Shabbos Parashas Vayeitzei

This week’s parashah recounts Yaakov’s sojourn in Charan. As Yaakov set out for Charan, he made a vow, saying (Bereishis 28:20-22): “If God will be with me, and guard me on this path on which I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house, and Hashem will be unto me as a God. Then this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God, and whatever You give me I will repeatedly tithe to You.” The Maggid remarks that Yaakov’s statement here is ambiguous: It is unclear what he meant in stipulating that “Hashem will be unto me as a God,” and in saying that “this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God.”
Rashi noticed these difficulties, and offered his explanations. Regarding the stipulation that “Hashem will be unto me as a God,” Rashi’s interpretation is that Yaakov was asking Hashem to arrange for His Name to be associated with him from beginning to end, in the sense that none of his progeny would develop a spiritual blemish that would render him unfit for Hashem’s Name to be associated with him. And regarding the statement “this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God,” Rashi’s interpretation, following Targum Onkelos, is that Yaakov was promising to worship Hashem at the site of the stone upon his return to the Land of Israel, as he indeed ultimately did (Bereishis 35:1-7).
The Maggid offers another interpretation of Yaakov’s statement, based on the following rendering:
If God will be with me, and guard me on this path on which I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in peace to my father’s house. It will then be that Hashem will be unto me as a God, and this stone which I have set up as a pillar will be a House of God, and whatever You give me I will repeatedly tithe to You.
The Maggid thus views the stipulation that “Hashem will be unto me as a God” not as part of Yaakov’s request to Hashem, but rather as part of what he vowed to do if the request were fulfilled. He sets set out to explain exactly what this part of the vow entailed.
He builds on two Midrashim concerning Yaakov’s statement. One Midrash reads as follows (Bereishis Rabbah 70:6):
Hashem took the words of the forefathers and made these words the key to the redemption of their descendants. Said Hashem to Yaakov: “You said, ‘It will then be (והיה) that Hashem will be unto me as a God.’ By your life, all the kindnesses, blessings, and consolations that I will provide your descendants, I will announce using none other than the expression that you used: ‘it will then be.’” It is thus written (Zechariah 14:8): “It will then be on that day, that spring waters shall flow forth from Yerushalayim ….” And similarly (Yeshayah 11:11): “It will then be on that day, that Hashem will extend his hand a second time to acquire the remnant of His people ….” And similarly (Yoel 4:18): “It will then be on that day, that the mountains will drip with wine ….” And similarly (Yeshayah 27:13): “It will then be on that day, that the great shofar will be sounded, ….”
A second Midrash, in Bereishis Rabbah 70:6, teaches that Yaakov’s requests conveyed – by way of allusion – a plea that Hashem guard him from evil speech, illicit relations, murder, and idolatry. We see from this teaching that Yaakov’s main fear, as he set out for Charan, was that the wicked Lavan might influence him to turn away from the path of truth and good to the path of falsehood and evil. He therefore pleaded with Hashem to stay at his side and keep him from straying, and he hoped that Hashem would do so. At the same, he realized that his being under Lavan’s dominion would unavoidably prevent him from discharging his duties to Hashem in full measure, for a person cannot fully serve two masters at the same time. He therefore vowed to Hashem that if He would return him to his father’s house in peace, safe and free, he would then give Him his due – he would serve Him with extra diligence, to make up for the deficiencies in his service during his time in Lavan’s house. He communicated this pledge by saying, “It will then be (והיה) that Hashem will be unto me as a God.” The word והיה contains a Biblical conversive vav, which converts the past tense verb היהit was – to future tense: it will be. It hints at something being transferred to the future. Yaakov used this term to express a vow to remit his unfulfilled obligations to Hashem in the future, upon returning from his journey.
