the proper attitude, size yourself up correctly, and ponder your existence and the way you came into being. What are you doing here? Who brought you here? You must realize that your existence is a gracious gift from the One who brings everything into being, may He be blessed. No creation in this world, neither the lowest nor the loftiest, has any entitlement to its existence. To gain proper perspective, you must look upon all of Hashem’s works and reflect on the fact that Hashem created everything you see. He created the heavens and placed within them the sun and the moon, and a countless number of stars. When you reflect on this, you will view yourself as lowly and you will say to yourself: “What grounds do I have for climbing up to the rooftops and angling for greatness? What reason do I have for feeling pride and taking a stance of dominance? Behold, in this world I am only like a pauper standing on the doorstep and seeking aid from someone who owes me nothing, hoping that he will take pity on me and give me a donation, with my life hanging in the balance before my eyes.” A person depends on Hashem’s compassion moment after moment, for each and every breath (see Bereishis Rabbah 14:11, expounding on Tehillim 150:6). You must humble yourself and pray for your life and all your needs, for you cannot obtain them on your own.

Shabbos Parashas Vayiggash

This week’s parashah describes Yosef and his brothers making peace with each other. This prompts the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 95:1 to expound on the end of days, where peace and wholeness will prevail. In last year’s d’var Torah we presented the first half of the Maggid’s commentary on this Midrash. We now present the second half.
The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 95:1, building on Yeshayah 11:6-9 and 65:25, teaches that in the end of days Hashem will heal the wild animals of their violent nature. The Midrash concludes:
All will be healed, but the one who brought a plague on all the rest of them will not be healed. Rather (concluding in Yeshayah 65:25), “a serpent’s food will be dirt.” [That is, the curse that Hashem cast upon the serpent, “dust shall you eat all the days of your life” (Bereishis 3:14) will remain in force.] Why? Because it brought the other creatures down to the dirt.
The Maggid analyzes why the serpent will not be healed. His starting point is the following teaching (Taanis 8a):
In the end of days, all the animals will gather together and come to the serpent and say: “The lion pounces and eats, the wolf kills and eats, but what benefit do you gain through your attacks?”
To bring out the idea behind this teaching, the Maggid expounds on the episode of Adam and Chavah’s eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After Adam eats from the fruit, Hashem approaches him, and the following discussion ensues (Bereishis 3:9-13):
And Hashem God called to the man and said to him: “Where are you?” And he said: “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And He said: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” And the man said: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And Hashem God said to the woman: “What is this that you have done?” And the woman said: “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.” And Hashem God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, accursed are you ….”
The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 20:2): “With Adam Hashem entered into a discussion, and with Chavah He entered into a discussion, but with the serpent He did not enter into a discussion.”
The Maggid asks what purpose Hashem had in entering into a discussion with Adam and Chavah. He answers that Hashem wanted to explore what intent they had in eating from the tree. In regard to mitzvos, the observance is at the highest level when it is done purely for the sake of giving Hashem satisfaction, without desire for reward. Similarly, in regard to sins, the offense is at the worst level, and hence most difficult to correct, when it is done with intent to rebel against Hashem. Regarding rebels, it is written (Yeshayah 66:24): “They [all mankind] will go out and see the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me, for their worm will not cease and their fire will not be extinguished, and they will lie in disgrace before all mankind.” A person who sins only in order to satisfy an urge for some pleasure is treated more leniently, to the degree Hashem deems appropriate, and Hashem will not sentence him to utter destruction.
It is written (ibid. 1:28): “Destruction awaits the rebellious sinners (פשעים) and the transgressors (חטאים) together, and those who forsake Hashem will perish.” The Maggid remarks that this statement calls for examination, for it is farfetched to say that those who transgress inadvertently or out of negligence or weakness in the face of temptation will be treated the same as rebellious sinners. He suggests the following explanation. The Hebrew term חטא is associated with lack and damage, as in Mishlei 8:36: “One who sins against Me despoils his soul.” A sin has two potential negative features: damage to the person’s soul and a show of some degree of rebellion against Hashem. The first negative feature is חטא and the second is פשע. When a person sins in order to satisfy an urge, the main feature of his act is חטא, with violation of Hashem’s command being just an incidental result of doing what it takes to satisfy the urge. By contrast, when a person sins in order to anger Hashem, חטא and פשע come together hand in hand on an equal footing. And because of the rebellious intent, the person is destined for destruction. We can thus render the verse in Yeshayah as follows: “Destruction awaits those who commit acts that are both rebellious sins and blows to their souls.”
In the process of subjecting Sodom and Gemorrah to judgment, Hashem said (Bereishis 18:12): “I will go down now and see: If they have acted according to its outcry that his come up to Me – then destruction! And if not, I will know.” The idea behind this statement, the Maggid says, is as follows.  The Adversarial Angel raised before Hashem an indictment against the people of Sodom and Gemorrah and argued that they were rebelling against Him. Hashem responded by saying that He would go down and examine the intent behind their acts. If it was as reflected by the outcry that was heard in the heavens – that is, if the peoples’ intent was to rebel against Him – then He would mete out to them the punishment befitting those who rebel – destruction. And if not, then not.
