130727 – Parshat Ekev

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

SiddurReb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT EKEV

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12-11:25

Haftarah – Isaiah 49:14-51:3

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We have been selected against our will to be players in the game of life. Right from the very beginning, the “conspiracy” began. The first humans, created in the idyllic Garden of Eden, were expelled because they exercised their powers of free choice improperly. Life after the Garden entailed making choices for right or for wrong.

In the ten generations from Adam to No’ach (Noah), mankind generally chose improperly and a new world was formed. After that time, all of mankind was required to live by a set of seven laws, the “Seven No’achide Mitzvot [Commandments]” that became and still is the basis for all human behaviour: 1. Belief in G-d, 2. Do not murder, 3. Do not steal, 4. Do not commit adultery, 5. Do not blaspheme, 6. Setup a court system, 7. You must kill mammals before eating them.

In the ten generations from No’ach to Avraham (Abraham) again, the world chose improperly. The former single world-wide nation became splintered into seventy different nations and languages and dispersed around the planet. Avraham and his future offspring were “chosen” to be the examples of how to choose correctly.

After receiving the Ten Utterances (Commandments), the Torah (with its 613 Mitzvot) and after spending 40 years in the desert absorbing the Torah and its many regulations and lessons, the Children of Israel thought themselves ready. But prior to Moshe’s death, just as Am Yisra’el (the Nation of Israel) was about to enter Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel), he gave four discourses of admonition to his flock, so that they might learn from mankind’s history and from their own, how to LIVE successfully in Eretz Yisra’el. And it is here, in his second discourse that Moshe makes known the essence of the Torah.

In chapter 10 verses 12 – 13, Moshe rephrases the nature of the Torah into just a few words: “And now Israel, what does HaShem your G-d demand of you? Only this: to revere HaShem your G-d, to go in His ways, and to love Him and to serve HaShem your G-d with all your heart and soul. To guard the commandments of HaShem and His statutes, which I enjoin upon you today, for your own good.”

Two very important teachings are learnt from these verses. RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 – 1105) cites the famous ChaZaL (Rabbinical teaching) from the Talmud (Berachot 33) based on these verses: “All is in the hands of Heaven – except the reverence of Heaven.”

Mankind can only serve HaShem properly if it has reverence for Him. No matter what situation one faces one must first have a sense of reverence for HaShem in order to be able to choose correctly. Without it, one may be swayed either by the temptation of the action or by the fear of punishment (which isn’t really free choice). Only a highly developed sense of reverence allows one to exercise true free will.

The second lesson, reciting 100 blessings per day, was incorporated into the Seven Mitzvot of the Rabbis (while the Rabbi’s enacted thousands of ordinances within the framework of Jewish Halachah [law], only seven had the same standing as G-d given commandments. They are:

  1. Lighting candles prior to Shabbat and holidays,
  2. Lighting candles each night of Chanukah,
  3. Reading the Scroll of Esther on Purim,
  4. Giving gifts of food and charity on Purim,
  5. The use of an ERUV [to carry on Shabbat, or to cook on a festival in preparation for Shabbat],
  6. Reciting Hallel on Holidays and New Moons,
  7. Reciting 100 blessings per day.

The Talmud (Tractate Menachot 43) records: “…every person (Jew) is obligated to recite 100 blessings per day, because it says [in the Torah] ‘And now Israel, what does HaShem your G-d demand of you?’ “RaShI comments: “when the Torah wrote “Mah” (what – does HaShem…) read instead Me’ah (100).”

In other words, instead of reading: “And now Israel, what does HaShem your G-d demand of you?”  

One should read, “And now Israel, 100 does HaShem your G-d demand of you?”

The Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter, 1847-1905, the second Gerer Rebbe and leader of Polish Jewry) commented on this Rabbinical Commandment: “Since everything that happens to mankind, stems from a blessing from HaShem, the more one is reverent [of HaShem] and fortified [by the performance of His Mitzvot], the more one can connect to His blessings” (The Crowns of the Torah, by A.I. Greenberg, page 72).

By making at least 100 blessings per day, we become aware of the many blessings that HaShem showers upon us. The more we are aware of how many blessings we receive, the more appreciative we become of all the good that comes our way.

A decade ago, my parents, Jacob and Helen Rosenzweig celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. Gathered around the Shabbat table we ate, we sang, and we related stories of the many blessings that HaShem has provided us. My father (who also just turned 93 years of age) told the story of how he approached a wealthy man in our community and asked him to sponsor an upcoming Kiddush (a post prayer light reception during which we bless HaShem and sanctify the Shabbat or Holiday). The man pointed at others eating herring and asked my father why he didn’t ask any of those people to sponsor the Kiddush.

My father told him that HaShem created two types of Jews. To one group He gave check books, so they could write as many checks as they desired and none would ever bounce. To the other group, He provided as much herring as they desired. My father told this wealthy man that if he was unhappy with the check book, he could trade it in for some herring. Put in this light, the man happily agreed to provide for as many Kiddushim as were needed.

Also a decade back my wife Kathy (A”H) had a very difficult time before and after receiving Chemotherapy during this post Shabbat Nachamu week. In a car ride home, she said to me that she was so happy that it was she who was ill and not me or any of our children. It reminded us of the story of the grandfather of the present Belzer Rebbe, who was born with a “clubbed foot”. The child’s parents made an arrangement with the parents of a young girl that their children would be wed after the girl reached Bat Mitzvah. Never having met each other, they accepted their Mazal (fate) with the assurance that their parents were looking out for their best interests.

