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Shabbos Parashas Ki Sissa

This week’s parashah recounts the sin of the golden calf. The Maggid explains that this sin was only a temporary lapse; the Jewish People’s normal state is to follow the proper path. He expounds on this theme at great length. We present here a selection from this essay.
The Gemara in Shabbos 88a-b relates the following episode:
A certain Sadducee saw Rava engrossed in his studies while the finger[s] of his hand were under his feet, and he ground them down, so that his fingers spurted blood. “You rash people,” he exclaimed, “who gave precedence to your mouth over your ears [by accepting the Torah with the words “we will do and we will hear” (Shemos 24:7)]– you still persist in your rashness. First you should have listened, and if within your powers, accept; if not, you should not have accepted.” Said he to him, “We who walked with wholeheartedness, of us it is written (Mishlei 11:3): ‘The wholeheartedness of the upright shall guide them.’ But of others, who walked in crookedness, it is written (ibid.): ‘But the crookedness of the treacherous shall destroy them.’”
The Maggid sets out to explain how Rava’s reply was substantive and not merely rhetorical.The starting point is the fact noted above that the Jewish People, although susceptible to being led astray by the evil inclination, have a natural inclination toward good. The Jewish People’s natural goodness can be seen strikingly by way they accepted the Torah. Why did the Jewish People accept the Torah right away without worrying at all that the evil inclination inside them would keep them from observing it, while other nations that Hashem approached were afraid to accept it?
The Maggid answers this question by analyzing an episode that took place during the Jewish People’s sojourn in the wilderness. The Torah relates (Bamidbar 11:4-6): “The rabble that was among them craved a craving, and the Children of Yisrael also cried again and said, “Who will feed us meat? …” Let us explain what took place here. The Jews, like the Egyptian rabble that tagged along with them, experienced a craving for meat and other foods. But while doing so they cried, lamenting in their hearts the fact that the evil inclination was swelling up within them and leading them to feel this craving. If someone had approached the Jews and offer to cure them of this craving, they would have accepted eagerly, for they recognized that physical pleasures are vain, and they craved these pleasures only because they were overcome by their evil inclination. But in regard to the rabble, the Torah says that they “craved a craving” – they chose willingly to cultivate a craving. Had someone offered to cure them of the craving, they would have declined.
Now, a person may size up his evil inclination and think that he does not have the capabilty to hold it at bay, but in truth he does have this capability. As our Sages teach in Kiddushin 30b, Hashem tells us: “I created the evil inclination, and I created the Torah as an antidote.” If a person immerses himself in Torah, its light will lead him back to the right path. It is for this reason that the Jews accepted the Torah even though they knew that the evil inclination would urge them to stray from it. They had faith that by engaging in Torah study their evil inclination would be subdued and the flame of desire would die out. But the Torah’s power to subdue physical desires is relevant only to one who wants to rid himself of these desires. Those who craved a craving did not want the Torah – they were not interested in its curative powers. They took the view that it is better to revel in worldly pleasures.
With this background, the Maggid says, we can understand well Rava’s reply to the Sadducee. The Maggid brings out the point with a parable. Two blind men went from city to city together, going door to door to collect alms. One of them was a good person, while the other was wicked. The first one was very upset about having to wander from place to place and experience the embarrassment of begging, but his dire circumstances forced him to do so. The second one, by contrast, enjoyed the wandering and the freedom from responsibility. Once they came to a city where there was an expert eye doctor. The first blind man invested great effort in arranging to visit the doctor and get cured of his blindness. The second one was not interested; he said that his blindness was the cornerstone for his making a living through begging and it made no sense to cast it aside. The doctor heard about these two men. To the one who was seeking to get cured, he said: “May Hashem grant you a better way of making a living than begging, so that you and your descendants may live in wealth and honor, as is your wish. To the other one he said: “May it be that you remain forever in poverty, for this is what you have chosen.”
