Post Archive for September 2018

Shabbos Parashas Haazinu

1. This week’s parashah presents Moshe’s song of admonition to the Jewish People. The song begins as follows (Devarim 32:1): “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Similarly, the Book of Yeshayah opens with a prophesy that begins as follows (Yeshayah 1:2): “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth.” In Moshe’s song, the phrase give ear is addressed to the heavens and the word hear is addressed to the earth, while in Yeshayah’s prophesy it is the reverse. The Midrash in Sifrei 306 explains that Moshe was closer to the heavens while Yeshayah was closer to the earth. Clearly the Midrash is speaking homiletically, for at the time that Moshe and Yeshayah delivered these respective prophesies they were both on the earth.
The Maggid explains the idea behind the Midrash as follows. There are two ways to distinguish truth from falsehood and good from bad. The first way is by means of the intellect, either through reasoning or through prophesy. The second way, which is easier, is by means of observation and experience: Seeing the righteous being rewarded and the wicked being punished enables one to tell good from bad. Now, Moshe had only a few opportunities to see the wicked being punished, and so the way he learned to tell good from bad was mainly by means of the intellect, which is more connected with the heavens. Yeshayah, on the other hand, had many opportunities to observe the wicked being punished, for in his time a substantial segment of the Jewish People had been sinning already for several generations, and Hashem was regularly meting out punishment to the wicked. Thus, the way Yeshayah learned to tell good from bad was mainly by means of seeing people being subjected to a curse, which is more connected with the earth.
When we are in a state of peace, the primary way of telling good from bad is by means of the intellect. In such times, those who have the greatest power of discernment are the Torah sages, who are filled with Torah wisdom and close to Hashem. Those in the streets have much less power of discernment, for they are distant from wisdom. In times like ours, however, it is different. Those engaged in business and other means of earning a livelihood can tell very well between good and bad. For they see what happens over the course of time, and they recognize that eventually they become the victims of the type of evildoing they committed against others, measure for measure. In this connection, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 1:20): “Wisdom sings out in the street [with words of lament and rebuke, as seen in the subsequent verses].
The same idea is reflected in the following passage (Hoshea 4:1-3): “Hashem has a grievance with the inhabitants of the land, for there is no truth, and no kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land. [Instead,] false swearing, murder, theft, and adultery; they have breached [moral standards] and the blood of one [murder victim] runs into that of the other. Therefore the land will be destroyed and all who dwell in it will be put in misery.” The “inhabitants of the land” who are involved in earthly affairs see up close the various events that unfold in the earthly realm. They can easily take stock of their actions and see for themselves the rampant evildoing being committed and the punishment that comes in its wake. They are in a better position to recognize what is happening than those involved in Torah wisdom.
2. Moshe declares (Devarim 32:18): “You ignored the Rock who gave birth to you, and forgot the God who brought you forth.” The Maggid brings out the idea behind this verse with a famous parable. Reuven owed Shimon $1,000. Shimon was pressing Reuven heavily for payment. Reuven he sought advice from Levi to push Shimon off. Levi told Reuven that when Shimon shows up he should act like a crazy person, muttering and whistling and dancing around. Shimon showed up, Reuven put on the act, and Shimon concluded that Reuven was crazy and left him alone. Some time later, Reuven borrowed money from Levi. The time came for payment, Levi showed up to collect, and Reuven started putting on the crazy person act. Levi took his stick, gave Reuven a hard whack, and exclaimed: “Fool! I’m the one who taught you this trick. Do you think you can use it on me?”
The parallel is as follows. The Midrash teaches that Hashem granted man the trait of forgetfulness for his own benefit (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah 615 and Nach 968): “Had the Holy One Blessed Be He not hidden from man [i.e., caused people to forget] the day of death, people would not build houses or plant vineyards, for they would say, ‘Tomorrow I may die, so should I toil for others?’ Therefore He hid from man the day of death, so that people would build and plant.” Accordingly, for a person to take this trait of forgetfulness and use it to forget Hashem is the height of contemptibility.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Vayeilech – Shabbos Shuvah

