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P'Ki Savo - Developing Sensitivity

09/07/2017 08:53:03 PM


Rabbi Shamir Buzzini

    Parashas Ki Savo begins with the Mitzvah of Bikkurim.  The Torah teaches us that when one brings the first fruits of his land to the Beis HaMikdash, he makes an oral declaration before all in the Temple courtyard.  The statement opens with remembering “Arami Oveid Avi,” which the ba’alei Hagadah explained to mean that Lavan, Yaakov Avinu’s father-in-law, wanted to attempt to uproot his son-in-law and progeny from the world.   Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai (Sotah 32b) stated that the inclusion of these words demonstrates the principle that one should make known his pain to the multitudes.  In this way, they will hear your pain and request from Hashem that He should have compassion on you that such should not happen to you again (see Maharsha).  The Rosh Yeshiva, zetzal, of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim pointed out that the words of the Gemara imply that the one bringing the first fruits must have personal pain over Yaakov Avinu’s experience; otherwise, his making it known to others would not elicit the desired sense of pity from them.  This is perplexing.  Where are these feelings of pain coming from over an event that occurred millennia before?


    Clearly, if we are commanded to make such a declaration, we are capable of being deeply in touch with our roots and having the awareness and sensitivity that we are ultimately an extension of our ancestors.  Furthermore, the experiences of our forefathers touch each of us in our own unique way, and their travails can draw forth from every Jew his own personal agony over them.  If it were merely a communal sense of pain and trauma, then expressing such in a communal setting in an individualist way would seem unjustified and wouldn’t elicit the community to ask of Hashem on his behalf.


    Due to the extent to which we, in our essence, are so inextricably linked to the experiences of our forefathers, it should be heart-wrenching to come to grips with the awesome tragedies that have befallen us.  If the bringer of first fruits agonizes over the fact that an Arami merely wanted to wipe out all of us, then the depth and intensity of his suffering over an attempt that actually met with a degree of success would be unreal.  This clearly begs the question; how do we go forward as healthy human beings in the context of such awesome pain?  Do we desensitize ourselves to that very nature that is demanded of us from Hashem in his Torah, or are we forced into trauma from which there is no escape?


    I believe that the true answer to this question lies in last week’s Haftarah.  “Berega katon azavtich uverachamim gedolim akab’tzeich.  Beshetzef ketzef histarti Ponai rega mimeich uvechesed olam richamtich amar go’aleich Hashem.”  “For a short moment I abandoned you, and in great compassion I will gather you in.  With a slight wrath I have hidden My face momentarily from you, and with eternal kindness I have expressed compassion to you, said your redeemer Hashem.”  It is not for us to ignore our plight but rather to realize that in the context of the eternity of our relationship with Hashem, it spans only a short moment.  Words cannot describe what this means; rather, it must be left to the vast heart of every Jew to embrace that reality and determine how it affects every aspect of his existence.

P' Shoftim - The Prerequisite of War

08/24/2017 09:55:52 PM


Rabbi Todd Sullivan

In Parshas Shoftim (Devarim 20:1-8), the Torah addresses the fear we have when we go into battle. The Torah instructs us that first the Cohen comes and says to the troops, “Hear O Israel! Today you approach battle with your enemies. Do not lose courage. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them. It is Hashem your God who goes with you to fight against your enemy in order to save you from them.” On “Hear O Israel!”, Rashi quotes the Gemara in Sotah 42a that Hashem says, “Even if the only merit you have is the merit of saying Kriyas Sh’ma, it is appropriate for Me to save you.”


After the Cohen’s address, the officers appointed address the troops and give categories of people who are exempt, such as the man who betrothed a wife or a man who planted an orchard. They then conclude with a blanket exemption to “whoever is fearful and weak of heart, let him go back home so that he doesn’t weaken the courage of his comrades.” R’ Yosi HaGalili explains in Sotah 44a that this is to exempt from war all of those who have done aveiros, even minor ones, who are afraid that because of their aveiros they will die in the war.


