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A Balancing Act

“A Balancing Act”

Our portion begins with the verse, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘Kedoshim Tihiyu (you must be holy) for I Hashem your God am Holy” (Parshas Kedoshim, 19:1-2).

Rashi (ibid), based on the Toras Kohanim (19:1) and based on Vayikra Rabba, Parshas Kedoshim (24:5, Rebbi Chiya), says that this verse, which mentions “The entire assembly” teaches us that Parshas Kedoshim was said “Bihakheil” (in front of the entirety of the Jewish people: men, women, and children) because the majority of Torah’s essentials are contained within this parsha.

This comment makes us wonder, “What is so essential about this week’s parsha which mandated that it be said in an assembly?”
Moreover, the Zohar (Parshas Kedoshim, pg. 81a) tells us that when Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai’s disciples studied Parshas Kedoshim, they were exceedingly happy.

This statement begs us to ask another question, “Why were the Rashbi’s followers so happy when they began to learn Parshas Kedoshim?

In his Toras Moshe, the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839, Pressburg) teaches that this parsha was said in Hakheil (an assembly) because the Hakheil component teaches us what it means to be holy (Kedoshim Tihiyu).

The word “Kadosh” typically refers to a person who is separate, isolated, and secluded from the materialistic world. However, being holy does not mean to distance oneself from the community and live in a forest or in a desert, because each person must do chesed with others and teach others about Torah and Mitzvos (Chovas Halevavos, chap. 3; Rabbenu Bachya, 1255-1340, Spain).

Rather, being a Kadosh means that even while he is a productive participant in society, he must still remain distinct with respect to his personal and intimate relationship with God. Such a person should be separate from materialism which takes him away from Avodas Hashem. The way to achieve distance from excessive and destructive materialism is to be constantly davuk (connected) to Hashem.

This deveikus with Hashem is the way a person demonstrates kedusha because a kadosh means one who is set apart from everybody else. When a person maintains a unique relationship with Hashem, he is apart from everyone else with respect to his own unique connection to God.

This explains why Parshas Kedoshim had to be said Bihakheil. It is because it teaches us that separatism (kedoshim) must be within the community (hakheil). This means to say that one must mingle amongst the people in order to draw them closer to Torah (Hakheil), and on the other hand, the person himself must be set aside in his personal and intimate relationship with Hashem. Such a person should also stay away from earthly pleasures for their own sake because they can draw a person away from Hashem.

This teaching will help explain a Talmudic passage in an even deeper way. The Gemara in Meseches Berachos (chap. 6, “Keitzad Mevarchin”, pg. 35b) quotes Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai who said, “Is it possible that a person plows when it is time to plow, and sows when it is the time to sow, and harvests during the harvest season, and threshes when he is supposed to thresh, and winnows when the wind is blowing, Torah Mah Tihei Aleha” (what is going to be with his Torah learning).

The simplistic message of this Gemara is that if a person gets so preoccupied with his livelihood, there will be no time left for Torah study. However, there is a deeper understanding of this passage as well.

The Chasam Sofer says that this Gemara means to say, “Is it possible for a person to plow and his entire mind is focused only on plowing? Is it possible that he has no other thoughts of Torah or Avodas Hashem on his mind while he is plowing? ‘Torah Mah Tihei Aleha,’ meaning, ‘What kind of Torah is that?’”

In other words, even while a person is plowing, his mind should be focused on loftier spiritual ideas. For example, when plowing the field, he should think to himself that he should also plow the crevices of his heart in order that he will be able to sow in it seeds of Torah and Mussar.

This is what it means to be a Kadosh. It means that even when a person is involved in earthly activities, he is still connected to the heavenly spheres through Torah thoughts.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this balancing act can be achieved only by people who engage in the study of Toras Nistar (the secret hidden kabbalistic aspects of the Torah). This is because it is specifically Toras Nistar that teaches a person how to be mastir (conceal) his deveikus in Hashem even while he is mingling amongst the people.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why the disciples of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai were so happy when it came time for them to study Parshas Kedoshim. It is because they benefitted learning Toras Nistar from Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai. Therefore, they knew that they could fulfil the first directive of this parsha which is to be Kadosh even while one is living Bihakheil.

In fact, this teaching sheds light on the famous Rashb”I story. In Meseches Shabbos (chap. 2, “Bameh Madlikin”, pg. 33b) it tells us that the Rashb”I once spoke about the disgrace of the Roman Empire. As a result of that, the Roman’s issued a death penalty on Rebbi Shimon. This caused Rebbi Shimon to run away with his son, Rebbi Elazar, to a cave in the wilderness of Lod. They remained hidden in that cave for thirteen years. A miracle occurred and a boxer tree suddenly grew for them and a stream of water miraculously appeared for them so that they would have what to eat and drink.

In Tikkunei Zohar (Preface, pg. 2b) it adds that every single day Eliyahu Hanavi would appear to them and teach them Toras Nistar. It was in the cave that the Rashb”I became a master of Toras Nistar.

This idea is echoed in the most famous Lag Ba’Omer song called, “Bar Yochai.” This song was written by Rebbi Shimon Levi, who was exiled with the Spanish Jews in 1492 when he was a child. Rebbi Shimon Levi was the author of a book called Kesem Paz, and he passed away in 1588 in Tripoli, Libya.

In the second stanza of that song it says, “Bar Yochai, it was a good dwelling that you resided in, on the day you escaped, on the day that you ran away, in a cave of rocks you stood, there you acquired your splendor and your radiance.”

The “splendor and radiance” mentioned in this song refers to his knowledge of Toras Nistar. Once again, we see that Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai became proficient in Toras Nistar from his experience in that cave.

The Shvilei Pinchas suggests that since Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai was not knowledgeable in Toras Nistar prior to dwelling in that cave, he could not maintain the balance between being a Kadosh while simultaneously living amongst the people in Hakheil.

That was why Hashem orchestrated events in such a way which propelled the Rashb”I to run away to that cave. In the cave, he would be isolated from all other people and could therefore focus on being a Kadosh without interference from the kehillah (congregation; community) of people.

However, once the Rashb”I matered Toras Nistar from Eliyahu Hanavi during his stay in the cave, he was ready to live up to the Kadosh – Hakheil expectation. Therefore, Hashem arranged that Cezar died, which abolished his death sentence against the Rashb”I. In this way, Rebbi Shimon would be able to leave the cave and mix amongst the people and teach them the secrets of Torah. Then, he and they would be able to fulfil “Kedoshim Tihiyu” in “Hakheil,” which means to circulate amongst the people and still maintain a deep Deveikus with Hashem.

One practical application of this teaching would be that once a day before learning Torah say, “Speak to the entire assembly of the Jewish people and say to them, ‘Be holy,’” and keep in mind that we must try to become even greater students’ of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai and try to strike a balance between holiness and being involved in the needs of others.

In this way, we will slowly succeed, even more so, to maintain this tightrope walk we are supposed to preserve during our journey through life.

So, may we all be blessed to be even more dedicated talmidim of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai and master the art of balancing holiness and involvement with others through the study of Toras Nistar, in order that the entire congregation of Israel will be able to gather together in the holiest place on Earth, serving God with such incredible happiness at the site of the Beis Hamikdash, Bimheira Biyameinu, Amen!

Yearning to Breathe Free

“Yearning to Breathe Free”

One of the topics in this week’s parsha is the mitzva of Sefiras Ha’Omer (counting the Omer; Parshas Empr, 23:15-16). In Sefer HaChinuch (mitzva 306; a 13th cent. sage who wrote this sefer as a gift to his son on the occasion of his Bar-Mitzva) it says that the reasoning behind this mitzva is to demonstrate our hishtokekus (longing and yearning) for the Torah that we are going to reaccept upon ourselves on the holiday of Shavuos. This is because when a person counts towards something it shows that he is anxiously waiting for that thing to happen.

Through this yearning for Kabbalas HaTorah on Shavuos, Hashem will gift that person with his yearly chiddushei Torah (Torah novella) for the upcoming year. We are going to see a source which supports this idea right now.

In Shemos Rabba (Parshas Yisro, 28:6; Rebbi Yitzchak) it says that all Neviim (prophets) received their prophecy from Har Sinai. The Sfas Emes (Shavuos; Rabbi Yehuda Arye Leib Alter, second Gerrer Rebbe, 1847-1905, Poland) adds that just as the Neviim received their prophecy from Har Sinai, so does every single Jew receive his or her chidddushei Torah from Mount Sinai.

This means to say that every Jew receives a Divine gift from Hashem on Shavuos. That gift is a package of the person’s chiddushei Torah for the upcoming year. However, a person’s chiddushei Torah are dependent on the person’s pining for Torah during Sefiras Ha’Omer. The more a person yearns for Torah, the more chiddushim the person gets.

The Sfas Emes goes on to explain the following Mishna in a deeper way based on this idea.

In Meseches Rosh Hashana (chap. 1, “Arba’a Roshei Shanim”, Mishna 2, pg. 16a) it says that Hashem judges the world four times a year. One of those times is on Atzeres (another name for Shavuos). On Atzeres, Hashem judges us on “Peiros Ha-ilan” (fruits of the tree; meaning, how many fruits [such as apples, oranges, etc.] we are going to have that year).

The Sfas Emes says that this Mishna can also be understood on a deeper level. The “tree” can also refer to the “Torah” because the Torah is called an Eitz Chaim (Tree of Life), as it says, “Eitz Chaim Hi Lamachazikim Bah (it [the Torah] is a tree of life to those who grasp it; Mishlei, 3:18).

Since the Torah is likened to a tree, we can make the following comparison between them. Just as a tree produces new fruits every year, so does Torah produce new fruits every year. The new fruit that the Torah produces every year are chiddushei Torah. Therefore, when the Mishna says that on Shavuos we are judged with respect to the fruits of the tree, it means that we are judged concerning how many chiddushim we are going to be able to pluck from the Torah Tree.

The upcoming years chiddushei Torah are given to us on Shavuos. After all, Shavuos is called Zman Matan Toraseinu (the time of the giving of our Torah). This means that on Shavuos Hashem gives us new Torah which are this year’s chiddushim. This means that on Shavuos each person receives his or her personal portion of Torah.

Once we receive our package of chiddushei Torah on Shavuos, we are supposed to access those chiddushim throughout the year, bring them to fruition, and share them with others. But once again, one’s chiddushei Torah gift package on Shavuos is dependent on his yearning for them during Sefiras Ha’Omer.

The Shela HaKadosh (Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, 1555 Prague-1630 Tzfas) on Meseches Shavuos (#9) quotes the Tola’as Ya’akov (Rabbi Meir Gabbai, 1480-1540, Spain) who adds that there is another judgement that takes place on Shavuos.

When the Mishna spoke of being judged on Peiros Ha-ilan (fruits of the tree) on Shavuos, it does not only refer to apples and oranges, and it does not only refer to chiddushei Torah. Other fruits are also judged on Shavuos. Those fruits are the Jewish people themselves. Every Jewish neshama (soul) is considered to be a fruit because it (the neshama) came from the “Tree of Souls”, which is Hashem, so to speak.

Therefore, when the Mishna said that “Fruits of the tree” are judged on Shavuos, it means that the “Jewish people” are judged on Shavuos. Just as we are judged on Rosh Hashana, so are we judged on Shavuos. On Shavuos, Hashem judges us to see how much time we wasted that could have been used to study Torah.

One who wasted a lot of time during the year, receives less chiddushim on Shavuos, and one who wasted little time during the year receives more chiddushim on Shavuos.

It turns out that we can combine the Shelah Hakadosh together with the Sfas Emes. When the Mishna said that on Shavuos we are judged concerning “Peiros Ha-ilan,” it means that the Jewish people are judged (like the Shelah Hakadosh said) concerning how many chiddushei Torah (like the Sfas Emes said) they are going to receive for this upcoming year.

Reb Baruch of Medzibuz (1753-1811, Ukraine; a grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov) used to say that he was more concerned about the judgement of Shavuos than he was about the judgement of Rosh Hashana. This is because Rosh Hashana is a Day of Judgement on physicality. For example, on Rosh Hashana we are judged if we will live or die, if we will be healthy or sick, and if we will be wealthy or poor.

However, Shavuos is also a Day of Judgement, but we are judged on spirituality. For example, on Shavuos we are judged about how much time we wasted. Based on that Hashem judges how many Torah chiddushim we will receive for the next year.

To Reb Baruch of Medzibuz, the spiritual judgement meant more than the physical one. If he was nervous on Rosh Hashana, he was most certainly anxious on Shavuos.

But again, it all depends on hishtokekus. One who yearns for Torah and does not waste his time will receive more chiddushim on Shavuos. This is what we are attempting to achieve during Sefiras Ha’Omer. We are trying to instill a greater measure of hishtokekus for Torah by counting towards it.

The Chida (Rabbi Chaim Yoseph Dovid Azulai, 1724 Jerusalem-1806 Italy) in Sefer Chasdei Avos (on Pirkei Avos, 3:4) says that each Jew has his personal portion in Torah. We know this from the Yehi Ratzon prayer found at the end of Shmoneh Esrei which says, “V’sein Chelkeinu Bisorasecha” (give us our portion in Your Torah). This means that each person has his unique cheilek (portion) in Torah.

Every Jew has the responsibility to share those chiddushim with everybody else, and no one else can bring those chiddushim into the world. This is why if someone had a chiddush, he should write it down or record it, because if he forgets it, it is lost forever. About such a person the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:8 or 10) says, “Anyone who forgets {even} one aspect of his learning, the Torah considers it as if he bears guilt for his soul.” The emphasis is on the words, “His learning,” which refers to his own chiddushei Torah. If he forgets them, nobody else can bring them back and they are lost forever. This is why it is considered to be such a crime.

The Chida in Dvash Lefi (8:3) cites his grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Azulai (1570 Morocco- 1643 Chevron) who says that this explains how Acharonim (latter day sages) can come up with chiddushim that even the Rishonim (earlier day Sages) did not come up with. It is not because the Acharon is greater than the Rishon. Rather, it is because the time for that chiddush to be revealed had not come until that time.

We believe that Hashem gave Moshe every aspect of Torah at Har Sinai. Yet, not every bit of Torah was taught right away. This is because the time had not yet come for that chiddush to be revealed to the world. There is a certain time for each chiddush, there is a certain place for each chiddush, and there is a particular person who must be the one to bring that chiddush into the world.

Therefore, even though the Rishonim were like Malachim (angels); nevertheless, it is within the realm of possibility for an Acharon to come up with a Torah idea that the Rishonim did not come up with.
But again, in order to bring these chiddushim into the world, it is imperative that we are driven with a deep desire to learn more Torah.

A verse in Mishlei (2:4-5) describes what that motivation should look like. It says, “If you seek it [the Torah] as if it were silver, if you search for it [the Torah] as if it were hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of Hashem and discover the knowledge of God.”

This means that our thirst for Torah should be like our hunger for money. We know just how motivated we are to make money. Well, that is how we should go about chasing after Torah.

The Rokeach (Rabbi Elazar Rokeach, 1176-1238, Germany; Hilchos Haomer) writes that the word for “hidden treasures” in the above verse is, “Vichamatmonim.” When this word is split into two, it spells, “U-ki-mem-tes Monim” (and like forty-nine we count [during Sefiras Ha’Omer]). It is not arbitrary that the words “U-ki-mem-tes Monim” is found within the word, “Vichamatmonim” because this teaches us that when we count the Omer, it is supposed to be with the same drive that we would have when looking for a lost treasure.

If we would count the forty-nine days of the Omer with that type of longing, we would become privy of the forty-nine levels of Torah understanding that Moshe merited to taste (Rosh Hashana, chap. 1, “Arba’a Roshei Shanim”, pg. 21b, Rav or Shmuel, based on Tehillim, 8:6).

With this type of yearning for receiving Torah anew on Shavuos – the fiftieth day - we hope to one day become knowledgeable even in the fiftieth level of Torah understanding.

We should all try to increase our longing for Torah. The question is, “How?” There are two practical applications for achieving this goal.

First of all, we should daven for it. Maybe after counting the Omer, we could add a small prayer that goes something like this: “Dear God, I have hereby counted another day toward the holiday of Shavuos. I want to feel a longing and pining for Your holy Torah. Please dear God, fill me with that passionate wanting.”

A second idea would be to learn a Torah topic that we love, as that will generate a longing to learn the next exciting Torah topic.

So, may we all be blessed to increase our hishtokekus for Torah during these forty-nine days of the Omer in order that we emerge victorious from the Judgement Day of Shavuos – the fiftieth day – whereby we will be the beneficiaries of our very own chiddushei Torah treasures.

Keep the Faith

Keep the Faith

This week’s parsha opens with the mitzva of Shmitta (the Sabbatical Year; Parshas Behar, 25:1-14). One of the obvious lessons of Shmitta is to strengthen our Emuna (faith) in Hashem that He will provide for us even though we do not sow the ground in the seventh year.

Speaking of Emuna, we find a fundamental teaching which says that humility leads to Emuna, whereas arrogance distances us from our Emuna in Hashem.

One source which supports this notion is found in Meseches Sota (chap. 1, “Hamekaneh”, pg. 4b) where Rebbi Yochanan said in the name of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai that if a person suffers from arrogance, it is as if he is a complete heretic. This is based on a verse which says, “And your heart will become haughty, and you will forget Hashem your God” (Parshas Eikev, 8:14).

We see from this verse that haughtiness leads to forgetting about God which is a form of heresy. From this source we could infer that humility (which is the opposite of arrogance) leads to Emuna in Hashem (which is the opposite of heresy).

Another source which supports this concept is also found in Meseches Sota (chap. 1, “Hamekaneh”, pg. 5a) where Rav Chisda, and some say Mar Ukva, said that Hashem said about any person who possesses arrogance, “I cannot live with him in the same world.” In modern slang it is like Hashem said, “This joint ain’t big enough for the both of us!”

This means to say that Hashem goes far away from a person who is haughty. Once Hashem no longer lives with that person, the person starts to feel alone. Then the person starts to doubt Hashem’s existence. This could lead to heresy.

The Steipler Gaon (Rabbi Ya’akov Yisrael Kanievsky, 1899 Ukraine-1985 Bnei Brak) speaks about this in his sefer, Chayei Olam (chap. 27). The Steipler quotes Sefarim Hakedoshim (holy books) who say that all doubts regarding Emuna are found in a heart that is plagued by arrogance. After all, the Gemara in Sota (ibid) said that Hashem abandons people who are arrogant. This leads to the person’s feeling of loneliness. That is when the person begins to doubt if Hashem even exists.

However, one who merits to cultivate humility, then, Hashem lives with him. Once the person feels Hashem’s Presence in his life, all the doubts and questions he had about God dissipate.

Therefore, the Steipler continues, when you see a person who has doubts about God, you need not necessarily engage in debates with him attempting to prove God’s existence. Rather, learn Sifrei Mussar with him that break arrogance and cultivate humility. In addition, daven that Hashem grants him humility. Once the person becomes humbled, Hashem will return to live with him. Once he feels God’s Presence in his life, all of his questions about Hashem will disappear. The Steipler says that this has been tested and proven beyond the shadow of a doubt.