The Jews who remain loyal to the Torah tradition are like the first beggar, while the heretical Sadducees are like the second one. When the Sadducee cast at Rava his critical remark, Rava replied: “We who walked with wholeheartedness, of us it is written: ‘The wholeheartedness of the upright shall guide them.’ But of others, who walked in crookedness, it is written: ‘But the crookedness of the treacherous shall destroy them.’” Rava was saying: “We have firmly rejected the path of wallowing in empty worldly pleasures. Our only desire is to purify ourselves and bring our souls to a state of redemption. It is merely incidental that occasionally our evil inclination overtakes us. Our main focus is on doing good. Our wholeheartness will lead us to our redemption. But you have chosen to embrace worldly pleasures and have rejected the upright and good. Because of this choice, you are headed for poverty and destruction.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Tetzaveh

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 12
We now explain the nature of the time a person spends in this world. As we discussed earlier, a person’s body has a defined extent and composition. It has a beginning and an end. It is composed of organs and limbs, joints, muscles and tendons, and bones. And all of these components are essential for a person to exist in a complete state. Each has its unique function. Similarly, the time a person spends in this world has a defined extent and composition. Regarding the extent of a person’s lifetime in this world, it is written (Tehillim 90:10): “The days of our years among them are seventy years, and if with strength, eighty years.” Likewise, the masters of deeper Torah wisdom teach that a complete lifetime in this world consists of seventy years. In addition, a person’s lifetime is divided into different stages, each with its own character.
Thus, the Mishnah in Avos 5:21 teaches: a five-year-old is involved in Scripture, a ten-year-old is involved in Mishnah, a thirteen-year-old begins observing mitzvos, a fifteen-year-old is involved in Gemara, an eighteen-year-old goes to the marriage canopy, a twenty-year-old is involved in pursuit of a livelihood, a thirty-year-old attains full strength, a forty-year-old attains understanding, a fifty-year-old is fit to give counsel, a sixty-year-old attains seniority, a seventy-year-old attains ripeness of age, an eighty-year-old exhibits strength ….” Here, in their wisdom, the Sages incisively analyzed the course of a person’s lifetime in this world, listed its stages, and identified the unique function of each stage.
Further, we see that time is made up of different units. A day is made up of 24 hours, seven days make up a week, four weeks make up a month, twelve months make up a year, seven years make up a shmittah cycles, and seven shmittah cycles make up a yovel. The division of time into units, each with a special name, reflects the differing functions of the different units, as is known to the masters of deeper Torah wisdom.
But one must not think that the function of each segment of time will come about automatically, without any effort on our part to bring our lives to completion. It is not so, my brother! Just as we must exert effort to maintain our physical existence, so, too, we must exert effort in order for the stages of life to lead us to a fitting spiritual level. We have to infuse our lives with fear of Hashem and serve Hashem appropriately every day and every year. We have to make sure not to leave anything out. If we exert the proper effort, then will we reach our proper station. We will be infused with knowledge, understanding, and discernment, and each stage of life will lift us higher and higher, until we are even able to attain Divine inspiration (and prophesy, during the time of the prophets).
Moreover, if we exert the proper effort Hashem will assist us and adorn us with a crown of splendor. In all our activities we will see success, without any anguish, all in a proper and straight manner. We will enjoy constant success until the time comes for Hashem to take us from this world, to bring us into the world to come, the world that is pure good, to revel in its delights. There as well our time will rise with us as a pleasing fragrance to Hashem and we will be clothed in a robe of glory. The Zohar describes this process. Regarding Avraham, the Torah says (Bereishis 24:1): “And Avraham was old, he had come to days.” Expounding on this statement, the Zohar teaches:
Come and behold: Avraham came close to Hashem. All his days, this was his desire. But Avraham did not come close in one day or at one time. His good deeds brought him closer every day and he rose level by level, until he reached a lofty level. When he got old, he entered the supernal levels as befit him.
But if you betray Hashem and do not observe what He commanded you in every segment of time, then the foreigner within you – the evil inclination – will rise up over you. Your time will be infused with abounding insanity and blindness, until you end up striving vainly to find the door to regret. For just as the successive segments of time bring a righteous man to increasingly higher levels, so, too, they push a wicked man lower and lower. Thus the Gemara in Shabbos 152a teaches: “With elder Torah scholars, the more they grow older the more wisdom they acquire … but with elder ignoramuses, the more they grow order the more foolish they become.” Similarly, the Gemara in Sukkah 52a teaches: “Regarding the evil inclination, initially it seems like a strand of a spider’s web, but in the end it becomes like a wagon’s ropes.”
