Category Archives: Sefer Vayikrah

Parshas Bechukosai: You Don’t Have to Do It!

Parshas Bechukosai

You Don’t Have to Do It!

 

“If you will walk in my statutes….” (Vayikra 26:3)

There was a group of people who were travelling by boat to America, with a stopover in France. One of the members of the group felt that it was important that he learn the French language to be prepared for his stay in France. He spent much of his time before the trip and while he was on the boat, learning French. When the boat docked in France, this fellow was able to converse in a fluent French. He felt good about himself, and all the other travelers were very impressed. However, the boat was only in France for a few days. When the boat left France, his knowledge of the French language was useless. He did not have enough time to learn the English language with the time that he had left on the boat. He had spent all his time and energy on what he felt was important. Unfortunately, he did not realize until too late that he had used his time poorly. He should have spent all his time learning the English language which was needed for his ultimate destination. (based on a story by Rabbi Peysach Krohn)

The Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 35:1) quotes a pasuk in Tehillim, “I considered my ways, and I turned my feet to your testimonies.” (Tehillim 119:59). King David was saying to Hashem that every day he would consider his daily schedule. He decided where he had to go and what he had to do. He would think that “To place ‘x’ and to the home of ‘y’ am I walking”. He would start going to those places, but, instead, his feet would bring him to the synagogues and to the Houses of Study, to learn Torah.

The Midrash is not telling us that King David had planned “fun” outings every day, just to find that his feet “had other ideas” and led him to the beis medrash to learn Torah. Rather, King David had planned urgent matters that a king had to be involved with. However, instead of taking care of those matters, he went to learn Torah.

Why did King David praise himself for ignoring important government matters to learn Torah? After all, the halacha is that you are permitted to stop learning to perform a mitzvah that only you can do! Furthermore, the Chofetz Chaim zt”l gives the definition of  a masmid, one who immersed in learning Torah. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l says that he is one who learns when he is supposed to and stops learning when he is supposed to do other things.

Obviously, King David was a responsible king who knew the halacha that there were times that he was obligated to stop learning. Of course, he fulfilled all his necessary obligations. However, it is not always easy to distinguish between what is absolutely necessary and what is not. It is not always easy to discern what you must do yourself and what you can confidently delegate to someone else. The yetzer hara always tries to make you feel that you must do more and spend less time in the beis medrash. This was King David’s challenge every day. He had to determine what he had to do and what could be pushed off, what needed more of his time and what did not, and what could be done by someone else, and what he had to do.

It was King David’s overwhelming love for Torah, that helped him solve his dilemma as to when to learn and when to stop, to accomplish other tasks that only he could do. His thirst for Torah helped him determine how to spend his time. Without his overwhelming love for Torah, he would have spent less time learning and more time taking care of matters that he had initially thought were incumbent upon him.

King David’s challenge is our challenge. There are so many activities throughout the day that we feel we must do. And they are all important! However, if we will develop a thirst for Torah, we will be able to remove our blinders and realize that we do not have to do all those things. Or we will realize that we can accomplish those tasks in much less time than we had planned. Then we will discover more free time than we thought we had. We will then have more time to learn Torah, which is what Hashem created us to do.

Based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l.

 

Parshas Behar: Take a Deep Breath, Relax, & Be Happy!

Parshas Behar

Take a Deep Breath, Relax, & Be Happy!

 

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity [forever], for the land is Mine; you are but strangers and residents with Me.” (Vayikra 25:23)

Shimon owned a clothing store. One day, a competitor opened a clothing store across the street. Shimon went across to see the owner of the new store. People watching thought that he was going to complain that the new store was going to affect his business. Instead, Shimon offered the competitor business advice and wished him much success. The competitor was in shock! Shimon explained that Hashem was able to provide for both of their needs. Shimon’s faith in Hashem freed him from anger & anxiety. (Wings of Faith Rabbi Asher Rubenstein zt”l on Shaar HaBitachon, written by Rabbi Yosef Tropper)

 

One aspect of the mitzvah of Shmita is that every seventh year, farmers in the land of Israel are commanded not to work their land. After 7 Shmita cycles, the 50th year is called Yovel. Farmers are commanded not to work their land for both the 49th and 50th years. During the Yovel year, all Jewish slaves are freed even if they served less than the 6-year minimum. Additionally, all ancestral land that previously had been sold is returned to its original owners.

It is normal for one to feel warm ties to his house and his property. Imagine if you were living in your home for most of your life. You worked hard every year in your garden, beautifying it, by planting beautiful flowers. You had a small orchard and after years of hard work, the orchard was finally producing delicious fruit. You were noticing that your efforts were paying dividends. You were feeling fulfilled and satisfied, seeing the results of your hard work. One day, you received a notice in the mail from the city government. They were planning to build a highway through your property. You were going to have to leave all your good memories and hard work behind. When the day finally arrived, you felt sad and dejected.

