Category Archives: Sefer Devarim

Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech: Do You Want To Be Like THAT GUY On The Train!

Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech

Do You Want To Be Like THAT GUY On The Train!

“You stand this day all of you before Hashem; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Yisroel.” (Devarim 29:9)

How would you feel if you would have been the man on the train, the innkeeper, or the rabbi in the following stories?

The great mussar luminary, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt”l was traveling by train from Salant to Vilna. He was sitting in a smoking car holding a lit cigar. [This was before it was known that smoking is harmful to your health.] A young passenger approached him and started yelling about the smoke. Although it was his right to smoke, as it was a smoking car, Rav Yisrael immediately put out the cigar and opened the window to let the smoke out. The same fellow shouted again at the rabbi, telling him to shut the window as it was now getting too cold. Upon arriving in Vilna, the young man noticed the hundreds of people waiting to greet a famous rabbi who was on the train. When he realized that the great rabbi was the man that he had been very rude to, he became very distraught and profusely begged Rabbi Yisroel for forgiveness.

The Brisker Rav, Rav Yehoshua Ber Soloveitchik zt”l, was once caught in a blinding snowstorm. He and his wagon driver realized that they would have to find a place to stay overnight as the roads were becoming impassable. It was late at night when they arrived at an inn. After banging on the door for a while, the sleepy innkeeper finally opened his window and said that the inn was closed. The wagon driver called out and said that it was freezing outside and that the roads were becoming impassable. Grudgingly, the innkeeper came downstairs and opened the door. The innkeeper was not interested in tending to them, but he told them that they could stay in a side room. The room was cold, but it was much better than being outside in the frigid cold. The Rav and his driver settled in for the night. About a half hour later, more travelers were banging on the door of the inn. One of the travelers called up that the rebbe was downstairs, together with some of his followers. The innkeeper saw that there were about twenty travelers outside. That meant good business. He ran to open the door and greet the guests. He invited them in and brought them drinks and refreshments. Soon, they were all warm. The rebbe went to wash his hands and passed the side room where the other two travelers were shivering in the cold. The rebbe noticed them and recognized the great Torah luminary, the Brisker Rav. He brought the Brisker Rav into the dining room where the other chassidim were sitting. When the innkeeper returned to the dining room with more food, the rebbe castigated him for putting the gadol hador, the great Torah leader of that generation, in that frigid room and without giving him any refreshments to warm him up. The innkeeper had not recognized the Brisker Rav and immediately begged for forgiveness. He said, “I am sorry, I did not realize who you were.” … The Brisker Rav forgave him and taught him a very important lesson. ‘You are begging my pardon because I am the Brisker Rav. That is not why you should be asking forgiveness. You should be asking forgiveness because it was wrong of you to behave like that to any Jew that may have come to your inn. No one should be left in the cold.” (Around the Maggid’s Table by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky zt”l was one of the Torah leaders of his generation. One day, as he was taking a walk, he noticed a five-year-old girl crying. He stopped what he was doing [which was most likely learning], went over to the girl and asked her why she was crying. She said that she was crying because her friend made fun of her dress. Rabbi Abramsky asked her for her name. She said that it was Shoshana. Rabbi Abramsky told her to tell her friend that the rabbi said her name was beautiful, and her dress was beautiful. The young girl ran back to her friends with a big smile on her face. (More Maggid Stories for Children by Chaviva Krohn Pfeiffer)

The first pasuk in our Parsha says that you are all standing before Hashem referring to the nesiim, the leaders of the twelve shevatim, tribes, together with all the people. The Yalkut Shimoni says this pasuk teaches us that even though the nesiim and other officers were leaders over the people, and the people had to listen to them, in the eyes of Hashem all the Jews were equal.

The Alshich zt”l says a similar point. In the beginning of Parshas Matos (Bamidbar 30:2) Moshe first told a particular commandment to the nesiim before teaching it to the rest of the Jewish nation. Rashi explains that Moshe did this to honor the nesiim. The same procedure was followed with the teaching of the Ten Commandments. First Moshe taught the laws to Aharon, then to Aharon’s sons and then to the nesiim. Only afterwards did Moshe teach the laws to the rest of the Jewish nation. (Shmos 34: 31-32. see Rashi there). In our Parsha, the pasuk says, “You stand this day all of you before Hashem; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Yisroel.” (Devarim 29:9). The Alshich questions why Moshe changed the pattern and said the current message to the entire Jewish nation, at one time. The Alshich says that the words of the pasuk itself answer the question. Previously, when Moshe taught the people, he honored the nesiim by teaching them first, before the rest of the nation came to him. Here, all the people were already standing together before Hashem to make a covenant with Hashem. Once everyone, the nesiim, the officers, the elders, … and the water carriers were all standing before Hashem, there was no distinction between “greater” and “lesser” people. Once they were all standing before Hashem, there was no way for a human to determine which person was greater in the eyes of Hashem or which person deserved more honor. Someone whom the people feel is deserving of honor and prestige may actually be considered lesser than a simple Jew, in the eyes of Hashem. Hashem has a different equation than we do, to determine who is a more honored person.

According to the Alshich we cannot discern who is greater in the eyes of Hashem. How would we feel if the person whom we had treated disrespectfully, suddenly became our boss? How would we feel if, after 120 years, we go to Heaven and see that someone whom we had treated disrespectfully, is highly respected in Heaven?

Obviously, we should treat everyone with respect, as everyone is created in the image of Hashem.

An added motivation to do so may be the realization that the person whom we disrespect may be among the most respected up high. We don’t want to be like the man on the train or the innkeeper who found out

    that the people to whom they acted rudely were well-known and highly respected people.

We should try to be like the rabbi who treated everyone, even a five-year-old girl, with respect.


Parshas Ki Savo: Thank You! Thank You!

Parshas Ki Savo

Thank You! Thank You!

“You are to take of the first, of all the fruits that you bring from your land, that Hashem has given you….” (Devarim 26:2)

Rav Chananya Chollak founded Ezer Mizion, a medical and social support organization in Israel.  A wealthy supporter was visiting him, and they decided to daven Ma’ariv at the Kosel. While at the Kosel, they heard uncontrollable crying coming from an older man. Rav Chollak and his friend watched the elderly Jew in awe and with a feeling of compassion. Together, they decided to help this fellow Jew with whatever he needed, be it medical or financial help. When the elderly man finished his prayers, they approached him with an offer to help. The gentleman thanked them for their kindness but told them that he did not need their help. He said, “Baruch Hashem, I am a blessed man. Everything is wonderful.” “Then why were you crying and davening like that?” The elderly man answered that his tenth child had just gotten married the previous night. He had come to the Kosel to thank Hashem for allowing him and his wife to live and participate in this special occasion.