We are going to see that the root cause of the sin of the Eitz Hada’as (Tree of Knowledge) was arrogance.

In Parshas Bereishis (2:15) it says, “And Hashem God took the Man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.” In Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer (chap. 12) it asks, “What type of work was Adam supposed to do in the Garden? There was no need to plow and sow because food grew ready made on the trees. There was no need to irrigate the Garden because “A river issued forth from Eden to water the Garden” (Parshas Bereishis, 2:10). So, what type of work did Hashem want Adam to do in the Garden?”

The Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer answers this question by saying that Hashem did not want Adam to do Avodas Hakarka (work the land). Rather, Hashem wanted Adam to do Avodas Hashem by engaging in the study of Torah. Adam and Chava were supposed to guard the Eitz Hachayim (Tree of Life) which was the Torah, as it says, “Eitz Chayim Hi Lamachazikim Ba” (it [the Torah] is a Tree of Life to those who grasp it; Mishlei, 3:18).

There is another source which tells us that Adam did not have to do a stitch of work in Gan Eden in order to obtain food. The Gemara in Meseches Sanhedrin (chap. 7, “Arba Misos”, pg. 59b) cites Rebbi Yehuda ben Taima (in Avos d’Rebbi Nasan, chap. 1, it says that it was Rebbi Yehuda ben Bisaira) who said that Adam Harishon would recline in Gan Eden and ministering angels would bring him roasted meat to eat and strained wine to drink.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that since everything was served to Adam and Chava on a silver platter in Gan Eden, they did not have to work for their sustenance. This situation robbed them of, “Ma’amin b’Chai Haolamim v’Zoreah” (literally: believe in the Life of the Worlds [Hashem] and plant). This means that they were deprived of a situation which would force them to place their trust in Hashem during the time of planting seeds in the ground (Shabbos, chap. 2, “Bameh Madlikin”, pg. 31a, based on Yeshaya, 33:6, and Tosafos there citing the Yerushalmi; also see Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Naso, 13:15).

You see, the Yismach Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Tetelbaum, 1759 Poland-1841 Hungary; Parshas Lech Lecha) says that when a farmer places the seeds into the ground, he does not see the process of growth because the dirt covers the seeds. Therefore, he does not see the seeds rot, and he does not see the roots which begin to grow. The farmer feels that he is not in control. He feels completely helpless. Therefore, he is forced to turn to the Only One he can depend on: Hashem. He begins to beg Hashem to bring the rains in their right time. He asks Hashem that there not be too much rain nor too little rain. He prays that insects should not eat his produce and that a heatwave not come and destroy his crops. This situation brings a person to humility.

However, Adam and Chava were not afforded that opportunity because their sustenance in Gan Eden was ready for the picking. This situation led them to feel secure and a bit arrogant because there was nothing forcing them to be Ma’amin b’Chai Haolamim when they sowed because there was no sowing in Gan Eden.

They felt a bit overly confidant to the point of arrogance. Hashem left them even though they were still in the Garden. Hashem distanced Himself from them because Hashem despises arrogance. Once Hashem left them, they felt alone, which led them to have doubts about Hashem’s existence. Realizing their doubts about God, the Nachash (serpent, who was the embodiment of the Yetzer Hara) had an idea how to bring Adam and Chava to sin.

The Nachash said to Chava, “For on the day you eat of it (the Eitz Hada’as), your eyes will be opened and you will be like God” (Parshas Bereishis, 3:5). Rashi (ibid) cites a Bereishis Rabba (Parshas Bereishis, 19:4, Rebbi Yehoshua d’Sichnin) which tells us more about what the Nachash said to Chava. The Nachash said that every craftsman hates his fellow craftsman because people do not like competition. The Nachash told her that God had eaten from this tree which gave Him His ability to create the world. This is why He commanded you not to eat of this tree. It is because He does not want you to become a God also. He does not want any competition.

Since Chava and Adam ate from this tree, it shows us that they bought into the sales-pitch of the Nachash. It demonstrates that they did want to become Gods. For a person to think that he or she could become a God, it takes a certain measure of arrogance. For a person to think that he could become a God, it also requires a confused mind that is already filled with doubts about Hashem.

Adam and Chava had both of these problems. Because of the situation in Gan Eden where no work was necessary, they were a bit haughty which led to Hashem removing His Presence from them. When they felt alone, they began to have doubts regarding Hashem’s existence.

This is why Hashem punished them by cursing the ground with thorns and thistles. No longer would the earth provide them with ready-made food. Now they would have to toil and suffer in order to bring forth produce from the ground (Parshas Bereishis, 3:17-18).

Adam would have to plant seeds in the ground. Once the seeds were planted, growth was out of his control. Adam would feel helpless. At that point, Adam would have to turn to the Only One Who could help him: Hashem. Adam would daven that the rains come in the right time and in the right measure. He would pray that insects and heatwaves should not destroy his crops.

This new situation of helplessness made Adam feel insecure which generated humility. Once Adam became humble, Hashem returned to him. Once Adam felt God’s Presence in his life, all of his doubts about God simply disappeared.

Another punishment which fit the crime was that Adam, and all mankind, would die. Death is the great equalizer. When we become aware of our mortality, it puts us into our places. Death would make Adam humble, the Shechina would return to him, and all doubts about God would dissipate.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that observing Shmitta serves as a tikkun for the sin with the Eitz Hada’as. The sin of the Eitz Hada’as began with arrogance because they did need to sow which made them feel too secure, to the point of forgetting about Hashem. Therefore, during the six years of a seven-year cycle we are allowed to work the field. When we plant during the six years, we are afforded with an opportunity of Ma’amin b’Chai Haolamim v’Zoreah which keeps us humble.

But since there is no sowing in the seventh year, we are deprived of this platform of placing our hope in Hashem when we plant. This might reduce our humility. Therefore, in order to supplement this lack of humility, Hashem commands there to be a miracle in the sixth year with a bumper crop that lasts for three years; the sixth, seventh, and eighth years. This miracle will grant us the extra dose of humility that would have otherwise been lost. This is how the Shmitta cycle atones for the sin of the Eitz Hada’as.

One practical way of taking this lesson with us would be to recite, from time to time, the verses in this week’s parsha regarding Shmitta. These verses would remind us that Hashem is taking care of us. The recitation of these verses would also build our humility and Emuna muscles even more so. This would bring the Shechina back to us and trigger the Final Geula.

So, may we all be blessed this Shmitta year to inculcate the lessons of humility, Emuna, and Bitachon even more so, which will bring the world back to Gan Eden Mikedem.



The Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839; Drashos, vol. 2, pg. 289) says that one of the reasons why we celebrate Lag Ba’Omer is because that was the day on which the Manna began to fall for the Jews in the wilderness. We know this because the Jews had matzah to eat for the first thirty days after the Exodus from Egypt. The last morsels of matzah were eaten on the 15th of Iyar, which is the 30th day of the Omer.

The Jews complained on the 16th of Iyar, which was the 31st day of the Omer, that they had nothing to eat (Parshas Beshalach, 16:2-3). On the 17th of Iyar, which is the 32nd day of the Omer, Hashem promised that the Manna would fall for them on the next day (Parshas Beshalach, 16:4). Then, on the 18th day of Iyar, which is the 33rd day of the Omer, which is Lag Ba’Omer, the Manna began to fall (Parshas Beshalach, 16:13).

Therefore, one of the reasons why we celebrate Lag Ba’Omer is because of the fact that the Manna began to fall for the Jews in the midbar on that day. Let us talk a little bit more about Sefiras Ha’Omer, Lag Ba’Omer, and Shavuos.

The Zohar (Parshas Emor, pg. 97a) says that the days of Sefiras Ha’Omer are meant to prepare us for Kabbalas HaTorah. The seven weeks of Sefiras Ha’Omer are compared to the seven clean days (Zayin Nekiim) which are counted so that a husband and wife can be together.

During these seven weeks the Jewish people are supposed to cleanse themselves in order to greet Hashem on Shavuos just as a kallah (bride) purifies herself to greet her chasan (bridegroom) on her wedding day under the chuppah. This is because Hashem married the Jewish people on Shavuos just as a chasan marries his kallah.

One source supporting this idea is found in the verse, “And Moshe brought the people forth from the camp to greet God, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain” (Parshas Yisro, 19:17). Rashi (ibid) cites the Mechilta who comments on the words, “To greet God,” which means to say that the Shechina went out to greet the Jews as a chasan goes out to greet his kallah.

The Hafla’a (Rabbi Pinchas Haleivi Horowitz, 1731 Ukraine-1805 Germany) in his Sefer Hamakneh (Pischa Zeira) adds that when Mount Sinai was held suspended over their heads (Shabbos, chap. 9, “Amar Rebbi Akiva”, Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa, based on Yisro, 19:17), it served as the chuppah under which Hashem married the Jews. Moreover, the Torah itself which was given to the Jews at Har Sinai served as the Shtar Kiddushim (wedding contract) that Hashem married the Jewish people with.

There is another point worth mentioning about Sefiras Ha’Omer and how it prepares us for Shavuos.

The B’nei Yissasschar (Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, Poland, 1783-1841; Iyar, 3:1) says that when you break down the 49 days of Sefiras Ha’Omer into two parts, you get one part consisting of 32 days and another part consisting of 17 days (32 + 17 = 49). The reason why we break it down in this uneven way is because the letters which numerically equal the number 32 are lamed and beis which spell leiv (heart), and the number 17 is the numerical value of the word tov (good). Together this spells leiv tov (a good heart).

This teaches us that during Sefiras Ha’Omer we prepare for Kabbalas HaTorah which requires a Leiv Tov. However, the B’nei Yissaschar breaks this down more specifically.

During the first 32 days of Sefiras Ha’Omer we are supposed to be preparing ourselves to receive Toras Niglah (revealed Torah). There is a hint which supports this idea. The hint is that the first letter of the Torah is a beis (Parshas Bereishis, 1:1), and the last letter of the Torah is a lamed (Parshas V’Zos Habracha, 34:12). These two letters lamed and beis numerically equal 32. This teaches us that during the first 32 days of the Omer we are preparing ourselves to receive Toras Niglah which is found between the first (beis) and last (lamed) letter of the Torah.

However, during the last 17 days of the Omer we are preparing ourselves to receive Toras Nistar (hidden Torah). There is a hint which supports this idea. The hint is that the first day of the last 17 days is Lag Ba’Omer which is the day we celebrate the life and times of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai who revealed the secret teachings of Toras Nistar to us on Lag Ba’Omer.

There is another hint which supports this notion that the last 17 days of Sefiras Ha’Omer prepares us to receive Toras Nistar. As we mentioned above, the number 17 is the gematria of the word Tov, and Toras Nistar is referred to as Tov, as it says, “And God saw that the light was Tov (good; Parshas Bereishis, 1:4). In Meseches Chagiga (chap. 2, “Ein Dorshin”, pg. 12a), Rebbi Elazar teaches us that that light which is called Tov refers to a very spiritual light through which a person can perceive from one end of the universe until the other.

We are accustomed to call that light Ohr Ganuz (hidden light) because Hashem stashed that light away for the righteous people at some futuristic time. That Ohr Ganuz is by definition Toras Nistar which is called Tov, which is numerically 17, which is connected to the last 17 days of Sefiras Ha’Omer during which we prepare ourselves to receive that great light of Torah secrets.

Now, the Rashbi is repeatedly called “Botzina Kadisha” (holy spark) throughout the Zohar. One reason for this is because he revealed this great light by teaching us the secrets of Torah. This is why his sefer is called Zohar because it means “brilliant light.”

In fact, during the last 17 days of Sefiras Ha’Omer, the light of Toras Nistar begins to shine in the world once again.

With this idea about identifying the two parts of Sefiras Ha’Omer, we will be able to read the following verse, which talks about Sefiras Ha’Omer, in a deeper way.

In Parshas Emor (23:15) it says, “Usfartem Lachem” (and you will count [from the day when you will bring the Omer]). The Shvilei Pinchas points out that these words are grammatically in the plural. The smallest plural number is two. Therefore, this wording hints to us that there are two countings during Sefiras Ha’Omer.

This verse goes on to mention the first counting when it says, “Mimacharas HaShabbos” (from the morrow of the rest day). This refers to the second day of Pesach which begins the first 32 days of Sefiras Ha’Omer. Those 32 days are set aside to help us prepare for Toras Niglah.

The verse goes on to mention the second counting when it says, “Miyom Haviyachem Es Ha’Omer” (from the day when you bring the Omer offering). This hints to the day that the Omer (a certain measurement; Parshas Beshalach, 16:16) of Manna began to fall, which is Lag Ba’Omer, which kicks off the last 17 Tov days of Sefiras Ha’Omer during which we prepare for Toras Nistar.

This same verse goes on to mention the seven complete weeks during which the Jewish people purify themselves to greet God on Shavuos, much like the seven days of purity during which a bride prepares herself to greet her chasan.

The very next verse (Parshas Emor, 23:16) goes on to say, “You will count 50 days” (if you include the day of Shavuos itself). The reason why the number 50 is mentioned is because we are preparing ourselves to receive the Torah of which there are 50 levels of understanding (Meseches Rosh Hashana, chap. 1, “Arba’a Roshei Shanim”, pg. 21b).

This verse goes on to say, “And you will offer a new meal-offering to Hashem” which is the Shtei Halechem (two loaves of bread) which is offered on Shavuos (Parshas Emor, 23:17). The reason why there are specifically two loaves offered on Shavuos is because they correspond to the two types of Torah that we receive on Shavuos: 1) Toras Niglah, and 2) Toras Nistar.

The Sfas Emes (Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, second Gerrer Rebbe, 1847-1905, Poland; Shavuos) quotes his grandfather the Chiddushei Harim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rotenberg Alter, first Gerrer Rebbe, 1799-1866, Poland) who adds that the Shtei Halechem correspond to two types of bread: 1) Lechem Min Hashamayim (bread from heaven), and 2) Lechem Min Ha’aretz (bread from earth).

The meaning behind this is as follows. The Torah itself is called Lechem, as it says, “Come and partake of my bread” (Mishlei, 9:5. In this verse, the Torah is speaking). Therefore, the Lechem Min Ha’aretz refers to Toras Niglah which we acquire through effort (Megillah, chap. 1, “Megillah Nikreis”, pg. 6b). However, the Lechem Min Hashamayim refers to Toras Nistar which Hashem will share with people who are worthy, as it says, “The secret of Hashem is to those who fear Him” (Tehillim, 25:14). On Shavuos, we have the opportunity of receiving both types of Torah.

Although today we do not have a Beis Hamikdash, and as a result we do not have the Shtei Halechem; nevertheless, we still have a commemoration of the Shtei Halechem. This is based on the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, 1530-1572, Cracow, Poland; Orach Chaim, 494:3) who says that the reason for the custom of eating dairy products on Shavuos is in order to have a zeicher (remembrance) of the Shtei Halechem. The connection between dairy and the zeicher of the Shtei Halechem is as follows.

According to the Rema, we should fulfil the minhag of eating dairy products on Shavuos by having dairy products in the same meal as the meat. The kosher way of doing this is to make kiddush, wash, make hamotzi on two parve challahs, but only cut one of them. Remove the other challah from the table. Then, the first course should be dairy, i.e., bagels, lox , cream cheese, pudding, yogurt, chocolate milk, ice cream, etc.

Then, clear off the table and reset it with the meat dishes and cutlery. Eat a piece of challah and drink something to wash away any dairy residue inside your mouth (kinuach vahadacha). Bring out the chicken, cholent, cold cuts etc. for your second course. Now bring back the other challah that had been removed earlier and only use that challah to be eaten with the meat.

The reason why we do not use the first loaf of challah with the second course is because maybe somebody got their hands cheesy and cut the first challah making that challah cheesy. We can no longer use that challah with the second course because we might wind up eating cheesy challah together with meat and transgress eating milk and meat together.
By observing the minhag of eating dairy products in this way, we are forced to use two challahs. These two challahs are meant to remind us of the Shtei Halechem which is supposed to remind us of the two types of Torah that we receive on Shavuos, Toras Niglah and Toras Nistar.

The Shvilei Pinchas embellishes on the Chasam Sofer who said that part of Lag Ba’Omer’s celebration is that we are happy with the Manna which began to fall for the Jewish people on Lag Ba’Omer in the midbar. The reason why this calls for such a joyous occasion is because the Manna is very holy food that angels eat (Meseches Yoma, chap. 8, “Yom Hakkipurim”, pg. 75b; based on Tehillim, 78:25). The Manna itself helped the Jews prepare to receive Toras Nistar on Shavuos. The Manna purified the Jews by causing them to grow spiritually on a daily basis until they were worthy of receiving Toras Nistar.

It is not arbitrary that the Manna [which prepared them for Toras Nistar] began to fall on Lag Ba’Omer which is the first day of the last 17 days of Sefiras Ha’Omer, because it was on Lag Ba’Omer that Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai revealed the secrets of Toras Nistar to the Jewish people.

This also ties into Moshe Rabbenu because it was in the merit of Moshe Rabbenu that the Manna fell to begin with (Meseches Ta’anis, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 9a, Rebbi Yosi b’Rebbi Yehuda). Moreover, the Arizal (Likkutei Shas, Meseches Shabbos, pg. 33b) says that the soul of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai was a holy spark of Moshe Rabbenu’s neshama. In other words, the Rashbi was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Moshe Rabbenu. This is why they led parallel lives. Just as Moshe fled the sword of Pharaoh and reached tremendously great spiritual heights in the desert, so did the Rashbi run away from Ceasar’s sword and reach great spiritual heights in the cave located in the wilderness of Lod.

So, it turns out that the Rashbi merited to transmit Toras Nistar because he was a gilgul of Moshe Rabbenu. Since Moshe transmitted Toras Niglah, the Rashbi transmitted Toras Nistar. Although Moshe received both Toras Niglah and Toras Nistar at Har Sinai, he was only given permission, at that time, to transmit Toras Niglah to the Jewish people. He was not yet authorized to transmit Toras Nistar to them.

When Hashem decided that the time was ripe, and the people were ready, and the circumstances necessitated the hidden teachings of Torah, Hashem authorized Moshe to transmit that Torah to the people. To do so, Moshe had to come back into this world a second time as Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai and teach the people Toras Nistar. In this way, Moshe completed his mission as the Law Giver.

It is very fitting that the Manna fell in the merit of Moshe because the manna prepared the people for Toras Nistar which the Rashbi taught them. Since the Rashbi was a gilgul of Moshe, it is fitting that the Manna which prepared us for Toras Nistar would come about in the merit of Moshe.

