The Power of the Spoken Word

Parshas Shelach
“Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel” — Bamidbar 13:2

Timeline of the miraglim

The parsha of Shelach opens up with the story of the miraglim. Rashi notes that the previous parsha ended with the story of Miriam getting tzaras and being sent out of the camp because she spoke loshon harah about Moshe. Since this parsha begins with the miraglim, it implies that these two events are connected. But Rashi is bothered by the fact that they did not happen in chronological proximity. The events of the Korach rebellion were sandwiched in between.

Rashi explains that the Torah took these two events and juxtaposed them to teach us a lesson: Had the miraglim not been so wicked, they would have learned from what happened to Miriam, and that would have prevented them from saying their negative report about the land. However, says Rashi, “These wicked people saw what happened and didn’t learn from it.”

The miraglim’s sin wasn’t loshon harah

The problem with this Rashi is that the miraglim’s sin had nothing to do with loshon harah; it emanated from a lack of trust in HASHEM. When they entered the land, they saw giants occupying fortified cities. They witnessed people dying left, right, and center. In their minds, if the Jewish nation attempted to conquer this land, they would be slaughtered wholesale – man, woman, and child.

Clearly, they were lacking in bitachon. Their faith in HASHEM was deficient. But they weren’t guilty of speaking loshon harah. First off, there is no prohibition against speaking loshon harah about land. Land is inanimate. We are forbidden from derogatory speech about people – not rocks.

Of even greater significance, once the miragalim made their mistake and concluded that HASHEM wasn’t powerful enough to bring us into the land, what they then spoke wasn’t loshon harah at all. In their calculation, they were saving the Jewish people from utter destruction, in which case it wasn’t forbidden speech; it was a mitzvah.

Why does the Torah forbid loshon harah?

The answer to this question stems from understanding why the Torah forbids loshon harah. The Rambam defines loshon harah as words that hurt, words that damage. Whether they cause a person embarrassment, loss of income, or sully his reputation, the very definition of loshon harah is words that cause harm. That is the reason the Torah forbids us to speak it – not because the Torah is so strict, but because words can have such a harmful effect.

To appreciate the damage that words can cause, imagine that I discover a cloak of invisibility. When I put this cape on, I can walk around freely without anyone seeing me. Imagine for a moment that after I find this cloak, I decide to have some fun. As I walk around the bais medrash, I take a sefer from one fellow and turn it upside down. Oh, his reaction when he sees it! Then I walk over to another fellow and close his Gemara. “Hey! What happened?” Next, I see a pair of charvusahs who are standing up for a moment. I walk over and put both of their Gemaras back on the shelf. “What–?”

I am having a jolly time!

After a while, I get a bit bolder. As someone is walking by, I leave my foot in the aisle. “Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!” he yells as he falls to the floor with a crash.

“This is fun,” I think to myself. And now I really start to get into it.

As a fellow walks by, I give him a punch in the stomach, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!” The next guy, I smash in the back, “Agggggh!” And before you know it, guys are falling, getting smashed, and really getting hurt. The joke is no longer funny.

The Chofetz Chaim points out to us that the Torah reserves a curse for one who “hits his neighbor while hiding.” Chazal explain that this refers to someone who speaks loshon harah about his friend. Why am I so cavalier about what I say about him? Because he isn’t here. If he were standing right nearby, I would never say what I said. I say it only because he isn’t around. And in that sense, I am hitting him while hiding.

One of the reasons that we have difficulty controlling our speech is that we don’t see it as truly damaging. “What is the big deal if I tell an interesting story or two?” we say. While I would never dream of physically harming you, when it comes to ruining your reputation, damaging your business, or causing you harm in the way that people perceive you, then I am much less concerned. The Torah is teaching us that loshon harah is forbidden because of the power of the words and the damage they can cause. That is why they are forbidden.

The power of speech

The answer to this question on the miraglim seems to be that they should have seen what happened to Miriam and learned one lesson from it – the power of speech. They should have thought to themselves, “If such a tzadekes said something only slightly questionable about her brother whom she loved and revered and had to be sent out of the encampment for seven days to suffer embarrassment and public humiliation, what does that tell us about the impact of her words? Why did HASHEM act so harshly with her? It must be that what she did was far more egregious than we realized. It must be that her words – while merely speech – are a powerful force.”

Had the miraglim learned this lesson, they would have been far more careful in their speech. They would have thought many times about the consequences of their words, and that would have made them stop and think to themselves, “Before we bring back this report, are we sure? Are we a hundred percent certain that the Jewish people will die trying to conquer this land? Didn’t HASHEM bring us out of Mitzrayim? Didn’t HASHEM split the sea for us?”

Understanding the power of speech would have caused them to think about the consequences, and the results might well have been very different.

This concept has great relevance in our lives. Most of the damage that we do through speech isn’t malicious or with bad intent. We speak without thinking about the consequences, without contemplating the results. The Torah is teaching us the power of those words and how careful we have to be with what we say, not because the Torah is machmir when it comes to sins of speech, but because of the effect that speech has to help or to harm – because of the power of the spoken word.

For more on this topic please listen to Shmuz #139- The Power of Speech

The Shmuz – Marriage Seminar, a 12 part, comprehensive guide to a successful Marriage is available FREE of charge at www.TheShmuz.com. It is also on the Shmuz App available at the App store, or on Google play, or you may listen on Kol Halashon by calling 718- 906 6400, then options 1, 4, 3

OMG

Probably the most incredible thing that happened during Krias Yam Suf, was not the miraculous splitting of the sea or the drowning of the Egyptian army, or the salvation of the Jewish people. But rather when all of Klal Yisroel lifted up their voices and sang in unison as one choir.

Every individual was able to make the following declaration: Zeh K-e-li Ve-anvehu: This is my God and I will glorify Him.

They came to recognize not only that there is a God and He does good and miraculous things for us. But rather this is my God and He does good for me.

The big prize of life is not to discover that there is a God and he does good, but rather that this is my God.

OMG

The Most Famous Ramban in Chumash – The End of Parshas Bo

The Ramban at the end of Bo is a classic work on Jewish philosophy and probably the most quoted Ramban in Chumash. It’s well worth seeing inside. Art Scroll has published the Ramban on Torah, so if you won’t read it in Hebrew, consider picking up the English translation.

Here is a summary:

Reason for the Plagues

The Ramban says that from the time of Enosh there were three types of heretics: 1) Those that didn’t believe in G-d at all; 2) Those that believed in a G-d, but didn’t believe He knew what was happening in the world; 3) Those that believed in G-d’s knowledge, but didn’t believe that He oversees the world or that there is reward and punishments.

By favoring the Jews and altering nature through the plagues, the falsity of the heretical views became clear to all. The supernatural wonders indicate the world has a G-d who created it, knows all, oversees all and is all powerful. And when that wonder is publicly declared beforehand through a prophet, the truth of prophecy is made clear as well, namely that G-d will speak to a person and reveal His secrets to His servants, the prophets, and with acknowledgement of this principle the entire Torah is sustained. (The Ramban brings down a number of pesukim supporting this.)

Reason for so many Mitzvos regarding the Exodus

Now, because G-d does not perform a sign or wonder in every generation in sight of every evil person and disbeliever, He commanded that we should have constant reminders and signs of what we saw in Egypt and we should transmit it to our children thoughout the generations. G-d was stringent in this matter as we see from the strict penalties regarding eating Chometz on Pesach and neglecting the Pesach offering. Other mitzvos regarding the Exodus are tefillin, mezuzos, remembering the Exodus in the morning and evening, Succos.

There are also many other commandments that serve as a reminder of the Exodus (Shabbos, the festivals, redemption of the firstborn,…). And all these commandments serve as a testimony for us through the generations regarding the wonders performed in Egypt, that they not be forgotten and there will be no argument for a heretic to deny faith in G-d.

The Reason behind Mitzvos in General

When one does a simple mitzvah like mezuzah and thinks about its importance, he has already acknowledged G-d’s creation of the world, G-d’s knowledge and supervision of the world’s affairs, the truth of prophecy and all the foundations of Torah. In addition he has acknowledged G-d’s kindness towards those that perform His will, for He took us from bondage to freedom in great honor in the merit of our forefathers.