The Maggid returns now to the episode of Adam and Chavah. Hashem asked Adam: “Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” He was asking him whether the reason he ate from the tree was because He had forbidden it and he wished to rebel against Him by acting contrary to His command. If this were the case, there would be no hope for him. Adam replied by saying: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” He was telling Hashem that his eating from the tree was not motivated by a wish to anger Him. Afterward, Hashem turned to Chavah and asked: “What is this that you have done?” Again, Hashem was asking whether the violation of His command was motivated by a wish to rebel. Chavah responded by saying that she did not wish to rebel, but the serpent had beguiled her. But the serpent’s intent in urging Chavah to eat from the tree was to anger Hashem. Both the intent behind the act and the act itself constituted a rebellion against Hashem. Hence Hashem told the serpent: “Because you have done this, accursed are you ….” The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 20:4 explains that Hashem was telling the serpent that He knew that what he had done was solely on account of “this” – which the Maggid understands to refer to an intent to rebel against Hashem. Accordingly, Hashem subjected the serpent to a curse. In this vein, the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 20:1 states: “It is written (Tehillim 40:12): ‘A slanderer will not be firmly settled upon the earth’ – this statement alludes to the serpent, who slandered his Creator.”
We can now appreciate well the chastisement that the Gemara in Taanis says the animals will cast at the serpent in the end of days: “The lion pounces and eats, the wolf kills and eats, but what benefit do you gain through your attacks?” Other animals attack, but solely to satisfy their urge to eat, with no evil intent. But the serpent’s attacks are motivated by a wish to cause harm simply for sake of causing harm, even when no benefit is gained.  We see this from the fact that the serpent’s food is dirt. It gains no pleasure from eating; even when it eats meat, the food has the taste of dirt. Thus, there will be no cure for the serpent in the end of days when all the other animals are cured of their violent nature. Hashem will arrange alternate food for the animals; for example, as Yeshayah 65:25 states, the lion, like the cattle, will eat straw. And the serpent will continue as before, eating dirt. As the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 95:1 states, the serpent will have no cure because it brought the other creatures down to the earth, out of sheer malice.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Mikeitz

Yosef’s brothers were on their way back to Canaan after buying grain in Egypt, and they discovered that their money had been put back in their sacks. They asked (Bereishis 42:28): “What is this that God has done to us?” The Maggid notes that the word this in this question is superfluous; they could simply have asked: “What has God done to us?” He sets out to explain the import of this added word and the manner in which Hashem acted toward the brothers.
Hashem uses different modes in dealing with us: Sometimes He acts toward us in a way we understand and sometimes He acts toward us in a way we do not understand. When Hashem blesses the righteous or afflicts the wicked, we understand how He is acting, whereas when He afflicts the righteous or blesses the wicked we do not understand. Now, Yosef’s brothers were righteous, but ever since they sold Yosef they were worried about being punished for doing so. Accordingly, whatever came their way, be it good or bad, they understood the reason: If they received blessing, it was on account of their righteousness, and if they received misfortune, it was on account of selling Yosef. But having their money put back in their sacks baffled them – this this event could not be categorized definitely as good or bad, for it had both a good side and a bad side. The good side was that they received a nice sum of money. The bad side was that they were led to worry that perhaps the Egyptians had placed the money back in their sacks in order to frame them – to make it appear that they had committed a crime and then punish them by taking them as slaves. In their bafflement they exclaimed: “What is this that God has done to us?” If Hashem wanted to bless them, He could have brought them pure good without any negative overtones. And if Hashem had wanted to punish them, He could have done so straightforwardly rather than taking an oblique approach. What was Hashem’s intent?
On the brothers’ return trip to Egypt, they approached Yosef’s attendant, his son Menashe, to give back the money. Menashe said (ibid. 43:23): “Peace be with you, do not fear. Your God, and the God of your father, gave you a treasure in your sacks. Your money got to me.” This was an astute reply, aptly calculated to dispel their bafflement, as we will explain. On the surface, the phrase “and the God of your father,” seems superfluous. The Midrash interprets (Bereishis Rabbah 92:4): “Either in your merit or in the merit of your father – in any event, your money got to me.” Let us consider what prompted Menashe to raise the issue of whose merit caused the brothers to receive a treasure. We turn to the following Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 2:11):
One verse says (Tehillim 94:14): “For Hashem will not cast off His people, and His heritage He will not abandon.” The second verse reads as follows (Shmuel Alef 12:22): “For Hashem will not cast off His people, on account of His great Name.” … R. Aivi said: “When the Jewish People are worthy, then it is on account of His people and His heritage, and when they are not worthy, it is on account of His great Name.” The Rabbis say: “In Eretz Yisrael it is on account of His people and His heritage; outside Eretz Yisrael it is on account of His great Name.”
