Category Archives: Sefer Vayikrah

Parshas Shmini – He Was Willing To Give Up His Life…!

Parshas Shmini

He Was Willing To Give Up His Life…!

“Moshe said to Aharon: Approach the altar and perform [the services of] your sin-offering and your burnt-offering and atone on your [own] behalf and on behalf of the people; and perform [the service of] the peoples offering and atone on their behalf, just as Hashem commanded.” (Vayikra 9:7)

The Titanic was a British ocean liner which was the largest ship afloat at that time.  On its first voyage, it carried some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of emigrants who were seeking a new life in the United States and Canada. It had advanced safety features, such as watertight compartments and remotely activated watertight doors, contributing to its reputation as “unsinkable”. It sank after striking an iceberg during its very first voyage. It did not have enough lifeboats for all the passengers and crew aboard. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, about 1,500 died. (Wikopedia)

John Harper was on the Titanic. He placed his niece and his six-year-old daughter into a lifeboat. He gave up his seat for a woman or a child, knowing that he might not survive. As the Titanic was sinking, John Harper went into the freezing water, holding onto a piece of wreckage. He died in the freezing water. John Harper sacrificed his life for another human being.

There were seven days of festivities leading up to the permanent and lasting construction of the Mishkan. On the eighth day, the Mishkan was erected permanently. Moshe instructed Aharon and the Jewish People to offer specific korbanos. Afterwards, Hashem’s Shechina would reside in the Mishkan. Moshe told Aharon, “Approach the altar and perform [the services of] your sin-offering and your burnt-offering and atone on your [own] behalf and on behalf of the people; and perform [the service of] the peoples offering and atone on their behalf, just as Hashem commanded.” (Vayikra 9:7). Rashi, as explained by Sifsei Chachamim, as well as Gur Aryeh, and others, question the apparent extra words of the pasuk. Why didn’t the pasuk simply say that Moshe asked Aharon to perform the services? Why does it add that Moshe also told Aharon to “approach the mibayach, the altar”? Rashi and Gur Aryeh answer that Aharon was hesitant to approach the mizbayach because he felt ashamed and afraid.

Why did Aharon feel ashamed and afraid to approach the mizbayach? Ramban explains that Aharon had only been involved in one sin in his life and he constantly kept that sin in his mind to raise his teshuva to a higher level. That “sin” was his involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf. As Aharon approached the Mizbayach haZahav, the Golden Altar, the mizbayach appeared to him as a calf. He felt as if the form of a calf was there to stop him from sacrificing the korbanos which would bring forgiveness.  This aroused within him an intense fear that his offering would not be accepted.

Ramban brings another opinion (see the Rosh) that the Satan caused the actual form of a calf to appear. Da’as Zekanim explains that Aharon feared that he was no longer qualified to serve as a kohain. Aharon hesitated to bring the korbanos. He felt that he was inadequate to do so because of the reluctant role he had played in the sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe encouraged Aharon by telling him not to be afraid because Hashem had specifically chosen him to be the Kohain Gadol.

What was the background of the sin of the Golden Calf? Moshe had ascended Har Sinai to receive the first set of Luchos (the 10 Commandments). The people miscalculated when Moshe was supposed to return. So, when Moshe did not come when they expected him, some people, mostly the erev rav (the non-Jews from different nations who had joined the Jewish People after seeing all the miracles that Hashem had performed in Egypt), wanted to make an idol to take the place of Moshe. Aharon had seen Chur murdered for trying to stop them from making an idol. Aharon knew that he could not stop them. Therefore, he got involved, hoping to stall for time until Moshe returned. He told the Jewish People to gather and bring gold jewelry. Events moved much quicker than Aharon planned. Two magicians from amongst the erev rav used magic to make a living, golden calf.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah) says that Moshe told Aharon, ‘You, of all people, don’t have to fear what the calf represents.” What did Moshe mean? Yalkut Yehudah explains, based on the Midrash. Why did Aharon participate in making the Golden Calf? Aharon acted in the best interests of the Jewish People. He knew that if the Jewish People would make the idol, then they would bear the guilt of that sin. Aharon felt that it would be better for him to make it and bear the sin for doing so. He placed their welfare above his own. He was willing to sacrifice his olam haba for the sake of the Jewish People. This demonstration of love for the Jewish People, made him worthy to be anointed the Kohain Gadol. This was what Moshe meant when he told Aharon, “This is precisely why you were chosen.” Don’t be afraid and approach the mizbayach to bring the korban.