That is why Chazal say, be careful in performing a minor commandment as a major one, for all of them are major and beloved since through them a person is constantly acknowledging his G-d. For the objective of all the commandments is that we should believe in G-d and acknowledge to Him that He created us.

Purpose of Creation

In fact this is the purpose of creation itself, for we have no other explanation of creation. And G-d has no desire, except that man should know and acknowledge the G-d that created him. And the purpose of raising our voices in prayer and the purpose of Shuls and the merit of communal prayer is that people should have a place where they can gather and acknowledge that G-d created them and caused them to be and they can publicize this and declare before Him, “We are your creations”.

This is what the sages meant when they explained “And they shall call out mightily to G-d” as from here you learn that prayer requires a loud voice for boldness can overcome evil.

Everything is a Sign of Hashem

Through recalling the great revealed signs of Hashem of the Exodus, a person acknowledges the hidden signs of everyday life which are the foundation of the entire Torah. For a person has no share in the Torah of Moshe unless he believes that all our affairs and experiences are signs from Hashem, that there is no independent force of nature regarding either the community or the individual.

Reward and Punishment

Rather if one observes the commandments his reward will bring him success and if he transgresses them his punishment will destroy him. Hidden signs of Hashem can be more clearly recognized as regards the affairs of a community as in the predictions in the Torah in the matter of the blessings and the curses as it says – And the nations will say, “For what reason did Hashem do so to this land…?” And they will say, “Because they forsook the covenant of Hashem, the G-d of their forefathers”. This matter will become known to the nations, that this is from G-d as their (the Jews) punishment. And it is stated regarding the fulfillment of the commandments, “Then all the people of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you.”

First published in January, 2008. Last 2 paragraphs updated January 2012

The Secret Of All Growth

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

To receive Bilvavi on the Parsha – send an email with Subject “Subscribe” to subscribe@bilvavi.net

Avraham Avinu’s test of the binding of Yitzchok, which required him to show mesirus nefesh, was a fundamental lesson in how to acquire all levels of avodah. The Mesillas Yesharim says, “Sanctity is at first exertion, and in the end, a gift.” This is not only true of the level of sanctity, but it is true of all the levels after that, which includes even ruach hakodesh and techiyas hameisim.

This is a rule that applies to anything spiritual we want to acquire, even the most basic level. Any spiritual attainment requires mesirus nefesh on our part – if not total mesirus nefesh, which only a few individuals attain, we at least need the minimal level of mesirus nefesh, which is: To exert ourselves just a little bit beyond our regular level.

When one is clear about this and he puts this into practice, he can enter into a life of going beyond his natural capabilities, and herein lays the success in life. If one is not clear about this, he may try hard his entire life and he may attain much, but he will remain in his normal human limitations. A life of practicing mesirus nefesh enables one to reach above his natural level.

The spiritual tasks in our life are daunting. A Jew may have the aspiration to know all of the Torah, which is wider than the sea and longer than the earth – this includes all five books of the Chumash, Nach, all of Mishnayos, the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi, the Sifra, Sifrei, Tosefta, and more – with all of the commentaries of the Rishonim and Acharonim! In addition to this, one also has the 613 mitzvos to keep. Even though we do not fulfill all the 613 mitzvos today, we have plenty of them to keep. And in addition, one is also a husband and father, and he has to provide for his household. He is busy from various responsibilities in life. He has to do chessed, spread Torah to others, and set side time to prepare for davening. When is there time to live and finish everything?!

The true answer is that there is no time! We really do not have enough time to finish everything. What is possible for us, however, is to enter into an inner world (our olam pnimi), which takes us beyond the limitations of This World. When it becomes opened to a person, only then can one reach much more than what he is naturally capable of.

May Hashem enable us that Avraham’s act of the binding of Yitzchok on the Altar should radiate within the depths of our souls.

The Only Absolute Connection We Have

Rav Itamar Shwarz, the author of the Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh

To receive Bilvavi on the Parsha – send an email with Subject “Subscribe” to subscribe@bilvavi.net

In Parshas Lech Lecha, Avraham Avinu is told by Hashem, “Go from your land, from your birthplace, from the house of your father, to the land which I will show you.”

Our Sages list this as one of the “ten nisyonos (trials)” which Avraham was tested with, and we are also taught by our Sages the rule, “Maaseh Avos, Siman L’Banim” – “The actions of the forefathers is a sign for the children.” Just as Avraham Avinu went through ten trials where he was tested by Hashem, so does every soul go through “ten trials.”

This does not mean that we are given the same exact tests as Avraham Avinu, but our tests are a reflection of those tests. We are not always told by Hashem to leave our country and move elsewhere, but the lesson of it always remains true in our own lives, where we are confronted with the spiritual test of having to leave behind our past in general.

Avraham Avinu’s test was that he had to disconnect from his roots, and leave it all behind to go out there into the world. His country, his birthplace, the house of his father, were all different aspects that bound him to his past, and he was told to disconnect from it and leave it all behind, in order to become elevated. This shows us that there exists in the soul an ability to disconnect from that which we are powerfully connected to, to that which we feel permanence in, on This World.

Avraham Avinu was told, “Go from your land, from your birthplace, from the house of your father.” The soul becomes disconnected from its root in Heaven in order to come down onto this world, and at death, the soul doesn’t want to leave this world, now that it has become attached to it. If a person lived a life in which he grew attached to materialism, he will suffer a disconnection from it upon death. But if a person lived a spiritual life, an internal kind of life, a Torah life – at death, he will only disconnect from this world in the physical sense. The spiritual world, the inner world he had lived through his neshamah on this world, does not become severed from him. It continues and it intensifies after death.

One needs to be aware that everything on this world is temporary; every time and period of your life is a temporary situation. The nisayon (test) which we have on this world is: Will we form any absolute connection, other than with Hashem, Torah, and Klal Yisrael? The deep power in the soul to have absolute connection must be channeled to Hashem, Torah, and Yisrael.

Noach was a good man, a good man, a good man…

Noach was a good man
a good man, a good man
Noach was a good man
….In his time
– A Cheder Song

Noach is described as a Tzaddik, but the first Rashi on the Parsha casts a shadow on his righteousness. Dig in to the parsha and rediscover Noach’s greatness.

Update: Rabbi Nebenzhal has a good analysis of the above issue here. Hat tip: Bob Miller

As mentioned previously, Rabbi Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $11.95 for yourself and your family.

Noach
#6 Building Noach’s Ark
#7 The Flood
#8 Mt. Ararat
#9 Rainbow – Noach Drunk
#10 The Descendants of Shem, Cham & Yafet
#11 Tower of Bavel – 10 Generations of Noach

#6 Building Noach’s Ark
* Praise of Noach
* The Three Sons of Noach
* World corruption
* “Behold! I will destroy them utterly!”
* Build an ark
* Compartments
* 300 X 50 X 30 cubits
* Skylight – Slanted Roof – 3 Stories
* 1 Male – 1 Female of every animal – Store Food

#7 The Flood
* 7 pairs of kosher animals
* 2 pairs of non-kosher animals
* 7 pairs of birds
* Noach 600 years old when flood began (2nd month, 17th day)
* 40 days & 40 nights – 15 cubits above the highest mountain
* Total destruction
* 150 days

#8 Mt. Ararat
* 150 days till water receded
* 7th Month, 17th day, the Ark rested on Mt. Ararat
* 10th Month, 1st day mountain tops become visible
* Raven
* Dove #1, #2, #3
* 1st Tishrei Noach opened gate of Ark
* 2nd Month, 27th day, land was totally dry (exactly 365 days after the flood began).
* ‘Leave the Ark!’
* Noach built an Altar
* G-d appeased & promises never to flood the earth again
* Four seasons