The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe, at the end of Sefer Devarim) says that there is a hint supporting this idea that the Rashbi was a gilgul of Moshe. The words “Lag Ba’Omer” have the numerical value of 345 which is the same gematria as the name “Moshe.” This numerical equivalency teaches us that the Rashbi merited to transmit Toras Nistar on Lag Ba’Omer because he was a gilgul of Moshe.

So important is the study of Toras Nistar that Reb Chaim Vital (1543 Italy-1620 Syria; Peface to Eitz Chaim, 4:1) says that the sin of the Eitz Hada’as was that Adam Harishon did not want to learn Toras Nistar. We know this because the Zohar in Raya Mihemna (Parshas Naso, pg. 124b) says that the Eitz Hachaim (Tree of Life) in Gan Eden was Toras Nistar. However, the Eitz Hada’as (Tree of Knowledge) in Gan Eden was Toras Niglah.

The connection between the Eitz Hada’as and Toras Niglah is that the Torah describes the Eitz Hada’as as being a tree of “good and bad” (Parshas Bereishis, 2:9), and Toras Niglah constantly revolves around good and bad. This means that in Toras Niglah, it is always about whether something is good or bad, prohibited or permitted, contaminated or pure.
However, Toras Nistar is so holy that it transcends this lower world in every way to the point that everything in it is completely good, through and through. There is no bad in Toras Nistar.

The sin of Adam Harishon was that he was attracted to and connected himself with the Eitz Hada’as. This means to say that Adam only wanted to engage in the learning of Toras Niglah. Since Adam Harishon did not also partake of the Eitz Hachaim, we see that he did not want to engage in the study of Toras Nistar.

Reb Chaim Vital goes on to say that there are some B’nei Torah in our generation (he was speaking in the 16th century. Maybe this applies to the 21st century as well) who make the same mistake and transgress the same sin as Adam Harishon. There are some B’nei Torah who speak derogatorily about the study of Toras Nistar. They may even say that the study of Toras Nistar causes a person to die young, God forbid.

Although it is true that there were some Mekubalim who died young, there have also been other Mekubalim who lived a very long life. The same holds true of Talmidei Chachamim whose primary focus was on Toras Niglah; some died young and some died old. It would not be a fair argument to focus on just a few Kabbalists who died young and claim that this would be the fate of anyone who studies Toras Nistar.

Reb Chaim Vital continues to say that once Adam rejected Toras Nistar, Hashem drove Adam out of Gan Eden and placed Keruvim (angel like creatures) with the flame of the ever-turning sword to protect the path to the Eitz Hachaim (Parshas Bereishis, 3:24). From now on, those Keruvim would not allow anybody who is not worthy to engage in Toras Nistar. The Zohar (Parshas Naso, pg. 123a) says that Hashem also placed snakes, scorpions, Sarafites, and destructive angels to guard the path to the Eitz Hachaim. These dangerous creatures confuse a non-worthy person into thinking that Toras Nistar is not for him.

The teachings of Toras Nistar are so strong that they have the power to destroy all dark forces of evil. If Adam would have partaken from the Eitz Hachaim, the Nachash (serpent) in Gan Eden would have never been able to convince him to disobey a direct Divine command. Although Toras Niglah is also strong, since it is made up of “good and evil,” there was an opening for evil to insert its foot in the door and convince Adam to rebel against Hashem’s Divine command.

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem-1572 Tzfas; Sha’ar Hapesukim, Parshas Shemos) says that all of those souls that were wrapped up within Adam’s grand soul were reincarnated into the Jews who suffered in Egypt.

Based on this idea, the Shvilei Pinchas says that since the root cause of the sin with the Eitz Hada’as was that Adam [and by extension, all Jewish souls] did not want to connect themselves to the Eitz Hachaim and the study of Toras Nistar, their tikkun (fixing, repairing, mending) would be to accept the study of Toras Nistar upon themselves. Therefore, Hashem said to the Jewish people after they left Mitzrayim, “Behold, I will rain down for you food from heaven” (Parshas Beshalach, 16:4), referring to the Manna which prepares a person to receive Toras Nistar. This very verse continues to say, “So that I can test them whether they will follow My teaching or not.” This means that Hashem tested them with the Manna [which prepares a person to receive Toras Nistar] to see if they would attempt to engage in the study of Toras Nistar. If they would, it would serve as a tikkun for their old sin of rejecting Toras Nistar.

One practical take-away message of this teaching would be to use this Lag Ba’Omer, and these last 17 days of Sefiras Ha’Omer, as a springboard to engage, a little bit more, in the study of Toras Nistar, in a permissible way for every single one of us. That would be to have a seder in seforim that touch upon the teachings of Toras Nistar, because those sefarim share a portion of Toras Nistar that is kosher for everybody to learn, even if they have not fulfilled all or any of the conditions necessary to learn Kabbalah.

These seforim present and package ideas from Toras Nistar in such a way that it is releivant to our lives and which spurs self-growth. For example, we could study some of the Ramchal’s (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, 1707 Italy-1746 Acco) seforim, or Sifrei Chassidus in which lofty concepts are brought down to our level from which we can draw inspiration.

In his Sefer Hahakdamos l’Talmud Eser Sefiros, Rav Yehuda Halevi Ashlag (1885 Poland-1954 Jerusalem; pg. 9, #30) posits that the pre-conditions of learning Kabbala (being 40 years old and having Shas and Poskim under one’s belt; Rema, Yora Deah, 246:4, Shach ibid, #6, based on Pirkei Avos, 5:25, Yehuda ben Taima), apply only to Kabbalistic teachings that one requires a Kabbalist to teach him orally, which are deep messages that can only be found between the lines; and such a Kabbalist would not teach an unready person to begin with.

However, to read Kabbalistic texts in a superficial way, [which contain beneficial lessons], is permitted for everyone. If this were not the case, meaning, if the simple translation of the text would also be forbidden to learn by most people, how could these Kabbalists have written down their teachings? Once it is printed, we cannot control who reads them and who does not. What if an unworthy person begins to study them? It must be that whatever has been written down has already been approved by that Mekubal as permitted material.
This is what Ramchal and Sifrei Chassidus have done. They have taken meaningful and inspirational ideas from Kabbalistic texts that are kosher even for the layman. By engaging in this type of Toras Nistar, we prepare ourselves for Yemos Hamoshiach when the full measure of Toras Nistar will be revealed. Moreover, it is through the study of Toras Nistar that brings Moshiach even closer.

So, may we all be blessed this Lag Ba’Omer, and during these last 17 days of Sefiras Ha’Omer to taste the sweetness of the manna by connecting to the study of Toras Nistar, in order that we develop an even greater Leiv Tov which will further purify us for our wedding day with Hashem on Shavuos, which will be metaken the old sin of the Eitz Hada’as, and enter into a world under the authority of the Eitz Hachaim, when we go back to Gan Eden Mikedem, when Moshiach will come and Techiyas Hameisim will happen, when we will be reunited with all of our lost loved ones, Bimheira Biyameinu, Amen!

May the Lord Protect and Defend You

“May the Lord Protect and Defend You”

Our portion begins on the eighth day of inauguration for the newly built sanctuary. On that day, Aharon Hakohen offered many sacrifices and then blessed the people with Birchas Kohanim (Priestly Blessings; Parshas Shemini, 9:22, Rashi ibid, based on Toras Kohanim, 9:30; see Parshas Naso, 6:24-26).

The Toras Kohanim goes on to say that through Aharon’s Divine inspiration, he already knew about Birchas Kohanim even before Hashem instructed him to bless the people in that way. Therefore, when Aharon blessed the people with Birchas Kohanim, it was in the category of one who was not commanded to do, but did anyway.

The Dover Shalom (Rabbi Shalom Rokeach of Belz, the first Belzer Rebbe known as the Sar Shalom of Belz, 1779-1855, Ukraine), quoted in the Siddur Otzar Hatefillos (vol. 2, Birchas Kohanim Shalosh Regalim), says that this explains why the text of the bracha, which the Kohanim recite prior to blessing the people with Birchas Kohanim, is, “Asher Kidishanu Bikidushaso Shel Aharon” (Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon), instead of the usual text of a bracha over a mitzva which is, “Asher Kidishanu B’mitzvosav” (Who commanded us with His commandments).

The reason why the word B’mitzvosav is deleted is because Birchas Kohanim was introduced to us by Aharon before there was a tzivui (commandment) from Hashem. Therefore, the blessing could not say “B’mitzvosav,” because at that time there was no commandment. Instead, the words “Bikidushaso Shel Aharon” was inserted because this teaches us that these blessings were presented to us by the holiness of Aharon who knew about them with his Ruach Hakodesh before they were given to us by God.

At this point, we are going to see that Birchas Kohanim was connected to the Chet Ha-eigel (Sin of the Golden Calf). To do so, we are going to see that the Mishkan and it Avoda (service) was meant as an atonement for the Jewish people for their sin with the Golden Calf.

When the Jews left Egypt, the Shechina (Divine Presence) rested upon them. However, when they sinned with the Golden Calf, the Shechina departed from them. But when the Mishkan (Sanctuary) was built, and the service began (on the eighth day of inauguration, which was on Rosh Chodesh Nissan), the Shechina returned to rest upon the Mishkan amidst the Jewish people (Rashi Parshas Shemini, 9:2, quoting Toras Kohanim, 9:3). This demonstrates to us that the Mishkan served as a kappara (atonement) for the sin of the Golden Calf.

There are many sources which support this idea that the Mishkan served as a kappara for the Eigel. For instance, the eigel (calf) which Aharon offered on the first day of service in the Mishkan was meant to atone for the Golden Calf (Rashi Parshas Shemini, 9:2, citing Tanchuma #4).

Another source is found in Parshas Pekudei (38:21) where the pasuk (verse) says, “These are the reckonings of the Sanctuary, the Sanctuary of testimony.” Rashi (ibid) cites the Tanchuma (#5) which asks, “What did the Sanctuary testify to?” The answer is that it testified to the fact that God had forgiven the Jewish people for the Sin of the Golden Calf, for after all, the Divine Presence rested amongst them once again.

Therefore, the entire Avoda of that day (the eighth day of inauguration) was intended to atone for the Chet Ha-eigel, which means that all of the tefillos (prayers) on that day and all of the berachos (blessings) on that day were also meant to atone for the Sin of the Golden Calf.

On that very day, when Aharon blessed the people with Birchas Kohanim, he conveyed to the Jews a message which was that Hashem still loves them, even after their sin with the Eigel, and that Hashem will still bless them with every fathomable blessing, even after their sin with the Eigel.

Not only did Birchas Kohanim reassure the Jewish people that Hashem still loved them, but since Birchas Kohanim was introduced on that very day, it also served as a kappara for the Sin of the Golden Calf.

As we proceed, we are going to see how Birchas Kohanim atones for the Chet Ha-eigel, but in order to do so, we are first going to explore how observing the Shalosh Regalim (Three Festivals) atones for the Golden Calf. Once we understand how the festivals atone for the Eigel, we will also realize how Birchas Kohanim atones for the Eigel. In order to embark on this journey, we are going to jump, for a moment, to the story-line where Bilaam went to curse the Jewish people.

When Bilaam went to curse the Jews, the verse says, “And Hashem opened the mouth of the she-donkey and it said to Bilaam, ‘What have I done to you that you struck me these three regalim (times),’” (Parshas Balak, 22:28). There is another word in Hebrew for “times.” That word is “pe-amim.” The word “pe-amim” is the more common word for “times.” Therefore, one could ask, “Why did the donkey use the less common word ‘regalim’ and not the more common word ‘pe-amim?’”

Rashi (ibid) cites the Tanchuma (#9) which addresses this question and says that the use of the word “regalim” teaches us that the donkey conveyed a hinted message to Bilaam, because the word “regalim” is also used to refer to the “festivals.” Therefore, the donkey’s message to Bilaam was, “Are you seeking to uproot a nation which celebrates the Three ‘Regalim’ (festivals) each year?” The donkey meant to say that Bilaam would never be able to destroy the Jews because they observe the Shalosh Regalim each and every year.

We must ponder why the donkey mentioned this specific mitzva of the regalim that the Jewish people observe more than any of the other beautiful mitzvos that the Jewish people keep? Why would the Three Festivals protect the Jews from Bilaam’s curses more than any of the other mitzvos the Jewish people kept?

The Binyan Ariel (Rabbi Shaul Lowenstam, 1717 Poland-1790 Amsterdam; Parshas Balak) addresses this question by pointing out that Bilaam had a plan as to how to make his curses effective. Bilaam intended on awakening Divine anger against the Jewish people for their old sin of the Golden Calf. Bilaam reasoned that if Hashem would be angry at the Jews on account of the Calf, then Hashem would let Bilaam’s curses go through which would result in the destruction of the Jews.

The source which supports this idea about Bilaam’s intent on awakening the old Jewish sin of the Eigel is found in a pasuk which says, “And Bilaam saw that it was good in Hashem’s eyes to bless Israel, so he did not go as every other time toward divinations, but he set his face toward the wilderness” (Parshas Balak, 24:1).

What does it mean when the verse says, “But he set his face toward the wilderness?” What did Bilaam want from the wilderness? Rashi (ibid) says that the understanding of these words can be found in Targum Onkolos. Onkolos says that these words mean, “And he turned toward the Calf that Israel worshipped in the wilderness.” This clearly shows us that Bilaam wanted to arouse the old Jewish sin of the Eigel.

However, we find that the Jewish people’s observance of the Three Festivals atones for the sin of the Golden Calf. One source, which the Binyan Ariel cites, as proof that observance of the Shalosh Regalim is mechaper (atones) for the Chet Ha-eigel is a poetic passage from Rebbi Elazar Hakalir.

Before we share this poetic passage, let us share who Rebbi Elazar Hakalir was. His name is familiar to us because he composed many of the kinos (lamentations) that we say on Tisha B’av. Tosafos in Meseches Chagiga (chap. 2, “Ein Dorshin”, pg. 13a, divrei hamaschil “Viragli”) says that Rebbi Elazar Hakalir was none other than Rebbi Elazar the son of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai.
He was nicknamed “Hakalir” because this word means a “balm” used to soothe the eyes (see Meseches Shabbos, chap. 14, “Shmoneh Shratzim”, pg. 108b, “Kilorin”). Since Rebbi Elazar wrote many poems to soothe Jewish eyes who have cried bitterly over many destructions, he was labelled “Hakalir” (the Balmer).

Now let us get back to one poetic passage that Rebbi Elazar Hakalir wrote for Shacharis Shmoneh Esrei of the second day of Pesach. It says there, “He wanted to snare us with ‘This is your god,’ that those who were not me made a mistake, there will be an atonement eileh b’eileh (these for those), they are my holidays.”
The Binyan Ariel interprets this poem in the following way:

“He wanted to snare us” = meaning, Bilaam wanted to ensnare us by mentioning…

“This is your god” = meaning that Bilaam wanted to bring back the memory of the Chet Ha-eigel at which time it was said, “This is your god O’ Israel which brought you up from the Land of Egypt (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:4). But you should know…

“That those who were not me made a mistake” = meaning that those who primarily sinned with the Golden Calf were not me (the Jews). Rather, they were the mixed multitude of Egyptian converts. But since the Jews did not rebuke them sufficiently, they needed a kapara. Therefore…

“There will be an atonement ‘eileh b’eileh’ (these for those)” = meaning, there will be an atonement for the Eigel through the observance of the Moadim (festivals) because by both (by the Eigel and by the festivals) it says the word “Eileh.” By the Eigel it says, “Eileh Elohecha Yisrael” (This is your god O’ Israel; Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:4), and by the festivals it says, “Eileh Heim Moadai” (these are my appointed festivals; Parshas Emor, 23:2).

We see from this that the Shalosh Regalim atone for the Chet Ha-eigel. This is why the donkey said to Bilaam that he would never succeed in cursing the Jewish people. This is because Bilaam’s whole plan was to awaken the old Jewish sin with the Eigel, igniting Divine wrath, which would allow his curses to pierce the Jewish people resulting in their annihilation. But the donkey argued that Bilaam’s plan would not work because the Jews observe the Three Festivals which atone for the calf. Therefore, there will be no Divine wrath, and as a result, Bilaam’s curses would not be allowed to infiltrate the Jewish camp, and the Jews would survive.

After establishing that the Three Regalim atone for the Chet Ha-eigel, we have to find out how the Three Regalim atone for the Eigel.

In Toras Hayehudi Hakadosh, the Yid Hakadosh (Holy Jew, Rabbi Ya’akov Yitzchak Rabinowitz of Peshischa, Poland, 1766-1813; “Moadei Hashem,” pg. 85) addresses this by pointing out that the Jews sinned with the Eigel for six hours. This is derived from the words, “And the people saw that ‘Boshesh Moshe’ (that Moshe had delayed) in descending the mountain” (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:1). The word “Boshesh” can be broken down into two words “Bo-Shesh” (he – Moshe - came in the sixth hour of the day [at noon, and saw the Eigel that the Jews had been worshipping since the morning. This was a total of six hours. See Rashi ibid, citing Shabbos, chap. 9, “Amar Rebbi Akiva”, pg. 89a, Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi).

Now, the Eigel was “asur” (forbidden), and when it comes to the laws of issur and heter (forbidden things and permissible things), we have a rule of thumb which tells us that issur can become batel (nullified) in sixty times its volume of heter (Meseches Chulin, chap. 7, “Gid Hanasheh”, pg. 98a; Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi). This means to say that if the Chet Ha-eigel lasted for 6 hours of impurity, that sin could become batel in sixty times that amount of time which is 360 hours of holiness. Where do we find 360 hours of holiness which could be mevatel (nullify) the 6 hours of sin? This is where we turn to the Shalosh Regalim.

The Shalosh Regalim are made up of 15 days; 7 days of Pesach [Biblically], 1 day of Shavuos [Biblically], and 7 days of Sukkos [Biblically]. This equals 15 days in all. Each day consists of 24 hours. Therefore, 15 days X 24 hours per day = 360 hours (See Ben Yehoyada, Rabbi Yoseph Chaim of Baghdad, Iraq, 1835-1905, Meseches Megillah, pg. 32a, in the name of the sefer Sha’ar Hechatzer, and in the name of the sefer Ksav Yad, based on the mesoreh relating to four verses containing the word “Eileh”; Tehillim 42:5, Ki Sisa 32:8, Yeshaya 49:15, and Emor 23:2).

This is how the Three Regalim atone for the Chet Ha-eigel. It is because the 360 hours of Festival holiness which we observe nullifies the 6 hours of unholy Calf sin that we participated in.

The Kosnos Ohr (Parshas Balak) adds that this is the deeper meaning behind the statement, “Anyone who disgraces the holidays is likened to one who worships idols” (Meseches Pesachim, chap. 10, “Arvei Pesachim”, pg. 118a; Rav Sheishes in the name of Rebbi Elazar ben Azaria; based on a juxtaposition between one verse dealing with the prohibition against idolatry and another verse dealing with the mitzva of celebrating Passover, Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:17-18).