Aharon exhibited a special ahavas Yisroel, love for his fellow Jew. What a beautiful lesson for us to emulate. We are all a part of the one neshama. Let us exhibit only love to one another!

 

Parshas Vayikra – Zachor: United We Stand Divided We Fall!

Parshas Vayikra – Zachor

United We Stand Divided We Fall!

“He [Moshe] named the place Massah and Merivah because the B’nei Yisrael had quarreled [Merivah] and because they had tested [Massah] Hashem, saying, “Is Hashem among us or not?” Amalek came and fought with [B’nei] Yisrael in Rephidim.” (Shmos 17:7-8)

This Shabbos, we have a mitzvah to hear Parshas Zachor being read from the Torah. The Torah exhorts us to always remember Amalek’s evil and cruelty. They had no reason to attack us. All the other nations feared Hashem when they heard about all the miracles that Hashem had done when freeing us from Egypt. The nation of Amalek was the only nation that did not fear Hashem. They fought against us because we represent Hashem! The battle against Amalek is an eternal, ongoing battle, even in our time. When Moshiach comes, Hashem will eradicate all traces of this evil people.

Since the battle against Amalek is a battle throughout the ages, it is beneficial for us to know what causes Amalek to battle us. It is also exceedingly important to know what WE can do to weaken Amalek’s power.

The Kli Yakar says that when Jews are at peace with Hashem and at peace with one another, then Amalek has no power at all. The Chofetz Chaim zt”l adds, that when we don’t have strife, we are also protected from other nations (Sefer Shmiras HaLashon, quoted in Biurei Chofetz Chaim on the Torah by Rabbi Yisroel Braunstein).

“He [Moshe] named the place Massah and Merivah because B’nei Yisrael had quarreled [Merivah] and because they had tested [Massah] Hashem, saying, “Is Hashem among us or not?” Amalek came and fought with [B’nei] Yisrael in Rephidim.” (Shmos 17:7-8)

The Kli Yakar continues that the Jewish People quarreled with each other and against Moshe. They also questioned if Hashem was there to help them. These two behaviors enabled Amalek to wage war.

The Jews complained against Moshe, demanding water, even though they still had some water. “Refidim”, the name that the Torah gives for their location in the desert, at that time, hints as to why they had no water then. Ref-idim, is a contraction of raf and yadayim. This hints to the fact that their yadayim, their hands, were weakened, because they had weakened their Torah learning. The Jews also questioned if Hashem was there to help them. (See HaEmek Davar who questions how the Jews could possibly have said this after having witnessed so many miracles. He says that the Jewish people wondered if Hashem would continue to perform daily miracles for them even after Moshe passed away.)  Haman, a descendant of Amalek, wanted to annihilate the Jewish People. When he spoke to King Achashverosh, requesting permission to do so, he said that the Jews had failed in these same two areas. “Haman said to King Achashverosh: “There exists a particular people, far-flung, widespread among the peoples in all the colonies of your realm. Their customs differ from those of all peoples, and they do not abide by his majesty’s bylaws; his majesty has nothing to gain by tolerating them.” (Megilas Esther 3:8) The words of the pasuk, “מְפֻזָר וּמְפֹרָד”, scattered and separate, refer to the fact that the Jews were not unified with each other, and that they also separated themselves from Hashem.

The Beis HaLevi quotes the Talmud (Bechoros 5) that Hashem allowed Amalek to fight against us in the desert because of these two sins; The Jews weakened their Torah learning and questioned if Hashem was in their midst.

The Ohr HaChaim says that Hashem allowed Amalek to fight against the Jews as a punishment for having neglected Torah which is compared to both fire and water. The fiery sword of Amalek and the thirst for water were the punishments which fit the “crime”.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l (Koveitz Ma’amarim, quoted in in Biurei Chofetz Chaim on the Torah by Rabbi Yisroel Braunstein) says that our best weapon against our enemies is to increase our Torah learning. He says that every Jew who learns a chapter of Mishnayos or a page of Gemorah weakens the power of Amalek and has a share in the mitzvah of eradicating Amalek. This helps protect us even more than military strategies. 

During the war with Amalek, “When Moshe raised his hand, [B’nei] Yisrael prevailed; but when he let his hand down [to rest] Amalek prevailed.”  (Shmos 17:11). The Chofetz Chaim zt”l points out that it says,”כַּאֲשֶׁר יָרִים מֹשֶׁה”, “When Moshe will raise his hand”, in the future tense. Moshe raising his hand refers to the strengthening of Torah. This teaches us that, even in the future, when we strengthen our Torah learning, “וְגָבַר יִשְׂרָאֵל”, “[B’nei] Yisrael prevailed”; We will overcome Amalek.