Given the above Gemara, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the Cohen to tell the troops to repent just before they risk their lives? In fact, the Rambam in hilchos Taaniyos says that whenever we see troubles, we have to cry out to Hashem, and in fact, if we don’t cry out to Hashem, then Hashem increases the troubles that we see. Here we have a situation where the army is gathered for war, and yet the Cohen seemingly doesn’t tell the people to cry out. What is it specifically about Kriyas Sh’ma that Hashem decides that in this merit the Jews will be saved from their enemies?


As part of Kriyas Sh’ma, we state the requirement to serve Hashem with all our heart and with all our soul. Chazal say that b’chol nafsh’chem - with all our souls - means even if HaKadosh Baruch Hu requires us to give our lives in his service. We also know that when we say the first two pesukim of Kriyas Sh’ma, we are supposed to accept God’s malchus upon ourselves.


This is what is special about Kriyas Sh’ma and why the Cohen addresses the people in this manner. Those who accept the yoke of heaven with a whole heart will immediately be returned to Hashem in t’shuva; for through accepting God’s kingship, any aveiros that they have are determined to be fleeting and are forgiven. However, those among the nation who cannot or do not accept God’s kingship over man completely are unable to be forgiven and thus must leave the army, especially since they are not willing to risk their lives in God’s service.


In a few short weeks, the Yomim Noraim will be upon us. At the end of Yom Kippur, we will collectively say, “Sh’ma Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!” In light of the above, I hope we can all recognize how important this statement is, accept the ol malchus shamayim and through that return to HaKadosh Baruch Hu in complete t’shuva.


P' Matos-mas'ei - Divisions and Unity

07/23/2017 01:08:02 PM


Rabbi Daniel Gutlove

In last week’s parsha, the daughters of Tzlaphchad asked for the right to inherit the portion of Eretz Yisroel of their father. Moshe Rabbeinu brought their claim to Hashem and He granted their request. In the end of this week’s parsha, the leaders of the tribe of Menashe come forth with their own concern. If Tzlaphchad’s daughters were to marry someone from another tribe, the land that they inherited would pass from the tribe of Menashe to the other tribe. Again, Moshe brings the claim to Hashem and He agrees to the request. Any daughters who are to inherit their father, because they have no brothers, must marry within their own tribe. And indeed, the daughters of Tzlaphchad married their cousins, keeping the tribal lands intact.

While it seems from the pesukim that the claim of the leaders of Menashe is correct and that it would be a good thing to enforce the requirement that inheriting daughters must marry within their tribe, the Gemara gives the opposite indication. In Taanis, after listing the 5 calamities that befell Klal Yisroel on Tisha b’Av, it lists 6 causes for celebration that make Tu b’Av one of the happiest days of the year. One of these 6 reasons is that it was on Tu b’Av that it was decided that the intent of the above command was to apply only to the generation of those who were entering the land. All future generations of inheriting daughters would be allowed to marry into a different tribe, even though it would cause the land to pass from tribe to tribe. However, if the claim of the leaders of Menashe was correct and it would be a terrible loss to the tribe to lose the land, why should it apply for only that generation? And why would its revocation be such a tremendous simcha worthy of making Tu b’Av into one of the 2 happiest days of the year?

The Gemara in Bava Basra makes this whole incident even more perplexing. The Gemara states that this rule that women must marry within their tribe applied to all inheriting daughters of that generation EXCEPT for the daughters of Tzlaphchad, who were allowed to marry whomever they wanted from any tribe. They were advised to marry someone from their own tribe, but they had the freedom not to. So, in what way was Hashem agreeing to the claim of the tribe of Menashe if the ruling had a built-in exemption for Tzlaphchad’s daughters that would have allowed the land to be passed to another tribe?

The Gemara calls these women wise and righteous. Their wisdom was shown by how and when they presented their request before Moshe Rabbeinu. Their righteousness, says the Gemara, was shown by them waiting to marry people who were appropriate for them even though all 5 of them were at least 40 years old. If a Bas Kol came out and proclaimed (so that we could hear it) who is the appropriate match for all current singles, the shidduch crisis could instantly end. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t praise individuals as being righteous for refraining from marrying for decades, waiting for such heavenly insight that might never come. So why are these women praised so for doing just that?

