Post Archive for April 2019

Pesach – Shir HaShirim

On Pesach we read Shir HaShirim, so I present a selection from the opening essay in the Maggid’s commentary Kol Yeshorer on Shir HaShirim.
The Midrash states (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:11):
In all the songs [of the Bible, aside from the Shir HaShirim], either He [Hashem] praises them [the Jewish People] or they praise Him. In Moshe’s [first] song [at the Sea of Reeds], they praise Him and say (Shemos 15:2): “This is my God and I shall glorify Him.” And in Moshe’s [last] song [just before his death], He praises them (Devarim 32:13): “He would make them ride on the high places of the earth.” But here [in Shir HaShirim], they praise Him and He praises them. He praises them (Shir HaShirim 1:15): “Behold, you are beautiful, My beloved.” And they praise Him (ibid. 1:16): “Behold, You are handsome, my Beloved, and also pleasant (אף נעים).”
This Midrash contrasts Shir HaShirim with the other songs in the Bible. The root of the difference is that all the other songs relate to the past, whereas Shir HaShirim relates to the future.
In all the situations that arise over the course of time, Hashem and the Jewish People always have opposite perspectives: Either Hashem praises the Jewish People, or they praise Him, but not both at the same time. Sometimes Hashem shows anger toward the Jews and makes them poor and downtrodden, in order to chastise them. In such times He praises them, for the afflictions cause them to mend their ways. But they do not praise Him, for He is not granting the prosperity and comfort that they want. At other times, Hashem shows the Jewish People a smiling face and grants them an abundance of blessings. In such times they praise Him for these blessings, but He does not praise them, for the blessings cause them to fall from their ideal level.
Shir HaShirim, though, relates to the golden era of the future, when the Jewish People’s fear of Hashem will rise to perfection. Then they will be able to receive abundant blessing without suffering spiritual harm. At present they are like sick people, who cannot handle rich foods, but instead must take bitter medicines to fortify their ailing bodies. But in the future, they will be like a completely healthy person who can eat anything without risk of harm. And so Hashem and the Jewish People will praise each other simultaneously: Hashem will praise the Jewish People for their righteousness, and the Jewish People will praise Hashem for His bounty.
Later in Shir HaShirim it is written (verse 7:7): “How beautiful and how pleasant you are, O love laden with delights!” This verse refers specifically to the future. At present, Hashem chastises those whom He loves. Thus, Hashem’s love is accompanied not by delights, but rather by rebukes and afflictions. But in the end of days, Hashem’s love will be accompanied by delights: Out of His love for us, Hashem will grant us long life, blessing, and success – and these blessings will not divert us from serving Him properly.
Our present situation is reflected in Shlomo HaMelech’s saying (Koheles 7:3): “Anger is better than geniality.” On this saying, our Sages make the following well-known remark (Shabbos 30b): “The anger that the Holy One Blessed Be He shows the righteous in this world is better than the geniality that the Holy One Blessed Be He shows the wicked in this world.” Hashem’s anger toward the righteous is indeed good, for it keeps them on the proper path. But it is not pleasant – it is harsh and bitter. It is a mode of guidance that we find uncomfortable, for we would rather receive Hashem’s beneficence than face His anger.
At the end of days, however, the situation will be completely different. Then we will no longer need to face Hashem’s anger. On the contrary, it will be Hashem’s blessing that will elevate our souls – increased blessing will enhance our fear of Hashem and our holiness. This mode of guidance will be a delight. And so we will be able to exalt Hashem’s way of treating us with a double praise: It will be not only handsome, but also pleasant (אף נעים). Hashem’s anger (אף) will be replaced by a pleasant (נעים) mentorship as the means of guiding us along the path of His commandments.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Metzora