We should not underestimate the importance of Jewish unity and the importance of our Torah learning. They bring us closer to each other and to Hashem.

They also protect us from ALL our enemies!

 

Parshas Behar – Bechukosai: The Power of 1!

Parshas Behar – Bechukosai

The Power of 1!

 

“If your brother becomes poor and his means fail with you, you must support him….” (Vayikra 25:35)
“I am the L-rd your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Mitżrayim, to give you the land of Cana’an, and to be your G-d.” (Vayikra 25:38)

On Yom Kippur, an elderly resident of Lakewood, New Jersey, davened in Bais Medrash Gavoha, the Lakewood yeshiva. He felt ill and was taken to a dormitory room to lie down. Just before Tefilas Ne’ila, the last tefilla of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Aharon Kotler zt”l, the Rosh HaYeshiva, asked one of his students to go to the dormitory room to daven together with the elderly man. The student said, “But the I won’t be able to daven Ne’ila with a minyan.” Rabbi Kotler replied,”To do chesed for another person is just as important!”

Studying Torah late one night in synagogue, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter zt”l, overheard two poor men talking to each other. One asked the other to accompany him to the well, as he was afraid to go out alone at night. The other was very tired and refused. Immediately, Rabbi Yisroel stopped learning and went to the well to get water for the poor man. (Love Thy Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin) [There are times when we should not stop learning Torah to do chesed. Our rabbis can guide us when we should stop learning and when we should not. In this instance, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter stopped learning because he was the only one who could have performed the act of chesed.]

The Talmud (Sotah 14A) says that one should copy the attributes of Hashem and do acts of chesed, acts of kindness. The Talmud brings examples where Hashem clothed the naked, visited the sick, consoled mourners, and buried the dead. Rabbi Simlai said, “Great is chesed for the Torah begins with chesed and ends with chesed. In the beginning of the Torah, Hashem clothed Adam & Chava. In the end of the Torah, Hashem buried Moshe.

Rabbi Moshe Alshich zt”l (as quoted in Iturei Torah by A.Y. Greenberg) points out that in the previous psukim the Torah uses plural terms. However, when the Torah discusses helping a poor person, it changes to the singular. Why? The Alshich explains that it is not uncommon for people to ignore a person in need. People may try to pass the chesed opportunity to someone else who may be a closer friend of the one in need. Or they may try to pass it on to another person who is wealthier and has more money to help. By changing to the singular tense, the Torah is telling us an important lesson. YOU have the obligation to help the poor person in need [if you are able]! Do not try to relieve yourself of the responsibility, by passing it on to another person!

HaRav Henach Leibowitz zt”l explains that the Sforno (Vayikra 25:38) is referring to previous psukim which discuss doing acts of chesed. The Sforno says that when you do an act of chesed, you are doing MORE than an act of chesed for an individual. Rather, it is like you are doing chesed for the entire Jewish People! Your act of chesed is helping to fulfill the purpose of Creation, that of recognizing Hashem.

Rabbi Binyomin Luban (in Chidushei Halev) quotes Harav Henach Leibowitz zt”l  with an additional idea from the Sforno. It is impossible for an individual to achieve the purpose of Creation, by himself. It can only be accomplished together with other Jews. Even if the individual is a tzadik or a chasid, he still cannot attain that on his own. It can only be achieved when Jews live together and do acts of chesed for one another. Doing acts of chesed for each other, unifies us as one.

Even a small act of kindness is the fulfillment of the mitzva of chesed. We should be eager to do the chesed and we should run to do it! It is incumbent on us to do so! Every act of chesed that we do for an individual Jew is considered as if we are doing chesed for the entire Jewish nation!

Our act of chesed helps fulfill the purpose of Creation, that of recognizing Hashem!

 

Parshas Emor: You Can’t Touch It!

Parshas Emor

You Can’t Touch It!

 

“He shall put the incense on the fire before Hashem and the cloud of incense will cover the Ark-cover….” (Vayikra 16:13)

On Jan. 12, 2019, a fire destroyed Yossi’s Fish Market on 13th Avenue and 54th Street in Boro Park. Shea Langsam, the owner of Fish to Dish, offered Yossi’s Fish Market a temporary location inside his own, competing store which was just a few blocks away.