This Midrash describes different modes Hashem employs in caring for the Jewish People. One may ask what difference it makes which mode Hashem uses, given that in any event Hashem provides for us. We can explain the matter as follows. The relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People is like that between a father and son. When the son behaves properly, the father seats him at the table next to him to enjoy his company, and serves him a nice portion with great love. It is different with a son who has angered his father. In this case, while the father will continue providing food for his son, he will not serve to him congenially, but rather will throw the food at him – with the food sometimes falling on ground and getting soiled – so that eating will not be an enjoyable experience. Hashem deals similarly with us. When we were well settled in our holy land, our Father provided for us generously and with a full heart, serving us directly from His hand to ours, out of the great satisfaction He got from us. Regarding this state of affairs, the Torah states (Devarim 28:2): “And all these blessings will come upon you and overtake you.” But now, because of our sins, it is different. Although Hashem still shows us compassion and provides for us, He arranges that we gain our sustenance only in a remote fashion, with great toil and grief. Regarding this state of affairs, it is written (Yechezkel 12:18): “They will eat their bread with worry.” The way Hashem deals with us shows that it is not because He is pleased with us that He provides for us, but rather it is out of His great compassion and His adherence to the oath that He swore to our forefathers. This discussion is reflected in the following verse (Tehillim 67:2): “May God be gracious toward us and bless us; may He shine His countenance upon us, Selah.” Here, we are asking Hashem to provide for us generously, in a congenial manner, with a shining and happy countenance, and not with an angry countenance.
We now return to Menashe’s statement: “Peace be with you, do not fear. Your God, and the God of your father, gave you a treasure in your sacks. Your money got to me – either in your merit or in the merit of your father – in any event, your money got to me.” Menashe had two goals here. First, he wanted to tell the brothers that Hashem had granted them a treasure. Second, he wanted the brothers not to be baffled over Hashem’s having conveyed the treasure to them in a manner that caused them consternation. He therefore suggested to them the possibility that Hashem’s gift to them was only on account of their father’s merit, and not on account of their righteousness, and therefore Hashem conveyed it to them in an uncongenial manner.

Shabbos Parashas Vayeishev

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, the Torah records how Yosef told his brothers about his dream in which they were binding sheaves and their sheaves bowed down to his. The brothers retorted (Bereishis 37:8): “Will you be king over us, or will you have dominion over us?” The Maggid expounds on the brothers’ retort. It is a basic principle of the Jewish world outlook that Hashem alone holds sovereignty in heaven and on earth. A Jewish king holds rulership over the Jewish People only because Hashem allotted to him a portion of His honor and placed the scepter of rulership in his hand, so that he would maintain law and order and subdue the wicked. Thus it is written (Yeshayah 32:1): “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and as for princes, they shall rule in justice.” That is, the role of the king is to teach the people the ways of uprightness and righteousness.
Regarding the Jewish king, the Torah commands (Devarim 17:18-19): “And it shall be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book … and it shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear Hashem his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them.” The king had to be steeped in Torah, for his mission was to guide the people to the proper path – to lead them toward good and away from evil. Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 24:21): “Fear Hashem, my child, and the king.” Under a proper Jewish king, fear of Hashem and fear of the king coalesce, for the king’s main task is to lead the people to fear Hashem.
In elaborating on the reason why the king must review the Torah constantly, the Torah says (Devarim 17:20): “so that his heart will not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he will not turn aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left.” A Jewish king is enjoined from using his position to aggrandize himself; he must focus completely on the sacred mission with which he is charged. In Divrei HaYamim Alef 29:23, it is written: “And Shlomo sat upon the throne of Hashem.” Shlomo did not entertain the thought of using his position as king for his own glory, for he understood that his sovereignty stemmed from Hashem’s sovereignty, and that Hashem put him in his position in order to shepherd His nation, the Jewish People. In this vein, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 145:13): “Your kingdom is a kingdom of [all] worlds.” It would seem to us more natural for David to say: “You are the king of all worlds.” But David’s intent is to teach us that all the kings that Hashem put into place in the world were put in the position of king solely in order that they bear the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, their kingship is founded on the goal of promoting Hashem’s glory. As we say in the Musaf prayer of the High Holy Days, “He crowns kings, and unto Him is the kingship” – He crowns kings for the sake of His honor.
The Gemara in Berachos 4a presents a teaching along these lines:
“A prayer of David … Guard my soul, for I am devout” (Tehillim 86:1-2). Levi and R. Yitzchak [both offered an interpretation of this statement]. One stated: “Said David before the Holy One Blessed Be: ‘Master of the Universe, am I not pious? All the kings of the east and the west sleep to the third hour [of the day], but as for me, “at midnight I rise to give thanks to You” (ibid. 119:62).’” The other stated: “Said David before the Holy One Blessed Be: ‘Master of the Universe, am I not pious? All the kings of the east and the west sit with all their pomp among their company, whereas my hands are soiled with [menstrual] blood, with the fetus and the placenta, in order to declare a woman clean for her husband.’”
David is testifying that he did not use his position as king to aggrandize himself; he understood that the kingship belongs to Hashem, and he is but a steward of Hashem’s people, to teach them and render rulings on questions of unclean and clean, and of forbidden and permitted. For this reason, all the kings who ruled over the Jewish People sought to avoid taking on the kingship. For example, when Shmuel told Shaul that he was designated to be king, Shaul declared (Shmuel Alef 9:21): “Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Yisrael? And my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why, then, do you speak to me in this manner?” And later, when Shmuel set out to select Shaul to be king in the presence of the entire Jewish People, Shaul hid among the baggage (ibid. 10:22). David took the same stance, and others after him. They did not regard themselves as worthy of the eminent position of king of Hashem’s people, and they feared that they would fall short in carrying out their mission. Thus, Shlomo HaMelech declared (Melachim Alef 3:9): “Who is able to judge this great people?” For this very reason, Hashem selected them to serve as superintendents of His people.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Vayishlach

In Bereshis 35:9 it is written: “And God appeared to Yaakov further upon his coming from Paddan Aram, and He blessed him.” The Sages saw a need to analyze the import of the word further. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 82.3 presents three views. The Maggid focuses on the view of R. Berechya, who interprets the added word as conveying an allusion to a promise from Hashem to Yaakov: “I will not associate My Name with any other aside from you.” It is unclear what exactly the connection is between this promise and the word further. The Maggid sets out to explain the connection.
