Category Archives: Sefer Devarim

Parshas Nitzavim: Treasure This!

Parshas Nitzavim

Treasure This!

 

“Hashem … will circumcise your heart…to love Hashem…with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Devarim 30:6)

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l questions the connection between the beginning of the pasuk and its last few words. What is the connection of the words, “that you may live” to “Hashem … will circumcise your heart…to love Hashem…with all your soul”?

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l  (Shem Olam perek 20) explains that we should rejoice at being given the gift of life through which we can attain the eternal bliss of our soul being attached to Hashem. When we think about this, it will bring us a feeling of intense love towards Hashem for giving us this opportunity.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l explains by way of beautiful parable. Beryl was exceedingly poor. He dressed in rags and was always hungry and thirsty. One day, as he was walking, he heard screams. He ran to the source of the screams, getting there just in time to save a young man. It turned out that the man he saved was the prince. The king was so appreciative. To show his thanks, the king opened his treasury for one day, allowing Beryl to take anything that he desired. Beryl ignored his increasing exhaustion, extreme hunger, and thirst and spent the entire day loading treasures into sacks. Beryl’s efforts made him one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom. With his newfound wealth, Beryl got involved in different business ventures. They were highly successful, making Beryl the wealthiest man in the kingdom.

Every year, Beryl made a lavish feast on the anniversary of the day that he entered the king’s treasure room and became a wealthy man. He invited all the nobility and important people of the kingdom to his feast. He did this for many years. At that point, many of the people that he had invited did not know the story behind his wealth. One year, he asked the assembled guests if they knew what day was his happiest, and most satisfying. They all responded that it was the current day, the day of the magnificent feast. During the feast, Beryl sat in the middle, getting all the attention. All the important people were there, the room was richly decorated, the tables were laden with delicacies, and servants were going back and forth to satisfy everyone’s needs. Beryl said that they were mistaken. It was a day many years before, that he still remembered very clearly. He was exceedingly poor and less important than a common servant. Yet, every moment of that day was filled with endless happiness. He was very hungry, very thirsty, and very tired. Yet, he ignored all those feelings because he knew that every moment, he was becoming wealthier and wealthier. The more wealth he gathered, the happier he became. The entire day passed without him worrying about his growing hunger, thirst, and exhaustion.

We are like the poor man, Beryl. Hashem has allowed us into His “treasury, to collect the treasures of Torah learning and other mitzvos. We only have a limited time, our lifetime, to collect all the treasures. As it says in Mishlei (Proverbs 3:15), “She is more precious than rubies; All of your goods cannot equal her.” One word of Torah learning is more valuable than all the wealth of the world, combined. We should rejoice each moment we have to acquire more of the “treasure” of the Torah and mitzvos. We should feel such happiness that life’s difficulties and challenges don’t bother us. This should also awaken within us strong feelings of love towards Hashem.

If we feel distant from this feeling of happiness and only feel love towards Hashem when He gives us goodness in this world, it is because we have a heart blockage that prevents us from appreciating the value of Torah and mitzvos. That blockage also affects the extent of love we feel towards Hashem. However, as the pasuk says, when Hashem removes the blockage, we will appreciate the value of Torah and mitzvos. Then we will love Hashem even more, for every moment of life that He gave us.  We will appreciate the fact that Hashem enabled us to acquire the enormous wealth of Torah and mitzvos thereby giving us the opportunity to attain eternal bliss with Hashem.

Let us try to appreciate the contents of the treasure room that Hashem has opened for us. Gathering as much Torah learning and mitzvos that we can, during our lifetime, will connect our souls to Hashem, for eternity.

This appreciation will also help us navigate through the trials and tribulations of life.

 

Parshas Ki Savo: Don’t Be a Horse! Remove Your Blinders!

Parshas Ki Savo

Don’t Be a Horse! Remove Your Blinders!

 

“And you shall sacrifice peace offerings…” (Devarim 27:7)

Blinders are commonly used on horses to prevent them from becoming distracted and losing concentration on the direction that they are supposed to be headed. When horses wear blinders, they are also incapable of seeing the entire picture or landscape. Their sight is limited to what they see directly in front of them.