This is how the farmer could feel. After 50 years, he was obligated to return the ancestral land that he had bought years ago. He may feel that he is giving away a part of himself. It was his land and now he must return it! Rashi explains, to console him the Torah adds, “the land is Mine”. Hashem is telling the person that he isn’t selling his own land that he lived on for 50 years. The land never belonged to him in the first place! It was Hashem’s land! Hashem was nice enough to permit him to stay on the land for the past 50 years.

Rabbeinu Bachya in his sefer Chovos HaLevavos (Sha’ar Cheshbon HaNefesh 3:30) describes how this pasuk expects the farmer to understand his situation. He should consider himself a stranger in a strange land. He doesn’t know anyone, and no one knows him. The king has pity on him and is kind enough to allow him to stay. The king sustains him and tells him to abide by certain rules. The king tells him to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

As mentioned earlier, Rashi explains that the reason the Torah said, “the land is Mine” was to make the buyer feel better when he had to give back the land to its original owner. According to the explanation of the Chovos HaLevavos, how is the pasuk making the person feel better? If anything, it seems to make him feel worse! It seems to make him feel lonely and alone. It seems to make him feel that he does not belong, and that his stay is temporary.

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l explains that this knowledge will make the person feel better. It will help him to realize that he is totally in Hashem’s hands and that Hashem is the only One upon whom he can rely. Knowing that Hashem can help him, and that Hashem only wants the best for him, will be the source of his feeling peace and tranquility. His total reliance on Hashem will bring him true joy and inner peace. He can then feel good about giving away the land, because Hashem, who only wants the best for him, is telling him to return it.

A young dove was dragging his feet through life, feeling bad about himself and his problems. One day, he shared his woes with an older bird. The older bird asked, “Why don’t you just fly?” “How”, asked the younger bird? “Use your wings!” exclaimed the older bird. “Haven’t you noticed those feathers and bones attached to your body?! Just flap them and you will soar above it all!”

 

When we go through life feeling bad about our challenges, we must remember that we have powerful wings. We have Wings of Faith that will carry us wherever we need to go! (Wings of Faith Rabbi Asher Rubenstein zt”l on Shaar HaBitachon, written by Rabbi Yosef Tropper)

There are events in life that feel upsetting, frustrating, and stressful. We can remain calm and feel at peace. The trick is to keep telling ourselves that Hashem is running the world and Hashem knows what is truly best for us, in the “big picture”. Hashem cares about us more than we can imagine.

Hashem knows better than we do, what we truly need at each step of the way and in the “long-run”.

Parshas Emor: You can be a Super-Hero!

Parshas Emor

You can be a Super-Hero!

 

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall completely remove the corners of your field, and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger, I am Hashem your G-D.” (Vayikra 23:22)

Your friend, Shimon, called you to tell you an amazing story. He received a phone call from a long-lost uncle. His uncle told him that he was giving him one million dollars! Shimon was ecstatic! His uncle then said that Shimon should give $20,000 of that money to a specific cousin.

If you were Shimon, how would YOU feel about that condition? Would you be upset that you were asked to give away the $20,000? Would you ignore the request, do it begrudgingly, or be happy to do it, considering all the other money that you had received?

The Talmud (Bava Basra 10A) brings a conversation between the evil Roman governor, Turnus Rufus, and the great sage, Rabbi Akiva. Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva: If your G-d loves the poor, why does He not support them Himself? Rabbi Akiva said to him: He commands us to sustain the poor, so that we will be saved from the judgment of Gehinom through the charity that we give them.

Rabbi Yocḥanan ben Zakkai once dreamt that his nephews were destined to lose seven hundred dinars over the course of the year. He did not tell his nephews about the dream but encouraged them to give a lot of money to tzedakah. They ended up giving the full seven hundred dinars less seventeen. On Yom Kippur eve, the government sent messengers who took seventeen dinars from them. Rabbi Yocḥanan ben Zakkai told them not to worry, since the government would not take any more money from them. The money that they had given to tzedakah was in lieu of the other 683 dinars that the government would have taken.

It says in Mishlei (Proverbs 19:17),He who graciously gives to the poor, makes a loan to Hashem. That which he has given, Hashem will pay him back.” Giving to the poor is considered as if one had granted a loan to Hashem! Rashi says that the charity that one gives, defends him before the Divine strict standard of justice. The Midrash Tanchuma says, “In the future, when your son or daughter becomes deathly ill, I will recall in their behalf the good deed that you had performed for the poor man, and I will save them from death. I will repay you soul for soul”.

It says in our Parsha (Vayikra 23:22), “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger, I am Hashem your G-D.”

A farmer, more than any other person, has the best opportunity to develop a belief in Hashem and a realization that Hashem controls the World. A farmer cannot help but notice that Hashem constantly determines the success of his crop. Will there be enough rain to help his crops grow? Will there be an infestation of insects that will destroy his crop? Will the climate be too harsh, either intensely hot or intensely cold, thus destroying his crops? When the farmer sees a successful crop, he should clearly understand that it is a blessing from Hashem. If Hashem would ask him to leave part of his harvest for the poor, it should not be a problem. The farmer is similar, to the man who had received 1 million dollars from his uncle and was then asked to give a small percentage of it to another cousin. He should be happy to follow Hashem’s directive and share a portion of his bounty with the poor.