In Avos 2:1, the Sages teach: “Be as careful with a ‘minor’ mitzvah as with a ‘major’ mitzvah, for you do not know the reward that is given on account of mitzvos.” This Mishnah prompts two questions. First, why does the Mishnah use the phrasing “reward that is given on account of mitzvos” (מתן שכרן של מצות) rather the simple phrasing “the reward for mitzvos” (שכרן של מצות)? Second, if we do not know the reward given on account of mitzvos, what sense does it make to speak of “minor mitzvos” and “major mitzvos”? We can explain what the Mishnah is saying as follows. It is written (Tehillim 62:13, homiletically rendering כי as when rather that for): “Unto You, Hashem, is kindness, when you pay a man according to his deeds.” That is, when Hashem pays a person reward for a mitzvah, He accompanies the payment with a kindness: He generously includes an added blessing beyond what the person is entitled to for doing the mitzvah. It is like the practice of merchants, when they make a sale, to give the customer an added portion of what he bought, or some other bonus. But Hashem takes this practice a huge step further, often giving an extra portion that is worth many times more than the principal reward. This wondrous kindness is described in the following teaching of Bar Kappara (Bereishis Rabbah 61:4):
The added portion (תוספת) that Hashem grants is greater than the principal. Thus, among Chavah’s first two sons, Kayin was the principal [and was accompanied by a single twin sister], while Hevel, who is described as an addition – “And she gave birth further (וַתֹּסֶף לָלֶדֶת) to his brother, to Hevel” (Bereishis 4:2) – was accompanied by two twin sisters. Rachel’s principal son Yosef fathered two sons, while her added son Binyamin fathered ten. Eir was Yehudah’s principal son, while Sheilah, who is described as an addition – “She went on still further and gave birth to a son (וַתֹּסֶף עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן), and she called his name Sheilah” (Bereishis 38:5) – ultimately produced ten Jewish law courts [see Divrei HaYamim Alef 4:21–22]. Iyov’s principal lifespan was only 70 years, and he received an added allotment of 140 years, as it is written (Iyov 42:16): “And Iyov lived after this 140 years.” Chizkiyahu’s principal reign was only 14 years, and he received an additional 15 years, as it is written (Yeshayah 38:5): “Behold, I add onto your days 15 years.” Yishmael was the principal [among the children of Avraham’s concubine Hagar, later called Keturah], while the added sons that Avraham fathered through Keturah – “And Avraham proceeded further (וַיֹּסֶף אַבְרָהָם) and he took a wife [after Sarah’s death], and her name was Keturah” (Bereishis 25:1) – were numerous: “And she bore him Zimran, Yokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah” (ibid. 25:2).
Elsewhere the Sages give another example of how Hashem adds onto the principal (Shemos Rabbah 18:5):
Initially, when Hashem set out to bring the plagues on Egypt, He announced the slaying of the firstborn at the outset, as it is written (Shemos 4:23): “Behold, I am going to slay your firstborn.” Pharaoh responded by saying (ibid. 5:2): “Who is Hashem, that I should heed His voice?” Hashem said to Himself: “If I bring on him the slaying of the firstborn at the outset, he will send the Jews out. Rather, I will first bring on him other plagues, and as an ultimate result (בעקב זאת) I will subject him to them all.” … Accordingly, Hashem is extolled: “Who knows the power of Your wrath?” Who knows Your modes of operation that You put into effect at the sea, as it is written (Tehillim 77:20): “In the sea was Your road, and Your path passed through the mighty waters, and Your footsteps (עקבותיך) were not known” – Who knows what effects You ultimately cause to result?
This Midrash shows how far Hashem goes beyond His original pronouncement when displaying wrath. When He grants blessing and pays reward for mitzvos, the added portion is even greater, for our Sages teach that His beneficence is greater than His vengeance (Sotah 11a; Sanhedrin 100a-b). Thus, given that – as the Midrash teaches – it is impossible to gauge the overabundant display of power that results when Hashem exacts retribution, surely it is impossible to gauge the overabundant display of benevolence that results when He pays reward.
We can now understand the Mishnah in Avos: The phrase “reward that is given on account of mitzvos” (מתן שכרן של מצות) that the Mishnah uses refers to the added blessing that Hashem provides in the wake of His coming to pay reward, for it is a gift (מתנה) that accompanies the principal reward. The Mishnah tells us to be as careful with a “minor” mitzvah as with a “major” mitzvah because we do not know what additional blessing Hashem grants as an adjunct to the reward for a given mitzvah. Occasionally the Torah specifies the reward for a given mitzvah, but in such cases it is specifying only the principal reward – we have no inkling of what the accompanying added blessing is.