Correspondingly, Hashem promised Yaakov to act similarly toward his descendants – the blessings He is withholding from us at present He will remit to us in the end of days. This portion of blessing will be added onto the portion of blessing He set aside to convey to us in the end of days, so that we will receive a double portion of blessing. In this vein, Yeshayah declares (ibid. 61:7): “In place of your double shame, and the disgrace they bewailed as their portion – therefore they shall inherit a double portion in their land, and eternal gladness shall be theirs.” Similarly, it is written (Yoel 2:25-26): “I will repay you for the years that the [locusts] consumed. And you shall eat well, to satiation, and you shall praise the Name of Hashem your God Who has done wondrously for you – and My people shall be eternally free of shame.” Hashem will grant us blessing that is so wondrously abundant that it will compensate for all the deprivation we suffered throughout history, and retrospectively erase all the shame we felt over the course of all time. The first Midrash expresses this idea. It is to reflect the foregoing principle of restitution that all the kindnesses, blessings, and consolations Hashem conveyed to us were announced using the term והיהit will then be – a term that represents a transfer from the past to the future. As the Maggid explains in his commentary on Bereishis 1:3, the Midrash is teaching that the bounty that was fit to be delivered now will instead be delivered later. Hashem’s promise to Yaakov mirrors Yaakov’s promise to Him. This is what the Midrash means when it says that Hashem took the words of the forefathers and made these words the key to the redemption of their descendants.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Toldos

This week’s parashah describes how Yaakov came and took the blessings that Yitzchak had meant for Eisav. The Maggid raises some questions about this episode. First, why does the Torah first report Eisav’s outcry without any explanation, and only later, after relating Yitzchak’s response, report the reason for the outcry? Second, given that Yitzchak had already told Eisav that he had blessed Yaakov and that therefore Yaakov would indeed be blessed, what did he add by saying that Yaakov came with cunning and took his blessing? Third, how could Eisav say that Yaakov “took” his birthright, when in fact he had willingly sold it to him?
To explain the interchange between Yitzchak and Eisav, the Maggid begins by analyzing what Yitzchak had in mind when he decided how he would bless his two sons. Yitzchak had two types of blessings to grant: spiritual blessings, relating to the world to come, and material blessings, relating to this world. He decided it would be proper to grant the spiritual blessings to his firstborn son, i.e., Eisav, for the firstborn son has a special elevated status and is the one invested with responsibility for bringing offerings. Thus, when Yaakov approached Yitzchak and presented himself as Eisav, Yitzchak was poised to grant him the spiritual blessings. Yaakov sensed what Yitzchak wanted him to do. After some reflection, he decided it would be better for him to receive the material blessings. He reasoned that since anyone can acquire a share in the world to come on his own by choosing to follow the proper path, and since he had in fact adopted this path and was wholehearted in thought and deed, he did not need Yitzchak to bless him with success in acquiring a share in the world to come. He therefore made a move to induce Yitzchak to grant him the material blessings. What move did he make? He told Yitzchak, in the guise of Eisav, that “he” had sold the birthright to “his brother.” And given that the birthright had passed from Eisav to Yaakov, it would be proper to grant Eisav the material blessings instead of the spiritual blessings. Yitzchak followed this reasoning, and, thinking that the person standing before him was Eisav, granted Yaakov the material blessings.
Now, when Yitzchak told Eisav afterward that “I blessed him – and, indeed, he will be blessed,” Eisav initially thought that Yaakov had not come with any cunning, but rather had simply overheard Yitzchak’s request for delicacies, had stepped in and brought them in order to satisfy Yitzchak’s need, and had received a blessing. Eisav assumed that Yitzchak was aware that it was Yaakov who had brought the delicacies. Eisav had also worked out in his mind, just as Yaakov had, that Yitzchak was planning to give him the spiritual blessings and Yaakov the material blessings. He thus concluded that Yitzchak had in fact given Yaakov the material blessings. He was devastated by this outcome, for he was interested only in worldly pleasures, and he had figured that – given his having sold the birthright – he would get the material blessings. He therefore let out an exceedingly great and bitter cry.
