Post Archive for October 2018

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

Shabbos Parashas Lech-Lecha

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 7, Part 2
From the time the Jewish People left Egypt to the time Yerushalayim was destroyed, the Beis HaMikdash was rendered desolate, and the Jewish People went into exile, the testimony of Hashem’s existence and control over the world was firmly recognized, even by people with weak minds and hearts who were irresolute and lacked the capability of intellectual analysis. The truth of our faith was as openly apparent as the sun at noontime, whose light enables people to walk about and whose existence everyone perceives clearly, with no one entertaining the thought of denying it or even harboring any doubt about it. The experience of the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Sinai was engraved in the Jewish People’s hearts. Hashem had performed miracles for the Jewish People at the time of the exodus from Egypt and had miraculously split the Sea of Reeds, allowing the Jewish People to walk through. At Sinai He manifested Himself and gave the Jews the Torah. Regarding the giving of the Torah it is written (Shoftim 5:4-5, Devorah’s song): “Hashem, when You went forth from Seir, when You strode forth from the field of Edom, the earth quaked and also the heavens dripped, indeed, the clouds dripped water. The mountains melted before Hashem – this is Sinai – before Hashem, the God of Yisrael.” The words on the tablets of the law that the Jewish People received at Sinai were written by the finger of Hashem; the middle part of the letters mem sofis and samech remained miraculously suspended in place (Shabbos 104a). Hashem brought the Jews into Eretz Yisrael and enabled them to take the land over from great nations. The defeat of these nations had not come about through the Jewish People’s might; rather, Hashem provided them a miraculous victory. The Beis HaMikdash that Shlomo HaMelech built was of supreme magnificence; the entire world from one end to the other heard about it and knew of its splendor and of the service that the Kohanim performed there. No one in the world denied it or entertained any doubt about it, just as no one entertains a doubt that his father is his father and his mother is his mother and starts searching for proofs that they are truly his parents.
Thus, Shlomo HaMelech declared (Mishlei 4:1-2): “Hear, children, a father’s instruction and be attentive to know understanding. For I have given you a good teaching; do not forsake My Torah.” The Torah is in our possession through a chain of tradition from our ancestors, as it is written (Devarim 4:9): “And inform your children and your children’s children.” It is the duty of every father to teach his children, and it is the duty of the child to accept his father’s words. At the same time, in regard to the written Torah, the father does not have license to make up his own phrasing of what the written Torah says. Rather, he is obligated to teach to his child the written Torah exactly as it was handed down at Sinai from Hashem’s mouth through Moshe. He must not change a single thing. For this reason, in regard to teaching the written Torah, our Sages did not make any distinction between a father who is wise and saintly and a father who is not. In regard to the oral Torah, our Sages did make such a distinction, saying (Chaggigah 15b): “If the teacher is like an angel of the Master of Legions then seek Torah from his mouth; if not, do not seek Torah from his mouth.” But in regard to the written Torah there is no such distinction. For the father has no input into what is being taught. He is like a messenger who brings a letter from afar, where the recipient’s task is simply to take the letter from the messenger’s hand, read it, and understand what is written. Thus, in the passage from Mishlei quoted above, the Hebrew word used for teaching is לקח, stemming from the Hebrew verb ללקוח, meaning to take, indicating that when a son learns the written Torah from his father, he is like a person simply taking a letter from a trustworthy messenger. Accordingly, the authenticity of the written Torah is accepted as an irrefutable fact even among the gentile nations, and is widely studied and respected.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Noach