When Tzlaphchad’s daughters made their claim in last week’s parsha, they said that their father died of his own sin. This, too, highlighted their wisdom. If he was part of Korach’s rebellion, he would have been a rebel against the monarchy of Moshe and, as such, all of his property would have been forfeited. The Gemara asks what his sin that they were referring to was. Rabbi Akiva says that he was the Mekoshaysh Eitzim, the one who was mechalel Shabbas after the sin of the meraglim.

It seems to me that the stigma of their father being the 1st person in history to be mechalel Shabbas so publicly and wantonly prevented anyone suitable from wanting to marry them. Not until they came forth and presented their claim with respect, humility, and wisdom and received Divine praise for both their claim and the way in which they made it was that stigma removed. Now, they likely had many eligible suitors looking to marry such women of valor and profit from their additional portions of land in Eretz Yisroel. The Kli Yakar explains that one of the concerns of the tribal leaders of Menashe was that if someone from a different tribe became the owner of Tzlaphchad’s daughters’ land, it would look as though someone sold their inheritance, which would be an embarrassment to the tribe. However, this would be a concern only until Yovel would be established, as during Yovel, land that is sold returns to its original owner, while land that is inherited does not. Therefore, it would be clear how this land came into the hands of someone from a different tribe, and there would not be any shame to the tribe. This insight of the Kli Yakar explains why the ruling for an inheriting daughter to not be able to marry someone from a different tribe was only for that generation. It also explains why the tribal leaders of Menashe mentioned Yovel at all in their claim.

Their claim was valid. Indeed, Hashem agreed to their claim. The mitzvah was given for that generation that all other inheriting daughters would have to marry within their tribes, so as not to cause their land to transfer to a different tribe and cause embarrassment to their families. But not for the tribe of Menashe. They were complacent in allowing these girls, their nieces and cousins, to remain single for decades. They were not concerned then for the embarrassment of these daughters, and therefore no restrictions would be placed on these women now, even to protect the tribe’s honor.

Despite their freedom to marry whomever they wanted, the daughters of Tzlaphchad married within their tribe. Says the Seforno, we can see from the words of the pasuk, “Like Hashem commanded Moshe is how the daughters of Tzlaphchad acted”, that their sole motivation for marrying whom they did was to fulfill Hashem’s will. Even though they were not bound by this mitzvah, they recognized that it was the Ratzon Hashem and married their cousins. In fulfilling the Ratzon Hashem and putting aside any personal feelings of hurt or resentment towards their relatives, who should have helped them get married but instead left them alone and abandoned, the daughters of Tzlaphchad exhibited true righteousness.

While recounting the journeys of Klal Yisroel since leaving Mitzrayim, the pasuk repeats the details of Aharon hacohen’s petirah. Atypically, the date of his petirah, rosh chodesh Av, is mentioned explicitly in the pasuk. Clearly, it is not a coincidence that the man who personified the character trait of ohayv shalom v’rodayf shalom, loving peace and chasing peace, was removed from this world on the date that begins the intense mourning period over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, which was taken away as a result of sinas chinam, our lack of love and harmony with each other. This connection is not made in parshas Chukas, at the time of Aharon’s petirah, but rather it is mentioned here in parshas Mas’ei, which is always read within a few days of rosh chodesh Av, giving us a timely reminder of the cause of our continued galus.

The gemara lists 5 causes for mourning on Tisha b’Av and 6 causes for celebration on Tu b’Av. I believe that they correlate to each other. The 2 joyous occasions of the allowing of tribal intermarriage with inheriting daughters and the allowing of the other tribes to give their daughters to the remnants of Binyomin after the incident of the pilegesh b’Givah correspond to the destruction of the 2nd Beis Hamikdash. These 2 restrictions on tribal intermarriage would have resulted in artificial divisions between the tribes, a decrease of kinship, and a potential increase in sinas chinam, which ultimately is what destroyed the 2nd Beis Hamikdash. Even if this ban on marrying into a different tribe was necessary to protect the tribe’s honor, the abolishment of these separations, which could lead to sinas chinam, truly is a cause for great celebration. May we be zoche to see the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt bimhayra biyamaynu.