On the day of the wedding, as guests were beginning to arrive, the bride looked out her window and was shown her groom walking down the road. When she saw that he had a deformity, she refused to marry the young man. Her parents and the parents of the groom pleaded with her to no avail. The synagogue was filling quickly and still she refused to marry this cripple. When all seemed lost, the young man asked to speak to his BASHERT (fated one). He entered the room, and a few minutes later he left informing everyone that the musicians should begin playing the processional. The future Rebbe and his Rebbetzin lived for sixty years together.

At the Shiva (seven days of mourning) after her funeral, the Rebbe was asked by one of his Chassidim (disciples) what was said in the room sixty years before. Never having spoken of the incident, the Rebbe surprised everyone when he began to explain that he had told his bride that before either of them were born, a heavenly decree proclaimed that they would be married. It also proclaimed that SHE would be born with a clubbed foot. He made an arrangement in heaven that he would suffer the clubbed foot instead of her. He told her that she didn’t have to marry him, but, she would have to take her foot. When confronted with his sacrifice, she realized that what seemed like a curse was actually a blessing.

All of these stories illustrate how reverence for HaShem allows one to appreciate the many blessings that HaShem bestows. The wealthy man who felt perturbed by the fact that he was always being asked to provide for others, did so with joy when confronted with the reality of his blessings. Similarly, my wife surprised me with her statement of her joy in accepting her illness rather than HER illness afflicting one of her loved ones.

In order to see HaShem’s many blessings we must bless Him so that we can literally, “count our Blessings.” Every time we pray, or make a blessing before or after we eat food, or see a rainbow, or witness a beautiful landscape, we become conscious of the great gifts that He bestows upon us.

HaShem doesn’t need our blessings, we do. Those, whose attitude toward life is negative, are unaware of the many blessings that surround them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

Parshi’ot Matot-Masei

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Kotel 35VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHI’OT MATOT/MASEI

BaMidbar (Numbers) 30:2‑36:13

Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4

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This week, we read two Parshi’ot, Matot and Masei which complete the Book of BaMidbar. Included in these Parshi’ot are the final laws dealing with Jewish life and the conquering and division of Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel). The Book ends with the concluding episode of the daughters of Tezlafchad.

In Parshat Shelach, the first incident of Shabbat transgression was recorded that took place in the first year after the Exodus: “The Children of Israel were in the Wilderness and they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moshe and Aharon, and to the entire assembly. They placed him in custody, for it had not been clarified what was to be done to him. HaShem said to Moshe: ‘The man should be put to death; the entire assembly shall pelt him with stones outside the camp’” (BaMidbar 15:32-35).

The Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 96b-97a) informs us that Rebbi Akiva (118-138 C.E. one of the leading Rabbis of the Mishnaic period, martyred by the Romans) held that this wood gatherer was Tzlafchad. He wanted to show the nation that the transgressions of Shabbat were truly punishable by death and therefore martyred himself to prove the point.

In Parshat Pinchas, the daughters of Tezlafchad: “…stood before Moshe, before Elazar the Priest, and before the leaders and the entire assembly at the entrance of the Ohel Mo’ed (Tent of the Meeting), saying: ‘Our father died in the Wilderness, but he was not among the gathering that rebelled against Hashem in the assembly of Korach, but he died of his own sin and he had no son. Why should the name of our father be omitted from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession [in the Land of Israel] among our father’s brothers.’ And Moshe brought their claim before HaShem” (BaMidbar 27:2-5).

The Land of Israel was divided into tribal territories and then subdivided by means of a lottery into family portions. Inheritance laws do not permit a woman to inherit land. Since the land was subdivided – L’Veit Avotam (to their ancestral home) – all tribal land must remain within the tribe. The daughters of Tzlafchad claimed that since their father did not die in Korach’s rebellion, but in the sanctification of HaShem’s Name, their “father’s house” should not suffer exclusion from the lottery.

The Sifri (Halachic Midrash to the Books of BaMidbar and Devarim [Deuteronomy]) makes an amazing statement: “The compassion of the Omnipresent is not comparable to the compassion of human beings. A human might have more compassion for males, but He Whose word brought the world into being is different. His compassion is for both male and females – His compassion is for all.”

Therefore, in verses 6 – 11, Hashem clarifies the laws of inheritance regarding a man who dies without a male heir, in favor of daughters and only then to other family members. In chapter 36 of Parshat Mas’ei, the family of Tzlafchad brought up another issue. Since the Land of Israel would be divided into tribal territories and then subdivided by means of a lottery into family portions, if female inheritors marry men from outside of their tribe, the land would eventually go to their children who would be members of their father’s tribe. This would jeopardize the whole concept of family territory remain within tribal land.

Similarly, if a person (male or female) sold land to any other person, during a Yovel (the fiftieth Jubilee year following a cycle of seven Sabbatical years) all sold land reverted back to the original owners. This way the Torah insures that land stays within the tribes and their families.

Moshe agrees with the assessment of the members of the tribe of Menasheh. He responds: “…Correctly does the tribe of the children of Joseph speak. This is the word that Hashem has commanded regarding the daughters of Tzlafchad saying: Let them be wives to whomever is good in their eyes, but only to the family of their father shall they become wives. An inheritance of the Children of Israel shall not make rounds from tribe to tribe; rather the Children of Israel shall cleave every man to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. Every daughter who inherits the inheritance of the tribes of the Children of Israel shall become the wife of someone from the family of her father’s tribe, so that everyone from the Children of Israel will inherit the inheritance of his fathers. An inheritance shall not make the rounds from a tribe to another tribe, for the tribes of the Children of Israel shall cleave, every man to his own inheritance. As Hashem commanded Moshe, so did the daughters of Tzlafchad do. Malah, Tirtzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah, the daughters of Tzlafchad, became wives to the sons of their uncles. [To cousins] from the families of the children of Menasheh, son of Yosef, did they become wives, and their inheritance remained with the tribe of the family of their father.”