On November 9–10, 1938, Nazi leaders unleashed a series of pogroms against the Jewish population in Germany and recently incorporated territories. This event came to be called Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) because of the shattered glass that littered the streets after the vandalism and destruction of Jewish-owned businesses, synagogues, and homes. During the pogrom, some 30,000 Jewish males were rounded up and taken to concentration camps. The increase in the personal assaults on the Jews, the nationwide Kristallnacht pogrom, and the subsequent seizure of Jewish-owned property all caused a flood of visa applications. (Google: Holocaust Encyclopedia)

The events on Kristallnacht were terrible moments for the Jews. I recently heard an insight from Rabbi Leibish Becker, in a weekly Parsha shiur of his. He said that the events of Kristallnacht caused hundreds of thousands of Jews to be saved! How? The Jews had viewed Hitler as a lunatic who would soon be deposed. Once they saw these organized events against the Jews, they realized that Hitler was going to remain in power. Many Jews started to emigrate out of the country.  When horses wear blinders, they are also incapable of seeing the entire picture. They could not have realized that this event was also beneficial.

Sarah lived in an assisted-living facility. One day, her companion noticed that Sarah’s arm had turned a purplish color. No one in the facility attributed any significance to that since discoloration is not uncommon for people on blood-thinner medication. Two weeks later when the arm got worse, Sarah was taken to the hospital. The doctor’s diagnosis was that Sarah had a dislocated shoulder. Unfortunately, too much time had elapsed since the onset of her injury, and the shoulder could not be put back in place. The hospital discharged Sarah. However, the facility that she had come from did not allow her to return. Sarah’s family could not find another suitable facility, so they took her into their home, a one-bedroom apartment. It was crowded and Sarah had many medical needs, but the family was happy to be able to help. A few weeks later, Sarah had a heart-attack and died.  Her family was saddened by her passing. However, they were happy to have had the opportunity to spend those last weeks with her. They realized that the sequence of events which they had thought was bad, had a very positive side to it; Sarah dislocating her shoulder, leaving the assisted-living facility, going to the hospital, being refused entry back into the facility and being unable to find another suitable home, resulted in Sarah living with her family. Sarah was happy to be with her family and her family was happy to have had the opportunity to spend those last few weeks with her. It was time that they all cherished. The horses wearing blinders could not have realized that those events that had occurred, were actually beneficial.

As soon as the Jewish People would enter Eretz Yisroel, the Torah was to be written on stones, in all 70 languages. The Talmud (Sotah 32A) describes the events that followed. Jews were to assemble on 2 neighboring mountains, for a new acceptance of the Torah. Six tribes stood on Mt. Eival and six on Mt. Grizim. The Aron, Kohanim and the elders of the Leviim (Bar Tenura on the Torah) would stand in the valley between the two mountains. They would turn to face Mt. Grizim, pronounce blessings for whomever would keep a particular mitzvah, and all the Jews would respond by saying amen. Then Aron, Kohanim and the elders of the Leviim would then turn to Mt. Eival, pronounce a curse for whomever did not follow this mitzvah and all the Jews would respond amen.

An altar was built on Mt. Eival to sacrifice peace offerings to Hashem.

Why were the sacrifices brought upon the mountain upon which the curses were said? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to build the offer on Mt. Gerizim towards which the blessings were said?

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l answers, this teaches us a fundamental belief, that everything Hashem does is for our benefit! Even when tragedy strikes, it is for our benefit! The peace offerings were offered on the mountain towards which the curses were said, to show that the Jews understood that even the curses that were said, were for their ultimate benefit. (Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin).

Hashem loves us more than a parent loves a child. Hashem only wants good for us and all that He does is for our ultimate benefit. We have recently seen many tragedies unfold. We don’t understand them because we our wearing our blinders. When Hashem removes our blinders, we will understand clearly that these events were good, both for those who had to suffer and ultimately for all Klal Yisroel.

 

Parshas Ki Tetzei: You Take the First Step!

Parshas Ki Tetzei

You Take the First Step!

 

“You should not see and ignore your friend’s donkey or ox falling on the road. Rather, together with your friend, you should lift up the load.”. (Devarim 22:4)

The Torah (Devarim 22:4) says, if you notice that the load on the back of your friend’s animal has fallen, you should help your friend pick it back up. Rashi, quoting the Talmud (Bava Metzia 32A), explains that you are only obligated to help if your friend does the work, together with you. That is what the Torah is teaching us with the word “imo”, together with your friend. What if the owner of the animal tells you, since it is your mitzvah to load the animal, he is not going to help? In that situation, you are not obligated to do the work (unless the owner is incapable of doing it due to age, etc…). You are only instructed to help if the owner does it with you.