#9 Rainbow – Noach Drunk
* Blessing to Noach “Be fruitful and Multiply!”
* All living creatures will fear you
* You can eat meat but not flesh from living animal
* Violation of suicide
* Death penalty for murder
* Command to be fruitful and multiply
* G-d promises never to flood entire world again
* Rainbow is sign of this promise
* Noach planted a vineyard
* Drunk
* Canaan cursed: slave of slaves to his brothers
* Blessed Shem and Yafet
* Noach died 950

#10 The Descendants of Noach
* Descendants of Yafet and Cham (Nimrod grandson of Cham & 1st world despot)
* Descendents of Canaan
* Descendants of Shem

#11 Tower of Bavel – 10 Generations of Shem
* One Language
* The Tower
* HaShem scattered them
* 10 Generations of Shem
* 11th Gen. Shem 600
* 12th Gen. Arpachshad 438
* 13th Gen. Shelach 433
* 14th Gen. Ever 464
* 15th Gen. Peleg 239
* 16th Gen. Re’oo 239
* 17th Gen. Serug 230
* 18th Gen. Nachor 248
* 19th Gen. Terach 205 – Avram-Nachor-Haran
* Haran – Lot – Milka & Yiska (Sarai). Haran dies in Ur Kasdim
* Avram marries Sarai
* Nachor marries Milka
* 20th Gen. Avram
* Terach leaves Ur Kasdim with Avram, grandson Lot & Sarai
* Terach dies in Charan

Az Yashir: An Introduction

From Weekly Tefilah Focus and on Torah Anytime
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When we were being chased by the Egyptians at the Yam Suf and we were miraculously saved, the mal’achim wanted to sing praise to Hashem. However, Hashem did not allow them to. “My handiwork is drowning and you wish to sing a song of praise?” (Gemara, Megillah 10b). Conversely, when we eventually saw the Egyptians washed up on the shores of the Yam Suf, Moshe and the entire nation called out in shirah, the song of praise we know as “Az Yashir.” Why were we permitted to sing praise when themal’achim were not? What happened to the fact that Hashem’s handiwork had drowned?

The well-known answer is that the mal’achim had no direct benefit from K’rias Yam Suf. Therefore, it was inappropriate for them to sing when Hashem’s creations were drowning. We, on the other hand, were saved from destruction and therefore benefited greatly. Therefore, we were not only permitted to sing praises to Hashem, but we were in fact obligated to do so.

There is another beautiful answer, which will serve as our introduction to Az Yashir. It is based on Reb Yonah Weinrib’s writing in his beautifully artistic work on Hallel, which is sourced from Mishnas Rav Aharon on Pesach, though much has been added.

The shirah, the song of praise, has the power to infuse man with a greater internalization of emunah. We can read about, hear, and even see spectacular wonders and miracles; and though we are inspired at the moment, the effect can and will evaporate in a short period of time, unless we take action to internalize deeply what we have witnessed, read, or heard. And, therefore, Hashem wants us to sing shirah at that moment so that we grow from the experience, as opposed to angels who do not grow, notwithstanding the fact that he is saddened because his handiwork is drowning.

There is a story in one of Rabbi Paysach Krohn’s books about a man who was crying very emotionally at the Kosel. Two individuals observing the man decided that, after he was finished, they would approach him and offer their assistance both financially and medically, since one had considerable financial resources and the other was heavily involved in the chesed of providing medical assistance in Eretz Yisrael. When the man finished, they approached him and asked him what was troubling him so much that brought him to such tearful and heartfelt emotion, and they made their offer to help. The man responded that all was well and he did not need any help. Then why were you crying with such emotion? The man responded, I just married off my last child of my large family and I am so grateful to Hashem that I couldn’t control myself as I thanked Him profusely. Those were tears of joy.

We often find the words l’hodos and l’hallel together in that order. Allow us to present very briefly a progression leading to an outburst of emotion of praise to Hashem. The first step is recognition. We must become more aware and recognize the great loving-kindness that Hashem gifts to us. That leads to our verbal expression of thanks to Hashem as step two. These two steps are “l’hodos,” which is hakaras ha’tov. The third step is to contemplate Hashem’s love for us and the kindness that Hashem has granted to us until we reach the point where the emotion within us bursts out in song of praise. That is l’hallel and zimrah. That level of shirah and all that led to it has the ability to have a dramatic impact on us. It builds within our neshamos a more profound appreciation of the greatness of Hashem, and brings forth wellsprings of emunah that reside deep within us.

The growth in emunah and closeness to and love for Hashem that can be gained from shirah is immeasurable.

We now understand the answer to our initial question. It is entirely appropriate for us to recite shirah because we are elevating ourselves significantly through singing shirah, whereas the mal’achim could not sing the shirah because they would not benefit. They are stagnant in their level and do not grow as we do.

Perhaps we now have a better understanding of why Chazal say, “One who sings shirah in this world will merit to sing it in the next world” (Sanhedrin 91b). And perhaps this is why the Chofetz Chaim, based on a midrash, writes that one who says the shirah with simchah merits to have his aveiros forgiven (Mishnah B’rurah, siman 51 s”k 17). May we merit to reach the level of saying the shirah with heart, emotion, and simchah, and merit to deepen our emunah and connection with Hashem, have our aveiros forgiven, and merit to sing Hashem’s praises in the next world.

Weekly Tefilah Focus is a weekly email created to assist those who wish to improve their kavanah in tefilah. The program is designed to work by participants investing only a few minutes a week to focus on one particular segment of tefilah. Rabbinic advisers include Rabbi Doniel Lander (Rosh Yeshiva Ohr Hachaim) and Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum. Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman (Mashgiach Ruchani Yeshiva Ohr Hachaim) is the voice of Weekly Tefilah Focus on Torah Anytime.

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Start Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targum This Week with Bereishis

Chazal (the sages) instituted a weekly spiritual growth mechanism which takes advantage of the power of Torah learning called Shnayim Mikra V’Echod Targum, which is reading the weekly Torah portion twice in Hebrew and its translation once.

The Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berurah describe different levels of performing Shanyim Mikra, but here’s the easiest way which will enable you to perform it and achieve its spiritual growth benefits:

1) Read out load the Parsha in Hebrew during the week to fulfill the first Hebrew reading.
2) Read out loud the Art Scroll translation in English during the week. This fulfills the translation component.
3) On Shabbos, during the public leining read along out loud quietly to fulfill the second Hebrew reading.

Each week counts as a separate mitzvah so don’t fret if you miss a week.

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $11.95 for yourself and your family.

Bereshis
#1 Creation of the Universe
#2 Creation of Man
#3 The Snake
#4 Cain Kills Hevel
#5 Ten Generations of Adam
#6 Warning of Global Destruction

#1 Creation of the Universe
1st Day: Heaven-Earth – Light-Darkness
2nd Day: Rakia is split
3rd Day: Land-Sea & Vegetation
4th Day: Sun-Moon & Stars
5th Day: Fish-Birds-Creepies – Blessing to Multiply
6th Day: Animals – Man-Dominate-Tzelem-Blessing to Multiply. 

