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Vol. 12 No. 48
and l'iluy Nishmas
Tziporah bas Ya'akov a.h.
Like A Father Chastises
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)
"Know in your heart that just as a father chastises his son, so does Hashem your G-d chastise you" (5:5).
K'lal Yisrael suffered an endless stream of tzoros in the first half of the previous century, yet it is almost impossible to conceive the pure heart of R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, who, over and above the suffering of the community, experienced more than his share of personal grief. At the height of the First World War, Eretz Yisrael was stricken with a bout of severe famine. It was then when, in a brief period, he lost two grown-up sons, the young wife of his youngest son, and a grandson. Yet not a harsh word was ever heard to escape his lips. Not only did he bear Hashem not the slightest grudge, but to the contrary, he saw everything that happened to him as an act of kindness on Hashem's part. The Yisurim that he suffered only served to drive home G-d's greatness and the miracles that He performs on behalf of man, as the letter that he wrote to his brother R. Shmuel at that time testifies.
In that letter, he describes most of the Tzoros that we referred to earlier, and he explains how, what appears in this world as insoluble riddles, will become clear as daylight in the World to Come. If here, we simply cannot comprehend G-d's ways, there, we will see how everything that G-d did was completely for the good (for our good). In fact, he added, that is the gist of what we say in Kaddish. And he goes on to refer to the troubles that K'lal Yisrael were undergoing, and praises G-d for giving them the patience and the strength to bear them all, referring to His incredible Hashgachah (Divine Providence) which was open for all to see - each and every day, even in the midst of their tragedies.
R. Yosef Chayim liked to tell the story of the Chasid who once asked his Rebbe how it is possible to fulfill the Mishnah in B'rachos that requires us to bless Hashem for the bad things no less than for the good ones, and to accept them with joy to boot.
In reply, his Rebbe told him to go and pose the very same question to so and so, his ailing, bed-ridden Talmid, and he would receive an answer. The man followed his Rebbe's instructions. He paid a visit to the Talmid, and when he put the question to him, the latter, with a puzzled look on his face, replied 'I think there must be a mistake. How can the Rebbe expect me to answer your question, when G-d has been so good to me, and never given me a taste of suffering in all my life?'
R. Yosef Chayim would relate this story pointing at the ailing Talmid, but the truth of the matter was that the ailing Talmid may just as well have been himself, for it typified his own attitude towards suffering perfectly.
The Pasuk under discussion begins with the words "Know in your heart", which has connotations of being convinced (without the slightest room for doubt). And to be sure, R. Yosef Chayim lived with the conviction that G-d was his Father, and that just as a father would never harm his own child unless it was for the child's good, so too, there was nothing that G-d would do to him (or to anybody else for that matter) that was not for his ultimate good. In fact, everything that happens to a person is either an open blessing or a blessing in disguise.
To explain the Pasuk in Ha'azinu (34:4) "The Rock whose deeds are perfect, for all His ways are justice ... ", R. Yosef Chayim would point to the Pasuk in Tehilim (19:10) "The judgements of Hashem are true, together they are righteous", meaning that they can only be understood when they are seen collectively (like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle). What the Pasuk now means is that when G-d punishes Reuven, and Shimon and Levi suffer as a result, it must be that Shimon and Levi deserve to suffer too. Otherwise, He would either not punish Reuven, or see to it that Shimon and/or Levi would somehow remain unaffected.
Consequently, even every 'bad' thing that G-d does, is always perfect, since all those who suffer, even many generations later, are meant to suffer, and those who are not, will remain unscathed.
If we have a problem with that, it is only because we are too small to fathom the ways of Hashem. The solution is to be aware of our own shortsightedness and to reinforce our belief that He is our Father and would never do anything that is not for our own good.
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(Adapted from the P'ninei Torah)
The Problem with being Afraid
"If you will say 'These nations are more numerous that us. How will we be able to drive them out?' Do not be afraid!" (7:17).
It is well-known that fear is often self-fulfilling. When one is afraid of something, then the fear materializes.
That, explains R. Levi Yitzchak from Berditchev, is exactly what the Pasuk is saying here. When you see the superior numbers of the Cana'anim, whatever you do, don't be afraid. Because if you are, your fears will materialize, and you will be fighting a lost battle. And the Torah goes on to suggest the best way of dispelling that fear, by remembering what G-d did to Paroh and the Egyptians.
The Land of No Anger
" ... a land where you will not eat your bread in poverty ... And you will eat and be satisfied ... on the good land ... " (8:9/10).
The Gemara in Gitin (77) teaches us to always eat a third less that is necessary, to allow for a surge of anger, which will fill up the remaining space.
The Gemara in Nedarim (22), extrapolates from the Pasuk in the Tochachah "And G-d will give you there an angry heart", that in Eretz Yisrael, when there is no Galus, we will be free of anger.