In so doing, this elderly Jew had followed in the ways of King David. King David had prayed with equal intensity, when he asked for Hashem’s help as when he had thanked Hashem for his salvation. (In the Spirit of the Maggid by Rabbi Paysach Krohn)

Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt”l was known to urge people to notice and express appreciation to Hashem for all the good that Hashem does. If one would stop to think for a moment, one could think of so many reasons to thank Hashem. Thank you, Hashem, that I am alive. Thank you, Hashem, that I have food to eat. Thank you, Hashem, for a comfortable bed and warm blanket. Thank you, Hashem, that I am not barred from doing mitzvos. Thank you, Hashem, that I was not involved in the car accident that I had just passed, and many, many more reasons to thank Hashem. How many can you think of? Try to get a minimum of 25.

There is a mitzvah of bikurim, of bringing the first fruits from each of the 7 special fruits grown in the Land of Israel, to Yerushalayim. There, they are presented to the kohanim in the Beis HaMikdash. The procedure and procession were very elaborate. When the people bringing the bikurim passed through different cities on the way to Yerushalayim, the city dwellers came to greet them. Even workers would pause their work to greet those who were bringing bikurim.

The Alshich says that normally a worker is forbidden to stop his work, even just to give a greeting, because the time lost would be considered stealing from his boss. If so, what is so special about this mitzvah of bikurim that halacha requires the Jewish workers to stop working for a short while, to greet those Jews bringing bikurim?


The Alshich has a similar question on a Midrash in Parshas Bereishis. The Midrash states that the world was created for the sake of that which is called “Reishis” [first]: The world was created for the sake of the nation of Israel who is called “Reishis”. Likewise, the world was created for the sake of Torah, which is called “Reishis”. Finally, the world was created for the sake of the mitzvah of bikkurim, which is called “Reishis”. The Alshich asks what is so special about this mitzvah of bringing bikurim that it was given as a reason for the creation of the world?


The Alshich answers that the mitzvah of bikkurim contains within it something that is fundamental to being a human being — the obligation for people to express their gratitude, their hakaras haTov. HaKaras haTov is so necessary and vital that the whole world’s creation was actualized just for this mitzvah, which teaches us and trains us in the attribute of gratitude. The obligation to show appreciation to Hashem is one of the basic tenets of serving Hashem. Hashem gives us life, food, and EVERYTHING!! ALL that we have is from Hashem!­ We must constantly think about and appreciate that. This mitzvah is so special that even workers must stop working for a short while to participate in it.

The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer [Chapter 7] writes that the reason Adam was exiled from the Garden of Eden was due to his ingratitude. His sin was not merely eating from the Tree of Knowledge. He blamed it on, “The woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit and I ate it.” (Bereishis 3:12) As Rashi points out, Adam was being ungrateful. Hashem had presented him with Chava as a gift. Yet, Adam complained that she was the one who had caused him to sin.

Whenever Rabbi Yaakov Neiman zt”l visited Radin, the Chofetz Chaim zt”l would trouble himself to arrange lodging for him. Why? Rabbi Neiman explained that the Chofetz Chaim had to periodically travel to Warsaw to deal with the publishing of his sefarim. In Warsaw, the Chofetz Chaim used to stay in the home of Rabbi Neiman’s wife’s grandfather. The Chofetz Chaim felt an obligation of hakaras tov, appreciation, to his host. Therefore, he wanted to, likewise, help the man’s grandchild. We see the extent of the obligation to feel hakaras tov. Even though the Chofetz Chaim’s presence in the grandfather’s house was an honor for the grandfather, the Chofetz Chaim still felt an obligation to show appreciation to his grandchildren.

From the actions of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l we see the extent of the obligation to show appreciation. One of Rabbi Meltzer’s illustrious students invited him to his son’s bar mitzvah that would be taking place on Shabbos. He invited him as a sign of respect but did not expect Rabbi Meltzer to walk the long distance and up four steep flights of stairs to his home. In the middle of the bar mitzvah, Rabbi Meltzer appeared. Everyone was shocked that he had come. Rabbi Meltzer said that he felt obligated to come because of hakaras hatov. What favor had been done for him that he felt obligated to reciprocate? When Rabbi Meltzer had seen the invitation, he had a flashback to his student’s wedding. It seemed as if the wedding had recently taken place, yet now he had a son of bar mitzvah age. Rabbi Meltzer said that this thought made him realize that time flies so quickly. Therefore, he felt that he must immediately do teshuvah while he still could, while he was still alive. Since this occasion inspired Rabbi Meltzer to do teshuvah, he felt obligated to show appreciation to his student. Therefore, he came to the bar mitzvah.

Hakaras HaTov is so fundamental that a person is only considered a mentsch when he appreciates all the many favors that Hashem does. No matter what the state of our life is, we are so indebted to Hashem for life itself!

We must stop to think and show appreciation for all the kindness that others do for us.

When we give the proper appreciation to others, for the favors that they do,

then we can begin to properly appreciate all that Hashem does for us.


(dvar Torah, in part, based on Yalkut Lekech Tov by Yaakov Yisroel Beifus)


Parshas Ki Tetzeh: Act Like Royalty and Receive the Most Magnificent Clothing!

Parshas Ki Tetzeh

Act Like Royalty and Receive the Most Magnificent Clothing!

“For Hashem is moving within your camp to save you and to defeat your enemies before you, so your camp must be holy; let Hashem not see within you, disgraceful objects lest Hashem turn away from you.” (Devarim 23:15)

The Torah tells us that within our army encampment we must maintain holiness to continue Hashem’s protection. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l  (in Geder Olam Perek 6, as quoted in Biurei Chofetz on the Torah compiled by Rabbi Nachum Meir Yaakov Weinrab) says a very powerful parable on this pasuk. There was a dealer in precious stones who lived in the capital city. He and his wife both worked in the business. He would often travel to far-away places to buy precious stones and then send them to his wife to sell. One day, the officers of the king came to their store, looking for very precious jewels for the king’s crown. The wife said that it would befit the king’s crown to have the most exquisite jewels. She did not have those jewels in the store, but she would send a letter to her husband to purchase them. The king’s officer promised the woman a huge reward for getting the gems. They cautioned her to be very sure that the gems were genuine. The king would be receiving his crown at a coronation ceremony with many other kings in attendance. Many of the other kings were gem experts. If they were to notice a fake gem in the king’s crown, it would be a huge embarrassment for the king. If that were to happen, the king would severely punish the officers as well as the gem dealers. The wife assured the officers that she and her husband were careful to sell only genuine gems. The wife sent her husband a letter to buy the finest gems for the king’s crown. The husband sent back a letter in response. He said that he had bought the finest gems and that he would be sending them to his wife. He had checked their authenticity with a few experts. However, the responsibility of being placed in the king’s crown was a very fearful thought. Therefore, he cautioned his wife to be extra careful and have the gems checked by a few of her local experts to ensure that they were genuine. When the wife received the precious gems along with the letter, she was very excited. She couldn’t wait to receive a handsome reward in addition to the great honor that the king would bestow on her. She ignored her husband’s warning and assumed that the checking for authenticity that he had done was sufficient. She sent a message to the king’s officers that she had received the beautiful gems. They came to get them and rewarded her handsomely. At the coronation, the king was very proud, telling the other kings that he had even bought precious gems from a far-away country to adorn his crown. To his disbelief and great embarrassment, the other kings told him that the gems were counterfeit! The woman who had sold the gems to the king was imprisoned.  She argued that it wasn’t her fault since she had told her husband to make sure the gems were genuine.  Her husband, who meanwhile had returned home, was also imprisoned. He said that the gem experts to whom he had shown the gems had fooled him. And, anyway, he had told his wife to have them checked by local experts before selling them to the king. The officers screamed at the husband, blaming him for relying on his wife and not being diligent enough to ensure that he had totally confirmed their authenticity. The husband and wife were both thrown into prison where they were inflicted with terrible suffering. The husband and wife each blamed each other for the terrible situation that they were in.