A deeper reason behind this Gemara is that if a person disgraces the festivals and does not observe them [Chol Hamoed included; (Rashi ibid)], then he does not have the kapara for the Eigel, because he is missing the 360 hours of holiness which would have nullified the 6 hours of Eigel sin. Therefore, the Gemara says that it is as if he transgressed the sin of idolatry. The Gemara does not specify which type of idolatry he is he is credited with. However, according to the above teaching, he is guilty for the idolatry of the Golden Calf because he has no atonement for it.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that after establishing that the Three Festivals atone for the Golden Calf, we will now be able to understand how Birchas Kohanim atones for the sin of the Golden Calf.

This is because there are three components to Birchas Kohanim: 1) There are 3 verses of Birchas Kohanim, 2) There are 15 words in Birchas Kohanim, and 3) there are 60 letters in Birchas Kohanim. All of these numbers are connected to the atonement for the Golden Calf.

The 3 verses of Birchas Kohanim correspond to the 3 Regalim which atone for the Chet Ha-eigel. The 15 words of Birchas Kohanim correspond to the 15 days of the Regalim which atone for the Eigel, and the 60 letters of Birchas Kohanim represent the bitul of the 6 hours they sinned with the Eigel through the 360 hours of the Regalim.

Moreover, there are 6 blessings in the 3 verses of Birchas Kohanim. The first verse says, “Yevarechecha (may He bless you), and “Viyishmirecha” (and may He keep you); that is two blessings. The second verse says, “Yaer” (may He shine), and “Vichuneka” (and may He be gracious to you); that is two more blessings. The third verse says, “Yisa” (may He lift), and “Shalom” (a blessing of peace), which is another two blessings.

Altogether, there are 6 blessings in Birchas Kohanim. The Shvilei Pinchas says that the reason why there are specifically 6 blessings in Birchas Kohanim is because it teaches us that the Priestly Blessings come to atone for the Chet Ha-eigel which lasted for 6 hours.

The three pesukim (verses) of Birchas Kohanim are connected to the kapara of the Chet Ha-eigel in an even more intimate way. This is because there were three aspects or ramifications of the Chet Ha-eigel.

The first aspect is that Moshe blamed Hashem for the sin with the Golden Calf because He spoiled the Jews with so much gold on their way out of Mitzrayim (Egypt) that their newfound wealth led them astray (Meseches Berachos, chap. 5, “Ein Omdin”, pg. 32a, d’Bei Rebbi Yanai, based on Parshas Devarim 1:1).

Therefore, the first bracha of Birchas Kohanim blesses us with wealth, as it says, “Yivarechecha,” (may He bless you) which Rashi explains means as wealth. However, that verse concludes with the word “Viyishmerecha” (and may He protect you; Parshas Naso, 6:24), which Rashi says means that Hashem should protect us from destroyers who could take our money away. The Shvilei Pinchas says that this could also mean that we should be protected from letting our wealth lead us to destructive sin as it led the Jews to the sin of the Golden Calf.

A second aspect or result of the Eigel was that Hashem said that He would no longer travel with the Jews Himself. Rather, Hashem would send an angel to accompany us (Parshas Ki Sisa, 33:2-3). This meant that there would be distance between Hashem and the Jewish people.

Moshe would not stand for such a situation. Moshe demanded that God travel with the Jews Himself. Moshe gave Hashem an ultimatum. Moshe said that if God would not travel with them directly, they would not travel at all. They would just stay put and never fulfil God’s promise of bringing the Jews into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe demanded that the Jews find “chein” (favor) in God’s eyes once again (Parshas Ki Sisa, 33:15-16) so that He would journey with them Himself. Hashem acquiesced. We did find favor in Hashem’s eyes again, and Hashem did travel with us Himself.

Therefore, the second verse of Birchas Kohanim says, “Hashem should illuminate His face to you and ‘Vichuneka’” (be gracious to you, from the word “chein”; Parshas Naso, 6:25). This is a blessing to us to find chein (favor) in God’s eyes even after we sin.
The third result of the Chet Ha-eigel was that the tribe of Levi, who did not sin with the Eigel, were instructed by Moshe to lift their swords and kill those who were proven (by witnesses and warnings) to have worshipped the Eigel (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:27). Since the tribe of Levi wound up killing thousands of people from the other tribes, it could have led to animosity from the other tribes against the tribe of Levi.

Moshe did not want there to be this hatred from the other tribes against Sheivet Levi. Therefore, the third pasuk of Birchas Kohanim says, “May Hashem lift His countenance toward you and grant you peace” (Parshas Naso, 6:26). This blessing was meant to restore peace between the people.

At this point, we are going to add just one more dimension to this whole story. When Aharon was hesitant to bring his offerings to the Altar on the eighth day of the Mishkan’s inauguration because he felt guilty about orchestrating the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe said to him, “Why are you embarrassed, it is for this reason that you have been chosen” (Rashi, Parshas Shemini, 9:7, based on Toras Kohanim).

If Aharon did indeed orchestrate the incident with the Jews worshipping the Golden Calf, how could Moshe ask him, “Why are you embarrassed?” Was it not obvious why Aharon was ashamed?

Additionally, how could Moshe say to Aharon, “It is for this reason that you have been chosen.” How could it be that Aharon was chosen because he had orchestrated the sin with the Golden Calf? That does not seem to be logical.

The Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839, Pressburg) and the Yismach Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, 1759-1841, Hungary) answer these questions based on a Vayikra Rabba (Parshas Tzav, 10:3, Rebbi Brachya in the name of Rebbi Aba bar Kahana) which says that when the people panicked due to Moshe’s disappearance, they approached Chur, a prophet, and asked him to build a god to lead them. When Chur refused, the angry mob murdered him.

Then they turned to Aharon and asked him to build a god for them. Aharon said to himself that if he refuses and they murder him, the people would be guilty of what it says, “Should a Kohein and a Prophet be slain in the Sanctuary” (Eicha, 2:20). This sin (of murdering a prophet and a priest on the same day) would anger God so greatly that it would have led to the people’s destruction. So, Aharon thought it through a little bit more.

Aharon said to himself that if I just tell them to make an Eigel, then Hashem would punish them, maybe with annihilation. Therefore, Aharon said to himself, “Better that the sin be pinned on me.” Therefore, Aharon told everybody to give him their gold so that he would build the Eigel. In this way, Hashem would blame Aharon, and the people would get off the hook. It was because of this act of self-sacrifice and selflessness that Hashem anointed Aharon as High Priest (Tehillim, 45:8).

This explains why Moshe asked Aharon why he was embarrassed. Moshe meant to say that Aharon should not be ashamed of orchestrating the Eigel because he did it to save the Jews from annihilation.

This also explains how Moshe could say to Aharon, “This is why God chose you.” It was precisely because Aharon did the Eigel himself in order to remove the blame of sin from the people onto himself that God had chosen him to be the High Priest. After all, the job of a Kohen Gadol is to atone for the people, and Aharon was perfect for the job, as he had just demonstrated.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this offers us another reason as to why the nusach of the bracha which the kohanim recite prior to Birchas Kohanim is, “Asher Kidishanu Bikidushaso Shel Aharon.” It is because we want everybody to realize that Aharon never really sinned by producing the Calf. Rather, Aharon went through the motions so that he would be blamed instead of the people.

This is how Aharon was zocheh to tap into Birchas Kohanim even before Hashem had instructed him to do so. It was because Birchas Kohanim would atone for the people who truly needed a kapara for the Chet Ha-eigel. The person who would best be positioned to bring about that kapara would be Aharon himself.

This is why the text of the bracha is, “Bikidushaso Shel Aharon.” It is to teach us just what a holy person Aharon was due to his willingness to forfeit his life, in this world and in the next, just to rescue the Jewish people from destruction.

For our practical application of this teaching, whenever we come into contact with Birchas Kohanim, which is every morning after Birchas HaTorah, and which is every morning during the repetition of the Shmoneh Esrei, and which is every Friday night when children are blessed, let us be mindful to remember that the 3 verses of Birchas Kohanim correspond to the Three Festivals which atone for the Eigel, and that the 15 words of Birchas Kohanim correspond to the 15 days of the Shalosh Regalim which atone for the Eigel, and the 60 letters of Birchas Kohanim represent the bitul of the Eigel in 60 times the amount of hours that they sinned with it.

Let us also remember that the first verse about parnassah should also be a blessing for protection so that we should not misuse our wealth which could lead to Eigel-types of sin. Let us remember that the second verse about chein should bring us favor in God’s eyes even after we sin, and the third verse about shalom should bring all Jews together, sinners and non-sinners alike.

But above all, let Birchas Kohanim remind us about Aharon’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the Jewish people. Let us allow Birchas Kohanim to inspire us, even more so, to be more and more like Aharon Hakohen by being moser nefesh, even more so, for our fellow Jews. In this way, we will receive every fathomable blessing from God.

So, may we all be blessed to be even more committed talmidim of Aharon Hakohen, by increasing our willingness and fortitude to sacrifice, even more so, for our fellow Jews, even if it means taking a hit for them, in order that Hashem brings all Jews together again to celebrate in the Beis Hamikdash during the Three Festivals when we will be blessed again by Aharon Hakohen Hagadol, and by all other kohanim, with parnassah, chein, shalom, and every other conceivable blessing.

Skin Ohr Light

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Tazriah
“Skin Ohr Light"

Parshas Tazriah deals with the laws of Tzara'as (a plague of spiritual leprosy). A Metzorah (the afflicted person) will find this plague appear on the skin of his flesh (Parshas Tazriah, 13:2). He contracts this disease because of various sins that he has committed (Meseches Eiruchin, chap. 3, “Yesh b’Eiruchin”, pg, 16a, Reb Shmuel bar Nachmeini in the name of Rebbi Yochanan). He is evicted from all three camps (Kehunah, Leviya, and Yisrael; Parshas Tazriah, 13:46, Rashi ibid citing Toras Kohanim, 13:157). Only a Kohen can instruct the Metzorah how to become pure again (Parshas Tazriah, 13:2). This brings us to several questions.

1) Why does God punish this sinner by causing tzara'as to appear specifically on the skin of his flesh?

2) Why must a Metzorah go specifically to a Kohen in order to receive purification?

3) Why must a Metzorah be sent outside of all three camps, whereas other contaminated people are only expelled from just one or two of them?

Moreover, the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem-1572 Tzfas; Eitz Chaim 38:7) says that a Metzorah must engage in Torah study to fix the damage that was done to his skin. This idea is supported by the Talmud itself (Eiruchin, chap. 3, "Yesh B'Eiruchin", pg. 15b, Rebbi Yochanan and Rebbi Yosi, based on Mishlei, 15:4; 3:18; and Yirmiya, 9:7). This leads us to another question.

4) How does Torah study repair the spiritually damaged Metzorah?

The Shelah Hakadosh (Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, 1555 Prague-1630 Tzfas; Parshas Tazriah) explains it this way. The verse says that God made "Kasnos Ohr" (garments of skin) for Adam and Eve (Parshas Bereishis, 3:21). The word "Ohr" (skin) in the verse is spelled with an ayin. However, the Arizal (Sefer Halikutim, Parshas Bereishis) says that prior to their sin, Adam and Eve's bodies had the status of "Kasnos Ohr" (the word "Ohr" should be spelled here with an aleph, meaning "light"). In other words, they had garments of light. Their souls' light burst forth and shone through. They were surrounded by light. When Adam and Eve looked at each other, they saw each other's souls.

However, after they sinned, God removed that light, and instead, replaced it with skin. The skin that we have on our bodies is the "garments of skin" that Hashem clothed Adam and Eve with.

Perhaps we could suggest a support to this idea that the skins which God provided to Adam and Eve were the skins of their bodies and not some type of animal skins. One proof could be that the verse also says that Adam and Eve were covered with fig leaves (Parshas Bereishis, 3:7). If they were already covered with animal skins, what need would there be to cover them with fig leaves? It must be that there were no animal skins used to cover them with. There was just the skin of their bodies which substituted the absence of surrounding light. Since they still felt naked in their skins, there was a need for the fig leaves.

In any case, it turns out that after they sinned, their "Kasnos Ohr" (with an aleph - light) was transformed into "Kasnos Ohr" (with an ayin - skin).

Since all our souls were once part of the grand souls of Adam and Eve, we all have a responsibility to rectify our part of that sin with the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. This means that we are all expected to revert our "Kosnos Ohr" with an ayin (skin) back into "Kosnon Ohr" with an aleph (light).

This addresses the answer to question 1, for the reason why Tzara'as attacks specifically the skin. It is because a Metzorah did the antithesis of what our purpose is. We are supposed to transform "Ohr" with an ayin into "Ohr" with an aleph. Not only didn't the Metzorah do that, but he made things worse by turning regular skin into infected skin. The blemish on his skin is supposed to serve as a reminder that he is going in the opposite direction (Chassam Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762 Frankfurt-1839 Pressburg).

Perhaps we could add that Moshe successfully fixed his part of the sin with the Eitz Hada'as. Proof of this is that rays of light emanated from his face (Parshas Ki Sisa, 34:30), indicating that his "Ohr" with an ayin was transformed into "Ohr" with an aleph.

Aharon also repaired his participation of the Eitz Hada'as. Proof of this is that he wore the eight Bigdei Kehunah (priestly vestments) of a Kohen Gadol (high priest) on his skin (Parshas Tetzavah, 28:1-2). The reason why he deserved to wear such holy clothing on his skin, was because he turned his "Ohr" with an ayin into "Ohr" with an aleph.

Aharon's sons also fixed their part in the Eitz Hada'as because they too wore the Bigdei Kehunah (four garments) of regular Kohanim (Parshas Tetzaveh, 28:1). This indicated that they also changed their "Ohr" with an ayin into "Ohr" with an aleph.

This answers question number 2 which was, “Why must a Metzorah specifically go to a Kohen to preside over his purification process?” It is because the Metzorah must learn a lesson from the Kohen by comparing himself to the Kohen. Look how the Kohen improved himself, and by contrast, look how the Metzorah damaged himself. The Kohen will teach the Metzorah how to move away from "Ohr" with an ayin, and how to get closer to "Ohr" with an aleph.

But, this brings us to a few more questions.

5) How did the sin of the Eitz Hada'as transform Adam and Eve's "Ohr" with an aleph into "Ohr" with an ayin?

6) What is it that we can do to repair our own skins, converting them back into light?

The Arvei Nachal (Rabbi Shalom Dovid Eibeshitz, b. 1755, Ukraine, d. 1813, Safed) cites the Bechor Shor (Rabbenu Yosef ben Yitzchak, 12th cent. Tosafist from France, a disciple of Rabbenu Tam) who teaches us that there are three parts to a soul. In ascending order, they are: Nefesh (soul), Ruach (spirit), and Neshamah (soul).

A Tzaddik has all three parts of his soul within him. However, when a person begins to sin, the Neshamah leaves his body. If he continues to sin, his Ruach also leaves his body. If he continues to sin, even the Nefesh which remains in his body becomes contaminated. Therefore, he is compared to an impure animal which only has a Nefesh.

When each part of the soul leaves his body, it is tantamount to a death. Therefore, the wicked are considered dead even when they are alive (Berachos, chap. 3, "Mi Shemeisu", pg. 18b). This is because they are spiritually dead.

The Panim Yafos (Rabbi Pinchas Halevi Horowitz, b. 1731, Galicia, d. 1805, Frankfurt, the younger brother of Reb Shmuel Shmelka of Nickelsberg, who were disciples of the Maggid of Mezrich) adds that these three parts of the soul correspond to the three frequencies that we operate on: action, speech, and thought.

The Nefesh, which is found in the blood, gives people the ability to do. The Ruach enables the person to speak. The Neshamah gives man the capability of thinking and choosing. Making a choice is a Divine ability. Only man can choose. Neither animal, vegetable, or mineral can. Choice stems from the Neshamah which is called God's lamp (Mishlei 20:27). Therefore, the Neshamah carries Divine light.

Besides the three parts of the soul, there is also a body that man possesses. Therefore, there are four parts to man altogether.

There are also four parts to the Torah. They are: cantillations, vowels, crowns, and letters. The four parts of man parallel the four parts of the Torah.

1) The Neshamah corresponds to the musical notes.
2) The Ruach is connected to the vowels.
3) The Nefesh parallels the crowns.
4) The body links to the letters (Arizal, chap. 5).

Although our Torah scrolls only have letters and crowns written into them, the vowels and cantillations are accessed during Kriyas HaTorah (Torah reading), because the Ba'al Korei (Torah reader) sees the letters and crowns, but he also pronounces the vowels and articulates the cantillations. Therefore, all four parts of man are united during Torah reading.

Our Torah scrolls on Earth only have letters and crowns to teach us that all men are created equally. Meaning, every living person has a body and a soul. Actually, all men START OFF equally. In the beginning, we are all on the same page. However, what becomes of each individual afterwards is dependent on his behavior.

Just like we have a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) below, God has His personal Sefer Torah above. In Hashem's Sefer Torah, not only are there letters and crowns, but even the vowels and musical notes are visible, because Hashem's Sefer Torah represents God's ultimate vision for man, which is that man should possess, and be in control of, all four parts of himself living together harmoniously.

Moreover, each person has his own Sefer Torah above. Each and every person is an author, writing his own Sefer Torah. Each person's Sefer Torah is the story of his life. Even the word "sefer" (book) hints to this because when the vowels of the Hebrew word (sefer) are rearranged, it can be pronounced "sippur" (story). This teaches us that every person has his own Sefer Torah which tells his own story.

What gets written into each person's Sefer Torah is dependent on his behavior. Righteous people who are in control of their actions, speech, and thoughts, possess a Sefer Torah with letters, crowns, vowels, and cantillations, matching Hashem's Torah scroll.

Wicked people who have corrupted their actions, ruined their speech, and defiled their thoughts possess a Sefer Torah without musical notes and vowels. Even the crowns and letters that are present are blemished.

Average people may not be in control of their thoughts which is the most difficult human experience to control. However, they can be in control of their speech and actions. Therefore, their Torah scrolls are missing the cantillations, but still possess vowels, crowns, and letters.

All this information will help us understand the answer to question 5 which was, “How did the sin of the Eitz Hada'as cause Adam and Eve to lose their "Ohr" with an aleph, light? It is because they sinned on all three frequencies.

THOUGHT: The serpent said that on the day they eat from the tree, they will be like God (Parshas Bereishis, 3:5). Since they ate from the tree, it showed that they wanted to be gods. That thought itself is idolatry because there can be only One God. Any belief in any other god would be a belief in a divine partnership which is heresy. Thus, they sinned with their thoughts.

SPEECH: The whole conversation that Eve had with the snake was sinful because one should not even begin talking with tricksters since it will probably lead to no good, as it did in Eve's case.

ACTION: They also sinned with action by taking the fruit and eating it.

Therefore, Adam and Eve were missing their Neshamos and their Ruachs. Even their Nefashos were contaminated.