The Book of BaMidbar ends with this final episode. The next Book of the Torah, Devarim (Deuteronomy), was actually written by Moshe prior to his death. In ancient times it was referred to as Mishna Torah (the Second Torah or “Deuteronomy” in Greek). In this book, Moshe informs the Children of Israel that in order to successfully live in the Land of Israel, a certain level of righteous behavior is required. But the first four books of the Torah were written by Hashem (Tractate Megillah 31b and the Ga’on from Vilna quoted in Ohel Ya’akov 1:1).

We have discussed many times the concept of the superior quality of spirituality in women. Concepts like: Biglal Nashim Tzidkani’ot Nigalu Avoteinu M’Mitzra’im (because of righteous women our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt) are taught to our children when studying Torah. Our Parsha completes the Torah that came from the Word of G-d with this example of selfless righteousness on the part of our women. These five special women are recorded by name in our Torah for all future generations to derive inspiration from.

Often, women feel that their right to equal status is negated by the Torah and by Judaism. These three episodes are but one of many examples that this is not the case. It is true that women cannot inherit land. The rights of inheritance of land may only go to men because of the biblical injunction of L’Veit Avotam (to their ancestral home). Similarly a child born of a Jewish father of the finest pedigree is not considered Jewish if the mother is not born Jewish or converts properly. There is a trade off that insures equanimity between the sexes. What is important to us is that when Hashem completes His document – the covenant between Himself and the Jewish people, He leaves us with this example of how righteousness must be viewed by both men and women.

As the prophet Micah so aptly put it in the Haftorah just a few weeks ago: “He has told you O’ humans, what is good and what Hashem seeks from you: only to do what is just, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your G-d” (Micah 6:8).

CHAZAK, CHAZAK, V’NITCHAZEIK

STRONG! BE STRONG! AND MAY WE BE STRENGTHENED!

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130515 – Shavu’ot

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

SHAVU’OT – 5773

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The Barrel Or The Flow

While the festival of Shavu’ot represents Z.man Matan Torateinu – the Period of the Giving of our Torah, our tradition teaches us that we did not accept the Toah out of passion, but rather out of an insinuation of coercion.How is it possible that the Torah be binding upon us and every previous and future generation of Jews when in fact, we were coerced into the Covenant with HaShem?

A review of the sources can help us shed light on this matter.

  • Moshe brought the people forth the nation from the camp toward HaShem, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. Shemot 19:17
  • RaShI teaches us that when the Torah says: At the bottom of the mountain,  means at the foot of the mountain.
  • But according to the Talmud, the mountain was plucked from its place and was held over them like a barrel. (Tractate Shabbat 88a).
  • The Talmud goes on to say (Tractate Shabbat 88a): At the bottom of the mountain: Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa said: This teaches us that the Holy One Blessed Be He placed the mountain over them like an inverted barrel and said to them; “If you accept the Torah – good, but if you do not [accept the Torah], then there will be your burial place.

We must therefore reexamine the verse. For the words seem to be out of order. Instead of: “Moshe brought the people forth the nation from the camp toward HaShem,” the verse should have said, “Moses brought the people forth the nation from…” and only then “to meet HaShem.”

Our Sages teach that all the souls of Israel, of both past and future generations, were present at Mount Sinai and this is hinted to in our verse, as it is written:

Not with you alone do I make this covenant and this oath, but with those who stand here with us this day before HaShem our G-d and also with those who are not with us today” (Devarim 29:14; Midrash Tanchuma Yitro 11).

There is a Hebrew word in our verse that is not translated. The verse actually reads: “Moses took Et HaAm – the people to meet HaShem from the camp.” The word “Et” can be an untranslatable word that assists the grammar; hence our translation omitted it. Or, “Et” can mean “with.” “Moses took with the people” – together with the B’nei Yisra’el of his generation, Moses took others to Mount Sinai.

These others were the souls of other generations, which were visible only by HaShem. Our verse thus says: “Moses took with the people [the souls visible only] to HaShem from the camp” (Ben Ish Chai, Derushim Parshat Yitro).

The Oral Law

They stood in the bottom of the mountain” (Shemot 19:17). HaShem turned the mountain over Israel like a barrel and said: If you accept the Torah, fine. If not, there will be burial place (Tractate Shabbat[1] 88a).

Why did HaShem have to coerce the Israelites to accept the Torah? They had already accepted the Torah by saying, “Na’aseh V’niShmah – We shall do and we shall hear” (Exodus 24:7)! What was the point of holding the mountain, over the Jews and what was the point of hollowing out the mountain like a barrel? It would have been just as threatening if it were not hollow!

What the Israelites had accepted willingly was the Written Torah. They said, “We shall do and we shall hear” – we shall do as we hear and understand from the verses of the Torah. HaShem had to coerce them to accept the Oral Law. He hollowed out the mountain like a barrel to teach them that each letter of the Written Torah contains innumerable Halachot expounded in the Oral Law, just as a barrel contains innumerable drops of wine. Their acceptance of the Written Torah would therefore have to include acceptance of the Oral Law (Ben Ish Chai, Sefer Ben Yehoyada).