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 7, Part 1
We now discuss knowledge we possess through hearing. At the revelation at Mount Sinai, Hashem spoke face to face with the entire Jewish People, including 600,000 men between the ages of 20 and 60 and the older men, the women, and the children. In addition, He passed on to us, through his prophet Moshe, the tablets with the Ten Commandments, written in His own hand. Hashem put the Jews of Moshe’s generation through this experience so that all their descendants throughout the generations, who did not witness the revelation personally – even those unable to engage in intellectual investigation – would have firm faith in the Torah, free of the clouds of doubt and the darkness of confusion. The voice of Torah that came forth at Sinai has been transmitted to us down through the generations.
It is the obligation of every Jew to bear in mind that when hears the Torah today, it is as if he is hearing it directly from Hashem’s mouth. And every day a Jew should regard the Torah’s words as if he heard them just now. We have no reason to doubt the Torah, neither on account of its content nor on account of its source. The Torah’s content is wholesome; in David HaMelech’s words it is “sweeter than honey” (Tehillim 19:11). And its source is unassailable, for the Torah was not given to us by any mortal man, but rather from the Creator of the world. There is no need to elaborate, for the validity of these points is beyond any reasonable doubt.
The words of the Torah that we see today are the same as those that our forefathers heard at Sinai. The Torah is implanted within us as if it has been permanently nailed into us from the time it was given. We are commanded by the Torah not to accept any new teaching or practice, even if a prophet conveys it to us in Hashem’s name. At the conclusion of Sefer Vayikra, the Torah declares (Vayikra 27:34): “These are the commandments that Hashem commanded to Moshe to the Children of Yisrael on Mount Sinai.” The Gemara in Shabbos 104a derives from this declaration the principle that no prophet after Moshe has license to introduce any innovations. Accordingly, we can point to a Torah scroll written even just now and declare with full confidence: “This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Yisrael, by the mouth of Hashem through the hand of Moshe.” There is no difference between the Torah scrolls Moshe conveyed to the Jews of his generation and the Torah scrolls we have now, except for the parchment and the ink.
Further, the Torah has been in our possession, and we have maintained it, for over three thousand years. Nothing in it has been changed, not even the tip of the little letter yud. The Torah’s continued existence and binding force – all of the mitzvos with all their details, down to the fine points – is itself reliable testimony that we received the Torah from heaven, in the same form as we have it now. We cannot deviate from it, neither to right nor to the left, nor can we deny anything written in it, far be it, and claim that we did not receive it.
Let us illustrate the point with an analogy. Suppose you come across a wondrously magnificent building with the builder’s name engraved on its outer wall. It is impossible for you not to believe that the building was built by a man of tremendous talent. What testifies to this? The building itself testifies to it! Similarly, the magnificence of the Torah’s wisdom, and the Torah’s continued endurance as the Jewish People’s perpetual instruction manual for life, is itself testimony of the Torah’s Divine origin. The word of the Eternal God is eternal!
Moreover, the Torah itself documents its nature, who wrote it, and the way it was received: in an assembly of the entire Jewish People, with the earth quaking and the entire world trembling, with Hashem coming down to earth with fire, great sounds, lightening, and flame, and with Moshe acting as the intermediary between us and Hashem. Before his death, Moshe wrote out the Torah, one scroll for every tribe, and one scroll placed in the Holy Ark, so that no forgery could be possible (see Devarim Rabbah 9:4). And we have preserved the Torah and maintained our possession of it down through all the generations.
The Gemara in Shabbos 105a presents a teaching that reflects the above discussion. The First Commandment begins with the word אנכי, meaning I. The Gemara presents three renderings of this word as an acronym. One of them is the following, with the letters of אנכי in reverse order (י, כ, נ, א): יהיבא כתיבה נאמנים אמריה – [The Torah] has been handed down in writing – faithful are its words.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Bereishis