The Chofetz Chaim zt”l (Sefer Chofetz Chaim on the Torah) extends this idea to all the mitzvos that we do. If we put in our effort to do a mitzvah, then Hashem will help us succeed. However, if we just ask Hashem for help but do nothing on our own, then Hashem will not help us. We must also put in our own effort!

The Chofetz Chaim illustrates his point with a parable:

Beryl was very poor and was in dire straits. He met Moshe on the street. Moshe was very rich and very charitable. Beryl asked Moshe to do him a favor and lend him 5 rubles. Beryl said that he had a business opportunity, and this loan could set him on his feet. Moshe graciously agreed and told Beryl to come to his house at 5 o’clock that afternoon. At that time, Moshe would loan Beryl the money. Moshe rushed his afternoon schedule to be home by 5 o’clock. He waited for Beryl, but Beryl did not come. Thinking that Beryl was unavoidingly delayed, Moshe waited for him until 6 o’clock. Beryl still had not come.

The next afternoon, Beryl again met Moshe on the street and asked him for a loan of 5 rubles. Moshe told him that he was willing to help, and he even waited for Beryl for an extra hour on the previous day. Beryl apologized and agreed to come that afternoon at 5 o’clock. Moshe rushed his schedule to be home promptly, but Beryl did not come. Moshe waited and waited, but Beryl still did not come. The next day, Beryl again met Moshe and asked him for a loan. Moshe got upset saying that that Beryl was insincere and probably did not need the money.

The Chofetz Chaim says, if we ask Hashem to help us refrain from speaking loshon hara, then we must also put in our own effort. That shows that are request is sincere. Then Hashem will help us because Hashem wants to help us! This is included in “imo”, together with your friend. One who tries to “purify “himself and improve in any area, is helped by Hashem to succeed. The Chofetz Chaim also says that there are numerous places in our prayers that we ask Hashem to enlighten our eyes to understanding Torah. Hashem is ready to help us! However, we must also put in some effort. When we leave the synagogue immediately after praying, without learning, we are like Beryl in the parable. We are making a request but not showing Hashem that we are sincere about it. This scenario occurs day after day. However, if we do show Hashem that we truly desire that which we are praying for, by learning some Torah, then Hashem will help us.

 

Hashem is happy to help us succeed in doing mitzvos. We need to ask Hashem for help and

make an effort on our own, to show Hashem that we truly desire what we are asking for.

 

Parshas Shoftim: The Glass Is Always Totally Full!

Parshas Shoftim

The Glass Is Always Totally Full!

 

“… and they shall judge the people with righteous judgement.” (Devarim 16:18)

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev zt”l was a Chassidic Rabbi, known for his love of every Jew. He would always find the kernel of good in his fellow Jew. Two anecdotes illustrate that: One Shabbos, Rav Levi Yitzchak met a Jew smoking in the street. The rabbi asked the young man if he had forgotten that such an act is forbidden on Shabbos. The young man replied that he had not forgotten. Rav Levi Yitzchak asked if there was some circumstance causing him to sin. The young man replied that he was knowingly and voluntarily sinning. Rav Levi Yitzchak looked up to the sky and said, “L- rd of the Universe, see the holiness of your people! They’d rather declare themselves sinners than utter a lie!” Another time, Rav Levi Yitzchak saw a wagon driver fixing his wagon wheel, while wearing his tallis and tefillin and praying the morning prayers. Rav Levi Yitzchak looked heavenward and exclaimed to Hashem, “Look how your servants only think of You, even when busy pursing their livelihood. (Lilmod Ulelamed by Rabbi Mordechai Katz)