The Chofetz Chaim zt”l used this parable to explain the following: One’s Torah learning and performance of mitzvos creates jewels which are placed into crowns to adorn Hashem. When one passes away and goes to Olam Haba, he is adorned with those very same crowns which were formed by his mitzvos and Torah learning. However, if a mitzvah is done in a manner lacking holiness, then in place of a beautiful gem, a dark spot is placed on Hashem’s crown. If one learns Torah or says a bracha, a blessing, while facing a woman who is not modestly attired, even his own wife, then his Torah learning or bracha does not become holy. Instead of a brilliant light, in the place of a beautiful gem, there is a place of darkness in the crown. This is a blight on Hashem’s crown, and it is embarrassing in front of the heavenly retinue. After this man and woman pass on, the angels will scream that their souls should receive terrible punishments for their actions which disgraced the King of Kings, Hashem. At the time of judgement, people try to deflect the blame. The wife will blame her husband who recited the bracha while facing her when immodestly attired.  The husband will blame his wife for sitting opposite him, dressed immodestly, while he was saying a bracha, and for ignoring his request to dress appropriately at that time. The angels will tell the husband that he should have moved to another place or at least turned away while reciting the blessings. Both husband and wife will be punished for disgracing Hashem instead of showing honor to Hashem. The angels will take them to receive harsh punishments. The wife will turn to her husband in tears, blaming him for not being more careful. She will tell him that he should have warned her about the severity of her sin. Had she realized, she would have dressed differently. The husband will respond by blaming his wife. He had told her numerous times that what she was doing was wrong. Yet, she desired to look beautiful in front of others and wanted to copy her friends who dressed inappropriately.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l ends by saying that we should be wise and forewarned. A husband should constantly remind his wife about the importance of not being immodestly dressed in front of any man who is learning Torah or saying a bracha. Every woman should do all that she can do ensure that this not happen.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l (in sefer Kovetz Ma’amarim, quoted in Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin) says that a woman should always be dressed modestly. Rav Elchonon zt”l often spoke about the terrible persecution suffered by European Jews, especially those in Poland and Lithuania, between World War I and World War ll. It reached the point where every gentile felt that it was his birthright to kill and torture Jews.

Rav Elchonon zt”l quoted the Chofetz Chaim zt”l’s explanation for this. Hashem is the guardian of the Jews. However, when Hashem sees that the Jews are guilty of a lack of modesty and other shamefulness, Hashem removes His protection. Thus, nations become free to attack us.

It says in Sefer Tehillim (Psalms 45:14) “The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is wrought with gold.” Rashi explains that all honor awaits the King’s daughter who conducts herself inwardly with modesty. Her clothing will be more precious than the golden settings in the clothing of the Kohain Gadol.  

It is very difficult not to be influenced in our dress, even a little, by the immoral society around us. We must remember that we are the beloved of Hashem and are royalty. Great reward awaits those who can maintain appropriate standards of modesty, befitting the daughter of the king.


Parshas Shoftim: Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover. It Is What Is Inside That Counts

Parshas Shoftim

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover. It Is What Is Inside That Counts

“Do not plant an Asheirah for yourself [or] any tree near the altar of Hashem….” (Devarim 16:21)

The Talmud relates an interesting story (Ta’anis 7A-7B and Nedarim 50B). Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya was not good looking. The daughter of the Roman emperor said to him, “You are the epitome of magnificent Torah, but it is stored in an ugly vessel”. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya responded by asking, “Does your father keep his wine in simple clay vessels? Is there no distinction between the emperor and ordinary people? You should place your wine in vessels of silver and gold.”  After hearing this, the emperor’s daughter had her father’s wine placed in vessels of silver and gold. A short time afterwards, the emperor tried drinking the wine, but it had all turned sour. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya wanted to demonstrate that fine material is best preserved in the least of vessels. Rabbi Yehoshua said to her, “The same is also true of the Torah. It spoils if it is contained in a handsome person”. She asked him, “But are there not people who are both good looking and learned in Torah?” He replied, “If they were ugly, they would be even more learned.”


The Torah (Devarim 16:21) prohibits the planting of an asheirah (a tree devoted to idolatry) on the Temple Mount, near the mizbayach for Hashem. The Rambam (Laws of Avoda Zara 6:9) explains that it was the practice of idolators to plant trees near their altars, to attract attention and encourage people to come and serve the idol. The Da’as Zekainim says that the idolaters brought sacrifices on their altars in honor of those trees.

The Ba’al HaTurim says that the gematria, the numerical value, of the word asheirah (506) is the same as the value of the phrase, “a judge who is not fitting” [dayan she’aino hagun]. That indicates that anyone who appoints a judge who is not fit, is considered as if he planted an asheirah tree near the mizbayach. Rav Chaim Soleveitchik zt”l quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 7) citing Raish Lakish who says that whoever appoints a judge who is unworthy, is considered as if he had planted an asheirah. What’s the comparison? An object that is worshipped as an idol, is evident that it is an idol. It is obvious to any Jew who sees it that it is an idol, and he knows to move far away from it. An asheirah is different. To the naked eye, it looks like any beautiful tree. In reality, the tree is an idol. This is comparable to the appointment of an unworthy man to be a judge. His outward appearance may be regal, befitting a judge. Inwardly, however, he is unfit for the job. He will have a negative impact on truth and justice. (quoted in Ituri Torah by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg).

Similarly, the Sforno says that an asheirah is something beautiful and decorative. Yet, at the same time it is, in actuality, something ugly from the vantage point of holiness, since it leads to idolatrous practices. When choosing a judge, we should choose one who possesses positive spiritual qualities rather than an unworthy one who only makes a good superficial impression.