However there is an even more profound understanding of the mountain/barrel. Consider that the barrel were a glass case. HaShem could have been appealing to the Children of Israel not to let the moment be wasted. He was telling the B’nei Yisra’el that they had an opportunity to become an eternal nation that would continue to live generation after generation not in memory but in reality. Many nations can still be viewed, studied and appreciated by going to museums and gazing at their handiwork. Ancient books can be discovered, reprinted and studied and an appreciation of the teachings and wisdom can be attained. But all that is but a look at the archeological showcase of history.

Israel had an opportunity to make history by becoming an eternal nation that would adapt, modify and amend itself to the winds of change and modernity without losing the spark of revelation that challenged them at the “bottom of the mountain.” Yes, without the Na’aseh V’niShmah, without both the Written and Oral Torah, Israel would eventually become a force that would lose its light.

Classes in ancient religions would ponder on the affect that Israel had on the region for just a few centuries, but stagnation and entropy set in and petrified the once vital force of Judaism. Or, a guarantee of eternal strength would emanate from the “bottom of the mountain,” and the ability of light, inspiration and enlightenment would come from this small nation of freed slaves. Is this coercion or is this the only real choice that Israel could make.

How are we to achieve this power? We know that the – Mitzvot of the Torah are divided into two different groups. Mitzvot Bain Adam LaMakom – commandments between Man and G-d, and Mitzvot Bain Adam L’Chaveiro – commandments between Man and Community. Israel tends to oscillate between these two extremes. Some Jewish groups emphasize the rituals of Judaism and minimize the social context of Mitzvot, while other groups emphasize the social and minimize the ritualistic. We therefore must examine that which HaShem expects of us. “And now O Israel, what does the L-rd, your G-d, demand of you? Only to fear HaShem, your G-d, to walk in all His ways and to love Him and to worship the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul” (Devarim 10:12).

A song of David: O L-rd, who will sojourn in Your tent, who will dwell upon Your holy mount? He who walks uprightly and works righteousness and speaks truth in his heart.

Who does not slander with his tongue, who does his neighbor no harm, neither does he take up reproach upon his kinsman. A corrupt person is despised in his eyes, and he honors those that are G-d-fearing, he swears even to [his own] harm and does not withdraw his words. He does not lend his money with interest, nor does he accept a bribe against the innocent, whoever does these things shall never falter” (Psalms 15:1-5).

“He has told you O man: what is good, and what does the L-rd demands of you, but: to do justice, and loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your G-d “ (Micah 6:8).

All of the above references emphasize the Mitzvot Bain Adam L’Chaveiro – commandments between Man and Community. Does that mean that the Mitzvot Bain Adam LaMakom – commandments between Man and G-d are secondary or even unnecessary?

Notice that each of the above-mentioned definitions of righteous behavior alludes to Halacha: to walk in all His ways; who walks uprightly, to walk discreetly with your G-d.

Lech – to walk, or to go – shares the same root as Halacha – Jewish law. This is the manner in which we must focus our spiritual attention. The combination of Written and Oral Law brings meaning and rationale to the myriad of obligations we have taken upon ourselves. The blending of the positive and the negative Mitzvot represent the affection and love we must cultivate in ourselves to experience the proper relationship that we must establish with our Creator. And it is the melding of our Mitzvot Bain Adam LaMakom – commandments between Man and G-d, and Mitzvot Bain Adam L’Chaveiro – commandments between Man and Community, which brings out the very best in us. The rituals teach us to look deeper and deeper into the meaning of our conformity to the Covenant and the human displays of kindness become our manifestation of a living, binding Covenant.

Yes, if we as a nation did not accept all aspects of Torah then the mountain would have crushed us and we would have disappeared from the annals of living history. To choose Halacha – the Way – is to choose His Way, and just as His Way is eternal, so too, do we become the manifestation of His eternity.

As you celebrate and observe this special festival, stand at the bottom of the mountain and purposefully join the many links of those who chose His Way, enabling you to connect your past to your future.

Chag Samei’ach,

Reb Yosil


[1] Talmudic tractate in the Order of Mo’ed – dealing with the laws of the Sabbath.

130209 – Parshat Mishpatim – Shabbat Shekalim

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“VORTIFY YOURSELF”

foodReb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT MISHPATIM/SHEKALIM

Shemot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18

Maftir Shemot 30:11-16

Haftarah – II Kings 11:17 – 12:17

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This Shabbat is special because it is the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Adar (Sunday and Monday) and it is also called Shabbat Shekalim. On Shabbat Shekalim we recall that while the Temple stood a census was taken of all men 20 years old and over; each man was required to donate a half Shekel of silver (Shemot [Exodus] 30:11-16), and the money collected was used for the upkeep of the Temple and for the various communal offerings. Every year, on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Adar we remind ourselves of our Galut (exile) by reading a special Maftir (the last Aliyah) and a special Haftorah.

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And they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand; and they beheld HaShem, and did eat and drink” (Exodus 24:10-11).

Picture the scene. The Torah has just been given; the sin of the Golden Calf has not yet been recorded. Moses, Aaron and his children, and the seventy elders of Israel, are invited up the holy mountain. There they experience a vision of the Divine Glory. We can only dimly imagine it; what does it mean to see HaShem? And what is their reaction: do they fall on their faces? Utter hymns of praise? Merge with the cosmic consciousness? No: they have lunch – they chapped-a-nosh. Already back then, we find the penchant and pre-occupation that Jews have for food.

The incongruity of the text did not escape the classical commentators. RaShI (acronym for RShlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105), considered the commentator par excellence. RaShI’s commentary on the Torah as well as his commentary on the Talmud is considered absolutely basic to the understanding of the text to this very day), citing the Targum Unkelus (The most authoritative, predominantly literal Aramaic translation of the Torah, based on the teachings of the great Tana’im Rabbi Yehoshu’a and Rabbi Eliezer, and ascribed to the proselyte Unkelus (second century C.E.), attempts to apologize for the apparently sacrilegious behavior: “Do you think that they ate food? No, they `feasted their eyes’ on the presence of HaShem.”