The Torah requires a Jewish justice system be established (Devarim 16:18). Rashi says that the judges should be qualified and righteous and be able to judge honestly. The Midrash Tanchuma (Paragraph 4) quotes Rabbi Yehudah ben Rabbi Shalom who learns from this pasuk that the judges have an additional responsibility. They must intercede before Hashem, on behalf of the Jewish People. They must search for any merits that the Jewish People may have and bring them before Hashem. Rabbi Yehudah ben Rabbi Shalom learns this from the story of Gideon ben Yoash. The Jews had fallen to a low level due to their sins. As a punishment, they were subjugated by the nation of Midian for 7 years. The people of Midian stole their crops and killed their animals. The Jews were reduced to poverty and starvation. According to Rashi, Hashem sent them the prophet Pinchas to encourage the nation to repent from their sins. Pinchas reminded the Jews about all the miracles Hashem had done for their forefathers in rescuing them from Egypt and settling them in the Land of Israel. They should understand Hashem’s power, fear only Hashem and stop sinning by worshipping idols. Then, an angel appeared to Gideon.  Gideon protested to the angel, in defense of the Jews.  Rashi (Devarim 6:13) quotes Gideon’s words. It was Pesach, and Gideon told the angel, “Last night, my father recited the Hallel for me, and I heard him read, “When Yisroel departed from Egypt…the sea observed and fled, the Yardein turned back, etc.” (Tehilim, 114)—but now Hashem has abandoned us. If our forefathers were saintly, let Him act on our behalf in their merit; and if they were wicked, then, just as He worked His wonders for them gratuitously, so, let Him act in our behalf. Where are all His marvels?”

Gideon spoke up to the angel in defense of the Jews. He admitted that the Jews were sinful. However, he claimed that they should be saved just as their unworthy ancestors were saved from the Egyptians. As a result of Gideon’s words, Hashem, Himself, responded to him. “Go in this strength of yours and deliver Israel from the Midianites. I hereby make you, My messenger.”  What strength was Hashem referring to? The Midrash Tanchuma explains that it was the strength of the merit of advocating for the Jewish People. Therefore, Gideon merited to become a shofet, a judge and leader of the Jewish People. Hashem told Gideon to take only 300 soldiers to battle the 135,000 soldiers of Midian. The Jewish army miraculously defeated the army of Midian.

Rav Avraham Pam zt”l (Rav Pam on Chumash by Rabbi Sholom Smith) learns a beautiful lesson from this Midrash. We should learn from Gideon’s actions to speak favorably about our fellow Jews! A father only wants to hear good things about his children. It distresses him to hear bad things. Hashem is our loving father. We do have our faults, but it saddens Hashem to hear negative reports about us. Hashem is grateful when one defends a member of the Jewish People, even if he is unworthy due to his sins.

Rav Pam says, “Jews must look for opportunities to praise the accomplishments of their fellow Jews. Who can estimate the far reaching effect this advocacy will have in heaven and the blessings it will bring upon the Jewish People.”

 

 

Parshas Re’eh: Your Pain is My Pain!

Parshas Re’eh

Your Pain is My Pain!

 

“See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” (Devarim 11:26)

Many commentaries, including Rabbi Shimshon Chaim Nachmani (in sefer Zera Shimshon), ask the obvious question. Why does the pasuk begin with the word re’eh, “see,” in singular, while continuing the pasuk with the word lifneichem, “before you,” in plural?

Rabbi Shimshon Chaim Nachmani answers that Hashem is instructing every individual to see himself as part of the tzibbur, part of the nation. Whether Hashem is giving the nation blessings or even curses, every individual must see himself as part of the nation and should not separate himself from them.

The Talmud (Ta’anis 11A) says that Moshe Rabbeinu shared in the distress of the nation. During the war with Amalek, Moshe raised his hands to Hashem, praying for victory. When Moshe’s hands became heavy, he sat upon a stone (Shmos 17:12). Didn’t Moshe have a pillow or cushion to sit on? Why did he sit on a rock? Moshe said, “Since the Jewish People are immersed in pain, I, too, will be with them in suffering,” as much as I am able, although I am not participating in the fighting.

Hashem, Himself, shared in our suffering! Before the 10 Commandments were given, Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and the 70 elders approached Mount Sinai. They noticed that under Hashem’s feet was the likeness of a brick pavement, made of sapphire. Those bricks were there from the time of the Egyptian slavery, as a constant reminder to Hashem of the servitude and pain to which the Jews had been subjected (Rashi on Shmos 24:10).

The Talmud (Ta’anis 11A) says, when the Jewish people are in distress, no individual should separate himself from the community. He should share in their suffering. If he does not, the two ministering angels who accompany him place their hands on his head, and say, “This man, so-and-so, who has separated himself from the community, should not see the consolation of the community”. Since he did not feel the pain of his people, therefore so he will not share in their communal happiness.

