Purim: Netanyahu, Congress, And The Battle Against Persia – A War Fought In Heaven

TorahAnytime.Com uses the tag line of “G-d’s Reason for the Internet” by which they mean that the learning of Torah and spiritual growth is the reason that G-d created the Internet. Of course, that’s not to say that there’s no potential spiritual downside to such a powerful tool, but the presence of so many distinguished Rabbis on the site, shows that they agree with its potential on the upside.

Rabbi Yosef Viener of Monsey has a recent shiur titled Purim: Netanyahu, Congress, And The Battle Against Persia – A War Fought In Heaven in which he mentions some of the political considerations regarding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Congress. However, he strongly points out that it’s easy to get caught up in the politics, but G-ds reason for the Persian threat then and now is for us to daven and do teshuva. Please watch the video.

Meanwhile, in Queens, Rabbi Moshe Schwerd was making similar points while discussing The Special Power of Prayer on Purim. Rabbi Schwerd also points out the connection between the Nachash (the snake) and Haman and why there is a requirement to curse Haman on Purim and the continuing necessity of our spiritual response of prayer on Purim. Please watch the video or download the audio of this great shiur.

The Exquisite Paradox of Teshuva

By Rabbi Benzion Kokis

At the core of the process of t’shuva lies an exquisite paradox.

On the one hand, a mature commitment to a life of Torah and Halacha is the ultimate self-discovery, through which a Jew connects to his spiritual roots. In fact, very often what initiates the entire process of t’shuva is the realization that the modern world not only didn’t, but can’t, satisfy the inner needs of the Jewish soul. There is a sense of coming home to a deeper and more genuine appreciation of one’s own identity.

This is a familiar theme to the thousands of men and women who have made the commitment to transform their lives, and find their place within the Torah community.

Yet, that very same commitment often has the potential to alienate a ba’al t’shuva from the norms that, until that point, had shaped and defined his life. The relationships, friendships, values and habits that had formed his personality, and made up the fabric of life itself, are suddenly destabilized. So the same experience that helps a person discover and mold his inner self, can create issues that throw the self, on some level, into turmoil.

This then is the paradox of t’shuva: the coming home to a much deeper and richer sense of self, alongside a gradual, and sometimes awkward, transition from the “pre-existing” self. T’shuva is truly not an event, but a process, that involves much more than blending in externally to the framework of the religious community.

Often there is a certain duality and subtle tension that accompany ba’alei t’shuva for many years. True, the axioms and values of Torah have become the guiding principles and signposts of life. But the echos of one’s earlier experiences and influences still assert themselves, and tug in various directions.

In future posts, we will explore this paradox in more depth and discuss practical ways to deal with it.

Forbidden Kiruv

Why didn’t Yaakov simply pass Esav by instead of engaging him?
Why did Yaakov send Angels to his brothers rather than humans?

Yaakov sent representatives ahead of him to his brother, Esav, to Edom’s Field toward the land of Seir.

— Bereishis 32:4

The representatives returned to Yaakov and told him: “We came to your brother, Esav, and he’s also heading toward you. He has [a force of] 400 men with him.”

—Ibid:7

One who grows angry while passing by a quarrel that does not concern him is akin to one who seizes a [sleeping] dog by the ears.

Mishlei 26:17

Let sleeping dogs lie

Popular idiom version of passuk in Mishlei

Our Sages (Bereishis Rabbah 75:2) criticized Yaakov for this [sending representatives and gifts to Easv] comparing it to waking a sleeping dog by yanking its ears: The Holy Blessed One said to Yaakov “he [Esav] was going his own way [not considering any hostilities to Yaakov] and you had to send him representatives and remind him [of the old dormant enmity] ‘to my lord Esav. Your humble slave Yaakov says … ’”?

— Ramban Bereishis 32:4

Yaakov remained alone. A man wrestled with him kicking up dust until the darkness lifted

— Bereishis 32:25

… Our Rabbis explained (Bereishis Rabbah 77:3, 78:3) that the wrestling man was the prince (guardian angel) of Esav.

— Rashi Ibid

… Rivkah became pregnant. But the offspring clashed/ scurried inside of her …

— Bereishis 25:21,22

Our Rabbis (Bereishis Rabbah 63:6) interpreted it [the word וַיִתְרוֹצִצו] as an expression of running/ scurrying (רוֹצָה) . When she passed by the entrances of [the] Torah [academies] of Shem and Ever, Yaakov would scurry and struggle to come out; when she passed the entrance of [a temple of] idolatry, Esav would scurry and struggle to come out. 

— Rashi Ibid

Question: Isn’t it true that the yetzer hara-the inclination to evil; is not operative in-utero and that it is not within man until man is born … [if so why was Esav drawn to evil before he was even born]? The answer is that while it’s true that man has no yen and desire for evil, as part of his free-will equation, until after he is born; what Esav was doing here [when scurrying towards the temples of idolatry] was qualitatively different.  Esav was not yielding to the seductions of his yetzer hara, instead he was magnetically drawn towards his source, nature and species, as it were. For all things are aroused by, and inexorably drawn towards, the source of their intrinsic nature and self-definition.

— Gur Aryeh- supercommentary of the Maharal to Rashi Ibid

It is indeed odd that Yaakov would have awakened the sleeping dog/ giant. At first glance, what could possibly have motivated him to do so is incomprehensible.

According to one approach of the Midrashic sages the representatives that Yaakov dispatched to Esav were heavenly angels. Many commentaries have addressed Yaakov’s “need” for angels. Rav Shmuel Dov Asher-the Biskovitzer Rebbe, maintains that Yaakov was on what, in the contemporary parlance, might be called a mission of kiruv rechokim-bringing those distant from righteousness/ G-d closer.  Yaakov was unwilling to stand idly by as his twin brother degenerated deeper and deeper into the hellish depths of evil. He had hoped that the angels would prove equal to the task of discovering and nurturing Esav’s deeply buried goodness until it overwhelmed all his accretions of evil and washed them away in a cleansing wave of teshuvah-repentance.  After all, the passuk teaches us that angels are uniquely endowed with the capacity of advocating for deeply flawed individuals who possess as little as one tenth of one percent of decency and goodness: “If one has even a single angel out of a thousand advocating on his behalf by declaring his uprightness, then G-d will be gracious to him and say ‘redeem him from descending into destruction [i.e. the grave] for I havefound atonement/ ransom for him.’” (Iyov 33:23,24)

His interpretation is supported by a fuller, closer reading of the Midrash of “awakening the sleeping, vicious dog.” After citing the passuk in Mishlei the Midrash continues: Shmuel the son of Nachman  said “this is comparable to a traveler who awakened the leader of a gang of thieves sleeping at the crossroads and warned him of the imminent dangers [from wild animals]. Instead of thanking the traveler, the gang leader began beating his benefactor. The traveler cried foul ‘you cursed man [is this how you repay me for trying to save your life?]’ The gang leader then said ‘[you deserve it, it’s your own fault] I was slumbering comfortably and you woke me!’”

In this allegory Yaakov is represented by the traveler while Esav’s role is played by the gang leader. Nowhere in this allegory do we find a frightened Yaakov devising strategies and tactics to save himself and/or his family.  On the contrary, Yaakov is a selfless do-gooder trying to save the life and limbs of someone else, fast asleep and unaware of the looming, lurking dangers.  Yakkov’s good deed did not go unpunished and not only is he forced to struggle with the malicious ingrate Esav but, later, he was forced to contend with his evil guardian angel as well.

While it’s often said that “the path to hell is paved with good intentions” it is still hard to grasp what occurred in this case.  Why did Yaakov’s well intentioned plan to save his twin from the wild animals of spiritual ruin go so badly awry? This is especially quizzical in light of the Zohar’s observation that “praiseworthy is he who takes the guilty/sinful by hand [and leads them along the path of repentance and tikkun]”

The Biskovitzer explains that while kiruv is a most praiseworthy endeavor it is wasted upon those whose evil is intrinsic and incorrigible rather than those whose evil is acquired through the incorrect exercise of their free-will. Echoing the Maharal’s clarification for Esav’s in-utero scurrying towards temples of idolatry and, no doubt, paraphrasing earlier sources, the Biskovitzer goes so far as to identify Esav with the primordial serpent who enticed Adam and Chavah into Original Sin.  In other words; Esav is not a good kid gone bad, he is just plain bad. He is not one who falls prey to the yetzer hara he IS the yetzer hara. Such evil is incorrigible, dealing with it in any way, even for the noble goal of its rehabilitation, is doomed to failure and to vicious, attacking ingratitude.

Read more Forbidden Kiruv

Defeating Self-Defeat

Why do people constantly sabotage themselves?
How does the scapegoat atone for the sins of Uza and Azael?

And Ahron [the Kohen Gadol-high priest] should place two lots on the two goats; one [marked] for HaShem and the other [marked] for Azazel

— Vayikra 16:8

And Ahron should press his two hands on the live goats head and confess all the sins of the Bnei Yisrael-Jewish people; on it, rebellious acts and unintentional offenses.  When, by doing so, he has placed them [all of these sins] on the goats head, he should send it into the desert with a man of the hour.

— Ibid 16:21

What would he [the man of the hour] do? He would take a crimson ribbon and tear it in two.  Half was tied to a sharp boulder while the other half was tied between the goat’s two horns.  He then pushed the goat backwards [over the peak] and it would roll down the mountain.  The goat was ripped limb from limb before it got halfway down the craggy mountain.

— Mishnah Yoma 6:6

The Rabbis taught: [why] “Azazel”?  That it should be strong and hard … the academy of Rabbi Yishmael taught [why] “Azazel”? for it atones for the deeds of Uza and Azael [two fallen angels].