All that we have are a gift from Hashem. If Hashem wants us to share our wealth with those Jews who are less fortunate, of course we should do so.

The extent to which Hashem values the actions of the farmer, or anyone who helps the poor, goes even further!

Rashi quotes a Sifra (Emor, Chapter 13 11): Rav Avdima the son of Rav Yosef asked why the Torah places the law concerning the corner of the field, in the middle of the group of psukim that discuss the various Holidays. First, the Torah discusses the sacrifices given on Pesach and Succos. Next, it discusses the mitzvah of leaving a corner of one’s field for the poor. Then, the Torah discusses the sacrifices brought on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Succos. Rashi answers that it teaches us that one who leaves his gleanings, his forgotten sheaves, and the corner of his field to the poor, is regarded as though he had built the Beis Hamikdash and had offered his sacrifices there. Astounding! All that the farmer has, is from Hashem. Yet, if he leaves part of it for the poor, he is considered a hero! It is as if he, alone, caused the Third Beis Hamikdash to be built and then offered sacrifices therein!

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (sefer Derash Moshe)- asks why the act of leaving these parts of the field to the poor is considered as if one had built the Beis Hamikdash and had brought korbanos there. Rav Moshe zt”l answers that in the merit of tzedakah, the Jews will be redeemed quickly and the Beis Hamikdash will be built. If most Jews would copy the actions of the farmer and give their proper share of tzedakah then Mashiach would come, the Beis Hamikdash would be rebuilt, and korbanos would again be sacrificed. Since this farmer did all that he, personally, could, he gets full credit and reward as if the Beis Hamikdash was built!

All that we have is a gift from Hashem. Yet, Hashem considers us and our actions to be special
when we follow Hashem’s directive to share what He gave us with those in need.
We even receive the reward of one who is responsible for the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash!

Parshas Kedoshim – Don’t Give Up!

Parshas Kedoshim

Don’t Give Up!

 

“And you should love your friend as yourself, I am Hashem.” (19:18)

Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam (January 10, 1905 – June 18, 1994) was the founding Rebbe of the Sanz-Klausenburg Chasidic dynasty. He led thousands of followers in the town of Klausenburg, Romania, before World War II. His wife, eleven children and most of his followers were murdered by the Nazis. Nonetheless, he did not lose faith or hope. He did NOT give up! After the war, he continued to serve as an inspirational leader for the Jews in the Displaced Persons camps where he ran soup kitchens, cared for countless orphans, and opened a yeshivah and a Bais Yaakov school.

After the war, he moved to New York, got remarried, and had seven more children. Later, he moved to Israel. He re-established his dynasty in the United States and Israel. He opened numerous yeshivos, established the town of Kiryat Sanz and founded the Sanz Medical Center/Ladiano Hospital.

During the time between Pesach and Shavuos, Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students died! Rabbi Akiva could have wallowed in depression and despair from the tragedy of the deaths of his multitude of students. Yet he did not! He accepted the challenge that he was given and persevered, going forward. Rashi (Yevamos 62B) says that because of the deaths, Torah was forgotten. The Talmud says that Rabbi Akiva started all over again and taught Torah to Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Shimon, and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua. He went from teaching 24,000 students to teaching only 5. Yet, those five students upheld the study of Torah at that time and transmitted the Torah to future generations.

Despite the enormity of the challenges, both Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Halberstam persevered.

Their actions changed the future path for the Jewish People.

The way we respond to challenges impacts our future path and can also impact the future path for the Jewish People.

The question remains, why did Rabbi Akiva’s students perish?  They were great people! The Talmud (Yevamos 62B) says that they did not show the proper level of respect to each other. Since they were great, more was expected of them, and Hashem judged them very stringently. We can learn from what happened to them how important it is to show respect to one another. Rabbi Yaakov Neiman in his sefer, Darchei Mussar (as quoted by Rabbi Yisroel Beifus in Yalkut Lekach Tov), posits that a lack of respect to one another stems from a lack of faith in Hashem. If one truly believes that Hashem created the world and the focal point of creation is man, who is created in the image of Hashem, then it is impossible not to honor man. One must especially honor a fellow Jew who is considered Hashem’s child. How can one not honor the child of a king? This could be the explanation of the pasuk, “And you should love your friend as yourself, I am Hashem.”  “I am Hashem” is the reason for loving your friend as yourself. That is, since everyone is created in the image of Hashem, when you honor someone, it is as if you are honoring Hashem.

The true test of love for another is if you only notice their positive qualities and not their faults. As it says in Mishlei (10:12) that “love covers up all faults”.