With this background, we turn to the verse before us. The Maggid expounds several times on the principle that the experiences of the forefathers are a portent for the descendants (מעשה אבות סימן לבנים). The verse before us is another example. Hashem foresaw that the time would come when He would need to convey to the Jewish People both the measure of revelation they earned as the principal reward for their good deeds and the measure of revelation He would provide along with it as an added blessing. He therefore set a precedent by acting this way toward Yaakov. This course of action is hinted at in our verse through the word “further” in the Torah’s statement that “God appeared to Yaakov further.” The idea is underscored by the structure of the verse: וַיֵּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶל יַעֲקֹב עוֹד . Had the Torah sought simply to inform us that Hashem appeared to Yaakov a second time, the natural phrasing would have beenוַיֵּרָא אֱלֹהִים עוֹד אֶל יַעֲקֹב . But instead the Torah places the word עוֹד after the phrase אֶל יַעֲקֹב, to stress that the added measure of Divine revelation was going directly to Yaakov. And thus R. Berechya interprets the word עוֹד as alluding to a promise from Hashem to Yaakov that He would not associate His Name with any other aside from him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Vayeitzei

This week’s parashah recounts Yaakov’s sojourn in Charan. As Yaakov set out for Charan, he made a vow, saying (Bereishis 28:20-22): “If God will be with me, and guard me on this path on which I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house, and Hashem will be unto me as a God. Then this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God, and whatever You give me I will repeatedly tithe to You.” The Maggid remarks that Yaakov’s statement here is ambiguous: It is unclear what he meant in stipulating that “Hashem will be unto me as a God,” and in saying that “this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God.”
Rashi noticed these difficulties, and offered his explanations. Regarding the stipulation that “Hashem will be unto me as a God,” Rashi’s interpretation is that Yaakov was asking Hashem to arrange for His Name to be associated with him from beginning to end, in the sense that none of his progeny would develop a spiritual blemish that would render him unfit for Hashem’s Name to be associated with him. And regarding the statement “this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God,” Rashi’s interpretation, following Targum Onkelos, is that Yaakov was promising to worship Hashem at the site of the stone upon his return to the Land of Israel, as he indeed ultimately did (Bereishis 35:1-7).
The Maggid offers another interpretation of Yaakov’s statement, based on the following rendering:
If God will be with me, and guard me on this path on which I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house. It will then be that Hashem will be unto me as a God, and this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God, and whatever You give me I will repeatedly tithe to You.
The Maggid thus views the stipulation that “Hashem will be unto me as a God” not as part of Yaakov’s request to Hashem, but rather as part of what he vowed to do if the request were fulfilled. He sets set out to explain exactly what this part of the vow entailed.
He builds on two Midrashim concerning Yaakov’s statement. One Midrash reads as follows (Bereishis Rabbah 70:6):
Hashem took the words of the forefathers and made these words the key to the redemption of their descendants. Said Hashem to Yaakov: “You said, ‘It will then be (והיה) that Hashem will be unto me as a God.’ By your life, all the kindnesses, blessings, and consolations that I will provide your descendants, I will announce using none other than the expression that you used: ‘it will then be.’” It is thus written (Zechariah 14:8): “It will then be on that day, that spring waters shall flow forth from Yerushalayim ….” And similarly (Yeshayah 11:11): “It will then be on that day, that Hashem will extend his hand a second time to acquire the remnant of His people ….” And similarly (Yoel 4:18): “It will then be on that day, that the mountains will drip with wine ….” And similarly (Yeshayah 27:13): “It will then be on that day, that the great shofar will be sounded, ….”
A second Midrash, in Bereishis Rabbah 70:6, teaches that Yaakov’s requests conveyed – by way of allusion – a plea that Hashem guard him from evil speech, illicit relations, murder, and idolatry. We see from this teaching that Yaakov’s main fear, as he set out for Charan, was that the wicked Lavan might influence him to turn away from the path of truth and good to the path of falsehood and evil. He therefore pleaded with Hashem to stay at his side and keep him from straying, and he hoped that Hashem would do so. At the same, he realized that his being under Lavan’s dominion would unavoidably prevent him from discharging his duties to Hashem in full measure, for a person cannot fully serve two masters at the same time. He therefore vowed to Hashem that if He would return him to his father’s house in peace, safe and free, he would then give Him his due – he would serve Him with extra diligence, to make up for the deficiencies in his service during his time in Lavan’s house. He communicated this pledge by saying, “It will then be (והיה) that Hashem will be unto me as a God.” The word והיה contains a Biblical conversive vav, which converts the past tense verb היהit was – to future tense: it will be. It hints at something being transferred to the future. Yaakov used this term to express a vow to remit his unfulfilled obligations to Hashem in the future, upon returning from his journey.