A person has the choice, if he wishes, to uproot and destroy. Initially, Hashem holds back from subjecting a sinner to the judgments his evil deeds generate, but when he becomes a full-fledged scoundrel, He will subject him to full judgment. Testimony will be brought of all his evil deeds and thoughts. As the Gemara teaches (Chaggigah 5b): “Even about the excessive conversation between a man and his wife will testimony be brought on the day of judgment.” He will be surrounded by enemies. Attacks will be hurled against him like arrows shot at a target. In the words of the prophet (Yeshayah 33:1): “When you finish pillaging you will be pillaged; when you end your treachery, they will be treacherous with you.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Terumah

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 11
We know that the human body is not a simple unit, but rather is made up of many components. The Creator fashioned the body from the four basic physical elements: fire, air, water, and earth. The body is made up of different organs and limbs, and each organ and limb is made up of different parts, each with a unique name, unique capabilities, and a unique function. And each part’s existence is maintained through means specific to that particular part. The body is complete only when all its various parts are complete. If some part is missing or compromised, the impairment causes the person distress and dissatisfaction. There are many organs that are so critical that without them a person would be dead. And there are organs without which a person lacks protection from the various hazards constantly present in his environment. With some people, the lack of a certain organ or even a deficiency in its function can cause them to go insane, so that they are worse off than an animal. Furthermore, just as a person’s continued existence depends on his body being complete with all its parts, his continued existence depends on the outside world being complete with all its parts. In addition, the world is filled with things which, if they come upon a person, can kill him or make him severely ill, and no organ is free of such risks. The Sages teach in Devarim Rabbah 9:3 that every organ is susceptible to some kind of defect that can lead to a person’s death. If we ponder all this, we realize that nothing is as difficult as keeping a person alive. And nothing can occur more easily than a person’s departure from this world due to the absence of one of the conditions necessary for his continued existence. What, then, is man and what is his glory?
Now, my soul, when I see all this, how can I have confidence in your strength and your continued existence? I see you as so very fleeting, like the gourd in the Book of Yonah, which in one night emerged and in one night withered. How can you take pride in your existence when the specter of your disintegration and departure from the world constantly hovers over you? If you neglect to pay attention to the things you must take care of to maintain your own existence, you will grow weaker and weaker, to the point of death. Ponder how many things you need to do constantly to stay alive: eat and drink, rest and sleep, relieve yourself of bodily wastes, and on and on. You have to fight to stave off the deterioration and death that would come upon you naturally, by itself, if you took no action. If you let up for a moment from the countless tasks you need to perform to keep yourself going, you would be no more.
This being so, you can see clearly that your existence is not a natural phenomenon, but rather is the result of kindnesses Hashem does for you to keep you alive, through the mechanisms which He, in His wisdom, put into place. Hashem created all the elements of which you are composed, and all the elements of which the world around you is composed, and of which you need to avail yourself to stay alive. You receive your life force moment by moment. At any given moment you have no guarantee that you will live to the next moment. You are entirely in Hashem’s hands, and you have to look toward Him and hope He will grant you your next moment of life. As it is written (Tehillim 123:2): “Behold, like the eyes of servants unto the hand of their master, and like the eyes of a maid unto the hand of her mistress, so are our eyes unto Hashem our God, until He extends to us His graciousness.”
You must guard yourself, and make sure not to forget these things, lest you lose sight of them and regard your existence as secure and perpetual. Do not think you need nothing outside of yourself to continue in existence. Do not forget that you are mortal. View yourself as a being that lives only a brief moment. Consider yourself very lowly, for the past is gone, and you may not make it into the future. Do not take your mind off the fact that if nature took its course, you would be gone. View your existence not as a certainty, but rather as something that only might be, if Hashem shows you favor. You understand the difference between something that whose existence is a certainty and something whose existence is a mere possibility. So do not put your faith in what is but a thin reed, and do not rely on it for support. Rather, place your hope constantly in Hashem.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Mishpatim

The last section of this week’s parashah recounts events associated with the Giving of the Torah. The Jewish People declare (Shemos 24:7): “All that Hashem has spoken we shall do and we shall listen.” In Ruth Rabbah Pesichasa 1, the Midrash expounds:
“Hear, O My People, and I shall speak” (Tehillim 50:7). How did you merit to be called “My People”? From “I shall speak” – because you spoke before Me at Sinai and said: “All that Hashem has spoken we shall do and we shall listen.”