Rabbi Akiva was one who only noticed the positive. The Talmud (Makkos 24A) relates that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, Rabbi Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiva were walking by the Temple Mount. When they saw a fox emerge from the ruins of the Holy of Holies, they began crying. Rabbi Akiva began laughing. The Sages were surprised at Rabbi Akiva’s reaction. He explained that there were two prophecies that were linked. The first prophecy was that Jerusalem will become a rubble and that foxes will emerge from the Holy of Holies. When Rabbi Akiva saw the foxes emerging from the Holy of Holies, he saw that the first prophecy was fulfilled. That meant that the second prophecy which was dependent on the first, would also be fulfilled. That filled him with hope since the second prophecy was that the Jewish People will return to Jerusalem. “The old men and women will be in the squares of Jerusalem.” “And the squares of the city shall be crowded with boys and girls playing.” (Zecharya 8:4-5)

During this time between Pesach and Shavuos, we should try to imbibe this lesson.

Let us try to honor Hashem by honoring His children and only noticing their positive attributes.
Imagine how much happier we will be!
It will also save us from feeling jealous and from fighting.
It will increase love for our fellow Jew, bringing peace and happiness,
helping to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash speedily, in our day.

Parshas Acharei Mos: The Puzzle Piece Always Fits!

Parshas Acharei Mos

The Puzzle Piece Always Fits!

 

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons….” (Vayikra 16:1)

Life’s challenges can cause untold stress. However, we can feel calm, safe, and secure when we remember that Hashem runs the world. Events that occur are not haphazard. Rather, they are all part of Hashem’s master plan. We can visualize a large puzzle. Each challenge is a critical piece in our personal jigsaw puzzle of life.

The following two stories can help us with this visualization:

Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein is a well-known educator. One of his programs enables troubled youths to turn their lives around. He learned about equine therapy which involves activities with horses to promote therapy for mental health. So, Rabbi Wallerstein decided to buy a ranch to start this new program. He searched for years, trying to find the right location. Rabbi Wallerstein wondered why Hashem did not listen to his prayers to help him find an appropriate ranch. Finally, he found the perfect location. It had a large indoor area with many horse stalls. The house on the premises was large enough for his program’s needs. It seemed as if it was brand new and had never been used. When questioned, the real estate agent explained that the owner had been a millionaire. He had spent a few years building a magnificent house and grounds for his prize horse. Then, he had a massive heart attack the day that the house was completed and never used it. Now Rabbi Wallerstein understood that Hashem had listened all along to his prayers and had been preparing the perfect location for him. Rabbi Wallerstein said, “Sometimes we think that we have been forgotten by Hashem. With proper bitachon (belief) we realize that Hashem is working for us behind the scenes.”            (Night of Emunah by Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky) 

A similar theme revolves around the story of the Mir Yeshiva in Europe. In early 1941, seizing the opportunity to escape from the Nazis and the Soviets, the rabbis and students of the Mir Yeshiva traveled as a group. They traveled across the Soviet Union to Japan and then to Shanghai, where they spent the rest of the war. The Mir emerged as the only eastern European yeshiva to survive the Holocaust intact. It is interesting to note that in Shanghai, the yeshiva found a perfect building on the outskirts of the town. The building had enough space for all the students and had a large kitchen and dining hall. The story behind their building is fascinating! Silas Hardoon, was brought into Shanghai from Iraq by the Sassoon family to help manage their real estate business. There, he became independently wealthy. Although he was an assimilated Jew, he but he built a synagogue in Shanghai, in memory of his father, Aharon. He built the synagogue on the outskirts of town where it was not accessible to the public. There is no evidence that the synagogue had ever used for Jewish worship. Yet, fourteen years after its completion, the Mir Yeshiva managed to secure the Beth Aharon structure for their learning. The synagogue was converted into the beis medrash. There were exactly 252 seats in the synagogue, and there were exactly 252 yeshiva students who filled those seats!  (Silas’s Folly: The Beth Aharon Synagogue in Shanghai and how it Saved the Mirrer Yeshiva by Vera Schwarcz)

Clearly, Hashem orchestrated events, many years earlier, to provide the Mirrer Yeshiva with exactly what it needed!

When challenges come our way or we hear nerve racking news, we can stay calm,

knowing that Hashem is in control. All that occurs is part of Hashem’s plan.

We see the benefit of visualization from the parsha. Hashem told Moshe to tell Aharon that he was forbidden to enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. He was only permitted to enter on Yom Kippur and only at certain times of that day. The Torah states, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aharon’s two sons…. (Vayikra 16:1)” The following pasuk states, “And Hashem said to Moshe, tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Holy of Holies….” Rashi (see Sifsei Chachamim and Sforno) is troubled as to why the first pasuk says that Hashem spoke to Moshe and then then repeats in the second pasuk that Hashem again spoke to Moshe. It seems that Hashem gave Moshe two directives to tell Aharon. Rashi quotes Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah who illustrated both directives with a parable: A doctor visited a sick person and told him, “Do not eat cold things or sleep in a damp place!” Another doctor came and told the patient, “Do not eat cold things, or sleep in a damp place so that you not die as Mr. So-and-so died!” Certainly, the second doctor’s warning, which was more graphic, was more powerful. 