Correspondingly, Hashem promised Yaakov to act similarly toward his descendants – the blessings He is withholding from us at present He will remit to us in the end of days. This portion of blessing will be added onto the portion of blessing He set aside to convey to us in the end of days, so that we will receive a double portion of blessing. In this vein, Yeshayah declares (ibid. 61:7): “In place of your double shame, and the disgrace they bewailed as their portion – therefore they shall inherit a double portion in their land, and eternal gladness shall be theirs.” Similarly, it is written (Yoel 2:25-26): “I will repay you for the years that the [locusts] consumed. And you shall eat well, to satiation, and you shall praise the Name of Hashem your God Who has done wondrously for you – and My people shall be eternally free of shame.” Hashem will grant us blessing that is so wondrously abundant that it will compensate for all the deprivation we suffered throughout history, and retrospectively erase all the shame we felt over the course of all time. The first Midrash expresses this idea. It is to reflect the foregoing principle of restitution that all the kindnesses, blessings, and consolations Hashem conveyed to us were announced using the term והיהit will then be – a term that represents a transfer from the past to the future. As the Maggid explains in his commentary on Bereishis 1:3, the Midrash is teaching that the bounty that was fit to be delivered now will instead be delivered later. Hashem’s promise to Yaakov mirrors Yaakov’s promise to Him. This is what the Midrash means when it says that Hashem took the words of the forefathers and made these words the key to the redemption of their descendants.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Toldos

This week’s parashah describes how Yaakov came and took the blessings that Yitzchak had meant for Eisav. The Maggid raises some questions about this episode. First, why does the Torah first report Eisav’s outcry without any explanation, and only later, after relating Yitzchak’s response, report the reason for the outcry? Second, given that Yitzchak had already told Eisav that he had blessed Yaakov and that therefore Yaakov would indeed be blessed, what did he add by saying that Yaakov came with cunning and took his blessing? Third, how could Eisav say that Yaakov “took” his birthright, when in fact he had willingly sold it to him?
To explain the interchange between Yitzchak and Eisav, the Maggid begins by analyzing what Yitzchak had in mind when he decided how he would bless his two sons. Yitzchak had two types of blessings to grant: spiritual blessings, relating to the world to come, and material blessings, relating to this world. He decided it would be proper to grant the spiritual blessings to his firstborn son, i.e., Eisav, for the firstborn son has a special elevated status and is the one invested with responsibility for bringing offerings. Thus, when Yaakov approached Yitzchak and presented himself as Eisav, Yitzchak was poised to grant him the spiritual blessings. Yaakov sensed what Yitzchak wanted him to do. After some reflection, he decided it would be better for him to receive the material blessings. He reasoned that since anyone can acquire a share in the world to come on his own by choosing to follow the proper path, and since he had in fact adopted this path and was wholehearted in thought and deed, he did not need Yitzchak to bless him with success in acquiring a share in the world to come. He therefore made a move to induce Yitzchak to grant him the material blessings. What move did he make? He told Yitzchak, in the guise of Eisav, that “he” had sold the birthright to “his brother.” And given that the birthright had passed from Eisav to Yaakov, it would be proper to grant Eisav the material blessings instead of the spiritual blessings. Yitzchak followed this reasoning, and, thinking that the person standing before him was Eisav, granted Yaakov the material blessings.
Now, when Yitzchak told Eisav afterward that “I blessed him – and, indeed, he will be blessed,” Eisav initially thought that Yaakov had not come with any cunning, but rather had simply overheard Yitzchak’s request for delicacies, had stepped in and brought them in order to satisfy Yitzchak’s need, and had received a blessing. Eisav assumed that Yitzchak was aware that it was Yaakov who had brought the delicacies. Eisav had also worked out in his mind, just as Yaakov had, that Yitzchak was planning to give him the spiritual blessings and Yaakov the material blessings. He thus concluded that Yitzchak had in fact given Yaakov the material blessings. He was devastated by this outcome, for he was interested only in worldly pleasures, and he had figured that – given his having sold the birthright – he would get the material blessings. He therefore let out an exceedingly great and bitter cry.
Yet, at this point, Eisav did not state why he was upset. We can bring out his reason for not doing so with a parable. A thief stole a precious item from one of his neighbors, and hid it away in his own house. Shortly thereafter, a gang of thieves came at night and took the item. He groaned and wept, and cried out in public about how he had a precious item stolen from him. But when people asked him to describe the stolen item, he did not answer. He simply kept on weeping and screaming. Similarly, Eisav was ashamed to tell his father that he was upset over having lost material blessings, for, over the years, he had constantly “trapped his father with his mouth” and passed himself off as saintly. How could he now make a big fuss over worldly pleasures? He therefore simply let out an inchoate outcry and pleaded: “Bless me too, Father.” He did not specify what blessing he wished to get.
Yitzchak responded by saying: “Your brother came with cunning and took your blessing.” Eisav assumed Yitzchak was referring to the spiritual blessings, which Yitzchak viewed as being “Eisav’s blessing” because Eisav was the firstborn. Eisav thus revised his initial reading of what had taken place, now surmising that Yaakov had slyly impersonated him before Yitzchak and taken the spiritual blessings. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 67:4 says that Yaakov presented himself before Yitzchak “using the wisdom of the Torah.” The Midrash is saying that Yaakov exercised a Torah-based right to assume Eisav’s place – a right arising from Yaakov’s having bought the birthright from Eisav. At this point, Eisav calmed down and rejoiced inside, reasoning that since Yaakov had received the spiritual blessings, he would get the material blessings, which is what he wanted all along. It did not occur to him at all that Yaakov might have told Yitzchak about the sale of the birthright. So he said to Yitzchak: “It is fitting that his name is called Yaakov, for now he has taken me over me twice: He took my birthright, and, behold, now he has taken my blessing.” What he had in mind was as follows: “You made no mistake, Father. It was in full accordance with law that you granted him the spiritual blessings, for he took over the status of firstborn. And as for me, it is fitting me to grant me the material blessings.”
