Post Archive for August 2018

Shabbos Parashas Shoftim

In last week’s d’var Torah, we presented the Maggid’s commentary on the following teaching of R. Elazar (Devarim Rabbah 4:3):
From the moment the Holy One Blessed Be He made this statement at Sinai, “it is not from the mouth of the Most High One that evil and good emanate” (Eichah 3:38, homiletically). Rather, they come automatically – evil comes to those who do evil and good comes to those who do good.
The Maggid explains that the reward or punishment that come our way when we observe or violate Hashem’s directives are not imposed on us legislatively, but rather are natural consequences of our actions. He explains further that through the very same influence Hashem simultaneously brings good to those who do good and evil to those who do evil. I now present more of the Maggid’s discussion of these themes.
It is written (Yeshayah 31:7-9):
On that day everyone will reject his idols of silver and his idols of gold …. And Assyria will fall by the sword …. His rock will pass away in terror and his officers will be devastated by a miracle – the word of Hashem, Who has a fire in Tziyon and a furnace in Yerushalayim.
In this passage, Yeshayah likens the influence that Hashem is bringing down to a fire, which has both the power to give light and warmth and the power to consume and destroy. The Assyrians were wicked, and therefore they were consumed.
Iyov’s companion Elihu declares (Iyov 34:10-11): “Far be it for God to commit evil and for the Almighty to commit crookedness. He repays a man [for] his deeds and brings forth for a man [what suits] his ways.” Elihu is saying that Hashem does not actively bring affliction to evildoers, but rather the affliction they suffer is a natural consequence of their evil behavior.
The idea that reward and punishment come about as natural consequences of our behavior is reflected also in the following teaching (Sifrei, Eikev 40): “The loaf and the stick came down bound together from heaven. Hashem said to them: ‘If you keep the Torah, here is the loaf for you to eat. And if not, here is the stick for you to be beaten with.’”
At the beginning of parashas Re’eh, Moshe declares (Devarim 11:26-27): “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing – that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem your God, that I command you today. And the curse – if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem your God ….” The Maggid asks: What is the import of the word today? The blessings and curses were not coming down at the moment Moshe spoke; rather, they were going to come down later in due course, according to the good deeds each person does and the sins he commits as time unfolds. The Maggid answers his question as follows. In a typical employer-employee relationship, usually the employer does not pay the employee on the spot at the moment he does a given task. Rather, at the end of each month, the employer pays the employee his wages for all the work he did that month. And similarly, the employer often will not discipline the employee on the spot at the moment he commits an infraction, but instead will wait until the employee accumulates a significant record of infractions and then discipline him. By contrast, the reward we receive for our mitzvos and the punishment we receive for our lapses are automatically triggered immediately as natural consequences of our actions, through a system that Hashem set into place the day He gave us the Torah at Sinai.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Re’eh

This week’s parashah begins (Devarim 11:26-27): “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing – that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem your God, that I command you today. And the curse – if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem your God ….” R. Elazar expounds (Devarim Rabbah 4:3):
From the moment the Holy One Blessed Be He made this statement at Sinai, “it is not from the mouth of the Most High One that evil and good emanate” (Eichah 3:38, homiletically). Rather, they come automatically – evil comes to those who do evil and good comes to those who do good.
The principle underlying this teaching, says the Maggid, is one stated by our early sages regarding reward and punishment for observing or violating Hashem’s directives. In the human legal system, punishment for crimes is set by legislation. For example, a human legal code may specify that a thief is punished by whipping, or jail, or death. This punishment does not come upon the thief as a natural consequence of his act of theft, in the way that ingesting a poison naturally causes death. Rather, the punishment is imposed on the thief by legal fiat. By contrast, the reward or punishment that come our way when we observe or violate Hashem’s directives are not imposed on us legislatively, but rather are natural consequences of our actions. Observing the laws of Hashem’s holy Torah naturally fortify us. Violating these laws naturally cause us harm. Thus Yirmiyahu declares (verse 2:19): “Your evil will afflict you, and your backsliding will chastise you.” The affliction is a natural consequence of the evildoing. In a similar vein, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Koheles 9:10): “There is no act, or reckoning, or knowledge, or wisdom in the grave.” Shlomo is saying that the punishment we receive for violating Hashem’s word is not like the punishment we receive for violating a man-made law, which involves human judges applying their knowledge and making a reckoning. Rather, as Yeshayah puts it (verse 64:6): “You melt us away in the hands of our iniquities” – the iniquities themselves bring us suffering. This principle is well known to those well-versed in our traditional sources, and the Maggid notes that he discusses it often. Here, the Maggid seeks to bring out a new insight.
A person might think, the Maggid says, that despite the fundamental difference just noted between man-made systems of reward and punishment and Hashem’s system of reward and punishment, the two systems are the same in one respect: The means of dispensing punishment differ from the means of dispensing reward. A human government imposes the death penalty by a lethal agent such as poison and rewards a person by giving him some benefit such as the opportunity to indulge himself. We might think that Hashem operates via a similar two-pronged system – punishing people by means of the afflictions of Gehennom and rewarding people by means of the delights of Gan Eden. But the books of the prophets contain many declarations explicitly stating that reward and punishment in fact come through the same pipeline.
For example, Malachi declares (verses 3:19-20): “For, behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the wanton and all the evildoers will be like straw – that coming day will set them ablaze …. But for those who fear My Name, for you the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays, and you will go out and flourish like calves [fattened] in the stall.” In connection with this prophesy, R. Shimon ben Lakish states (Nedarim 8b): “There is no Gehennom in the world to come – rather, the Holy One Blessed Be He will take the sun out of its sheath, and the righteous are healed by it while the wicked are judged through it … and not only that, but the righteous delight in it.” We see that the same agent brings both reward and punishment, depending on the state of the person being acted upon. In the same vein, in Avos D’Rabbi Nosson chapter 37 it is stated: “Two eat from the same bowl; this one tastes according to his deeds and this one tastes according to his deeds.” For a person with a healthy spiritual constitution, the delights are enjoyable, but for a person with a diseased spiritual constitution, the delights are unpleasant and harmful. Regarding the episode in which Sancheirev’s army laid siege to Yerushalayim and were miraculously struck down (Melachim Beis 19), R. Yitzchak Nafcha states in Sanhedrin 95b that Hashem opened the ears of Sancheirev’s soldiers and enabled them to hear the singing of the heavenly beings, and from the sound of the singing they died. Here, the same heavenly singing that brings delight to the righteous brought death to the wicked. We find this idea encapsulated in the psalmist’s declaration (Tehillim 77:11): “On account of my sickness the Most High One’s right hand has changed over.” The same Divine right hand has changing effects, depending what spiritual condition a person is in.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Eikev

