Chanukah The word Chanukah means dedication. It also means Chinuch - education. Rabbeinu Yona explains that Chinuch is more training than education. A person has to be trained or train himself to do the right thing. During the dedication or Chanukas HaMishkan in the desert, the Kohanim had blood from the Korban put on their foot and ear. The Netziv explains that the ear is to listen to guidance and the foot, which is Regel in pHebrew-the root word of habit, to be in the habit or to be dedicated to do the right thing. Chanukah is therefore a time to retrain ourselves to be dedicated to the Torah way of life.
THE WEEKLY PARSHA (Updated every week!) organized by Rabbi Yisroel Bodkins Bereishis After the Holiday season comes to a close, it sometimes leaves us feeling lost, “Now what do we do?” What we fail to realize is that Hashem gave us a day that has the aspects of all the holidays rolled into one and teaches us about it every year right after the holidays are over. That day is Shabbos. All the holidays and the entire year get their Kedusha from Shabbos. You can see the aspects of all the holidays in Shabbos. In Kiddush, we say Zecher Leyitzas Mitzraim - as we do on Pesach. In the morning Davening, we mention Kabbalas HaTorah which reminds us of Shavuos, when we say Yismach Moshe. We say Yismachu Vemalchuscha - mentioning G-d’s dominion as we do on Rosh Hashanah. The Gemarah Shabbos teaches us that any one who keeps Shabbos properly is forgiven for all their sins, just like on Yom Kippur. Lastly, we say Ufros Alianu Sukas Shelomecho at Maariv, mentioning Sukkos. G-D gave us this one day every week that is greater than all the holidays and we need to appreciate it.
The Torah tells us that Noach and his family worked day and night to feed and take care of the animals. Many of us have pets and know that you can put the required amount of food in the pen or a cage for a few days and most animals will take care of themselves. Rav Zaidel Epstien explains that Noach and his family were being trained for a whole new world. The world before the flood was a world of selfishness. Everything they did pointed to selfishness. What is immorality? Taking the physical enjoyment of marriage for personal gratification only, with no regard for others’ needs or benefit. What is Idol worship? It is not one G-d, our G-D; it’s my G-D, that I turn to for myself. Rashi says it was robbery that sealed their fate. The word used is not Gezeila, which means robbery. The word used is Chamas, which refers to forcibly taking something that the seller does not want to give - even if the money is paid in full. That, in the eyes of Hashem, is robbery because to switch ownership it must work for everyone - not just myself. This summed up the situation: it was all about me. Therefore, the thing that sealed their fate was Chamas; regarding spouses, property, everything, it’s all about me. Noach and his family had to build a brand-new world. In order the world not to go back into the same rut it was in before. The new forerunners had to be trained in the concept of “Olom Chesed Yibaneh”. The world is built on kindness and giving to others!
Lech Lecha When Lot and Avraham split up, Lot wanted to make a complete break, as Rashi says: “He distanced himself from the “Kadmon” of the world, meaning Hashem. He said "I want no part of Avraham or his G-D." It would seem from this that Lot wanted a complete break with Avraham. Yet when the Malachim came to Sodom, they met Lot and he invited them to his home at great personal risk, since having guests was outlawed in Sodom. Not only that, he made Matza for them since it was Pesach.Does this sound like someone who wants no part of Hashem? In order to understand Lot, we need to see the beginning of the split that he had with Avraham. Rashi says that that the shepherds of Lot were stealing from everyone else, and Avraham’s shepherds were trained not to take what didn't belong to them. Therefore, Lot went to settle until Sodom; he did not go to Sodom at first. He was situated between Avraham and Sodom. He never said, "I want no part of Hashem". What he meant was that he couldn't take Avraham and his approach to G-D, but Sodom was too evil. He needed something in between, therefore he went “until Sodom". He wanted to be at a level that was in between Avraham and Sodom. He liked the rituals and the guests, but didn't want Hashem to encompass every aspect of his life. The first line in Mesilas Yesharim, The Path of the Just, written by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, outlines for us the role of every Jew in the world. A Jew needs to know what he has to focus on with everything he does throughout his whole life. We need to live and act according to the Torah with every facet of our lives. Everyone needs to ask himself : “Am I a Lot-style Jew or an Avraham-style Jew?” Don’t forget, Lot eventually moved to Sodom itself and was lost completely from the ways of Avraham.
Vayera When the Torah said Avraham planted an Eshel, Rashi brings a Machlokes, a disagreement between Rav and Shmuel. One says it is an orchard, taking the word planted literally, and one said it should be translated as an inn. Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that they are similar in the fact that they are both anchored into the ground in a way that they cannot move. However, a building is very different because it does not produce fruit, so the question becomes how could you call building an inn a planting? Rav Moshe answered that when it came to the acts of Chessed, kindness, of Avraham, it was the exact same thing as planting because he was getting fruit. The fruit refers to his future generations who follow his example of kindness. When our children see us helping others, they learn from us and copy our ways. When we see our children helping others, we are literally seeing the fruits of our labor.