“While we are a community that is known for its chesed (kindness), the act of offering a direct competitor into your own storefront truly goes above and beyond,” said Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein. “Fish to Dish is setting a new bar for what it means to be a neighbor and business owner in our community.”  (Yeshiva World News, February 4, 2019)

            The Ben Ish Chai, in his Commentary Ben Yehoyada (Tractate Yoma, 38A), cites an interesting story:

A jar filled with precious stones was hidden in the ground. Every summer, groups of people would pitch their tents in the ground, near the jar of precious stones. Even though they hammered stakes, metal poles, into the ground to pitch their tents, they did not come across the jar of precious stones. This routine went on for many years. However, no one found the jar of precious stones. Once, a different person came to the area. He hammered his stake in the ground and immediately found the jar of precious gems.

This story teaches us that no person can take what Hashem designated to go to another person.

The Talmud (Yoma 38A) discusses the family of Avtinas, experts in preparing the ketores, the incense that was burned in the Bais HaMikdash. They were the only ones who knew the secret of how to properly prepare the ketores so that its smoke went straight up, like a stick. When asked by the sages, they refused to teach the secret to others. The sages dismissed them and brought craftsmen from Alexandria, Egypt. The Alexandrian craftsmen knew how to blend the spices, but they could not cause the smoke to rise straight up like a stick, as the House of Avtinas could. Rashi explains that the Alexandrian craftsmen did not know which particular herb to use to enable the smoke to rise straight up. When the sages saw the failure of the Alexandrian craftsmen, they asked the people from the House of Avtinas to return to their original position. The members of the House of Avtinas refused to return until the sages doubled their wages. The sages asked them why they refused to teach others the secret of their craft. They said, “The members of our father’s house knew that the Beis HaMikdash, is destined to be destroyed. They were concerned lest an unworthy man learn the skill of preparing incense and use that in idol worship.”  Therefore, they attempted to prevent this skill from spreading beyond their family. The Talmud comments, “And for this matter they are mentioned favorably.”

Ben Azzai learned from the fact that the sages had to rehire the family of Avtinas, and at double their previous salary, that one should never be concerned lest others take away his livelihood.

Accordingly, one should never feel the need to be dishonest since he can never acquire that which Hashem did not designate for him. Even if it appears that he “gained” some money, there are many ways that Hashem has, to take it away from him.

 

We have full faith that Hashem provides a livelihood for everyone.

Hashem designates a particular portion for each individual.

We will each receive exactly that which Hashem wants us to have, no more and no less.

No other person can touch that which is prepared for us by Hashem.

 

Parshas Acharei Mos – Kedoshim: The Clothes Make the Man. And You Had Better Watch Out!

Parshas Acharei Mos – Kedoshim

The Clothes Make the Man. And You Had Better Watch Out!

 

He [the Kohain Gadol] shall don a sanctified, linen tunic and linen pants shall be on his body. He shall gird himself with a linen sash and place a linen turban on his head.” (Vayikra 16:4)

Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt”l held a rabbinical position in Germany in 1933, prior to immigrating to the United States. He had given a Shabbos sermon that was misunderstood to be criticizing Hitler. The Gestapo called Rabbi Schwab in for questioning. He explained the misunderstanding. He was freed but was told that they were going to investigate him. Over the next two months, he did not know what the Gestapo would do to him. During that entire time, he went to sleep at night wearing his clothes, not his pajamas. When asked about it, he explained his unusual behavior. Apparently, another rav had been recently executed by the Gestapo, in the middle of the night. He had been wearing his pajamas and was left hanging in a public place. Rabbi Schwab was afraid that he, too, would be arrested and hung in the middle of the night. He felt that it would be a chilul Hashem, a desecration of Hashem’s name, for a rav to be left hanging while wearing his pajamas.  Therefore, he slept in his clothes for the entire two months that his life was in the balance.

The Kohain Gadol performed various holy services in the Beis HaMikdash on Yom Kippur. When performing the services outside of the Kodesh HaKedashim, the Holy of Holies, he wore all eight special garments of the Kohain Gadol. Before entering the Holy of Holies, he removed the four special garments that were made from gold. Thus, he entered wearing only the remaining four linen garments, the same garments that a regular Kohain wore when he officiated.