—Yoma 67B

Rami bar Chama taught: the numerical values of the word Hasoton-the Satan; is 364. This implies that for 364 days of the year he has authorization to prosecute but that on [one of the year’s 365 days] Yom Kippur … he does not.

—Yoma 20A

Reish Lakish taught: The Satan-the prosecuting attorney on High; the Yetzer Hara-the inclination to evil; and the Malach Hamaves-the Angel of Death; are one and the same entity.

—Bava Basra 16A

It is odd and almost counterintuitive that man, allegedly the most highly evolved of all organisms, should have the weakest of all survival instincts.  From the cradle to the grave humans are capable of reckless behaviors that endanger lives and limbs.  Humanities self-destructive tendencies manifest themselves in a wide variety of ways.  From subconscious acts of self-sabotaging predicated on the excessive fear of failure, to cuttings and other forms of self-inflicted mutilation; from anorexia to obsessive overeating; from rampant consumerism that spells ecological disaster to nuclear fueled geopolitics that continue to push the envelope towards assured mutual destruction.

The most striking expression of the inclination to self-destruct is found in individuals who commit suicide including the most faddish and trendy iterations of murdering oneself including physician-assisted suicide, cop-assisted suicide and murder-suicides characteristic of both domestic violence and terrorist bombings. All in all both individual humans and humanity as a whole seem hell-bent on self-destruction.

Whence this uniquely human drive to destroy ourselves?

The centerpiece avodah –Divine service; of Yom Kippur was the lottery of the two goats; one goat dedicated to HaShem whose blood was sprinkled in the inner sanctum while the other goat was designated as the sair laAzazel-the goat “dedicated” to Azazel; and was pushed off of a jagged cliff in the desert wilderness.  In the popular vernacular the goat that “lost” the lottery is commonly known as the scapegoat.  Many a proverbial quill has been broken in the commentaries attempts to explain such a puzzling avodah, especially on the holiest day of the year. The Ramban characterizes it as a bribe to the sitra achara-“the ‘other’ [dark] side”; while the Lubliner Kohen does not mince words and calls it an act of idolatrous worship that is, nevertheless, the Will of HaShem.

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer Rebbe, offers a novel approach that recasts the sair laAzazel as the antidote for the human drive for self-destruction. But before presenting it I must introduce the foundation to unlocking the mystery of human self-destructiveness upon which the Bais Yaakov’s approach is based. It is a teaching found in the text and a hagahah-margin gloss; in Rav Chaim Volozhiners Nefesh Hachaim (pp.21, 23).

Read more Defeating Self-Defeat

Elul: The Rambam on the Message of the Shofar

The Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuva 3:4:

“Although Shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana is a divine decree, there is a hidden message of the Shofar. The message is for those who are spiritually asleep to awaken, carefully examine their behavior, perform Teshuva, and remember our Creator. Those who forget the truth in the course of daily routines and devote all of their time to temporal matters that have no lasting impact, should ponder their souls, improve their actions and thoughts. Everyone should abandon his evil actions and thoughts.”

The Rambam is writing about Rosh Hashana, but I don’t think he would object to us using the Shofar blowings of Elul as a wake up call.

The Season of the Spiritual Growth Mindset

The secular world has recently “discovered” the growth mindset:

Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

The growth mindset is fundamental to a Torah Observant Jew. Every BT and FFB will tell you, that where you are headed in terms of growth, is much more important than where you came from.

One advantage we have in Jewish Spiritual Growth is that the calendar orients us towards times with increased opportunities. Shabbos provides more potential than week days. Yom Tovim provide additional growth opportunities. And the Yomin Noraim provide the greatest opportunities. In Judaism the 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur is the definitive spiritual growth season.

But as we know, growth takes effort, and Hashem made us a bit lazy, so we are advised to use the entire Elul runway as we approach Rosh Hoshana, the Ten Days of Teshuva, and Yom Kippur.

In the Practical Guide to Teshuva, Rabbi S. Wagschal writes that the process of teshuvah may be successfully achieved if it is performed in a gradual manner. He suggests that we should begin with improving things we are already doing, like tefillah and brachos.

Tomorrow we will provide some practical ways to leverage the enhanced spiritual growth mindset which we have in these days of Elul.

Beat the Rosh Chodesh Elul Rush – Start Thinking About Teshuva Today

Rosh Chodesh Elul is coming which means that the Teshuva season is about to begin. If we want to have a successful Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur, seforim strongly advise us to start early in the month. It’s a tremendous opportunity for growth and we’d be foolish not to take advantage of it.

Most of the current day Rebbeim advise us to pick something small. Maybe saying Asher Yotzar with Kavanna, or pausing before we speak on occasion or perhaps starting an extra 10 minute seder in Mussar, Mishnah or Tanach. The sky is truly the limit, but we have to start reaching for it when Elul begins.

Being that our goal is to get closer to Hashem and we’re doing mitzvos to accomplish that goal, it might make sense to try to do the mitzvos with a little more Kavanna. There are three simple thoughts we can have before doing any mitzvah:

1) Hashem commanded us to do the mitzvah
2) We are the ones being commanded
3) And the specific mitzvah, whose commandment we are fullfilling is …. (whatever mitzvah you are doing)

It’s really pretty simple and it will help us get so much more mileage out of the mitzvos we already do.

Here’s a few resources for extra motivation:

Stepping Stones to Repentance: A thirty-day program based on Ohr Yisrael the classic writings of Rav Yisrael Salanter By: Rabbi Zvi Miller here’s an excerpt

DAY ONE: “BOUNDLESS BLESSINGS”
“There is no enterprise that yields profit like preparation for the Day of Atonement. Through studying Mussar and reflecting on how to improve one’s ways, a person is inspired on Yom Kippur to make resolutions for the future. Even the smallest, most minute preparation to enhance one’s Yom Kippur experience is invaluable, bringing boundless blessings of success. It saves one from many troubles — and there is no greater profit than this.” (Ohr Yisrael, Letter Seven, p. 193)

Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller – Three Steps to Genuine Change. An excerpt:

In the course of our lives, we close doors to higher and deeper selves and sometimes forget that we, too, are more than earners, spenders, and travelers through life. Our thoughtless enslavement to mindless routine can leave us without much of a relationship to our souls. In a materialistic society, it is all too easy to view others as competitors. As toddlers we observed that when you have three cookies and give one away, all you have left are two. From that point onward we are afraid to give.

R’ Dovid Schwartz – Rabbi Yonah of Gerona – Guilt is Good – mp3

R’ Daniel Stein – Hilchos Teshuva Introduction – mp3

R’ Moshe Schwerd – Din V’Cheshbon – mp3

R’ Yakov Haber on Rosh Hoshana and Hirhur Teshuva according to Rav Soloveitchik can be downloaded here.

R’ Yakov Haber on Rosh Hoshana davening can be downloaded here.

Beauty may be Skin-Deep but Some Hideousness is to the Bone

Today, 29 Adar Sheini is the yuhrzeit-anniversarry of the death of the great Polish Chassidic Master Reb Shloimeleh Rabinowicz; zy”a, the first Radomsker Rebbe, as well as other tzadikim and talmidei chachamim-Torah sages. The following Devar Torah is adapted from his work on the Torah and Holidays, Tiferes Shlomo, and is dedicated l’iluy nishmas –for the ascent of the sou,l of

Mrs. Lottie B. Valberg who shares the same yuhrzeit by her grandson lhbc”c Mr. Simcha Valberg, sponsor of the weely Izhbitzer Torah.

אָדָם, כִּי-יִהְיֶה בְעוֹר-בְּשָׂרוֹ שְׂאֵת אוֹ-סַפַּחַת אוֹ בַהֶרֶת, וְהָיָה בְעוֹר-בְּשָׂרוֹ, לְנֶגַע צָרָעַת–וְהוּבָא אֶל-אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן, אוֹ אֶל-אַחַד מִבָּנָיו הַכֹּהֲנִים.

If a person (Adam) has a white blotch, discoloration or spot on the skin of his body and it [is suspected] of being a sign of the leprous curse on his skin; he should be brought to Ahron the Kohen or to one of his descendants; the kohanim…

—Vayikra 13:2

זֹאת תּוֹרַת, אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ נֶגַע צָרָעַת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תַשִּׂיג יָדוֹ, בְּטָהֳרָתוֹ

This is the Torah governing he who has within him the leprous curse…

—Vayikra 14:32

Comparing and contrasting  these two pesukim we find that there are two distinct types of metzoroim; one whose tzaraas-leprous curse is superficial; no more than skin-deep and the other whose tzaraas is described as being “within him”; at the core of his being. Moreover the first type of metzora is described as being an adam, the word in lashon kodesh –Torah Hebrew, that connotes human-beings at their highest level.

Reb Shloimeleh Radomsker, echoing the Ramban, (Vayikra 13:46 D”H v’habeged) reiterates the concept that the entire spectrum of negaim –skin ailments that exude tumah-ritual impurity, and their purification has nothing to do with physical maladies nor are the kohanim mandated by the Torah to deal with negaim dermatologists.

Negaim are HaShems way of disciplining the afflicted person and affording him the opportunity to cast his sins aside and return to HaShem where he will find mercy and healing. Read more Beauty may be Skin-Deep but Some Hideousness is to the Bone

It’s Never as Bad, or as Evil, as It Seems

How does Jewish sin differ from sin in general?
Why do we read Parshas Parah only at this time of the year?