Chaya Sora Eliezer is called a "Moshel B'kol Asher Lo" translated, "He ruled over all that was his." The Midrash explains this to mean that Eliezer, like his master Avraham, was in complete control of his Yetzer Hara. Why then are we told that Eliezer had an inner struggle before praying for help in finding a wife for Yitzchak? This inner struggle, says Rashi, was that Eliezer wanted Yitzchak for his own daughter. If he was in control of his Yetzer Hara and completely selfless as Avraham was, why then did he have this struggle? Rav Yisroel Salanter answers that Eliezer differed from Avraham in that Avraham's only desire in life was to do the right thing in the eyes of Hashem, Eliezer had that concept but still had and inner fight to get there. In the end, they were at the same place but Avraham had developed that trait to such an extent that there was no inner fight whatsoever
The Midrash tells us that Eisav's weakness was his lack of ablilty see past the surface. When he saw the lentil soup that Yaakov was cooking, he said “Give me that red, red stuff”. Yaakov explained to him that he was making it for their father Yitzchak who was in mouning for his father Avraham. This is when Eisav's belief system fell apart. He wondered, “How could a Tzadik like my grandfather die?” Eisav could not grasp the concept of Olom Haba - the world to come - because he only saw the surface. In the same way, he could not grasp the importance of serving in the Beis Hamikdash as a first born because there was no Beis Hamikdash yet. He said, “I am going to die. Why do I need the to be first born?” What he meant was that by the time there is a Beis Hamikdash, he will be long gone so how would he benefit. He couldn’t understand the idea of Techias Hamaisim, revival of the dead, in the future. Eisav is focused on the surface and the here and now, while a Jew recognizes that there is a lot more to life than what the eyes can see.
Vayeitze The power of a good word! Yaakov was running from Eisav. He was on his way to Lavan, whom he knew to be untrustworthy. Things looked very bleak for Yaakov. On his way, he laid down to sleep and he had a dream where Hashem promised to protect him, guide him. and that the Jewish nation will come from him. The next morning, the Possuk says, "Vayisa Yaakov es Raglov - and Yaakov lifted up his feet". After being encouraged. he had new energy to keep going and face his new challenges. We learn from here the power of just a word of support and encouragement.
The Eitz Yosef on the Midrash asks a very obvious question. When Yaakov hears that Eisav is coming with 400 leaders, each with his own battalion, he is afraid. The question is: Exactly, what is Yaakov afraid of? When a person understands that the whole world is only a facade and Hashem is in charge, there is nothing to fear but Hashem Himself. Showing fear in Eisav is a lack in Bitachon faith and trust in Hashem. What was Yaakov afraid of? The Eitz Yosef answers that when Yaakov heard about these thousands of soldiers, he thought that in order to have that much honor and power, Eisav has Zechusim - merits. Yaakov modestly thought that his own merits could not stand up against Eisav’s. Yaakov never thought that it was a battle of physical ability, because it never is!
Yosef's master recognized that Hashem was with Yosef in everything he did. The Ramban says that Yosef's master saw in a dream or just saw the Shechina on Yosef and that Hashem was with him and that is what made Yosef successful. Rashi says that the name of Hashem was always on Yosef’s lips. He would always say Boruch Hashem or Bezras Hashem. Rav Rottman explains that these two opinions do not contradict, but compliment each other. Whoever constantly has Shem Shamayim on his lips, and therefore realizes everything is from Hashem, will have Hatzlacha in everything he does.
Yosef asked the wine steward two times to mention his name to Paroah. As a result, he was punished with an additional two years in prison. The fact that he asked the steward twice showed his lack of Bitachon, faith, in Hashem. Rav Chaim Brisker once asked a Talmid how many years after the prescribed 10 would Yosef had to have been in prison if he only asked the steward once? The Talmid answered he would only have to serve one additional year instead of two. To this, Rav Chaim answered that the correct answer was that Yosef would serve only the 10 years without any additional punishment. Rav Chaim explained that we have a Mitzva of Hishtadlus, which means putting in the effort, but we have to always remember that the results have nothing to do with the effort. The results are purely in the hands of Hashem. When asking the wine steward, Yosef, on some small level, showed a lack of absolute faith in Hashem. He thought that his effort directly affected the outcome instead of recognizing that the effort put forth does not influence Hashem's Divine plan.
Vayigash In Parshas Vayeshev, Yosef asks the wine steward who is being released from prison to mention his name to Pharoah and get him out of prison. We said in Parshas Miketz that Yosef was punished with an extra two years for relying on a person instead of Hashem. In this week’s Parsha, however, we see a complete turnaround. When the brothers are mortified over what they did to him Yosef says, “It wasn’t you!” He fully recognized that Hashem is in control and man is only a tool. Through it all he is called Yosef Hatzaddik. Shlomo Hamelech wrote in Mishlie “Sheva Pamim Nafal Tzadik Vekam - The righteous one falls seven times and gets up.” In other words, what makes someone a Tzadik? Not the perfection, but the falling and the never giving up!
The Parshios that deal with Yosef are Parshios that teach us the secret to living a happy life. Yosef was thrown into a pit, sold multiple times until he arrived in Egypt, sold into slavery, thrown into jail, and separated from everything he knew and loved. And yet, when he reached a point of power and had the opportunity to take revenge on his brothers, he told them he was not angry at them! How is that possible? He said, "You didn't send me here, G-D did." He realized everything is from Hashem. There is a divine will and reason to everything so there is no reason to be afraid or angry. When I was young, we had a poodle that was beaten by its previous owners. Every time we took out the broom, he'd run up to the broom, bark, and run away. He looked at the broom as the object that hurt him and did not realize that the cause of his pain was the one holding the broom. Unfortunately, many times we do the same; we look at the situation and not the one who really controls it. We look around and we find a lot of reasons to be afraid. If we would only realize it’s all from Hashem, we too could live a happy life!