#2 Creation of Man
* Shabbat – Heavens and Earth complete 
* Rain-Man
* Creation of Adam & Chava
* Located in Gan Eden
* Tree of Life & Tree of Knowledge of Good and Negative
* Four Rivers: 1) Pishon; 2) Gihon; 3) Hidekel (Tigris); 4) Euphrates
* One Command: “Don’t eat from Tree of Knowledge or you will die!”
* Not Good To Be Alone
* No Companion – Adam Names all the animals
* Sleep
* Chava Created
* Naked

#3 The Snake
* Snake was Cunning
* Chava Ate
* Adam Ate
* Eyes opened-Clothes
* “Where Are You?”
* Adam blames Wife – G-d
* Chava blames snake
* The Snake’s Curse: Most cursed, Legless, Eat dust, Hated, Slide.
* Woman’s Curse: Pain in Pregnancy, Childbirth, Child-Raising, Husband will Dominate.
* Man’s Curse: Ground is cursed, Sweat from toil, Death-return to dust
* Man names his wife ‘Chava’
* Expulsion from Gan Eden

#4 Cain Kills Hevel
* Hevel’s offering
* HaShem rejects Cain’s offering
* “Why are you depressed? Pick yourself up and start again!”
* Cain kills Hevel
* Cain is cursed – Wanderer
* Cain’s children: Chanoch & Lemech-City named Chanoch
* Chanoch – Irad – M’huyael – Metusha’el – Lamech marries Adda & Tzilah.
* Adda mothers Yaval & Yuval (Yaval is first nomad, Yuval makes musical instruments).
* Tzilah mothers Tuval Cain – (he invents weapons and metal works)
* Tzilah mothers Naama
* Adam reunites with Chava – Shet

#5 Ten Generations of Adam
1st Gen. Adam 930
2nd Gen. Shet 912
3rd Gen. Enosh 905
4th Gen. Keinan 910
5th Gen. Mehalalel 895
6th Gen. Yered 962
7th Gen. Chanoch 365
8th Gen. Metushelach 969
9th Gen. Lemech 777
10th Gen. Noach-Shem-Cham-Yafet

#6 Warning of Global Destruction
* Population explosion
* Fallen Angels take women
* 120 year life limit
* Titans
* Man’s entire agenda was wickedness all day!
* Decree to destroy entire world except Noach

Blessed with Diamonds From Rabbi Miller

Rabbi Avigdor Miller ztz”l was one of the pioneers of taping and diseminitating shiurim and writing seforim for the English speaking public. I listened to his tapes and read some of his books, but I wouldn’t have called myself a chassid. That has changed.

TorasAvidgor.org has been producing a weekly parsha booklet, taken directly from the words of Rav Miller. Each parsha booklet is based on a wide range of the Rav’s tapes and seforim, and is edited slightly to allow for easier reading. For me, every week has been a homerun! It’s longer than the average parsha sheet, but it is packed with amazing ideas that you can actually implement.

Last week it discussed the idea that when we bless others, G-d blesses us, as G-d promised to Avraham, “I will bless those that bless you” (Bereishis 12:3). In the gemora Chullin (49a), Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok teaches that when the Kohanim bless the Jews, Hashem blesses them, and this applies to any Jew or non-Jew at any time. The gemora there learns that even if a non-Jew says “Good Morning”, he will receive a blessing.

Rabbi Miller teaches that if you say “Yasher koi’ach” with some thought of the meaning – “May your strength increase”, then you’re davening for him! Rabbi Miller continues: “Those words now have an entirely different power. And we’re learning now that it’s not going to remain unanswered – in your own life! You’re going to get a blessing for that too. In the measure by which you bless others, that’s how much you will be blessed.”

“You’re walking on the street on Shabbos and you say, “Good Shabbos, good Shabbos.” All day long you’re passing by people and wishing them well. And then you pass by and forget all about it. It’s a tragedy to waste the opportunity! So five paces later say “Good Shabbos” to him again. This time he doesn’t hear it. But this time you mean it more.

“And under your breath you should add the peirush hamilos – with a few peirushim! How much thought, how many blessings could be included in a good Shabbos! “Your meals should be geshmak; your wife’s challah and kugel should taste exceptional.” “Hashem should help you enjoy your family.” “You should have a good Shabbos nap and be matzliach in your learning over Shabbos.” “You should get shlishi and it shouldn’t cost you too much money!” There’s so much to think about when you wish somebody a good Shabbos.”

“But there is something else here that is very important – maybe even more important than what you just heard – and that is to rejoice in somebody else’s happiness; to have an actual love for the Am Yisroel – a love that causes you to desire the happiness of others.”

“Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves His people more than anything else. And so when we fill our days with blessing the Am Yisroel because we love them, we are fulfilling the mitzvah d’oraisah of v’halachta b’drachav – “And you should walk in the ways of Hashem”.

“If you want to become a big ba’al dei’ah, a ba’al machshava, a ba’al emunah, then there’s a lot of work to be done. In order to achieve middos tovos, to acquire good character, there’s training you must follow, a lot of important things. And they’re not easy, but they’re worth the effort.

But I’m not proposing that for all of you right now; I’m saying easier things. We’re learning here about an achievement that is immensely easy. And the profit is immensely great. And that is the career of blessing fellow Jews. Now, when I say career, I mean that you must take the ideas that you’re studying here tonight, impress them upon your minds, and consider how to incorporate them into your regular practice, your regular routine of life. Because with a little bit of thought and some planning, you can live a life of “I will bless those who bless you”. Because, tell me, what difficulty lies in this exercise of good character? Nothing really! It’s one of the easiest things in the world to do – to bless your fellow Jew.”

“Let’s make it clear to ourselves that this is what we’re in this world for. We’re here to pick up all those diamonds on the floor. That’s our purpose. When a person is discouraged as he walks through the diamond fields, so he’s thinking that he has rachmanus on himself, he has pity on his status in life – “If only this would have happened;” “If only I would be in his shoes” – so he walks through life not even looking where he’s going”

Please read the whole article at https://torasavigdor.org/parshas-naso-blessing-his-beloved-people/

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An Ambidextrous Theology

Why is the Sotah’s case adjudicated through trial by watery potion?

Why do kohanim put their hands together when bestowing the priestly blessing?

He [the kohen] will then make the [suspected adulteress] woman drink the bitter curse-bearing waters and they will begin to take effect. ~BeMidbar 5:24

Speak to Ahron and his sons, saying: This is how you must bless the Bnei Yisrael-the Nation of Israel.  Say to them … ~BeMidbar 6:23

Your right Hand O HaShem is awe-inspiring in strength, Your right Hand O HaShem pounds the enemy … You stretched out Your right Hand the earth swallowed them. ~Shemos15:7,12  

Another interpretation (of the repetition of “Your right Hand) When the Bnei Yisrael perform the Will of G-d they transform the left into the right. But when they don’t, they transform the right to left as the pasuk (Eichah 2:3) says “He has drawn back His right Hand from before the enemy” ~Mechilta on Shirah Parshah 5

And he said: … I saw HaShem sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right Hand and on his Left. ~Melachim  I 22:19

Does G-d have a left Hand/Side? [How could this be] when the pasuk states “HaShem’s right hand is exalted; the right hand of HaShem performs valiantly.” (Tehillim 118:16) [implying that, kivyachol -as it were; there are two Divine right Hands but no left Hand at all]. Rather [the meaning is] those Angels that advocate for clemency and mercy are described as being on the Right while those angels that prosecute and demand retribution are described as being on the Left.  ~Rashi ibid

Rabi Shmuel bar Nachman said “Woe to the wicked who transform the right into left ….and the righteous who transform left to right are commendable ~Bereshis Rabbah 73:2

[Do not divert from the ruling of the Judges] either right or left: Even if this judge tells you that right is left, and that left is right [believe them]! ~Rashi to Devarim 17:10,11 from Sifri

For the vast majority of human beings (estimates range from 70-95% of the population) who are right-handed, their left hand is the weaker and less nimble of their two hands. This statistic is reflected in our traditional Theology. In Jewish thought the middah-Divine trait for administration of creation; of Chessed– lovingkindness; is identified with the right side/ arm while the middah of Gevurah-rigor/ justice- untempered-by-mercy/retribution; is identified with the left side/ arm.   This is because the middah of Chessed is relatively stronger, kivyachol-as it were; than the middah of GevurahChessed is, kivyachol, HaShem’s “original” intent and antedates His administration of His creation, it is the middah that informs His very Creative process itself.  In the words of the psalmist “For I have said: ‘For the olam– cosmos; is built through Chessed” (Tehillim 89:3)

Gevurah is sometimes viewed as Chessed’s handmaiden; meant to add traction and heft to Chessed. The principle of nahama d’kisufa-“the bread of shame”; teaches that were Gevurah not even a possibility then the unearned gifts of Chessed heaped upon the recipients would humiliate them.