Once their Neshamos were missing, they no longer had that inner light, God's lamp, to illuminate the Ruach, which in turn would illuminate the Nefesh which would then go on to illuminate the body. This answers question number 5 which was, “How did the Eitz Hada'as cause their garments of light to be extinguished?” The answer is, when they lost their Neshamos, they lost their "Ohr" with an aleph, and instead, were given an "Ohr" with an ayin (Shvilei Pinchas).

This also addresses question number 1 which was, “Why does God punish a Metzorah by specifically attacking his skin?” It is because a Metzorah also sinned on all three frequencies.

THOUGHT: A Metzorah suffers from arrogance. His speaking Lashon Hara (derogatory speech about others) is because he THINKS that he is better than everyone else. Therefore, in his purification process, he must bring Cedar wood which is from a very tall tree, representing the high opinion that he has of himself. He must also bring a crimson thread which is called "Tola'as" (worm) and a low plant called a Hyssop, teaching him that he must lower himself with humility (Rashi, Parshas Metzorah 14:4, citing Tanchuma 3).

SPEECH: A Metzorah speaks Lashon Hara. Therefore, he must also bring two birds for his purification, because birds babble constantly with their chirping. This is meant to atone for his constant talking (Rashi, Parshas Metzorah, 14:4, based on Eiruchin ibid 16b).

ACTION: One who speaks Lashon Hara murders three
people: the one spoken about, the listener, and the talker. By literally ruining somebody else's life through Lashon Hara, it is considered actual murder (Eiruchin, chap. 3, "Yesh B'Eiruchin", pg. 15b).

Therefore, a Metzorah loses his Neshama and Ruach. His Nefesh and body have become defiled. Without a Neshama, he no longer possesses a Divine light. Therefore, he loses his "Ohr" with an aleph, and is left with an "Ohr" with an ayin (Shvilei Pinchas).

This also explains the answer to question number 3 which was, “Why is a Metzorah evicted from all three camps?” The answer is as follows. The Zohar (Tzav, pg. 29b; Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun Ayin, pg. 131a) says that the three classes of Jews: Kohen, Levi, and Yisrael, correspond to Neshama, Ruach, and Nefesh. The Kohen connects to Neshama, the Levi links to Ruach, and a Yisrael parallels the Nefesh.

Since a Metzorah already distanced himself from all three parts of the soul by sinning on all three levels, it is not surprising that he is expelled from all three camps. It is measure for measure (Shvilei Pinchas).

This adds to the answer of question number 2 which was, “Why must a Metzorah be purified specifically by a Kohen?” It is because a Kohen, who corresponds to the Neshama, can help a Metzorah obtain a holy Nefesh and retrieve his Ruach, and he can even assist in helping him get his Neshama back (Shvilei Pinchas).

Now we can understand the answer to question number 4 with respect to the connection between Torah study and Lashon Hara. With a Metzorah's Lashon Hara, he sinned on all three frequencies, ruining all three parts of his soul which also defiles his body. Therefore, to correct his situation, he must engage in a type of Torah study that touches upon all four aspects of Torah. Kriyas HaTorah, with its four parts, will help him think holy thoughts, speak holy words, and motivate holy action, resulting in bringing all four parts of man back together again in holiness (Shvilei Pinchas).

This is the answer to question number 6 which was, “What can we do to transform our "Ohr" with an ayin back into "Ohr" with an aleph?” The answer is, it is the study of Torah in its totality, with all four of its parts, that does the trick. Once our thoughts, speech, and actions have become holy from such Torah study, will we once again have a Neshama to illuminate the Ruach, which in turn sheds light upon the Nefesh which will brighten the body (Shvilei Pinchas).

This could be our practical application of this teaching. Let us try to study Torah in its totality. This would mean to try attending services to listen to Kriyas HaTorah which touches upon all four components of Torah and our souls. Although it might be difficult for some to attend services, there is also another way.

There is a Mitzvah of reviewing the verses of the parsha of the week twice with a translation, which could either be Onkelos or Rashi, and preferably both. This Mitzvah is found in chapter 285 of the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim (Code of Jewish Law). Chapter 285 is not an arbitrary number. It is the numerical value of the Hebrew word "Rafeh" (weak), teaching us that this Mitzvah is somewhat weak by the Jewish people. It is time consuming and demands commitment. But the benefits are astronomical! Besides granting us longevity (Meseches Berachos, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 8a-b, Rav Huna bar Yehuda in the name of Rav Ami) there are other benefits as well.

By opening a Chumash and looking at the letters and crowns, and by pronouncing the vowels and cantillations, we are activating all four parts of the Torah. During this learning, let us be conscious to absorb the Torah's lessons of improving our thoughts, speech, and actions. In so doing, we will benefit by possessing all four parts of man living together in holy harmony. Encouraging others to do this Mitzvah benefits both parties.

So, may we all be blessed with the strength to learn so much Torah, with all its four components, that there is no time for Lashon Hara, and thus illuminate all four parts of man, in order that we be inscribed in the Sefer Torah of the righteous, and go back to the level of Adam Harishon before the sin, bearing "Kosnos Ohr" with an aleph on our bodies, and subsequently return to the Machaneh Kehunah, with the building of the Third Beis Hamikdash, speedily in our days.

Ups and Downs

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Metzorah
“Ups and Downs”

There are two portions dedicated to tzara'as (a spiritual skin disease), Tazria and Metzora. Parshas Tazria primarily discusses the punishment of tzara'as to a sinner (Parshas Tazria, 13:2; Eiruchin, chap. 3, "Yesh B'Eiruchin", pg. 15b, Rebbi Yochanan quoting Rebbi Yosi), whereas Parshas Metzora primarily discusses the tikkun (fixing) and purification of a metzora with the offering that he brings (Parshas Metzora, 14:2-7; Rashi 14:4, citing Eiruchin 16b - 17b; Tanchuma Metzora, 3).

The items used to purify the metzora are: two birds, cedar wood, a crimson thread, and hyssop. One bird is slaughtered; the other is sent free upon the open field. All of the other ingredients are dipped into the blood of the dead bird over spring water and sprinkled on the metzora in order to purify him (Parshas Metzora, 14:4-7).

The Gemara (Eiruchin, pg. 15b) explains that birds are used because the metzora was afflicted with tzara'as because of speaking Lashon Hara. Lashon Hara is a bunch of babbling words. Therefore, birds which babble constantly with their chirping sounds, atone for him.

A metzora is also guilty of arrogance. Therefore, wood from a cedar tree is used because it is a tall tree representing his haughtiness. Since the metzora must learn to be humbler, a hyssop is used because it is a very low bush representing humility.

The earliest source which understands the cedar tree and hyssop in this way is found in the words of Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon). The pasuk (verse) says that Shlomo was wiser than Adam Harishon, Avraham Avinu, Moshe, Yosef, and the entire generation who wandered in the desert (Melachim Aleph,5:11; Rashi citing a Midrash). The pasuk continues to say that Shlomo spoke 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs (Melachim Aleph, 5:12). It also says that Shlomo spoke to the trees, from the cedar in Lebanon down to the hyssop which grows out of the wall (Melachim Aleph, 5:13).

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Chukas, 19:3; the Rabanan) explains these pesukim by saying that Shlomo had 3,000 proverbs for every verse in the Chamishei Chumshei Torah (Five Books of Moses), and he had 1,005 reasons for every proverb.

This means that Shlomo taught 3,015,000 reasons on every verse in the Torah (3,000 proverbs on each verse x 1,005 reasons for each proverb = 3,015,000 reasons on each pasuk).

Now, there are 5,845 pesukim (verses) in the Chamishei Chumshei Torah. Therefore, Shlomo taught 17,535,000 proverbs on the entire Torah (3,000 proverbs on each pasuk x 5,845 pesukim = 17, 535,000 proverbs on the entire Torah).

It also turns out that Shlomo taught 17,622,675,000 reasons on the entire Torah (3,015,000 reasons on every pasuk x 5,845 pesukim = 17, 622,675,000 reasons on the entire Torah).

The Midrash concludes by explaining that the pasuk which spoke about Shlomo speaking about cedar trees and hyssops means that Shlomo taught us the reason why a metzora must bring these items. It is because the metzora was haughty like a tall cedar tree. This arrogance caused him to contract tzara'as. (Haughtiness leads a person to speak Lashon Hara because he feels superior to others. As such, he feels that he has a right to speak disparagingly about others). Therefore, he must humble himself like a hyssop in order for him to be healed.

The question is, “Why did the pasuk and midrash measure Shlomo's wisdom with this reason that he provided for a metzora bringing cedar wood and hyssop? Why was this reason chosen more than any of the other myriads of reasons that Shlomo had in expounding on the Torah to demonstrate his wisdom?”

Let us begin with an important teaching. With respect to the two birds brought in the purification process of a metzora where one is slaughtered and the other is sent free upon the open field. Why do we treat these two birds differently? Why not slaughter them both as an offering to atone for the metzora?

Rebbi Yehoshua of Belz (the Mitteler Rav, 1825-1894, Western Ukraine) answers this question based on the Zohar (Parshas Tazria, pg. 46b) which says that just like a person needs an atonement for forbidden words he should have never uttered, similarly, a person needs atonement for holy words that he should have spoken, but instead, he chose to remain silent.

The slaughtered bird came to atone for a person who spoke forbidden speech. When a bird is slaughtered, it stops chirping. This was meant as a message to the Lashon Hara speaker that he has to learn when to keep his mouth shut.

However, the bird sent free upon the open field will continue to chirp constantly. This was meant as a message to the person who was in a position to share words of Torah and encouragement with others, but instead, chose remain silent. This bird teaches such a person that he has to know when to open his mouth and say something.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this approach of the Belzer Rebbe also addresses another difficulty which is, “Why does a metzora have to bring both cedar wood and hyssop?” If this person's problem was arrogance, he should just bring the low hyssop to teach him humility. Why would he bring wood from the tall cedar tree? The cedar tree represents the problem of haughtiness.

The answer is just like there are situations in which a person must behave with humility, similarly, there are situations in which a person must clothe himself with holy haughtiness to do God's will. This is called healthy pride. We must know when to stand tall and stand proud to do Hashem's will, even though it may be in full view for the public to see.

For a person to remain passive when he should have been active by hiding himself behind the cloak of humility, is false humility. The cedar wood teaches such a person that there are times that one has to stand tall and proud to do God's will.

Let us share a kabbalistic teaching which will explain why we measured Shlomo's wisdom by the reason he provided for a metzora bringing cedar wood and hyssop for his purification.

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem-1572 Tzfas; Sha'ar Hagilgulim, preface, 22) says that if a person dies without doing teshuva, he must become a gilgul (reincarnation) prior to going to Gehinnom (Purgatory) in order to achieve atonement. A person can be sent back down as a gilgul into any of the four levels of creation: mineral, vegetable, animal, and human. The type and severity of the sin determines which level he will be reincarnated into.

The Sefer Chareidim (Rabbi Elazar Azikri, Tzefas, 1533-1600) adds that although when we are reincarnated into a person, we have no recollection of our past lives; nevertheless, when reincarnated into any of the other three levels of creation, we remember all of our past transmigrations. This knowledge increases our pain because we see how we have been demoted from a person to a horse or to a potato. This is extremely demeaning. This pain helps cleanse the person from sin. However, when reincarnated into a person, there is no recollection of the past because such knowledge would prevent the person from making free choices. He would be compelled to do the right thing in order to repair himself. That would undermine the purpose of creating man.

Now, if a person sinned with arrogance and died without doing teshuva, he is reincarnated into a tall cedar tree which represents haughtiness. The punishment fits the crime. However, if a person sinned with invalid humility and died without doing teshuva, he is reincarnated into a low hyssop which represents humility. Once again, the punishment fits the crime.

This information explains the following verse. In Koheles (4:1) where Shlomo Hamelech says, "I returned and I saw all the acts of oppression that have been committed beneath the sun and behold, tears of the oppressed with none to comfort them."

The Shvilei Pinchas says that the "oppressed" ones here refer to the souls of people who have sinned and died without doing teshuva and were reincarnated into various materials. They cry "tears" to be released from their prisons, but there is no "comfort" because, once a person is dead, it's too late for him to do teshuva. Shlomo saw all of those souls stuck in these materials. Shlomo knew them. He knew the sins they had committed in their previous lives. Shlomo saw their plight and he felt their pain.

However, Hashem never abandons anybody (Shmuel Bais, 14:14). Hashem orchestrates that these materials make their way to Jewish people who use them in the context of a mitzva. The mitzva done with these materials releases the souls trapped inside. The souls can then make their ascent toward Heaven.

This explains why Shlomo's wisdom was measured by giving a reason for a metzora bringing cedar wood and hyssop. Shlomo didn't just talk about the cedar trees in Lebanon, but he spoke to the trees, meaning, he spoke to the souls trapped inside of the trees. This is how Shlomo came to know who these people were. This is how he knew what they were guilty of.

Shlomo understood that such and such a soul was sent to reside in a cedar tree because it had sinned with arrogance. Shlomo also understood that another soul was sent to dwell inside of a hyssop because it had sinned with unhealthy humility.

This knowledge which Shlomo possessed was amazing! It's one thing to have an encyclopedic broad mind which can also delve deeply into any given topic; however, it's a whole different ball game to have knowledge of the souls imprisoned within nature. Shlomo knew their histories and what they needed in order for them to achieve atonement.

Shlomo's knowledge was measured by the cedar tree and hyssop because it demonstrated the greatest example of superior knowledge because it showed that Shlomo even had knowledge of the souls that were trapped inside the trees and bushes.

Practically speaking, we recite berachos over food daily. Let us try to do the following exercise just once a day. When reciting a beracha over something that comes from a tall tree, like an apple, hold the apple in your hand, look at it and think that there might be a soul trapped inside of it. Say to yourself that this soul possibly sinned with arrogance, represented by the tall tree, and subsequently spoke Lashon Hara. Say to yourself, "I would like to improve in this area by realizing that I'm not such a hot-shot myself, so, who am I to speak about others."

Then, make a remarkably good beracha over the apple. The lesson we just learned from the apple, coupled with the beracha, will help release the soul that may be trapped inside of that prison.

Similarly, when reciting a beracha over something that comes from a low bush, like berries, stop for a moment and think that there may be a soul trapped inside that berry, possibly because it sinned with unhealthy humility, represented by the low bush that it grew on. Say, "I would like to improve in this area by stepping up to the plate to do God's will even though it may be a little embarrassing because other people might be watching."

Then, recite an excellent beracha over the berry. The lesson we just learned from the berry, coupled with the beracha, will help release any soul that may be trapped inside of that prison.

Overall, we are beginning to see that the totality of teshuva is accomplished when we don't just focus on ourselves, but also keep other people in mind (See Rabbenu Yona, 1200 Girona-1263 Toledo, Spain; Sha'arei Teshuva, Sha'ar 1, number 50; Yechezkiel 18:30; Tehillim, 51:3-4-15). We must learn more and more about assisting others. This is not only true when it comes to those who have already passed on, but it is certainly true when it comes to those who are still alive. We must reach out and reach in!

So, may we all be blessed with the wisdom of Shlomo to know when to be humble like a quiet hyssop, and when to possess loud holy haughtiness like a chirping cedar tree, in order that we soar like a bird, lifting other souls with us, which is the greatest beracha ever.

Our Honored Guest

“Our Honored Guest”

Once upon a time the Chiddushei Harim (Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter Rotenberg, the first Gerrer Rebbe, Poland, 1799-1866) said at his Purim meal, “Purim is the most favorable time. Any person can approach Hashem on Purim and ask for whatever he wants, and Hashem will fulfil his request. This is an outright law in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 694:3; based on Yerushalmi, Meseches Megillah, pg. 5a) which says that we are not to be stingy with money on Purim; but rather, any person who stretches out his hand and asks for a handout, we should give to that person.”

This is a law that Hashem abides by as well (see Yerushalmi, Meseches Rosh Hashana, pg. 7a, and Tanchuma Parshas Naso, siman 29, where it says that Hashem chooses to fulfil both Torah and Rabbinic law). Therefore, anybody who asks God for something on Purim, Hashem will grant him his request (Sefer Likkutei Harim).

The Shvilei Pinchas quotes Sefarim Hakedoshim who point to a remez (hint) in Megillas Esther which supports this notion that Hashem grants everybody his request on Purim.

A pasuk in Megillas Esther (5:6) says, “And the king said to Esther during the wine feast, ‘What is your request, it will be granted to you.’” A deeper read of this verse is based on the Midrash in Esther Rabba (3:10) which quotes Rebbi Yudan and Rebbi Levi who said in the name of Rebbi Yochanan that whenever it says the word “Melech” by itself in the Megillah (meaning, when the word “Melech” is not attached to the word “Achashveirosh”), it is not only a reference to Achashveirosh (which is the pshat), but it is also a remez which points to Hashem, the “Melech Elyon” (King Above).

With this Midrash in mind, we can reread this pasuk in the following way:

“And the king said” = the King Above, Hashem said…

“To Esther” = the Jewish people who were represented by Esther…

“During the wine feast” = of Purim…

“What is your request, it will be granted to you” = whatever you ask from Me (God) will be given to you.

We are going to explore why Hashem chooses to grant every person his request on Purim. To do so, we are going to take a look at Mordechai’s ancestry.

In Megillas Esther (2:5) it says, “There was an Ish Yehudi (Jewish man) in Shushan the capital whose name was Mordechai.” In Esther Rabba (2:5) it says that the word “Ish” in this verse connects Mordechai to Moshe because there is a pasuk about Moshe which also uses the word “Ish,” as it says, “V’ha-ish (and the man) Moshe Anav Meod” (was exceedingly humble; Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:3). This comparison teaches us that Mordechai was humble just as Moshe was humble.

The Midrash goes on to say that just as Moshe rescued the Jews from annihilation after they sinned with the Golden Calf (Tehillim, 106: 19 & 23), so did Mordechai rescue the Jews from annihilation after they sinned by participating in the filthy party of Achashveirosh and after they sinned by bowing down to an idol (Megillas Esther, 10:3; Meseches Megillah, chap. 1, “Megillah Nikreis”, pg. 12a, Rashb”i).

The final comparison that this Midrash makes between them is that just as Moshe taught Torah to the Jewish people (Parshas Vaeschanan, 4:5), so did Mordechai teach Torah to the Jewish people (Esther, 9:30).

The Megaleh Amukos (Rabbi Nasan Nata Shapira, 1585-1633, Cracow, Poland; Vaeschanan) adds that not only were there several comparisons between Mordechai and Moshe, but, Kabbalistically speaking, Mordechai was actually a gilgul (reincarnation) of Moshe! This idea will become relevant as we proceed.

For a moment, let us focus on the aspect of humility which Moshe and Mordechai shared. Under the humbled leadership of Mordechai, the Jewish people became humbled as well. This national humility led to the Jews, in Mordechai’s days, to reaccept the Torah willingly, from a place of love (Shabbos, chap. 9, “Amar Rebbi Akiva”, pg. 88a, Rava, Megillas Esther, 9:27).

