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PARSHAS V'ZOS HABRACHAThe one who said of his father and mother, "I have not favored him." (33:9)
As Moshe Rabbeinu prepares to take leave of his flock, he blesses the members of each tribe. He points out their inherent positive qualities and he underscores those areas of their character which require improvement. To pat a person on the back and not inform him of his shortcomings can be self-defeating. In addressing Shevet Levi, Moshe notes the members' incredible devotion to Hashem, their commitment which was revealed during the chet ha'eigel, sin of the Golden Calf. When everyone else sinned, they refrained from getting involved in the sacrilege. Moshe had then called out, Mi l'Hashem eilai, "Who is for Hashem, should stand by me!" Shevet Levi answered the call and, upon Moshe's order, took their swords and slew members of their own families: a maternal grandfather; a grandson from their daughter; a brother from the same mother. There is no question that they loved their family members; that love, however, was just not as great as the love and allegiance that they maintained for Hashem.
These actions certainly portray the lofty spiritual achievements of the members of Shevet Levi. They were unlike any other tribe in their total devotion to Hashem. This is specifically why it is surprising that Moshe concludes his accolade, "For they (the Leviim) have observed Your word, and Your Covenant they preserved." Is this praiseworthy of such spiritual supermen? After saying that they did not recognize father and mother, is it necessary to add that they were also observant Jews? Observing Hashem's mitzvos, preserving His covenant, is standard fare for every Jew.
In Gevilei Eish, Horav Avraham Zelmens, zl, derives a powerful lesson from here. The spiritual giant who has achieved distinction in his service of Hashem, regardless of his enormous accomplishments, must still be meticulous concerning the "every day," "ordinary" mitzvos which seem to pale in comparison with what he has so far achieved. One should not say: "I carry an entire Jewish world on my shoulders;" "I have very little time or patience for the young couple who needs my guidance;" "Davening is important, but if it stands in the way of a major meeting to help Klal Yisrael, I will just have to cut my davening down a bit." The list goes on. Everyone has the opportunity for accomplishing great things. This is important - all this is why we are here; but no one should do anything at the expense of his basic relationship with Hashem. It may be compared to those individuals who make sure that their heart and brain are in perfect health, while at the same time disregard a minor infection that, because it had been ignored, becomes septic and almost ends his life.
The Rosh Yeshivah adds that we all know ordinary, good, observant Jews who are meticulous in their day-to-day observance, and succeed in overcoming the challenges that often stand before them. When these upstanding members of our community are asked to accept a more demanding position, however, one of leadership, one which is fraught with challenges, they back down. There are also those who thrive on the major issues, who sustain themselves by fighting for Klal Yisrael, for such collective issues as Shabbos, Kashrus, and Torah, but when it comes to the everyday non-challenging mitzvos, they simply cannot deal with them. Mitzvah performance is an ego enhancer for them. They require the klal work; otherwise, they might get bored with Yiddishkeit. The true oseik b'tzarchei tzibbur, one who occupies himself on the spiritual frontlines, working on behalf of Klal Yisrael, does the same for the "little guy": for the abandoned woman whose recalcitrant husband acts with a total lack of impunity; to the boy and girl who are at risk, but do not have the luxury of coming from a pedigreed family; for the many families who just need someone to talk to, someone to hold their hand and guide them. The list goes on. It is a no-brainer to be a klal tuer because that is how one receives accolades. One who has an ego deficiency will invariably trend toward those mitzvos and good deeds which call attention to himself. Shevet Levi personified true greatness. The members of this tribe accepted the challenges, the challenges of rising up against a nation gone mad, engrossed in sinful orgy. They stood up to close family. They protected the moral purity and pristine spiritual essence of our nation. This was, however, not executed at the expense of lesser mitzvos, which preserve the covenant between our people and Hashem. Theirs was a total commitment, to all people, under all circumstances.
Of Naftali he said, "Naftali, satiated with favor, and filled with Hashem's blessing." (33:23)
Interestingly, prior to emphasizing that Naftali is filled with Hashem's blessing, the Torah notes that he is a seva ratzon, satiated with favor, or, as we would probably translate it in Yiddish, A tzufridener mench, a happy person. Why does svias ratzon precede blessing? One who is not a "favorable" person does not appreciate the blessing in his life. Conversely, one who is satiated with favor does not require an abundance of blessing. To him, everything is a blessing from Hashem.
We say in benching and in Sefer Tehillim 145:16, Poseach es Yadecha, u'masbia l'chol chai ratzon, "You open Your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing." Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, observes that the blessing, "You open Your hand," is accompanied with the blessing, svias ratzon. We realize that, unless one is a satisfied, happy person, no blessing will suffice. He will always seek more. Only one who has achieved a sense of satisfaction in life will feel blessed with every gift he receives.
Horav Shlomo Levinstein, zl, offers an anecdotal story which supports this idea. A powerful king became ill with depression. His advisors sought out the most accomplished physicians who specialized in the treatment of depression, to no avail. Every treatment failed. Even those that worked for a short while did just that - worked for a short while. The king ultimately returned to his depressed state. Finally, they met with a top specialist who guaranteed a cure. The king would have to obtain and wear the shirt of a man who was me'ushar, truly fortunate. By wearing the garment, the feeling that this person had would rub off on the king.