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l  pointed out that we can understand why a regular person might need a graphic warning. However, why would someone as great as Aharon need such a warning? Wouldn’t it have sufficed to simply tell Aharon that he was usually forbidden to enter the Holy of Holies?  Yet, Hashem felt that the graphic warning was necessary even for someone as great as Aharon. On some level, the added warning would make a difference to Aharon, as well.   If it would make a difference to him, certainly it would make a difference to us.

One can be aware of the serious punishment for sinning as well as the wonderful reward for performing mitzvos. However, the evil inclination is very strong and in the moment of challenge, one may tempted and momentarily forget the importance of doing the right thing.

Visualizing the rewards or consequences of our actions
can help strengthen us against the onslaught of the evil inclination.

Parshas Metzora: Is Silence Truly Golden?

Parshas Metzora

Is Silence Truly Golden?

 

“And he shall take two birds on behalf of he who is becoming pure” (Vayikra 14:4)

The Midrash (Tehillim 39:2) relates a fascinating story. There was a Persian King who was near death. The doctors said that his only cure was to drink the milk of a lioness. A volunteer came forward. He requested that the king provide him with ten goats. He traveled to a lion’s den where he found a lioness nursing her cubs. He stood a distance away and threw one goat to the lioness. Each subsequent day he threw another goat to the lioness. Each time he came a little closer to the lioness. After ten days he was able to get close enough to milk her. While he was traveling back to the king, he had a strange dream. All his limbs were arguing amongst themselves as to which was the best and the one most responsible for the successful outcome. When the tongue said that it was the best, all the other limbs made fun of it. The tongue replied, “Today you shall see that I am master over all of you!” When the volunteer reached the king, he entered the palace and said, “Here is the dog’s milk”. The king was furious that he brought milk from a dog rather than the milk of a lioness. The king ordered that the volunteer be hung. As he awaited his death, he dreamt again. The tongue said to the other limbs, I told you that today you will see that you are nothing. If I save you, will you admit that I am master over you?” The other limbs agreed. When the man awoke, he immediately asked to be brought back to the king. He told the king that in his language a lioness is called a dog, and indeed he brought the milk of a lioness. The king drank the milk and was cured.

This is what King Shlomo said, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Mishlei 18:21).

One who spoke loshon hara, slander, was punished with tzara’as, a spiritual skin disease. After the tzara’as disappeared, the kohen brought two birds on his behalf. One was sacrificed and one was set free in the field. Why were birds used instead of larger animals? Rashi (Vayikra 14:4) quotes the Talmud (Arakhin 16B) that explains the offering matches the sin that it came to atone. The plague of tzara’as came as a punishment for slander, which is done by chattering. The slanderer had acted in a way that had demeaned his power of speech to something no better than that of a bird. Therefore, birds were required for his purification, as they chatter continuously.

Why were two birds brought and not just one? The Maharsha (Arakhin 16B) says that the tongue has the power over both life and death. One can choose either path. The offering of one bird hinted to the chattering of loshon hara from which the sinner should refrain. The second bird hinted to the “chattering” of learning Torah, which is the antidote, the cure to speaking loshon hara.

Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (quoted in the Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yisaachar Dov Rubin) expounds on the idea set forth by the Maharsha. He says that had only one bird been brought the sinner may have erroneously concluded that he should try to remain silent to avoid sinning in the future. Therefore, the second bird was brought to teach the sinner that speech can also be beneficial. It can bring eternal life to a person if he uses his speech to learn Torah rather than speaking idle or sinful chatter.

Rabbi Yissachar Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 2) quotes a Zohar with a different answer as to why two birds were brought. One bird was brought to atone for improper speech and one to atone for good speech. The first is obvious. Improper speech causes rifts, creating disharmony.  However, how can a person misuse proper speech? The Shemen Hatov says that positive speech can be misused by NOT using it. Sitting passively and not utilizing positive speech can be harmful! Positive speech can be used to give a compliment, to acknowledge someone’s hard work, to make another person feel good or appreciated. It can bring a smile to the face of a person who is feeling sad. A simple greeting of good morning can bring a smile to the face of a person feeling sad. It can change his mood for the day.

Compliments benefit the giver as well as the receiver. Being in the habit of giving compliments and expressing gratitude helps one to notice and appreciate that which is good. “Being complimentary helps create an optimistic, happier outlook”. Scientists have found that being paid a compliment lights up the same part of a person’s brain that gets activated when he gets paid a monetary award. Short one-line sentences can brighten a person’s day. Some examples are, “Your haircut looks great. Your speech was so moving. You are a good friend. I can’t tell you how great it was to talk to you when I was upset”. (Marcia Naomi Berger, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist quoted in NBC News BETTER).

Compliments create a ripple effect of kindness and encouragement which spread to others. Compliments cost nothing to give, but the value felt by both the giver and the receiver is priceless.