There is a famous MIdrash that tells us that when the daughter of Pharaoh stuck out her hand to bring baby Moshe to safety, her hand stretched out many Amos in order to reach him. What many of us may not know is that the MIdrash says that when Pharaoh's daughter wanted to save him, her maidservants tried to convince her otherwise and they died on the spot. That is why the Midrash explains that her arm extended many Amos, because she had no one to retrieve the basket other than herself. The rabbis teach us an incredible lesson from here. How did she think she could save the basket that was beyond her reach? She taught us that when we want to do what’s right, we need to try as hard as we can. Success and failure are not in our hands only the effort. To quote a profound line from a good friend, “Our job are the verbs, let Hashem decide the nouns.
The MIdrash Rabba asks two obvious questions about the time Moshe showed a snake to Pharoah. Firstly, why did Moshe produce a Tanin, a serpent, instead the other two signs he was shown. Secondly, why do we use the word Tanin instead of the more common word - Nachash. The Midrash answers that Moshe was mocking Pharoah. The Tanin was a large and extremely dangerous serpent that lived in the Nile, and people were afraid of it. Being that the Nile was an idol for Egypt, the Egyptians worshipped this serpent as well. Pharoah in his arrogance called himself the Tanin Hagadol, the Great Serpent. Aharon turned a stick into a Tanin and then back into a stick, as if to say to Pharoah, “You consider yourself a serpent - able to cause great harm on your own, when actually you are nothing more than a staff, which is just a tool in the hands of the master who uses it at will.” We look at our political leaders as people of power, when they are nothing more than tools in the hands of Hashem who uses them at will.
Bo It says in this week’s Parsha, Hashem tells Moshe, “Go to Pharaoh because I hardened his heart.” The question that needs to be asked is: What does hardening Pharaoh’s heart have to do with going to Pharaoh to get permission for the Jews to go? The answer is: Hashem was telling Moshe, “I know you have had a rough time with Pharaoh and that it seems to be a waste of time to go and ask again. Don’t worry, I’m the one that is running everything, I’m the one that is causing everything. Therefore, go and try, and don’t be scared of Pharaoh, since I won’t let anything happen to you.” There is a story that explains this: In an amusement park, one of the attractions was a haunted house. As in all parks, there were rules that only older kids were allowed to enter. On line to enter, there was one young boy, much younger than the required age. When people went to him and asked him, “Why are you going in? Aren’t you going to be scared inside?” He responded, “My father is the one that is in charge of the controls. I know that if I get too scared and yell, my father will just turn on the lights and show me that there is nothing to be afraid of.” This is the same with Hashem. We must always remember that Hashem is in control and he has the ability to turn on the ”lights” and show us that there is nothing to be afraid of. If we remember this all the time, it will help us when life turns difficult. It gives us strength to handle anything that comes our way.
Beshalach The Jewish people are introduced to the Day of Shabbos through the Miracle of the Mann. The first day the Mann began to fall was on Sunday, and from then on everyone got exactly what each needed for that day. On Friday, however, everyone got twice that amount, one for Friday and one for Shabbos. When asked why, Moshe taught the people about the laws of Shabbos. They can’t collect, bake or cook, so it all has to be done on Friday. The Midrash tells us that not only was there a double portion of Mann, but the quality of the Mann that fell for Shabbos was better than the Mann during the week. Because of this, we do many things on Shabbos to remember the Mann, such as making a Bracha on two Challahs at each meal, covering the Challahs, and eating Kugel. The question is why are Shabbos and the Mann so closely tied together? The Mann was a gift of love from Hashem to the Jewish people. It was even gift wrapped with a layer of crystalized dew underneath it and on top. Shabbos is also a gift of love from Hashem, as Hashem told Moshe, “Tell the Jewish people I have a great gift in my storehouse; it’s called Shabbos.” So every Shabbos, the day of love from Hashem, we are reminded of the love He showed us in the desert. Yisro In this week’s Parsha we are given the Aseres Ha'Dibros, the 10 statements that encompass all 613 commandments. In it we are told Zachor Es Yom Ha'Shabbos - Remember the Shabbos. Later in Parshas V'Eschanan, the Aseres Ha'Dibros are repeated but instead of the words Zachor Es Yom Ha'Shabbos, we read Shomer Es Yom Ha'Shabbos - Guard the Shabbos. We are taught that these two terms, Zachor and Shomer, were said simultaneously by G-D to show that "Remembering" the Shabbos, which represents the positive commandments of Shabbos, and "Guarding" the Shabbos, which represents the negative commandments of Shabbos are equally as important. There are many positive and negative Mitzvos in the Torah that are of equal standing, why did Hashem single out these two to be said simultaneously? Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus says that when we are taught that they are equal, we are not saying that they just carry the same weight, but that they are one and the same. The reason for positive commandments in general is to bring us closer to Hashem, but the regular purpose of a negative commandment is to avoid those things which will damage our souls. We cannot compare the negative commandments of Shabbos to a regular negative commandment. We can understand that eating something not kosher is damaging to our souls, but how is writing a letter that I am able to write all week long in the same category? Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus explains that the negative commandments on Shabbos accomplish the same goal as the positive commandments. The positive commandments of Shabbos bring us a spiritual connection to Hashem, our life’s blood, and the negative commandments take away any obstructions to this conection. It’s as if a person’s oxygen is coming through a window that is covered by a painting, no matter how nice that painting is, it is a matter of life and death to remove that painting. Even if the action is considered a Mitzvah during the week such as writing down Torah thoughts, it is blocking our connection to the spirituality of Shabbos. Therefore, Zachor and Shomer are said simultaneously to show they are equally as crucial to attain our connection to Hashem and His Shabbos. Mishpatim
This week’s Parsha begins with the letter Vav, the letter that always connects to what was previously stated -like the word and. How is the last subject of last week’s Parsha which is the Mitzvah to make a ramp to go up to the Mizbe’ach (the Altar) and not to take large steps. This week’s Parsha deals with interpersonal laws. The Medrash says that when a person walks up to the Mizbe’ach he can't take big steps. So too, when a judge decides a case, he has to work slowly and deliberately. The Medrash explains that the reason for the small steps is to ensure Tznius, modesty. Similarly, when deciding a case, if a person is too quick to judge it shows a lack of modesty and is inconsiderate to others. This applies to all situations when dealing with others: not to make quick judgements, but to think things through. Rav Sholom Shwadron, the famous Maggid of Yerushalayim was fond of saying "Pi Hamihirut Charatah -The outcome of rushing is regret.”