Yet, at this point, Eisav did not state why he was upset. We can bring out his reason for not doing so with a parable. A thief stole a precious item from one of his neighbors, and hid it away in his own house. Shortly thereafter, a gang of thieves came at night and took the item. He groaned and wept, and cried out in public about how he had a precious item stolen from him. But when people asked him to describe the stolen item, he did not answer. He simply kept on weeping and screaming. Similarly, Eisav was ashamed to tell his father that he was upset over having lost material blessings, for, over the years, he had constantly “trapped his father with his mouth” and passed himself off as saintly. How could he now make a big fuss over worldly pleasures? He therefore simply let out an inchoate outcry and pleaded: “Bless me too, Father.” He did not specify what blessing he wished to get.
Yitzchak responded by saying: “Your brother came with cunning and took your blessing.” Eisav assumed Yitzchak was referring to the spiritual blessings, which Yitzchak viewed as being “Eisav’s blessing” because Eisav was the firstborn. Eisav thus revised his initial reading of what had taken place, now surmising that Yaakov had slyly impersonated him before Yitzchak and taken the spiritual blessings. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 67:4 says that Yaakov presented himself before Yitzchak “using the wisdom of the Torah.” The Midrash is saying that Yaakov exercised a Torah-based right to assume Eisav’s place – a right arising from Yaakov’s having bought the birthright from Eisav. At this point, Eisav calmed down and rejoiced inside, reasoning that since Yaakov had received the spiritual blessings, he would get the material blessings, which is what he wanted all along. It did not occur to him at all that Yaakov might have told Yitzchak about the sale of the birthright. So he said to Yitzchak: “It is fitting that his name is called Yaakov, for now he has taken me over me twice: He took my birthright, and, behold, now he has taken my blessing.” What he had in mind was as follows: “You made no mistake, Father. It was in full accordance with law that you granted him the spiritual blessings, for he took over the status of firstborn. And as for me, it is fitting me to grant me the material blessings.”
Eisav thus continues: “Surely you have reserved (אצלת) a blessing for me.” Expounding on the word אצלת, the Midrash remarks (Bereshis Rabbah 67:4): “A blessing from the leftovers (מן הנצלת).” Eisav was asking for material blessings, even though they are inferior blessings, because from the standpoint of law he had no right to ask for more than that. Yitzchak replied: “You have misunderstood. I gave Yaakov the material blessings – I made him a lord over you, I gave all his kin to him as servants, and I fortified him with grain and wine. What, then, my son, shall I do for you? I cannot give you the spiritual blessings – you are not entitled to them, since you sold the birthright to Yaakov.” At this point, Eisav raised his voice and wept, for he realized that he had been foreclosed – he lost the material blessing, which was his main desire. And then, as described Devarim Rabbah 1:15, he exclaimed: “Come and see what this ‘wholehearted one’ did to me.” It was Yaakov’s wholeheartedness that enabled him to succeed in his cunning takeover of Eisav’s blessing: If not for Yaakov’s wholeheartedness, Eisav would have been careful to take steps to prevent such a takeover.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Chaiyei Sarah

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 8
Knowledge concerning spiritual matters through intellectual investigation involves deep reasoning, of the kind philosophers engage in, to bring strong proofs of the Creator’s existence, oneness, eternality, power, and supervision over the world. But since Hashem has done us the great kindness of enlightening our eyes through His Torah, it is better not to depend on the philosophical approach to these matters. The philosophical approach is very time-consuming and uncertain, whereas the path of the Torah tradition allows one quickly to learn the truth.  Shlomo HaMelech has previously warned us about the philosophical approach, saying (Mishlei 3:5-7): “Trust in Hashem with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways know Him, and He will smooth your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear Hashem and turn away from evil.”  That is, a person’s performance of mitzvos (even those that we understand are necessary) should not be on account of his own wisdom and understanding. Rather, one should turn away from evil simply out of pure fear of Hashem. Thus David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 111:10): “The origin of wisdom is fear of Hashem.”