 The Talmud continues and says, When the community is immersed in suffering, a person may not say: I will go to my home and I will eat and drink, and peace will be upon me. The Ben Yehodaya says, when the Jews are in distress then Hashem is also in distress. One who removes himself from the communal distress, shows that he is not bothered by Hashem’s distress!

The Ben Yehodaya says that in times of distress, the Jewish community does two things. After davening, they recite Tehillim and Slichos. They also fast during the day. This fellow removes himself from feeling the distress of the tzibbur. He goes home before the recitation of Tehillim and Slichos. When he enters his home, he eats a full meal and doesn’t fast. Since this person separates himself from the tzibbur, he will be punished.

We are 1 unit, a single, united tzibbur. If one doesn’t feel the pain of the tzibbur, one is showing that he does not care about the tzibbur or the pain that Hashem is feeling for the tzibbur. Thus, one who removes himself from the tzibbur, will forfeit the blessings given to the tzibbur.

 

Parshas Eikev: I Got This! Don’t Worry!

Parshas Eikev

I Got This! Don’t Worry!

 

“Perhaps you will say in your heart, “These nations are more numerous than I; How will I be able to drive them out? Do not fear them! You shall remember What Hashem your G-D did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.” (7:17-18)

When we listen to the news, we hear a very bleak picture:

  • Gaza-based terror groups launch incendiary balloons into southern Israel.
  • Pro-Palestinian ‘Day of Rage’ events held in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto.
  • Calls made to end Israel’s existence at a series of rallies held across America and Canada.
  • Iran’s declared objective to dissolve the Jewish state, calling it a ‘cancerous tumor’ to be destroyed.
  • Rockets Fired at Israel from Lebanon. Hezbollah, in Lebanon, with an arsenal of 150,000 rockets.
  • Organized campaigns around the world promoting the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) of Israel. Campaigns launched, demanding the “divestment” of university, municipal, church, union and other investment portfolios from companies that advocates claim “aid Israel’s occupation”, as well as the “boycott” of Israeli products, professionals, professional associations and academic institutions, and artistic performances (in Israel and abroad).
  • An increase in anti-Semitic attacks world-wide and in US.
  • An anti-vaccine protest in Poland chanting, “Jews are behind the pandemic”.

The news sounds very terrifying. How can we, as Jews, survive when so many nations and so many individuals want to rid the world of us?

The answer lies in the psukim in this week’s parsha. The Jewish People were on their way to conquer Eretz Yisroel. The nations of the Land were numerous and were more powerful than the Jewish People. There were giants to defeat! “Perhaps you will say in your heart, ‘These nations are more numerous than I; How will I be able to drive them out?’” Moshe responded to that fear by saying, “Do not fear them! You shall remember What Hashem your G-D did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.”  

Their fear was based on the honest and logical conclusion that there was no natural means of defeating their enemies. Moshe said, that they were correct! There was no natural means of defeating them! However, that’s not a problem! Remember how Hashem took you out of Egypt. Hashem performed miracles, changing nature, to free you. Similarly, Hashem will perform miracles for you now. In fact, Moshe told them that Hashem would send a swarm of hornets to attack the enemy that had hidden from sight. According to Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish who is quoted in the Talmud (Sotah 36A), “The hornet stood on the banks of the Jordan and threw its venom at the inhabitants of the land, and it blinded their eyes from above…”. A further miracle to help the Jews!

The Jews are not bound by the natural course of events. Hashem has already shown that He will change nature to help us. We have nothing to fear!

Throughout our history, Hashem has performed miracles to save us. That thought should give us a sense of calm and confidence, even when surrounded by danger, on all sides.

We must always rely on Hashem. Whether our concern is

about the Jewish People as a whole or our own personal problems,

we should be confident that Hashem can help us.

Parshas V’eschanan: Are You Protected? I am!

Parshas V’eschanan

Are You Protected? I am!