The advisors immediately sent out agents throughout the entire land in search of such a person. Certainly, there had to be one person who felt himself to be fortunate. They had no luck in locating such a person. With whomever they met, after a few moments of conversation, they realized that this person was not happy with his life! They met with diplomats, distinguished legislators, powerful leaders, and discovered that not a single one of them was truly happy. Each one had his personal issues and demons that secretly made him miserable. They next met with the wealthiest people in the country. How surprised they were that even these people were obsessed with losing their wealth and were constantly worrying about what the next day would bring, how the market would react to world news, etc. They tried the poor, who were regrettably plagued with envy, who viewed anyone who had more than they did as their mortal enemy. This was too much. Was there no happy person in the entire land?
Finally, word reached them that a man who lived in a small hut by the beach claimed to be very fortunate. He possessed a wonderful disposition and needed nothing. Indeed, he felt that he had it all. This was too good to be true. They would finally be able to cure their beloved king of his illness. They traveled out to the man's "abode" and asked him if he would be so kind as to lend his cloak to the king. They explained that this would cure the king.
The man listened to their request and laughed, "That is specifically the secret of my success. I do not have a shirt! You see, if I would own a shirt, I would need a jacket and a tie. After I had a suit of clothes, I would yearn for a place to go, to show it off. Then I would require a house. Once I had a house, it would not be large enough. After that, would come the decorating, etc. Do you not see that by not having anything - I require nothing? Now I can be happy!"
People are sadly trapped in a lifelong contest whereby they all strive to get more of everything: money, prestige, success, etc. While this attitude has a powerful upside to it: it motivates people to work harder, push higher, strive more - it can be taken too far and become an obsession. We benefit from overachievers, but are they happy people? A steady diet of unquenchable desires, overbearing competitiveness and constant dissatisfaction to the point that one is never happy with success can damage one's mental health. Psychiatrists have pointed out that such people are often a menace to society, because they treat those beneath them with disdain, as inferiors, and those who are above them as objects of envy and jealousy.
One who is sameach b'chelko, happy with his lot, who has svius ratzon, satisfaction, is a person who says, "I have enough." A popular secular writer was once asked concerning a certain billionaire: "How does it feel to know that he (the billionaire) made more money in one day than you (the writer) made in your entire life?" The writer replied, "I have something that he can never have!" What on earth can that be?" the man asked. "I have the knowledge that I have enough."
And Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there, in the land of Moav, by the mouth of Hashem. (34:5)
The underlying profundity of this pasuk is compelling. The greatest accolade that Moshe Rabbeinu earned for himself is eved Hashem, servant of Hashem. As a servant's will is supplanted by the will of his master to the point that a servant does not have his own will, so, too, was it with Moshe. Actually, this should be the paradigm for all Jews to emulate - lived for the ratzon Hashem, the will of G-d. Hashem's will, which was Moshe's will, should also be ours.
Concerning Moshe's passing from this world "by the mouth of Hashem," the Talmud Moed Katan 28a explains that this means that Moshe died by misas neshikah, death by a kiss from G-d, which means directly through Hashem, without the intercession of the Malach Hamaves, Angel of Death. Alternatively, it means that the soul becomes united with the holiness of the Shechinah, Divine Presence. In the Talmud Brachos 8a, Chazal liken this most desirable form of death as painless, like pulling a hair from milk, that is, the soul leaves the mortal body without resistance.
In Resisei Laylah, Horav Tzadok HaKohen, zl, explains this phenomenon in a practical manner. When a person pursues worldly, physical pleasures, he establishes a bond between himself/his soul and the pleasures of this material/physical world. Thus, a soul that is closely bonded with physical pleasure will find it very difficult to extricate itself from this physical life. Indeed, Chazal describe death for those who have totally attached themselves to physicality as pulling embedded thistles from a sheep's wool. For those tzaddikim, righteous Jews, like Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon HaKohen and Miriam HaNeviah, whose flawless souls maintained their purity throughout their mortal journey, no effort, no regret and no pain are associated with leaving. After all, their soul is finally being reunited with its Source.
Do we really know who is a tzaddik? Clearly, there are those who have lived a pristine life devoted to Torah, mitzvos and the performance of good deeds. There are others who actively conceal so much of their good; and yet others who are too busy with themselves to notice the selflessness of others. Be that as it may, there are many very good people in the world. Ultimately, the definition of good is left for Heaven to determine. Hashem has the last word. This idea is alluded to by what appears to be an ambiguous passage in the Talmud Moed Katan 25b.
"Rav Ashi said to the sapdan, eulogist, 'On that day (when I will die) what will you say (about me)?' Bar Kippok (who was the eulogist) replied, 'I will say the following: If upon cedar trees a flame has fallen, what shall the hyssops of the wall do? If a Leviathan was lifted from the sea with (nothing more than) a fish hook, what shall the small fish do? If into a rushing stream dryness descended, what shall the stagnant pond waters do?'" Basically, the sapdan was intimating that, if the Angel of Death had power over the high and mighty, if he was able to overcome the flow of righteous deeds coming forth from the tzaddik, what should the common folk say?
Let us now put this passage into perspective. Rav Ashi, together with Ravina, were the redactors of the Talmud. They are the final word concerning Talmudic law. What concern could an individual of such exemplary achievement have regarding what the eulogist would say?
