JULY 30-31, 2004 13 AB 5764
In the Shema, which we read every day, we are commanded to love Hashem. The commentators are puzzled; how can one be commanded to love? Isn't love a natural emotion which one either has or doesn't have? Can we be forced to love?
The answer is that there is inborn within every person the ability to love Hashem. We were created by Hashem and endowed by Him with the capacity to feel love for Him. However, there are obstacles and impediments which block our natural love for Him. We have egos, selfishness, personal desires and certain facets of our character which can prevent our love from coming out. This is why we are commanded to love Hashem, to bypass these obstacles and to allow our innate love to surface. By observing the beauty of nature and the perfection of the creation, we will be inspired to think about Hashem and ultimately to allow the love for Hashem to surface and be a factor in our lives. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"I am Hashem, your G-d" (Debarim 5:6)
In our perashah, we read about the Ten Commandments. The first commandment says that we must believe in Hashem, our G-d. Included in this great misvah is the fact that one may not deny his Jewishness. Rabbi Aharon Pollack of Manchester tells a true story about a young woman who would not deny her roots. Her name was Pearl Hoff. Her father was Rabbi Shemuel Unsdorfer. Pearl was 16 years old when the terrible events of the Holocaust began. Her family paid a sum of money to hide Pearl for a certain amount of time. When the time ran out, no other member of her family remained alive to renew the payment. The gentile promptly threw her out into the street. The street was crawling with Nazis looking for Jews to kill on the spot. Her only chance was to find a hideout where Jews were taking refuge. She heard people talking about a certain bunker where she could go, but when she arrived there, it turned out to be a trap. The bunker was filled with Nazis. They had let the word out that this was a safe hideout only to ensnare unsuspecting Jews and kill them when they arrived.
She realized that she was already trapped and it was a waste to try to escape. She prayed to Hashem to save her. The Nazi commander yelled, "Are you Jewish?" Young Pearl remembered her great father and would not deny her Jewishness. She merely did not answer. Her silence intrigued her questioner. "What is your name?" he yelled. In a gentile dialect, she answered, "My name is Yorishka." "Where do you live?" he demanded. Pearl gave him a fake address in a completely gentile neighborhood. The Nazi was sure he had captured a Jew but decided to follow her claim anyway. He sent one of his men with her to go to the address and see if she truly lived there. Pearl tells how she was walking in the street with a Nazi following her with a rifle pointing into her back. She knew her minutes were numbered; she would be shot as soon as he realized she was lying. Suddenly a nearby peddler called out her name, "Yorishka, what are you doing here?" Pearl, in complete shock, answered, "I am going home!" The soldier was now convinced that her name is Yorishka so he asked the peddler her address. Lo and behold, the peddler recited the exact number and street. The Nazi left Pearl alone, and Pearl turned around to see who this savior was. However, it was to no avail. The man was nowhere to be found!
Pearl always told this story to her children and grandchildren, and was ready to swear to its truth. She told this story to teach them that a Jew who doesn't deny his Jewishness will not lose out. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And now Yisrael, listen to the statutes and the laws...so that you may live and go and take possession of the land" (Debarim 4:1)
Rabbi S.R. Hirsch notes that this pasuk presents the Torah's prescription for life. Free-willed obedience and adherence to the laws mandated by Hashem allows us truly to "live." Only by devoting all of our energies to the observance of Hashem's laws do we attain life. His laws must shape our thought processes and regulate our sensitivities. If Torah does not regiment our life, if its values are not our values, then we have not lived; we have merely existed. Free-willed obedience to the Torah serves as the criterion for our individual lives, transforming mere existence into true living. So, too, it is the sole condition for our national life to be granted credence and acceptability in our own land. (Peninim on the Torah)
"This is the teaching that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel" (Debarim 4:44)
The preceding pesukim discuss Moshe's setting aside three cities of refuge on the east bank of the Jordan. What is the connection between this pasuk and establishing cities of refuge?
Many people are reluctant to do things which they do not expect to complete; however, our Sages teach that is a misvah comes to your hand, "al tachmitzenah - do not allow it to become 'leavened' by delaying its performance" - i.e. do as much of it as you can though you may not be the one to ultimately complete it. For example, King David knew that it would not be he who would build the Bet Hamikdash, yet he amassed gold in order to facilitate its eventual completion.
In addition to the three cities of refuge that Moshe designated, an additional three were to be established after the Jewish people entered Eress Yisrael. Since the three in Jordan did not serve as refuge until the three in Eress Yisrael were established, one might suppose that Moshe would be reluctant to prepare the first three cities. Nevertheless, he did whatever part of the misvah he could do, though he would ultimately not be the one that would complete it.
The Torah is telling us that, "This is the teaching that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel" - with the act of separating the three cities, which at the time served no purpose, he conveyed an important message to Klal Yisrael regarding Torah and misvot: Always endeavor to do good deeds and misvot, even if you will not complete them and receive the full credit.
Alternatively, when the Jews were in Eress Yisrael, the cities of refuge would protect someone who killed his fellow unintentionally. Even the one who committed premeditated murder would run to these cities of refuge and gain protection until he was brought before the bet din for trial.
Once the Jews were exiled, they no longer had cities of refuge. However, our Sages tell us (Makkot 10a) "Dibrei Torah koltin - the study of Torah provides refuge." Hence, one who committed a transgression intentionally or unintentionally, thereby causing spiritual damage to his soul, can gain refuge and rectify it by entering into Torah study.
The Torah alludes to this by relating that Moshe built the cities of refuge and concludes with the words, "Vezot haTorah - This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel" - to teach that Torah study provides refuge from the spiritual harm caused by iniquities. (Vedibarta Bam)
Question: Why do we look at our fingernails during the blessing on the light in habdalah?
Answer: 1) We may not recite the blessing upon the candle until we have benefited from its light. Our Sages have provided a standard for this: We must be close enough to the light to distinguish the coins of one country from the coins of another country. How close is this? If we are close enough to distinguish our fingernails from the skin around them. (By the same token, looking at our reflections in the wine, to the light of the candle, is another way of deriving benefit from the light.)
2) Fingernails visibly grow. They are therefore a sign of blessing. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)
"And you shall guard your souls very much." (Debarim 4:15)
Our Rabbis teach from this pasuk that it is a Biblical obligation for one to take care of his health. This means that we must watch the foods that we eat, and that we are required by the Torah to stay in shape. Hashem gave each of us a body that functions properly, and we are obligated to take care of it and make sure that we do our part to make sure that it doesn't "malfunction." By neglecting our health, we would be telling Hashem that we don't truly appreciate the wonderful gift that He has given us.
There is a story about the Sanzer Rav, who was told by his doctor that he may not eat maror on Pesah because it was dangerous for his health. At the Seder, the Rav picked up a piece of maror and said, "Blessed are You Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to guard our health," and then put the maror down. He understood fully that one may not endanger his health, even to perform a misvah.
Question: Do you exercise regularly? Are you careful to maintain a healthy diet? Will it be easier to stay with the program knowing that you will be fulfilling a misvah by doing so?
This week's Haftarah: Yeshayahu 40:1-26.
After completing the series of three haftarot that dealt with rebuke and punishment, we now begin a series of seven haftarot, from Tish'ah B'Ab to Rosh Hashanah, that deal with consolation. Each one is a prophecy which gives comfort to the nation after the destruction of the First Bet Hamikdash.
88This Shabbat is widely known as Shabbat Nahamu because the haftarah begins with the words "Nahamu nahamu ami - Comfort, comfort My people."
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