The eating and drinking, the Targum suggests, is a metaphor for the joy the participants felt upon beholding HaShem. In a more modern vein, Professor Nachum Sarna suggests that the ritual of covenant–making was typically followed by a ceremonial meal. The covenants between Isaac and Avimelech and between Jacob and Lavan are also followed by eating and drinking (Genesis 26:30 & 31:54).

But, I think, we need not be embarrassed by Moses and his party. We are being taught that there is a relationship between food and theology that is far more profound than the gastronomic Judaism of later generations.

What is the source of energy for the world? The source of energy for all things is HaShem, of course. But, the Almighty generally works through the food chain: big fish eat little fish. Through the combined miracles of photo–synthesis, cell reproduction, human biology and good kosher restaurants, we are sustained each day: “You open Your hand and satisfy all that lives” (Psalms 145:16).

One medieval commentator suggests that when Moses, Aaron, Nadav, Avihu and the seventy elders ascended the holy mountain, they were at such a lofty spiritual height that they bypassed the normal channels; they were physically sustained directly from HaShem.

At that moment they perceived HaShem not only with their intellects and emotions, but with their internal organs as well: “Taste and experience how good is the Lord!” (Psalms 34:9). The normal boundary between the spiritual and the physical was shown to be flawed; theology and cuisine were intertwined. To be human was understood in its fullest meaning; seeing HaShem, they understood that humans are created in HaShem’s image, and the sacred feast is a perfectly appropriate religious response to holiness.

It is in this spirit that we can understand the celebratory side of Yom Kippur. On that day, we remind ourselves that eating is not just a physical requirement, but, a way to experience HaShem’s bounty. Hunger, fulfillment, want and plenty; these are all windows through which we can glimpse His Glory. By transcending biology for twenty–five hours, we, too, bypass the food chain and gain our physical nourishment directly from HaShem. This is an occasion for celebration. But the fasting of atonement is just half of the ritual of the day; the eve of the Day of Atonement, is, according to tradition, to be spent in feasting!

I knew a woman who certainly intuited this intertwining of the spiritual and the physical when she prepared her recipes; all of her written instructions used the standard Yahrtzeit (death memorial candle) glass as the accepted unit of measure: one Yahrtzeit glass of flour, a half Yahrtzeit glass of sugar.

To be sure, this synergy of body and soul, food and Frumkeit (religiosity), is not an excessively subtle point. It’s just that when it occurs to us, we usually dismiss it as unauthentic. And, of course, there is that annoying ascetic religious tradition that denies the holiness of the body and sees self–denials as the only path to HaShem. Thankfully, the Sabbaths and festivals of the calendar weaken such moroseness.

HaShem is the author of human biology, and we can experience HaShem’s presence through our most basic needs and sensations. The procurement, preparation, serving and enjoyment of food have always been opportunities for a religious encounter. “One’s table resembles an altar, our meals a sacrifice.” Our need for food becomes our need for HaShem.

My mother (A”H) told of her grandfather, a Vishnitzer (sect of Chassidim) Chassid, who hosted Se’udat Shlishit (the third and last meal of Shabbat), in his home. She remembered the delicious food and the wonderful singing. In fact, she remembered the gypsy neighbors assembling at the windows to listen to the singing of the last of the Shabbat songs and melodies. To hear the pride in her voice when she recalled the ancient tradition that instructs the family of a deceased pious individual to fashion his/her coffin out of the dining room table used to feed the poor. What better possession to accompany us to the True World than the instrument of hospitality to strangers, of sweet Shabbat melodies, of the celebration of our holy seasons, the very place and platform upon which words of Torah and blessings were offered over tea and cake?

Moses perceived that standing in the presence of HaShem was a celebration and called for a feast. The reverse is also true: mealtime is an opportunity to stand before HaShem. We acknowledge HaShem’s presence in our lives by praising HaShem daily in all that we do, including eating and drinking. And that may be the connection between the seemingly dry legal code that forms the bulk of this Torah reading and its dramatic conclusion. Maybe it is precisely by incorporating the dry injunctions of Mishpatim that we, too, can behold HaShem. It is the fusion of law and lore, knowledge and nosh, learning and leisure that provides for the meat of our survival.

May our tables forever be our altars and may our offerings bring us the nourishment of both body and soul.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

130202 – Parshat Yitro

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Rosenzweig Family 2091Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT YITRO

Shemot (Exodus) 18:1-20:23

Haftarah – Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5-6

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Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened on the land that HaShem, your G-d gives you” (Shemot 20:12).

The fifth of the Aseret HaDibrot (Ten Commandments) completes the commandments of the first of the two tablets. This Mitzvah (commandment), to show honor to one’s parents, is also the bridge between the two tablets.  The first tablet contains Mitzvot Bain Adam LaMakom (commandments between mankind and HaShem) while the second tablet contains Mitzvot Bain Adam L’Chaveiro (commandments between mankind and his/her fellow).  This poses a difficulty, for most of us would classify honoring one’s parents as a Mitzvah Bain Adam L’Chaveiro.

To best comprehend this Mitzvah one must understand that there are three partners in the formation of a child: a man, a woman, and also HaShem.  Therefore, one cannot give proper honor to HaShem without being able to give honor to one’s parents.  Without this Mitzvah, the first four and the last five cannot be properly observed.