Elsewhere David pleads to Hashem to teach him in the merit of his faith in Him (ibid. 119:66): “Teach me good reasoning and knowledge, for I put my faith in Your commandments.” We can bring out the point behind this plea with an analogy. Once three men were stricken with the same illness. They went to the same doctor, and the doctor prescribed the same treatment to all three. The first patient did not investigate the matter at all, but simply followed the doctor’s instructions, and he recovered. The second patient had some knowledge of medicine, and he investigated the doctor’s recommendations. Those he did not understand he disregarded, and he died. The third patient had the same degree of knowledge of medicine as the second patient, but he recognized that the doctor knew more than he did. Although he investigated the matter and was unable to understand some of the recommendations, he relied on the doctor’s great expertise, and thus he did not bring himself harm through his investigation.
Similarly, in relation to mitzvos, different people have different attitudes. The common folk observe the mitzvos to perfection without any investigation, while a person with intellect will investigate every detail. Such investigation poses a serious risk that the person will disregard what he does not understand. But if a person at the outset puts faith in Hashem’s wisdom and omnipotence, his investigation will not cause him to stumble. This is the point behind David’s plea. David entreats: “Teach me good reasoning and knowledge.” He then explains why it is appropriate for Hashem to do so: “For I put my faith in Your commandments.” Elsewhere in the same psalm he declares (ibid. 119:6-7): “My ways will be firmly guided to observe Your edicts (חקיך) so I will not be ashamed when I peer at all Your commandments (מצותיך).” David firmly commits himself to observe Hashem’s edicts – the chukim, which are beyond human understanding. As a result, he will not come to shame through examining His commandments – the mitzvos that the human intellect can comprehend.
Iyov’s companion Elihu asks Iyov (Iyov 33:13): “Why do you complain against Him that He does not answer for all His affairs?” There is an important message in this question. It is the way of a servant to obey all his master’s orders, not only those he understands and recognizes as right, but also those that make a person’s ears ring because they seem to run counter to reason. The servant submits himself to his master and carries out all his orders swiftly. This is the attitude we should take to the directives Hashem set down for us. As servants of Hashem, it is our duty to carry out all His directives swiftly, not only those that we understand but also those for which we see no reason. We must keep our mouths shut and not question why Hashem told us to do this or that.
We can bring the point out further with a parable. Once there was a soldier who did his work well and carried out his sergeant’s orders swiftly, but with every order he would ask the sergeant what the reason was. The sergeant would explain, and the soldier would be satisfied and would carry out the order. At some point, the sergeant approached him and, for no apparent reason, beat him so fiercely that he bled. The soldier cried and asked why he had been beaten, but the sergeant gave him no answer. The sergeant beat the soldier in this way on several occasions. The poor soldier was more distressed over not knowing the reason behind these beatings than over the physical pain that the beatings caused. After some time, the soldier met up with a wise man and asked him about the beatings, hoping he could explain. The wise man replied: “You should know, my friend, that your sergeant considers your performance good and fitting, and you have not left out anything in doing your work. But you are accustomed to ask him for the reason behind each order, and afterward you carry it out. You are not accustomed to accept his orders simply as orders you must obey no matter what. Your sergeant wanted to teach you and instill in you the mindset that you must do everything he orders you to do without asking for the reason, like a faithful servant who does not question his master at all. The only way he could do this was to take some action toward you that you viewed with disfavor, and then refuse to answer you when you asked for the reason. He had to do this several times, until you had no choice but to simply accept it. And there is nothing that he could have done which you disapprove of more than to beat you and not tell you the reason. If he were to explain the reason, it would no longer be something you had to simply accept as something you must bear.
