Post Archive for December 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.