P' Pinchas - The Rhythm of Life

07/20/2017 10:36:47 PM


Rabbi Joshua Meisner

Parshas Pinchas begins with a command to wage war against Midyan.  Hashem then notifies Moshe that this will be his last war, Moshe replies that Hashem needs to appoint a successor, and Hashem names Yehoshua as the next leader.  Directly following are passages describing the laws of the mussafim, which interrupt the narrative prior to the fighting of the anticipated war.

To explain this flow, Rashi cites a midrash that provides a parable to a dying princess who entreats her husband to take care of her children.  He responds, “Before you instruct me regarding your children, command your children regarding me that they not rebel against me.”  So, too, when Moshe requested that Hashem look after Klal Yisroel by appointing a leader, Hashem responded that Moshe must command Klal Yisroel to cultivate their relationship with Him by offering korbanos.  However, how this is to be achieved by the korbanos requires elucidation. 

The passages of the korbanos are themselves strange; we would have expected to find for each chag a set of korbanos that reflect its special nature.  However, while such may be observed in Sefer Vayikra, this appears to not be the case in the current parsha.  On Rosh Chodesh, the mussaf offering is 2 bulls, 1 ram, and 7 lambs.  On each day of Pesach, the offering is 2 bulls, 1 ram, and 7 lambs.  On Shavu’os, the mussaf is 2 bulls, 1 ram, and 7 lambs.  And on Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, and Shmini Atzeres, the mussafim consist of 1 bull, 1 ram, and 7 lambs.  Why do all of the chagim have such similar korbanos?

               There is a well-known halacha that we do not say tachanun on Tish’a B’Av because it is a “mo’ed”.  R’ Yeruchem Levovitz, quoted in Alei Shur, explains that just as there are mo’adim of closeness, such as the regalim, so, too, are there mo’adim of distance, such as the four fasts.  A mo’ed is merely an opportunity to meet with Hashem, and the nature of the day determines the character of this meeting.

               The role that Moshe envisioned for the leader to succeed him was “to walk in front of them and to enter in front of them; to take them out and to bring them in”.  This leader is intended to provide structure to the nation, to tell them what to do and when.  In the midbar, the people’s lives were completely plotted out for them.  Moshe recognized, though, that upon their entrance to the land, the nation would need a new structure due to the greater scope of their existence.  Hashem added to this that the people themselves needed to take an active role in the administration of this structure through these korbanos.

               Life brings a wide variety of situations, but the korbanos provide a calming regularity.  Every day, come what may, the kohanim offer one lamb in the morning and one lamb in the afternoon, one lamb in the morning and one lamb in the afternoon.  Every Shabbos, this pattern is built upon by the weekly rhythm of two lambs, two lambs, two lambs. And as the Jews traversed the year, they were greeted by a beat of 2-1-7, 2-1-7, 2-1-7.  The mussafim thus provide structure to the life of Klal Yisroel.  Each day has its own character, but they all share the obligation of introspection and the determination of where a person stands in his relationship to Hashem.  Only once this metronome is set in place can the Jews move on to their new existence in Eretz Yisroel.