Teruma The Midrash tells us that when Hashem instructed Moshe to build the Mishkan he asked Hashem how could the Jewish People, a slave nation that just got out of Egypt, be expected to build such an incredible edifice. Hashem answered that any single Jew could build the Mishkan alone. Moshe's question at first glance seems almost heretical, how could he think Hashem, who is able to accomplish anything, not be able to give the Jewish people the ability to build the Mishkan? The commentators explain that was not what Moshe meant by his question. Moshe was asking how could human beings build a structure that can house the infinite being of Hashem. Hashem answered that the Mishkan is not a home for G-D but rather a conduit for us to interact with G-D. Therefore, Hashem continued, every Jew can become that conduit. As the Torah tell us V"Asu Li Mikdash Veshochanti B'tocham - Make for me a Mikdash and I will live in you. It should have said live in it. By saying "live in you" Hashem is telling us that we have an obligation to make ourselves into the type of person that the divine presence of G-D, can connect with. Tetzaveh
Why do the Parshios that deal with the Mishkan always fall out around Purim? The Mishkan or Breis Hamikdash is the house we build for Hashem's Divine Presence on earth, and Purim is the time when we recognize Hashem's Divine Presence in our earthly pursuits and his day to day miracles. It is through looking closely at the seemingly non miraculous story of the Megillah that we see Hashem's hand in our daily affairs. The Name of the month itself signifies this theme. It is Adar. The word Dar means to dwell and Adar means I will dwell! One of the most important lessons of the Megillah is to have absolute faith in Hashem, and never to give up. We tend to miss one of the prime examples of this. Esther is taken by the king’s guards to the palace .She prays with all her heart NOT to be taken as his wife. She calls upon the merits of her ancestors and her cousin Mordachai. She says she;d rather live a life of solitude rather than intermarry. After all her fervent prayers, she is forced to marry the king. She doesn’t see the reason for years while she is playing the role of the Persian queen and secretly remaining a devout Jew. What would be the reaction of many people in our time? G-d didn’t listen to my prayers! I give up!
Esther knew there was a reason and was ready to wait as long as needed for Hashem to show her and reveal His plan.
After Hashem explained the intricate details of making the Mishkan, Moshe assumed it was his job to put it together. Hashem told Moshe it would not be his job since he is the Melech, the king, of the Jewish people. The Passuk then says, "See that I have called by name Betzalel ben Uri Ben Chur from the tribe of Yehuda." Why does the Passuk use the words, "See that I have called”? Moshe felt the reason he wasn't given the job to make the Mishkan was that because he had such a hard time understanding the Menorah that Hashem had to make it for him, Afterwards, Moshe felt he wasn't worth to build the Mishkan. Hashem then showed Moshe a book that shows every one’s place and purpose from the creation of Adam until the end of time. Betzalel was destined to make the Mishkan from the beginning. But if we all have our purpose since the beginning of time, how do we have freedom of choice? The answer is: One of the questions we will be asked at the time of judgment is, “Did you fulfill your purpose and potential in this world?” Your free choice is taking the talents you were given to enable you to do all that you were created for.
According to Medrash Rabbah the Shoresh or root of the word Karban is Yakar which means precious.Our Karbanos are precious in the eyes of our creator, but more so we his people are precious in G-d's eyes. The Medrash points out how much Hashem payed for us when he took us out of Egypt. He turned over nature for us. This is how much Hashem values us.
A poor person brings a bird for a קרבן and it is burnt with its feathers. רש'י says that there is no worse smell than burning feathers, and yet that is how it is burned on the מזבח , feathers and all. This shows 'ה's love for the poor man’s קרבן . What still sounds a bit strange is that the term ריח ניחוח לה' is used. This is in no way a ריח ניחוח ( sweet smell). In any case, why is any קרבן called ריח ניחוח ? Does 'ה really care about the smell? The answer is that the term ריח ניחוחcan be understood as נחת רוח , a sense of pride and good feeling. When we do the will of 'ה we are giving Him נחת רוח. This is the same way a parent feels when you present them with a good meal out of love and appreciation. Tzav I just heard a Natziv that said that the final war won't be a real war, but a disease. Also the final Geula will be like the like first Geula. In the first Geula from Mitzraim, the Jewish people were not allowed out of their homes on the night of the Seder, the same way we will have to stay in our homes for this Pesach. May this be our last Pesach in Golus!