The parallel is as follows. Iyov carried out Hashem’s directives perfectly, but only because he understood them and found them appealing. He had not accustomed himself to ascribe justice to the will of Hashem, his Master, in situations where His directives seemed to him bizarre. And there is nothing that a person will find bizarre and disapprove of more than afflictions that come upon him for no apparent reason. Hashem therefore subjected him to afflictions and refused to explain the reason when he asked, until he gave up and simply accepted the suffering and kept silent. Elihu sought to call Iyov’s attention to the flaw in the attitude he had taken. He declared (ibid. 33:12): “I answer you that you did not ascribe justice; God is greater than mortal man. Why do you complain against Him that He does not answer for all his affairs?” Elihu was telling Iyov: “You have not accustomed yourself to ascribe justice to Hashem’s ways in situations where they run counter to your understanding. How could you forget that Hashem is greater than mortal man? You have the mind to know that Hashem, our Master, is great. His wisdom is boundless and his works are multitudinous. His ways are loftier than the schemes of mortal man. This being so, why do you complain against Him that He does not answer for all his affairs? Hashem does not explain the purpose behind everything He does. You must keep your mouth shut and accept all His ways as edicts.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Vayeira

1. The Torah relates that when Lot brought guests (angels in the guise of men) into his home, the people of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that he hand the guests over to them and allow them to abuse them. Lot urged the people not to act wickedly. The people denounced Lot, saying (Bereishis 19:9): “This one came to sojourn, and he is judging as a judge?” The Maggid analyzes the phrase “judging as a judge.” He quotes a Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:5 that relates a discussion between the angels and Lot about Sodom. The angels asked Lot: “The men of this city, what are they like?” Lot replied: “Every place has its good men and its bad ones, but here the masses are bad.” The Maggid explains that the Sages are describing how the people of Sodom were much more wicked than the typical sinner. Hashem despises all sinners and views them with contempt, but He judged the men of Sodom with special harshness, viewing them as utterly abominable. Sinners come in different types. Some people sin only occasionally, when struck with a momentary attack of intense desire. Afterward they repent, regret what they did, and resolve not to do it again. A worse type of sinner is the habitual sinner: someone who is perpetually caught in the grip of desire, and continues to sin even though he knows he is sinning. The men of Sodom were worse still: They did not even see that they were sinning. Of men like these, Yeshayah declares (verse 5:20): “Woe to those who say that good is bad and bad is good.”
The men of Sodom considered their ways proper, and took steps to ensure that they would maintain them. As Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 21:10): “The soul of a wicked person desires evil.” They appointed judges to enforce their evil code of conduct. The names of their five chief judges, which the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:3 records, reflects the way they judged: Keitz Sheker (Captain of Falsehood), Rav Sheker (Chief of Falsehood), Rav Mastidin (Chief of Perverted Justice), Rav Naval (Chief of Depravity), and Kla Pandeir (Kidnapper). It is to this institutionalized wickedness that Lot referred when he told the angels that the masses of Sodom are evil.
Now, on the very day that the angels came to Sodom, Lot had been appointed as a judge. He was expected to enforce Sodom’s evil code of conduct just like the other judges of Sodom. Afterward, the angels came, and Lot brought them into his house. The townspeople then came on the scene, seeking to abuse these visitors, in accord with Sodom’s code of conduct. But Lot kept them from doing so. The townspeople exclaimed: “This one came to sojourn, and he is judging as a judge? He wants to replace our established laws with new ones, based on what people in other places consider just. How dare he act as a judge of our system of justice!”