This explains the current Pesukim, says the Panim Yafos. It is when we live in Eretz Yisrael (where we will be free of anger) that we will be able to eat to satisfaction (not in poverty), and we will therefore be able to recite Birchas ha'Mazon (which, min ha'Torah, requires eating enough to be satisfied). But as long as we live in exile in Chutz la'Aretz, where we are prone to anger, we have no choice but to eat a third less, in which case we will never be able to recite Birchas ha'Mazon.
Perhaps Chazal obligated us to bensch after eating a K'zayis precisely because they realised that otherwise, once Yisrael went into Golus and became prone to anger, they would never be able to bensch.
Fear Without Clothes
"What does G-d ask from you ... only to fear" (10:12).
Our sages have said (in B'rachos, 7a) that one should be 'Orum be'yir'ah', which is normally translated as 'cunning in fear'(like the Pasuk in Bereishis "ve'ha'Nochosh hoyoh orum [and the snake was cunning]"), and Rashi explains this to mean that one should use every available trick to employ Yir'as Shamayim).
The Besht however, translates it literally, as 'naked in fear'. If somebody has Yir'as Shamayim for any ulterior motive, he explains - because he wants riches or kavod, then it can be said that his Yir'as Shamayim has clothes. The highest form of fear of G-d is a fear that is devoid of personal motivation, where the fear is devoid of external trappings.
A Mature Fear
(Adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)
When a father commands his son not to walk barefoot on the ground, so as not to cut and bruise his feet on the stones and pieces of glass that are strewn around, depending on the age and maturity of the son, his fear is likely to differ vastly from his father's. If the son is small or immature, then in contrast to the father, who is afraid of his son getting hurt by the stones and the glass, he is afraid to walk barefoot because of the punishment that he will receive for having disobeyed his father. If on the other hand, he is a little older and more mature, then he will understand his father's fears, and making a point of wearing shoes will echo his father's fears.
In the same light, says the Besht, G-d commanded us six hundred and thirteen Mitzvos. He was afraid (Kevayachol) that without them, our bodies would turn us into physical beings, devoid of spirituality, and distance us from Him completely. So He gave our bodies Mitzvos to perform, as a means to purify ourselves, to counter the physical influences that would otherwise lead us astray, to ensure that we remain close to Him. That is why the Mishnah at the end of Makos states 'G-d wanted to purify Yisrael (rather than 'to merit Yisrael', as the word 'lezakos' is simply translated), therefore He gave them Torah and Mitzvos'.
When G-d orders us to fear Him, he does not just want us to Fear Him because of what he will do if we disobey Him (like the small son in the Moshol). He wants us to fear Him because of the bad effect the sins will have on us, like grown-up, mature children. And the Besht translates "le'yir'oh es Hashem ... " as to be afraid with Hashem, for the same reasons as Him (as the word "es"often means).
One might add that the final words in the Pasuk are "to do good to you". So what the Torah is really saying is that our fear of G-d should be based on the understanding that it is good for us, not just on our fear of Him, exactly as the Besht explained.
"What does G-d ask of you other than to fear Him" (ibid.)
Is Yir'as Shamayim such a small matter, asks the Gemara in B'rachos (33)?
Yes, answers the Gemara, with regard to Moshe it was indeed a small matter!
The Gemara in Sotah (11), states that as a reward for fearing G-d (and not Paroh), He rewarded Yocheved (chief midwife for the Jewish women in Egypt) with a son called Moshe.
Now Moshe, as we know, was the humblest of men. That being the case, the Kedushas Levi and the Chasam Sofer explain, he reckoned that if he was the reward for his mother's Yir'as Shamayim, then Yir'as Shamayim can't be such a big deal. We on the other hand, who perceive Moshe's greatness, can appreciate the significance of Yir'as Shamayim.
On the other hand, what Chazal might also have meant is that since Moshe was the reward for his mother's supreme act of selflessness, devoid as it was of any personal motivation (see previous Pearl), it was to be expected that his own ingrained Yir'as Shamayim was of the highest level, and unlike others, he did not have to strive hard to attain it. Hence Chazal said 'Yes, as far as Moshe was concerned, Yir'as Shamayim was a small thing' (easy to attain).
The Difference Between
Yisrael and the Avos
"Only your fathers did G-d desire (chashak), and He chose (va'yivchar) their children after them" (10:15).
The difference between 'Chashak' and 'Bachar', says the K'li Yakar, is that the former means to want intrinsically (not by way of contrast), whereas the former, means to want something only because it is preferable to the alternative.
On the one hand, G-d chose the Avos because of their superlative lifestyle. On the other hand, He chose us only because we are better than the alternative, not because we are inherently perfect, (or even bordering on perfect). He took one look at the gentile nations, so to speak, and decided that they were not for Him, and with us at least, He stood a chance (Kevayachol).