We will explain this connection behind humility and lovingly accepting the Torah in a few moments. Before we do, let us add the following.

Although Moshe also maintained humility to the greatest degree humanly possible, the Jews under his leadership did not completely follow in his humble ways. This was not a poor reflection on Moshe, but rather a result of the Jews coming into contact with Amalek (Parshas Beshalach, 17:8).

In his Zera Kodesh, the Ropshitzer Rebbe (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi, 1760-1827, Poland) says that one of the character flaws of Amalek was that they were an arrogant people. There is a hint which supports this idea. The Hebrew word “Amalek” equals 240. The number 240 is also the exact same numerical value as the Hebrew word “Ram” (high; haughty).

This numerical equivalency teaches us that Amalek maintained that they were higher (Ram) and better than everybody else. They thought that they were a superior race, very much like the Nazis, yemach shemam, who thought that they, the Aryan race, was superior to all others.

As is often the case, the Jews were affected by their surroundings. The Amaleki culture, which they had just been exposed to, rubbed off on them, leaving the Jews with feelings of arrogance.

Under Moshe’s leadership, Yehoshua only succeeded in weakening the evil forces of Amalek slightly (Parshas Beshalach, 17:13). Therefore, although the Jews won the battle against Amalek, the poisonous arrogant philosophy of Amalek still lingered within them.

This is why the Jews rejected Torah Sheba’al Peh (the Oral Tradition) at Sinai (Tanchuma, Parshas Noach, 3), to the point that Hashem had to suspend Mount Sinai over their heads threatening them with death if they refused to accept it (Shabbos, chap. 9, “Amar Rebbi Akiva”, pg. 88a, Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa, Parshas Yisro, 19:17).

It is because Torah is compared to water (Yeshaya, 55:1). The reason why Torah is compared to water is because Torah behaves like water. Just as water tends to rest in the lowest of places, so does Torah reside within the humblest of spirits (Meseches Ta’anis, chap. 1, “m’eimasai”, pg. 7a, Rebbi Chanina bar Idi). But since the Jews at Sinai were still a bit arrogant, the Torah did not settle within them. Therefore, they did not taste the sweetness of the Torah. Since they did not appreciate the sweetness of the Torah, they rejected the Oral Law. Although Hashem forced them to accept Oral Law, that was only an external acceptance, because deep down they still rejected it.

Once they rejected Oral Law, it could be argued that they even rejected Torah Shebichtav (Written Law) without even realizing it. This is because Torah Shebichtav without Torah Sheba’al Peh has no meaning.

It turns out that Moshe was disappointed with the people’s Kabbalas HaTorah (acceptance of Torah) because it really was not that much of a kabbalah to begin with.

However, under the leadership of Mordechai, the arrogant forces of Amalek were weakened much more since Haman (who was an Amaleki) was hanged with his sons. This weakening of Amalek led to the Jews becoming even more humbled. As a result of that, the Torah rested within them. Once that happened, the Jews began to taste the deliciousness of Torah. This new appreciation of Torah’s sweetness led them to accept not only Torah Shebichtav willingly, but even Torah Sheba’al Peh was accepted from a place of love.
It was like Mordechai was sending two gifts back to Moshe, his previous transmigration. Those two gifts were: 1) Torah Shebichtav, and 2) Torah Sheba’al Peh.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains a deeper dimension of the mitzvah called Mishloach Manos where we send two gifts to one other person on Purim (Megillas Esther, 9:19). The two gifts represent the two aspects of Torah (Written and Oral). The sending of them to one person reenacts what Mordechai sent to Moshe. The giver is like Mordechai and the receiver is like Moshe.

Although the verse says to send Mishloach Manos “Ish L’rayayhu” (one to another), the Gemara in Megillah (chap. 1, Megillah Nikreis”, pg. 7a; Rav Yoseph) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 695:4) say “L’ish Echad (to one person). Both expressions are true, but one expression adds to the other.

The expression “Ish L’rayayhu” hints to us that Mordechai and Moshe were “friends” where one (Mordechai) sent gifts to the other (Moshe). However, the expression “L’ish Echad” hints to us that in reality, both Mordechai and Moshe were really “one person.”

You know, the Chidah (Rabbi Chaim Yoseph Dovid Azulai, 1724 Jerusalem-1806 Italy) in his Chomas Anach (plumbed wall; Amos 7:7) on the Megillah says that there is a hint supporting this idea that Mordechai was a gilgul of Moshe. The words “Ish Yehudi” (Megillas Esther, 2:5), which describe Mordechai, has the same numerical value as the word or name “Moshe.” This numerical equivalency teaches us that Mordechai Ish Yehudi was a gilgul of Moshe.

However, there seems to be a problem with this numerical comparison. The words “Ish Yehudi” equal 346, whereas the word “Moshe” only equals 345. How can the Chidah say that they are the same?

One answer is based on the Ba’al Haturim throughout Chumash who maintains that the rule of thumb regarding the world of gematria (numerical value) is that it is accepted to be one off.

This rule of thumb does not sit well with many because we like things to work out exactly. Therefore, perhaps we could suggest a reason why there is a slight discrepancy between this gematria of “Ish Yehudi” and “Moshe.” Maybe one reason why “Ish Yehudi” is one digit more that “Moshe” is because it comes to teach us that Mordechai had “one up” over Moshe.

This is because in the days of Moshe, Amalek was only weakened a little bit which led to an inferior acceptance of Torah. However, in the days of Mordechai, the arrogant forces of Amalek were weakened much more so, which led to a superior acceptance of Torah.

One need not worry about how Mordechai could “outdo” Moshe because Mordechai was Moshe. Moshe came back down a second time as Mordechai in order to be metaken (fix) and in order to be mashlim (complete) the Jewish people’s Kabbalas HaTorah. So, it was like Moshe outdid himself when he was in the body of Mordechai.

After sharing all of the above, we will finally be able to explain why Hashem chooses to give to all who ask of Him on Purim.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that it is because we find that Hashem chooses to rest His Shechina (Divine Presence) only in a place where there is humility. For example, Hashem rested His Shechina specifically on Mount Sinai because it was the most humbly of the mountains (Sota, chap. 1, “Hamekaneh”, pg. 5a).

The Zohar (Parshas Pinchas, pg. 244a) adds that whenever Hashem chooses to dwell with us down here on earth, Hashem becomes our Guest and we become His hosts.

Once Hashem becomes our Guest, a certain halacha regarding guests kicks in. The Gemara in Meseches Pesachim (chap. 7, Keitzad Tzolin”, pg. 86b) says, “Whatever your host asks you to do, you must do [with the exception of doing a sin].”

Since Moshe was humble, Hashem felt comfortable to rest His Shechina on earth. Therefore, when the Jews sinned with the Calf and Hashem wanted to destroy them, Moshe [the host] asked Hashem [the Guest] not to destroy them. Since Hashem chooses to abide by Torah and Rabbinic Law, He acquiesced and did not eradicate the Jews. This was a typical case of a Tzaddik who made a decree and Hashem fulfilled it (Moed Katan, chap. 3, “Eilu Migalchin”, pg. 16b, Rebbi Avahu). It is just that now we understand a little bit more of the mechanics behind this idea.

Mordechai was also humble. As a result, the Shechina rested on earth in his merit. Therefore, when the Jews sinned by Achashveirosh’s meal, and when they sinned by bowing to an idol, Hashem wanted to destroy them. However, Mordechai [the host] asked Hashem [the Guest] not to. Like a good Guest, Hashem complied and the Jews were saved.

Therefore, on every Purim, when we focus on our hero, Mordechai, and when we try to emulate his ways by becoming a little bit humbler, the Shechina rests upon us on Purim. Once Hashem is our Honored Guest, whatever we [the hosts} ask of Hashem [the Guest], will be granted, as is that law.

Practically speaking, perhaps we could suggest six steps to further enhance our Purim experience. Here they are:

1) Be prepared that by the time Purim rolls around, we have a large pouch of change that we will carry around with us wherever we go on Purim. Let us make it a practice that whoever asks us for a handout, we give him at least something.

2) Also look to do a chesed for somebody on Purim.

3) During Mishloach Manos, keep in mind that the giver is like Mordechai and the receiver is like Moshe, and remember that the two gifts represent Torah Shebichtav and Torah Sheba’al Peh.

4) At some point during the day, say, “Na’aseh V’nishma Mei’ahava, V’kiyimu V’kiblu Hayehudim Aleihem.”

5) Learn some Torah, even five minutes more than we would have.

6) Approach Hashem from a place of humility, recognizing that we are not in control, and ask Him for His handouts, and keep begging and asking over and over and over again.

Please God, Hashem will deliver on all of our requests as a Guest who fulfills the desires of His host.

So, may we all be inspired by Moshe Rabbenu and by Mordechai Hayehudi even more so, and follow in their footsteps regarding humility even more so, by helping others and by maintaining a commitment to the Sea of Torah study like one who thirsts for water, in order that Hashem causes His Shechina to rest upon earth below as our Honored Guest, Who will fulfil any of our wishes, since we are His hosts, which will help keep us all healthy, wealthy, holy, and happy.

A Dash of Ash

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Tzav
“A Dash of Ash”

Our portion begins by discussing the burnt offering. The verses say, "And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Command Aharon and his sons, saying: ‘This is the law of the elevation-offering: It is the Elevation-offering that stays "Al Mokda" (on the fire) on the Altar’" (Parshas Tzav, 6:1-2). Tradition tells us that the letter "mem" of the word "Mokda" (fire) is written smaller than the average "mem". This draws our attention to it. What is the reason for the small mem?

The Kotzker Rebbe (Reb Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk, 1787-1859, Poland) teaches us that the "fire" on the Altar represents the passion we are supposed to have in the service of God. However, that fire need not be publicly displayed. The small mem hints to us that it suffices to keep that enthusiasm deep inside our hearts and souls.

Perhaps we could suggest another approach in understanding the meaning behind the small mem. The very next verse says, "He (the Kohen) must lift up and separate "hadeshen" (the ash) of what the fire consumed of the Elevation-offering on the Altar, and place it next to the Altar” (Parshas Tzav, 6:3).

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Hakohen of Rimanov (1778-1846, Poland) teaches that ash is considered to be something of little or no importance. This is hinted to in the Torah's word for ash, "deshen." This word is spelled with three Hebrew letters: dalet, shin, and nun. These three letters form the acronym of the following three words, "Davar Shelo Nechshav" (something that is unimportant).

Nevertheless, we are being told to lift this ash up and place it next to the Altar. A very powerful lesson can be gleaned from this. We learn from here that even something which seems to be insignificant can be elevated and used for something so holy that it deserves to lie next to the Altar itself.

This brings us right back to the small letter mem. The small size of the letter represents seemingly small and insignificant things. Yet, it emphasizes "mokda," teaching us that we must serve God with a "fiery" passion even with what seems to be small and trivial because often we simply do not appreciate just how deep, vital, and central these minutiae really are.

This idea is reminiscent of a teaching in Pirkei Avos (chap. 2, "Rebbi Omer", Mishnah 1) where Rebbi says, “Be as scrupulous in performing a ‘minor’ mitzvah as in a ‘major’ one, for you do not know the reward given for the respective mitzvos.”

As a matter of fact, the way we treat every-day life supports this idea. Imagine that the prescription of our eyeglasses or contacts was just one number off. We would not be satisfied with our slightly blurred vision. We would complain and demand precision even though it was just one digit off.

Imagine that we were expecting an important e-mail from somebody but it never arrived. Imagine confronting that person and complaining about his tardiness. If he were to say, "I sent it to your address but I just left out the "dot" before the "com,” we would probably get angry at this person and tell him that you obviously have to put the "dot" in, because otherwise it will not go through. Obviously, even one small "dot" makes a big difference.

Imagine we went shopping and paid the cashier in full, minus just one nickel or just one-half shekel. The cashier would demand that the full sum be paid even though it is such a small amount.

We see from all of this human behavior of ours that small things do count! Our observance of Judaism should receive no less respect. Even what seems to be just a minor detail should be given the attention it deserves.

As we turn our attention to the upcoming holiday of Pesach, we find the same idea. For example, those of us who participate in Matzah baking soon realize the significance of just one second beyond the eighteen minutes (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 459:2). We also begin to see the ramifications of just one drop of extra water added to the dough.

One way to inculcate this lesson into our systems would be the following. Imagine that we set aside a half hour a day for Torah study. After we conclude the half hour, instead of closing the Sefer, let's spend just another five seconds looking at the next piece. It might seem irrelevant, but do the math yourself. If every second of Torah study is equivalent to all 613 Mitzvos, (See Shabbos, chap. 18, "Mifanin", pg. 127a), then we just performed 3,065 Mitzvos in just five seconds! Would anybody call that small? I don’t think so.

So, may we all be blessed to pay even more attention to the fine details of life, appreciating our family, friends, and Hashem even for the “small” things that we receive from them and thereby approach our service to God with unbridled enthusiasm which will ignite that spark in others as well.

A Tale of Two Temples

“A Tale of Two Temples”

Although Parshas Terumah deals with the commandment of building the Mishkan (sanctuary) and its Keilim (vessels), it also instructs us to build the Beis Hamikdash, (Temple), as it says, “And they must make a Mikdash for Me so that I may dwell among them” (Parshas Terumah, 25:8). This verse does not say, “And they must make a Mishkan for Me,” which refers to the temporary Tabernacle that the Jewish people had with them in the wilderness, but rather it says that they must make a Mikdash, which indicates that we must build a Beis Hamikdash.

Not only does the verse instruct us to build a Beis Hamikdash, but the pasuk says to make it, “Li,” (for Me; Hashem). The Sifri in Parshas Beha’alosecha teaches us that whenever the Torah uses the word “Li,” it means that the subject matter of that verse is something which will last forever. For example, the verse uses the word “Li” with respect to Kohanim (Parshas Tetzaveh, 28:41), Leviim (Parshas Bamidbar, 3:12), Yisraelim (Parshas Behar, 25:55), Bechoros (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 8:17), and the Beis Hamikdash (Parshas Terumah, 25:8).

This Sifri seems to be a bit problematic because although Kohanim, Leviim, Yisraelim, and Bechoros have stood the test of time because they are still in existence today, the Beis Hamikdash has not withstood the test of time because it has been destroyed, twice. Therefore, how could the verse use the word “Li” concerning the Beis Hamikdash?

Moreover, Chaggai the Prophet said, “The glory of this latter Temple (the Second Beis Hamikdash) will be greater than that of the first [Temple]” (Chaggai, 2:9). The Gemara in Meseches Baba Basra (chap. 1, “Hashutfin”, pg. 3a) offers two reasons as to how the Second Beis HaMikdash was greater than the first. The first reason is because the actual structure of the Second Beis Hamikdash was taller than the structure of the first. The Second Beis Hamikdash stood at 100 cubits tall whereas the First Beis Hamikdash stood only at 30 cubits tall.

The second reason is because the Second Beis Hamikdash lasted longer than the first. The Second Beis Hamikdash lasted for 420 years, whereas the First Beis Hamikdash only lasted for 410 years.

This too seems a bit difficult to understand because the Gemara in Meseches Yoma chap. 1, “Shivas Yamim”, pg. 21b) quotes Rav Shmuel bar Inya who said (based on Chaggai, 1:8) that the Second Beis Hamikdash was missing five important items which were present during the First Beis Hamikdash. Those five items were:

1) The Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark), with its cover and Keruvim.

2) The fire which descended upon the Altar from heaven.

3) The Shechina (Divine Presence).

4) Ruach Hakodesh (there were no Prophets during the Second Temple Era because they did not have Ruach Hakodesh).

5) Urim v’Tumim (the Name of God on parchment which was placed inside the flap of the Choshen Mishpat (Breastplate).

Therefore, how could Chaggai claim that the Second Temple was greater than the first on account of its height and length of years if apparently the First Temple was greater than the second due to the fact that it had those five precious items? It would seem logical that the advantage of the five items would outweigh the height and years advantage.

In order to begin addressing these issues, the Shvilei Pinchas introduces a teaching from the Berditchiver Rebbe and from Reb Tzadok Hakohen from Lublin.

The Kedushas Levi (Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, 1740-1809, Ukraine; Channukah) says that the First Beis Hamikdash corresponded to Torah Shebichtav (the Written Law), whereas the Second Beis Hamikdash corresponded to Torah Sheba’al Peh (the Oral Tradition). The Third Beis Hamikdash will be a combination of both.

In his Pri Tzaddik on Parshas Bechukosai (#11), Reb Tzadok Hakohen from Lublin (Poland, 1823-1900) explains how the First Beis Hamikdash was connected to Torah Shebichtav, and how the Second Beis Hamikdash was connected to Torah Sheba’al Peh. He says that all of the books of the Neviim (Prophets) and Kesuvim (Writings) were composed during the First Temple Era, and all of the books of the Neviim and Kesuvim were considered to be part of Torah Shebichtav.

One support to this notion (that the books of the Neviim and Kesuvim are part of Torah Shebichtav) is found in Meseches Shabbos (chap. 9, “Amar Rebbi Akiva”, pg. 88a) where a certain Galilean said before Rav Chisda, “Blessed is the Merciful One (Hashem) who gave us a three-fold Torah.” Rashi (ibid) says that it is called a three-fold Torah because it contains Torah (the Five Books of Moshe), Neviim, and Kesuvim. We see from here that Neviim and Kesuvim are part of Torah Shebichtav which the Merciful One gave to us. Since the works of Neviim and Kesuvim were written during the First Temple Era, the First Beis Hamikdash was connected to Torah Shebichtav.

However, during the Second Beis Hamikdash, prophecy stopped (Yoma ibid). Instead of Prophets, we had an institution called the Anshei Knesses Hagedola (Men of the Great Assembly) who were comprised of Torah scholars who illuminated the eyes of the Jewish people with Torah Sheba’al Peh. It was the Anshei Knesses Hagedola who were responsible for many of the decrees and fences that were made to protect Jewish Law. Since Torah Sheba’al Peh flourished during the Second Temple Era, the Second Beis Hamikdash was connected to Torah Sheba’al Peh.

The Shvilei Pinchas points out that this does not mean to say that during the First Temple Era the Jewish people did not learn the Oral Tradition. Rather, it just means to say that during ths e First Beis Hamikdash, the Jewish people did not have to toil in Torah Sheba’al Peh as much to know the will of God because they had the Neviim to rely upon for that. Therefore, the emphasis during Bayis Rishon was on Torah Shebichtav.

This also does not mean to say that during the Second Temple Era the Jewish people did not learn Written Law. Rather, it just means to say that during the Second Beis Hamikdash, the Jewish people had to depend more heavily upon Torah Sheba’al Peh in order to understand the will of God which was concealed within the words of Torah Shebichtav. Therefore, the emphasis during Bayis Sheini was on Torah Sheba’al Peh.