2. When the angels rescued Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom, they told them not to look back. Lot’s wife disobeyed this instruction and was turned into a pillar of salt. The Maggid explains this matter as follows. The order to Lot and his family not to look back as they left Sodom had a distinct purpose: It gave them the chance to earn the merit that would enable them to escape to safety. The angels had come and told Lot that Sodom, a physically magnificent city, was going to be gutted on the next day and turned into a pile of rubble. To believe this message required great faith. Indeed, as the Torah states, Lot’s sons-in-law ridiculed the message and ignored it. The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 50:9 elaborates, recording what they said: “The city is full of music and rejoicing; it is not going to be suddenly destroyed.” Thus, the fact that Lot believed the message was a great merit for him. Yet, it was not certain that he believed the message with complete conviction; perhaps he had doubts, and was heeding the angels’ instructions only to be on the safe side, just in case the prediction was true. He therefore was tested by being ordered not to look back as he left, so he could not check whether Sodom had really been destroyed. Lot’s wife, in fact, doubted the angels’ prediction, and it was only to be on the safe side that she joined Lot as he left the city. She therefore constantly looked back to see whether the prediction had come true. Due to her lack of faith, she did not deserve to escape to safety, and so she was turned into a pillar of salt.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Lech-Lecha

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

Shabbos Parashas Noach

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

Shabbos Parashas Bereishis

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

Shabbos Parashas Haazinu

1. This week’s parashah presents Moshe’s song of admonition to the Jewish People. The song begins as follows (Devarim 32:1): “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Similarly, the Book of Yeshayah opens with a prophesy that begins as follows (Yeshayah 1:2): “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth.” In Moshe’s song, the phrase give ear is addressed to the heavens and the word hear is addressed to the earth, while in Yeshayah’s prophesy it is the reverse. The Midrash in Sifrei 306 explains that Moshe was closer to the heavens while Yeshayah was closer to the earth. Clearly the Midrash is speaking homiletically, for at the time that Moshe and Yeshayah delivered these respective prophesies they were both on the earth.
The Maggid explains the idea behind the Midrash as follows. There are two ways to distinguish truth from falsehood and good from bad. The first way is by means of the intellect, either through reasoning or through prophesy. The second way, which is easier, is by means of observation and experience: Seeing the righteous being rewarded and the wicked being punished enables one to tell good from bad. Now, Moshe had only a few opportunities to see the wicked being punished, and so the way he learned to tell good from bad was mainly by means of the intellect, which is more connected with the heavens. Yeshayah, on the other hand, had many opportunities to observe the wicked being punished, for in his time a substantial segment of the Jewish People had been sinning already for several generations, and Hashem was regularly meting out punishment to the wicked. Thus, the way Yeshayah learned to tell good from bad was mainly by means of seeing people being subjected to a curse, which is more connected with the earth.
When we are in a state of peace, the primary way of telling good from bad is by means of the intellect. In such times, those who have the greatest power of discernment are the Torah sages, who are filled with Torah wisdom and close to Hashem. Those in the streets have much less power of discernment, for they are distant from wisdom. In times like ours, however, it is different. Those engaged in business and other means of earning a livelihood can tell very well between good and bad. For they see what happens over the course of time, and they recognize that eventually they become the victims of the type of evildoing they committed against others, measure for measure. In this connection, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 1:20): “Wisdom sings out in the street [with words of lament and rebuke, as seen in the subsequent verses].
The same idea is reflected in the following passage (Hoshea 4:1-3): “Hashem has a grievance with the inhabitants of the land, for there is no truth, and no kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land. [Instead,] false swearing, murder, theft, and adultery; they have breached [moral standards] and the blood of one [murder victim] runs into that of the other. Therefore the land will be destroyed and all who dwell in it will be put in misery.” The “inhabitants of the land” who are involved in earthly affairs see up close the various events that unfold in the earthly realm. They can easily take stock of their actions and see for themselves the rampant evildoing being committed and the punishment that comes in its wake. They are in a better position to recognize what is happening than those involved in Torah wisdom.
2. Moshe declares (Devarim 32:18): “You ignored the Rock who gave birth to you, and forgot the God who brought you forth.” The Maggid brings out the idea behind this verse with a famous parable. Reuven owed Shimon $1,000. Shimon was pressing Reuven heavily for payment. Reuven he sought advice from Levi to push Shimon off. Levi told Reuven that when Shimon shows up he should act like a crazy person, muttering and whistling and dancing around. Shimon showed up, Reuven put on the act, and Shimon concluded that Reuven was crazy and left him alone. Some time later, Reuven borrowed money from Levi. The time came for payment, Levi showed up to collect, and Reuven started putting on the crazy person act. Levi took his stick, gave Reuven a hard whack, and exclaimed: “Fool! I’m the one who taught you this trick. Do you think you can use it on me?”