Moshe spoke to Aharon, his children, and the elders. The Midrash explains why he spoke to the elders when it was only for Aharon and his sons. The Elders of the Jewish people are like the wings of a bird. Without wings, the bird could not exist. We need to bring the elders into our lives as much as we can. The Midrash continues to say that even though elders means Talmudic scholars, it also means true elders – youth is a handicap. A person cannot be a true Talmid Chacham when he is young. How appropriate for TOP! Tazria-Metzora
The main discussion in this week's Parsha is the punishment of Tzoras. Tzoras is an ailment, which shows up as some form of white patches on a person's skin. It comes from seven specific Aveiros that deal with arrogance. It is interesting to notice how the disease and its cure are humbling. The person gets white spots on his skin, clothing, or home. If it's on the home, the first step is that he has to empty out his home and wait for the diagnosis from a Kohain. If the Kohain says Tameh, the wall where the Tzoras is gets destroyed. If it comes back, his home is destroyed. If the Tzoras on his clothing is Tameh, his clothing is burned, and if it's on his skin, he needs to let his hair grow out, rip his clothing, and yell out to people, "I am Tameh!". He must keep away from everyone else so as not to pass on the Tumah. All this is humiliating and humbling. The primary sin for which someone gets Tzoras is Loshon Hara, slander and gossip. If we think about what we are going through right now it is very similar. We are afraid of passing on the Coronavirus and we have to keep away from each other. It is therefore not surprising that the Gadol Hador, Rav Chaim Kanievsky said that right now we need to work on our Middos, especially the Middah of humility, and be very careful to not speak Loshon Hara.
Acharei Mos-Kedoshim This week we are given the Mitzvah of Mipnay Sayva Takum Vehodarta Pinie Zaken -You should rise in the presence of an old person and you should honor the presence of an elder. What is the difference between a Sayva and a Zaken? Rashi explains that a Zaken is a Torah scholar and a Sayva is an actual old person. If so, why do we have to honor an old person who is not a scholar? It seems from the way the Torah places the two, they should get an equal amount of honor, but the old person doesn’t need to know anything to deserve this honor. We tend to forget in this country that elderly people deserve respect for the life experiences they’ve had. Their knowledge exceeds our own in many ways, just because they’ve seen so much more than we have. The Torah teaches us that old age is something to be proud of and respected! Emor There are seemingly two completely different ideas going on during this time of year. One is the Mitzvah of Counting the Omer, which connects Pesach to Shavuos and shows our enthusiasm about receiving the Torah. It helps prepare us for our acceptance of the Torah. At the same time when we should be happy, this is a mourning period. Many centuries after we received the Torah, during the same time of year, twelve thousand pairs of Rabbi Akiva’s students passed away. For this reason, we show a partial mourning by not getting married, not taking haircuts, and not listening to music. We have a habit of relating the two by saying, “You can’t do this because of Sefiras HaOmer”, when in actuality, it has nothing to do with Sefira. There is, however, a problem with the previous statement because nothing happens without Divine Intervention. So why then did this terrible tragedy take place at a time that should be very happy? In order to answer this question, we need to know who these students were and what they did to deserve this punishment. This tragedy took place at the time when the Oral Torah was just that, oral. It was not written down at all but given over from one generation to the next – teacher to student, father to son. Each generation had the awesome responsibility to be the next link and to keep an unbroken chain of the Oral Torah, and teach it to the next generation. Every generation had its leaders who were the source of the Oral Torah. Rabbi Akiva’s students were supposed to be that source. Had Rabbi Akiva not found another five students to teach the entire Oral Torah, it would have been lost. They were more than just students, they were a vital link in a long chain that stretched all the way back to Mt. Sinai. In the last chapter of Pirkei Avos, it lists the 48 ways that we acquire Torah. Of course, some of these ways are hard work, minimal sleep, minimal enjoyment, discussion, listening, and so on. Many of the ways have nothing to do with work, but encourage positive behavior like giving the benefit of doubt, loving people, loving charity, helping people, giving credit to others, and so on. This is strange because Torah is intellectual and being successful at it should have nothing to do with the way a person acts. The reason is because, unlike other intellectual pursuits, mastery in Torah is the highest spiritual level a person can obtain, and in order to obtain it – you need to be deserving of it. The Gemara says that the students of Rabbi Akiva were punished for not showing the proper respect to each other. Consequently, they did not fulfill many of the 48 ways completely and were therefore unworthy of being part of the golden chain. The days of Sefiras HaOmer are days that we are suppose to be preparing to receive the Torah. We do this by working on the “48 ways”. The fact that the students of Rabbi Akiva died at this time shows us what is important as far as our success in acquiring Torah.
I I always find it amazing how very often the weekly Parsha is connected to the time of year. Last Shabbos, which was the Shabbos before Lag Ba'Omer, the Parsha talked about the Mitzva of Sefiras Ha'Omer. This week, the Shabbos after Lag' Ba'Omer which marks the end of the plague that claimed the lives of Rebbe Akiva's 24,000 students, it talks about the sin of verbal abuse. We know the reason that the students of Rebbe Akiva died was their lack of mutual respect.