I have recorded a homiletic interpretation … of R. Moshe Hadarshan … And have them take for you… just as they took off their own golden earrings for the calf, so shall they bring this [cow] from their own [assets] in penance. A red cowThis is comparable to the baby of a maidservant who soiled the king’s palace [with fecal matter]. They said, “Let his mother come and clean up the mess.” Similarly, let the cow come and atone for the calf.] … [Midrash Aggadah and Tanchuma Chukath 8]

–Rashi Bemidbar19:22

A Kohen who converted to an idolatrous religion should not “raise his palms” in the priestly blessing. Others say that if he repented then he may perform the priestly blessing.

–Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 128:37

But if he actually worshipped an idol, even if he was forced to do so and even if he subsequently repented, he may not perform the priestly blessing.

–Be’er Heitev ibid footnote 63

Approach the altar: [The salient corners of the altar reminded Ahron of the juvenile horn-buds of the Calf] because Ahron was embarrassed and frightened of approaching [the altar] Moshe said to him: “Why are you ashamed? You have been chosen for this [role]!”

– Torath Kohanim on VaYikra 9:7

Fire came forth from before HaShem and consumed them [Nadav and Avihu], such that they died before HaShem. Then Moshe said to Ahron, “This is precisely what HaShem meant, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me (Shemos 29:43) … “

–VaYikra 10:2,3


מוֹצִיא מִזָּלוֹת יְקָרוֹת. מַתִּיר מֵאֲסוּרוֹת מֻתָּרוֹת. נוֹתֵן מִטְּמֵאוֹת טְהוֹרוֹת
HaShem brings forth the priceless from the worthless, He allows the permissible from the prohibited, He produces the pure from the impure.

Piyut-“Yotzros” for Parshas Parah

The mei chatas-the waters whose main ingredient were the ashes produced from immolating the carcass of the Parah Adumah-the Red Heifer, are the only means to gain purity after contracting impurity through contact with the dead- tuma’as meis. A person who has become tamei meis may not consume the korban Pesach-the Passover sacrifice. (Or, for that matter, any consumable sacrifices.) When the Bais HaMikdash-the Temple in Jerusalem, stood those who were tme’ei meis would undergo the mei chatas purification process required to enable them to offer their korban Pesach.  Nowadays, as the Bais HaMikdash lies in ruins, the four special parshiyos/ maftir readings that precede Pesach are all meant as a preparation for the holiday.  So we can easily understand that it is apropos to read Parshas Parah at this time of the year.

However, during each of the shalosh regalim-pilgrimage holidays, multiple offerings had to be sacrificed and consumed in a state of ritual purity.  This being the case, the Biskovitzer asks: Why is the reading of Parshas Parah limited to pre-Pesach preparation?  Logically, we ought to be reading it before Shavous and Sukkos as well. The insights that he and other members of the Izhbitzer school provide by way of answering this question reveal a profound and deep-seated difference between Jewish sin, and sin in general.

Read more It’s Never as Bad, or as Evil, as It Seems

Thinking Inside THE Box(es)

Terumah 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

HaShem spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the children of Israel and have them lift an offering up to Me. Take My offering from anyone whose heart stirs them to give.

-Shemos 25:1

Make an Ark of Shittim-Acacia wood 2 ½ cubits long, 1 ½ cubits wide and 1 ½ cubits high.  Envelop it with a layer of pure gold; it should be covered on the inside and the outside, and make a gold lip all around its top. 

-Shemos 25:10,11

Betzalel (the chief artisan constructing the Tabernacle) built three Arks; two of gold and one of Acacia wood.  All had four walls and a floor but no roof (i.e. the “Arks” were boxes, open on top).  He inserted the wooden one within the exterior golden one and the interior golden one within the wooden one.  He then coated the upper lip with gold. As such (the Acacia wood Ark) was covered on the inside and the outside. 

-Rashi ibid

None of the furnishings of the tabernacle were made exclusively of gold other than the Menorah. (but I’m puzzled) Once a golden Ark was made, why was a wooden one necessary? 

-Ibn Ezra ibid

Several peculiarities distinguished the Aron HaBris–the Ark of the Covenant from the other structures and furnishings of the Mishkan-tabernacle. The specs for its dimensions were in half, rather than in full, ahmos-cubits. Unlike the Menorah it was not made of solid gold but unlike the other wooden Mishkan structures and furnishings coated with metal, it was composed of three substantial inlaid boxes, akin to Russian nesting dolls, rather than plated with a paint-thin coating of gold or copper.

The Aron HaBris was the vessel for the Luchos HaBris–the tablets of the covenant and so it serves as a powerful allegory for human bearers of the Torah, talmidei chachamim-Torah sages and, in a larger sense, Klal Yisrael-the Jewish People. Chazal drew a metaphorical lesson from the design and structure of the Aron HaBris: Rava said (the fact that the inner and outer boxes of the Ark were composed of the identical substance [gold] teaches us that) “any talmid chacham-Torah sage, whose interior is inconsistent with his exterior (i.e. who is insincere or hypocritical, who lacks yiras Shamayim-the awe of Heaven) is no talmid chacham at all.”(Yoma 72B)

Based on this homiletic precedent the Izhbitzer School provides many insightful interpretations about the design and structure of the Aron:

The Izhbitzer taught that in order to acquire Torah a person must view himself as incomplete without the Torah that, as was the case with the measurements of the Aron, that they’re only “halfway” to completion and fulfillment. On the other hand, if one only has an intellectual curiosity about Torah similar to an academic interest in other disciplines HaShem will not allow him to become a receptacle for the Torah.  If a person feels as though he can live without Torah, he may study and contemplate it for years, but he will never truly absorb it.

The Izhbitzer’s younger son, the Biskovitzer Rebbe, explains that the reason for the three individual inlaid boxes was to demonstrate the Torahs intrinsically hidden nature.  It is not merely that the true meaning of the Torah’s narratives, mitzvos and teachings often eludes us; the proverbial “riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” but that there are three barriers that must be transcended and pierced in order to perform the mitzvos fully. The following impediments prevent people from committing themselves single-mindedly to the service of HaShem and, thereby, transforming themselves into abodes for His Divine Indwelling:

1.  So many millennia have come and gone and so many “end times” have been predicted without the long-awaited dawning of the messianic era-kalu kol hakitzin.  The dispiriting sense of hopelessness in Mashiach ever actually arriving cools our ardor for the mitzvos.

2.  The leadenness of our natures steers us towards undemanding, path-of-least-resistance, mitzvas anashim melumadah-rote performance of the mitzvos.  Bringing a sense of awe, wonder and freshness to the performance of mitzvos time after time is very challenging when we’ve been trained to do the mitzvos from our earliest youth.

3.  The burden of our past sins weighs us down.  We feel humiliated before HaShem and utterly convinced that our relationship with Him has been irrevocably broken.

The Biskovitzer explains that the midrash (Shemos Rabbah 33:3) interprets the pasuk “I am asleep but my heart is awake” as an allusion to these three barriers. “I” may be insensate to the end of days, but “my heart” — the Holy Blessed One, is awake, maintaining and stoking the very last embers of longing for the messianic era within me.  “I” am deadened to the vitality of the mitzvos by my robotic, by-rote performance but “my heart” — the merit and legacy of my forefathers, who were trailblazers and who were forever breaking new ground, is awake.  “I” am anesthetized and alienated by the ether of guilt wafting malodorously from the incident of the golden calf, but “my heart” — HaShem, my Merciful Father, refusing to give up on even the most wayward of sons, is awake.  The Holy Blessed One called for me to build the Mishkan.  If the alienation caused by sin was truly irrevocable would HaShem ever have invited me to participate in the building of an abode for His Divine Indwelling?

He cryptically concludes that, of the three boxes, it is davka the wooden one that symbolizes the impediment of sin-engendered guilt feelings and especially, on a national level, the guilt engendered by the incident of the golden calf. Puzzling, because the Midrash Tanchumah that he cites (Parshas Vayakhel 8) says the Aron was made of Shittim wood to atone for the sin committed at Shittim. This is an apparent reference to the sin of licentiousness with the Moabites that occurred at Shittim and not referring to the sin of idolatry of the golden calf (that occurred at the foot of Sinai).

[A more direct reference might have been the Midrash Tanchumah from our own parshah (Terumah:10) that states; HaShem told Moshe “they committed a folly (shtus) and angered Me with the calf; let the Acacia wood-atzei Shittim come and gain atonement for their folly.”  The problem with the latter citation is that the Acacia wood in question is that of the mizbayach-altar and not of the aron.]

Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, asserts that the essential aron was the one that was made of wood.  Unlike inert-mineral gold, wood came from a living, thriving, flourishing tree.  The Torah itself is referred to as “the tree of life.”  The atzei Shittim box in the center represents the ardent, almost libidinous, yearnings for Torah-chamidu d’Oraysa that are the necessary prerequisite for the acquisition of the Torah’s wisdom (cp Rambam Isurei Biah 22:21).  While the sincere awe of heaven, represented by the interior and exterior golden boxes, contains, defines and sublimates the unbridled, wild infatuation represented by the wood.

Elsewhere the Lubliner Kohen notes that during the creation of Heaven and earth, the darkness preceded the light.  He postulates that every personal or national advancement towards greater spirituality and “the light” must be preceded by, and grow out of, a darkness.  It was not simply that the Shittim wood of the Aron atoned for the sin of the calf it was that the dark sin of the calf was an indispensable precondition that engendered the light of the Aron and, as the epicenter of its sanctity, the entire Mishkan!