Why did the Kohain Gadol remove the four golden garments? Rashi explains that the prosecutor cannot become the defender. The golden garments were a reminder of the egel hazahav the golden calf. The sin of the golden calf still hovered over the Jewish People. It would not have been judicious for the Kohain Gadol to wear clothes that were a reminder of the golden calf, while he was davening to Hashem to forgive the Jewish People for their sins.

The Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 21:10) cites various opinions as to why the Kohain Gadol did not wear the golden clothes while performing the service in the Kodesh HaKedashim. One opinion was quoted in the above Rashi. The Midrash quotes another opinion that it was because of arrogance. The Matnos Kehuna explains that the Kohain Gadol should not have any feelings of arrogance while standing before Hashem.  This is based on a pasuk in Mishlei (25:6), “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence.”  The Malbim explains that one’s own honor should be nullified in comparison to the king’s honor. By dressing in a certain way, one is exhibiting the feeling that his honor is something important as well. That is not appropriate when standing before Hashem, the King of kings. One’s actions would then seem to be diminishing Hashem’s honor. Similarly, Rashi says, “Do not glorify yourself before a king to show your honor and to be proud before one who is greater than you.”  Rabbeinu Yona on the Torah adds that the Kohain Gadol should enter the Kodesh HaKedashim with fear and trepidation. He should not feel arrogance that he, alone, was chosen from amongst all the Jewish People to perform this holy service. Therefore, in order not to feel arrogant before Hashem, the Kohain Gadol removed his golden garments.

The Kohain Gadol might feel a trace of arrogance before Hashem because he was singled-out for this holy task of davening for the entire Jewish People. If so, then why would those feelings of arrogance disappear if he would only wear the white linen garments without the golden ones? Apparently, the Kohain Gadol would only feel this trace of arrogance if he also wore the golden garments.

What a beautiful lesson for us! Even the Kohain Gadol, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, in the Kodesh Kedashim, in the holiest place, while standing before the Shechina, would be apt to feel a trace of arrogance. Why? Only because of the golden clothes that he would be wearing.  Even such a holy person, in such a holy place, at such a holy time, could be influenced by the type of clothing that he would be wearing. 

Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya were thrown into a fiery furnace by King Nevuchadnetzar. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 92B) quotes the school of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov who taught that even during a period of danger, a person should not deviate from his prominence and demean himself. Rashi (Daniel 3:21) says that Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya wore their royal garments when they were cast into the blazing, fiery furnace. The Maharsha (Sanhedrin 92B) adds that if one doesn’t wear respectful clothes, it shows that he is pained and saddened by Hashem’s justice. Wearing respectful clothes will help one lovingly and joyfully accept Hashem’s justice.

We see from this that even tzadikim who are ready to give their lives al kiuddush Hashem, for the sanctification of Hashem’s name, can have their feelings influenced by the clothes that they wear.

The clothes that we wear influence our thoughts and feelings. We should be alert to how we dress.

We should dress respectfully, modestly, not extravagantly, and not arrogantly.

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

as recorded in Sefer Chidushei Halev by Rabbi Binyamin Luban

 

Parshas Tazria- Metzora: This Cloud had a Silver Lining!

Parshas Tazria- Metzora

This Cloud had a Silver Lining!

 

“When you will come into the land of Canaan that I will give to you for a possession, and I shall put the plague of tzora’as in the house of the land of your possession.” (Vayikra 14:34)

Once, Eliyahu HaNavi, the prophet, was met by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. Rabbi Yehoshua begged Eliyahu HaNavi to take him along on his journey. Eliyahu HaNavi agreed on the condition that Rabbi Yehoshua was not permitted to question his actions. They began their travels. Towards evening, they came to an old, shaky hut belonging to a poor couple. Both the man and his wife welcomed the strangers to their humble home, sharing their meager food and giving their own beds for their guests to rest. Their cow was their only valuable possession, for its milk was their sole source of income. In the morning, after thanking the kindly couple, Eliyahu HaNavi prayed that the couple’s cow should die. It did. Rabbi Yehoshua was terribly shocked. He wanted to speak-up but remembered that he was not permitted to question Eliyahu HaNavi’s actions. The next night, they came to a fine mansion and asked permission to spend the night there. The rich owner was not welcoming. After much begging by the travelers, he begrudgingly permitted them to stay in the barn with the animals. In the morning, Eliyahu HaNavi noticed a crumbling wall near the rich man’s house. Eliyahu HaNavi fixed it so well that it would last for a long time. Rabbi Yehoshua was perplexed why Eliyahu HaNavi had done a favor for the unkind rich man. They continued their travels. Rabbi Yehoshua was perturbed by many of Eliyahu HaNavi’s actions. Finally, Rabbi Yehoshua was no longer able to control himself. “It seems to me that you reward good with evil, and evil with good. Please explain to me your strange ways.” Eliyahu HaNavi explained that the poor old couple who had treated them so nicely on the first night of our journey, certainly deserved their gratitude. Eliyahu HaNavi saw that that the woman was destined to die that day. He prayed to Hashem that she should live, and that their cow should die in her place. “What about that rich miser, and his cracked wall?”  Eliyahu answered, “There was a huge treasure buried beneath the wall. Had it collapsed, the miser would have found it and he did not deserve it. Before Eliyahu took leave of Rabbi Yehoshua, he told him that people should not be disheartened when they see the wicked prosper, or the righteous suffer. For while man judges by the sight of his eyes, Hashem looks into the heart, and He rules the world with justice and mercy.” (A Treasury of Judaism by Philip Birnbaum)