Refraining from speaking can be harmful. It may even be forbidden and be considered as “stealing”. If we see another person being harmed either physically or verbally, we must speak up in their defense. If we do not, we are “stealing” what is due to them (see Rashi in Bereishis 16:5).

At times, “silence is golden” when we refrain from speaking badly of others.
Silence can be “harmful” when we refrain from giving a compliment or cheerful word.
At other times, “silence can be criminal” when we refrain from defending or protecting someone.

Parshas Tazria – Look in the Mirror-You Will NOT See Yourself!

Parshas Tazria

Look in the Mirror-You Will NOT See Yourself!

 

“The kohen shall examine the affection on the skin of the body: …When the kohen sees it, he shall pronounce the person impure”. (Vayikra 13:3)

Rabbi Eliyah of Vilna was known as the Vilna Gaon. He lived in the 1700’s and was one of the greatest rabbis of our century. His influence is still felt in our time. When the Vilna Gaon was in his 70’s, he wrote a letter to Rabbi Yaakov ben Wolf Kranz of Dubno, known as the Dubno Maggid, asking him to travel to Vilna to see him.  The Dubno Maggid was well-known for using parables and stories to teach important Torah concepts. The great Vilna Gaon asked the Dubno Maggid to give him admonition. As great as he was, the Vilna Gaon understood that no one is perfect and that every person needed rebuke in order to correct their faults.

One day, The Vilna Gaon asked the Dubno Maggid to help him avoid arrogant and prideful thoughts.  The Vilna Gaon understood that a genius like himself, who had immense Torah knowledge, apt to feeling that he was better than others.

The Dubno Maggid thought for a moment and told the Vilna Gaon a parable: Once, a number of merchants traveled home from the great Fair in Leipzig, Germany. A wealthy merchant was leading a horse which was pulling a wagon laden with valuable merchandise. As he was walking, he noticed another merchant walking beside him, pushing a cart that was filled with cheap merchandise. The wealthy merchant was incensed. How dare this small-time merchant walk beside him, as if they were equals! He voiced his feelings to the other merchant. The small-time merchant had a quick response. He said, “I know that you are a well-known wealthy merchant. You would have had a reason to be proud had you paid cash for all your merchandise. However, I know that all your purchases were bought on credit, just as all my merchandise was. I only bought a few cheap items. However, you purchased many expensive items. Obviously, your debt to your creditors is much greater than mine. Therefore, remember that you may be richer than I but your burden of debt is much greater”.

The Dubno Maggid continued that in a similar way, Hashem admonished the Jewish king. The king should not think that he was better than his fellow Jews, even he held an important position and was very wealthy. He had to remember that the greater the gifts that Hashem gave him, the greater his debt was to Hashem. When one has greater abilities, Hashem expects more from him. He must be careful not to be overbearing to others and must carefully follow the mitzvos.

The Vilna Gaon understood the Dubno Maggid’s message. Hashem had granted him outstanding gifts. That meant that Hashem expected much more from him than Hashem expected from others. He had no right to feel pride in his accomplishments. (The Maggid of Dubno and his Parables by Benno Heinemann)

This week’s Parsha discusses the disease of tzara’as. This skin disease resulted from a person’s sins, especially that of speaking loshon hara, speaking badly of others. The Torah says (Vayikra 13:3) if a person thought that he had contracted tzara’as, he should go to a Kohen to verify it. If it was indeed tzara’as, the person was declared impure and was sent away, in seclusion, until the tzara’as left.  The Mishna (Negaim 2:5) says that a Kohen who thinks that he himself may have tzara’as must go to another kohen to verify it. Why isn’t the kohen allowed to decide it for himself? The Torah is concerned that the kohen with the tzara’as will be unable to make an unbiased decision to determine if he had tzara’as. Therefore, he has to go to another kohen to make that determination for him.

It is easier to notice the imperfections of others than our own. Even an honest person may often rationalize that he had not done anything wrong. (based on Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin)

If one truly wants to become a better person, he will be willing to listen to the criticism of others. Some people organize small groups of friends with the intention of hearing constructive criticism of their actions. Their intention is to further perfect their character traits and come closer to Hashem.

Honestly, no one likes to be criticized. When one is criticized, one instantly becomes defensive and is apt to criticize the “attacker”. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we will understand that the way to improve is to listen to the criticism of others. Others can notice faults that we are not aware of or cannot admit to. Obviously, criticism should be gentle and should come from a place of genuine love and caring. This is not an invitation to notice the faults of others and cruelly criticize them.

When we are “open” to hearing constructive criticism, we are opening ourselves to truly improving.

 

 

Parshas Shmini – True Love!

Parshas Shmini

True Love!

