Post Archive for January 2019

Shabbos Parashas Yisro

This week’s parashah recounts the giving of the Torah. The Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 28:1 relates that when Moshe ascended to Heaven to receive the Torah, the ministering angels sought to attack him. The end of the Midrash relates that God recast Moshe’s visage into the form of Avraham’s visage, and challenged the angels: “Are you not embarrassed before him? Is this not the one to whom you went down and in whose house you ate?”
The Maggid explains the matter of the transformed visage with the aid of a parable. In a certain kingdom, the king had a chief minister whom he regarded very highly, so much so that the king always consulted him before taking any major action. The king also had an only son – a young, tender boy. The king loved his son very much, and pampered him greatly. But whenever he needed to consult with his chief minister, he would tell his son to step outside, so that he could discuss affairs of state with due secrecy. The chief minister would boast about this to all the other royal ministers, saying: “See, the king regards me even more highly than his own son. On account of me, he sends his dear son out, and makes time to meet with me privately in his inner chamber. There he tells me everything that is on his mind.”
When the king’s son got word of what this minister was saying, he became depressed. He was pained at the thought that his father had so much more regard for this minister than for him. He fell into such a deep depression that he became bedridden. The doctors came to examine him, and they saw that the boy’s illness was due to depression. They said that the only way to cure the boy was to cheer him up him with uproarious merry-making – this was what was needed to enable the boy to shake off his depression.
The king called in a large group of musicians to play rollicking music for his son, but this had no effect, because the son was already used to such music. So then the king called in his advisors to see if they, in their great wisdom, could suggest a novel way to cheer up his son – something that the boy had never seen before. They responded: “The king should issue a special order to all his ministers and officers: each day one of them must dress up as some animal – a bear, a lion, and so on – and parade in that costume in front of the boy. No doubt your son knows all your ministers and officers. When he sees these dignitaries frolicking before him in animal suits, he will burst out laughing, and after a few days of this he will recover.”
Word of this order reached the chief minister. Having no choice, he dressed up as some animal, and went frolicking and prancing in front of the king’s son. The boy recognized the minister, and was filled with laughter and tremendous joy. When the chief minister left the boy’s room, the king’s other officers and confidantes approached him and said: “Now you can see clearly that the king loves no one like he loves his son. When the boy got sick, the king pulled out all the stops. He even went so far as to order you to dress up in an outlandish costume, although this obviously was very degrading to you. All this was to cheer up his dear son in order to cure him.”
The parallel is as follows. The lofty ministering angels on high felt that there was no comparison between them and corporeal man. For they are exalted beings, stationed in Heaven at God’s service, while man is a lowly being, stationed on Earth. Hence they exclaimed with outrage: “What is a man born of a woman doing among us? … Set Your glory within the Heavens!” God, in His wisdom, responded with an ingenious demonstration to make it crystal-clear to the angels that He cherishes man much more than he cherishes them.
God recast Moshe’s visage into the form of Avraham’s visage, and challenged the angels: “Are you not embarrassed before him? Is this not the one to whom you went down and in whose house you ate?” When Avraham was saddened because no guests were coming to him, God told the angels to come down to Earth in the guise of men, to eat in Avraham’s house. This was a degrading act for the angels, who are purely spiritual beings, elevated above the physical world. Nonetheless, out of love for Avraham, God ordered the angels to act contrary to their nature and eat. Upon pondering this past event, the angels would now see how dearly God cherishes man and treats him like a son – for man is the centerpiece of all creation.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Beshallach