At this point we must add a teaching from the Alshich Hakadosh (Rabbi Moshe Alshich, 1508 Turkey-1593 Tzfas). In his Toras Moshe (Parshas Terumah, 25:8), the Alshich points to a grammatical inconsistency within the verse, “And they must make a sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell among them” (Parshas Terumah, 25:8). This verse mentions a “sanctuary” which is written in the singular form. But then the verse goes on to say, “So that I may dwell among them,” which is in the plural form. Apparently, the verse should have concluded by saying, “So that I may dwell in it (in the sanctuary),” which is the singular form. Why did the pasuk conclude with the words, “among them” in the plural?

The Alshich’s approach to explain the grammatical shift within this verse is a famous one. He says that the words, “among them” come to teach us that the goal of having a sanctuary was not so that the Shechina should rest upon the sanctuary, but rather, the purpose of having a sanctuary was so that the people would learn from the lessons contained within the sanctuary and thereby be worthy of having the Shechina rest upon themselves. Therefore, the words, “among them” emphasize that the end-game was to have the Shechina rest on them, the people.

Unfortunately, during the First Beis Hamikdash, the people thought that the purpose of the Temple was in order that the Shechina would rest upon the Temple. The Jews made this mistake because the First Beis Hamikdash was extremely holy and spiritually powerful. This is because it contained the Aron Hakodesh, magical fire, Shechina, Ruach Hakodesh, and the Urim v’Tumim. Since the First Temple was so spiritually energized, the people thought that the point of having a Beis Hamikdash was to create an environment fitting for the Shechina to rest upon. That environment, they thought, was the Beis Hamikdash.

This was precisely why Hashem destroyed the First Beis Hamikdash. It was because the Jews were missing the point. With the churban (destruction) of the First Beis Hamikdash, Hashem conveyed to the people that He was not so much interested in a Temple. Rather, Hashem’s interests lie with us, His people.

This is why Hashem orchestrated that five precious items were absent when they built the Second Beis Hamikdash. This “crippled” Beis Hamikdash caused the Jews not to make such a fuss over the Temple. Now they would understand that the Temple was a great place to gather together and farbrengen in order to receive chizuk (encouragement) so that they themselves would improve to the point that they would be worthy receptacles for receiving the Divine Presence which would rest upon them.

One of the greatest ways of becoming eligible for Shechina is through the study of Torah. In fact, the Gemara in Meseches Berachos (chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 8a) cites Rebbi Chiya bar Ami who said in the name of Ulah that from the day that the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One Blessed Be He can only be found only within the four cubits of people who study Torah.

This means to say that the very Shechina which lifted off of the Beis Hamikdash when it was destroyed, would rest upon those who engage in the study of Torah. Therefore, Rebbi Chalafta ben Dosa said that even if one person sits alone and involves himself in Torah study, the Divine Presence is with him (Pirkei Avos, chap. 3, “Akavia”, Mishna 6 or 7 depending on the version of Pirkei Avos). The Shechina will most certainly be with two people, three people, or ten people who gather together to study the Torah. The degrees of Shechina may increase with more people, but the point is that the Shechina will dwell upon them.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains how the Second Beis Hamikdash was greater than the First Beis Hamikdash. During the First Beis Hamikdash, the Temple was so powerfully strong that the people were convinced that the purpose of the Temple was to have a place for the Shechina to rest upon; and that place was upon the Temple. This prevented the people from working on themselves.

Therefore, Hashem destroyed the First Beis Hamikdash and orchestrated that the building of the Second Beis Hamikdash would be deficient of five important items. In this way the people would realize that the goal of the Temple was not so that the Shechina would rest upon the Temple, because it was a “crippled” Temple. This weakened Temple got the people thinking in the right direction. Now they understood that the tachlis (purpose) of the Temple was to gather there to receive chizuk which would help the people improve upon themselves to the point that they would be worthy of having the Shechina rest upon them.
This was the advantage of the Second Beis Hamikdash over the First Beis Hamikdash. It was that the focus was no longer on the Temple, but rather it was on the people. When things were going well during the Second Beis Hamikdash, the Shechina rested upon the people as never before. This aspect made the Second Temple Era greater than the First Temple Era.

Once again, we must reiterate that one of the greatest ways for us to become worthy recipients of Shechina is to engage in the study of Torah. However, we must modify that statement by specifying that it is the study of Torah Sheba’al Peh which grants us this advantage (See Meseches Gittin, chap. 5, “Hanizkin”, pg. 60b, Rebbi Yochanan).

In a number of sources, it says that the words of the Scribes (Torah Sheba’al Peh) are more beloved to God than the words of His own Torah (Torah Shebichtav; Shir Hashirim Rabba, 1:18 on Shir Hashirim 1:2). Moreover, it says that a Chacham (Torah Scholar) is greater than a Navi (Meseches Baba Basra, chap. 1, “Hashutfin”, pg. 12a, Rebbi Avdimi of Yafo).

One might wonder, “How could a Chacham be greater than a Navi if a Navi is obviously on a higher spiritual level?” The answer is that although it is true that a Navi is on a higher spiritual level; nevertheless, a Chacham is more beloved to God because he does not have prophecy to rely upon to know what the will of God is. A Chacham has to work very hard to crystalize what the Ratzon Hashem is. It is the effort which a Chacham has to invest which makes him more beloved to God than even a Navi.

The Shvilei Pinchas goes on to say that now we can understand why Hashem removed the Aron Hakodesh from the Second Beis Hamikdash, but yet allowed the Menorah to remain in the Second Beis Hamikdash. This will be understood based on the teachings of the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839, Pressburg; Parshas Terumah) and the Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, 1816 Russia-1893 Belarus, Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhiner Yeshiva).

They point out that there were two Keilim in the Beis Hamikdash which represented Torah: 1) the Aron Hakodesh which contained the Luchos (Tablets), and 2) the Menorah whose light represented the light of Torah wisdom (see Baba Basra, chap. 2, “Lo Yachpor”, Rebbi Yitzchak). One might ask, “Why was it necessary for there to be two vessels representing Torah? Why did it not suffice for there to be just one vessel which represented Torah?”

They answer this question by saying that these two Keilim represented two different aspects of Torah. The Aron Hakodesh represented Torah Shebichtav because it housed the Luchos upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved; literally, “written in stone.” However, the Menora represented Torah Sheba’al Peh because it had the light of Torah even though there were no letters engraved on the Menorah. By definition this represents Oral Law which was not committed to writing.

In fact, whenever anybody would come up with a novel Torah idea and mention it to Rebbi Tarfon, if he liked what he heard, Rebbi Tarfon would compliment the person’s Chiddush by saying, “Kaftor Vaferach” (button and flower). How was this a compliment? The answer is that the Menorah was made with buttons and flowers engraved upon it (Parshas Terumah, 25:31). Therefore, Rebbi Tarfon told those scholars who shared with him their Chiddushei Torah that their Chiddushim were authentic because it flowed to them through the spiritual energy of the Menorah. This supports the notion that the Menorah represented Torah Sheba’al Peh.

This is why Hashem did not allow the Second Beis Hamikdash to have an Aron Hakodesh, but He did allow the Second Beis Hamikdash to have a Menorah. It is because the Aron Hakodesh was so holy that the Shechina rested upon it. The Aron Hakodesh would have misled the Jews of the Second Temple Era to think that the purpose of the Temple was so that the Shechina would rest upon the Temple. This would cause the Jews to forget the real purpose of the Beis Hamikdash which was so that the Shechina would eventually rest upon the Jews themselves.

Therefore, Hashem hid the Aron Hakodesh from the Jews of the Second Temple Era. In this way they would understand that the tachlis of the Temple was so that the Shechina would rest upon them. This is why Hashem allowed them to have a Menorah. It was to teach them the way in which they would deserve to have the Shechina rest upon them. That is, through the study of Torah Sheba’al Peh which the Menorah represented.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand how the Torah could use the word “Li” (which indicates that the subject matter of that verse is talking about something that lasts forever) regarding the first two Batei Mikdash if the first two Batei Mikdash were destroyed. The answer is that although the structures of the first two Temples were destroyed; nevertheless, that which the first two Temples stood for [Torah Shebichtav and Torah Sheba’al Peh] has lasted, and will last, until the end of time. Therefore, the use of the word “Li” is fitting.

One practical takeaway message from this teaching would be to increase our commitment to the study of Written Law and Oral Tradition. In this way, the Shechina will rest upon us even more so, and then we will be zocheh (merit) to receive the Third Beis Hamikdash.

So, may we all be blessed with the strength to engage in the study of Torah Shebichtav and Torah Sheba’al Peh, even more so, in order to become the receptacles worthy of having the Shechina rest upon, and thus witness the building of the Third Beis Hamikdash, which will be a combination of the previous two, which will contain all of its Keilim, in which we will serve Hashem together with the Neviim, Chachamim, Kohanim, Leviim, Yisraelim, and Bechoros; Bimheira Biyameinu, Amen!

Be the Master of Your Mind

“Be the Master of Your Mind”

A verse in Parshas Mishpatim says, “If a man will act intentionally against his fellow to murder him with cunningness, from My Altar must you take him to die” (21:14). This means that it is forbidden to spare the murderer even if he is a distinguished person whose services are needed by the nation.

However, the Maggid of Kozhnitz (Rabbi Yisrael Hopstien, 1737-1814, Poland), in his Avodas Yisrael, says that this pasuk teaches us about a segula (charm) that we could implement in order to overcome the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) who plagues our brains with evil thoughts. We will see this hint in a moment; however, we must first introduce what it says in the Arizal’s Siddur (Siddur Rebbi Shabtai, Seder Halimud).

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Yerushalayim-1572 Tzfas) says that the Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, 1522-1570, Tzfas) received a teaching from Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet) who said that we can nullify evil thoughts by reciting the verse, “A permanent fire must remain aflame on the Altar, it may not be extinguished” (Parshas Tzav, 6:6).

With this teaching from Eliyahu Hanavi, we can see how the pasuk from Parshas Mishpatim teaches us about a segula to overcome the Yetzer Hara of sinful thoughts. According to the Kozhnitzer Maggid, this is how we are to understand the pasuk:

“When a man will act intentionally,” meaning, when the Yetzer Hara will act intentionally,

“Against his fellow,” referring to the Yetzer Tov (they are called fellows because they live next to each other within a person’s heart [Parshas Vaeschanan, (6:5), Mishna Berachos, chap. 9 “Haroeh”, Mishna 5, pg. 54a].

“To murder him with cunningness,” meaning, to inject within the person crooked and false thoughts. Then, the piece of advice is…

“From My Altar you must take,” meaning, you must take something from the Altar to help you fight against those malevolent thoughts. That which you must take from the Altar is a verse which talks about the Altar. That verse is, “A permanent fire must remain aflame on the Altar, it may not be extinguished” (Parshas Tzav, 6:6). This means that the person must recite this verse, because when he does….

“You will take him to die,” meaning, you will be able to kill that Yetzer Hara.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that the simplistic way of understanding how the recitation of this verse helps a person overcome malicious thoughts, is as follows.

This “charm” verse is found in the context of a Korban Olah (Burnt-offering; See Parshas Tzav, 6:2), and a Korban Olah atones for bad thoughts (Vayikra Rabba, Parshas Tzav, 7:3, Rashb”I, Rebbi Levi, based on Yechezkel, 20:32). So, when evil thoughts “olah” (come up upon a person’s mind), the “Olah” offering atones for it. Therefore, the recitation of a verse from within the topic of a Korban Olah, helps a person overcome negative thoughts that “olah,” (comes up) upon his mind.

However, there is even something inherent within this verse that assists a person’s battle against improper thoughts. The Zohar in Raya M’hemna (Parshas Tzav, pg. 28b) interprets our segula verse in the following way.

“A continual fire must burn on the Altar,” means that the fire of Torah must burn within us. After all, the Torah is compared to fire, as it says, “Behold My word is like fire, the word of Hashem” (Yirmiya, 23:29).

“It may not be extinguished,” meaning, no sin could extinguish the Torah.

Taking it from the top, “A continual fire may not be extinguished,” means, a person must engage in Torah study continually (Yehoshua, 1:8), because then the Yetzer Hara will not be able to have power over him.

This is because it is only the study of Torah that has the power to win our battles against the Yetzer Hara (Meseches Kiddushin, chap. 1, “Ha-isha Niknis”, pg. 30b).

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that the study of Torah not only empowers us to overcome the Evil Inclination, but Torah study transforms us into something holy. The Gemara in Meseches Sanhedrin (chap. 6, “Nigmar Hadin”, pg. 43b) tells us that we can sacrifice the Yetzer Hara to Hashem. When we do, we become like an Altar upon which we sacrifice the Yetzer Hara as a korban to Hashem. We succeed in sacrificing the Yetzer Hara with Torah study. Therefore, the very breath which emanates from our mouths when we speak in words of Torah is likened to the smoke that rose up to Hashem from the Altar.

There is another Gemara which supports this idea that through the study of Torah, we become like the Altar upon which we sacrifice the Yetzer Hara to Hashem. Rebbi Berachya said that if a person today wants to fulfil the mitzva of pouring wine on the Altar (Nissuch Hayayin, wine libations) he should serve a Talmud Chacham (Torah Scholar) wine because when the wine goes down the Talmud Chacham’s throat, it is as if the wine went down the bowls on the Altar (Yoma, chap. 7, “Bo Lo Kohen Gadol”, pg. 71a; Sukka, chap. 4, Lulav Va’arava, Mishna 9, pg. 48a). This is because through the Talmud Chacham’s Torah learning, he was able to sacrifice his Yetzer Hara to Hashem on a constant basis.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds another way in which the recitation of our “charm” verse helps ward off criminal thoughts. It is based on a teaching that the Arugas Habosem (Rabbi Moshe Greenwald, 1853-1910, Hungary) heard from the second Belzer Rebbe (Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach of Belz, the Mittler Rav, 1825-1894, Western Ukraine) in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov (Rabbi Yisrael, 1698-1760, Ukraine).

The Ba’al Shem Tov said that if a positive mitzva presents itself to a person, but he feels that it is too hard for him to do, he should verbally recite a verse from the Torah which talks about that mitzva. The very recitation of the verse will give the person the strength to do the mitzva anyway.

The same rule of thumb could be applied with respect to protecting us from bad thoughts. The mere recitation of a verse that is connected to the cure against improper thoughts will give us the strength to overcome them. That verse is our segula verse in which it says, “The fire [of Torah] must burn [within the person] continually, it [the study of Torah] may not be extinguished.”

When we say this verse, and live up to its expectation, which is to learn Torah as much as we can, then we will be protected from evil thoughts (see Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Biya, 22:21).

At this point, we are going to analyze the words of the Avodas Yisrael that we began with above, and share a deeper meaning of them. The Maggid of Kozhnitz said that the verse in our parsha, Parshas Mishpatim (21:14), must be understood in the following way. “If a man [Yetzer Hara] will act intentionally against his fellow [the Yetzer Hatov] to murder him with trickery [with crooked thoughts], from My Altar take it [a verse and recite it, because then you will be able to kill him, the Yetzer Hara, and cause him] to die.”

We must wonder why the Maggid of Kozhnitz emphasized “crooked” thoughts? Why not just talk about “bad” thoughts? What crooked and cunning thoughts was he referring to? This question will be addressed by a teaching from the Ba’al Shem Tov, a Tosafos, and a Gemara.

The Gemara in Meseches Shabbos (chap. 7, “Klal Gadol”, pg. 75a) asks, “Why is a Shochet (slaughterer) liable for shechting (slaughtering) [on Shabbos]? Rav says, because of coloring.” It is difficult to understand what Rav is talking about because the blood that schpritzes out of the animal onto the shochet’s apron is not coloring; it is soiling, and there is no prohibition to soil a garment on Shabbos. So, what was Rav talking about?

The Tosafists attempt to answer this question by saying that we are talking about the “Shochet d’Alma” (the slaughterer of the world). Now it is difficult to understand what Tosafos is talking about. What does a “slaughterer of the world” mean? Was there some popular butcher to whom everybody brought their chickens? Besides, how does a “slaughterer of the world” explain Rav’s opinion who said that the slaughterer is liable for coloring?

The Ba’al Shem Tov explains Tosafos by saying that the “slaughterer of the world” refers to the Yetzer Hara who is the same angel as the Malach Hamaves (angel of death; Baba Basra, chap. 1, “Hashutfin”, pg. 16a, Reish Lakish). The Malach Hamaves slaughters every person’s body through death, and the Yetzer Hara slaughters everybody’s soul through sin. Thus, he is referred to as the “slaughterer of the world.”

There is one more piece of information necessary to explain this Gemara in Meseches Shabbos. That piece of information is the Gemara in Meseches Sukkah (chap. 5, “Hachalil”, pg. 52a) which quotes Rebbi Yehuda as saying, “In the future [in the Messianic Era] Hashem will bring the Yetzer Hara and slaughter him.” How do you like that? The slaughterer gets slaughtered himself!

The Ba’al Shem Tov says that since the Gemara in Sukkah just said that God will destroy the Yetzer Hara in the End of Days, the Gemara in Shabbos asks, “Why is the slaughterer [the Malach Hamaves] liable [to be put to death].” In other words, the Gemara in Shabbos is not asking a Hilchos Shabbos question about slaughtering an animal on the Sabbath day. Rather, this Gemara in Shabbos is a bit Zoharic in nature.

This Gemara in Shabbos is asking why will the Yetzer Hara – Malach Hamaves get the death penalty in the future? Is it because he caused people to sin? That cannot be because it was Hashem Himself Who appointed the Yetzer Hara to tempt people to sin. The temptation to sin is what makes reward and punishment meaningful. Since the Yetzer Hara carried out the will of God, he should not be punished for it. On the contrary, he should be rewarded and promoted for it.

The Ba’al Shem Tov says that now we can understand Rav’s answer. Rav understood the deep question that the Gemara was asking. Therefore, Rav said that the reason why the Yetzer Hara-Malach Hamaves [slaughterer of the world] is liable to receive the death penalty at the End of Days is because of “coloring.” This means that when Hashem appointed the Yetzer Hara to try to tempt people to sin, there were very specific instructions as to how to go about doing that.

Hashem told the Yetzer Hara to try and get people to sin when the sin is recognizably wrong to the person. The person must know that he is indeed sinning. Meaning, Hashem wanted the Yetzer Hara to make a recognizable sin so attractive that we do it anyway, knowing that we sinned. The Yetzer Hara certainly does this to us.

However, the Yetzer Hara created a new method of how to get people to sin. This new approach was to take a sin and decorate it to make it look as though it is a mitzva. The Yetzer Hara took sins and began painting them as mitzvos. In this way, people do not even detect that they are sinning. People would now begin to justify and rationalize that what they are doing is actually a mitzva. This is something that Hashem never instructed the Yetzer Hara to do.

By the way, according to this approach, we must say that the Yetzer Hara, and perhaps other angels, have free choice. This is how the Yetzer Hara could choose to implement something that he was never instructed to do. This topic about angels and free will is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is a discussion worth exploring.