Alternatively, Gevurah is deemed to be obstructed, frustrated Chessed. One great late-twentieth century thinker explained the relationship between the two middos allegorically. When one throws a ball in a certain direction the throwers expectation is that the ball will run its course in the same direction that he threw it.  If a sudden impediment, e.g. a wall, springs up in the balls path the ball will not merely fall to the ground, it will boomerang back in the opposite direction, but with less force and velocity.  Our own misdeeds (or sinful thoughts or words) are barriers to the Divine “plan A” kivyachol of bestowing favor and blessing. The frustrated, impeded Chessed that could not run its course and reach its target ricochets and manifests itself as Rigor and Retributive Justice.

The disciples of the Izhbitzer school taught that our sidrah provide examples of the right “becoming” left, i.e. of Chessed and Rachamim-mercy; becoming Gevurah and Din-justice and vice versa.

There are infinite possibilities for miracles. In TeNaK”h we find miraculous Divine retributions as diverse as the 10 plagues, a gaping orifice in the earth’s crust, incendiary fire-and-brimstone carpet-bombing and tumbling city walls; to name but a few. Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, addresses an unarticulated question about the sotah-the suspected adulteress: As she is tried and, if found guilty, punished, by miraculous means why is the medium of her punishment water, davka-in particular?

To understand the Lubliner Kohen’s answer we must first examine the deeper insights that he offers into the symbolism of water and dehydration and into the antithetical natures of Chessed and Gevurah.

Water is the source of all enjoyment and pleasure. The Gan Eiden-the Garden of Pampering Pleasures; is identified with the four great rivers whose headwaters originate there and with the rain-giving cloud that rises from it.  Idiomatically things that are pleasure giving are often described as juicy, zaftig-full of sap; or having lachluchis-moisture. Conversely, the most austere and pleasureless of all terrains are deserts. The great desert to the south of Eretz Yisrael-the land of Israel; is known as the Negev.  Literally, this means the dehydrated place. In modern Ivrit the word for a towel is magevet as it is meant to dry out and dehydrate the surface it is drawn over.

And so, when  pursuits of pleasure are perverted and exploited by the wicked and sinful it is considered an abuse of the very nature of water. It has often been said that we are not punished for our sins — but by them, and, as such, middah k’neged middah-quid pro quo; those whose sins are derived from ta’avah-lusty, sinful hedonism; are punished via water. The generation of the Great Flood (all flesh has perverted its way upon the earth) and Egyptian civilization (the nakedness of the earth/ land) at the Sea of Reeds were both annihilated via water.  These are case histories of the wicked transforming right of Chessed-waters into left.

In stark contrast, the Bnei Yisrael, whose kedushah-holiness; derives in great part from their chaste moderation in the pursuit of pleasure, merited having the Sea of Reeds “tear” i.e. part to let them past.  This hearkens back to the Genesis narrative when Gevurah cleaved the waters for the first time as HaShem decreed: “there shall be a firmament (rekeea) in the middle of the waters that will divide between waters and waters.” (Bereshis 1:6) [Maimonides, in his commentary to mishnayos, (Avos 5:8 ) opines that the miracle of the tearing of the Sea of Reeds was, in fact, rooted in the natural order as the Divine pronouncement of “there shall be a rekeea” established the natural capacity for waters to divide.]

The Lubliner Kohen goes on to explain the reason that the tearing of the Sea of Reeds became a Talmudic metaphor for kivyachol a “hard” or “tough” Divine piece of work.  It is because that which is wrought with Gevurah requires power and might and is not soft, warm and fuzzy.  Yet when, the Bnei Yisrael sang the “Song of the Sea” they praised HaShem [the Divine name of Mercy] as having two right hands. This is a case history of the virtuous transforming the arid,dehydrated left of Gevurah into right.

The medium of capital punishment for the sotah is water. Why water?  Because if guilty, she too abused the power of water; source for all Chessed and it’s dark underbelly, taavah, to pursue forbidden pleasure with her paramour.

Of the three patriarchs, the one identified with Gevurah and, consequently, with the tearing of the Sea of Reeds, is Yitzchok.  Like his Rebbe, the Izhbitzer before him, the Lubliner Kohen interprets the pasuk  “And he (Yitzchok) dwelled in the Land of the Negev”(Bereshis 24:62) to mean that through Gevurah, antithetical to Chessed, Yitzchok had dehydrated himself of all taavah and bequeathed this spiritual capacity for ascetic kedushah to the Bnei Yisrael, especially at the tearing of the Sea of Reeds. Yitzchok is described in the gemara (Shabbos 89B) as displaying G-d to the  Bnei Yisrael  to see with their own eyes. Sure enough, Chazal teach us that at the tearing of the Sea of Reeds the lowest starta of the Bnei Yisrael saw HaShem with a prophetic clarity unmatched even by the navee– prophet; Yechezkal in his “work of the Chariot” such that they could point with their fingers and declare “This is my G-d and I will exalt Him.”

When kohanim confer Birkas Kohanim-the Priestly Blessing; they manipulate their hands in a way that A.  two adjacent fingers “fuse” as if they were one broader finger and B. as if an ox could bring the horns from either side of his head to converge and then to protrude out of the center of his forehead to approximate a unicorn bovine, the kohanim bring their two arms together as if they were reducing two hands into a single hand with bulkier fingers.

Rav Leibeleh Eiger explains that Birkas Kohanim  is intended to transform the two hands into one “right” hand, evoking a Divine Emanation of pure, unadulterated Mercy with no admixture of Rigor and Retributive Justice . He bases this on a passage in the Zohar that points out that in the Hebrew original of the pasuk describing the first priestly blessing ever: “And Ahron lifted his hand(s) up toward the people, and blessed them” (Vayikra 9:22) the word is spelled yado not yadav and would translate as the singular “hand”  rather than as the plural “hands”.

Toras Emes Naso D”H Hinei Ikar
Kunteris Kedushas Shabbos 7 D”H v’Chol Ahmahl page 49
Mei HaShiloach I Chayei Sara D”H v’Yitzchok

Originally posted May 2014.

Rabbi Wolbe – Each Person Must Know He’s Important – Bamidbar/Shavuos

“Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel (1:2).”

The process of counting Bnei Yisrael described in this parashah differs drastically from the election tallies or censuses that take place in our time. In the electoral process it makes no difference whether a professor or an illiterate placed the ballot, because the purpose of the voting is not to place a spotlight on the individual; the aim is simply to identify which party has accumulated the greatest sum total of votes. Similarly, the purpose of a census is to determine the total count of people in any specific area. The counting of Bnei Yisrael, on the other hand, was carried out as a manifestation of Hashem’s Hashgachah Pratis and love for each Jew. Rashi tells us, “Because of His affection for them, He counts them at all times” (1:1).

The Torah instructed Moshe, Aharon, and all the leaders of the tribes to be present during the process of the counting. Since this census was performed by counting each individual’s half-shekel donation, would it not have sufficed for a collector to go around and collect the money? Why did the leaders of the nation have to give of their precious time to be involved in this process?

This census was meant to be an uplifting experience: “Se’u es rosh Bnei Yisrael” — lift up the heads of Bnei Yisrael (1:2). The only way the counting could be performed was if the greatest men of the generation would take interest in the individual.

Ramban explains that there was even a more compelling reason that necessitated the presence of Moshe and Aharon. “Additionally, he who comes and introduces himself before the foremost prophet and his brother, the holy one of Hashem, has gained merit and life … It is a merit to be counted by Moshe and Aharon because they will look at them favorably and pray that Hashem have compassion on them …” When each person came to give his half-shekel, Moshe would ask him his name and then bless him that he succeed in his endeavors.

The Gra said that during the era of prophecy there was no need for anyone to try to determine his own unique purpose in life. He would simply ask the prophet, and the prophet would tell him what he was supposed to do and how to go about doing it. A person who came before Moshe, the greatest of all prophets, would merit an even more inspiring encounter. Moshe would penetrate into the deepest recesses of each person’s soul in order to give him an appropriate blessing for success. Afterward, Aharon and the leader of his shevet would also bless him individually. Such a process uplifts a person significantly.

It is crucial that every person know that he is important: “Each and every person must say, The world was created for me” (Sanhedrin 37a). Every person has a unique combination of strengths and circumstances that distinguish him from anyone else who has lived or will ever live. He was born to specific parents, lives in a particular era and place, and was given certain talents because he has an avodah that he, and only he, can accomplish. The entire creation is waiting for him to achieve what is incumbent upon him.