The commandment is slightly different when it appears in Parshat Kedoshim (VaYikra [Leviticus] 19:3). “Every person: Your mother and father shall you FEAR and observe My Sabbaths…

Here, the Torah teaches us a very profound lesson – that we should treat our parents equally.  We all feel that parents should treat children equally.   Favoritism shown by a parent can lead to serious problems between parent and child.  Likewise, children are obligated to treat their parents equally.

Often children give their mothers greater honor than their fathers and, likewise, they fear their fathers more than their mothers.  Mothers are the nurturers who give of themselves often without regard to their personal needs or wants.  Fathers are usually the disciplinarians in the family; they command a higher level respect or more aptly, fear.  How often do mothers say to their unruly children, “wait till your father gets home?”  The Torah therefore juxtaposes their roles – honor your father and fear your mother.

Another common feature between these two Mitzvot is their connection to Shabbat.  Observing Shabbat is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, honoring one’s parents is the fifth.  And, the Mitzvah of fearing one’s parents is immediately followed with; “and observe My Sabbaths…” Another very important lesson is presented to us here, namely, that one must respect their parents – and that doesn’t mean that one must always listen to them.

If a parent demands that you transgress a commandment for them, claiming that the Torah demands you to “honor your father and mother,” then the Torah says NO! That is unacceptable.  A parent who asks his/her child to transgress one of HaShem’s commandments as a sign of respect is unfairly jeopardizing the spiritual development of their child.

The Aseret HaDibrot are repeated in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 5:6-19.  There is a slight difference in wording between the two versions.  In our Parsha the Mitzvah reads: “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened on the land that HaShem, your G-d gives you.

However, in the second version the same Mitzvah reads: “Honor your father and your mother, AS HASHEM, YOUR G-D COMMANDED YOU, so that your days will be lengthened on the land that HaShem, your G-d gives you.”

What lesson do these additional words (as HaShem, your G-d commanded you) teach us?  The Meshech Chochmah (Reb Meir Simcha of D’vinsk [Russia] 1843-1926) teaches us that we shouldn’t think that respecting one’s parents is like paying back a debt.  Most parents spend a small fortune on clothes, food, schooling, medical and dental expenses for their children.  However, the Torah doesn’t obligate respect of parents out of financial conscience.

NO!  One is obligated to honor one’s parents “as HaShem, your G-d commanded you.”  Just as this commandment was given in the desert and the normal process of child welfare had not yet occurred, so too, must we give honor to our parents with no strings attached.  Honor for the sake of honor, not as a repayment for the generous care that they provided.

There is a story in the Talmud (Tractate Kiddushin) of a certain gentile in the city of Ashkelon who had precious stones that were worthy of being used in the High Priest’s Breastplate.  A delegation of Rabbis came from Jerusalem with 600,000 shekels for the transaction.  When they arrived at the gentile’s home and requested to examine the stones, the son of the owner informed them that he couldn’t go ahead with the transaction.  His father was asleep, and the key to the safe was under the father’s pillow.

Even though a large amount of money might have been forfeited, or at least delayed, the son was not willing to disturb his father.  This is a cherished example of honoring one’s parents.

Finally, one of the main traits necessary to raise children properly is patience.  Rabbi Yissachar Frand of Baltimore says that often, especially today with extended health and life expectancy, “children must develop patience with parents.”  As they get older, they often become dependent on their children.  This can lead to strife in a family that has to care for elderly parents.  A healthy spiritual relationship between parents and children during the years when the parents are robust will assuredly be continued when parents can no longer take care of themselves.

The Torah demands this by legislating our duties not as a display of kindness, or, out of a sense of pity or duty, but as an expression of honor and reverence to parents and, therefore, also to HaShem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120721 – Parshi’ot Matot/Masei

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHI’OT MATOT/MASEI

BaMidbar (Numbers) 30:2‑36:13

Haftarah Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2

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This week’s Parshi’ot (and the last in BaMidbar), give us a detailed list of the 42 journeys that the B’nei Yisra’el made during their forty year migration from Egypt to Eretz Yisra’el (BaMidbar 33:1 – 10). There is a general misconception that the B’nei Yisra’el wandered in the desert, constantly packing and unpacking, always on the move and never staying in any one place.

RaShI points out the reason for the Torah detailing the individual journeys, he writes: “…to make known HaShem’s acts of kindness, even though He decreed against them (the B’nei Yisra’el) that they should move about and wander in the desert. You should not think that they wandered from place to place all forty years and had no rest. There are only forty two journeys mentioned. We can deduct fourteen that took place in the first year before HaShem’s decree that this generation had to die in the desert (reviewed in Parshat Shelach). Deduct another eight in the fortieth year, after the death of Aharon, and we can then understand that in the thirty eight middle years, they only made twenty stops” (RaShI to BaMidbar 33:1).

What a profound revelation! Our entire perception of the life of the B’nei Yisra’el in the desert must be reconsidered. ChaZaL (our wise men of blessed memory) teach us that the B’nei Yisra’el remained stationary for years at a time, then, when the pillar of cloud would suddenly move, they would pack up and follow it until it stopped. What did they do all those years that they remained stationary?

The obvious answer is that they were occupied with learning how to live as Jews. Prior to the revelation on Mt. Sinai, the former Hebrew slaves had certain rituals that they followed. We know that men were circumcised, that they prayed, and that they followed the seven Noachide commandments, one positive commandment and six negative commandments:

1. Establishing courts of justice;

The prohibitions…

2. The prohibition of blasphemy;

3. The prohibition of idolatry;

4. The prohibition of robbery;

5. The prohibition of murder;

6. The prohibition of adultery; and

7. The prohibition requiring one to kill an animal (mammal) prior to butchering it.

But other rituals were performed as customs, without the authority of being commandments i.e., Shabbat, Levirate marriages and Kashrut. It is no wonder that Moshe was not called Moshe HaNavi – Moshe the Prophet, but Moshe Rabbeinu – Moshe our teacher. Suddenly, with the revelation on Mt. Sinai and the obligation of 613 Mitzvot, vast amounts of time had to be spent on acquiring the knowledge to perform each and every Mitzvah properly.