Horav Mordechai Eliyahu, zl, quotes the Talmud Brachos 62a, where Chazal say that people who eulogize the deceased are taught to take great care concerning the plaudits they deliver about the deceased. If they are somewhat complimentary, it is permissible. If, however, they get carried away and overstep their bounds with accolades (that are not realistic or true), they will have to answer to Heaven, and so will the soul of the deceased. It makes sense that they should not exaggerate, and if they do, they should have to answer for it, but why should the soul of the deceased suffer as a result of the eulogist's overactive imagination?
The Rishon LeTzion explains that the words expressed during a eulogy invariably serve as the barometer of the abilities and achievements of the deceased. If mortals say that an individual was incredibly brilliant or consummately diligent in his Torah studies, the question in Heaven will be: If this is "true," how is it that you did not accomplish more and greater things than you did? The esteem in which others hold us can sometimes work to our detriment, if their comments suggest that we were destined for greatness. This is what Rav Ashi, the great Amora, feared. What did the eulogist think of him, so that he could now strive to achieve more? While he was clear about his own abilities, how people related to him was important to him. Did they think that he was greater than he really was? Were they getting carried away in their esteem?
Concerning Moshe Rabbeinu, there was no question. He had reached the apex of spiritual achievement. To do so, he devoted all of himself to Hashem, so that he became the consummate eved, servant, the highest accolade one can earn. His passing was unique in the sense that his holy soul, which had descended to this world to be implanted in his body, was returned untarnished, in its pristine self, as it was originally dispatched by Hashem. This is demonstrated by Moshe meriting misas neshikah, Hashem's affectionate kiss of death.
Such a death is reserved for those who live such a special life as our quintessential teacher and leader. I recently read about the last few hours of Horav Meir Shapiro, zl. It is worth sharing with those who have never heard of it - and to those who have, it is well-worth repeating. The founder of the Daf HaYomi, page a day of Talmud project, passed away shortly after Succos, on the seventh day of Cheshvon. A few hours before his passing, he motioned to his wife to draw closer to his bed. The Rosh Yeshivah could no longer speak. So, with trembling hands, he wrote, "Why are you weeping? Now there will be real joy."
The Rosh Yeshivah then gestured to his talmidim, students, who waited anxiously for some word concerning their Rebbe's deteriorating condition. He wrote once again, "You should all drink a l'chaim (to life)." Immediately, whiskey and cake were brought in and dispersed among all those who merited to be there for this most sublime moment. Brachos, blessings, were recited, and then each student stood before the Rebbe and shook his hand. Rav Meir warmly held each student's hand for a moment, while he looked deeply into each individual student's eyes.
After each student had the opportunity to bid his Rebbe farewell, it became obvious that Rav Meir was struggling to speak. Finally, with great pain, he formed the words, Becha batchu Avoseinu, "Our fathers trusted in You." The students understood that their Rebbe wanted them to begin singing the melody that he had composed to these words.
As the students sang, they began to dance - and they danced as they had never before danced. Tears rolled down their cheeks - their hearts breaking - but, nevertheless, they continued to dance around their Rebbe's bed. While they were dancing, hundreds of other students stood in the next room reciting Tehillim.
With every passing second, the situation worsened. All those in attendance understood that their beloved Rosh Yeshivah was fighting his final battle - and he was losing. In just a few moments, his holy neshamah would be reunited with its Maker. The students were broken; their Rebbe meant so much to them. How could he be taken from them at such a young age?
Perhaps this was the emotion that coursed through the minds of the onlookers. Not so Rav Meir, who upon detecting the student's muffled sobs, motioned for one of them to come closer. Nor mit simchah, "Only with joy," he whispered.
He understood the profundity of the moment - and like Moshe Rabbeinu - he had no regrets. He was ready to serve Hashem - in Heaven. Rav Meir Shapiro died with the words, Nor mit simchah on his lips. These were his last words. For forty-six years, he lived with joy. He died as he had lived - with joy on his lips.
Death is inevitable. How we confront the inevitable depends on how we have lived.
Before the eyes of all Yisrael. (34:12)
The Torah begins with the creation of the world, the creation of mankind, and concludes with death - with the passing of our quintessential leader, Moshe Rabbeinu. The life cycle, from cradle to grave, is exactly that - a cycle. A man is born, lives out his life, and returns sometime later to his source. One ends where the other one starts. A perfect circle is complete in the sense that it unites the beginning with the end. Indeed, there is neither a beginning to a circle, nor is there an end. If one selects a specific point and designates it as the beginning, when he arrives at the end, he will find himself back where he started.
Horav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, zl, observes that V'zos HaBrachah is the only parsha of the Torah that is not read on Shabbos. V'zos HaBrachah is read, instead, on Simchas Torah, because, on this day, we conclude the reading of the Torah, and we dance in a circle by design. This intimates that there is no end to the Torah. Its final words, its closing sentence is, l'einei kol Yisrael, and it immediately begins with Bereishis bara Elokim. Is this really the end? No! Because we now begin with Bereishis. As we dance in a circle on Simchas Torah, we connect the end with the beginning. Thus, the "eyes of all Yisrael" stay focused on the Bereishis bara Elokim. The beginning declares Hashem as the Creator of the world. This is what we look at as we conclude the circle of life - the beginning.