אַל־תּוֹנ֖וּ אִ֥ישׁ אֶת־אָחִֽיו A man shall not oppress his friend. The Medrash learns this Passuk to mean verbal abuse. A person needs to be very careful not to hurt another person’s feelings through words. Although the secular world is fond of saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”, the Torah teaches us the opposite.The Torah teaches us: "HaChaim Vehamoves Byad Haloshon - life and death are in the hands of the tongue!" The Shem M’Shmuel explains that the power of speech is a spiritual power and is, therefore, more powerful than any other power we possess. We need to use this power responsibly. Bamidbar Why is the Tribe of Levi shown more respect until this very day? When the Jewish people sinned at the golden calf only the tribe of Levi remained steadfast and unaffected. When Moshe called out after his return, "Who is for G-D, come to me!" the entire tribe of Levi came. G-D said, "They come for me, I will be there for them forever. Levi resisted all pressures from the rest of the people and dedicated themselves purely form the sake of G-D and His Torah. G-d, in turn, considers their descendants as his personal servants for all time. As we approach Shavuos in a time that we are each on our own in many ways, it is time to consider and reflect on our own level of service to G-D and his Torah. Naso Why are the families of Levi counted individually and then we are told the sum, can't we figure out the sum on our own? The Eitz Chaim on the Medrash answers that Hashem loves each one of us individually and as a group. Like a collector of precious gems, he counts how many gems he has, but at the same time he looks at each gem individually. In the same way, every Jew has their personal qualities that needs to be appreciated. However, very often the greatness of each person only shows itself to its fullest when we are together as a unit. How appropriate this Eitz Chaim is for our situation now and in regards to our senior citizens in general. Many of us are separated from the community right now and have had to rely on our own strengths and creativity to learn Torah and serve Hashem. It has made many of us stronger in some ways, how much more so can we use these new strengths and ideas when we can be counted together as a community again. At the same time when we are feeling isolated, we should remember our brothers and sisters who are in this situation all the time in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. It is the goal of the Torah Outreach Program to try to help each one of our participants realize their own potential to come close to Hashem, and at the same time reconnect them to the Jewish community! Bahaloscha In this week's Parsha, Aharon is commanded to light the Menorah in the Mishkan and later his descendants were given the same privilege in the Bais Hamikdash. The Midrash asks: Why does G-D, who is the master and keeper of all light, need us to light candles for Him? The Midrash answers with a parable. A man who could see was helping a blind man home. When they got to the dark house, the man who could see asked the blind man to go in and light the candles for him. The blind man asked, “Why, if you can help me all the way home, do you need me to light up the house for you?” The man answered that I didn't want you to feel that I did you a favor for nothing. The Midrash continues and says we are the blind man groping in the dark and Hashem is the one who can see. He gives us the Mitzvah of Menorah and all the Mitzvos so we can feel we are earning the tremendous care He gives us all the time in this world and the next. Shlach We are taught that the reason the story regarding the spies comes right after the story with Miriam getting punished for speaking Loshon Hara is to show that spies should have taken the lesson of Miriam to heart, but sadly did not. The question I've always had is: Is it possible that the reason the story of the spies comes right after the story with Miriam is because that's when it happened chronologically? The Imrie Yosher on the Midrash brings a beautiful lesson from the Sefer Ha'Akieda. The people only asked to send in spies at the border of Eretz Yisroel. Why didn't they ask right away when they began traveling or at one of the previous stops? Answers the Sefer Ha'Akieda: Hashem knew the spies were going to want to speak bad of Eretz Yisroel. Therefore, He suppressed the urge of the people to ask for spies until after Miriam was punished, thereby giving them the chance to learn from her mistake. Things happen around us all the time and we have an obligation to open our eyes and learn the lessons that Hashem is trying to show us. Korach
It is the power of speech that shows our spiritual essence and raises us above the animals. Therefore learning Torah which is done with the mouth and human intellect is equal to all 613 Mitzvos combined. On the other hand, the great power that comes through speech can also cause the most destruction. We saw this in last week's Parsha the horrible damage that the spies caused with their words, and the destruction that came through speech in this week's Parsha. Entire families of men, women, and even children were swallowed up by the earth due to harmful speech and useless arguments. Chukas-Balak Although this D'var Torah was said last year and I usually like to share new ideas with each Parsha, I feel this is important for all of us to hear this D'var Torah right now. One of the main themes of last week's Parsha was showing that Moshe did nothing of his own accord; everything he did or said was directly from Hashem's instructions. Therefore, there was never a reason to direct complaints against Moshe since he was only the messenger. Why then in this week's Parsha as the people get tired of the journey and the Mann, do they complain about Moshe again? The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh answers that their complaint was very different this time and they did learn their lesson. The Torah says, "Va'Yidaber Ha'am B'Elokim Ub'Moshe - The people spoke out about Hashem and Moshe”. They realized that everything is from Hashem, but they were upset with Moshe for not Davening to take them on a less circuitous route. Their mistake was not realizing, "Kol Maa Da'avid Rachmana Letav Avid - Everything G-D does is for the best".
The Midrash points out a specific reason that the story regarding Tzelafchad’s daughters asking for their inheritance for land is written after a statement that everyone from the previous generation had died because they believed the spies evil report and did not want to enter Eretz Yisroel. This, says the Midrash, is showing us that the woman of that generation tried to rebuild everything the men tried to tear down. The Midrash gives several examples of this. At the Egel Hazahav, the women would not give up their jewelry to build the Egel. Even more so, they argued with the men. We also see when the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, the men wanted to give up and stop having children and it was their wives who never gave up. When the spies came back, the men were scared and rebelled, but the women had faith and wanted to go in. This is an old story - the women of Klal Yisroelwhose faith has kept us alive. One of our residents recently passed away at the age of 103. She always came to our classes even after her hearing was completely lost. She always said what little she remembers about Yiddishkeit, she remembers from her Bobby who lived with her family as she was growing up. The Bobbies of Klal Yisroel are the backbone of our people, and TOP is here for those Bobbies!