In any case, this is what Rav meant when he said the slaughterer [Malach Hamaves-Yetzer Hara] was liable for “coloring.” Since the Yetzer Hara colors sins to make them appear as mitzvos, which is something that he should have never done, he will be slaughtered himself at the End of Days.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why the Avodas Yisrael emphasized “crooked” thoughts that the Yetzer Hara plagues us with. It is because he was referring to the trickery of the Yetzer Hara who confuses us into thinking that sins are really mitzvos. That is a very crooked way of thinking.
The only way we can overcome such an opponent is through the study of Torah, as we mentioned above from the Gemara in Kiddushin, and as was hinted to with the “charm” verse about burning a continual fire. Let us explain how Torah study can spare us the grief of falling prey to a Yetzer Hara who has put up a smokescreen which clouds our judgement.

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, Poland (1783-1841) says in his Sefer Agra d’Kallah (Parshas Korach; this is the same author as the B’nei Yissasschar) that when we think that a certain activity is a mitzva, Torah study will help us clarify if it is indeed is a mitzva. If it is truly a mitzva, it should be found somewhere in Shas, Poskim, Rambam, and Shulcha Aruch. If we search but find no source to this “mitzva,” there is a good chance that it is a sin.

Additionally, when we enter into a Beis Midrash (study hall) to learn Torah (see Meseches Kiddushin, chap. 1, “Ha-isha Niknis”, pg. 30b), there are typically elders, righteous people, and Torah giants who spend their time learning there. Then we have access to leaders who can objectively advise us if this particular project is actually a mitzva or if it is a sin cloaked in false-righteousness.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this entire approach will shed new light on the following Gemara in Meseches Berachos (chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 5a). Either Rava or Rav Chisda said that if a person notices that troubles are piling up on him, he should check into his actions to find the cause of his suffering (see Eicha, 3:40). If he examined his ways but could find nothing wrong, then he should assume that these terrible things are probably happening to him because of bitul Torah (not spending enough time learning Torah; see Tehillim, 94:12).

One question we could raise on this Gemara is, “If he searched and found nothing wrong, why assume that it was because of bitul Torah? Maybe it is because of some other sin that he is guilty of. Just as he did not detect bitul Torah, maybe there is some other sin that he did not detect. Why assume that it was because of bitul Torah?”

The Shvilei Pinchas answers this question by saying that if the person examined his deeds and could not find anything wrong, it is a sign that he has already fallen into the Yetzer Hara’s trap of convincing him that everything he has done has been a mitzva. Therefore, the only solution for this person is to know that he has not spent sufficient time learning Torah, because if he did, the Torah would have illuminated his eyes to see what is an authentic mitzva and what is a facade.

As we said before, the fire of Torah must burn within us continually, by day and by night, in order to protect ourselves from this tricky Yetzer Hara. The Shvilei Pinchas concludes by sharing with us the benefit of daytime learning as opposed to the advantage of nighttime learning.

Daytime learning has the power of nullifying a daytime Yetzer Hara, A daytime Yetzer Hara is when he tries to get us to sin when the sin is recognizably wrong. When the sin is as “clear as day,” daytime learning will help us avoid them.

However, nighttime learning has the power of nullifying a nighttime Yetzer Hara. A nighttime Yetzer Hara is when he tries to get us to sin when the sin appears to be a mitzva. This is a dark Yetzer Hara, because his trickery and cunningness has us so confused that we don’t even know if we are coming or going. Nighttime learning will help us uncover the truth so that we do not fall prey to these illusions.

This entire teaching was based on a verse from this week’s parsha, Parshas Mishpatim (21:14) which said, “If a man [Yetzer Hara] will act intentionally against his fellow [the Yetzer Tov] to murder him with cunningness [by making a sin appear as a mitzva], from My Altar must you take [a verse and recite it so that you can kill that Yetzer Hara and cause him] to die.”

That verse is, “A permanent fire [Torah] must burn continually [within us] on the Altar [which is us], it [the study of Torah] may not be extinguished [by day or by night]” (Parshas Tzav, 6:6). Again, it is not just the recitation of this verse which serves as a charm against the Yetzer Hara, it is living up to its message, which is increased Torah study.

One practical application of this teaching would be to recite this seguladika verse from Parshas Tzav (6:6) once a day. By the way, this verse is found in the Korbanos that we say before Shacharis. It is found in the second paragraph of Korbanos which is taken from Parshas Tzav, 6:1-6.

When we say this verse, let us be reminded of its message which is to increase our Torah learning, especially at night, and thus be illuminated to the point that we are not fooled by the Yetzer Hara’s tricks.

So, may we all be blessed to be even more on fire with Torah by day and by night, so that we become like the Altar with its smoke, upon which we will be able to slaughter the Yetzer Hara who tries to make us sin outright and who tries to make us think that a sin is a mitzva, thus cleansing our minds from crooked thoughts, and thus merit to live in a Yetzer Hara free world.

NES-cafe is a NATURAL Brew

“NES-cafe is a NATURAL Brew”

Parshas Yisro begins with the words, “And Yisro – the Minister of Midyan – the father–in– law of Moshe, heard everything that Elokim did to Moshe and to Israel His people, that Havaya had taken Israel out of Egypt” (18:1).
One technical question on this verse is, “Why does this pasuk begin by referring to Hashem as ‘Elokim’ and conclude by referring to Hashem as ‘Havaya’? Why is there a lack of consistency?”

Rashi (ibid; based on Meseches Zevachim, chap. 14, “Paras Chatas”, pg. 116a) asks, “What did Yisro hear about that motivated him to come to the wilderness and convert to Judaism?” Rashi answers this question by saying that Yisro heard about, “Keriyas Yam Suf (which is the opinion of either Rebbi Eliezer or Rebbi Elazar ben Ya’akov) and Milchemes Amalek (which is the opinion of Rebbi Yehoshua).”

Another question is, “Where is there a hint in the verse itself which indicates that these were indeed the events which Yisro had heard about?”

Since Yisro heard about Keriyas Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek, we must take a peek into last week’s parsha where these events are recorded.

When it came to Milchemes Amalek, Moshe went to do battle with them in a natural way. We see this from the fact that Moshe sent Yehoshua with troops to engage in warfare (Parshas Beshalach, 17:8-9).

However, when it came to Keriyas Yam Suf, Moshe went to do battle with them in a supernatural way. We can see this from the fact that Moshe told the people, “Hashem will make war for you, and you will remain silent” (Parshas Beshalach, 14:14). This meant that the Jews would not have to lift a finger or fire a shot because Hashem would do miracles for them.

This brings us to yet another question which is, “Why did Moshe choose to wage war against the army of Amalek in a natural way, whereas he chose to battle the Egyptian army in a supernatural way?”

Speaking of Amalek’s attack on the Jewish people, the Jews had asked a question which was, “Is Hashem among us or not?” (Parshas Beshalach, 17:7). The very next verse tells us that Amalek battled with Israel in Rephidim (Parshas Beshalach, 17:8).

Rashi (ibid, 17:8) quotes the Medrash Tanchuma which points out that this story of Amalek’s attack was juxtaposed to the verse about the Jewish people’s question (“Is Hashem amongst us or not?”) because this was Hashem’s way of conveying to the Jewish people that He (Hashem) is always amongst us, prepared to provide for all of our needs. Since the Jews had the chutzpa to ask if Hashem was with them, He sent a dog (Amalek) to bite them. Then they would cry out to Him and learn very quickly where Hashem is.

This begs us to ask, “How could the Jews ask such a question? How could they have forgotten about all the miracles that Hashem had performed for them? They saw the miracles of the plagues and Keriyas Yam Suf with their very eyes. Therefore, how could they ask, ‘Is Hashem with us or not’? Were they suffering from some sort of a mental illness?”

In his Emek Davar (Parshas Beshalach, 17:7), The Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin; 1816 Belarus-1893 Poland; Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhiner Yeshiva) answers this last question by saying that it is true that the Jewish people saw all of the plagues and Keriyas Yam Suf. Yet, the Jews thought that Hashem only performed miracles for them which were transcendent and supernatural, because such miracles are only temporary, and because they only happen in the merit of Moshe Rabbenu.

The Jews thought that once Moshe would die, they would revert back to “normal” life, which is governed by the laws of nature. It was concerning the natural world that the Jews asked, “Is Hashem with us or not?” Meaning, “Does Hashem govern nature? Is Hashem in control of nature, or, is nature left to other forces such as the planetary bodies and stars?”

Therefore, even though the Jewish people witnessed supernatural miracles, in no way does that prevent them from asking, “Is Hashem in our midst or not?” Witnessing obvious miracles does not contradict this question, because they were asking, “Is Hashem in our midst,” meaning, “Is Hashem found with us even within the natural world? Can we depend upon Hashem even within the world of nature? Is Hashem taking care of us in the day-to-day humdrum of life?”

One of the principals of faith is that Hashem is very much in control of nature. However, since the Jewish people demonstrated a lack of faith in this principal, Hashem sent Amalek to attack them in order that they should witness how Hashem is with them even within the laws of nature. They would see this from their victory against Amalek in battle. The Jews were an untrained army, and yet they won the trained army of Amalek. How could they possibly win such a war? The answer is that Hashem performed a miracle for them within the natural world order.

The Netziv goes on to answer a question that we did not even raise above. That question is, “Why did Moshe not lead them into this battle against Amalek?” As king of the Jewish people, Moshe should have been on the front line. Why did he remain behind and appoint Yehoshua to go instead (Parshas Beshalach, 17:9)?

The Netziv answers this question by saying that Moshe did not go out in front of his soldiers in battle because Moshe Rabbenu was very much connected to the world of miracles. Moshe was like their miracle working rabbi. If Moshe would have led his troops into battle, people would have said that we won that war because he (Moshe) waived his magic wand and brought the Amalekites to their knees through open miracles. That would have defeated the purpose of this war which was to teach the Jews that Hashem is with them even within the world of nature. Therefore, Moshe chose to remain behind and sent regular soldiers into a normative battle.

Now it becomes obvious why Moshe chose to wage war against the army of Amalek in a natural way, and yet, he chose to wage war against the Egyptian army in a miraculous way. It is because Moshe wanted to teach us that Hashem is with us in both worlds, whether in the world of miracles and even in the world of nature.

Based on all of this we will be able to appreciate the following verse even more so. Prior to the battle against Amalek, Moshe told Yehoshua, “I will ascend on top of the hill, and the staff of Elokim will be in my hand.” (Parshas Beshalach, 17:9). Reb Shlomo Kluger (1785-1869, Ukraine), in his Chochmas HaTorah (Parshas Beshalach) explains this verse based upon the teaching of the Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordovaro, 1522-1570, Tzfas) in his Pardes Rimonim.

He says that the reason why Moshe emphasized that the staff was the staff of Elokim was because whenever a miracle beyond nature happens in this world, it comes from the spiritual energy of God’s Name Havaya. However, whenever a miracle occurs in this world within the confines of nature, it comes from the spiritual energy of God’s Name Elokim. In fact, the numerical value of the Name Elokim is the same as the numerical value of the word Hateva (the nature). Both equal 86 exactly. This numerical equivalency supports the notion that miracles within nature stem from the spiritual energy of the Name Elokim.

Therefore, Moshe was meticulous to say that he was going to be holding the staff of Elokim so that he would awaken the spiritual energy of Elokim which would bring about a miracle within nature.

This approach will explain the following Mishna in a deeper way. The Mishna itself is based on the verse regarding Milchemes Amalek which says, “It happened that when Moshe raised his hands Israel was stronger” (Parshas Beshalach, 17:11).

In Meseches Rosh Hashana (chap. 3, “Ra-uhu Beis Din”, Mishna 8, pg. 29a) the Mishna asks, “Did the hands of Moshe make it (war) or break it (war)?” “Rather,” says the Mishna, “so long as the Jews looked heavenward and subjugated their hearts to their Parent in Heaven, they would overpower Amalek, but if not, not.”

There is a very strong question that a person could ask on this Mishna. How could the Mishna ask, “Did the hands of Moshe make it or break it?” The answer should be a resounding, “Yes!” Moshe had an incredible track record when it came to raising his hands. Every time Moshe moved his hands, things happened. For example, Moshe raised his hands and the waters of the Yam Suf parted (Parshas Beshalach, 14:21). Moshe raised his hands again and the water came crashing down upon the Egyptians (Parshas Beshalach, 14:27). So, what was the Mishna asking?

The Shvilei Pinchas answers this question based on the Netziv above. The Netziv said that when the Jews asked, “Is Hashem in our midst or not,” they were asking if Hashem was with them within the world of nature. Therefore, by Milchemes Amalek, when the pasuk said, “When Moshe raised his hands Israel was stronger,” the Mishna meant to ask, “Did the hands of Moshe make it or break it in a natural way?”

This means to say that the Chachmei Hamishna were well aware of the magical powers that Moshe possessed in his hands. However, the war against Amalek was meant to demonstrate that Hashem was even in complete control of nature itself. Therefore, the Mishna asked, “What was Moshe doing raising his hands during the battle against Amalek?” The battle against Amalek was supposed to be a miracle within nature, but Moshe’s hand-raising belonged to the world of the supernatural. So, why was Moshe raising his hands during that battle?

The Mishna answered its question by saying that, in this instance, Moshe’s raising of his hands had nothing to do with transcendent miracles. Rather, Moshe merely raised his hands to attract the Jewish people’s attention so that they would look up and remember that God was with them and that God was giving them their success. Moshe’s message was, “Yes, we have a military with tanks, soldiers, jets, and an iron dome. However, the success of these tools is totally dependent on Hashem.

As a means of an extension to this idea, we find that Amalek’s timing was impeccable. This is because the verse stresses that Amalek attacked us on the way when we were leaving Mitzrayim (Parshas Ki Seitzei, 25:17). Why does the Torah connect Yetziyas Mitzrayim to Milchemes Amalek?

Based on a fundamental teaching from the Ramban (Parshas Bo, 13:16) we will start to understand this connection. The Ramban says that the purpose of the revealed miracles which Hashem had performed to bring us out of Mitzrayim was in order that we should realize that there is something called a miracle. Hashem expected us to take the next mental step to realize that there are also miracles which happen within nature. More than that, Hashem wanted us to realize that nature itself is miraculous. In other words, the miracles which occurred at the time of Yetziyas Mitzrayim were supposed to introduce us to the concept of miracles which was then supposed to trigger a series of thoughts leading us to the conclusion that everything is a miracle.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that this idea of the Ramban is hinted to in the pasuk which says, “And you will know this day and take to your heart that Hashem – He is the God in heaven above and on the Earth below, there is none other” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 4:39). There are two expressions in this verse. They are: 1) in heaven above, and 2) on the earth below. These two expressions represent two categories of miracles: 1) supernatural miracles which stem from above, and 2) the miracles which occur on Earth below within the laws of nature.
Regarding both types of miracles that very same verse says, “Know this day that Hashem – He is the God.” Meaning, Hashem controls both kinds of miracles.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why the Torah emphasizes that Amalek attacked us on the way when we left Egypt. It is because Hashem had performed open miracles for us when we left Mitzrayim so that we should come to realize that Hashem also operates in a miraculous way within nature itself (as the Ramban taught us above).

This is why Amalek attacked us precisely as we were leaving Egypt. It is because they wanted to inject us with thoughts of heresy which dictates that Hashem does not govern nature. This is why we began to ask, “Is Hashem in our midst or not.” We began asking this question because we were already starting to feel the influence of Amalek who was a nation of atheists who did not believe in God at all.

The reason why Amalek wanted to imbue us with their heretical philosophy specifically when we were on the way leaving Egypt is because Amalek wanted to undermine the entire purpose of the miracles which Hashem had performed for us at that time. Since the supernatural miracles of Mitzrayim were meant to teach us that Hashem governs nature as well, and that nature itself is miraculous, Amalek wanted to uproot such thoughts. Amalek wanted us to adopt their philosophy.

Now we can understand why the verse links Amalek’s attack to Yetziyas Mitzrayim. This comes to teach us that Amalek wanted to ruin the lessons that we were supposed to glean from Yetziyas Mitzrayim.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can see how Rashi and Chaza”l knew, from the verse itself, that Yisro had heard about specifically Keriyas Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek. The answer is based on Rabbi Shlomo Kluger and the Pardes Rimonim mentioned above who said that a supernatural miracle occurs from the spiritual energy of the Name Havaya, whereas a natural miracle within nature occurs through the spiritual energy of the Name Elokim.

Therefore, when the opening sentence of this week’s parsha said, “And Yisro heard everything that Elokim did for Moshe and Israel,” Chaza”l understood that the Name Elokim represented the miracle within nature which transpired during the war against Amalek.

When that same pasuk went on to say, “[And Yisro heard] That Havaya had taken Israel out of Egypt,” Chaza”l understood that the Name Havaya represented the supernatural miracle which occurred at Yam Suf. With the Names Elokim and Havaya, this verse hints to us that Yisro heard about Amalek and Yam Suf.

Now it is obvious why the opening verse of our parsha is inconsistent by first referring to Hashem as Elokim and later referring to Hashem as Havaya. It is because this pasuk is teaching us, what it was specifically, that Yisro heard about. He heard about 1) Milchemes Amalek – a miracle within nature – that stemmed from the Name Elokim, and 2) Keriyas Yam Suf – a supernatural miracle – that stemmed from the Name Havaya.

Before concluding, perhaps we could add that this explains the essence of Purim. After reading Megillas Esther one realizes that the entire miracle was one in which Hashem operated within nature, manipulating and moving the political pawns around in such a way that brought about salvation to the entire nation of Israel.

The reason why Purim’s miracle was camouflaged within nature was because our primary enemy at that time was Haman. Haman was a descendent of Amalek (Megillas Esther, 3:1)., and Amalek was a nation who denies God’s governance of nature. Therefore, the entire miracle of Purim happened within nature to teach us that Hashem is even involved in the natural world.

This week, there are two practical take-aways:
Number one:

Let us pay a little bit more attention to the end of the first paragraph of Aleinu which says, “And you will know this day and take to your heart that Havaya is Elokim in heaven above and on Earth below, there is none other” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 4:39). This verse says it all. The Name Havaya represents supernatural miracles that come from heaven above, and the Name Elokim represents miracles within nature that come from the Earth below.

When saying this liturgical passage, let us be reminded that God not only performs supernatural miracles, but He is also in complete control of what we call natural events.

Number two:

Each day, after Shacharis, say, “Keriyas Yam Suf, Milchemes Amalek” (Note: Milchemes Amalek is anyway one of the six remembrances). When we say these words, let us be reminded that just as it was obvious that Yam Suf was a miracle, so is all nature a miracle. Let us be reminded that Hashem is with us even in the most mundane and challenging times.

So, may we all be blessed, like Yisro, with the awareness to hear and to understand that Hashem is with us in our everyday lives, in every situation, and in every circumstance, and in that merit, may we live to witness the transcendent miracles that Hashem will bring during the Final Redemption, which will teach the world, once and for all, that God governs every aspect of what we call nature.