If a person is not conscious of his own importance, he cannot begin his avodah in Torah. As an introduction to Kabbalas HaTorah, Hashem told Bnei Yisrael, “And you will be for Me a kingdom of priests (i.e., dignitaries)” (Shemos 19:6; see Rashi). Every Jew is a dignitary with responsibilities and an elevated status, no different from a dignitary in a government. It was with these feelings that Bnei Yisrael prepared themselves to receive the Torah, and it would be beneficial for us to try to emulate these feelings as well.

(Shiurei Chumash, Parashas Bamidbar 1:1; Alei Shur, Vol. I, p. 168)
From Rav Wolbe on Chumash (page 255).

For the Love of Money – Parshas Ki Sisa

“Moshe returned to HASHEM and said, “Please! This people has committed a grave sin and made themselves a god of gold.” – Shemos 32:31

When Moshe Rabbenu comes down from Har Sinai

When Moshe Rabbeinu came down from Har Sinai, he found a very different scene than the one he left forty days earlier. A segment of the Jewish nation, in rebellion against HASHEM, had formed a golden calf and was worshiping it. The rest of the nation stood by and didn’t protest. In context, this was such an egregious act that HASHEM threatened to destroy the entire nation.

Rashi explains that during the process of asking for forgiveness, Moshe Rabbeinu said to HASHEM, “You caused this. You gave the Jewish people gold and silver; they left Mitzraim with great riches. Isn’t it obvious that they would come to sin?”

This Rashi seems difficult to understand when we focus on who these people were and where this was taking place.

The Klal Yisroel was living in the desert. They neither worked for a living nor had any use for money. All of their needs were taken care of. They ate Mon that was delivered to their tents daily. They drank water from the Be’er, the rock that followed them in their journeys. Their clothes were washed by the Clouds of Glory, and their shoes never wore out. They didn’t need money and couldn’t use it. How could it become their downfall?

The real danger of wealth

The answer to this question is based on understanding why the Misilas Yesharim calls wealth one of the great tests of man.

Materialism and self-indulgence are the risks of affluence, but an even greater danger is that wealth can lead a person to view himself as different than everyone else. “There are regular people, but I am different because I am rich. The world is full of people, but I am in a different category. I am a rich man.”

With this also comes a sense of self-sufficiency and arrogance. “I am a wealthy man, so I don’t need anyone. I don’t need my children. I don’t need my wife. In fact… I am so wealthy that I don’t really need HASHEM.”

The danger of wealth is the sense of being a rich man

This seems to be the answer to this Rashi. Granted the Jewish people living in the desert needed nothing and could do nothing with their money, but the real risk of wealth is the sense of superiority that comes along with it. In their minds, they were now rich. As rich men, they were significant, important, too big to be dependent upon anyone, and this feeling was the root cause of their rebellion against HASHEM.

Who were these people?

This concept becomes a tremendous chiddush when we take into account that these individuals were on a higher level than any other generation in the history of mankind. They had been slaves in Mitzraim and were freed. They had lived through the entire process of the Maakos and splitting of the Yam Suf. They watched as HASHEM showed total dominion over every facet of nature.

But more than all of this, they had only recently stood at the foot of Har Sinai when HASHEM opened up the heavens and the earth and revealed the greatest secrets of Creation. They had seen and experienced HASHEM more clearly than did the greatest Naviim, which tells us that they knew exactly why they were created and how passing and insignificant is a person’s station in this world. And yet Moshe Rabbeinu compared their being wealthy to such a difficult test that it would be like putting a young man on the doorstep of sin.

This is highly illustrative of the inner workings of the human. HASHEM created deep within our hearts many needs and desires. One of these is the need for honor and prestige. The drive for Kavod is one of the strongest forces in man. Often we are unaware of its existence until a given situation brings it to the fore.

While the Klal Yisroel were then living in the ultimate Kollel community, money still had value to them – not in what it could buy, but in its more alluring sense, in the associated feeling of power and importance that it brought. They were now rich people, and that sense is so dangerous that it can destroy even the greatest of men. For that reason, Moshe said to HASHEM, “You caused this. The gold and the silver that You gave them brought them to sin.”

Living in our age

This concept has particular relevance in our day and age. Never in the history of mankind have so many enjoyed such wealth. On some level, each of us has the opportunity of “one day being rich.”

As with many life situations, prosperity can be either a blessing or a curse. If a person changes because he is now a rich man, he needs more, he feels that he deserves only the best, and he won’t be satisfied with what everyone else gets by with. That sense of superiority will turn him against his Creator, and the very wealth that he acquired will be the source of his ruin. For eternity, he will regret having been given that test – which he failed.

However, if a person remains aware that he was granted wealth for a purpose – that he is not the owner of it, but rather its custodian, duly charged with its proper use – then he can use it as a tool to help him accomplish his purpose in existence. His wealth will then be a true bracha that he enjoys in this world, and for eternity, he will enjoy that which he accomplished with it.

Rabbi Shafier is the founder of the Shmuz.com – The Shmuz is an engaging, motivating shiur that deals with real life issues.

All of the Shmuzin are available free of charge at www.theShmuz.com or on the Shmuz App for iphone or Android. Simply text the word “TheShmuz” to the number 313131 and a link will be sent to your phone to download the App.

Ten Greatest Songs of All Time

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Shirah because of the song sung at the splitting of the Red Sea. Another song is read in the haftorah, the Song of Devora. The Medrash says there will be 10 great songs for Hashem. Nine have already been sung and the tenth in the the times of Moshiach.

Here’s a list of the 10 Songs from Revach.net
1) Shiras Adam – The song Adam sang after Creation was completed: Mizmor shir l’yom hashabbos. To this day, it is part of our Friday night davening.
2) Shiras HaYam – The song at Yam Suf (Beshalach)
3) Shiras Ha’Be’er – Song of the Well in the desert (Bamidbar 21:17) when the Emorim were killed after plotting an ambush and the mountains crushed them. Their blood came up through the Be’er revealing the Nes to Bnei Yisroel.
4) Shiras Haazinu
5) Shiras Ha’Givon in Sefer Yehoshua when the sun remained up through the night to help Yehoshua in his battle.
6) Shiras Devorah in Sefer Shoftim – When Bnei Yisroel defeated the mighty Sisra’s and Yael killed Sisra himself.
7) Shiras Chana in Sefer Shmuel
8) Shiras Dovid – Tehilim 18 when Dovid was saved from Shaul
9) Shir Ha’Shirim of Shlomo Ha’Melech
10) Shir HaGeulah – This song hasn’t been sung yet; the song that will be sung in the times of Moshiach, as it says in the Book of Yeshayahu: “On that day there will be sung this song in the land of Yehuda…. (26:1)”

There are different versions of this list and other Medrashim bring
1. Shiras Mitzrayim
2. Shiras Yehoshafat

The Influence of Society

Parshas Vayeitzei
“And I will return in peace to my father’s house, and Hashem will be to me G-d.” – Bereishis 28:21

When Yaakov Avinu was told that his brother Aysav was plotting to kill him, he ran from his father’s home and prepared for an extended stay in exile. Along the way, he davened, prayed and asked Hashem for a number of things, including: “I should return to my father’s house in peace.”

Rashi assumes that this can’t be referring to Hashem protecting him physical harm because Yaakov already asked for that. Rather, says Rashi, it means that, “I should arrive safe from sin,” – that Hashem should protect him learning from devious ways of his future father-in-law, Lavan.

This is very difficult to understand. Why would Yaakov have a fear of learning deciet from Lavan? Each of the Avos “specialized” in a particular trait. Yaakov was the Ish Tam – honest and straightforward, integrity was his hallmark, and the mainstay of his avodas Hashem, service of Hashem. While this was a trait that he worked on extensively, it was also something that he was predisposed towards. On some level, it was part of his nature. Of all people, why would he be afraid of learning to cheat?