This Midrash seems to take the verse from Tehillim far beyond its plain meaning, which is simply a call from God to the Jewish People to listen to what He is going to say to them. Also, the Midrash seems to make quite a stretch in reading the phrase “I shall speak” as “because you spoke.” But the Maggid, in his commentary on Megillas Rus, shows that the Midrash fits perfectly with the plain meaning of the verse.
The Gemara in Shabbos 88a relates that when the Jewish People said “we shall do and we shall listen,” a Heavenly voice cried out:
Who revealed this secret to My children? This is the expression that the ministering angels use! As it is written (Tehillim 103:20): “Bless Hashem, O His angels – the mighty ones who do His bidding and listen to the voice of His word.” First they mention doing, and afterwards listening.
The Maggid explains this teaching as follows. The Torah is divided into two parts: revealed Torah and hidden Torah. The revealed Torah is freely available to all. Anyone who wishes can take a full helping of it and understand what he has learned. The hidden Torah, however, can be grasped only by a select few: those who, through their exemplary deeds, serve God out of deep love. Only when a person reaches this exalted level does God open his eyes and allow him to behold the wonders of His Torah. As it is written (ibid. 25:14): “Hashem’s secrets are for those who fear Him.”
Now Moshe came before the Jewish People only to present the side of Torah and mitzvos that is revealed to all. Just before the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, Moses brought the Jewish People the following message from God (Shemos 19:5): “Now, if you hearken well to My voice and uphold My covenant, then you shall be unto Me a special treasure among all the nations, for the whole Earth is Mine.” This declaration indicates that what was put before the people was only the revealed part of the Torah that is readily understood when heard. Nonetheless, the people discerned that there was another, hidden side to Torah that contained even greater wisdom. Moreover, the people realized that one who observes the revealed Torah properly eventually gains access to the hidden Torah, just as one who tends a tree properly eventually enjoys its fruit. This is what they meant when they said: “We shall do and we shall listen.” They declared that they would faithfully keep the revealed Torah, and thereby proceed – having attained the necessary capacity – to hear and digest the secrets of the hidden Torah.
We can now easily understand the Heavenly cry: “Who revealed this secret to My children?” Underlying this cry is the question: “How did the Jewish People know that there is another, hidden part to the Torah, beyond the revealed part that I am putting before them now? How did they know to commit themselves to listen to another message that I will convey later?”
With this, we can explain the Midrash that we quoted at the outset. There remains just one more point to bring out. If a person habitually makes all his purchases at a certain store, he will naturally refer to the manager of this store as “my storekeeper.” Similarly, if a person always uses a certain tailor or handyman, he will speak of “my tailor” or “my handyman.” Now, a person who uses a certain tailor once will not automatically refer to this tailor as “my tailor.” However, if the tailor makes an arrangement with him after the first time to do all his tailoring work from then on, then he can refer to the tailor as “my tailor” even after just one job.
The same idea applies to the relationship between God and the Jewish People. The fact that we accepted God’s word on one occasion would not in itself give us the right to have God call us “My People.” We gained this title only because we pledged on that occasion to listen to God regularly from that point on, whenever God would speak to us through His faithful prophets and men of wisdom. When we declared at Sinai “We shall do and we shall listen,” we made a covenant for the future that binds us to heed God’s word at all times.
This is the message behind the verse from Tehillim: “Hear, O My People, and I shall speak.” God is telling us why we are obligated to listen to Him when He speaks. God says to us: “How did you gain the right to be called ‘My People’? Not because you listened to Me on one occasion. Rather, because on that occasion you spoke before Me and said: ‘We shall do and we shall listen.’ With these words, you promised that whenever ‘I shall speak,’ you will listen. And so you are duty-bound to listen to what I shall speak to you now.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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

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.