According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin7A), the appointment of a judge in a Jewish court has major repercussions for all the Jewish People. Any judge who does not render a judgment truthfully, causes the Divine Presence to withdraw from the Jewish People. Conversely, any judge who does render a judgment honestly, causes the Divine Presence to rest among the Jewish People.

Reuven visited older adults in a nursing home. Initially, he felt that these were simply “old” people. When he spoke to them, he realized that they were much more than that. Many of them had accomplished much in their lives. Some were even heroes. One lady had fought in the Resistance, fighting the Nazis. One man had been a principal of a Jewish school and had encouraged thousands of children to draw closer to Hashem. One man was a firefighter who had saved numerous people from burning buildings. When Reuven left the nursing home, he had an entirely new perspective on life. He understood that just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a person by what they look like.

We should not label others and judge them by the way that they look. There can be great people, righteous people, and accomplished people sitting right next to us, unbeknown to us. There can be people who maintained faith in Hashem through difficult challenges, thus making them very special people. There can be someone who merely did one good deed; yet that deed was very precious to Hashem. We are incapable of “rating” others, as only Hashem knows one’s abilities and what he is capable of. We should not be arrogant. The person upon whom we are looking down, may actually have a greater portion in the World to Come than we have. We must have respect for all people. Our mutual respect for one-another will foster feelings of love and respect. May these actions help speed the coming of Moshiach.



Parshas Re’eh: Change Your DNA for Worse or for Better!

Parshas Re’eh

Change Your DNA for Worse or for Better!

“But make sure that you do not partake of the blood …. you must not partake of it, in order that it may go well with you and with your descendants to come.” (Devarim 12:23, 24) “You must surely strike down the inhabitants of that city by the sword; annihilate it and everything that is in it, and its livestock by the sword…. so that Hashem withdraws His raising fury and grant you mercy, and He will be merciful toward you.” (Devarim 13:16,18)

Rabbi Chaim Volozhin zt”l (Ruach Chaim as quoted in Artscroll Bereishis) says that our forefather Avraham developed wonderful traits as a result of passing the Ten Tests. Our forefathers bequeathed to each of us a magnificent legacy of their middos, character traits, from their spiritual DNA to ours. There have been Jews who, despite not being very religious, were willing to risk their lives to sanctify Hashem’s name. Their trait of self-sacrifice was inherited from Avraham’s willingness to allow himself to be thrown into a fiery furnace rather than renounce his faith in Hashem. Our longing to settle in, or at least visit, Eretz Yisroel came from Avraham’s willingness to leave his homeland to travel to Eretz Yisroel. We also inherited from Avraham the trait of acceptance of all that Hashem does is for the best. So too, when any tzaddik works hard and achieves character perfection, those positive characteristics are inherited by his children.

The Torah says that after ritually slaughtering an animal to eat its meat, it is forbidden to eat the blood of the animal (Devarim 12:23-25). You must not partake of it, “in order that it may go well with you and with your descendants to come, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of Hashem” (Devarim 12:25). Rav Yonason Eibschutz zt”l (quoted in Iturei Torah by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg) asks, why the Torah specifically says by this mitzvah, of not eating the blood, “in order that it should be good for your descendants”. What is the connection to your descendants when you eat the blood of an animal? Rav Yonason Eibschutz zt”l answers that blood is forbidden to eat because it dulls the heart and influences a person to cruelty. The cruelty will then be passed in the spiritual DNA from father to son. That is why the pasuk says not to eat the blood “in order that it be good for you and your descendants”. This is to protect your descendants from bad character traits which would otherwise have been passed down to them.

If an entire city served idols, the entire city was destroyed. All the inhabitants and even the animals had to be killed. The entire city and all the booty in it, was then burned. The city was never allowed to be rebuilt.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah) says that habit becomes second nature. For example, if one is in the habit of doing acts of kindness, being a kind person will become one’s second nature. The same would apply to all midos, both good and bad. That habit would become second nature. If so, then wiping out such a city presented a serious challenge to the soldiers who were following this mitzvah.  The Jewish soldiers who would be fulfilling the mitzvah of wiping out such a city would be killing many people. The act of killing would become second nature to them. The soldiers would then thirst for blood and become murderers. To counter that, Hashem promises, “He [Hashem] will be merciful toward you”. Hashem will replace the feelings of mercy that the soldiers lost while performing this mitzvah. They will then be as merciful as they had been previously.

For this reason, the Chofetz Chaim zt”l expressed his concern for the Jewish soldiers who returned home after the first World War.  He feared that they would become murderers because the sensation of murder had been implanted in their hearts from the battles that they had fought.

Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz zt”l (Sichos Mussar תשל”ג, page 141) says that when Sodom was destroyed, Lot’s daughters thought that the rest of the world had been destroyed and that they and their father were the only survivors. To populate the world, each of them had relations with their father. Each gave birth to a son. The elder daughter who initiated this behavior, named her son Moav. This genetic DNA, of immorality, was passed down to her descendants. Years later, it was the daughters of this nation, Moav, whose immorality caused the death of 24,000 Jews. Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz zt”l asks how is it that it seems from the Talmud that the daughters were praised for their actions of immorality? The Talmud (Nazir 23A) praises Lot’s elder daughter whose intentions were for a mitzvah, and for which she was rewarded. Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz zt”l answered that even though their intentions were praiseworthy and were considered a big mitzvah, an inclination towards promiscuity was established in her family. In later generations, that tendency led to and became a promiscuity of sin. The act of Lot’s daughter was not done for the sake of immorality but for the sake of Hashem. However, in later generations it blossomed into total immorality.

Parents are happy when their children are successful (Obviously, there are different perspectives for the definition of success). It is a great nachas when parents see that children are even more successful than them. No loving parent would do something to harm a child or place an impediment to his success.

That is one reason why it is so important for us to actively work on the positive development of our middos. The middos that we develop may be transferred to the spiritual DNA of our children and all our future generations.



Parshas Eikev: Why Do The Righteous “Suffer”?

Parshas Eikev

Why Do The Righteous “Suffer”?