What makes this question even more difficult to understand is that at this time, Yaakov was seventy-seven years old. He had just completed a long period of uninterrupted Torah study. For the previous fourteen years, he had been learning in the yeshiva that Shem had established. During that time, he never lay down to sleep at nights because he was constantly toiling in Torah. Surely, such a holy person in that state of kedusha, holiness, wouldn’t be affected by being in the presence of a thief. So what was Yaakov’s great fear? The answer to this question can best be understood with a moshol, a parable.

An eye in the sky
A nanosecond is a very small segment of time. One second split into a thousand parts is measured in milliseconds. One millisecond split it into a thousand parts is measured in microseconds. And one microsecond, (a millionth of a second) split it into thousandths is measured in nanoseconds. A nanosecond is a billionth of a second – not a very long splice of time.

You may wonder: What need is there to measure such infinitely small intervals of time? One application is in one of the wonders of the modern world, the GPS. The Global Positioning Satellite system operates by measuring a signal that travels from a satellite in the sky to the ground-based monitor. A GPS unit can determine your exact location, and then guide you along to your destination by measuring the time it takes for that signal to travel. But the precision is excruciatingly demanding. One nanosecond off, and the GPS will be off by one foot. A mere millionth of a second off, and the readings will be off by a thousand feet, making it almost useless. And if it is miscalibrated by as much as a hundredth of a second off, you might as well toss the thing in the garbage. When you are measuring against objects at a vast distance, precision is vital. Even miniscule errors will show themselves in very real results.

The Greatness of the Avos
This seems to be a very apt moshol to our situation. It is very difficult for us mere mortals to even perceive the greatness and level of perfection that the Avos attained. Every action, every nuance, and every thought was weighed and measured with extraordinary precision. The result of living a life with such attention to detail was greatness of unparalleled proportions. And the Avos were very aware of human tendencies.

Yaakov Avinu wasn’t afraid that he would learn to steal because of Lavan; he was afraid that his image of what is considered normal behavior might be affected. He was afraid that by living in the house of a thief, his standard of what is considered acceptable conduct might be affected. While this wouldn’t directly change his actions, he would now be measuring from a very different standard, and that distinction might show itself many years down the line in an ever so small deviation from honesty.

This concept is very applicable to us. The Rambam (Hilchos Dayos, Perek 6) says: “It is the nature of man to be pulled after his friends and acquaintances, and act in the manner of his neighbors.” The reality is that we are shaped by our experiences and the times that we live in.

We live in wondrous times, and we have opportunities that Jews of previous generations couldn’t imagine. However, it has been a very long and bitter exile, and unfortunately we have adopted much from the people amongst whom we live. When we recognize how much the society shapes our understanding of what is normal, we can protect ourselves from the dangers of those changes.

Rabbi Shafier is the founder of the Shmuz.com – The Shmuz is an engaging, motivating shiur that deals with real life issues.

All of the Shmuzin are available free of charge at www.theShmuz.com or on the Shmuz App for iphone or Android. Simply text the word “TheShmuz” to the number 313131 and a link will be sent to your phone to download the App

Believing and not believing – Parshas Noach

By Ben Tzion Shafier

“And Noach, his sons, and his wife came with him because of the waters of the flood.” — Bereishis 7:7

HASHEM told Noach that his entire generation was wicked and would be destroyed. Only he, his family, and certain select animals would be saved. When the flood actually began, the posuk says that Noach and his family went into the Ark “because of the waters of the flood.” Rashi observes that these words imply that it was the water that caused Noach to go into the tayva, not Hashem’s command. Therefore, Rashi says that Noach was “One who believed and didn’t believe.” On one hand, he believed that HASHEM would bring the flood, but on the other, he didn’t believe it would happen. Therefore, he didn’t actually go into the tayvah until the rains forced him in.

This Rashi becomes difficult to understand when we take into account some of the background of the event.

Noach was a Tzaddik

Noach is called a righteous man, so much so that HASHEM chose him to be the single person to rebuild the human race. So how is it possible that when HASHEM told him there would be a flood, he didn’t believe it?

This question comes into sharper relief when we view the situation in its broader context. Many of the Rishonim ask, “Why did HASHEM ask Noach to build the tayvah? If HASHEM wanted to destroy the generation and save Noach, there are many ways He could have done it. Why trouble this tzaddik to draw the plans, cut the wood, and fit together the pieces? HASHEM could have miraculously saved him without Noach having to become a carpenter.

Rashi answers that HASHEM wanted to give the generation one final opportunity to do tshuvah. When Noach would work on the tayvah, people would see him and ask, “What are you building?”

“HASHEM told me He is going to destroy the world,” he would answer. “The only hope is to repent. Do tshuvah.”

For 120 years, while he was building the tayvah, Noach was on a mission to convince his neighbors that HASHEM was going to bring a mabul and destroy the inhabited world . . . unless they changed their ways.

With this, the question becomes much stronger. Here we have a man whom the Torah calls a tzaddik, whom HASHEM spoke to directly. He was told by HASHEM Himself exactly what would happen. He then spent year after year preaching that very message to the people. How is it possible that he didn’t believe it himself?

The nature of man

The answer to this question is based on understanding the nature of man. When HASHEM created the human, He joined together two divergent elements and fused them into one entity. Part of me only wants to do what is right and proper, only wishes for that which is good, and yearns to be close to HASHEM. That part of me, the Nefesh Ha’Sichili or the spiritual soul, is untainted, pure intellect. It is the part of me that understands exactly why I was created.

However, there is another part of me, a Nefesh Ha’Bahami or a physical soul. This other part is also vibrant and has needs, but its aspirations, drives, and desires only relate to that which is physical. It only sees the here and now. In its world, if I can’t hear it, feel it, or see it, it doesn’t exist.

When I engage in any spiritual activity, these two components of me are in direct conflict. For instance, when I daven, part of me feels a deep, inner yearning to grow ever closer to HASHEM, and part of me is bored. Part of me is aglow because I am connecting to my Creator, and part of me just doesn’t care. The Nefesh Ha’Bahami doesn’t see HASHEM, can’t relate to HASHEM, and therefore doesn’t have any connection to anything spiritual.

As long as a person lives, there will be a part of his essence that denies the existence of HASHEM, not because that part is rebellious, nor because it wants to do anything wrong, but because it is incapable of seeing anything that isn’t physical. The more a person grows, the more clearly he relates to his spiritual side, and the less the Nefesh Ha’Bahami clouds his vision. However, as long as I am housed in a body, this darkness remains a part of me.

The answer to Noach

The answer to the question seems to be that Noach was a real believer. He had a powerful, unwavering belief that everything that HASHEM said would happen, would indeed come true. But that was only half of him. There was another part of Noach that didn’t see HASHEM, couldn’t relate to Him, and couldn’t see anything beyond the here and the now. That part denied that there would ever be a flood.

Even an ish tzaddik, who spent 120 years engaged in teaching that HASHEM was going to bring a flood, was still a human, and as such, he couldn’t fully see it happening. It wasn’t until the rain started that it became real to him, and then he went into the tayvah.

The darkness of physicality

This concept is very relevant to us because no matter what level a person has reached, there will always be a part of him that denies anything spiritual. There will always be a part of me that feels alone in this world because it cannot see HASHEM, nor even relate to anything that is not physical. However, there is another full dimension of me that intuitively knows that HASHEM is right here, running the world, involved in every detail of my life.

Rabbi Shafier is the founder of the Shmuz.com – The Shmuz is an engaging, motivating shiur that deals with real life issues.

All of the Shmuzin are available free of charge at www.theShmuz.com or on the Shmuz App for iphone or Android.
Simply text the word “TheShmuz” to the number 313131 and a link will be sent to your phone to download the App.

Earning a Living Doesn’t Have To Be Difficult

By Ben Tzion Shafier

Parshas Chukas
“And Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon, ‘Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore, you will not bring this congregation to the land that I have given them.’” — Bamidbar 20:12

The be’er disappeared when Miriam died
For almost forty years while the Jews were traveling in the desert, their source of water was the be’er, well, a large rock that provided the water they needed to survive. The Jewish nation then consisted of about three million people. They had also taken many animals with them when they went out of Mitzrayim, so they required millions of gallons of water each day. The be’er provided all they needed and more.