This week’s parashah recounts the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. The Jews found themselves trapped, with the sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind him, and they cried out to Hashem. And Hashem said to Moshe (Shemos 14:15): “Why are you crying out to Me? Speak to the Children of Yisrael, that they go forward.” The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 21:8): “Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Moshe, ‘All the Jews have to do is just go forward.’” What did Hashem mean by this? And why did Hashem include the words “to Me”? The Maggid sets out to explain what Hashem meant.
The starting point is a basic rule: Hashem generally does not perform supernatural miracles for people in distress if there still remain natural steps that they can take to deal with their situation. Only when all natural means have been completely exhausted does Hashem step in and perform a miracle. Accordingly, a person is obligated to make a steadfast effort to continue employing natural means as long as such means are still available. The Gemara in Berachos 32b lists four areas that need bolstering. One of these areas is prayer, regarding which it is written (Tehillim 27:14): “Hope to Hashem; strengthen yourself and let your heart take courage, and hope to Hashem.” Hashem does not need to make any preparations to rescue someone; He can bring salvation in an instant. So it is incumbent on a person to press on with his efforts and his prayers up to the very last moment.
The Maggid introduces a parable to bring out the message. A rich man had an only son, whom he cared for consummately. The father decided he should accustom his son to doing business so that later he would be able to support himself and his family. The father said to his son: “Go out each week and do business until you make $1,000. Bring the $1,000 to me at the end of the week and I’ll give you another $4,000, so that you’ll have $5,000. But be aware that until you bring me the $1,000 that you made, I won’t give you a thing.” This arrangement operated for several weeks. One week the son got together $999 and he figured it wasn’t worth making an effort to gain an additional $1, so he just went to his father with the money he had and asked his father to give him the sum needed to reach $5,000. The father told the son to count the money he had brought, and the son counted out $999. The father told him: “You think that the missing $1 is too minor to be of any importance, and it should not hold me back from giving you an additional $4,000 as usual. But you should know that the $1 is more significant than the $4,000. For me, the $4,000 is minor, because I have the money at hand. You should have made every effort possible to get the remaining $1. The $1 was important, for you needed to have it in order to get the $4,000.”
The parallel is as follows. The Jews had traveled a considerable distance to arrive at the shore of the sea. They did not want to go on further until Hashem split the sea. But on account of the missing additional step, Hashem held back from performing the miracle. It is as we explained above – Hashem does not perform a miracle a second earlier than necessary. The Jews felt, upon arriving at the shore of the sea, that they had done everything in their power and it was now time for Hashem to step in and perform a miracle to save them. When they saw the sea remaining in its usual state, they cried out to Hashem to perform the miracle. But in truth there was more they could do: They could continue going forward a few more steps until the water reached up to their noses. We might think that the few additional steps’ distance was too minor to hold back the miracle. But Hashem exclaimed: “Why are you crying out to Me?” He was saying: “Why are you crying out for Me to do My part? My doing a miracle is minor. Your taking a few more steps is important, because this is what is needed to bring on the miracle. All you have to do is just go forward.” The Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 21:8 expounds further, describing Hashem saying to Moshe: “You are under My dominion, and the sea is under My dominion, and I have already made you a superintendent over it.” All that was needed was for the Jews to take those few additional steps.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Bo

In this week’s parashah, Hashem tells us to designate the month of Nisan, the month in which the redemption from Egypt took place, as the first month of the year (Shemos 12:2): “This month shall be unto you the chief of the months; it shall be the first unto you of the months of the year.” The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 15:11):
Thus it is written (Tehillim 33:12): “Well established is the nation that Hashem is their God.” When the Holy One Blessed Be He chose His world, He established within it firsts of the months and the years, and when He chose Yaakov and his sons, He established [the month of Nisan] as the first of months in regard to redemption. In this month, the Jewish People were redeemed from Egypt and in this month they will experience the final redemption, as it is written (Micah 7:15): “As in the days of your going out from Egypt I will show you wonders.” In this month Yitzchak was born and in this month he was bound [upon the altar]. In this month Yaakov received the blessings [from Yitzchak], and Hashem indicated to the Jewish People that this month is first unto them for salvation, as it is written: “It shall be first unto you of the months of the year.”
The Maggid offers two interpretations of this Midrash, which we present below.
1. The Torah’s declaration that “this month shall be unto you the chief of the months” indicates a new development was taking place. The added phrase “unto you” is meant to stress that it was a new development specifically for the Jewish People, but not for Hashem.
To understand the import of this, consider a nation that is accepting a king to rule it. The new king is entering a new role as king, and the nation is entering a new role as the king’s subjects. Now, in the Nisan of the exodus, the Jewish People entered a new role as a nation under Hashem’s rule. But for Hashem the role of king was not new, for He already held this role. Hashem was King of the Universe from its very beginning – indeed, in the Adon Olam prayer we describe Hashem as the “Eternal Lord, who reigned before any being was created.” And Hashem was king over our forefathers, and He brought about many wonders for them, especially in the month of Nisan. The new development was that the Jewish People was entering the role of being Hashem’s nation, for whom He would also bring out wonders. When the Midrash quotes the verse in Tehillim stating that “well established is the nation that Hashem is their God,” the Midrash is highlighting the fact that our God is Hashem, the Eternal One, who was, is, and always will be, and that the exodus marks a new beginning for us but not for Him.
2. In Tehillim 94:14 it is written: “For Hashem shall not cast off His people, and His heritage He shall not abandon.” Similarly, in Yeshayah 54:10 it is written: “‘For the mountains may be moved and the hills may falter, but My kindness shall not be removed from you and My covenant of peace shall not falter,’ says Hashem, the One who shows you compassion.” The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 44:5 records the following exchange between Avraham and Hashem after Avraham’s victory against the kings:
Avraham said before the Holy One Blessed Be He, “Master of the Universe! You made a covenant with Noach that You would not wipe out his descendants. I arose and amassed more mitzvos and good deeds that he, and the covenant with me pushed aside the covenant with him. Perhaps someone else will come and amass more mitzvos and good deeds than I, and the covenant with me will be pushed aside by the covenant with him.” Replied the Holy One Blessed Be He: “From Noach’s descendants I did not bring forth righteous people as defenders, but from your descendants I will bring forth righteous people as defenders.”
We might think that Hashem’s love for us stems primarily from the day we received the Torah and accepted the yoke of His kingship. And we might therefore think that if we lapse in observing the Torah, Hashem will, far be it, nullify the covenant with us just as He nullified the covenant with Noach when Avraham came on the scene, as the Midrash describes. This notion is false, and indeed the prophet Hoshea was punished for suggesting to Hashem that He exchange us for another nation. In order to dispel this false notion, the Midrash we quoted from Shemos Rabbah presents a clear proof that we our relationship with Hashem will continue forever. The Midrash tells us that when Hashem chose Yaakov and his sons, He established the month of Nisan as the first of months in regard to redemption, and designated this month, in which we were redeemed from Egypt, as the month in which we will experience the final redemption. From this we see that our existence as a nation and Hashem’s connection with us will endure for all time.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Vaeira