“… the Almighty—the Great, the Powerful, and the Awesome [One]—Who neither exercises favoritism nor accepts bribes. Who performs justice for orphans and widows and loves the convert to give him bread and a garment.” (Devarim 10:17-18)

Mrs. Simchon finally had a few moments of quiet. She decided to relax by reading her newspaper. She went to her mailbox and was upset to see that her newspaper was missing. Later that afternoon, her husband noticed that the newspaper was in the mailbox. The next day, the same thing happened. The newspaper was missing in the morning and reappeared in the afternoon. This time, the newspaper was a little crumpled. Mrs. Simchon was very upset. She put a sign on her mailbox that read, “Do not take the newspaper! If you do, you are a thief!” The following morning, Mrs. Simchon went to get her newspaper. She was shocked to see that her neighbor, Mr. Weiss, was reading it. She was very upset and disappointed. Clearly, Mr. Weiss was the thief who had taken her newspaper previously. This was hurtful to Mrs. Simchon since Mr. Weiss and his wife, as well as his children, had done many favors for the Simchon family. Now Mrs. Simchon realized that Mr. Weiss was not as good a person as he had seemed. He was just a lowly thief!  She expressed her angry thoughts to her husband. Her husband agreed that it wasn’t nice to do and that he would talk to Mr. Weiss about it. Mr. Simchon said that despite this, it was not a reason to forget about all the good things that Mr. Weiss had done for them in the past. He was still a good person even though he slipped-up in this regard. They still owed him a debt of gratitude which they should continue to show him. He said, “After all”, we ourselves are not perfect. (The Elucidated Tomer Devorah on the work of the kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero by Rabbi Shmuel Meir Riachi)

The Talmud (Brachos 28B) records a story about Rabbi Yocḥanan ben Zakkai, the towering Torah giant of his generation. When he fell ill, his students came to visit him. When he saw them, he began to cry. He told them that he feared Heavenly judgement which was so unlike the judgment of man. He said that if he were being judged by a flesh and blood king, he could maintain hope of eventually being freed from prison…. Furthermore, a flesh and blood king could be appeased with words and even bribed with money. Despite that, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai would still fear the judgement of a flesh and blood king. Certainly, he would be even more afraid when brought to judgement before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, … who cannot be appeased with words or bribed with money.

The Torah (Devarim 10:17) tells us that Hashem does not show favoritism and does not accept bribes. What does it mean that Hashem does not accept bribes? Rashi explains that Hashem can not be appeased by a monetary bribe. The Taz (Divrei Dovid Turei Zahav) questions Rashi’s explanation. How can a person possibly bribe Hashem-the whole world belongs to Hashem?! You are not giving anything to Hashem if it already belongs to Him! The Maharal (Gur Aryeh) answers that the attempted bribe that is being referred to is when a sinner offers a korban to Hashem or sanctifies his money to Hashem. Hashem despises the attempted “bribe” because the sinner did not repent from his sins.

In a similar vein, the Chasam Sofer (quoted in Iturei Torah by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg) connects this to the pasuk that follows, “Who performs justice for orphans and widows, and loves the convert to give him bread and a garment”. The Chasam Sofer says that there are some people who do acts of tzedakah and chesed. They build orphanages, homes for the elderly and for the poor, yet they disregard and scorn other mitzvos. The pasuk teaches that since they show contempt towards fulfilling other mitzvos, they should not think that they could bribe Hashem with their acts of tzedakah and chesed. One can’t compensate for a lack of observance through acts of charity and kindness.

The Tur HaArokh (Devarim10:17) says that even a totally righteous person, who committed just a single sin, cannot remove his sin by trading off the reward for the performance of a mitzvah. Rabbeinu Bachya, the Ramban (Devarim10:17), the Rambam and Rabbeinu Yonah (Avos 4:22) say that Hashem does not accept the performance of mitzvos as atonement for transgressions. One cannot trade one for the other. For example, if one had 1000 merits and only one sin, one mitzvah does not wash-away the one sin, leaving the person with a total of 999 merits. Hashem will punish the individual for his one sin (unless he repents) and leaves the reward for the 1000 mitzvos fully intact. Hashem calculates mitzvos and sins in separate calculations, rewarding the performance of mitzvos and punishing the transgressions.


Why doesn’t Hashem allow a mitzvah to cancel a sin? Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (The Elucidated Tomer Devorah on the work of the kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero by Rabbi Shmuel Meir Riachi) explains it beautifully, that Hashem does it for our benefit. It is due to Hashem’s kindness, that Hashem does not allow a mitzvah to cancel a sin. A mitzvah that one does is priceless! It ascends to the highest heavens, coming to Hashem. It says in Tehillim (5:5) that sins, however, are not allowed entrance to the highest heavens. They are suppressed. Since mitzvos are on such a lofty level, it is not possible to receive such a wonderous reward in the physical world. Therefore, using the reward of a mitzvah to cancel a sin would be like trading a million-dollar bill (the reward for a mitzvah) for a 25-cent candy (cancelling the sin)! Since a mitzvah does not cancel-out a sin the mitzvah remains and we are able to receive the highest and most spiritual kind of reward for that mitzvah. That reward will last for eternity!


However, there are some rewards which we do receive in this world. We are rewarded for the dividends of certain mitzvos. The principle of those mitzvos is reserved for us in the next world.


Sins, on the other hand, can be “repaid” in the physical world. One can repent and cleanse himself from his sins. If he does not repent, he can still be cleansed from his sins through experiencing suffering. Even when one is not totally cleansed of his sins through the suffering that he endures in this world, there is a limit to how much punishment he will receive in Gehinnom to cleanse him from his sins. However, the reward for a mitzvah is eternal!

We can learn from Hashem’s actions not to suppress the good that someone does for us.

Even when someone does something bad to us, we should not focus only on the bad. One should not cancel the goodwill that he feels for a favor done to him by the harm that his friend caused. For example, Reuven did a favor for his friend, Shimon, by carrying his heavy bags on his bicycle.

An important notebook fell out and got dirty.

Shimon should remember Reuven’s help and not just remember that the notebook got dirty.


The reward for doing a mitzvah is eternal. It is more valuable than any reward we could possibly get in our lifetime, in this world. Since the reward for a mitzvah is so great, it would be a terrible loss for us,

if Hashem would take away one of our mitzvos to cancel a sin.

Fortunately, Hashem does not let a mitzvah cancel-out a sin.


Sometimes evil people seem to be experiencing much success, in this world. Hashem is repaying them in this world, where the payment is not as valuable, for any good that they may have done.


On the other hand, Hashem cleanses the righteous in this world of any sins that they may have done, with punishments that are finite.

Hashem shows His love for the righteous. Although Hashem rewards us for the dividends of certain mitzvos now, the principle of the reward for the mitzvos Is given in the next world,

where the reward is priceless and eternal.


Parshas V’eschanan: From Rags to Riches! Seeing is Remembering!

Parshas V’eschanan

From Rags to Riches! Seeing is Remembering!