... But Not with All Your Money!
"... to love Hashem ... and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (11:13).
Why does the Torah omit 'and with all your money' like it does in the first Parshah, asks R. Yisrael from Rudzin?
The first Parshah, he replies, speaks about accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, for which one is obligated to give away one's last penny if necessary. This Parshah, on the other hand, is speaking about accepting the yoke of Mitzvos, and with regard to Mitzvos, Chazal have specifically forbidden to spend more than a fifth of one's money. Consequently, it would not be appropriate to add 'u've'chol me'odeichem'.
* * *
AND THEIR MEANING
(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)
Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article
reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch
and are not necessarily Halachah.
To Learn Torah and to Teach It (cont.)
This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men but not to women, since the Torah says in Eikev "And you shall teach them to your sons", from which the Gemara in Kidushin (29b) extrapolates "to your sons", 'but not to your daughters'. Similarly, a woman is not obligated to teach her son Torah, because whoever is not obligated to learn is not obligated to teach either. Nevertheless, it is befitting for every woman to ensure that her sons do not become amei-ho'oretz. The Torah may not have obliged her to do so, but she will receive a handsome reward for her efforts to achieve it nonetheless. So too, does a woman who studies Torah receive reward (like one who performs a Mitzvah even though he has not been commanded). Even so, the Chachamim issued a command forbidding men to teach their daughters the oral Torah. This is because women have frivolous minds, and are liable to inadvertently use the Torah that they learn for inconsequential matters.
Someone who fails to learn Torah with his son, until he knows how to read in a Seifer-Torah and understands the basic meaning of the Pesukim, has negated this Mitzvah.
In the same way, anybody who is able to study Torah in any way, but does not do so, is included in this Mitzvah, and whoever does not is heading for a big punishment, for this Mitzvah is the 'mother' (the source) of all Mitzvos.
To Fear G-d
It is a Mitzvah for the fear of G-d 'to be continually on one's face', in order to avoid sinning; in other words, one must never allow a moment to pass without being aware of G-d's ability to punish us should we sin. This is what the Torah means when it writes in Eikev (10:20) "Fear Hashem your G-d". And as proof that this is indeed a Mitzvas Asei, the Gemara in Sanhedrin (interpreting "ve'Nokeiv Shem Hashem" as 'someone who specifies G-d's Name in vain without cursing it') initially presents it as the official warning (Azharah) for the death sentence that the Torah metes out to someone who utters G-d's Holy Name in vain. The fact that the Gemara there rejects this interpretation, due to the fact that a. the tradition that one is only chayav miysah if one curses the name of Hashem with the Name of Hashem, and b. a warning must be in the form of a Lo Sa'aseh, and not just an Asei, in no way negates the truth.
The reason for the Mitzvah is abundantly clear, as there is no greater deterrent from sinning than fear of punishment.
The Dinim of the Mitzvah are included in the explanation of the Pasuk (see Rambam, the second Perek of Hilchos Yesodei ha'Torah).
This Mitzvah applies everywhere and to everyone. It is one of the Mitzvos that applies constantly, an obligation that never ever departs from a person, even for one moment. Someone who is faced with an opportunity to sin is obliged, at that moment, to arouse his spirit and to take to heart that G-d watches everything that he does, and that He will punish him according to the evil inherent in his deed. Should he fail to do this, and go on to transgress, he will have negated this Mitzvah, since that was the appropriate time to have fulfilled it. The Mitzvah applies every day and every minute of one's life however, in that one should be prepared to apply it at a moment's notice, should the need arise.
To Cleave to Talmidei-Chachamim
We are commanded to join those who knowledgeable in Torah and to cleave to them, in order to learn from them the Torah's honoured Mitzvos, to enable them to teach us the Torah's Hashkofos (outlook) that they have received by tradition. This is what the Torah means when it writes in Eikev (10:20) "and to Him you shall cleave", repeating the command later in the Parshah (11:22), where it writes "and to cleave to Him". It is not possible to interpret these Pesukim literally, since in Devarim (4:24), the Torah describes G-d as "a consuming fire". What the Torah must therefore mean is that if somebody cleaves to Talmidei-Chachamim and to their disciples, it is as if he is cleaving to the Shechinah. And it is from this Mitzvah that Chazal derive that anyone who marries the daughter of a Talmid-Chacham, who marries off his daughter to a Talmid-Chacham, or who benefits a Talmid-Chacham from his property, it is as if he is cleaving to the Shechinah. And they also said 'Learn words of Agadah (Medrash etc.), and you will become acquainted with the One who spoke and the world came into being'.
The reason for the Mitzvah is self-evident - that we should get to know the ways of Hashem.
The author has already mentioned some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah elsewhere.