Hashem told Moshe and Aharon to tell the Jews that when they enter the Land of Israel, their houses will be plagued by tzora’as. The tzora’as will be manifest by colors of deep green or deep red on the walls. If the tzora’as would remain for one week, then the stones which contained those colors would need to be removed from the house and would need to be taken outside the city. The mortar on the house would need to be scraped clean and new stones would need to be put in its place. If the colors would return the following week, then the entire house would be demolished, and the stones would be taken outside the city.

Rashi and the Ohr HaChaim quoting the Midrash Rabba (Vayikra 17:6), explain that it was good news when the plague of “tzora’as” appeared on a person’s home. How did the Midrash know that it was good news? The Torah Temimah elaborates on the Ohr HaChaim’s explanation. When the Torah described the plague of tzora’as on a person’s body it says, “When there is a plague of tzora’as on a person” (Vayikra 13:9). When the Torah described the plague of tzora’as on a person’s clothing it says, “When there is a plague of tzora’as in a garment” (Vayikra 13:47). However, when describing the plague of tzora’as on a person’s house, the Torah changed the wording. It does not say, “When there is a plague of tzora’as on a person’s house”. Rather, it says, “וְנָתַתִּי“, that Hashem will put (give) the plague of tzora’as on the house. The Torah Temimah continues that the word “וְנָתַתִּי“usually refers to Hashem giving something good: As in, “I [Hashem] will give rains in its time”, “I [Hashem] will give peace in the land”, “I [Hashem] will bring salvation to Zion.”

So, what was good about the fact that the house was demolished due to the plague of tzora’as?

Rashi and the Ohr HaChaim answer that during the whole 40 years that the Jews were in the desert, the Canaanites and Amorites concealed treasures of gold in the walls of their houses. They knew that the Jewish People would be entering the Land of Israel and would conquer it from them. They hid their treasures to prevent the Jews from finding them. When the Jews conquered the land, they found the hidden treasures only because their homes were demolished because of tzora’as. Thus, the plague of tzora’as turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it resulted in the Jews becoming very rich.

The Sifsei Chachamim asks, if so, what was the purpose of a plague of tzora’as in the case in which the tzora’as disappeared after one week? In that case, the home was not destroyed! Furthermore, according to the Talmud (Arachin 16A) it seems that the tzora’as was a punishment and not an act of kindness! The Talmud says that one of the causes of the plague of tzora’as was as a punishment for stinginess. A person would ask his neighbor to borrow some wheat. The neighbor would reply, “I don’t have any.”  A woman would ask her neighbor to borrow a strainer.  The neighbor would reply, “I don’t have one.”  As a punishment for this stinginess, Hashem brought the plague of tzora’as on the house. While the person was bringing out their possessions to prevent them from becoming tamei, impure, the people will see, and say, “Didn’t they say that they didn’t have what I had asked for? Look, they do have it!”

The Sifsei Chachamim bridges these two explanations, by saying that one question can answer the other. Certainly, the plague on the house came because of a transgression. However, Hashem graciously made it possible that sometimes good would come out of the punishment. Sometimes, the Jewish homeowner would find the hidden treasures.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (as quoted in Talelei Oros by Rabbi Yissacha Dov Rubin) offers a different answer. Rav Moshe zt”l questioned why sinners would be worthy of finding the hidden wealth. “How is it conceivable that specifically those who are guilty of stinginess are granted such reward?” Furthermore, “Why is their reward directly connected to the punishment that they receive because of their flawed character?!”