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 15, beginning
We continue with our analysis of the blessing that follows the morning Shema:
True and certain, established and enduring, right and steadfast, beloved and cherished, delightful and pleasant, awesome and mighty, correct and accepted, good and beautiful is this word unto us forever and ever.
We examine now the term established (נכון). The word נכון is related to the word מוכן, meaning ready or prepared, and can also bear this meaning [as in Nechemia 8:10, “send portions to those who do not have anything prepared (אין נכון לו)]. We will consider how the word prepared applies to the Torah.
In Bereishis Rabbah 11:7, the Sages teach: “Everything in creation needs preparation: Mustard needs sweetening, lupines need sweetening, and wheat needs be to be ground.” And given that these creations of Hashem need preparation, it is all the more so with man-made things. Thus it is, in particular, with man-made codes of social behavior. A large contingent of men with great minds is required to develop such a code, even though it is to apply over a limited domain for a limited time. They need to consider what should be done and how it should be done. And they need to consider the various circumstances that can arise and the different factors that can come into play, such as the place, the time, and the nature of the people for whom the code is intended. Consequently, each enactment must be spelled out with thousands of details, corresponding to the thousands of cases that can arise.
Now, a social code relates only to how people deal with each other, in monetary matters and the like. It is aimed only at promoting mutual respect among people and establishing order in commercial affairs. It deals with mundane matters, and is not aimed at addressing the fundamental aspects of human existence. Nonetheless, in a short time numerous questions will arise regarding the application of the rules, including questions that the legislators themselves are unsure how to answer.
Let us now compare our precious Torah to man-made social codes. The Torah was given to us by the Creator and Master of the universe. All the affairs of our lives are dictated by the Torah. We depend on the Torah like a suckling depends on his mother. In addition, the reasons behind many of the Torah’s laws are hidden from us. We do not know why the Torah forbids us to eat certain things, such as the meat of certain animals, fish, and birds, insects and the like, or leavened bread during Pesach. Neither do we know the reasons behind the laws dealing with people experiencing certain bodily discharges, or the reasons behind the laws dealing with the disease of tzaraas. We do not fully understand why the Torah forbids us to be jealous of others, or take revenge, or to bear a grudge. And the Torah does not spell out all the reasons why we must fear and love Hashem and Torah scholars. But although the reasons may be hidden, the Torah dictates how we should act in every area of life.
The Torah applies equally to all sectors of the Jewish People – young and old, healthy and ill, poor and rich, lofty and lowly, Kohanim and prophets. It governs us for all generations; it is an eternal decree that will not change. Undoubtedly, given the myriads of situations that can arise, with the various time periods, places, and people involved, myriads of questions arise about how to act in various circumstances. Nonetheless, Hashem foresaw all the possible situations that can arise and gave us a Torah through which we can determine exactly how to fulfill each mitzvah in any set of circumstances. Our conduct is determined by the finest distinctions; as the Sages put it, the words of the Torah are “like mountains suspended on a hair” (Sifrei 235 on Devarim 32:46). For example, in regard to the laws of Shabbos, we have the Talmudic tractates Shabbos and Eiruvin and the works of the great Torah masters that explicate in the finest detail what these laws dictate in every situation.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Tazria

As we have noted before, parashas Tazria begins with a description of the laws of a woman who gave birth, which prompts the Midrash, and thus the Maggid also, to present some teachings relating to the role of man. We present here a selection from the Maggid’s discourses on this topic.
In connection with Tehillim 92, the psalm for Shabbos, the Midrash expounds (Yalkut Shimoni, Nach 843):
It is written (Tehillim 92:5): “For You have gladdened me, Hashem, with Your works.” Who led us to feel this joy? It came to us through the merit of the faith that our forefathers maintained regarding this world, that it is completely dark like the night. This it is written (ibid. 92:3): “To recount Your kindnesses in the dawn and Your trustability in the nights.”
We may ask: What does this have to do with Shabbos? We can answer as follows. It is indeed hard to observe Shabbos with its many laws. Nonetheless, since Hashem commanded us to do so, it must be within our ability. For it is written (Devarim 30:11): “For this commandment which I command you this day, it is not too hard for you, nor is it far off.” And likewise, Hashem declares (Michah 6:3): “O My people, what have I done to you, and how have I wearied you? Answer me!” However, to make himself amenable to observing Shabbos, a person must gain a firm grasp of two basic principles.
First, he must realize that wealth and possessions do not come to him through own efforts, but rather they are a kindness that Hashem bestows on him. And nothing prevents Hashem from bringing us salvation, irrespective of how much or little effort we invest toward this goal. When a person instills within himself a firm awareness of this fact, he will readily choose repose over labor. For will know that if Hashem wishes that he be successful, He can grant him blessing even without effort on his part. In Mishlei 10:22 it is written: “Hashem’s blessing brings wealth, and toil adds nothing thereto.” And the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 11:1 links this statement to Shabbos. For Shabbos brings blessing to one who observes it properly. But if a person does not recognize that Hashem is the source of all blessing, he cannot be serene on Shabbos, for he thinks that acquiring worldly assets depend on his own effort, and on Shabbos he must refrain from work.
Second, a person must realize that worldly assets and pleasures are vain, with no real substance. A person gains nothing of lasting value through worldly pursuits. Thus Iyov declares (Iyov 1:21): “Naked did I emerge from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there.” When a person instills this principle in his heart, he will attain the level of the Jews who left Egypt, for whom the booty they acquired there was like a burden to them – the Gemara in Berachos 9b teaches that they collected this booty against their will. And then he will be pleased with Shabbos: He will enjoy the repose and yearn for the future day that is all Shabbos, and his rest will be the consummate rest that Hashem desires [cf. the Minchah Amidah of Shabbos].
This is the idea behind the psalm for Shabbos. The psalmist declares (Tehillim 92:2-3):
It is good to thank Hashem and sing praise to Your Name, O Exalted One. To recount Your “To recount Your kindnesses in the dawn and Your trustability in the nights.”
Even though it seems far removed from us to sing and find joy in the cessation from work on Shabbos, nonetheless it is fitting to thank Hashem and sing praise to His Name on account of His having legislated for us this day of rest. And in order for us to appreciate Shabbos, we need only bear in mind two concepts: (1) Hashem’ kindness – that everything we have comes to us only through His kindness, and (2) Hashem’s trustability regarding the fact that our world that is, as the Midrash says, completely dark like the night – it is a world filled with empty vanities. David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 19:8): “The testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, making the simple wise.” Initially, we must accept on faith the teaching of our Torah leaders that this world is vain, even before our intellect brings us to this conclusion. If we do so, then afterward our hearts will also grasp it. But if we have no faith at the start, in the end we will have no understanding.
David Zucker, Site Administrator