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 10
What is the sign that a person is truly humble? A truly humble person has minimal expectations. He does not hanker for any pleasure. He seeks only what is absolutely necessary to stay alive. And even this he does not expect to come to him easily. He does not demand what he needs as if he is entitled to it. Rather, he regards fulfillment of his needs as a gracious kindness.
A teaching in Sukkah 52b reflects this idea. The Gemara relates that Hashem will approach Moshiach ben David and say (Tehillim 2:8): “Ask of Me and I will make nations your inheritance.” Having seen that Moshiach ben Yosef was killed, Moshiach ben David will respond: “I ask nothing of You except for life.” Let us ponder this exchange. Hashem is telling Moshiach ben David that he could ask for anything; He is saying (Tehillim 81:11): “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” It is as if all the good things of this world are laid before him for him to take. Yet he does not dare ask for great blessing. All the more so should we take a modest stance. A person should understand that he might not deserve his daily bread.
Let us consider our forefather Avraham. Who among us is as great as he? Yet when he approached Hashem to pray for Sodom – pleading not for himself but for others – he appealed to Hashem for grace. “May Hashem please not be angered” (Bereishis 18:30). “Behold, now, I wish to speak to my Lord, although I am but dust and ashes” (ibid. 18:27). The same humble stance is taken by countless other saintly people. Let us follow their example. Let us not wish for anything. Let us not forget our lowly stature. How can we possibly wish for pleasures? Let us be satisfied that we are alive. Let us view life as so precious to us that we count every moment. Let us imagine that we were sentenced to death, and someone came forward and declared himself ready to plead on our behalf. Imagine how much we would embrace him! Imagine how we would beg him to rescue us quickly!
Let us in this way recognize the preciousness of life. Let us realize that life is not a given. We have no guarantee that tomorrow we will still be alive. Our eyes are lifted upward to Hashem, the One grants life, the one who – in the words of Birkas HaGomel – bestows good things upon the guilty, and we hope He will sustain us, little by little. Let us not be foolish and lose what we are given. Let us accept at every moment the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us give thanks for what we have received in the past, and plead for our needs in the future.
In summary, let us keep an arrow shot’s distance from the garb of Hashem, our Master and King, to whom alone belongs pride and greatness, splendor and glory, ascendancy and dominion. Let us flee far from the trappings of grandeur, for they do not befit us. Let us remember that Hashem created us out of nothingness. Let us realize that it behooves us to be humble and submissive, and love our Creator, who maintains our existence moment by moment. Let us keep Him at the forefront of our minds and thank Him for His kindness toward us, and then we will succeed in life.
David Zucker, Site Administrator