The parallel is as follows. The Midrash teaches that Hashem granted man the trait of forgetfulness for his own benefit (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah 615 and Nach 968): “Had the Holy One Blessed Be He not hidden from man [i.e., caused people to forget] the day of death, people would not build houses or plant vineyards, for they would say, ‘Tomorrow I may die, so should I toil for others?’ Therefore He hid from man the day of death, so that people would build and plant.” Accordingly, for a person to take this trait of forgetfulness and use it to forget Hashem is the height of contemptibility.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Vayeilech – Shabbos Shuvah

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 6 (end)
The second half of Tehillim 19 speaks of the greatness of the Torah. David HaMelech declares (ibid. 19:8): “Hashem’s Torah is perfect, restoring the soul; Hashem’s testimony is trustworthy, making the simple wise.” We can explain this statement as follows. David began by stating that “the heavens relate God’s glory” (ibid. 19:2), for a person who contemplates them. Similarly, Yeshayah declares (verse 40:26): “Lift your eyes upward and see who created these – who brings forth their legions by number, He calls to each of them by name. By the abundance of His power and the firmness of His strength, not one is missing.” The wonders of creation provide is a powerful mechanism for opening a person’s eyes and heart and firmly instilling within him genuine faith. But they have this effect only on a person who stops to contemplate them, and not one who ignores them.
The holy Torah is different. The Torah’s wisdom calls out and beckons to a person from the heavens. Even if a person has in mind to shun the Torah’s path, the Torah’s sublime teachings will bring him back. The Torah will, so to speak, spread its wings and gather him in. This is what David means when he says that the Torah restores the soul and makes the simple wise. [The Hebrew verb להשיב that appears in Tehillim 19:8, which means to bring back or to restore has the same grammatical root as the verb לשוב, meaning to come back (that is, to return, in the intransitive sense) and to repent. The opening word of this week’s haftarah, שובה, is the imperative form of this verb. The same root is shared by the word תשובה, meaning repentance.] And this is the portion of the person who contemplates his own existence and the existence of everything else in the world; through such contemplation a person gains knowledge from within his own self of the existence of the Creator. A person contemplates himself and ascertains that he is a being that came into existence through an act of volition, and that did not necessarily have to exist, and this gives him a clear sign of his Creator, a being that must always have existed and must always continue to exist forever. It is just like the way a drawing testifies to the one who drew it. Further, any trait that man possesses, such as wisdom and intellect, Hashem must also possess. As it is written (ibid. 94:9): “The One who implanted the ear, does He not hear? The One who fashioned the eye, does He not gaze forth?”
Let us return to the verse from Tehillim 139 that we quoted previously (verse 14): “I acknowledge You, for I am awesomely, wondrously fashioned; wondrous are Your works, and my soul knows it well.” In addition to the idea we brought out from this verse before, we can draw from it another lofty idea. The idea is based [if I am reading the Maggid correctly] on the fact that the phrase אודך על כי נוראות נפלאתי, which in the context of the verse means “I acknowledge You, for I am awesomely, wondrously fashioned” can also be rendered homiletically as “I thank you, for I am set apart from signs of awesomeness.” The idea we wish to put forward is that Hashem, out of His great kindness, overrode man’s natural tendencies (that is, the tendencies that he would have according the general rules governing the workings of the world) and blunted the degree of fear of Him that man would naturally have had. In Avos 3:1, Akavya ben Mehalallel teaches: “Look upon three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, and where you are going, and before whom you will in the future have to render an accounting.” In truth, the fear of Hashem that we naturally should have goes well beyond the fear of death. The angels have an intense recognition of Hashem’s awesomeness and power, so much so that, as the Gemara in Chagiggah 13b teaches, the sweat of the Chayos [a type of angel] forms the River Dinur. We do not have the capability to withstand this degree of recognition and remain alive. It is one of the wonders of creation that our recognition of Hashem’s awesomeness is obscured, and we have Him to thank for this. Hashem placed in each person’s hand the choice of what degree of recognition he will maintain, according to what he is able to take a grasp of and bear. The more a person expands his mind and increases his ability to withstand feelings of fear of Hashem, the more fear of Hashem he will feel.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Shabbos Parashas Nitzavim

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaDaas (Gate of the Intellect), Chapter 6 (continued)
Let us give an analogy. Reuven and Shimon were walking in an unsettled desert through which no man had ever passed before. Reuven lost an object, and Shimon found it. Reuven asked Shimon to give him back the object. Shimon replied: “Give me a sign that it is yours.” Reuven retorted: “Even without a sign, surely you must know it is mine.” Shimon asked: “How?” Reuven explained: “You know that it isn’t yours. So it must be that it’s mine, since you and I are the only people here. What do you need signs and proofs for?”