The Midrash tells us that one of Moshe's last requests before he died was to see the revenge of Bilam. Bilam's plan to get the Jewish people to sin was responsible for the death of 24,000 Jewish men. Even so, why was this deserving as a last request? The commentary on the Midrash says that causing someone to sin is worse than murder, because murder only takes him out of this world, which is temporary, while committing sin takes him from the next world, which is infinite.
Devarim The Midrash compares the rebuke of Moshe to the nation to the praises of Bilam to the nation. The Midrash brings a verse from Proverbs," A man who rebukes will have others follow Hashem's ways more than one who has a smooth tongue". The Midrash explains the man who rebukes is Moshe and the one with the smooth tongue was Bilam who caused Yisroel to sin by becoming haughty with his praises. The problem with this is the people never knew about how Hashem forced Bilam to praise them so how could they become haughty. Bilam knew that Hashem becomes angry with us daily for only a second and he was trying to focus on that second in order to curse us. Hashem, in His kindness, did not get angry for a second during that time so as not to give Bilam the chance to be able to curse us. The Midrash explains that lack of anger was bad for the people because it is that daily moment of anger that gives us a healthy boost of Yiras Shamayim and without it we become haughty and we will fall. Rav Shimshon Pincus explains this with a Mashal, a parable. There was a boy who refused to give his father a hug. The father put on a bear costume and came in through the front door. The son panicked and ran to the back of the house. The father quickly took off the costume and came around through the back door. His son ran into his arms. As we come to Tisha B'Av and remember all the tragedies of our people, we must remember it’s all for one reason - Hashem wants that hug! Ve'eschanan This week’s Parsha repeats the Ten “Commandments” that were said originally in Parshas Yisro with certain additions and changes. The Oral Torah goes into in-depth explanations every time there is one of these changes or additions. We see a prime example of this in Parshas Yisro. We are told, “Zechor Es Yom Ha’Shabbos Lekadsho - Remember the Shabbos to keep it holy". In our Parsha here, V’Eschanan, we are told, “Shamor Es Yom Ha’Shabbos Lekadsho - Guard the Shabbos to keep it holy". There are many questions that arise regarding the two differences and many lessons to be learned. First of all, what’s the difference between Guard and Remember? To guard means to protect something from harm, to avoid the negative. To remember means to do something that will make us think about that thing, to promote the positive. Hence, Shamor is talking about the negative commandments of Shabbos, the things we are not allowed to do. Zachor is talking about the positive commandments of Shabbos, making Kiddush, dressing nicer, eating better, studying Torah, and resting. The reason one is said here and the other is said in Yisro is to teach us that they were actually said simultaneously by Hashem; something which is impossible for a man to do or even write. Why were they said simultaneously - to show that they are of equal importance. The laws of honoring, respecting, and enjoying Shabbos are equal to the laws that forbid work on the Holy Day. It is only through a combination of the two aspects of Shabbos that we can receive the full benefit of Shabbos! Eikev
Last week, we talked about the importance of recognizing that everything that happens is from Hashem. Even if we don’t recognize it, G-D is controlling everything that happens and has our ultimate best interests in mind. How can we strengthen this all-important belief in our minds and hearts? King David uses a verse from this week’s Parsha to give us a very useful tool, “Mah Hashem Elokecho Shoel Mimcha? Ki im L’yirah - What does your G-D want from you? Only to be in awe of Him.” Dovid Hamelech uses this as his source to decree the Rabbinic edict of making 100 Brachos a day. He said the word, “Mah”, which means what, can also be read as “Meah”, meaning 100. Why is a major rabbinic edict based on the play of a word that seems to have nothing to do with the edict? The answer is simple: Saying a Bracha 100 times a day is a constant reminder, or affirmation, that G-d is there. Baruch Atoh means bless you. I’m talking to G-D in the first person; He’s in front of me. He is the one that is giving the food I am about to eat or the experience I am about to have. If we were to think about these words 100 times a day when doing simple mundane things, such as every time we eat an ice cream or drink a coffee, we would have a constant reminder that we are in the presence of the Almighty! Re'eh When discussing the Mitzvah of giving Tzedaka, the Torah uses the words, "Poseach Tiftach Yadecha - You should surely open up your hand." Why does the word Poseach 'You should open' need to be repeated? Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that when a person gives, he should give in a way that he has no ownership to the gift. It belongs solely to the recipient. He gives an example from Yoav, the Chief Officer of Dovid Hamelech, who left his house open to anyone who wanted to take. Rav Abba is another example. He tossed money behind him, so the poor could take and he wouldn't know who took. This is giving with no strings attached.
Shoftim Near the end of the Parsha, the laws of war are discussed. Immediately after that, the Torah discusses what is done if a person is found murdered outside of a city and we don't know who the murderer is. In that case, the elders of the city are held responsible and beg Hashem for forgiveness. What is the connection between these two ideas? Whenever there is a war, there is also a mass of human casualties. The Torah was afraid that a person could become callous to the value of human life. Therefore, we are immediately taught the preciousness of every human life; to show us how we, as Jewish people, care for every life. As TOP enters its 7th year, we have constantly been reaching out to people that others have forgotten. We have had the privilege of bringing Yiddishkeit to people that others don't think about; the elderly, the sick, and the infirm. In approximately two and a half weeks we begin saying Slichos, where we ask Hashem "Al Tashlicheinu L'es Zikna - don't send us away when we are old." Shouldn't we demonstrate what we ask from Hashem? This is the mantra of the Torah Outreach Program.