The sin of the calf was motivated by Klal Yisrael’s desire for a palpable sensory-perceivable Elohim that would lead them.  While directed towards the calf this desire was something dark and sinister.  But the radiance and illumination of the Mishkan — a place where HaShem’s Indwelling was palpable, and the only site where all “seekers of HaShem” went to find what they sought (Shemos 33:7), followed and grew out of the darkness of the calf. Through the atzei Shittim, the shadowy “shtus” of the calf became part and parcel of the Aron’s and Mishkan’s radiance.

 ~adapted from: Mei HashiloachII Terumah D”H Kol Middos
Neos Deshe Terumah D”H  v’Ahsu (the first)
Pri Tzadik Terumah inyan 8 page 152
Resisei Laylah inyan 24 pp3031

REVISED 5:30 PM EST 1.30.14

Let’s Get Away (From it All) … With Murder!

Mishpatim 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

If he (the killer) did not hunt and trap to murder, but Elokim brought about involuntary-manslaughter through him, then I will lay down a space where the killer can flee.

-Shemos 21:13

[HaShem said to Kayin] “You are more cursed than the ground … When you cultivate the soil it will no longer yield its strength to you. You will be restless and isolated in the world.” 

-Bereishis 4:11.12

Kayin responded “Is my sin then too great to forgive?”

 -Ibid 4:13

 Kayin left HaShems presence. He dwelled in the land of Nod (isolation) to the east of Eden.

-Ibid 4:116

We live in an era in which our lives are kinetic and restless.  In every phase of life and during all of our waking hours, we are always on the go. Yet few people really seem to mind. The pan-societal consensus seems to be that whenever a person is on the move, that he is doing so for his own good.

Some people transfer to new universities or yeshivas in middle of their education. Others relocate to advance their careers.  Even the increasingly rare “company man” who stays with one firm throughout his entire career will make frequent business junkets.  The travel industry does not refer to the area between first-class and coach as business-class for nothing.

Most ubiquitous of all is traveling for pleasure. Stay-cations are indicative of a general economic downturn or of one’s own lack of financial success.  The old saying goes that “if you’ve got money … you can travel” and most people who have money — do.  The rule of thumb for achieving greater social status through travel is that the further-flung the destination, the better the vacation.

People advance all kinds of rationalizations to validate their wanderlust.  “Travel is broadening” they will say or they might claim “a change of scenery will do me a world of good.”  Still others associate their homes and offices with stress and tension and, impatient for the afterlife, their vacations as the precursors of the ultimate reward in the world-to-come; “I’ve worked really hard and I deserve some R&R.” Some will even couch their constant flitting about in religious terms.  משנה מקום משנה מזל – “a change of location will result in a change of fortune.” (cp Rosh HaShanah 16B and Talmud Yerushalmi Shabbos 6:9).

But some latter-day nomads dispense with the rationalizations altogether.  They travel lishmah, so to speak. They may not be able to articulate it as eloquently, but they are in general agreement with Robert Louis Stevenson who said “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” Perhaps it is modern man’s relentless movement that robs him of the luxury of pausing to ponder; why this is so?  Why is the great affair to move? What is the real subconscious compulsion, the psycho-spiritual dynamic at work, which induces us to travel for travel’s sake?

Rav Tzadok-the Kohen of Lublin provides an eye-opening and astonishing answer to these questions:

Like Kayin, we are wanderers because we are murderers.  This is not to say that we are guilty of the most flagrant and literal forms of homicide.  Stabbing, strangling, shooting or poisoning the victim is not required.  Our prophets and sages taught that there are other sins that, while not causing the permanent irreversible termination of life, are still iterations of murder.

We’re all familiar with the Chazal that equates inflicting public humiliation to the point of blanching, with murder. (Bava Metzia 58B) Chazal coined a term “the three forked tongue” to describe sins of lashon hara–gossipy speech, because these sins kill three people; the speaker, the listener and the subject of the conversation.  (Arachin 15B) The prophet Yeshaya condemned another form of non-homicidal murder when he thundered “You that inflame yourselves among the Terebinth trees, under every leafy tree; that slay the children in the riverbeds, under the clefts of the rocks!” (Yeshaya 57:3 see Niddah 13A)

While those who transgress sins that do not rise to the legal and halachic definition of homicide are not sentenced to utterly abandon their homes and exile themselves to a refuge city or to the camp of the Levi’im they become unsettled, itinerant wanderers all the same.  The Lubliner Kohen goes on to say that, the good news is, when we do begin to lay down roots in a particular place and achieve some tranquility and stability we can rest assured that we have been metaken-ameliorated these homicide-like offenses.

There’s even an intermediate condition during which, while we may be more or less fixed and established in a particular location, we are not really happy about it.  The normal state of affairs is that of חן מקום על יושביו-“every place is charming to its own populace.” (Sotah 47A) If, on the other hand, we do not find anything attractive or satisfying about our homes, neighborhoods, towns or workplaces this is symptomatic of having repaired and been forgiven for the deed that was in some way equivalent to murder but that the antisocial thoughts that motivated us to act as we did, still require tikun-repair and teshuvah-atonement.  While our feet may not be itchy enough to take the first step in a journey of 1000 miles, our minds and spirits remain agitated, distracted and 1,000 miles away.

In his classic work of Hashkafah, Michtav M’Eliyahu (Strive for Truth), Rabbi Eliyahu Lazer Dessler, z”l, views the entire contemporary human condition through the prism of the Lubliner Kohens teaching.  Writing presciently in the mid twentieth century he points out that never before has mankind been so murderous and, not coincidentally, so nomadic and adrift.

Weapons of mass destruction can lay waste to entire cities in a matter of moments.  Gossip is no longer something whispered in dark corners but a multibillion dollar publishing industry.  Slander, inaccuracies and half truths coupled with a breakdown in civil discourse had transformed character-assassination by means of public humiliation into an international sport.  Unparalleled pornography, lasciviousness and loose morals had disseminated the form of murder that the Prophet Yeshaya decried to previously stern and puritanical corners of the earth.

Concurrently, advances in aviation and other technologies made modern man substantially more mobile than his ancestors.  From one end of the earth to the other, millions of people traverse unprecedented distances at previously unimaginable speeds.  And while these travelers may dream that all this running about is advantageous to them or that they’re doing so for pleasure and entertainment (entertainment being synonymous with a deep-seated disquiet, distraction and scattering of the soul-pizur hanefesh) they are, in fact, just living through the curse of Kayin, humanities first murderer. Despite all of the giant leaps forward in technology man has never felt so rootless, anxious and insecure.

Imagine how much sharper Rav Dessler’s critique of modern man and how vindicated his linkage of high-speed, easily accessible travel with WMDs, the venality and universality of gossip and humiliation would be, were he writing today.

Virtue is always its own reward. So we already had ample incentives to avoid doing the many sins that our tradition teaches are equivalent to murder.  But if we needed an ulterior motive the Lubliner Kohen, has provided us with one.  As the Torah is eternal HaShem “lays down a space where the killer can flee” and be free of the curse of Kayin in every generation.  Refraining from lashon hara, publicly humiliating others, withholding wages et al seem a small price to pay to achieve a sense of a rootedness, connectedness and tranquility via entry to the sanctuary surrounded by invisible walls of Torah and teshuvah — the space that HaShem has laid down.

~adapted from Tzidkas HaTzadik 82

and Michtav M’Eliyahu IV:Kavanas haMitzvos; Page 171 

Living with Regrets

I happen to enjoy and appreciate that fluid flow of online information. A friend (as in, I had meet him years ago and then we were ‘friends” online, and I actually met him recently over Sukkos) recently posted a link on Facebook to an article published in July of 2013 in the New York Times. The article contained the full text from a commencement speech at Syracuse University given by George Saunders. I highly suggest you read it since there are a number of lessons related to chessed. You can read it here. I read it, thought about it, and forwarded it to a few people, and now trying to write about one of several things I gleaned from it.

Saunders’ theme was based on the age old question of, “Looking back, what to you regret?” In the article he gets very specific about something he regrets from his past (really, you should read it). That question about things I regret started creeping its way into my thoughts. I know, must of us probably don’t think about regret until Elul or Tishrei. I’m right there with you. The question pushed me to think about two specific and related things, my relationship with my father a”h and with my own kids. It is not easy to write some of this, as it is uber-autobiographical, but I hope it may be useful to other growth oriented people.

My father was niftar in November of 2009. He was always, Baruch Hashem, supportive of my gradual move from “traditional” Jew to Orthodox Jew. Since 2006 we would speak at least 4-6 times a week, about things in general, no seriously deep discussions or vulnerable moments. Our relationship was warm, but it lacked emotion at times (mostly from my end). On his last trip to see us my wife who knew that I and my father both wanted more out of relationship decided to sit us all down at the table and we talked. We laughed. We listened. We explained. We cried. In 45 minutes we pretty much answered questions, healed wounds, and gained insight into a 38 year old relationship I had with my father. Our relationship blossomed and I have my wife to thank for this. That relationship screeched to a halt 3 months when he was diagnosed with pneumonia on top of battling leukemia. So, the regret related to my father is one of lost time, time when he was alive. We both spent years not being as emotionally connected as we could have. I often find myself telling friends to let their parents know that they are loved, not only by saying it, but showing it.