One might therefore look at the stops made during the 40 years in the desert as interruptions – breaks in the months and years of intense Jewish scholarship. Yet, each move had a purpose and each location was a lesson in accumulating spiritual stamina and fortitude.

The Midrash of Rabbi Tanchuma cites a parable of a king who takes his young son to a distant country to find a cure for his ills. On the journey, a series of events take place, but the prince who is delirious with fever is unaware of their ordeals. After the prince is cured and upon their return home, the king informs the prince – here our carriage broke down, there we were attacked by highwaymen, here we rested and had refreshment, and there your head ached so very badly. Not only was the cure important, but it was also important for the prince to know the cost of the cure.

Similarly, our Parsha recounts all the stops that the B’nei Yisra’el made over the 40 years… Here we crossed the Sea of Reeds; there Moshe caused fresh water to come out of a boulder; here we were attacked by the Amalekites; there we worshiped the Golden Calf; and here we hearkened to the spies. Each location was a story and each story carried a lesson.

We are now in a period in the Jewish calendar called “the three weeks” between Shiva Assar B’Tamuz – the 17th of Tamuz – and Tisha B’Av – the 9th of Av (this year observed on Sunday, July 29). These 21 days force us to remember dark times in our history by actively mourning the destruction of our Temple through fasting and behavior modification. The 17th of Tamuz officially commemorates the siege of the outer walls of Jerusalem by both the Babylonians and the Romans; the 9th of Av commemorates the destruction of both Temples. Throughout our history, terrible tragedies occurred to the B’nei Yisra’el during these 3 weeks, i.e., the Expulsion from Spain, the crusades, pogroms and of course the Holocaust. This period begins and ends with fast days, to emphasize our loss.

Since our dispersion after the destruction of the second Temple in 70 C.E., we have wandered the face of the earth, spending a few years in this place and a few centuries in that place, but never with full security and a sense of wholeness. Regardless of how good our hosts may have been, we have never allowed ourselves to forget Israel, Jerusalem or our Temple.

Every day in our Amidah prayers we say: “V’Li’rushalayim Ircha B’Rachamim TaShuv – And to Your city of Jerusalem, return us in Your mercy. After every meal in the Birkat HaMazon (grace after meals), we recite: “U’Vnei Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh BiM’hayra B’Yamaynu – Rebuild Jerusalem the holy city, speedily and in our days.” At every wedding, the groom breaks a glass to signify that while we may be rejoicing; we are also broken, living only a partial existence, cut off from our spiritual center.

These 3 weeks remind us of where we have been, what we have endured, the price of our dispersion and the weight of our uncertain future. But like the wanderings of the B’nei Yisra’el in the desert, we look ahead and see that our destiny is tied to Eretz Yisra’el. Each period in our history, each stop that we made along the way, each event, uplifting or devastating, has added to our collective experience.

So we mourn our loss and our dislocation. In fact, it is a Mitzvah – a very difficult Mitzvah – to cry on Tisha B’Av (Talmud, Tractate Sotah 35). Like the groom under the Chupah, our lives may be filled with joy and contentment, but we are actually living only a partial existence. The loss of our Temple and all the rituals, events and influences that surrounded it leaves a great void.

There are suppressed feelings deep inside us that must be amplified and brought to the forefront of our consciousness…feelings of loss, abandonment and inadequacy can contribute to our awareness that our lives are incomplete without our Temple in Jerusalem. Mourning is the vehicle that ChaZaL have given us to deal with these feelings.

We are very lucky to live carefree lives. Most of us do not experience the threat of physical danger. Most of us can afford to live by a very high standard, and even when faced with financial troubles, abject poverty is not usually a real possibility. By relating to an imposed sense of grief we can heighten our connection to Eretz Yisra’el. By not buying new clothes, by not taking a hot shower, or by not attending a live concert, we won’t change the world but we can change our consciousness.

On one hand, the 3 weeks represent all the evil done to Am Yisra’el as a result of our dispersion among the nations. But the 3 weeks also forces us to focus on the Shivat Tziyon – on the return to Zion, a return to an intensified intimacy with our G-d, our land and our Torah.

Like the B’nei Yisra’el in the desert, we need to embrace the study of Torah, so that we will be familiar with our obligations. We must value the cycles of the Jewish year so that we can train ourselves to be open and sensitive to our spiritual needs. And we must never forget the journeys that we have taken: here we experienced a golden age; there a holocaust; here we attempted to abandon our heritage and there we were reborn. Sometimes, journey we must, but each excursion is both a diversion and a lesson in awareness. Only by comprehending our past will we ever connect to our future.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120714 – Parshat Pinchas

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT PINCHAS

BaMidbar (Numbers) 25:10-30:1

Haftorah: I Kings 18:48 – 19:21

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Moshe Rabbeinu, knowing that his death was approaching and that the forty-year period of wandering in the desert was coming to an end, felt that a new leader, who would bring the Israelites into the land of Israel, must be selected. He was in a quandary as to who this leader should be. Moshe would have been elated to see his son Gershom succeed him as leader. Maybe the new leader should be Pinchas, who showed his righteous zeal in the beginning of our Parsha, by stopping the abhorrent behavior of the Israelites? Or, could it possibly be Yehoshu’a – Joshua, Moshe’s trusted assistant?