Rav Moshe zt”l answered that had the man not been a sinner, he would have discovered the treasures without having to break the walls of his house. However, when he finds the treasures only because he had sinned and had to destroy his house, it will be an embarrassment to him. That embarrassment will cause him to improve his ways, if only to avoid being placed into this position in the future.

Sometimes there is a “silver-lining in a dark cloud”.

What may appear to us to be bad may actually be the source of much blessing from Hashem in our lives.

 

 

Parshas Tzav: Thanks For The Miracles!

Parshas Tzav

Thanks For The Miracles!

 

“If he offers it for a thanksgiving offering….” (Vayikra 7:12)

A young man had a baby girl after one year of marriage. He asked Rav Shach zt”l if he had to make a kiddush to celebrate the occasion. Rav Shach asked him, “Suppose you were married for eight years without children? If you would have had a baby girl at that point, would you then question whether or not to make a kiddush?” Certainly, you would not! “Now that Hashem saved you from seven years of anguish, shouldn’t you be even more inclined to express your gratitude to Hashem?”

The Torah (Vayikra 7:12) discusses the korban todah, the sacrificial offering of thanks. Rashi says that the korban todah was brought when one was miraculously saved from one of four events. One who traveled over a sea or a desert and arrived safely, one who was released from prison, or one who had been healed from a serious illness brought this sacrifice.

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l asks a very insightful question. The four examples of deliverance that Rashi mentioned are great occurrences but why does Rashi call them miracles? They don’t compare to the miracle of Kriyas Yam Suf or other open miracles that are recorded in the Torah. The answer is that these are “hidden miracles” for which one must be thankful. For example, we take modern medicine for granted. However, it was not long ago that people died from illnesses for which we now have medications or operations.

We learn from this that we must thank Hashem not only for the “major miracles”, but also for many everyday events that are also miraculous.

The Talmud (Brachos 7B) states that no one ever thanked Hashem until our Matriarch, Leah, thanked Hashem upon the birth of her fourth son, Yehudah. Leah was a prophetess and knew that our forefather Yaakov would have 12 sons. Yaakov had 4 wives. Leah assumed that each wife would give birth to three sons. When Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she realized that Hashem had granted her more than “her portion”. Thus, Leah had said (Beraishis 29:35), “This time I will thank Hashem.”  Many are puzzled by this Gemorah.  There were others before Leah who thanked Hashem! Why is Leah considered the first?! The Chida (Petach Einayim on Brachos) says that the first man, Adam, thanked Hashem. Adam declared,”.’מזמור שיר ליום השבת וכתיב טוב להודות לד”.  “A psalm, a song for the Shabbos day…. It is good to thank Hashem and to sing praise to His name.” Noach also gave thanks when he offered burnt offerings of thanksgiving to Hashem after the flood. The Chizkuni explains that Noach acted like the sailors in the story of Yonah, who after having been saved from a great storm, immediately brought offerings to Hashem, in thanks for their deliverance. Sarah also said (Braishis 21:7), “Who would have said to Avraham that Sarah would suckle children! Yet I have borne a son in his old age.” The Da’as Zekanim says that this was a way of giving thanks to Hashem.

In that case, how can we understand this Gemorah? The answer is that until Leah, people thanked Hashem for open miracles. Leah was the first to thank Hashem for an event that seemed “natural”, a “hidden miracle”. Nowadays, we take a healthy childbirth for granted because it is so common. We must remember that it, too, is a miracle. We must be thankful that we can walk, that we can breathe, that we can see, etc….

When the chazan repeats Shmone Esrei and says Modim, the congregation recites a different version of the prayer, called Modim d’Rabbanan. No-where-else in the chazan’s repetition of Shmone Esrei does this take place. Rather, the chazan recites the repetition of the Shmone Esrei on behalf of the tzibbur. The Avudraham explains that you can appoint a representative to pray for health, livelihood, etc. But you cannot appoint a representative to say thank you for you. You have to say that yourself!

We must constantly be appreciative of all the good with which Hashem showers us.

We should express our gratitude to Hashem for the seemingly natural, “hidden miracles”

which Hashem regularly performs on our behalf.

 

(based on Rabbi Yissocher Frand in Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 3)

 

 

Parshas Vayikra: Lemonade, Anyone?

Parshas Vayikra

Lemonade, Anyone?