Regarding the creation of man, the Torah reports that Hashem said (Bereishis 1:26): “Let us make man (נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם), in our image and likeness ….” The Midrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 8:5):
When Hashem was about to create the first man, the ministering angels grouped into various factions. Some said he should not be created, and some said he should. … While the angels were debating, Hashem created him.
It seems from this Midrash, the Maggid notes, that the Sages are reading נעשה as נַעֲשָׂה  – he was [already] made. This reading, though, runs counter to the simple meaning of the verse, which is that Hashem was saying to the angels, “Let us make man” – that Hashem was, so to speak, consulting with them, as the Sages themselves note in an earlier Midrash (ibid. 8:4). Yet, taken at face value, the verse is bewildering: What need could Hashem have to seek advice?
The Maggid quotes a Gemara passage that presents a related teaching (Sanhedrin 38b):
When Hashem was about to create man, He first created an assembly of ministering angels and asked them: “Do you think it would be good for Me to create a man in our image?” They responded: “Master of the Universe, what will his deeds be like?” Hashem told them. The angels said (Tehillim 8:5): “What is a mortal, that You are mindful of him – a man, that You take note of him?” Hashem then cast His little finger at them and burned them. With a second assembly of angels, it was the same. Hashem put the question to a third assembly of angels, and they said: “The first two assemblies gave You their opinion, and what was the use of this? The entire world is Yours – do whatever You wish within it.” After the generation of the flood and the generation of the dispersion, during which man behaved despicably, they said: “Master of the Universe! The first two assemblies spoke well, didn’t they?” Hashem responded (Yeshayah 46:4): “Until [man’s] old age I remain as I am; until [his] hoary years I shall tolerate him. I have made and I shall bear; I shall tolerate and I shall rescue.”
This teaching, too, seems bizarre. What point was there in Hashem’s creating assemblies of angels and asking their advice, only to disregard it?
The Maggid explains the matter with a parable. A baron sent an agent to another town to buy for him a certain fancy and expensive vessel. The baron warned him not to come back without it. After arriving at the town and looking all around, he found only one such item available. It was owned by a certain merchant, who demanded a high price. The agent entered into lengthy negotiations with the merchant, involving multiple visits to the merchant’s store. When they were nearing a final agreement, an unscrupulous local broker learned of their discussions and decided to try to make some money from the situation. He went to the merchant and said: “I know, my friend, as well as you, about the serious flaw in this item. If you don’t pay me to keep quiet, I will tell your customer about it, and he will back out of the deal.” The merchant was incensed, and he exclaimed: “Get out of here, you scoundrel! I’m not giving you a penny.” The broker then approached the baron’s agent and told him about the flaw. The agent was taken aback, and indeed decided not to buy the item.
After a couple of days, however, he calmed down and reconsidered. He realized that he could not return to his master without the item. So he met again with the merchant, bought the item, and went back home. When he gave the item to the baron, however, the baron decided he didn’t want it. In response, the agent raced back to the merchant to try to cancel the purchase. He said: “I found a serious flaw in this item. Take it back, and give me back my money.” The merchant replied: “No way, my friend. I know that a local broker told you about the flaw while we were still negotiating. But you let it go, and bought the item anyway. So now you have no right to cancel.”
The moral, the Maggid says, is as follows. Hashem knew in advance that man would be prone to sin. Yet, sin controverts the purpose that man was created for, which is to honor Hashem by showing awe for Him and obeying His commands. In truth, a sin on man’s part would make it fitting for Hashem to turn the world back to primeval nothingness. Indeed, from the standpoint of strict justice, even repentance should not be possible. Accordingly, before creating man, Hashem laid a foundation that would maintain man’s existence despite his fallibility. As our Sages teach (see Rashi on Bereishis 1:1), ideally the world should operate on strict justice alone, but Hashem foresaw that a world run this way could not survive, so He added a complementary element of mercy – that is, an element of tolerance.
The Gemara that the Maggid quoted describes how Hashem laid this foundation. He created the assemblies of angels, heard them tell Him not to create man, and then created him anyway – as He wanted to in the first place. The purpose of this exercise was to protect man from being obliterated because of his sins. Once Hashem “decided” to create man despite hearing the angels tell Him in advance that it would be a mistake, He no longer had the “right” to cancel what He had done. He was bound, so to speak, to live with His decision. And so, in response to the angels’ outcry over the generations of the flood and the dispersion, Hashem declared: “I have made and I shall bear.” Hashem was saying that since He created man despite his flaws, He accepted upon Himself to bear them.
The Midrash that the Maggid quoted at the outset is in the same vein. The Midrash describes the angels debating over whether man should be created. But at the time this debate was taking place, man had already been created, in the sense that Hashem had already decided to create him. Hashem was not seeking the angels’ advice. Yet, He wanted the arguments against creating man to be voiced, so that it would be clear that He was overriding these arguments, and was fully accepting the consequences that the creation of man would entail.
David Zucker, Site Administrator