 

“Moshe said to Aharon, ‘Come near to the Altar and perform the service…’”. (Vayikra 9:7)

For Brandon L, learning that he was in kidney failure at age 23 was the biggest surprise of his life. But later — on his 25th birthday — Brandon was again surprised when he learned his younger brother, Derek, would be donating one of his kidneys to him to save his life. “You have always been there for me,” Derek said. “You will always have a piece of my heart and now you will have my kidney, too. We are a perfect match.” “I can’t believe Derek would sacrifice going through all this for me,” said Brandon. “He’s giving me a chance to have a healthy life again…it’s overwhelming and I still can’t believe it’s happening.” (Jan. 9, 2018, Source: TODAY Contributor)

The Mishkan was built. For seven days, Moshe officiated as Kohen Gadol, offering korbanos, sacrifices, to Hashem. Every day, Moshe constructed and then took-down the Mishkan. Hashem’s Holy Presence had not yet descended upon the Mishkan. The Jews were saddened, thinking that their involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf had made them unworthy of having Hashem’s Holy Presence descend. On the eighth day, Moshe told Aharon that Aharon would begin officiating as the Kohen Gadol. Aharon was instructed which korbanos to bring.  One korban was a calf, to atone for Aharon’s participation in the sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe said that after Aharon would complete his job, Hashem’s Holy Presence would then appear in the Mishkan. Rashi (Vayikra 9:7) says that when Aharon approached the Altar to sacrifice the korbanos, he hesitated, until Moshe encouraged him to continue approaching. What made Aharon hesitate? The Ramban quotes an opinion that the horns of the Altar appeared to Aharon like the horns of a calf. According to the Da’as Zekanim Aharon feared that he was not worthy of approaching the Altar because of his involvement, albeit minimal, in the sin of the Golden Calf. The Ramban continues, that Aharon was so holy that the sin of the Golden Calf was the only sin that he had ever been involved in. Therefore, it was always on his mind. He was afraid that this would interfere with his ability to offer the sacrifices. Moshe prodded Aharon by saying that Hashem had forgiven him for his minimal part in the sin and that Hashem had chosen Aharon to be the Kohen Gadol. Rashi quotes Moshe as saying to Aharon, “You were chosen for this!”

Rabbi Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah) quotes the Toras Kohanim who says that Moshe told Aharon, “You, of all people, don’t have to fear what the ox represents”.

What did Moshe mean? According to the Midrash Rabba (Shmos 37:2) Hashem had told Moshe that Aharon’s intention was pure. Therefore, Aharon would become the Kohen Gadol who would offer the sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish People. Aharon knew that the some of the Jews were intent on sinning. He initially tried to stall them until Moshe would return. He realized that his stalling tactic would not work and that the Jews would make an idol. The Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 10:3) explains that Aharon had evaluated the situation. If the Jewish People would build the Golden Calf their sin would be very severe. Aharon felt that it would be better if he would build it. Then his sin would not be as severe since his intent was not to serve idols. Aharon was willing to accept the sin upon himself to save the Jewish People from a more severe sin.

Aharon loved the Jewish People so much that he was willing to sacrifice his own righteousness to save them. He placed their welfare above his own. Therefore, Hashem deemed him worthy, and Aharon became the Kohen Gadol. With this knowledge, Moshe told Aharon to go forward towards the Altar without any fears.

We learn two important lessons from Aharon’s greatness. He constantly remembered his “sin”. If we keep our sins in mind (not to cause us depression but to encourage us to strive towards growth), that will help us feel regret and will hopefully protect us from repeating those sins.

We also see that when you truly love someone, you should be willing to sacrifice for them.

 

Parshas Tzav – Special Purim Issue: Don’t Bury Him Face Down!

Parshas Tzav – Special Purim Issue

Don’t Bury Him Face Down!

 

“And every day Mordechai walked in front of the court of the harem, to learn how Esther was faring and what was happening to her”. (Esther 2:11)

A Jewish informer lived in the town of Luban, Russia. He reported any Jewish “wrongdoings” to the government. If he did not like someone, he made up a story to get the person in trouble with the government. The entire town feared this informer and were forced to treat him with respect. When the informer became gravely ill, he demanded that the chevra kaddisha, the Jewish burial society, see him immediately. When they came, he told them that he wanted to be buried, face- down. They were surprised at this strange request which was also contrary to Jewish law. The informer died soon after. The chevra kaddisha went to the town’s rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l. They asked him what to do about the burial. On the one hand, it was a mitzva to fulfill a person’s request that was made right before he dies. On the other hand, burying someone face-down was contrary to Jewish law. Rav Moshe replied that one only follows the final request of a dying man if it was not contrary to halacha. Since this request was contrary to halacha, it should be ignored. A few weeks after the informer was buried, a group of Russian officials demanded that the body be exhumed. Having no choice, the chevra kaddisha opened the grave. The Russians looked at it and began to leave. Curiously, one of the members of the chevra kaddisha asked one of the Russian officials what they had been looking for. He replied that the informer had sent them a letter right before he died. The letter said that the Jews in the town hated him and would do something nasty after he died, such as burying him upside down. The officials came, to make sure that had not occurred, otherwise they would have punished the townspeople.