The Torah declares in BaMidbar 27:15-17 that Moshe asked of HaShem: And Moshe spoke to HaShem saying: May HaShem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly. Who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in, do not let the assembly of HaShem be like sheep that have no shepherd.”

HaShem answered Moshe’s question in the next verse: “And HaShem said to Moshe. Take Yehoshu’a, the son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit, and ordain him [Smicha], by placing your hand upon him.”

Notice, that the common word between Moshe’s question and HaShem’s answer was the word “spirit.” Moshe’s request: “May HaShem, G-d of the spirits…” and HaShem’s answer: “Take Yehoshu’a, son of Nun, a man in who there is spirit.”

The human soul is composed of three components. The lowest is Nefesh – the basic life force, which mankind shares with all animal and vegetable life. The highest component is Neshama – the spiritual soul. Between the two is Ru’ach – the feeling spirit, which is the seat of our emotions. It is in this sensitive spirit that the individuality of every person on earth originates. Man’s emotional energy is initiated from the domain of Ru’ach and it takes on many different forms.

Some people are sensitive, others crass. Some are generous, others are tightfisted. Some seek justice, while others are opportunists. Therefore, Moshe prayed to Elokei HaRuchot – the G-d of the spirits – to appoint a man in whom there is a refined Nefesh – a sensitive spirit as leader, a man  who would be able to discern each person’s individual temperament, so that as leader he could articulate the needs of each member of society.

Notice the rest of Moshe’s request of HaShem: “…who shall go out before them, and come in before them, who shall take them out, and bring them in, do not let the assembly of HaShem be like sheep, that have no shepherd.” 27:17

A true leader must “go out before” his people and not trail behind them. He must raise them to his level and not allow himself to descend to theirs. He must “go out before them” and “come in before them,” always at the head of his people. He must guide them and not keep looking back to see what they want and then follow their wishes.

A leader who truly leads his people will elevate them to his level. He has a chance to “lead them out” from evil and corruption and “bring them in” to goodness and holiness. As Reb Yitzchak Meir Alter (1799-1866, founder of the Ger Chassidic dynasty and one of the outstanding Talmudic scholars of the nineteenth century), once said, “A leader, who trails behind his people, will finally be wrenched down with them.”

A similar thought was expressed by Reb Yisra’el of Salant (Rabbi Yisra’el Lipkin: 1810-1883, founder of the Mussar Movement, bringing a high level of morality into the spiritual world), to explain the statement in the Talmud, Tractate Sotah (49a) that “the generation of the era immediately before the coming of the Messiah, will be as the face of a dog.” A strange analogy indeed. Reb Yisra’el said: “The dog is in the habit of racing ahead of its master, but keeps looking back to see what direction the master is about to take, and then continues to trot ahead in the direction that the master indicated.” In the era immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah, “the faces of the generation,” in other words, those who will be regarded as leaders and spokesmen of the generation will behave in this canine manner. They will always be at the head of their people, always racing ahead of them. But the path that they will follow will not be of their own choosing and, they will not even seek to persuade the people to follow them. Instead, they will keep turning back to see what “the man in the street” thinks, what “the newspapers” have to say, they will parrot the opinions of the crowd and the press, in order to gain favor in the eyes of the people. Instead of being leaders, they will be led by those that they regard as their followers. Dogs will lead the people.

In short, the trouble with that pre-messianic generation will be that they will have no true leaders, for a true leader is one who goes before the people and directs their heading, even if it is unpopular, and even if he becomes the target of criticism from the man in the street.

Look around us. Do we have such leadership today? Our governments, and governments around the globe are directed by public opinion. Morality, goodness, steadfastness, consistency are the cry of the opposition, but when the opposition gets into power, it’s becomes their turn to play the game of political correctness. Victims become the targets of rigidity, while the criminals experience privilege. Right and wrong don’t seem to count anymore.

The only time in the entire Torah that the phrase, “And Moshe spoke to HaShem SAYING” is used, is here in our very Parsha (27:15). Usually, HaShem speaks to Moshe “saying:” not the other way around. The command that HaShem insists upon is: tell the Israelites this information exactly as I am telling it to you. Here Moshe is demanding guidance from HaShem in choosing a proper successor. He screens his demand with an astute definition of true leadership, but he still needs HaShem’s direction into the situation. Moshe asked his question to “the G-d of the spirits of all flesh” – HaShem answered him: “Take… Yehoshu’a ben Nun, a man in whom there is spirit…” (27:18). HaShem who sees the spirit of all His creations chose Yehoshu’a “a man in whom there is spirit.” Yehoshu’a knew not only the hearts of his people but also their temperaments. He was a leader who knew how to lead each person according to that person’s nature and disposition, like the shepherd who knows his flock and knows which sheep have a tendency to wander off, or to get entangled.

We, the generation living prior to the Mashi’ach, have leaders who tell us what WE want to hear, who are directed by OUR fancies, rather than guiding us on the true path. This issue of true leadership is found in the same Parsha that also deals with the zeal of Pinchas. Zealousness is a dangerous game and it tends to backfire on those who misuse it. Yet, there are times when it is only a zealous spirit that can bring peace, harmony and calm to volatile situations. Other times we should expect our leaders to set the standard of excellence, wisdom and courage to direct us away from self-destructive pathways.

The Jewish world and the planet are in dire need of this kind of leadership. Like Moshe, we should “demand” from HaShem to provide His flock with a leadership that will lead to wholeness and to virtue.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

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