Regret number two. I know that I am not alone in this, even though most people won’t admit it. As an observant Jew I often find myself losing patience with my family. Sometimes to the point that I feel like any self-control, any middos management, or learning about kas (anger) and salvonus (patience) is totally thrown out the window. In the heat of the moment, when I look at my kids and only see the negative in them I am not thinking about the mitzvos of chessed (kindness), V’ahavta L’rei-acha k’mocha (loving your friend as you love yourself), or the concept of B’tzelem Elokeim (being created in God’s image). It is something I regret. It pushes my family away from me, which down the line might result in my own kids having a less than stellar relationship with me. Truth be told, for the past 2 weeks (prior to even reading the above referenced article) I have been going out of my way to point out to them positive things they do and the traits excel in.

So, when all is said and written, I am left with two regrets (I have several more, seriously). One I can do nothing about and one that, with Hashem’s help, I can put an end to. As cliché as this is, when you finish reading this, find a piece of paper and ask yourself, “Am I Living with Regrets?” It might be the start of something extremely powerful.

Dreaming but Not Sleeping

Vayeshev 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 Soon thereafter the Egyptian king’s wine steward and the baker offended their master, who was the king of Egypt.

-Bereshis 40:1

 [Regarding] this one (the wine steward) a fly was found in his goblet, and [concerning] that one (the baker) a pebble was found in his bread.  (Bereshis. Rabbah 88:2)

-Rashi ibid

The kingdom of the earth is analogous to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Zohar Miketz 197A

Throughout this Sidra there’s a marked disparity between Yoseph and Yehudah. All of Yoseph’s well-intentioned plans go awry First, he shares his prophetic dream with his brothers and they grow jealous of him. Then he tries to edify his brothers and some are ready to kill him while, in due course, they sell him to an Ishmaelite caravan consigning him to near-certain doom. He serves his master faithfully, resisting all temptations, but then gets framed for an infidelity that he was innocent of. Finally, he makes a minor effort at self-help, asking the Pharaoh’s wine steward to say something favorable about him to Pharaoh and, as a result, ends up spending another two years prison.

On the other hand, Yehudah seems to be living the proverbial charmed life. Even though he was the one who presented Yoseph’s goat-bloodied garment to their father, causing their father overwhelming anguish,  he still merited being in Yaakov’s proximity all those long years that Yoseph was in exile.  In the, apparently, very sordid affair of Tamar, all ended well and the progenitor of the Messianic line was born.

The Izhbitzer teaches that Yoseph envied Yehudah and had grievances about HaShem’s conduct of his own affairs. He wondered why HaShem crowned all of Yehudahs endeavors with great success, even those that were overtly risky or that ventured far into moral and ethical ambiguity.  Whereas all of his own actions, no matter how purely motivated, came under the closest Divine scrutiny, the “precision of a hairsbreadth” and, invariably, were found wanting.

The dreams of the Pharaoh’s wine steward and baker were meant to serve as an allegorical response to Yoseph’s grievances. Every king, including the King of all kings, has a servant like the wine steward and a servant akin to the baker.  The wine steward was restored to his position because he was not responsible for his offense.  There’s really nothing that he could’ve done to prevent a fly from buzzing into the wine goblet.  A fly is animate and has an instinct if it’s own. It’s even possible that the fly fluttered into the goblet after it was already in the Pharaoh’s grasp. However, the baker’s offense was unpardonable as an inert pebble should never have found its way into the king’s bread loaf. Yoseph was like the baker and Yehudah was like the wine-steward.

King Dovid, the quintessence of Yehudah, is described by the Zohar (Mishpatim 107A) as the Kings “jester”. As a powerful king himself how should we understand this unusual title? We know that King Dovid’s songs of Tehilim were sung as the wine libations were poured in the Beis HaMikdash on HaShems “table” kivayochol -as it were. If the purpose of a jester is to dispel sadness from, and bring merriment to, the king’s heart, then jesters and wine stewards employ different means to achieve the same goal. So, the jester designation can be understood in wine steward terms.

But the “jester” designation refers to the something deeper as well. Yehudah’s offenses, and those of his descendants, were deemed to be beyond the range of their  bechirah chofshis– free-will. As our sages taught; “the Angel appointed to preside over desire forced him” to consort with Tamar (Bereshis Rabbah 85:9).  Jesters allow their kings to toy with them and to defeat them at the royal courts’ games. When a person loses his bechirah chofshis he becomes G-d’s plaything, a mere puppet on HaShem’s string, as a jester might, a man who has lost his bechirah chofshis “lets” G-d win kivayochol.  The pasuk states: “that You may be justified when You speak, and be in the right when You judge” (Tehilim 51:6). When expounding on the episode of Dovid and Bas-Sheva the Gemara understands that what Dovid meant to say here was “let them [the people] not say, ‘The servant triumphed  against his Master’.” (Sanhedrin 107A). In other words, Dovid is telling HaShem “I’m your jester, I let my King win”

On the other hand, Yoseph was like the baker. HaShem had instilled Yoseph with a fiery clarity and brilliance and the passionate strength to withstand all tests. After all, the House of Yoseph was to be the flame that would consume the House of Esav (see Ovadiah 1:18). HaShem had placed Yoseph in a crisp, brilliant and immaculate place. He and his descendants needed to stay spotless in order to refute any of Esav’s contentions. As trying as Yoseph’s trials were they were never outside the scope of his bechirah chofshis. Yoseph was in complete control of his choices.

If something unseemly crept into Yehudah’s affairs it was as though the zigzagging fly splashed into the King’s wine goblet after it was already in the King’s hands.  There was absolutely nothing that the jester/wine steward could have done to prevent it.  If something inappropriate contaminated Yoseph’s affairs it was as though a tooth-shattering pebble was in the King’s bread.  The King grew furious and bitterly disappointed because this was absolutely something that the baker could have, and should have, put a stop to.

 

The righteousness of the unblemished will straighten his way; and by his wickedness, the wicked shall fall.

-Mishlei 11:5

 When an otherwise unblemished Tzaddik sins, the Divine trait of Strict Justice demands the harsh and “precision of a hairsbreadth” punishment to expiate the sin. But the Divine trait of Mercy seeks alternatives modes of Tikun-sin repair and amelioration.  It will not allow the Tzaddik to take the punishment. Instead It allows the Tzaddik to observe someone guilty of a coarser, more overt expression of the same sin taking their punishment.  This sensitizes the Tzaddik to his own misstep.  The Tzaddik sees the retribution being executed and, growing reflective and insightful concludes, in essence, that “there, but for the Grace of G-d, go I”. This is why the pasuk says “and by his wickedness, the wicked shall fall.”,  when the correct poetic meter of the sentence should have been “and the wicked shall fall by his wickedness.” The truth is that there are times and situations when the wicked fall due to the wickedness of the unblemished! They do so in order the enable the unblemished to straighten his way.

As sternly as Yoseph was judged compared to Yehudah, it could have been even more severe. In fact, mercy tempered the justice that he was dealt. The Pharaoh’s baker became the punishment proxy for Yoseph, the Divine King’s “baker”. The dissimilar dreams of the wine steward and the baker were not just revealed to Yoseph because he happened to be the best dream-interpreter available in the dungeon. They were revealed to him to help him understand the difference between Yehudah’s relationship with HaShem and his own, to help him identify with the baker rather than with the wine steward, to stop grumbling about alleged Divine miscarriages of justice, to realize his own strengths and responsibilities, to shift the responsibility for his tribulations to his own broad shoulders and thus be metaken– repair and repent for his shortfalls. 

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I Vayeshev end of long D”H Vayeshev

 And Mei HaShiloach II Vayeshev D”H B’Inyan

 

Keep the Change

As the Neilah service on Yom Kippur reaches its crescendo, the congregation cries out in unison: “Hashem Hu HaElokim” (Hashem is G-d) seven times. We can probably still hear this cry echoing in our minds. At that precious moment, we have reached the peak of the spiritual heights we have been climbing since the beginning of Elul.

“Hashem Hu HaElokim” finds its source in the tanakh, Melachim I 18:39. At that point in history, it had already been three long years since Eliyahu had imposed a drought in order to: 1. prove to King Achav that Hashem grants great power to his Prophets; and 2. inspire the Jewish Nation to teshuvah. King Achav and Ovadiah HaNavi then separate in order to search for fertile land. While traveling, Ovadiah “happens upon” Eliyahu HaNavi who convinces Ovadiah to arrange for a meeting between Eliyahu and King Achav. At this meeting, Eliyahu proposes a contest between himself and the 450 prophets of Ba’al to be held on Mt. Carmel. A “Battle of the Prophets”, if you will. King Achav accepts the challenge and sends for the prophets of Ba’al.

After the nation congregates on Mt. Carmel, Eliyahu reproves them, asking “How long will you stand on both sides of the threshold? If Hashem is G-d, follow Him! And if Ba’al is god, follow him.” The People could not answer. Sometimes the truth hits that hard.

Eliyahu then set down the contest rules: Both he and the prophets of Ba’al would be given a bull to sacrifice. Each was to slaughter the bull, cut it into pieces and place them on top of firewood on their respective altar. But they were not to kindle the firewood! The prophets of Ba’al were to call upon their god to send down fire, and Eliyahu was to call upon Hashem to send down fire. The One who would send down fire would be recognized as the true G-d, and the other as a falsehood. Both the People and the prophets of Ba’al agreed to this trial.

Eliyahu encouraged the prophets of Ba’al to go first and they took one of the bulls, slaughtered it and prepared it for sacrifice on their altar. They then called upon Ba’al all morning, hopping and dancing and cutting themselves till they bled, as was their manner of worship. But there was neither a sound nor any other response from heaven! As time went on, Eliyahu began mocking the priests of Ba’al, saying “Call louder, maybe your god is with his advisors, or maybe he is at war with an enemy; maybe he is asleep”. (Rashi states that Eliyahu even said “maybe your god is relieving himself”.) The prophets of Ba’al increased their efforts and continued to call upon Ba’al until the time of Minchah. Still, not a murmur, not a sound, not a sign from the heavens.