Death is not an end. It is the beginning of a new spiritual odyssey. The soul returns to its source - the end of the circle. It is now time for a new beginning. As this soul returns, another leaves, thus life goes on - in a circle. When the "eyes of all Yisrael" remain transfixed on the beginning, we realize that life does not come to an abrupt end. It is only beginning. A circle does not end. Wherever one stands in the circle of life, when his name is "called" to return, he is not really leaving. He is merely starting over again. After all, life is a circle.
Completing a cycle of learning is a wonderful achievement. It, however, creates a feeling of ambivalence, since, after all is said and done, one is back at his point of origin after traveling through various stages. Concerning Torah erudition, there is no end, because every end begets a renewed responsibility to begin over again. Torah is endless. Thus, as soon as we complete V'zos HaBrachah, we immediately begin Sefer Bereishis. I really wonder what provides the greater sense of simchah - completing the previous cycle; or the excitement that is generated by the merit of a new beginning. I have this feeling every time I complete a cycle of Peninim. While I am excited and inspired by the achievement, I am equally enthusiastic and humbled with being granted the opportunity to commence another cycle anew. Therefore, as I conclude my twenty-fourth cycle, I celebrate my twenty-fifth beginning. The simchah of a Siyum is not only in the inherent completion, but in the immediate initiation of another cycle. The recognition and acknowledgement that Torah study never ends, that one can never amass enough knowledge, are constant motivators.
During these past twenty-four years, I have had more than my share of siyata diShmaya. I have had the good fortune of seeing Peninim grow exponentially. The merit to be granted the opportunity for such harbotzas Torah is humbling, and I pray that I will continue to warrant this z'chus. While my name is more publicly identified with Peninim, its success is due largely to the individuals who are involved with its weekly preparation. Their efforts are hereby recognized, with overwhelming gratitude and appreciation. I do this annually, and, while it might seem redundant, I think gratitude should never be taken for granted, and appreciation is never superfluous. Indeed, it should be repeated often.
I have the privilege of once again thanking Mrs. Sharon Weimer and Mrs. Tova Scheinerman who prepare the manuscript on a weekly basis. It takes great patience, and, at times, creative ingenuity to read my illegible scrawl and understand what it is I am trying to say - especially when some of the words are missing. Mrs. Marilyn Berger continues to do an amazing job of editing the copy, making it presentable and readable to the wider spectrum of the Jewish community. She often tells me when I veer too much in either direction away from the center. My dear friend, Rabbi Malkiel Hefter, somehow finds the time in his busy schedule to see to it that the final copy is completed, printed, and distributed in a timely and orderly fashion.
Over the years, Peninim has developed its own network of distribution. While the constraints of space do not permit me to mention each and every person who sees to it that Peninim is distributed in his or her individual community, I will highlight a few. It was Baruch Berger of Brooklyn, New York, who came to me originally, requesting that he be able to distribute Peninim in his community. He later became ill, hindering his ability to continue his avodas ha'kodesh. As his illness progressed, Baruch was compelled to halt his activities, but the z'chus is all his. It was just three years ago, shortly before Rosh Hashanah, when Baruch's pure neshamah returned to its rightful place b'ginzei meromim. May the limud ha'Torah which he initiated be for him an eternal z'chus.
Avi Hershkowitz of Queens, New York, and Asher Groundland of Detroit, Michigan, distribute in their respective communities. Shema Yisrael network provides the electronic edition for the worldwide distribution. A number of years ago, Eliyahu Goldberg of London, England, began a "World" edition. Through his efforts, Peninim has received extensive coverage in England, France, Switzerland, South Africa, Hong Kong, South America, and Australia. Eliyahu goes so far as to Anglicize the text to make it more readable in the United Kingdom. Rabbi Moshe Peleg, Rav of Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, prints and distributes Peninim throughout the English speaking community in Eretz Yisrael. Kudos to Meir Winter of Monsey, New York, and Moshe Davidovici of Antwerp, Belgium, for including Peninim in their internet edition of Divrei Torah. May the mitzvah of harbotzas Torah serve as a z'chus for them to be blessed b'chol mili d'meitav.
My wife, Neny, has been supportive in many ways. Sharing with me all of the agonies and ecstasies of writing, her support and encouragement, as well as her constructive critiques, have been indispensable. She avails me the peace of mind to write, regardless of the time or place - whether convenient or not. Her "early morning" editing has become a weekly ritual in our home. After carefully reading the manuscript, she offers her excellent suggestions, and, with her keen eye, she repairs the poor punctuation. Indeed, she is literally the last word on my manuscript before it is printed. Without her, Peninim, like everything else in our lives, would be incomplete. To this end, and for so many other considerations too numerous to mention, I offer her my heartfelt gratitude. I pray that we: are both blessed with good health; merit that Torah and chesed be the hallmarks of our home; and continue to derive much Torah nachas from our children and grandchildren, kein yirbu.