 

“אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת כִּי ד’ הוּא הָֽאֱלֹקִים אֵין עוֹד מִלְּבַדּוֹ:”
“You have come to know that Hashem is the L-rd, there is no other besides Him” (Devarim 4:35)

During WWll, Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, travelled from Warsaw to Vilna to escape from the advancing Nazis. The roads were full of German soldiers and travel was very dangerous. Keeping the words of Rav Chaim Volozhin in mind, Rav Soloveitchik concentrated on the idea that everything that happens is from Hashem. No human can harm a person unless Hashem wills it. That concentration enabled Rav Soloveitchik to pass by many Nazis, without being harmed. Once, he lost his concentration and was stopped by a German soldier who wanted to kill him. After returning to his thoughts that “there is no other besides Hashem”, the German soldier left abruptly, without harming him. (Sefer Talelei Oros)

One day, a Jewish merchant ran into the home of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. The Russian police were searching the stores in the area for black market goods. Anyone who was caught would be sent to Siberia. This merchant was terrified because his store was full of such goods. As soon as Rabbi Soloveitchik heard about the danger, he took the sefer Nefesh HaChaim from his shelf and started learning it with the merchant. They reviewed Rabbi Chaim Volozhin’s wonderous segulah to protect one from harm. After learning the sefer for two hours, the merchant’s wife ran into the room, screaming that they were saved. The police had skipped their store. What had happened? The soldiers were about to take a lunch break when they approached the store. They put a mark on the store to remember which store they were up to. After lunch, the soldiers had a quarrel among themselves. Some said that that their mark meant they had not yet checked this store. Others said that it meant that this was the last store that they had already checked. They decided that they had already checked the store. The merchant was spared because of the powerful protection that was taught by Rav Chaim Volozhin!

Rav Chaim Volozhin zt”l wrote in his sefer, Nefesh haChaim, having the awareness that everything comes from Hashem, is a wonderous segulah; It is a very powerful force which can protect us from harm.  The recognition that Hashem is the only power in the world, that no one else can harm us, can help us overcome all of life’s trials and tribulations. Problems that had seemed insurmountable, can disappear.

HaRav Yechezkel Levenstein  zt”l writes that this idea that “there is no other besides Hashem” is a foundation of our emunah, our belief in Hashem. He says that the goal of our tefillah and brachos is to reinforce this idea.

Rev Henach Leibowitz zt”l explains that the Jewish People had various challenges while traveling in the desert, after leaving Egypt. They did not camp in one place. Sometimes their resting place was not comfortable. Sometimes they were there for such a short time that they had no time to settle in, making it difficult to feel relaxed. Despite that, their experience WAS restful because they had total emunah, faith in Hashem.

The Alter of Slobodka zt”l says that Avraham arose early in the morning, on the day that he went to sacrifice his son. That infers that he slept peacefully the night before. How was he able to sleep at all, knowing he would soon be sacrificing his beloved son? The answer is, since he had total faith in Hashem, he was able to feel totally calm, despite the magnitude of his “test”.

Apparently, Hashem gave the power for some forces to harm us. When we concentrate on the fact that Hashem is the only power, that can protect us from these outside forces.

We cannot rely on our money, our political connections, or our health-care system. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto zt”l says, that all the events that occur in the world are to help us come to this understanding that Hashem can do everything and that there is no other power other than Hashem. 

 

Parshas Devarim: Small is Really Huge!

Parshas Devarim

Small is Really Huge!

 

“I charged your judges at that time as follows, “Hear out your fellow men, and decide justly …You shall not be partial in judgment….” (Devarim 1:16-17)

Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story of a woman who was afraid that she would lose her job. By chance, her employer found out who her grandfather was. Her employer said that his own father had died when he was young, leaving him and his mother poverty stricken and alone. This woman’s grandfather had stepped in to provide food and money for them. As a result of the kindness of this woman’s grandfather, her employer said, “You will always have a job with me!”.

The employer showed hakaras hatov, appreciation for a kindness done to him many years earlier. He understood the extent one must show to appreciate a favor. Even though the woman herself did not do anything to earn this hakaras hatov, she benefitted from it.

Moshe had cautioned the Jewish judges to judge righteously and not show any favoritism to one of the two arguing parties. The Ibn Ezra explains that the judge was told, if one of the parties was his friend, he should not favor him. Previously, the Torah (Shmos 23:8) cautioned judges not to take bribes.  Even the smallest bribe had the potential to affect and influence the judge’s thinking, causing him to favor one party over the other.