This week’s parashah begins as follows (Devarim 7:12-19):
And it shall come about as a result, if you heed these laws and take care to fulfill them, that Hashem your God shall safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. He shall love you, and bless you, and multiply you. … And you shall consume all the peoples that Hashem your God will deliver unto you …. If you say in your heart, “These nations are more numerous than I; how will I be able to drive them out?” do not be afraid of them; remember well what Hashem your God did to Pharaoh and all of Egypt – the great tests that your eyes saw, and the signs, and the wonders, and the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, with which Hashem your God took you out. So shall Hashem your God do to all the peoples before whom you are afraid.
The Maggid sets out to explain the second half of this passage. It cannot be, he says, that the Torah is simply telling us not to fear enemy nations, for the Torah already conveyed this message many times elsewhere. Rather, the Torah’s intent is to offer us a different sort of encouragement.
It is a basic principle that the degree of aid Hashem grants a person depends on the degree to which he puts his trust in Him and takes refuge in Him. In this vein, David HaMelech entreats (Tehillim 33:22): “May Your kindness be upon us, Hashem, as we hoped in You.” And Yeshayah declares (verse 30:15): “For thus said my Lord, Hashem/Elokim, the Holy One of Yisrael, ‘In stillness and peacefulness shall you be saved; in quiet and in confidence shall be your might.’” In Shir HaShirim 6:3 it is written: “I am unto my Beloved and my Beloved is unto Me.” The Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim, part III, ch. 51, explains that Hashem draws close to a person to the same degree that the person draws close to Him. Similarly, Hashem watches over a person and aids him in proportion to the degree of trust the he puts in Him. Reflecting the negative side of this relationship, Iyov declares (verse 3:24): “I harbored a fear and it overtook me, and what I dreaded came upon me” –  because Iyov was overtaken with fear and did not maintain trust in Hashem, in the end he suffered the calamity that he had feared. Because of this principle, the Torah dictates that Jewish soldiers going out to battle against their enemies be charged not to harbor any fear (Devarim 20:3-4): “Do not let your heart be faint; do not fear, do not panic, and do not be broken before them. For Hashem, your God, is the One who goes with you, to fight for you with your enemies, to save you.”
Yet, it can still happen that an individual soldier, in the middle of battle, will be struck suddenly with fear, and, recognizing that his level of trust in Hashem has dropped, will conclude that his hopes of succeeding and emerging from the battle unharmed are now lost. It is to such a person that the second half of the passage from the parashah is addressed. The Torah says: “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are more numerous than I; how will I be able to drive them out?’ do not be afraid of them.” The Torah is telling us: “If you are taken aback and feel fear in your heart, do not conclude that you are now finished and give up. Even in this situation, Hashem is ready to grant salvation.” As proof, the Torah cites the Jewish People’s experience in Egypt. At that time, under the yoke of harsh oppression, the Jewish People were gripped with terror. Nonetheless, Hashem came to their aid and rescued them. And He will do likewise, the Torah says, in other situations where we are faced with an enemy and, taken aback, are struck with doubts; we should not be afraid, for despite our doubts Hashem will still stand by us and save us.
David Zucker, Site Administrator