But the seventh day, Shabbos for Hashem, your G-d, do not perform any labor—you, your son and your daughter, your male slave and your female slave, your ox and your donkey and all your animals, and the non-Jew who dwells in your cities—in order that your male slave will rest—and your female slave—like you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Hashem freed you from there…”. (Devarim 5:14-15)

I remember reading the following story: A Jewish man was poverty-stricken. Through an incident, his wisdom was brought to the attention of the Sultan. The Sultan made the Jew one of his advisors. As time went on, the Sultan appreciated the wisdom of his new, Jewish advisor, more and more. Soon, the Jew became his chief advisor. The Sultan’s former advisors were jealous and plotted against the Jew. They told the Sultan that the Jew was stealing from the Sultan’s treasury. The Sultan was unable to find any truth to the matter. However, following the urging of his other advisors, he went to search the house of his Jewish advisor. He went from room to room but did not find anything. Finally, he came to a locked door. His Jewish advisor asked him to please not try to enter. That request made the other advisors very happy. They were certain that the missing money would be found behind that locked door. At the advisors’ strong suggestion, the Sultan demanded that the Jew unlock the door. He did so. The sight of what was inside the room shocked the onlookers. There was a simple table and chair. On the table was a set of old clothes, the type of clothes worn by a poverty-stricken man. The Sultan was perplexed and asked the Jewish advisor for an explanation. The Jew said that these were his own clothes that he had worn before being appointed as an advisor to the Sultan. He explained that every so often, he entered the room and put on the clothes, to remind himself of his past poverty. That visual aid prompted him to appreciate and be thankful of his rise to power and wealth. It helped him remain humble and not get haughty in his new, powerful position. Needless to say, the Sultan was very impressed and the plot against the Jewish advisor failed.


The Torah tells us (Devarim 5:14) that on Shabbos, we may not do work, our children may not do work, and our slaves may not do work. The pasuk ends by saying that the reason why our servants should not do work on Shabbos is, “In order that your servants shall rest, like you”. What kind of reason is this?  Rabbeinu Bachya says that Shabbos was not legislated to give the slaves a rest, but the rest enjoyed by the slaves is merely a by-product of their owners’ rest. In other words, seeing that Hashem had pity on us and said that we only must work for six days and not seven, we in turn should display the same kind of consideration for our own servants and not assign them tasks on the days when we rest. This consideration could cost the owner a substantial sum of money in lost work, especially if he has many slaves. Yet that is what the Torah dictates.


This is an important lesson for us. We must treat everyone with kindness and consideration,

especially if we, ourselves, received similar consideration from someone else.


The Ramban says a similar idea to Rabbeinu Bachya. Since we were servants and Hashem gave us rest from servitude, we, too, should allow our servant to rest. The Ramban adds that “When your manservant and your maidservant will rest as well as you, then you will remember that you were servants in Egypt.” (Devarim 5:15). The Chasam Sofer states that it is understandable why our servants may not do any work for us, on Shabbos. However, the Chasam Sofer questions why the Torah forbids our servants from working for themselves? After all, Shabbos was a special gift given exclusively to the Jewish People. And a non-Jew is not permitted to keep Shabbos! That is why the Torah says, “In order that your servants shall rest, like you”. The reason why the servant may not work is for our benefit. It is to help us remember that we were slaves in Egypt and then Hashem redeemed us. As the very next pasuk says, “And you will remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt”.


Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz zt”l points out that when we see our servants refraining from doing any work on Shabbos, it will help us visualize and feel that we, too, used to be slaves and Hashem freed us. This will be a visual aid to help us remember that Hashem freed us from slavery and took us out of Egypt, with great miracles. Seeing our slaves remain idle on Shabbos will help us better appreciate Hashem’s love for us!


This is also a very important lesson for us. The use of visual aids can greatly enhance our service of Hashem.


We can use visual aids to help increase our faith in Hashem and our love of Hashem.

We can write a list of things for which we can thank Hashem and then place the list where we can notice it. Whenever we pass by the list, just by seeing it,

we will be reminded of the many kindnesses that Hashem does for us.

Wearing tzitzis is an excellent example of a visual aid.

When we see them, they remind us to fulfill the mitzvos.

We can also use visual aids in our interpersonal relations, in a similar manner. For example, if we are upset at a friend, we can write a list of acts of kindness that our friend has done for us. Then we can place the list where we can notice it. Whenever we notice the list, we will remember what we wrote.

This will help us to remove the ill-feelings that we may have in our heart.

May our closeness to Hashem and to each other speedily bring the coming of Mashiach!


Parshas Devarim: It’s In Our Hands! It Really Is!

Parshas Devarim

It’s In Our Hands! It Really Is!

“Who is a G-d like You, who pardons iniquity, and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.” (Micah 7:18)

A secular Israeli University Professor was waiting to board a flight in the airport in Rome. He looked around and saw many non-Jews from around the world, who were also waiting for their flights. Then the professor spotted another Jew. The Jew that he had seen was a very religious Jew. That did not matter to the professor for it was reassuring to see a fellow Jew. The religious Jew looked familiar. The professor realized that it was the Ponevezher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman. The professor went over to the Rav, extended his hand, and greeted him in Hebrew. The Rav shook his hand in return. Looking at the bare head of the professor, Rav Kahaneman asked him if he was Jewish.  When the professor nodded that he was, Rav Kahaneman wrapped his hands around him and hugged him warmly. The professor, who was not religious, felt uncomfortable that such a holy man embraced him. He told the Rav,”If the Rav would only know what kind of sinner I am, he wouldn’t hug me.” Rav Kahaneman responded to these words by giving the professor another hug. Then he told the professor, “If you would only know how much Hashem loves you, despite the fact that you are a sinner, then you would not sin so much.” (Sparks of Majesty by Genendel Krohn)

Hopefully, we will be privileged to greet Mashiach, this year, before Tisha B’Av. If Hashem decides that it’s not the right time yet, is there anything that we can do to hasten the time?

We know that the Second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed due to unwarranted hatred. To rectify that, we must transform hatred into love. The question is, “How do we do that?”

Rabbi Moshe Cordovero zt”l (The Kabbala teacher of the Ari zt”l) says (in sefer Tomer Devorah) that when we embody Hashem’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, then Hashem acts accordingly and showers His mercy upon us. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero zt”l says that when we sin, Hashem bears our insult, and still sustains us and showers us with goodness. Similarly, we should emulate Hashem, and act accordingly. We should tolerate insults, and still grant goodness to the one who has harmed us. We should keep doing favors even for those who use those favors against us. That is the first of the Thirteen Attributes.  The second attribute is that Hashem sustains the destructive angel that we create when we sin. If Hashem would not, then the destructive angel would have to immediately punish or kill us. Following in Hashem’s ways, even if the damage which was done to us still exists in front of us, we should be patient with the sinner until he repairs the damage or until the damage disappears. The third attribute is that Hashem forgives the sinner and personally cleanses him of his sin. Similarly, we should forgive the sinner and repair the damage ourselves. We should do so, even if the offender harms us with the foreknowledge that we will repair the damage ourselves.