Eisav thus continues: “Surely you have reserved (אצלת) a blessing for me.” Expounding on the word אצלת, the Midrash remarks (Bereshis Rabbah 67:4): “A blessing from the leftovers (מן הנצלת).” Eisav was asking for material blessings, even though they are inferior blessings, because from the standpoint of law he had no right to ask for more than that. Yitzchak replied: “You have misunderstood. I gave Yaakov the material blessings – I made him a lord over you, I gave all his kin to him as servants, and I fortified him with grain and wine. What, then, my son, shall I do for you? I cannot give you the spiritual blessings – you are not entitled to them, since you sold the birthright to Yaakov.” At this point, Eisav raised his voice and wept, for he realized that he had been foreclosed – he lost the material blessing, which was his main desire. And then, as described Devarim Rabbah 1:15, he exclaimed: “Come and see what this ‘wholehearted one’ did to me.” It was Yaakov’s wholeheartedness that enabled him to succeed in his cunning takeover of Eisav’s blessing: If not for Yaakov’s wholeheartedness, Eisav would have been careful to take steps to prevent such a takeover.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Chaiyei Sarah

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 8
Knowledge concerning spiritual matters through intellectual investigation involves deep reasoning, of the kind philosophers engage in, to bring strong proofs of the Creator’s existence, oneness, eternality, power, and supervision over the world. But since Hashem has done us the great kindness of enlightening our eyes through His Torah, it is better not to depend on the philosophical approach to these matters. The philosophical approach is very time-consuming and uncertain, whereas the path of the Torah tradition allows one quickly to learn the truth.  Shlomo HaMelech has previously warned us about the philosophical approach, saying (Mishlei 3:5-7): “Trust in Hashem with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways know Him, and He will smooth your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear Hashem and turn away from evil.”  That is, a person’s performance of mitzvos (even those that we understand are necessary) should not be on account of his own wisdom and understanding. Rather, one should turn away from evil simply out of pure fear of Hashem. Thus David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 111:10): “The origin of wisdom is fear of Hashem.”
Elsewhere David pleads to Hashem to teach him in the merit of his faith in Him (ibid. 119:66): “Teach me good reasoning and knowledge, for I put my faith in Your commandments.” We can bring out the point behind this plea with an analogy. Once three men were stricken with the same illness. They went to the same doctor, and the doctor prescribed the same treatment to all three. The first patient did not investigate the matter at all, but simply followed the doctor’s instructions, and he recovered. The second patient had some knowledge of medicine, and he investigated the doctor’s recommendations. Those he did not understand he disregarded, and he died. The third patient had the same degree of knowledge of medicine as the second patient, but he recognized that the doctor knew more than he did. Although he investigated the matter and was unable to understand some of the recommendations, he relied on the doctor’s great expertise, and thus he did not bring himself harm through his investigation.
Similarly, in relation to mitzvos, different people have different attitudes. The common folk observe the mitzvos to perfection without any investigation, while a person with intellect will investigate every detail. Such investigation poses a serious risk that the person will disregard what he does not understand. But if a person at the outset puts faith in Hashem’s wisdom and omnipotence, his investigation will not cause him to stumble. This is the point behind David’s plea. David entreats: “Teach me good reasoning and knowledge.” He then explains why it is appropriate for Hashem to do so: “For I put my faith in Your commandments.” Elsewhere in the same psalm he declares (ibid. 119:6-7): “My ways will be firmly guided to observe Your edicts (חקיך) so I will not be ashamed when I peer at all Your commandments (מצותיך).” David firmly commits himself to observe Hashem’s edicts – the chukim, which are beyond human understanding. As a result, he will not come to shame through examining His commandments – the mitzvos that the human intellect can comprehend.
Iyov’s companion Elihu asks Iyov (Iyov 33:13): “Why do you complain against Him that He does not answer for all His affairs?” There is an important message in this question. It is the way of a servant to obey all his master’s orders, not only those he understands and recognizes as right, but also those that make a person’s ears ring because they seem to run counter to reason. The servant submits himself to his master and carries out all his orders swiftly. This is the attitude we should take to the directives Hashem set down for us. As servants of Hashem, it is our duty to carry out all His directives swiftly, not only those that we understand but also those for which we see no reason. We must keep our mouths shut and not question why Hashem told us to do this or that.
We can bring the point out further with a parable. Once there was a soldier who did his work well and carried out his sergeant’s orders swiftly, but with every order he would ask the sergeant what the reason was. The sergeant would explain, and the soldier would be satisfied and would carry out the order. At some point, the sergeant approached him and, for no apparent reason, beat him so fiercely that he bled. The soldier cried and asked why he had been beaten, but the sergeant gave him no answer. The sergeant beat the soldier in this way on several occasions. The poor soldier was more distressed over not knowing the reason behind these beatings than over the physical pain that the beatings caused. After some time, the soldier met up with a wise man and asked him about the beatings, hoping he could explain. The wise man replied: “You should know, my friend, that your sergeant considers your performance good and fitting, and you have not left out anything in doing your work. But you are accustomed to ask him for the reason behind each order, and afterward you carry it out. You are not accustomed to accept his orders simply as orders you must obey no matter what. Your sergeant wanted to teach you and instill in you the mindset that you must do everything he orders you to do without asking for the reason, like a faithful servant who does not question his master at all. The only way he could do this was to take some action toward you that you viewed with disfavor, and then refuse to answer you when you asked for the reason. He had to do this several times, until you had no choice but to simply accept it. And there is nothing that he could have done which you disapprove of more than to beat you and not tell you the reason. If he were to explain the reason, it would no longer be something you had to simply accept as something you must bear.