Ki Teitze A couple of weeks ago, we read in Parshas Eikev, the Passuk “Mah Hashem Elokecho Shoel Mimcha? Ki im L’yirah - What does Hashem ask of you, but to fear him? Dovid Hamelech uses this Passuk as a play on a word to show us we need to make 100 Brachos a day. Don’t read the word “Mah”, which means what, but read it as 'Meah', which means 100. Hashem wants 100 Brachas a day to fear him. Besides the likeness in the wording, what does making 100 Brachos a day have to do with fearing Hashem? What Dovid Hamelech was telling us was that making 100 Brachos a day will teach us to fear Hashem. How so? 100 times a day we are saying, “Bless you Hashem”, as if we are talking to someone standing right next to us. As a matter of fact, Rav Areyah Rottman ZT’L points out that this almost sounds like Chutzpa. When speaking to a Rav or teacher we are accustomed to speak in the third person, and when speaking to Hashem we speak in first person? The answer Rav Rottman ZT’L gives is that when we make a Bracha we are reminding ourselves that Hashem is right next to me. Speaking in third person would not convey the same message. Making a Bracha 100 times a day is our affirmation that Hashem is there looking over our shoulder all the time. Therefore, even mundane activities such as eating a chocolate, or drinking a cup of coffee, are infused with holiness as we make our exclamation that Hashem is with us. Dovid Hamelech not only chose this Passuk because of the similarity of words, but to hint to us that the way to roperly be in awe of Hashem and the feel the security that we are not alone is through our constant affirmation by making Brachos. This is why TOP just hosted Bracha parties in ten different senior facilities in the South Florida area. In order to teach our senior Jewish brothers and sisters, no matter what their religious background is, that Hashem is with them at all times. We at TOP would like to thank those who sponsored the parties. We are Mispalel that the Brachos and Ameinim made by our seniors stand as a Zechus for the many Cholim who need a Refuah, the singles who need to find their Zivugim, the people who need Parnasa, and the many other Yeshuos and Zechusim that we Davened for. These Brachos should be a Mailitz Yosher for all of us for a Chasiva V’chasima Tova and a year of Bracha and Hatzlacha!
There are 2 times in this week's Parsha that we are told how important it is to have gratitude. When bringing our first fruits to Yerushalayim, we are told. "You should rejoice with all the good that Hashem has done for you and your household." Later in the Parsha, in the middle of the rebuke, we are told that we will be punished for not serving Hashem with joy and a happy heart. Why all the emphasis on joy and gratitude, isn't it enough to just keep the Mitzvos? When Adam met Kayin after Kayin had murdered Hevel, Adam asked him, “What happened?” Kayin told Adam that he did Teshuva and he was forgiven. Adam hit himself on the head and said, "I wish I would have known the power of Teshuva!" He then wrote a poem about Teshuva called Mizmor Shir Leyom Hashabbos. If you look at the words, there is no mention of Teshuva, just words of gratitude. Because Adam understood at that moment that the best way to do Teshuva is through gratitude. When we recognize what Hashem does for us it makes us want to come closer to Him.
Nitzavim The Possuk states that, "This thing is very close to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart to do it." What is "This "Thing"? Rashi says that it is referring to learning Torah and The Ramban says that it is referring to Teshuvah - repentance. There is a Medrash Rabba that says this "Thing" that is "in your mouth" is the power of prayer. In actuality, these are three parts to the same relationship. We pray to Hashem in order to communicate our love for Him. We learn His Torah in order to hear what Hashem wants from us and how he shows us His love. Teshuvah is the remedy for when that relationship has been severed.
Vayelech In this week's Parsha, we are warned that Hashem will hide His face from us in our exile. It is our obligation to find Hashem in our daily lives. We need to look for G-d's hand in everything we do and all that happens to us. The more a person looks, the easier it is to find Him. As we move closer to Yom Kippur, we need to think of ways to bring more spirituality into our lives. A story is told of how the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov saw a little boy crying and asked him why. The boy responded that he was playing 'hide and seek’ and the boys couldn’t find him so they left the game while he was still hiding. After hearing this, the Rebbe also started to cry and said, “Hashem has been hiding for 2,000 years and we are still not looking for Him; Imagine how upset He must be!” Let us take a moment to look at our lives and “see” Hashem’s blessings.
This week the Parsha states the famous phrase "The Rock his work is complete" Why do we refer Hashem as a Rock? Rabbi Shamshon Refael Hirch explains that a rock is allegorical expression for the unchangeable and absolute power of overcoming everything. In other words Hashem is our constant. We mention the Posuk from this week's Parsha, "HaTzur Taamim Poalo" The Rock who work is perfect at a funeral. This is a state of absolute faith and consulation in the worst of times. We also use this term in Modim the prayer of thanksgiving that we say everyday. We call Hashem "Tzur Chayanu" The Rock of our lives, meaning the one constant that will never change and we can always rely on. No matter what happens Hashem is our Rock he is always there.
Vezos Habracha The Midash tells us that when Moshe died many of the greastest personalities of previous generations challenged Moshe. They said he was not as great as they were. One of the challengers was Noach, who said he was greater because when Hashem wanted to destroy the world he saved Noach and his family proving that he was the greatest of his generation. Moshe answered him that when Hashem was going to destroy the Jewish People over the Golden Calf, he prayed and saved them. He even put his own life on the line by asking Hashem to wipe him out also, and spoke very harshly to Hashem. All this to save Hashem's children. No one is put in this world to serve themselves - from the greatest to the simplest -our greatness is measured by how much we care about others.