From the Talmud (Kesubos 105B) we see that bribes are not necessarily monetary gifts. Even seemingly minor favors that were done for the judge, could sway his judgement. The amora (one of the rabbis of the Talmud), Shmuel, recused (removed) himself from a case when he saw that one of the parties was the one who had helped him cross a rickety bridge. Another amora, Ameimar, recused himself when he found out that one of the litigants was the one who had removed a feather that had fallen on Ameimar’s head. The Talmud says that even giving the judge a compliment could be considered a form of “bribery” that could cloud the judge’s judgement.

How could it be that such learned people could be swayed by seemingly “minor” favors? How could this cause them to mishandle and misjudge a case?

Harav Henach Leibowitz zt”l would have said that we see from here the complexities of a person. Yes, receiving a small bribe or minor favor can influence, even a great person, on a subconscious level. The judge may not even realize that he was influenced. The Talmud brings a case of an amora, who was a bystander, in a court case. One of the parties had done him a small favor. As he was listening to the court proceedings, he realized that he kept thinking of strategies and claims that his “benefactor” could have used to win the case. The amora realized that his thinking HAD become biased because of the small favor that he had received.

HaRav Avraham Pam zt”l (quoted in Rabbi Frand on the Parasha 3) had a different understanding of the Talmud. The favors that the judges received were not considered minor or insignificant. The judges had a total understanding of hakaras hatov, appreciating the favors that others do. There was no such thing as a “minor” favor. Every favor “demanded” a high level of appreciation. It is that high-level of appreciation and good feelings that could influence a judge’s thinking.

Harav Henach Leibowitz zt”l quoted a Midrash Tanchuma (Siman 8 on Vayikra 19:23) who says, when the Jewish People entered the Land of Israel, there were numerous trees that had already been planted. The Jews had no need to plant any more. Even if they were to plant trees, the trees would take years to grow into maturity and they might not even benefit from the fruit of those trees. Yet, Hashem commanded them to plant trees. Why? It was a situation of hakaras hatov. They had personally benefitted from trees that had been planted by others. In a similar vein, they should also plant to benefit others, to “give forward” andshow their appreciation for what they had received.

Rav Pam zt”l pointed out, if we would better appreciate the level of hakaros hatov that we are obligated to show then our interpersonal relationships would be stronger and better. Husbands and wives should appreciate all the favors and “small” chores that their spouses do for them. They should not take those favors for granted, feeling that it was their spouse’s job to do it. If they would appreciate those favors as seriously as the amoraim did, then they would have happier marriages. Similarly in employer-employee relations or in any relationships between two people.

By not taking favors for granted, but by truly appreciating them,

we will feel closer bonds and will be able to get along much better with others.

 

Parshas Vezos HaBracha: The Secret to Success!

Parshas Vezos HaBracha

The Secret to Success!

 

“And Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there…”. (Devarim 34:5)
“Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe…”. (Devarim 34:10)

Some of the most successful people failed miserably. However, they maintained a strong focus on their ultimate goal and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Michael Jordan is known as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.  In his sophomore year, he failed to make the varsity basketball team due to his height.  He was considered too short to play. Michael kept his focus on his goal of succeeding as a basketball player. He persisted, practicing hard perfecting his game.  His burning desire to be the best and his refusal to give up, eventually led to him becoming one of the greatest basketball players of all time. (Goal Setting Success Stories from wordpress.com)

Moshe Rabbeinu was able to speak to Hashem whenever he wanted to. His prophecies were crystal clear. The Torah tells us that there will never again be a prophet such as Moshe. The Rambam (Laws of Teshuva 5:2) says that although there will never again be a prophet like Moshe, there can be a tzadik like Moshe. The Rambam says, “Every person can become a tzadik, as our teacher Moshe”.

HaRav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l (in his sefer Kovetz Ma’amarim, page 48) questions this Rambam. He says that it is impossible for anyone to be able to reach the level of Moshe Rabbeinu. What does the Rambam mean that every person has the potential to become a tzadik such as Moshe?

HaRav Elchonon Wasserman says that Moshe is described as, being a “servant of Hashem”. The Redak in the beginning of Sefer Yehoshua says that a “servant of Hashem” is one who puts all his energies, focus, and attention to serve Hashem. Even when being involved in one’s daily activities, his focus is to serve Hashem.