Even after one has considered the first three attributes of Hashem, one may still feel so offended or hurt to the extent that he finds it hard to restrain his anger because of the injustice that was done to him. What can he do? Perhaps he will be able to restrain his anger if he copies Hashem’s fourth attribute. The fourth attribute is that Hashem considers us to be His “family”. Similarly, all Jews are considered one family. But, even more than that. All Jews are part of one neshama, one soul. Every Jew has within him a portion of every other Jew’s soul.

When a person sins, he harms not only himself, but also the portion of a fellow Jew’s soul which is included within him. When one honors a fellow Jew, he also honors himself, as all Jews are one soul. In the Talmud, Rabbi Meir talks about one who uses a knife in his right hand to cut something and, inadvertently, cuts his left hand by mistake. Would he then take the knife in his left hand and cut his right hand to avenge himself? Obviously not. That would be so ridiculous. Yet, if you harm a fellow Jew, that is what you are doing. If someone harms you, you should be forgiving just as if you had caused harm to yourself. Be concerned for the other person’s welfare as you would be concerned for your own, since his welfare is your own. He is part of you, and you are part of him. So, why be jealous or why be angry? If you take revenge on others, you are really taking revenge on yourself. On the other hand, if you forgive others, you are forgiving yourself. We should love one another and be happy with the successes of another.

Imagine the following scenario: Your company was about to go bankrupt. The Chief Executive Officer of the company asked for your help. You worked very hard, day and night, for five years. As a result of your leadership and creativity, the company’s situation finally improved. You were about to sign a multi-million-dollar contract to benefit the company. Just before you signed the contract, the CEO of your company demoted you and hired an outsider to take your place. The outsider was your younger brother! How would you feel? A normal reaction would probably be anger and jealousy.

A similar scenario happened! For sixty years, Aharon HaKohen led the Jewish People in the darkness of the servitude in Egypt. He gave the Jews encouragement and hope. You would suppose that when the time came for the Jews to be redeemed with great miracles, Aharon would lead them. Yet, that was not what happened. Hashem chose Moshe, Aharon’s younger brother, to redeem the Jews. All those years, Moshe had been gone from Egypt and was not helping the Jews. As soon as Moshe returned to Egypt, he became the leader. It would not have been surprising if Aharon would have felt jealous and even angry. Yet, that was not the case. The Torah tells us (Shmos 4:14) that not only was Aharon not jealous, but he was even happy for Moshe!

This is the extent to which we should feel good about another person’s success. We should view it as our own, personal success because, in actuality, it is our success as well. When we act this way, we bring Hashem’s mercy upon us.

There is a second aspect of this fourth attribute. Since Hashem feels so close to us, as family, Hashem also shares our pain and suffering.

There were two aspects which led Hashem to redeem us from Egypt. The compassion that we had for each other, and our suffering and pain which Hashem felt for us. Both of those awakened Hashem’s love and compassion for us.

What act of compassion does this refer to? There were Jewish supervisors who were responsible to ensure that the Jewish slaves filled their quota of making bricks. They were told to beat any Jews who did not meet their own, individual quotas. Despite that, the Jewish supervisors could not bear to act cruelly towards their Jewish brethren. When the quotas were not filled, the Jewish supervisors were brutally beaten. They had such compassion for their fellow Jews that they willingly suffered in their place. They did so because they felt the suffering of Jewish slaves as their own suffering. Their act of compassion rose to Heaven, awakening Hashem’s compassion. Hashem also felt and shared the pain of the Jewish People.  These two things awakened Hashem’s mercy and the Jews were redeemed.

Our ultimate redemption will follow the same pattern as our redemption from Egypt.

Hashem’s mercy will be awakened by the compassion that we show to one another.

That, combined with the pain that Hashem feels for His “family”, will lead to our ultimate redemption.

That will bring an end to our sorrows and suffering.



(based on The Elucidated Tomer Devorah, adapted by Rabbi Shmuel Meir Riachi)


Parshas Ha’azinu: The Journey is Painful but the Destination Makes it Worthwhile!

Parshas Ha’azinu

The Journey is Painful but the Destination Makes it Worthwhile!


“The Rock, His actions are pure, for all his ways are just… He is righteous and straight.” (Devarim 32:4)

In 1979, the Shah of Iran was overthrown. The Ayatollah Khomeini was soon going to take over. There was a reign of terror against the Jews. One day, a gang of thugs entered a carpet store and killed the Jewish owner, claiming that he was an agent of the Shah. The man’s widow knew she and her children had to leave the country, as did many other Jews. They were not permitted to leave legally. She contacted a man who smuggled Jews out of Iran for a large sum of money. She had to leave most of her wealth behind and could not pack suitcases, lest that arouse suspicion. She couldn’t even tell her children in advance, lest they inadvertently let the news slip. She, her children, and a group of other Jews met the guide at the edge of Tehran, in the middle of the night. For the first few days, they rode on camels for 18 hours straight. The pain was excruciating but each time they complained, the guide told them to be quiet. If they wouldn’t, he would shoot them! By day, the sun scorched them and left their throats parched with thirst. By night they froze. As the mountains got steeper, they switched to riding donkeys. Often, the path was so narrow that one wrong move could cause them to fall to their instant death. There were many difficult obstacles along the way. Each time anyone hesitated, the guide threatened to shoot. This torturous journey lasted for two and a half weeks. When they finally reached the safety of the Turkish border, the guide suddenly embraced the children. With tears in his eyes, he apologized for being so tough. He said that had he not been, the group would not have reached safety alive. (It’s All a Gift by Miriam Adahan)

Our lives are a journey which is often treacherous and filled with pain. We can be sure that when we reach the next world, the World of Truth, we will see that Hashem, our Guide, always loved us. Then we will understand that all the difficulties we went through were necessary to reveal the G-Dliness in us and in others. (It’s All a Gift by Miriam Adahan)

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev once remarked, “If I were the Master of the world, I would not change anything. I have no doubt whatsoever that all Hashem does is for man’s benefit. It is our own shortcomings that make it so difficult for us to perceive the fairness of his ways.” (Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin)

The Chofetz Chaim once asked a visitor how he was doing. The man responded, “Not bad. But it wouldn’t hurt if things were a little bit better”. The Chofetz Chaim responded, “How do you know that it wouldn’t hurt? Hashem is merciful and knows better than you what is truly for your benefit. If Hashem decided not to give you more that is because Hashem knows that giving you more would be bad for you”.  (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah)

The Torah says, “He [Hashem] awakens His nest like an eagle, hovering over its chicks” (Devarim 32:11). Rashi explains that the mother eagle is full of pity towards her young and does not enter her nest suddenly. First, she beats and flaps her wings above the nest, in order that her young may awaken and have enough strength to receive her.