P' Balak - A Strong Sense of Self

07/08/2017 11:07:38 PM


Rabbi Shamir Buzzini

“And Bilaam raised up his eyes and he saw Yisroel dwelling according to its tribes, and there was upon him the spirit of Elokim… How good are your tents, Yaakov; your dwellings, Yisroel.”  Bilaam’s blessing encompasses more than would seem to be categorically included in that which he visually discerned of Yisroel’s dwelling according to its tribes (note: tribe does not have any primitive connotations; the term “tribe”, as far as I understand, represents a macro family unit of a magnitude that we can hardly fathom today.  It does not merely mean kinship, as all the tribes had kinship to one another).  Rashi writes, “He saw each tribe dwelling on its own and they were not intermingled; he saw that their doors were not facing one another such that [one tent] would not be able to peer into another.”  Although Rashi says that he saw two things, the fact that Rashi doesn’t say “and he saw...” implies that it was one common trait expressed in two facets (this would also seem to be implied by the posuk itself in expressing them as one).  What is that common trait, and what about it so inspired Bilaam not to curse the Bnei Yisroel but rather to bless them with a prophetic blessing?

            It would appear that the common characteristic displayed is a sense of self.  A proper sense of self is expressed in one’s knowing from where he came and to which family he belongs.  His forefathers are a part of who he is, and the tribe that his family has maintained cohesive familial relations with are his extended brothers, sisters, uncles, etc.  A sense of self is also manifested in the establishing of boundaries between people with regard to that which is private and public.  Bnei Yisroel were individuals who were part of broader wholes, whether it be their immediate families, tribes or the complete people.  Their distinguished interconnectivity was an expression of self, not a loss of individuality.  Their sensitivity to privacy was a recognition of the existence of others and the appropriateness of maintaining boundaries and not the distancing of others for the sake of being on one’s own.  Such health being exhibited by an entire people of around 3 million members could not help but touch the heart of Bilaam.  A man who represented the epitome of “hatred making crooked one’s appropriate mode of conduct”, who was in the midst of engaging in one of his “trademark” evil traits of “evil eye” and was literally hell-bent to curse the Bnei Yisroel against Hashem’s will, was still taken aback and awestruck by their uniqueness.  Despite his being one of the two wisest gentile men of all time, he was caught off-guard and lost himself to the point that it came forth from his mouth that “[they are] fitting that the Divine presence should rest on them”.

May Hashem bless us with the courage and strength to find our essential selves during these trying times of emptiness and help us live from a place within that befits such a blessing.

P' Chukas – Dying to Live

07/03/2017 09:58:45 PM


Rabbi Yehoshua Farkas

R’ Shimon Ben Lakish declared that divrei Torah can only be found in one who kills himself over them. Where do we know this from? From Parshas Chukas, where it says “This is the Torah: when a man dies in a tent…” Why does the passuk say that this is the Torah (Zos haTorah)? It should say that this is the decree of the Torah (Zos chukas haTorah), like it said earlier in the parsha! From here, the gemara explains that Torah is only found among those who “kill themselves” over it in the tents of Torah.


What does “killing oneself” for divrei Torah entail?


Around five years ago, Rav Belsky ZT”L explained this using a mashal at the KAJ shul in Washington Heights, where he was spending Shabbos. A man owned a store that occupied most of his time and energy. He rarely, if ever, went to the beis medrash or even opened a sefer. One day, he heard a shmues about the importance of carving out time to learn, since learning is the foundation of avodas Hashem and Jewish life. He was moved and committed to fulfill this important mitzva. The next day, he asked his wife to manage the store for an hour in the morning, as he had important business to attend to. She readily agreed. However, when this continued day after day, she became suspicious. One day, she followed him surreptitiously to discover his whereabouts during this mysterious hour, and she caught him exiting the beis medrash.


“It’s one thing for me to manage the store for a day or two,” she exclaimed, “but I can’t do this every day!”


“Let me ask you something,” he replied. “If tomorrow I died, what would you do?”


“I’d be very sad, you’re my husband,” she answered sincerely.


“Now, imagine an hour later, Eliahu haNavi came and performed techias hameisim, the revival of the dead, just for me, what would your reaction be?”


“I’d be amazed at the great miracle that had occurred.”


“You should know, then, that when I go to learn, I am dead to the world, and when I am done, I experience techias hameisim!”