Then Eliyahu HaNavi cried out to the People, “Come near to me,” and they came near. He took twelve stones and he made a trench around the altar. He put the wood in place and cut the bull into pieces and placed them on the altar. Eliyahu commanded the People “Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it a second time.” Then he said “Do it a third time.” Eliyahu himself then filled the trench surrounding the altar with water as well.

Eliyahu drew close to the altar and prayed, “O L-rd, G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yisrael, make it known today that You are the G-d of Israel, and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your command. Answer my prayer, O L-rd, answer my prayer that this People may know that You, O L-rd, are G-d and that just as You allowed them to slip backwards from You – if they repent, You will also bring them closer to You.” At that moment, the fire of Hashem fell from Heaven and consumed the offering, and the wood, and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that Eliyahu had poured in the trench. Amazing!! The people had no means of response other than to spontaneously proclaim “Hashem Hu HaElokim, Hashem Hu HaElokim, Hashem is G-d! Hashem is G-d!” There was no question. Afterwards, Eliyahu had all of the prophets of Ba’al killed.

When word got back to Queen Izabel, the wife of King Achav and a fervent idol worshipper herself, she sent a message to Eliyahu HaNavi: “At this Time tomorrow, I will make your soul like their souls.” In other words, just as you killed the prophets of Ba’al, I will kill you. Queen Izabel was incensed, she was roused to the level of cold blooded murder. Why then did she say “At this time tomorrow”? Why not now? Does the schoolyard bully say “You’re in trouble now, meet me at the flagpole next month”? Why did Izabel, in all of her red-blooded passion, in the throes of vengeance, say “I’ll get you tomorrow”. The simple answer is that all of the People had witnessed the miraculous workings of Hashem and Eliyahu earlier that day. Queen Izabel would be unable to muster even a single mercenary at the highest of prices, to carry out her murderous intent. But tomorrow, ah tomorrow, after going back to their workaday lives, they’ll all begin to forget already. Then, Queen Izabel will be able to find men to oppose Eliyahu.

Unbelievable? Not really. In the inimitable words of Nasan HaNavi to David HaMelekh, “You are that Man”. You and me both. We walk out of Yom Kippur motivated, with resolve, “I’m going to change.” “I’m going to be better.” “I’m going to be great.” “I’m going to be a Tzadik!” “This is gonna be the year I turn it all around.” “Hashem Hu HaElokim” resounds through the canyons of our minds. But the next day, the very next day, when we return to our everyday lives, we begin forgetting. When we go back to our jobs, to the traffic, to the lack of sleep, to the financial worries and day-to-day troubles. Our resolve weakens, we are already on our way back to where we were.

How do we avoid falling into this repetitive cycle? Sure, we’ve changed but how do we keep the change. The torah in Parshas Va’eira says “And G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them regarding the Children of Israel and regarding Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt” The Talmud Yerushalmi in tractate Rosh Hashana infers from this pasuk that while still in Egypt, G-d commanded Moshe to inform the Jewish people of the Mitzvah of Freeing Slaves. When the pasuk tells us that Moshe and Aharon were to command the Children of Israel, it means that they would be delivering a command for the future: when they live in the land of Israel, and they have Jewish slaves, they should send them out to freedom after 6 years.
Why did Hashem deem this to be an appropriate time to tell the bnei yisrael about ‘shiluach avadim’- freeing slaves when they wouldn’t even be in a position to fulfill the commandment for more than fifty years. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, answers that, in actuality, there was no more appropriate time to tell them about ‘shiluach avadim’ than that very moment. When they are slaves, they know the burden of servitude; they know what its like to have a master. Presumably, it’s not an easy thing to send away a slave. After one has had an unpaid worker who has toiled exclusively for him for six years, it is not easy to let him go. If G-d would have given Bnei Yisrael this mitzvah later on, when the Jewish people already had their own slaves, they would have heard it in an entirely different way. Now is the time to tell them about sending away poor slaves. Now it will make an impression. Now it will be meaningful.

Rav Shmulevitz points out that a person needs to hear something at the precise time when he will be most receptive to it. One has to “seize that moment” of opportunity before it eviscerates.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin praises Palti Ben Layish as exceeding even Yosef HaTzaddik in Yosef’s ability to stave off the advances of Potiphar’s wife. What did Palti ben Layish do to deserve such praise? The Talmud relates that Shaul HaMelekh had a daughter who was married to David, but Shaul argued, erroneously, that based on a technicality she was not married to David and, legally, had no husband. Shaul took this daughter and gave her as a wife to Palti ben Layish.

Palti ben Layish was faced with a dilemma of epic proportions: He could not refuse the King; he had to take his daughter as a wife. Yet, he knew very well that this was a married woman. There he was in the bedroom, on his wedding night, with a married woman. What did he do in order to ensure that he would succeed in withstanding temptation? He took a sword and stuck it in the ground and said “Anyone who ‘occupies himself with this matter’ will be stabbed by this sword.” The Gemara goes on to say that because of this tremendous act, Palti Ben Layish merited the assistance of Heaven and was able to live with the King’s daughter for many years and never so much as touch her.

What was so incredible about the act of sticking the sword into the ground? Why did he merit this unbelievable “siyata d’ishmaya”. The answer is that on that first night, Palti ben Layish clearly knew what was right and what was wrong. On that first night, he had his priorities straight. On that first night, it was crystal clear. He knew that she was a married woman and that it was forbidden to touch her. But, he also knew himself and he knew the human condition. He knew that when “Izabel’s tomorrow” came and as the days and the months and the years passed, his feelings would dissipate, his clarity would become murky. He would come up with an excuse, he would become weak, and he would rationalize. Therefore, he said to himself, “I need a reminder; I have to seize this moment of absolute clarity and take a concrete step that will remind me of the time when I knew what is right and wrong in this situation.” There are moments when one does not rationalize, when one can clearly see the truth. Those are the moments to seize as our permanent reminders.
This, says the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, is something that we all can and must do. There are many occasions when we will be put into situations where in the beginning we will know what’s right and what’s wrong. We know “Hashem, Hu HaElokim”. We know we can be better. We know we can change. We know we can be great. But, later on, there will be reasons– financial reasons, professional reasons, practical reasons and a whole library of rationalizations. How will we know what is right and what is wrong? We have to seize the moment. We have to stick that sword in the ground and say to ourselves “I know what’s right and what’s wrong, and I’m not going to let that change and become unclear!”

That is the lesson of Palti ben Layish. We have to grab the opportunity so that when the time comes, when we have temptations and questions, we will always be able to look back and say “We knew it was right then — and we know it is right now!”

Succos comes quickly on the heels of Yom Kippur. Hashem himself provides us with a reminder. Look around you, Hashem Hu HaElokim! For those of us who have not already “Seized the Moment”, it is beginning to wane. “Izabel’s tomorrow” is creeping in. Pretty soon we’ll all be back at work. It is time to plant our swords. Peg an area of growth to some part of the day that will serve as a reminder. I won’t eat dinner before I learn one page of mussar. I won’t go to bed before I say one kapitel tehillim for sick people. I won’t eat lunch before I call my parents. I won’t take off my tefillin before I learn one mishnah. Plant your sword today so that tomorrow you will still remember, with perfect clarity “Hashem Hu Ha Elokim.”

Originally Published 10/10/2008

To Feast or to Fast… THAT is the Question!

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

 It (Yom HaKipurim) is a Sabbath of Sabbaths to you and a day when you must afflict your souls. You must keep this Sabbath from the ninth of the month until the next night.  

-VaYikra 23:32

Chiya bar Rav of Difti taught: “and …you must afflict your souls…[on the] ninth of the month” Do we begin fasting on the ninth?  [In truth] we don’t fast until the tenth! Here, the Torah is teaching us that all who eat and drink on the ninth are considered to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth.

-Yoma 81B

On the tenth day of the seventh month you must afflict your souls and not do any melacha…This is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned to purify you. Before Hashem you will be purified of all your sins.

-VaYikra 16:29, 30

There is a lot of conflicting data on the subject of the Torahs attitude towards asceticism.  On the one hand, Shabbos the basis of sanctified time, is identified with pleasure “And call Sabbath pleasure” (Yeshaya 58:13 ) and the entire chapter of Yeshaya 58 takes a rather dim view of fasting unless it is coupled with social justice. On the other hand, the very holiest time, the Sabbath of Sabbaths is a fast day.  The Nazir, who abstains from the fruit of the vine, is called both holy (BeMidbar 6:8) and sinful (Nedarim 10A) as is one who engages in voluntary fasts (Ta’anis 11A). The place of eternal rewards is called “the Garden of Delights”, but the delights there are of a decidedly non-physical variety; “the righteous sit with their heads crowned and bask in the radiance of the Shechina-the Divine indwelling”

In practical terms this quandary is most pronounced on the 9th and 10th days of Tishrei when the day of feasting that precedes the Day of Atonement and self-denial is reckoned as a day of fasting as well.

The often irresistible lure of this-worldly pleasures is, arguably, the major contributing factor to sin and its concomitant impurities. As such, there is a compelling logic to how abstaining from of this-worldly pleasures would help us attain the contrary outcome of decontamination.  As the Pesukim (VaYikra 16:29, 30) state: “afflict your souls …to purify you! “  However, as Rav Leibeleh Eiger explains, HaShem desires to sublimate everything (in his parlance to “sweeten” everything). Eating and drinking are the general categories under which all the temporal desires and delights fall.  HaShem wants all of these to be sanctified as well.  Holy self-gratification may sound like an oxymoron. But since our only will is to fulfill His will and “we cast that which weighs us down upon Him” He then “sustains us” with spiritual nourishment. (Tehilim 55:23). When we eat on Erev Yom Kippur in order to fulfill HaShems Mitzvah, eating becomes a catalyst for purity identical to the mortifications of Yom Kippur itself.

