Post Archive for April 2018

Shabbos Parashas Emor

In his commentary on parashas Emor, the Maggid presents, building on a Midrash on the parashah (Vayikra Rabbah 32:2), an essay dealing with the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The essay is not really related to the parashah, but since we are now in the period leading up to Shavuos, the time of the Giving of the Torah, now is a good time to present a digest of this essay.
In the days leading up to the Giving of the Torah, Hashem told Moshe to tell the Jewish People that if they will observe the Torah, He will forge a special relationship with them. In Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:14, the Midrash relates that the Jewish People told Moshe that they wanted to hear the proposal from Hashem Himself. In his commentary on parashas Yisro, the Maggid explains that Moshe was initially embarrassed to convey to Hashem this reply, because he felt it was audacious, but ultimately Hashem drew the message out of him. Hashem assented to the request, and revealed Himself openly to the people when He gave them the Ten Commandments. Afterward, the Jewish People told Moshe (Devarim 5:20-23):
Behold, Hashem our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire; today we have seen that God will speak to man and he can live. But now, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of Hashem our God any longer we will die. … You approach and hear all that Hashem our God will say; you speak to us whatever Hashem our God will speak to you, and we will hear it and do it.
The Maggid explains that Moshe felt that the people had spoken improperly; initially they insisted that Hashem speak directly to them, but afterward they asked him to serve as an intermediary. But Hashem said (ibid. 5:24): “I have heard the voice of the words of this people, that they have spoken to you; they have done well in all that they have spoken.” The Maggid sets out to explain why everything the Jewish People said, both before and after the Giving of the Torah, was proper.
When Hashem issued the Ten Commandments to the Jewish People, the entire nation attained the level of prophesy. But right afterward, when they asked Moshe to serve as an intermediary, they descended from this level. One may ask, then, what did the Jewish People gain from just a brief moment of prophesy? The Maggid develops an answer from a teaching in Niddah 30b. The Gemara says that when a baby is in the mother’s womb, an angel teaches him the entire Torah, but just before birth the angel strikes the baby on the lips and the baby forgets everything. It is not pointless, however, for the baby to have heard the Torah; although he forgets it afterward, an impression remains. When the baby grows and starts learning Torah, the impression eases the way for him to grasp the Torah he is learning, and also gives him a strong desire for Torah.
Similarly, at Sinai, Hashem shone on the Jewish People the brilliant light of His Presence and His Torah, in order to give them the opportunity to experience the sweetness of this light and infuse within them a strong to desire to behold it again. For ultimately, in the end of days, Hashem will shine this light enduringly on us all. Thus, Yeshayah declares (verse 40:5, in haftaras Nachamu): “Hashem’s glory will be revealed and all flesh together will see it, for the mouth of Hashem has spoken.” Hoshea states (verse 2:18): “‘And it shall be on that day’ – the word of Hashem – ‘that you will call [Me] אישי and you will no longer call Me בעלי’” [both אישי and בעלי mean my husband, but the term אישי reflects greater closeness]. Regarding this statement, the Gemara comments (Pesachim 87a): “Like a bride in her father-in-law’s house, and not like a bride in her father’s house.” The revelation at Sinai was a preview of the closeness to Hashem that we will experience in the future.
In this vein, it is written (Yeshayah 35:10 and 51:11): “Those redeemed by Hashem shall return and come to Zion with exuberant song, with eternal joy (שמחת עולם) upon their heads.” The Gemara in Shabbos 88a states that the phrase שמחת עולם can be read as שמחה שמעולם – the joy of yore. The Gemara is saying that the overwhelming Divine revelation that we experienced at Sinai for a brief moment will be granted to us again, this time permanently, in the end of days. Similarly, In Taanis 31a, the Gemara says that in the end of days Hashem will arrange the righteous in a circle with Him in the center teaching them Torah.
We can now understand why it was correct for the Jewish People to initially request that Hashem speak to them directly and afterward ask Moshe to act an intermediary. The people said: “Behold, Hashem our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire; today we have seen that God will speak to man and he can live.” They understood that a brief exposure to the light of Hashem’s Presence and His Torah was sufficient to implant within them an impression of this light, along with the knowledge that in the end of days Hashem will speak to man and he will be able to live. The people then continued and said: “But now, why should we die?” They were saying that, with the impression having been made, it was unnecessary for them to risk their lives by continuing to have Hashem speak directly to them.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Acharei Mos – Kedoshim