Rabbi A.L. Scheinbaum
The Torah is the charter of man's mission on this world. It is the "book of directions" which guides us how to live a life of commitment to Hashem. In the Talmud Chagigah 11b, Chazal teach that it is prohibited to expound upon maaseh Bereishis in a class of two students, which means the teacher and one other person. The Talmud presents many Aggadic teachings related to this topic. Literally, maaseh Bereishis means "account of Creation." Ramban interprets maaseh Bereishis as the wisdom of the natural world. The most widely accepted opinion is that maaseh Bereishis pertains to the wisdom of Kabbalah, mysticism. In any event, the issues pertaining to maaseh Bereishis go beyond the grasp of our natural minds. To delve into areas to which the brain is neither accustomed nor prepared sets a person up for failure to understand the profundity of the subject correctly.
When a person begins to think that he is capable of theorizing and understanding G-d's hidden ways and the manner in which He created the world, he is already on a serious collision course with the teachings of Judaism. He will end up rejecting the true beliefs of Torah and setting course on a journey to infamy. The result of this philosophical journey will invariably be heresy, compelled by beliefs which undermine the very underpinnings of our faith. Darwin's theory of evolution is based upon such erroneous conjecture. When a human being believes that he can understand G-d, he can fall to such a nadir as to believe that man, the b'chir ha'yetzurim, chosen one of all creations, has descended from a monkey, such that there is no difference between animal and human.
A Jew should believe one thing: Hashem created heaven and earth, and that He is behind everything which occurs in life. Once one accepts Hashem as Creator, he immediately understands that understanding Creation is beyond his ability. Every story, every issue, everything which has taken place and how Hashem has responded, are all part of maaseh Bereishis. The problem is that we cannot leave well-enough alone; thus, we feel compelled to postulate and interpret occurrences which are beyond our grasp, thereby making egregious mistakes.
Horav Yosef Segal, zl, relates that a maggid (preacher who often earned his living by traveling from city to city lecturing and inspiring the populace) once came before Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, and narrated to him the contents of a recent derashah, lecture, that he had given in a large city. The man was very impressed with his ability to explain the pasuk homiletically to fit the objectives of his lecture. In the piyut, prayer, "Hashem, Hashem," which is recited during the Neilah, Closing service, of Yom Kippur, we lament the fact that, B'reosi kol ir al tilah benuyah, v'ir haElokim mushpeles ad sheol tachtiyah, which is translated as, "When I see every city built on a hilltop, while the city of G-d is degraded to the nethermost depth." The payton, author of the prayer, bemoans the degradation of our Holy City. This is the simple interpretation of the prayer. This maggid suggested a new meaning. Rather than comparing Yerushalayim to other large metropolis', he felt the author was lamenting the fact that people are always striving to satisfy their physical/material desires, but, when it comes to the requirements of the soul/spirituality, they are satisfied with as little as they can get. Thus, kol ir, "every city," is a reference to the physical material dimension of one's life, and ir haElokim, "city of G-d," refers to one's spiritual needs. While it is a nice p'shat, exposition, it is clearly not the payton's intended meaning.
Rav Chaim asked this maggid, "Tell me, have you ever been to a large metropolitan city, such as London or Paris?" "Yes," he answered. "My travels take me everywhere. I have been to many large cities. I have rarely seen such advanced development and esthetic beauty as is found in some of these large cities. It is truly impressive." "Perhaps you also have had occasion to visit the holy city of Yerushalayim?" "Yes," he replied, "I certainly did, and I must add that the contrast is glaring. The Holy City is bereft of its spiritual beauty, its supremacy as the holiest site on the earth."
"If, in fact, you see the contrast between Yerushalayim and Paris," Rav Chaim asked, "why is it that you feel compelled to deviate from the simple explanation of the prayer? Every city is built up beautifully, advanced technologically and esthetically appealing. Yerushalayim is a city that once was yefei nof mesos kol ha'aretz, 'Fairest of brides, joy of all the earth,' and now it is desolate of all its inherent beauty. Is this not something to lament? Why not adhere to the prayer's intended meaning?"
A similar idea applies to all of the would-be philosophers and self-proclaimed thinkers. With all of their hypotheses -- based upon meaningless conjecture-- that have yet to be ratified, they have succeeded in doing nothing but creating confusion in the minds of those who otherwise would believe in Hashem as G-d of Creation and G-d of history. They miss the most important verse in the Torah, the one verse that speaks directly to us, saying that the world of Creation is beyond us, because Bereishis bara Elokim. It was G-d Who created the world. Man is unable of comprehending G-d. He lacks the perception, because he is human - G-d is not. That is all one must know. Sadly, so many of us are not prepared to accept this concept. We think that we know more. The result of such erroneous speculation is that some believe that they have descended from monkeys. How very sad.
Two people can view the very same object and have two discrepant perspectives. One sees with clarity of vision, while the other has blurred vision which is either the result of shortsightedness, or self-imposed myopia. A well-known analogy demonstrates this idea. A brilliant artist was endowed with a special ability to create images that, to the naked eye, appear real. He painted a beautiful painting, depicting a man carrying a basket of fruit on his shoulder. He entered this painting in an outdoor art show, to be viewed by major art critics. The painting appeared so realistic that birds flying nearby saw the "grapes" on the man's shoulder, and they began to peck at them. A group of art critics saw this phenomenon and were amazed by the lifelike art which this master artist had created. The critics were standing around, staring in amazement as bird after bird swooped down to peck at the grapes.