After Achashverosh had Vashti killed, he held a beauty contest to look for a new wife. Esther was brought to the contest against her will. Mordechai had commanded Esther not to tell anyone that she was Jewish and that she came from royal blood, as she descended from King Shaul (Esther 2:10). Rashi explains that Mordechai had felt if it was known that Esther came from royal ancestry, she would have had a better chance of being chosen as the new queen. Mordecai wanted to avoid that at all costs. He didn’t want Esther to be forced to marry Achashverosh. Even after Esther was chosen as Queen, she still did not divulge her ancestry, as per Mordechai’s behest (Esther 2:20). The Talmud (Megillah 13A) says that the king made a special feast and even lowered taxes to try to encourage Esther to divulge her ancestry. King Achashverosh was so curious about his new Queen’s ancestry that he asked Mordechai for a suggestion as to how to encourage Esther to divulge her secret. The Ben Yehodaya (on Megillah 13A) says, Achashverosh was aware that Mordechai had raised Esther. Therefore, Achashverosh felt that Mordechai would be able to help him find-out Esther’s secret. Mordechai did not divulge the secret. However, Mordechai suggested that the king hold a second beauty contest. He said that Esther would probably get jealous and then reveal who she really was. The Maharsha says that Mordechai’s actual intention in suggesting the second beauty contest was the hope that Achashverosh would find another woman that he liked more than Esther. Then Achashverosh would crown a new queen, thus sparing Esther from having to be with Achashverosh.

Mordechai was convinced that Hashem had placed Esther in the palace to eventually save the Jewish People. Otherwise, Hashem would not have permitted the tragic event of a righteous Esther becoming the queen of a non-Jewish man (Esther 2:11). Rashi says that Mordechai even received a “hint” from Hashem that Esther was being put into a position to save the Jews at some future time. Haman had not yet risen to power, so Mordechai did not know yet how Esther would be helpful to the Jews. Therefore, everyday Mordechai would walk past to see how Hashem’s plan would unfold (Esther 2:11).

Mordechai’s actions are astounding! By telling Esther

to keep her heritage hidden, even after being chosen as queen, and by proposing a new beauty contest Mordechai was acting contrary to Hashem’s intentions! If Hashem had placed Esther in the palace to save the Jews, how could Mordechai try to manipulate Achashverosh to find a different queen?!

Mordechai’s actions teach us a very fundamental lesson in Torah hashkafa, philosophy.  One must follow halacha, Torah law, doing everything possible to ensure that halacha is being followed. Mordechai knew that halacha dictated he save Esther from becoming the wife of a non-Jew. As far as the future safety of the Jewish People, that was up to Hashem to ensure. Even though Mordechai knew what Hashem had wanted, Mordechai still had to do what he felt was the appropriate course of action. If the Jews were supposed to be saved, Hashem could find another way for that to happen 

Even when confronted with a very challenging situation, we must always follow halacha

and follow the guidance of our rabbis who clarify and interpret the law for us.

 

Based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l

 

Parshas Vayikrah: Don’t Cut “Your” Other Hand!

Parshas Vayikrah

Don’t Cut “Your” Other Hand!

 

“When a man among you bring an offering to Hashem…you shall bring your offering.” (Vayikra 1:2)

The Jerusalem Talmud (Nedarim 9:4. See the Pnei Moshe) discusses why one should not take revenge if another person harms him. The Talmud says, imagine you were cutting meat with your right hand, using a very sharp knife. The knife slipped and cut the left hand. Would anyone think that you would take revenge on your right hand by cutting it also? Of course not!

Both hands are part of the same body! If we can understand that all the Jewish People are considered as one body, we wouldn’t feel the need to take revenge.

The realization and understanding that all Jews are part of one body, is a very important concept!

There is a glaring question on the first pasuk of the Parsha. The pasuk begins in the singular, “When a man brings an offering” and ends in plural, “you shall bring your offering”. Why is there a change in tenses?

HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, in his sefer Ta’am Vada’as (as quoted in Yalkut Lekach Tov by Yaakov Yisroel Beifus) gives a beautiful answer. When a Jew sins, he harms more than himself. His actions affect all Jewry. This concept is found in the Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 4:6). Chizkiyahu taught (Yirmiyahu 50:17): “Israel are scattered sheep.” Why are Israel likened to a sheep? When a sheep gets hurt in one spot of its body, its entire body feels it. It is the same with Israel. When one Jew sins, all Jews feel it and are hurt by it.

When the sinner brings a korban, a sacrificial offering to Hashem, and corrects his sin, he becomes uplifted. In doing so, he uplifts all Jewry with him. To teach us this, the pasuk begins in the singular. The sinner repents and achieves atonement with his offering. His action purifies the entire congregation. Therefore, the pasuk concludes in the plural.

We see that all Jews are inextricably linked. The sin of one individual affects all and can result in punishment to all. Conversely, a mitzvah done by one Jew, brings blessing to the entire nation.

We are more than One Nation. We are One Body!

This realization will help us withstand the temptation to retaliate when another Jew harms us.

This understanding will also help us to be aware of the significance of all our actions, both bad and good.

Each of our individual deeds impacts “the rest of our body”, namely all the Jewish People.