The Mohn-Manna Bread provides an intriguing precedent for this counterintuitive concept. The Torah states that the Mohn was like a “honey doughnut” (Shemos 16:31). Per Chaza”l diners tasted every flavor that they could imagine emanating from the Mohn (Yoma 75A). Moreover, the clouds that showered down the Mohn sprinkled pearls and jewels as well (ibid). The impression one gets is that the Mohn delighted all the senses. Yet the Torah describes the Mohn experience as one of mortification and affliction (Devarim 8:2, 3). Cognizant of the one-day-only supply of Mohn we can well imagine the anxious longing with which the Jews in the wilderness anticipated its daily arrival. The take away lesson for all generations of Jews from this Hedonistic-Ascetic hodgepodge is that we should yearn for HaShems salvation and be totally reliant on Him for both the eating and the abstention from eating. The feasting and the fasting are both only done to fulfill His will.

The verse: “Before Hashem you will purified of all your sins” implicitly alludes to Erev Yom Kippur. “Before HaShem” meaning feasting on the day before HaShem’s great and awesome day, Yom Kippur, will purify and decontaminate of your souls just as the fasting on Yom Kippur itself does.

Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen,  taught that whenever a Jew consumes food as a Mitzvah the food contains the flavor of Mohn which is the bread of the ministering angels and, as such, it is the flavor of other-worldly pleasure, the taste  of the radiance of the Shechina.  The topic of Mohn appears in the chapter entitled Yom HaKipurim in tractate Yoma because Mohn consumption is exactly like fasting on Yom Kippur the point of both activities being to experience spiritual gratification by absconding from the temporal pleasures of the physical world. When the Gemara says “all who eat and drink on the ninth are considered to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth“  it is not because eating on the 9th  is like fasting but rather because fasting on the 10th is a different kind of eating, a spiritual angelic ingestion.  On Yom Kippur we dress, stand, go barefoot and wear white like angels.  We fast and are at peace with one another like angels. On Erev Yom Kippur we eat like the nullivore angels dining on “the grain of heaven and the bread of the mighty” (Tehilim78: 24, 25).

 Adapted from Toras Emes Erev Yom Kippur 5625-1865 A.C.E. (page 57)

and Machshevos Chorutz 12 (page 95)

Teshuva, Kiruv and BTs

By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

This wonderful group is devoted to discussing issues that are important to ba’alei tshuva. And we are now in the season when everyone should be attempting, each in his or her own way, to grow to higher levels through teshuva. There are two Halachoth that the Rambam includes in the laws of teshuva that are addressed to everyone involved teshuva, and which I think should be highlighted for ba’alei tshuva who are struggling in their growth and commitment to Judaism.

The Rambam (Hilchoth Teshuva, Ch. 3, Halacha 3) writes: Anyone who reconsiders the Mitzvoth that he has done, and in place of the meritorious deeds he has done he says to himself “What have I accomplished by doing them? Better that I had not done them.” This person has lost (the merit of) all of them. No merit is remembered for these [deeds], as it is written (Yechezkel 18:24) “And the righteousness of the righteous person will not save him on the day of his evil.” This refers to none other than one who questions his original actions.

This Rambam is based on a Gemara (T. B. Kiddushin 40b) which teaches as follows: Rebbe Shimon ben Yochai said: Even a person who was fully righteous his entire life, and rebelled at the end, loses the original [righteous deeds], as it is written “And the righteousness of the righteous person will not save him on the day of his sin”(Yehezkel 33:12). And even a person who was evil his entire life, and repented at the end, we never remind him again of his evil, as it is written “And the evil of the wicked person – he will not stumble over it on the day of his repentance” (ibid). (The Gemara asks) Let this person (the righteous person who rebelled at the end) be considered as one who has part sins and part meritorious deeds (since he did both good and bad deeds during his life)? Reish Lakish answers [that we are speaking about] one who questions (regrets) his original (good) actions.

I believe the implications of this Gemara, and its incorporation in the Rambam as a Halacha, have significant lessons for individual teshuva, as well as kiruv methods and goals.
Read more Teshuva, Kiruv and BTs

Don’t be Bailed Out. Be Vindicated!

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

 By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

G-d’s angel called to him from heaven and said “Avraham, Avraham’!  Do not put forth your hand towards the youth (i.e. do not harm him) for now I know that you fear G-d as you have not withheld your only son from Me.   

-Bereshis 22:11,12

And today, recall with mercy the binding of Yitzchok on behalf of his offspring. Blessed are you Hashem who recollects the covenant.

-Conclusion of the Zichronos blessing- Rosh Hashanah Musaf Service

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah the Torah reading is the Akeda– The binding of Yitzchok. The Meforshim explain that this in order to evoke the merit stockpiled by the Patriarchs at this seminal event in Jewish History. The legacy of this merit will help us, their offspring, be more likely to be adjudicated favorably on this Holy Day of Judgment. Per the Talmud and Rav Saadiya Gaon the Akeda is among the reasons underpinning the Mitzvah of Shofar and, in particular, the use of a ram’s horn to fulfill the Mitzvah as Avaraham ultimately sacrificed a ram in a burnt-offering as a surrogate for Yitzchok.

Conventional wisdom maintains that of the two patriarchs involved it was Avraham who played the pivotal role in earning the incalculable merit of the Akeda by withstanding daunting, superhuman challenges to his faith in a kind Creator, his life’s work in disseminating a theology predicated on that faith, his defining characteristic of Chesed-lovingkindness in general and, in particular, his unprecedented and peerless love for Yitzchok.

Rav Gershon Henoch, the Radzyner Rebbe takes a decidedly different approach maintaining that while Yitzchok may have been relatively passive his was the predominant role in shaping the everlasting impact of the Akeda.

HaShem is omniscient and exists above and beyond time.  As such when His spokesbeing the angel stayed Avrahams slaughtering knife at the last moment categorically admonishing him “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” HaShem was doing far more than providing the individual person Yitzchok with a stay of execution and a new lease on life. He was giving his Divine seal of approval on the life of Yitzchok AND on the lives of all the souls that would issue from Yitzchok.  The life and lifework of each and every Jew, each and every human being who can be described as the offspring of Yitzchok, received HaShems imprimatur when the Divine voice reverberated through the angel and decreed “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” . When HaShem issued this decree the Divine Mind was perfectly and infallibly aware of all the future generations about whom He’d assured Avraham “It is (only) through Yitzchok that you will gain posterity”(Bereshis21:12). The conception, birth and ongoing existence of every single Jew who was ever born or who will ever be born, down to the last generation, are thus firmly rooted in the Divine will.

Consider, says the Radzyner, the enormity of what this implies. Sin, ruin, hazards and stumbling blocks are inconsistent with the Divine will. So with the words “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth” HaShem affirmed that no sin, ruin, hazards or stumbling blocks can stem from any Jew. Otherwise a strong claim of injustice, K’vyachol, could be lodged against HaShem. After all, Avraham had already given Yitzchok up.  Yitzchok  had been elevated as a sacrifice. He was no longer of this world.  He was as good as dead.  Yet HaShem, in effect, resurrected a corpse that had not yet fathered children. Had it been possible for any sin etc. to result from this future offspring why would an omniscient transcendent G-d have reinstated Yitzchoks existence?

Accordingly the concept of invoking the merit of the Akeda is about much more than a wayward child who’s run afoul of the law drawing on the deep pockets of his mega-rich and politically well-connected father to bail him out for the umpteenth time. The merit of the Akeda inheres in it demonstrating, against all apparent evidence to the contrary, that the wayward child never ran afoul of the law in the first place.  Thundering across time and space the Akeda admonishes one and all “Do not put forth your hand towards the youth”! It is the quintessence of exoneration through merciful justice that overturns the sentence of nonexistence and validates the life of all of Yitzchok’s offspring on this Holy Day of Judgment.

The Rosh Hashanah liturgy (or any other) that superficially asks HaShem to remember, recall or recollect is troubling. For the transcendent Creator memory cannot possibly mean the cognitive bridge connecting the no-longer-existent with the present as it does for His temporal creatures. Instead concludes the Radzyner, “recalling with mercy the binding of Yitzchok on behalf of his offspring” means that through the Akeda it is within the grasp and recollection of every Jew to gaze into the depths of his heart and the inner recesses of his memory to behold how he is rooted in, and bound up with, the Divine Will.

Adapted from Sod Yesharim Rosh HaShanah Chapter 77 (page 84)

The Two Types of Prayer and the Two Types of Teshuva

According to Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, Chazal saw prayer as a an audience between the King and a prominent individual thus requiring us to stand straight, dress in good clothes and address Hashem directly. Hashem has given us this special privilege to approach him three times a day, only because we have a precedent from the Avos who approached Him this way.

In Selichos, we approach Hashem, not from the greatness of a man before a King, but from the opposite assumption, based on man’s weakness, loneliness and helplessness. Selichos are filled with one idea, how can lowly man possibly approach G-d? Our right to approach Hashem in Selichos is based on the Gemora in Rosh Hashanah (17b) where it is recorded that Hashem told Moshe that “Every time that Israel sins, let them perform this service (13 Attributes of Mercy) and I will pardon them.” .