One critic, who was obviously a perceptive individual, looked at his colleagues and said, "I do not believe that men of such intelligence could be so short-sighted as to err so foolishly!" They looked at him in astonishment. How dare he speak to them so! Anyone with a modicum of intelligence should be impressed by the graphic imagery captured by the artist. The critics, of course, dismissed their colleague's tirade. He spoke up again, "My friends, you base your assumption concerning the realistic nature of this artwork upon the fact that the birds are prepared to eat the grapes. The mere fact that the birds are prepared to risk eating the grapes indicates exactly the opposite. Have you ever seen a bird eat off the shoulder of a living human being? Indeed, the fact that the birds are attempting to eat the grapes demonstrates that the artist is not as skilled as you perceive him to be. Yes, he succeeded in creating lifelike grapes; the person, however, still looks like artwork. He did not fool the birds at all. The artist is good, but not that good."
Let us apply this analogy to our own misguided perspectives concerning the advanced development and refinement of mankind. On the one hand, we have made immense strides in science, medicine, and other disciplines. Man is capable of advances that even a decade ago had been considered impossible. One would conjecture that the human being has certainly progressed by leaps and bounds from his primitive roots. This is truly how modern society views itself and its achievements. They think that they are far removed from their crude beginnings. Let us now take a penetrating look at the base revulsions, the criminal activities of, not only the uneducated, but that of the highly cultivated and distinguished leadership of today's elite; the plunder and moral depravity of these select leaders, the carnage they create, or permit to ensue as a result of their egos and political affiliations. Indeed, they use the very scientific advancements that so demonstrates their refinement to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting and gullible world. So, is the artist that good?
It is all a question of perspective. Does one recognize that Bereishis bara Elokim? The only reality in this world is Hashem and, unless we remain focused on Him, nothing else is real. Whatever we see can be interpreted to suit our needs, but is that what we really want? When we begin a cycle of Torah study, we begin with one presumptive preamble. Hashem created the world. We must see the Almighty in everything. Otherwise, we see nothing. And Elokim saw the light that it was good. (1:4)
The Talmud Yoma 38b states: "Rabbi Elazar says: it is worth for the world to be created even for (the benefit it derived from) one tzaddik, righteous person." This is derived from the above pasuk, "And Elokim saw the light that it was good." There is no "good" like a tzaddik. We also find in Mishlei 10:25, V'tzaddik yesod olam, "A righteous person is the foundation of the world." We now have some inkling of the great merit that a tzaddik has in this world. One tzaddik - not a world of tzaddikim - only one, single, righteous person makes the entire world's creation meaningful! The entire world with all its creatures and all humanity are all here because of the tzaddik. He is the purpose of creation.
With this compelling statement fresh in our minds, we may begin to understand the overarching importance of reaching out to unaffiliated Jews, to bring them closer under the kanfei haShechinah, wings of the Divine Presence. Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, observes that if the world could have endured six thousand years just for the sake of one tzaddik, certainly we should expend every possible effort to reach out to Jews of all stripes and persuasions.
Furthermore, man is a microcosm of the world. He is an olam katan, tiny simile of the world. Thus, he must view himself in a similar perspective. As the entire world is worthy of creation just for the benefit of one tzaddik, so, too, should a person take great joy and feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment for every positive action which he executes. That one activity quite possibly makes "him" worth the effort.
Rav Gamliel quotes Horav Nota Freund, Shlita, who explains the pasuk, Kasis la'maor, "Crushed for the purpose for lighting" (Shemos 27:20), which is a reference to the olive oil used for the Menorah. Chazal derive from here that only maor - the oil used for the Menorah, for illumination, must be extracted from olives by crushing them, using the first oil that emerges for the Menorah. Concerning Menachos, the oil mixed with flour for the Meal-offering, one may use oil that has been ground up. Applying a homiletic twist, Rav Freund interprets the pasuk: kasis la'maor - "crushed for illumination." One who is struck by Hashem, who is subject to a difficult challenge, should be la'maor; it should serve as a source of inspiration that elevates him. He should never allow the kasis, the crushing effect, to cause menachos, pain, sadness, and menachos, "resting," whereby one disappears into a cocoon of hopelessness, going into emotional hibernation.
As Chazal posit that the world could likely have been created for one person, so, too, should a person believe that his own entire existence was worthwhile as a result of the good deeds which he carries out .
Concerning the meaning of Tzaddik yesod olam, I recently came across the following statement attributed to Horav Shlomo Zevihler, zl. Two great Admorim, who were both very righteous, distinguished leaders who devoted their lives to shepherding their flock: Horav Yisrael, zl, m'Huseitin; and Horav Shlomo, zl, m'Zevihl. Rav Yisrael was blessed with great wealth, while Rav Shlomo lived a life of abject poverty. Rav Shlomo once commented, "There are two types of tzaddikim. The tzaddik hador, righteous leader of his generation, does just that, guide his generation. There is also the tzaddik yesod olam, who acts very much like a yesod, foundation, who goes unnoticed, sort of buried in the ground - like a foundation." We must remember, however, that without the foundation, the entire edifice comes crashing down.