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 6 (end)
The second half of Tehillim 19 speaks of the greatness of the Torah. David HaMelech declares (ibid. 19:8): “Hashem’s Torah is perfect, restoring the soul; Hashem’s testimony is trustworthy, making the simple wise.” We can explain this statement as follows. David began by stating that “the heavens relate God’s glory” (ibid. 19:2), for a person who contemplates them. Similarly, Yeshayah declares (verse 40:26): “Lift your eyes upward and see who created these – who brings forth their legions by number, He calls to each of them by name. By the abundance of His power and the firmness of His strength, not one is missing.” The wonders of creation provide is a powerful mechanism for opening a person’s eyes and heart and firmly instilling within him genuine faith. But they have this effect only on a person who stops to contemplate them, and not one who ignores them.
The holy Torah is different. The Torah’s wisdom calls out and beckons to a person from the heavens. Even if a person has in mind to shun the Torah’s path, the Torah’s sublime teachings will bring him back. The Torah will, so to speak, spread its wings and gather him in. This is what David means when he says that the Torah restores the soul and makes the simple wise. [The Hebrew verb להשיב that appears in Tehillim 19:8, which means to bring back or to restore has the same grammatical root as the verb לשוב, meaning to come back (that is, to return, in the intransitive sense) and to repent. The opening word of this week’s haftarah, שובה, is the imperative form of this verb. The same root is shared by the word תשובה, meaning repentance.] And this is the portion of the person who contemplates his own existence and the existence of everything else in the world; through such contemplation a person gains knowledge from within his own self of the existence of the Creator. A person contemplates himself and ascertains that he is a being that came into existence through an act of volition, and that did not necessarily have to exist, and this gives him a clear sign of his Creator, a being that must always have existed and must always continue to exist forever. It is just like the way a drawing testifies to the one who drew it. Further, any trait that man possesses, such as wisdom and intellect, Hashem must also possess. As it is written (ibid. 94:9): “The One who implanted the ear, does He not hear? The One who fashioned the eye, does He not gaze forth?”
Let us return to the verse from Tehillim 139 that we quoted previously (verse 14): “I acknowledge You, for I am awesomely, wondrously fashioned; wondrous are Your works, and my soul knows it well.” In addition to the idea we brought out from this verse before, we can draw from it another lofty idea. The idea is based [if I am reading the Maggid correctly] on the fact that the phrase אודך על כי נוראות נפלאתי, which in the context of the verse means “I acknowledge You, for I am awesomely, wondrously fashioned” can also be rendered homiletically as “I thank you, for I am set apart from signs of awesomeness.” The idea we wish to put forward is that Hashem, out of His great kindness, overrode man’s natural tendencies (that is, the tendencies that he would have according the general rules governing the workings of the world) and blunted the degree of fear of Him that man would naturally have had. In Avos 3:1, Akavya ben Mehalallel teaches: “Look upon three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, and where you are going, and before whom you will in the future have to render an accounting.” In truth, the fear of Hashem that we naturally should have goes well beyond the fear of death. The angels have an intense recognition of Hashem’s awesomeness and power, so much so that, as the Gemara in Chagiggah 13b teaches, the sweat of the Chayos [a type of angel] forms the River Dinur. We do not have the capability to withstand this degree of recognition and remain alive. It is one of the wonders of creation that our recognition of Hashem’s awesomeness is obscured, and we have Him to thank for this. Hashem placed in each person’s hand the choice of what degree of recognition he will maintain, according to what he is able to take a grasp of and bear. The more a person expands his mind and increases his ability to withstand feelings of fear of Hashem, the more fear of Hashem he will feel.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Nitzavim

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 6 (continued)
Let us give an analogy. Reuven and Shimon were walking in an unsettled desert through which no man had ever passed before. Reuven lost an object, and Shimon found it. Reuven asked Shimon to give him back the object. Shimon replied: “Give me a sign that it is yours.” Reuven retorted: “Even without a sign, surely you must know it is mine.” Shimon asked: “How?” Reuven explained: “You know that it isn’t yours. So it must be that it’s mine, since you and I are the only people here. What do you need signs and proofs for?”
It is the same with the question of the existence of a creator. There are two possible types of entities: one that necessarily must exist and one that could exist and also could not exist. An entity of the first type has no creator that preceded it and brought it into being. An entity of the second type exists by virtue of the fact that an entity that existed before it willed that it exist and brought it into being at a certain time and place. Now decide for yourself: Are you a being of the first type or the second type? You know you are not of the first type. Indeed, you know you did not bring yourself into existence, and in fact you have only a tiny degree of knowledge of the processes through which you came into being. So it follows that you were brought into existence by some other being. There must be some other being that created you and everything else in existence. This other being is Hashem, the Eternal One, our gracious and merciful creator.
It is written (Tehillim 100:3): “Know that Hashem is God, He made us v’lo anachnu.” In the traditional written text, the word v’lo is written ולא (and not), but according to the traditional interpretation of the text it is to be understood as meaning ולו (and His). According to the traditional interpretation, the second half of the verse means “He made us and we are His,” whereas according to the written text it means, as the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 100:1 says, “He made us and not we” – we did not make ourselves. This is a deep teaching. We know innately that we did not make ourselves. We know that we do not have the capability of bringing ourselves into being, and, indeed, have little understanding of how we came into being.
The world is filled with a variety of creatures and objects, all mingled together and interacting with each other. The way they function is a marvel. Anyone who beholds them can see that they are the work of a skilled artisan, who manages the world with wisdom and arranges its various components with understanding.  David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 19:2): “The heavens relate God’s glory, and the firmament tells of His handiwork.” The creations on earth cannot properly discuss Hashem’s works, for they do not have the necessary knowledge. They are not even aware of how much they do not know. Man, however, has the wisdom and understanding to ponder his existence, his composition, and his capabilities, and is truly aware that he has no knowledge of his construction and has made no contribution to it. We quote David HaMelech again (ibid. 139:14): “I acknowledge You, for I am awesomely, wondrously fashioned; wondrous are Your works, and my soul knows it well.” David is saying that our souls know well that we do not know, along the lines of the saying: “The bottom line of what we know is that we do not know.”
Let us quote again from Tehillim 19 (verse 4): “There is no speech and there are no words; their voice is not heard.” We can bring out the idea here with an analogy. Suppose someone owes us money and we want to send an agent to the debtor to collect the debt. If the debtor is a deceitful person, we have to send an agent who is well skilled in talking to people and can argue with the debtor. But if the debtor is trustworthy, so that we know he will not deny the loan or push it off with a “come back later” tactic, we can even send an agent who is unable to speak. All the agent needs to do is present the bill of debt, and the debtor will pay right away. Similarly, if we had any serious intellectual basis for questioning Hashem’s existence, Hashem would have had to grant the heavens the power of speech so that they could testify that He exists. But since in fact we have nothing to say – there is no speech and there are no words – Hashem need not make the voice of the heavens heard.
David Zucker, Site Administrator