Parashas Kedoshim includes several mitzvos relating to how a Jew should deal with his fellow man, including the prohibition against theft (Vayikra 19:13). With this background, the Maggid quotes a teaching of Shlomo HaMelech (Mishlei 22:22): “Do not steal from the poor, for he is poor.” The Maggid points out an obvious question: Why did Shlomo add the phrase “for he is poor”? The Torah forbids stealing from anyone, regardless of whether he is rich or poor. The Maggid sets out to explain what Shlomo is telling us.
Hoshea exhorts (chapter 4 – below is an excerpt, but the reader should see the whole chapter):
Hear the word of Hashem, O Children of Yisrael! For Hashem has a grievance with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, no kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, and murder, theft, and adultery! They break all bounds …. Therefore the land will be destroyed …. Meantime [you say], “Let no one contend; let no one reprimand.” Yet your people contends with the Kohen …. As much as they have increased, so they have sinned against Me. I will exchange their honor for shame. …
We need to understand the nature of Hashem’s grievance with the Jewish People.
The relationship between Hashem and us, whereby we love Him, fear Him, and obey His word, is founded on two mechanisms, one spiritual and one material. Hashem gave us Torah and mitzvos, His secret treasure (Shabbos 88b), to enlighten our eyes and teach us His sublime ways. In addition, Hashem provides us our material needs. When we are in our ideal state, with the Beis HaMikdash, Hashem provides us with wondrous bounty, and channels it through a spiritual conduit. As a nation during the three pilgrimage festivals, and individually throughout the rest of the year, we would go to the Beis HaMikdash and bring offerings. The Kohen would take the offerings from us, perform with them the service that the Torah specifies, and pray to Hashem to bless us generously with His bounty. In addition, as we observed the Kohanim performing the service and heard the Leviim sing, our souls would be nourished by the holy environment and we would be inspired to love Hashem, fear Hashem, and sanctify ourselves.
But now, without the Beis HaMikdash, everything is different. The Gemara in Berachos 32b says that from the day the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, an iron wall separates us from Hashem. We no longer receive our sustenance directly from Hashem’s Hand, so that we can recognize clearly the great kindness our Father in Heaven is doing for us, and thereby be led to love Him. Wicked people collect for themselves all the good things of the material world, while we must resort to extremes to gain our sustenance.
In Hoshea’s prophesy, Hashem is quarreling with us in connection with the breakdown that has occurred in the two mechanisms that maintain the relationship between us and Him. Hashem says: “There is no truth, nor kindness, nor knowledge of God in the land.” There has been a breakdown in truth – meaning Torah, for Torah is called truth. And there has been a breakdown in kindness – meaning the bounty that Hashem seeks to grant us. As a result of the breakdown of these two key mechanisms, we have lost knowledge of God.
Yet, we fail to do our best to repair the relationship. Instead, we stray into misbehavior: “Swearing, lying, and murder, theft, and adultery.” The Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of our past sins, and remains unrebuilt because of our continuing sins. But we have forgotten about the Beis HaMikdash. Given our current circumstances, with the Beis HaMikdash gone and the material assets that Hashem grants us drastically reduced, we should live modestly. But instead we seek to make lavish enhancements to our earthly homes. We strain to acquire wealth to finance these enhancements, and in the process we employ means that the Torah forbids. We violate mitzvos in both of the two main categories, mitzvos that govern our dealings with Hashem and mitzvos that govern our dealings with our fellow man.
In connection with the latter category of mitzvos, let us consider an analogy. Suppose some people are seated at a table for a meal, and the amount of food served is just enough for each person to take a modest portion. In this situation, if one person takes a very large portion, he is stealing from the others and causing them to go hungry. Similarly, since Hashem is now granting us only minimal material assets, if one person has amassed an unusually large portion, it is likely that he is holding onto assets that should be in the hands of others, such as money he should have given to charity.
In this vein, in Yeshayah 3:14-15, Hashem indicts the elders and officers of the Jewish People, saying: “You have consumed the vineyard, what you have stolen from the poor man is in your houses.” Hashem then indicts the women of Zion for their haughtiness, and speaks of how He will remove all their ornaments from them, presenting a long list of different ornaments. It must be that because of the great sums of money that they spent on ornaments, they improperly cut back on their contributions to charity. [The Maggid quotes other Scriptural passages conveying the same idea.]
We can now understand well what Hashem meant when, in the message he conveyed through Hoshea, He declared: “As much as they have increased, so they have sinned against Me.” Hashem is saying that one can determine how much the people have sinned by seeing how much they have increased their wealth.
And now we can also understand Shlomo’s exhortation: “Do not steal from the poor, for he is poor.” Shlomo is not speaking here of outright stealing. Rather, he is saying that if someone remains poor to the extent that he lacks food to eat, it is because we have failed to give proper amounts of charity, and this failure can be likened to stealing.