One cannot write concerning the importance of reaching out to every Jew without making mention of the Ponevezer Rav, Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl. He was a Torah giant in whose heart burned a fiery love for every Jew. He would say excitedly, "Of course, I want whole-hearted sincere Jews - one hundred percent perfect Jews - but I also want all one hundred percent of all of the world's Jews, that none of them go lost; I am not not giving up on a single one! Just as a Jew may never give up hope, so, too, are we also forbidden to give up on a simple Jew, no matter who he is."
A close student of his related, "I once saw the Rebbe in the middle of a throng of irreligious, assimilated Jews, who surrounded him with loving and admiring looks. Burning with curiosity, I went over to him and asked what approach he used to reach out to them. Smiling, he replied, 'I told them that they are Jews, more precious than anything else, and that they were just disguising themselves to the point that they are even maintaining their disguise towards themselves.' Thus, I told them, 'Remove your masks! Taire briderlach, beloved brothers, cast off your foreign garb. In time, many of them, indeed, shed their masks and reverted to being traditional Jews.'"
And Elokim saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good. (1:31)
We have read the above pasuk countless times; it is reiterated a number of times in the parsha about Brias ha'Olam, Creation. Yet, do we ever stop and ask ourselves: If the world is so good, why does Shlomo Hamelech begin his Sefer Koheles with the famous phrase - Haveil havalim ha'kol hevel, "Futility of futilities - all is futile!"? If all is futile, then it really cannot be tov meod, very good. How are to understand this? The Melitzer Rebbe, Shlita, explains that it all depends on one's religious experience. If he carries out the will of the Almighty, if his life is filled with mitzvos and maasim tovim, good deeds, then it is tov meod, very good. If, however, his life is characterized by abandon, with no relationship with Hashem, then it is all futility of futilities. His life is a waste.
This explanation is accompanied by a meaningful analogy. The king of the land had a son who was outstanding in his ability to absorb everything to which he set his mind. Among the many disciplines which he had mastered proficiently was medicine. He was a brilliant diagnostician and was able to prepare the exact remedy that would cure just about any disease. One day, the prince took a stroll on the king's vast grounds. He wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the palace, soak up some fresh air and relax amid the quiet of the surrounding forest. Carried away with his "freedom," he lost track of the palace boundaries and wandered off onto the property of the duke, who was no friend of the king. As a result, he was taken captive by the duke.
Overnight, the prince went from royalty to servitude. His new job was working in the stone quarry, breaking up large stones. Such work takes its toll on even the hardiest workers. The prince was far from hardy. In no time, he would become a broken person. One day, the duke became gravely ill. Since the man was quite wealthy and money means nothing to a dead man, he sent out messengers to all areas of the country in search of a doctor who might save him. Money was no object. Various physicians were brought in - all, to no avail. The duke was rapidly wasting away. Soon, he would be nothing more than a memory.
At this point, the prince came before the superintendent of the prison and asked for an audience with the duke. "I can save him," he said. Both the jailor and the duke could not believe the prince's insolence. How could a lowly slave succeed where everyone else had failed? The prince reiterated his earlier request: "Allow me to leave, and I will heal the duke." The prince was released from the dungeon, and, after diagnosing the duke's ailment, prepared a powerful potion which cured the duke in a matter of days.
"Why did you not inform me that you were proficient in medicine?" the duke asked the prince. "You never asked me," replied the prince. "Instead of inquiring about my abilities, you immediately incarcerated me in the dungeon and put me to work chopping stones. I figured if you are a fool, it was your loss. In any event, sooner or later, my father and his armies would have located me and liberated me from this dungeon."
The lesson is very simple. The Jewish People are Hashem's children. Our goal and purpose in life is to study and master the Torah - which is the remedy for every ill known to mankind. If, however, Klal Yisrael deviate from their mission in life, and, instead of delving into Torah, revert to other disciplines which only succeed in distracting and turning them away from their source of life, they will fall captive to the futilities of life. Sadly, some Jews only discover their holy mission in life after they have fallen captive to the secular culture surrounding them. When the gentiles discover the beauty and value of Torah, when they see the way of life experienced by the observant Jew, they change. They are cured from their illnesses. Life is futile when it has no direction. It is meaningless when one has no purpose. When a Jew lives a life of purpose, with goals and objectives that spiritually elevate him, then it is tov meod, very good.
We might suggest another interpretation for the Torah's emphasis on the underlying meaning behind tov meod. I think the Torah was intimating the perspective we should adopt upon viewing a person who manifests good and bad, behavior that is, at times, praiseworthy and, during other instances, iniquitous. I recently came across a thesis delineating the ahavas Yisrael, love for each Jew, as manifest by each of three great chassidic leaders: Horav Zushia, zl, m'Anapole; Horav Levi Yitzchak, zl, m'Berditchev; the Baal Shem Tov, zl.
Rav Zushia embodied Shlomo Hamelech's maxim, Al kol peshaim techaseh ahavah , "Love conceals all iniquities" (Mishlei 10:12). He did not notice the iniquities that the average man saw. People saw sin; he saw nothing. People perceived iniquity; he saw nothing of the sort. When others saw evil; he saw nothing. He was a person who was simply incapable of noticing anything negative about his fellow Jew. Whenever he did hear about someone's egregious behavior, he would find some way not to allow it to jaundice his perception of the person. He literally saw no evil.