Rabbi Yossi says in Pirkei Avos (2:17), “all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven”. Even our eating, drinking, and sleeping should be done “for the sake of Heaven”. When we do these everyday actions, we should try have in mind that we are doing them to have the strength to serve Hashem properly. Even if we feel distressed and feel the need to go for a walk, our intention should be that we want to calm down to serve Hashem better. (Yalkut May’am Loez)

HaRav Elchonon Wasserman continues that each person is given various capabilities in different measures. Some are given more strength, more wisdom, more understanding, more compassion, etc…  Furthermore, some are given more wealth, honor, or prestige. Every person was given exactly what he needs to fulfill his personal and specific mission in life. Nothing extra was given to us that is not needed to complete our mission in this world. Thus, by definition, we are obligated to use all that we have been given to serve Hashem. If we do so, then we will attain the level of Moshe Rabbeinu. Obviously, we can’t attain the actual level of Moshe. Even if we were to use all our efforts for thousands of years, we wouldn’t even reach the level of Moshe’s ankles. However, that is because we were not given the strength and understanding that Moshe was given. If we use all the abilities that Hashem has given us to serve Him, then we can also attain the level of being a “servant of Hashem”, just as Moshe was. This is the explanation of the Rambam.

Hashem has given each of us unique abilities and has placed us in different situations in life. Our goal should be to use our unique talents to serve Hashem.  We should focus on this goal in all that we do. Then, even our mundane actions become mitzvos. To the extent that we succeed in focusing on this, we will be considered “servants of Hashem”, just as Moshe Rabbeinu was.

 

Parshas Ha’azinu: I Did Not Realize Until Now!

Parshas Ha’azinu

I Did Not Realize Until Now!

 

“Return O Israel to Hashem your G-D for you have fallen because of your sin”. Haftorah for Shabbos Shuva (from Parshas Vayelech) (Hoshea 14:2)

Rav Saadia Gaon zt”l was the pre-eminent Jewish leader in the 900’s. Once he was a guest at the home of a fellow Jew who did not recognize him. The Jew welcomed his guest warmly and treated him with the utmost respect. He treated him in a fine fashion, the same way he would treat any fellow Jew. The next day, when the host found out that his guest was none other than the great Rav Saadia Gaon, he felt terrible. He quickly ran to find the great sage. When he found Rav Saadia Gaon, the host begged his forgiveness. He apologized saying, had he known who his guest was, he would have treated him with more respect. Rav Saadia Gaon was surprised. He responded that the host welcomed him with open arms and did treat him very respectfully. The host responded that it was true that he treated Rav Saadia Gaon with respect. However, had he known who he was, he would have treated him with even more respect.

Rav Saadia Gaon learned a lifelong lesson from the words of his host. His host had felt the need to apologize for not having given him the proper respect the day before, based on his new knowledge today, of who his guest was. Rav Saadia Gaon felt that he should feel the same way, regarding his relationship with Hashem. He felt that he currently had more of an appreciation of Hashem than he did the day before. Taking the lead from his host, he felt that he had to apologize to Hashem for not have shown Hashem greater respect the day before, based on his his new-found understanding of Hashem. From that day forward, Rav Saadia Gaon repented every single day for not having shown Hashem the proper respect the day before. (based on a dvar Torah quoted by Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Beyfuss in his sefer Yalkut Lekach Tov)

Based on Rav Saadia Gaon’s actions, we can understand the answer to a glaring question. On Yom Kippur, we spend an entire day, close to Hashem. We abstain from physical pleasures such as eating, drinking, washing ourselves, …. We are almost like angels who have no physical needs. We spend almost the entire time praying to Hashem enumerating our many sins and begging Hashem for forgiveness. If we are sincere in our pleading, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur we feel a sense of accomplishment. We feel that we exerted all our efforts to cleanse ourselves from our sins.  Immediately following the Yom Kippur prayers, we pray the weekday evening prayer. In the Shmone Esray we say to Hashem, “Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned”.  If we just spent our entire day cleansing ourselves of our sins, why are we asking for forgiveness for our sins? What sins do we have now? Based on Rav Saadia Gaon’s actions, we can understand the answer to our question. We spent an entire day begging Hashem for forgiveness and enumerating our many sins. We declared Hashem’s greatness and loving kindness. We felt ourselves coming ever closer to Hashem. Now we realize just how terrible our past sins really were. Based on this new understanding, now we plead to Hashem, please forgive us for our prior sins.

The closer we get to Hashem, the more we realize how much we owe Him.