Shabbos Parashas Tazria-Metzora

Parashas Tazria opens with a section describing laws of a woman who gave birth, which prompts the Midrash, and thus the Maggid also, to present some teachings relating to the role of man.
In regard to the reward for serving Hashem, the Torah mentions only reward in our material world. Thus, at the beginning of parashas Bechukosai, the Torah states (Vayikra 26:3-13): ““If you walk according to My statutes, and guard My commandments and perform them, I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit….” And in the second paragraph of the Shema, the Torah states (Devarim 11:13): “If you hearken diligently to My commandments … I will give the rain of your land in its season … so that you may gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied.” Similarly, the Gemara in Sanhedrin 99a teaches: “The prophets all prophesied only regarding the days of Mashiach, but regarding the world to come – [it is written (Yeshayah 64:3, homiletically)] ‘No eye has seen, O God, other than You, what You will do for those who await You.’” The Maggid notes that many commentators have addressed the issue of why Hashem did not reveal to us the nature of the reward in the world to come. One commonly-given reason is that we are incapable of comprehending the nature of this reward. The Maggid discusses another of the commonly-given reasons.
In comparing between two items or situations, the Maggid says, one can be judged better than the other in two ways: either one of them is very bad, which makes the other better, or one of them is very good, which makes the other inferior. For example, if you go into a store and find merchandise that is mediocre but unflawed, and then you go into another store and find merchandise that is grossly flawed, you will obviously buy from the first store. But if you go to the second store and find merchandise of outstanding quality, you will obviously buy from the second store – although the merchandise in the first store is unflawed, the merchandise in the second store has special merits that the merchandise in the first store does not have. In the second case, in order for you to pick the better store, the staff of the second store will have to point out to you the special merits of their merchandise, for otherwise you will see no reason not to buy from the first store. Now suppose that the first store has grossly flawed merchandise while the second store has excellent merchandise. In this case, the second store is better on two counts. But the staff of the second store do not need to make a special effort to point out to you the special merits of their merchandise, because you would anyway buy in their store, once you see that their merchandise does not suffer from the flaws you saw in the first store’s merchandise.
This is how it is with the comparison of this world and the world to come. The reward in the world to come is tremendous. Still, if circumstances in this world were good and presented no problems, then Hashem would have to describe to us the special merits of the reward in world to come to induce us to work to earn it. But in fact life this world, aside from offering only ephemeral pleasures, is riddled with problems. Thus, even without knowing about the reward in the world to come, it makes sense for us to shift our focus away from life in this world and toward keeping the Torah and earning reward in the world to come. If we forsake the Torah and focus on life in this world, we are doing ourselves a disservice on two counts. In this vein, Hashem admonishes us (Yirmiyah 2:13): “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and they have hewed for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”
The Ramchal’s discussion in the first chapter of Mesilas Yesharim parallels the Maggid’s discussion above. The Ramchal writes:
You can see, in truth, that no intelligent person can believe that the purpose of the creation of man is his station in this world. What is life in this world? Who is truly happy and content in this world? [It is written (Tehillim 90:10)]: “The days of our life are seventy years, and for the strong eighty years, and their prime is but toil and pain.” So many different kinds of suffering, and illnesses, and pains, and hassles, and after all this – death!
David Zucker, Site Administrator