What does it mean to kill oneself over divrei Torah? It means to sanctify a time for limud haTorah and determine that, come what may, nothing will prevent me from fulfilling my duty. During that time, there is no job, no politics, no lawsuits, and no family challenges – only the blatt gemara in front of me. In other words, killing oneself over Torah means total separation from all worldly concerns and responsibilities. And this, says Reish Lakish, is the only way to do it!


The Rosh Yeshiva, in one of his last talks of the zman, emphasized the importance of having kevius in one’s learning. It is more valuable to have a time that is kavu’a than a greater amount of time spent learning but done haphazardly. Although total separation from worldly matters is a tall order, it need not be for hours and hours. Even twenty or thirty minutes of such learning is of immense value.


As we approach the summer, it is important to commit ourselves not only to learn and grow but also to carve out specific times sanctified for limud haTorah.

Parshas Korach – Understanding One’s Place

07/03/2017 09:55:05 PM


Rabbi Joshua Forgy

The basic message of Parshas Korach doesn’t need much explanation. Somebody starts up with Daas Torah; he and his family are immediately killed. Pretty straightforward. Still, like everything in Torah, there is depth beneath the surface.


The Arizal is cited as noting that קרח is sofei teivos (end-letter acrostic) of צדיק כתמר יפרח -- the righteous will bloom like a palm tree. What is Korach’s connection to righteousness? I would like to suggest an explanation for this allusion.


After Korach expresses his complaints against Moshe and Aharon, Moshe proposes a test: Aharon, Korach, and Korach’s 250 followers will all offer ketores to Hashem. One will be chosen; the rest will perish. Korach and his followers apparently agree to participate.


Is there a reason that ketores in particular was used for this test?


Most of the ingredients of ketores are, as one would expect, fragrant. One, however, stands out. Chazal tell us that chelbonah actually smells foul; only when mixed with the other ten ingredients is it pleasant. The Gemara (Kerisus 6b) derives a surprising hashkafah from this paradox: A public fast day which lacks the participation of Israel’s sinners is invalid. Just as chelbonah has a place in the ketores, so do sinners have a place in the nation’s suffering and introspection.


There’s more. Rashi notes that a “potion of death” is incorporated in the ketores. This is obviously allegorical; “potion of death” is a metaphor for some mystical connection to harsh judgement. This is evidenced clearly in two episodes: Nadav and Avihu were burned to death when they brought ketores into the Kodesh HaKodashim, and Korach’s assembly were burned to death after their ketores was rejected.


Yet, ketores is not all bad. After Korach and his assembly are dispatched, B’nei Yisrael accuse Moshe and Aharon of causing their deaths, and Hashem punishes them with an immediate plague. The plague is stopped once Moshe tells Aharon to go out amongst the people and burn ketores. Who told Moshe that ketores stops death? The Angel of Death.


The symbolism here is striking. Ketores incorporates chelbonah, and the very “potion of death” is mixed in. Yet, it smells beautiful, and it stops death. The secret of life lies in the potion of death – and this was revealed by none other than the Angel of Death.


More abstractly, this duality is rooted in a fundamental principle of Jewish thought. Ramchal (Daas Tevunos, siman 124) explains that "evil" can be viewed in two equally valid ways. In and of itself, it is truly, utterly, irredeemably evil. Yet, when considered in the light of Hashem's overall plan – which necessitates the existence of evil as an obstacle to enable free choice – it, too, is good. It is critical to understand that both of these perspectives are absolutely true. If we are drawn after evil, then it is truly evil; if we see it as a servant of Hashem whose sole purpose is to be avoided, then it is truly good. In the context of the grand cosmic scheme, it is good; out of context, it is bad.

Context is key.


The nature of ketores is symbolic of Korach’s mistake. Korach covets a leadership position. He wants to be front-and-center like Aharon. But this is not his place. Chelbonah can smell beautiful – but only if its identity is lost amidst a greater mixture. The potion of death can save lives – but only if it is used correctly. Korach, too, can contribute to Kedushah, but only if he realizes that his contribution is different from that of Moshe and Aharon.


קרח has a place in צדיק כתמר יפרח. His place is in the back.

Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784