When the mother eagle teaches its young to fly, she carries them high into the sky. Then she drops her babies! Before they hit the ground, the mother eagle swoops down to catch them. The Akeidas Yitzchak says that Hashem deals with us in a similar way. Hashem gives us trials and tribulations, not as punishments but to educate us and prod us to improve our ways.  (Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin)



The Talmud (Brachos 7A) says that Moshe questioned Hashem why some good people suffer while other good people prosper. And why do some evil people prosper while others suffer? The Midrash says that after Hashem answered Moshe’s question, Moshe saw a scene unfold in front of him. A weary traveler passed a spring of water and refreshed himself. He continued his journey and did not realize that he had left his wallet near the spring. A second traveler passed by the spring. He saw the wallet and took it for himself. A third traveler then came. He took a drink from the spring and sat down to rest. Meanwhile, the first traveler returned to get his wallet. He asked the third traveler about it, who denied having seen it. The first traveler did not believe him and killed him. Moshe could not understand why Hashem permitted an honest man to be killed while the guilty man went unpunished. It seemed that Hashem was unjust! Hashem explained to Moshe that there was more to the story than he had seen. Hashem went on to explain to Moshe how His actions were totally just and fair. (Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin) Life is like a jigsaw puzzle. We only see part of the puzzle. Hashem knows the entire picture-past, present, and future.

We all have challenges in life. Some of us seem to have more difficult challenges than others. Perhaps we can feel more supported through our challenges if we realize that Hashem, our Guide, is acting lovingly and for our ultimate benefit. It may also be comforting to know that one day, after 120 years, we will understand why we were given our challenges. When we finally understand the reason for them,

we will be actually be thankful to Hashem for giving them to us.


Parshas Vayelech: I Am Certain that You Can Do It!

Parshas Vayelech

I Am Certain that You Can Do It!


“Moshe went and spoke these things to all Israel. He said to them…“ (Devarim 31:1-2)

One day, as a small child, Thomas Edison came home from school and gave a paper to his mother. He said to her “Mom, my teacher gave this paper to me and told me only you are to read it. What does it say?” Her eyes welled with tears as she read the letter out loud to her child … “Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have good enough teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself.” Many years after Edison’s mother had died, he became one of the greatest inventors of the century. One day he was going through a closet, and he found the folded letter that his old teacher wrote his Mother that day. He opened it … The message written on the letter was “Your son is mentally deficient. We cannot let him attend our school anymore. He is expelled.” Edison became emotional reading it and then wrote in his diary:

“Thomas A. Edison was a mentally deficient child whose mother turned him into the genius of the Century.”

A positive word of encouragement can help change anyone’s destiny. (Did Thomas Edison’s Mother Lie About a Letter Expelling Him from School? byAlex Kasprak)

The Talmud (Yoma 86A) quotes Rabbi Levi who said, “Great is repentance, as it reaches the Heavenly throne, as it is stated: ‘Return, Israel, to the Lord your G-D’”(Hosea 14:2). This implies that repentance literally reaches Hashem.

In last week’s Parsha, Moshe gathered the entire Jewish People before Hashem, to bring them into a covenant with Hashem. The Torah (Devarim 29:12) says that if the Jews will remain faithful to Hashem, they will be Hashem’s “people” and Hashem will be “their G-D”. If the Jews falter and serve other gods, the punishment will be severe. However, when the Jews will repent and return to Hashem, Hashem will welcome them with open arms and shower them with much good.

In this week’s Parsha, the Torah (Devarim 31:1-2) begins, “Moshe went and spoke these things to all Israel. He said to them…“ The Kli Yakar asks two questions. The pasuk says that Moshe went. Where did he go? Then the pasuk says that “he spoke”. However, the pasuk does not tell us what he said. What did he say?  The Kli Yakar says that the word “vayedaber”, that he “spoke” is a tougher way of talking. On his last day of life, Moshe gave the Jews mussar. Moshe spoke “words of teshuva”, telling the Jews to repent and come closer to Hashem. “Moshe went”, says the Kli Yakar, to every single tent, to every Jewish home, to tell and exhort them to do teshuva. In the previous parsha, Moshe had already told the Jewish People as a whole, about the importance of teshuva. Yet, Moshe felt it was so important, that he repeated the message to each individual family. [I am not aware of any sin that the Jews had done. Therefore, I assume that the discussion about teshuva refers to a future point in time]

The Ibn Ezra has a different explanation of what the Torah means by the words, “Moshe went”. The Ibn Ezra says that Moshe went to every shevet, tribe, to inform them that he was about to die and that they should not be afraid of what the future portended.

The last day of Moshe’s life was a very busy one. The consummate leader, he didn’t spend the time to take care of his own needs. He wrote 13 sifrei Torah (Midrash Rabba). One was placed in the Aron, in the Mishkan. The other 12 were given to each of the 12 shevatim, ensuring that each tribe would have its own sefer Torah as a guide to follow the proper path in life.

Look at the love and sensitivity that Moshe showed to his people. He knew that he would soon die, and he was busy writing the sifrei Torah. Yet, according to the Ibn Ezra, he stopped to think about others and their feelings. How will the Jewish People feel after I die? They may be afraid about what will happen after their leader dies. Let me console them. Moshe took the time to go to each shevet to comfort them.

According to the Kli Yakar, Moshe went even further. He didn’t just go to each shevet to speak with them. He actually took the time to speak to every individual family. Imagine how valued they felt, getting such personal attention by the greatest leader in history, and only hours before his demise.

We learn from Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions the importance of showing sensitivity to others.

The Torah further shows us the importance of showing concern for others. Yehoshua was going to take-over the reins of leadership from Moshe. Numerous times, Yehoshua was encouraged to be “strong and courageous”. Moshe called Yehoshua in front of all Israel and said,”Be strong & courageous” (Devarim 31:7). And [Hashem] charged Yehoshua son of Nun: “Be strong and resolute (Devarim 31:23). Twice more in the next few psukim, Hashem again tells Yehoshua, “Be strong and resolute”.  After Moshe died, Hashem told Yehoshua, “Be strong and resolute” (Yehoshua 1:6).  

The Chidushei HaRim. (as quoted in Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin) questions why it was necessary to encourage Yehoshua so many times with the words “Be strong and resolute”. Yehoshua had already proven that he was a capable leader when he led the battle against Amalek.  The Torah had also testified that Yehoshua was “filled with wisdom”. The Chidushei HaRim says that this teaches us an important lesson. No matter how capable a person may be, he can always benefit from words of reassurance and encouragement. Even one as great as Yehoshua could benefit from it.

If even someone as great as Yehoshua could benefit from words of encouragement, how much more so we can also benefit from it. Let’s take this lesson to heart and give words of encouragement to our friends, our acquaintances, our students, our families, and especially to our spouses. Our words will not cost us anything. The benefits will be endless, for others as well as for ourselves.