It is the same with the question of the existence of a creator. There are two possible types of entities: one that necessarily must exist and one that could exist and also could not exist. An entity of the first type has no creator that preceded it and brought it into being. An entity of the second type exists by virtue of the fact that an entity that existed before it willed that it exist and brought it into being at a certain time and place. Now decide for yourself: Are you a being of the first type or the second type? You know you are not of the first type. Indeed, you know you did not bring yourself into existence, and in fact you have only a tiny degree of knowledge of the processes through which you came into being. So it follows that you were brought into existence by some other being. There must be some other being that created you and everything else in existence. This other being is Hashem, the Eternal One, our gracious and merciful creator.
It is written (Tehillim 100:3): “Know that Hashem is God, He made us v’lo anachnu.” In the traditional written text, the word v’lo is written ולא (and not), but according to the traditional interpretation of the text it is to be understood as meaning ולו (and His). According to the traditional interpretation, the second half of the verse means “He made us and we are His,” whereas according to the written text it means, as the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 100:1 says, “He made us and not we” – we did not make ourselves. This is a deep teaching. We know innately that we did not make ourselves. We know that we do not have the capability of bringing ourselves into being, and, indeed, have little understanding of how we came into being.
The world is filled with a variety of creatures and objects, all mingled together and interacting with each other. The way they function is a marvel. Anyone who beholds them can see that they are the work of a skilled artisan, who manages the world with wisdom and arranges its various components with understanding.  David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 19:2): “The heavens relate God’s glory, and the firmament tells of His handiwork.” The creations on earth cannot properly discuss Hashem’s works, for they do not have the necessary knowledge. They are not even aware of how much they do not know. Man, however, has the wisdom and understanding to ponder his existence, his composition, and his capabilities, and is truly aware that he has no knowledge of his construction and has made no contribution to it. We quote David HaMelech again (ibid. 139:14): “I acknowledge You, for I am awesomely, wondrously fashioned; wondrous are Your works, and my soul knows it well.” David is saying that our souls know well that we do not know, along the lines of the saying: “The bottom line of what we know is that we do not know.”
Let us quote again from Tehillim 19 (verse 4): “There is no speech and there are no words; their voice is not heard.” We can bring out the idea here with an analogy. Suppose someone owes us money and we want to send an agent to the debtor to collect the debt. If the debtor is a deceitful person, we have to send an agent who is well skilled in talking to people and can argue with the debtor. But if the debtor is trustworthy, so that we know he will not deny the loan or push it off with a “come back later” tactic, we can even send an agent who is unable to speak. All the agent needs to do is present the bill of debt, and the debtor will pay right away. Similarly, if we had any serious intellectual basis for questioning Hashem’s existence, Hashem would have had to grant the heavens the power of speech so that they could testify that He exists. But since in fact we have nothing to say – there is no speech and there are no words – Hashem need not make the voice of the heavens heard.
David Zucker, Site Administrator