These two approaches to prayer perhaps provide another answer to the question of why we don’t say viduy (confession), which is an essential component of Teshuva (along with regret and commitment to avoid transgression in the future) on Rosh Hoshana. Three of the approaches to this question are 1) on the Day of Judgement, we don’t want to mention our transgressions; 2) on this day we practice Hirhur Teshuva, which is a preparation for actual Teshuva; 3) we are actually performing the commitment to the future aspect of Teshuva. But at the end of the day, this is one of the ten days of Teshuva, when Hashem is especially accessible to grant atonement for our sins, so why don’t we take advantage with full Teshuva?

Another possible answer is that based on the two types of prayer, there are actually two types of Teshuva. The first is a general return to the ways of Hashem, the Teshuva mentioned in Parsha Nitzavim. The theme of Rosh Hoshana is that Hashem is King and He has a plan from the beginning of creation through the giving of the Torah at Sinai and culminating with the coming of Moshiach. The mitzvah of the day, the Shofar, is to tell us to pay attention to the plan, just as we were notified of the plan with the Shofar at Sinai and will be notified with the coming of Moshiach. This is our day to choose to be an integral part of the plan, to approach G-d from our potential greatness, just as we approach the King in the Shemoneh Esrai.

The second type of Teshuva is the atonement for the mistakes of the past. To achieve this atonement we need the full battery of viduy, regret and future committment. We must come to Hashem and admit that we have serious deficiencies as a result of our thoughts and actions and we are asking Hashem to help eliminate the stains we have created. This Teshuva requires the prayer of Selichos with our admission of weakness and helplessness, and the turning towards Hashem for help, as He directed us when he gave us the 13 Middos.

On Rosh Hoshana we are focused on the coming before the King, the positive commitment to Teshuva, drawing on the potential greatness of man. We sing and pray about the King, His plan and our commitment to our role. On the rest of the days of Teshuva we have to clean up our deficiencies, it’s the Teshuva of atonement, with its Viduy, regret, commitment, and Selichos.

As Baalei Teshuva we are well aware of these two types of Teshuva. We know we have many deficiencies in areas such as Torah knowledge, Torah non-compliant acts, and the many character traits we must work on. But at the same time we have all had the opportunity to explicitly sign on to the plan. When we decided to accept the yoke of Mitzvos and change significant parts of our lives, we demonstrated our striving for greatness in our service of the King.

When we held the Beyond BT Passaic Shabbaton many years ago, I mentioned these two aspects of Baalei Teshuva, our many deficiencies and our growth orientation and commitment to Torah. One speaker, a Baal Teshuva, jokingly remarked that until today he didn’t realize he had so many problems, while another speaker, who is frum from birth, remarked that the reason he came to the Shabbaton and “religiously” reads Beyond BT is because he wants to be part of a group that is so committed to their own and each other’s growth.

As we approach the Yomin Noraim we need to focus on both types of Teshuva. We have to accept and understand that we have our deficiencies, our stains, our areas to improve – and here we need the Teshuva of viduy and of atonement. We also have to realize that although we may have signed up for the plan many years ago, we have to re-enlist on a yearly basis.

Rosh Hoshana is the day when we get a clear picture and the need to strive for the greatness that the picture offers. We must try to work up to the same enthusiasm we had in our original commitment. These dual messages of Teshuva have the potential to unite all Jews as we are all Baalei Teshuva when we commit to our potential greatness, while at the same time recognizing, admitting and continuing to work on our deficiencies.

May we all have a Kesiva V’Chasima Tova.

Elul – Some Resources for Motivation

Elul is coming which means that the Teshuva season is about to begin. If we want to have a successful Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur, seforim strongly advise us to start early in the month. It’s a tremendous opportunity for growth and we’d be foolish not to take advantage of it.

Most of the current day Rebbeim advise us to pick something small. Maybe saying Asher Yotzar with Kavanna, or pausing before we speak on occasion or perhaps starting an extra 10 minute seder in Mussar, Mishnah or Tanach. The sky is truly the limit, but we have to start reaching for it when Elul begins.

Being that our goal is to get closer to Hashem and we’re doing mitzvos to accomplish that goal, it might make sense to try to do the mitzvos with a little more Kavanna. There are three simple thoughts we can have before doing any mitzvah:

1) Hashem commanded us to do the mitzvah
2) We are the ones being commanded
3) And the specific mitzvah, whose commandment we are fullfilling is …. (whatever mitzvah you are doing)

It’s really pretty simple and it will help us get so much more mileage out of the mitzvos we already do.

Here’s a few resources for extra motivation:

Stepping Stones to Repentance: A thirty-day program based on Ohr Yisrael the classic writings of Rav Yisrael Salanter By: Rabbi Zvi Miller here’s an excerpt

DAY ONE: “BOUNDLESS BLESSINGS”
“There is no enterprise that yields profit like preparation for the Day of Atonement. Through studying Mussar and reflecting on how to improve one’s ways, a person is inspired on Yom Kippur to make resolutions for the future. Even the smallest, most minute preparation to enhance one’s Yom Kippur experience is invaluable, bringing boundless blessings of success. It saves one from many troubles — and there is no greater profit than this.” (Ohr Yisrael, Letter Seven, p. 193)

Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller – Three Steps to Genuine Change. An excerpt:

In the course of our lives, we close doors to higher and deeper selves and sometimes forget that we, too, are more than earners, spenders, and travelers through life. Our thoughtless enslavement to mindless routine can leave us without much of a relationship to our souls. In a materialistic society, it is all too easy to view others as competitors. As toddlers we observed that when you have three cookies and give one away, all you have left are two. From that point onward we are afraid to give.

R’ Dovid Schwartz – Rabbi Yonah of Gerona – Guilt is Good – mp3

R’ Daniel Stein – Hilchos Teshuva Introduction – mp3

R’ Moshe Schwerd – Din V’Cheshbon – mp3

R’ Yakov Haber on Rosh Hoshana and Hirhur Teshuva according to Rav Soloveitchik can be downloaded here.

R’ Yakov Haber on Rosh Hoshana davening can be downloaded here.

Originally posted August 14, 2007

Sacred Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)….

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah:

Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For the series introduction click

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz

Behold I have set the Blessing before you TODAY

First Pasuk in Parshas Re’eh -Devarim 11:26

There is an inverse relationship between our age and the quantity and the intensity of our regrets.

When we are young we tend to be more self-righteous and are less aware of our own shortcomings.  Even when a young person regrets something the future seems bright and fresh opportunities abound. Few irreversible forks in the lifes road have been taken yet. Most of all, the supply of time seems inexhaustible.  Even if mistakes have been made or opportunities squandered there is plenty of time readily available to set things right.

But as we age, our hearts fairly break with regret and remorse. More and more of the open doors of opportunity slam shut. Yesterdays sins engender new ones and, far from learning from our mistakes, we tend to habitually repeat the old ones while continuing to break fresh ground with new ones. Once we reach lifes halfway point we tend to obsess over “woulda, shoulda, coulda”. Worst of all, as the sands in our personal hourglasses dwindle to a precious few we become convinced that even if we could stop messing things up and somehow come up with a plan to rectify the past that the time we have left is insufficient to implement our plan…so why bother?

The coming month of Elul is a season for Teshuva. Yet for many of us, as regret and guilt are the very foundation of Teshuva, Elul has ceased to be a time of optimism and renewal. On the contrary, during Elul the spirit crushing thoughts of “woulda, shoulda, coulda” just intensify.

Rav Laibeleh Eiger explains that the Pasuk emphasized the word HaYomToday to challenge these depressing thoughts. The Torah is eternal and its message is equally relevant and binding for all times and places.  HaShem is assuring the Jews of here and now, of Elul 5773, that he has set THE blessing before us today…this very day. HaYom im Bekolo Tishmoun –“this very day if you were to just hearken to His voice”(Tehilim 95:7). Among the seven Shabbosos of Nechama perhaps the greatest solace of all inheres in the word “HaYom”=Today. It teaches us that huge tracts of time are not required in order to set things right. On any given day and at any given moment that one begins to regret their sins, salvation is nigh. On that very day and at that very moment HaShem sets the blessing before him.

This is why Parshas Re’eh is always read the Shabbos before Elul begins. It sensitizes us to the fact that HaShem recognizes our regret, remorse and general awakening to Teshuva and immediately responds by setting the blessings before us TODAY.

The most famous allusion to the upcoming month Ahnee L’Dodee, V’Dodee lee-“I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me” (Shir HaShirim 6:3) imparts the same message.  HaShem is neither k’vyachol –so to speak emotionally stingy nor slow to respond. Spiritual gratification is instantaneous. The moment that “I am for my Beloved” my Beloved reciprocates and “is for me”.

Two more Pesukim in Re’eh reemphasize the instantaneousness, the “Today” of Divine reciprocation, rapprochement and blessing:

L’shichno Tidreshu… U’vahsah Shamah– “Search for His closeness… and you will come there.” (Devarim 12:5).  The moment that a person rouses himself and rededicates his heart to Hashem i.e. when we seek out His Shechina and “search for His closeness” we are immediately repositioned “you will come there” I.e. that HaShem becomes revealed to the recipient and accepts him.

Ish K’matnas Yadoh– “every man according to his capacity to give” (Devarim 16:17).   i.e. immediately after the preparation has been made to receive and the hand has been outstretched comes…. K’virkas haShem Elokecha asher nosan loch  “(as) The blessing of HaShem your L-rd that he gave to you” (Ibid)

Adapted from Toras Emes-Devarim 11:26 (4th D”H Re’eh on page 208)