The Berditchever was the Jewish People's consummate advocate. He always found some way to justify a person's behavior - regardless of its nefarious nature. He always provided some excuse. Unlike Rav Zushia, the Berdichever was well-aware of a Jew's failings and shortcomings, but he always found a way to justify his actions, to extend a positive spin to the man's misdeeds.
Rav Zushia saw no iniquity; the Berditchever more or less white-washed it. The Baal Shem Tov's love, however, superseded even that of his two disciples. To him, ahavas Yisrael, loving every Jew, extended beyond a refusal to see his evil, or endeavoring to cleanse his iniquity. The Baal Shem Tov's love for each and every Jew was unequivocal, incontinent; it was consummate love in its totality. This means that he was aware of the person's evil, his transgressions, his mean streak, but it did not matter - he loved him all the same - sin and all! The Baal Shem Tov loved the wicked sinner with the same degree of boundless love that he harbored for the greatest tzaddik. Why? They were all Hashem's children. A father loves all of his children the same - regardless of who they are and what they have done.
I think this is what the Torah is teaching us with the words tov meod. Hashem saw the world and its creations, mankind. They were all His. He knew that some would be imperfect, but they were still His! He taught us that everything is good. We should not make the distinction between bad and good when it comes to loving a fellow Jew.
Kayin brought an offering to Hashem of the fruit of the ground… and as for Hevel, he also brought. (4:3,4)
We note from the pesukim that Hevel was a righteous person. The mere fact that Hashem acquiesced to Hevel's sacrifice serves as a barometer of His approbation of Hevel. If so, why was he taken so soon? Hevel's life was cut short due to his brother's irrational jealousy. He did not live long enough even to establish a legacy of offspring. Kayin, on the other hand, lived seven more generations, from which was established the future of the world. To the average spectator, the disparity between the subsequent history of Kayin, the murderer, and Hevel, the innocent victim, is glaring. Furthermore, Kayin did not simply kill Hevel in one swoop. Chazal teach us that it was an extremely painful experience for Hevel, since Kayin did not know how a life is taken, from where the neshamah leaves. He stabbed Hevel many times all over his body until he struck him in the neck.
Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, explains that such questions plague the minds of those who have recently embarked on a life of Torah observance. Apparently, prior to their "rebirth," their material/physical lifestyle had been wonderful. Now that they have eschewed their life of abandon, nothing seems to go right. They are financially challenged, emotionally misunderstood, and physically vulnerable.. So they ask: Why? Is this what we have to look forward to now that we have become frum, observant?
We have no acceptable reply to these questions. Every Jew suffers in one way or another. Those who think that the fellow who is wealthy, has yichus, pedigree, and lives in an ivory tower has it better, is very na?ve. We all have pekelech, "parcels" of situations, troubles, issues - any name that you want to call it. Why? Ask Hashem. This is the way in which He guides the world. A believing Jew knows this; thus, he maintains his deep conviction despite the challenges to his faith.
Therefore, right from the onset, from the moment the Torah commences to relate the story of mankind, we are confronted with the first protrusive question to our faith - why Hevel? Why not Kayin instead? Why do bad things happen to good people? This question, which has apparently been around for quite some time is based upon the misconception that we mortals have been able to accurately determine the meaning of good/bad. We do not know the correct definition of good people - or bad things. We are not made aware of the reward and punishment in this world, in order that it not preclude our ability to choose wisely between good and evil. If the reward were to be immediate and the punishment likewise, what challenge would there be to being an observant Jew? We must reiterate constantly in our hearts and minds that we are clueless concerning the way in which Hashem runs the world. We have no idea what is involved; even if we were to know what has been factored into Hashem's decisions, our mortal minds could not even begin to grasp it. So, it is best that we do what is asked of us and leave the "decision- making" to Hashem.
u'zechartem es kol mitzvos Hashem, - vaasisem osam
That you may see it and remember all of the commandments of Hashem, and perform them, and not explore after your heart and after your eyes.
Tzitzis are part of a Jew's uniform. They are the stamp that attests to one's relationship to Hashem. This is why looking at the Tzitzis brings to mind all of the mitzvos. When one sees the Tzitzis, he realizes what they represent. When one wears the uniform of the king's legion, it leaves a powerful impression on him. That is the way it is supposed to be, but is this truly the way it is? Are we really dissuaded from sin simply because we see the Tzitzis? Do Tzitzis really remind us and spur us on to perform mitzvos?
Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, explains that actually the Torah adds a critical condition which must be taken into consideration in order for the reminder of Tzitzis to take effect. V'lo sasuru acharei levavchem v'acharei eineichem, "And not explore after your heart and after your eyes." Simply, this means that the Tzitzis prevents the individual from following the blandishments of his heart and eyes. If this would be the case, the sequence of the following pasuk - L'maan tizkeru - "So that you remember" - does not fit. Why would the Torah reiterate that Tzitzis causes one to remember the mitzvos? Thus, the Rosh Yeshivah explains, the Torah is teaching us specifically that if one does not explore following his heart and eyes, he will succeed in remembering the mitzvos. The individual for whom the reminder of Tzitzis does not work is the one whose heart and eyes are in the wrong place. Once one strays, the reminder is no longer effective.
in loving memory of their Father and Zaide
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