The parallel is as follows. Iyov carried out Hashem’s directives perfectly, but only because he understood them and found them appealing. He had not accustomed himself to ascribe justice to the will of Hashem, his Master, in situations where His directives seemed to him bizarre. And there is nothing that a person will find bizarre and disapprove of more than afflictions that come upon him for no apparent reason. Hashem therefore subjected him to afflictions and refused to explain the reason when he asked, until he gave up and simply accepted the suffering and kept silent. Elihu sought to call Iyov’s attention to the flaw in the attitude he had taken. He declared (ibid. 33:12): “I answer you that you did not ascribe justice; God is greater than mortal man. Why do you complain against Him that He does not answer for all his affairs?” Elihu was telling Iyov: “You have not accustomed yourself to ascribe justice to Hashem’s ways in situations where they run counter to your understanding. How could you forget that Hashem is greater than mortal man? You have the mind to know that Hashem, our Master, is great. His wisdom is boundless and his works are multitudinous. His ways are loftier than the schemes of mortal man. This being so, why do you complain against Him that He does not answer for all his affairs? Hashem does not explain the purpose behind everything He does. You must keep your mouth shut and accept all His ways as edicts.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Vayeira

1. The Torah relates that when Lot brought guests (angels in the guise of men) into his home, the people of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that he hand the guests over to them and allow them to abuse them. Lot urged the people not to act wickedly. The people denounced Lot, saying (Bereishis 19:9): “This one came to sojourn, and he is judging as a judge?” The Maggid analyzes the phrase “judging as a judge.” He quotes a Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:5 that relates a discussion between the angels and Lot about Sodom. The angels asked Lot: “The men of this city, what are they like?” Lot replied: “Every place has its good men and its bad ones, but here the masses are bad.” The Maggid explains that the Sages are describing how the people of Sodom were much more wicked than the typical sinner. Hashem despises all sinners and views them with contempt, but He judged the men of Sodom with special harshness, viewing them as utterly abominable. Sinners come in different types. Some people sin only occasionally, when struck with a momentary attack of intense desire. Afterward they repent, regret what they did, and resolve not to do it again. A worse type of sinner is the habitual sinner: someone who is perpetually caught in the grip of desire, and continues to sin even though he knows he is sinning. The men of Sodom were worse still: They did not even see that they were sinning. Of men like these, Yeshayah declares (verse 5:20): “Woe to those who say that good is bad and bad is good.”
The men of Sodom considered their ways proper, and took steps to ensure that they would maintain them. As Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 21:10): “The soul of a wicked person desires evil.” They appointed judges to enforce their evil code of conduct. The names of their five chief judges, which the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:3 records, reflects the way they judged: Keitz Sheker (Captain of Falsehood), Rav Sheker (Chief of Falsehood), Rav Mastidin (Chief of Perverted Justice), Rav Naval (Chief of Depravity), and Kla Pandeir (Kidnapper). It is to this institutionalized wickedness that Lot referred when he told the angels that the masses of Sodom are evil.
Now, on the very day that the angels came to Sodom, Lot had been appointed as a judge. He was expected to enforce Sodom’s evil code of conduct just like the other judges of Sodom. Afterward, the angels came, and Lot brought them into his house. The townspeople then came on the scene, seeking to abuse these visitors, in accord with Sodom’s code of conduct. But Lot kept them from doing so. The townspeople exclaimed: “This one came to sojourn, and he is judging as a judge? He wants to replace our established laws with new ones, based on what people in other places consider just. How dare he act as a judge of our system of justice!”
2. When the angels rescued Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom, they told them not to look back. Lot’s wife disobeyed this instruction and was turned into a pillar of salt. The Maggid explains this matter as follows. The order to Lot and his family not to look back as they left Sodom had a distinct purpose: It gave them the chance to earn the merit that would enable them to escape to safety. The angels had come and told Lot that Sodom, a physically magnificent city, was going to be gutted on the next day and turned into a pile of rubble. To believe this message required great faith. Indeed, as the Torah states, Lot’s sons-in-law ridiculed the message and ignored it. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:9 elaborates, recording what they said: “The city is full of music and rejoicing; it is not going to be suddenly destroyed.” Thus, the fact that Lot believed the message was a great merit for him. Yet, it was not certain that he believed the message with complete conviction; perhaps he had doubts, and was heeding the angels’ instructions only to be on the safe side, just in case the prediction was true. He therefore was tested by being ordered not to look back as he left, so he could not check whether Sodom had really been destroyed. Lot’s wife, in fact, doubted the angels’ prediction, and it was only to be on the safe side that she joined Lot as he left the city. She therefore constantly looked back to see whether the prediction had come true. Due to her lack of faith, she did not deserve to escape to safety, and so she was turned into a pillar of salt.
David Zucker, Site Administrator