 

“…with all your offerings you must offer salt”. Vayikra 2:13

Alex Scott was less than a year old when she was diagnosed with cancer. After receiving a stem cell transplant around her fourth birthday, she vowed to start a lemonade-stand to raise money for other children going through the same thing. With the help of her brother, the first stand raised $2,000. The lemonade-stand to support cancer research became an annual event for her family and Alex raised over $1 million before losing her own battle at eight years old. Her family continues to carry on her legacy through Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and has raised over $150 million to date in the hopes of finding a cure.

 

Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who served as vice consul for the Japanese Empire in Kaunas, Lithuania. During World War II, Sugihara helped save thousands of Jewish refugees. In direct defiance of his pro-Nazi government, Sugihara put his life and the lives of his family at risk by issuing approximately 6,000 life-saving transit visas to Jewish refugees, allowing them to flee to Europe.

 

In July of 1940, Sugihara and his family woke up to find a crowd of Polish refugees gathered outside the gates of the consulate. Desperate to flee, the refugees knew that their only chance to escape the impending Nazi invasion was to head east. Sugihara was sympathetic to their situation but needed permission from his foreign ministry in Tokyo to grant the visas. His request was denied, but he decided to issue the visas anyway.

 

Aware that he would soon have to leave the country, as the consulate would soon be shut down, Sugihara wrote thousands of visas by hand over six weeks. He worked all day, every day, late into the night until his hands ached so much that his wife had to massage them just so he could fall asleep. When Sugihara boarded the train back to Japan, it was reported that he was still writing visas and throwing them out of the window into the desperate crowd as his train departed. Because of Sugihara’s heroic actions, thousands of Jews were saved.

 

A boy went to a coed Hebrew day school. He was a typical American who enjoyed playing basketball and baseball. After day school, he went to a modern Jewish high school where he was president of the student council and a starting centerfielder for the baseball team. At the age of 17, he went to Jerusalem to learn in the Mir yeshiva. He learned Torah very diligently day and night, often only stopping at 2 in the morning. He became the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivas Mir. Much later, during the last 30 years of his life, he continued learning and teaching Torah, despite having Parkinson’s disease. He also continued to fundraise for his yeshiva. Under his guidance and tutelage, the yeshiva grew to over 7,000 students! This great Rosh Yeshivah and great human being who went from playing center field to become one of the great Torah leaders of our generation, was Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l.

 

The Torah (Vayikra 2:13) commands us to put salt on every korban that is brought on the alter. Why was that imperative? Rav Ovadia from Bartanura explains that during the six days of Creation, Hashem wanted to make the rakiya which divided the upper and lower waters. The lower waters “complained”. “Why are we different from our friends [the upper waters] that we have to be far from the Heavenly throne?” The lower waters felt saddened that they would be far from Holiness. Hashem heard their cries and promised them that they would also be close.  The lower waters (those of the oceans) received an assurance that they would be offered on the altar in the form of salt, and as water in the ceremony of “the libation of water” (nisuch hamayim) on the Holiday of Succos.

 

The Maharal (quoted in Emes L’Yaakov by Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l) questions how Hashem resolved the waters’ complaint by saying that salt would be sprinkled on every korban! It was the lower waters that complained to Hashem. Hashem should have said that the lower waters themselves, should be poured on every Korban.

 

The Sifsei Chachamim‘s explanation of Rashi gives one answer to the question. He says that water is brought to the altar by the means of salt because salt has its origins in water.

 

Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l gives a different explanation. First, he quotes Rashi’s description in the Talmud (Kesubos 79B) of how salt is manufactured. A person digs a ditch next to a body of saltwater, allowing some saltwater to overflow into the ditch. The heat of the sun then causes the water to evaporate, leaving only the salt. The evaporated water rises and joins the upper waters. That is how it achieves holiness, which was its initial concern. The residue of salt may be used to sprinkle every korban. The residue, the lowest part of the lowest waters, that which remains after the lowest water rise heavenward, is what Hashem desired to be put on a korban. Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l says that this teaches us a very important lesson, that Hashem prefers the “low”. Spirituality and holiness is not only for the great people! Rabbi Yissocher Frand (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah 2) learns from this that no matter what the status is of an object, there is always potential for greatness.  The lowest of the low was sanctified by being placed on a korban.

 

Similarly, a “regular” person can become great by overcoming his personal tests and temptations.

Hashem does not expect us to be perfect like angels. Hashem cherishes and rewards our efforts.

Our mission is to to reject the lures of the yetzer hara who tries to drag us down,

while we keep trying to be as good as we possibly can.

 

 

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”.