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Simcha Groffman

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Parashas Devarim

From Low to High

"Eicha [yashva badad] (How can it be [that she sits in solitude])?" (Eicha 1:1). This word begins Megillas Eicha, the megilla that we will read in a few days, on Tisha B'Av. The same word also begins a verse that we read in this week's parasha. "Eicha essa livadi . . . "How can I alone bear alone your troubles, your burdens, and your fights?"(Devarim 1:12). We read this verse with the same tune as Megillas Eicha. What is the connection between the two?

The Kesav Sofer has a fascinating insight, which begins with the previous two verses. "Hashem your G-d has multiplied you and behold, you are like the stars of heaven in abundance" (Devarim 1:10). This was a time of greatness for Klal Yisrael. We were like the stars of the sky. How should we react to that greatness? With humility. Yaakov Avinu is our prototype. His name "Yaakov" (the heel of the foot), exemplified his humility. He lowered himself like the "ekev" (heel). This aroused Hashem's love for him, and He elevated him. As the gemora states, "Hashem raises up one who lowers himself" (Eiruvin 13b). Now his name would be "Yisrael" - Hashem's Minister. A position of honor.

So too it is with Klal Yisrael. When we lower ourselves, Hashem elevates us. As the very next verse states. "May Hashem the G-d of your forefathers increase you a thousand times, and bless you as He has spoken of you" (Devarim 1:11). However, when we react with gaava (pride), and we raise our heads up, then we become unbearable. As the next verse states, "How can I alone bear...?" How could Moshe Rabbeinu alone carry the burden of such a self- serving nation? A nation of humble people is governable. A nation of "baalei gaava" is unbearable.

This is one of the messages of Megillas Eicha. We have suffered so much persecution and golus (exile). One of the reasons is sinas chinam (baseless hatred). One of the sources of sinas chinam is gaava. Now is the time to lower ourselves, correct that, and bring an end to this golus.

Kinderlach . . .

We are all mourning over the Beis HaMikdash and the golus. We have suffered so much persecution. We are suffering this very day. Who does not want to put an end to all of this? One key is humility. Speak softly and nicely. Give in when you can. Never start an argument. Put an end to existing disputes. Say only nice things about people. Be grateful to Hashem for everything. These are the hallmarks of humility. This will bring us greatness. May we see the crown of Hashem's nation rise speedily in our days.

Learn Mussar

"Hello Chaim, how are you?"

"Baruch Hashem, Avi. Have you been waiting a long time for me?"

"No, I just got to the Beis HaMedrash a few minutes ago. Are you ready to start learning?"

"Yes, but I have a special request. I would like to learn something different today; something that we have never learned before."

"Why not? I always try to be open minded. What did you have in mind?

"I want to learn Mussar (perfection of ones character)."

"Really! Mussar! Why? Wouldn't you rather dive into a complicated sugya (topic) in Mesechta Bava Kamma? Or an intricate halacha in Mishna Breura? Or a deep discussion of the Maharal on Chumash?"

"They all sound fascinating, but I want to learn mussar."

"Please tell me why."

"Look at the beginning of this week's parasha, Devarim. The ‘devarim' (words) that Moshe spoke to all of Klal Yisrael were words of tochacha (correction). He was teaching them to examine their ways and correct their mistakes. Rav Aharon Kotler points out that this teaches us that we have a great obligation to learn mussar."

"Why is it so important?"

"A person has strong and weak points. He does many things correctly, but he also makes mistakes. He often does not commit them on purpose, rather by habit. Unless he takes the time to examine his ways, he will continue his habitual behavior, not realizing his mistakes, and never correcting them."

"How true. But I still do not hear the connection between this and learning mussar."

"Mussar works teach a person techniques of how to correct himself. They also strengthen his relationship with Hashem: his emunah (faith), his bitachon (trust), his yirah (fear), and his ahavah (love) of Hashem. A person who is more closely connected to Hashem will have more motivation and strength to work on himself."

"These ideas all sound so simple. Why do we have to learn them? We all know that a person has to love and fear Hashem." "First of all, they are not so simple. There are many aspects and levels of ahavah, yirah, emunah, and bitachon. Secondly, even if they were simple, knowing them is not enough. One must internalize them. As the verse states, "And place these words on your hearts and on your souls" (Devarim 11:18). We must place them on our hearts. They do not enter automatically."

"I see."

"This is what we say every day in the ‘Aleinu' prayer. ‘And you shall know today, and take into your heart.' There is a long distance between the head and the heart. It takes time and effort to traverse this distance."

"It sounds like a big job."

"It is, but it does not happen overnight. Rebbe Akiva proved that. He was standing next to a well, and he saw a rock with a hole in it. ‘Who cut this rock?' he asked. ‘The water which drips on it all day,' was the answer. ‘If the water, which is soft, can cut the hard stone, how much more so can the words of Torah, which are hard as steel, penetrate my heart of flesh and blood.' (Avos D'Rebbe Nosson 6:2)."

"Words of mussar have a long-term effect."

"Exactly. Each time you learn it makes an impression. Over a period of time, B'ezrat Hashem you see a big change. It all comes down to taking the time to think about yourself and your ways."

"Doesn't the haftorah express this idea?"

"Excellent! ‘An ox knows his owner, and a donkey his master's trough; but Israel does not know, My nation does not contemplate (Yishaya 1:3)' Do you think Rebbe Akiva was the only one to see the rock with the hole? Many people saw it. He was the only one who took the time to think about it. Do you think Moshe Rabbeinu was the only one to see the burning bush? Many people saw it. He was the only one who took the time to think about it. That is contemplation. That is the way to self improvement."

Kinderlach . . .

Mussar is a wonderful thing. It can actually change us; make us into better people. Everyone wants to be a better person! To get over his bad habits. To be calmer, happier, more motivated, more empathetic, and more giving. These wonderful things, and more, are all yours for the taking. Learn mussar. Think about what you are learning. Take the time to think about what you are doing. Make changes. Hashem will help you. You will improve. Great things await you.

Parasha Questions:

The journey from Horev to Kadesh Barnea was normally ____ days. Hashem brought the Bnei Yisrael there in only ___ days. (1:2 and Rashi).

May a judge grant a poor man's claim against a rich man in order to save him from collecting tsedaka? (Rashi 1:17)

What proofs did Moshe bring that Hashem would conquer the nations living in Eretz Yisrael? (1:30,31,33)

How did the Bnei Yisrael demonstrate their regret for the "chet ha'meraglim"? (1:41-45)

Why should Moshe be afraid of Og Melech HaBashan? (Rashi 3:2)

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