When Miriam died, the rock disappeared, and Klal Yisroel, the Jews recognized that their survival was in jeopardy. Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu, our teacher to go out into the desert, speak to the rock, and bring the water back. When Moshe and Aharon went to the rock, they spoke to it and received no response. Moshe then assumed that just as it was necessary to hit the rock when the Jews first went out into the desert, so too now. When he hit the rock, it began pouring forth water.

Later, Hashem told Moshe and Aaron that they had erred. Hashem told them to speak to the rock, and it was through the power of speech that the miracle was to come about. On some level, they were lacking in their trust in Hashem, and this caused them to miscalculate. Had they been more complete in their trust, they would have used words alone, and the rock would have provided the water.

Rashi tells us that because of this mistake, the Jewish people lost out on a great lesson. Had Moshe only spoken to the rock, the Jews would have said to themselves, “A rock doesn’t require sustenance, yet it listens to the word of Hashem; surely, we, who rely on Hashem for parnassa, livelihood must listen to Him.” However, since Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it, that lesson was lost.

Rashi seems to be saying that if Moshe had spoken to the rock, the Jewish people would have increased their level of service to Hashem. They would have realized that their livelihood was dependent upon their doing mitzvahs, and this would have added focus and precision in the way that they fulfilled them.

Reward for mitzvahs isn’t in this world
There are two problems with understanding this Rashi. One is that the Gemara tells us that the reward for mitzvahs is not in this world. While it is true that Hashem rewards every good a person does, the place of that reward is in the World to Come. In fact, it is considered a curse to use up your payment in this world – something that is reserved for wicked people. So it doesn’t seem to be correct that their livelihood was dependent upon listening to Hashem.

The second problem with this Rashi is that any motivational system must be tailored to fit the audience. The people of this generation received the Torah on Har Sinai. They spent almost forty years surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, completely immersed in Torah study, and sustained by the mon, manna. They were on the highest madreigah, level of any generation in history. So even if their parnassa was dependent upon their listening, how would they be motivated by something so mundane as earning their daily bread?

Obstacles that prevent us from serving Hashem
The answer to this question is based on understanding the Rambam (in Hilchos Tshuvah, Perek 9). He explains that even though we don’t receive reward for doing mitzvahs in this world, if a person keeps the Torah properly, then Hashem will remove all of the obstacles that normally prevent a person from keeping the mitzvahs. Sickness, war, poverty, and hunger prevent a person from learning or fulfilling the mitzvahs, commandments. If a person is happy and dedicates himself to keeping the Torah, Hashem will shower him with all of the requirements to better serve Him, including peace, tranquility, well-being, sustenance, and all else that a person needs to follow the Torah.

The Rambam is telling us that since Hashem created the world in order to have man follow the Torah, when a person uses the world properly, then Hashem allows him to have his needs met in this world without strain. This will help him better serve Hashem.

Hashem was telling Moshe and Aharon that this lesson would have greatly affected the generation of the desert, but it was lost. Had the people seen the rock obeying Hashem’s command, they would have been moved to a powerful realization: “The rock doesn’t have needs, yet it listens to Hashem. How much more so should we, who have so many needs? Hashem has promised that if we follow in his ways, He will remove all obstacles from our path. But if we don’t listen. . .”

That was a lesson that would have affected even this generation because their very survival depended on it. While people may have many lofty motives, one of our strongest drives is self-preservation. Had that generation come to a more clear recognition that their existence was dependent upon keeping the Torah, it would have changed even their appreciation — but it was a lesson lost.

Earning a living isn’t easy
The concept that Hashem takes care of our needs when we use our lives properly can be a great source of motivation. Earning a living isn’t easy. Market economies rise and fall. Entire industries come and go. Careers that are in high demand in one decade are outsourced and sent overseas the next. Financial security in an ever-changing world is fragile at best.

While our main motivation to keep the Torah is that Hashem commanded us to do it for our benefit in the World to Come, the reality is that we live in this world. We have bills to pay, children to put through school, and many, many financial obligations. Knowing that Hashem will remove the obstacles standing in our way, as long as we dedicate ourselves to passionately keeping the Torah, can be a great impetus to growth.

This is not to say that life will be a bed of roses. There will still be nisyonos, life tests and different settings that we need for various reasons. However, the basic starting position is that Hashem will take care of my needs so that I can better serve Him. That understanding can aid us to focus on our true purpose in this world and allow us a much greater degree of success in all of our endeavors.

For more on this topic please listen to Shmuz #161 – April 15th The Test of Emunah

Rabbi Shafier is the founder of the Shmuz.com – The Shmuz is an engaging, motivating shiur that deals with real life issues.

All of the Shmuzin are available free of charge at www.theShmuz.com or on the Shmuz App for iphone or Android. Simply text the word “TheShmuz” to the number 313131 and a link will be sent to your phone to download the App.

Sefiras Ha’Omer- Why We Count, What We Count

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Sefiras Ha’Omer- Why We Count, What We Count – Parshas Emor

“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving — seven weeks, they shall be complete.” — Vayikra 23:15

Sefer HaChinuch: The Torah commands us to count the Omer so we can relive the Exodus from Mitzrayim. Just as the Jews back then anxiously anticipated the great day when they were to receive the Torah, so too we count the days till Shavuos, the Yom Tov that commemorates the giving of the Torah. To the Jews then, accepting the Torah on Har Sinai was even greater than their redemption from slavery. So we count each day to bring ourselves to that sense of great enthusiasm, as if to say, “When will that day come?”

With these words the Sefer HaChinuch defines the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer. The difficulty with this is the statement that “to the Jews then, receiving of the Torah was even greater than being freed from slavery.” It seems hard to imagine that anything would be greater to a slave than being freed. This concept is even more perplexing when we envision what it was like to be a slave in Mitzrayim.

A life of suffering and bloodshed

The life of a Jew in Mitzrayim was one of misery and suffering. They had no rights. They had no life. They couldn’t own property, choose their own destiny, or protect their own children. They didn’t even have the right to their own time. A Mitzri could at any moment demand a Jew’s utter and complete compliance to do his bidding. If a Jew walked in the streets, it was every Mitzri’s right to whisk him away, without question and without recourse, and force him into slave labor for whatever he saw fit.

Waking in the early morning to the crack of the Mitzri’s whip, the Jews were pushed to the limit of human endurance till late at night when they fell asleep in the fields. Without rest, without breaks, the Jews lugged heavy loads and lifted huge rocks. Sweat, tears, and bloodshed were their lot. In the heat of the sweltering sun and in the cold of the desert night, at the risk of life and limb, the Jew was oppressed with a demon-like fury. A beast of burden is treated wisely to ensure its well-being, but not the Jew. He was pushed beyond all limits. Finally, when Pharaoh was asked to let the Jewish people go, he increased their load, taking it from the impossible to the unimaginable.

How could anything in the world be more desirable to the Jews than freedom? How could it be that anything, even something as great as receiving the Torah, could mean more to them than being redeemed from slavery?

What the Jews experienced by living through the makkos

The answer to this question lies in understanding the great level of clarity that the Jews reached by living through the makkos and the splitting of the sea.

For ten months, each Jew saw with ever-increasing clarity that HASHEM created, maintains, and orchestrates this world. With absolute certainty, they experienced HASHEM’s presence in their lives. This understanding brought to them to recognize certain core cognitions.

Every human has inborn understandings. Often times they are masked and subdued. Whether by environment or by desire, the human spends much of his life running from the truths that he deeply knows. When the Jews in Mitzrayim experienced HASHEM’s power and goodness, they understood the purpose of Creation. They knew that we are creations, put on this planet for a reason. We were given a great opportunity to grow, to accomplish, to mold ourselves into who we will be for eternity. We have a few short, precious years here, and then forever we will enjoy that which we have accomplished. Because they so clearly experienced HASHEM, their view of existence was changed. They “got it.”

Because of this, the currency with which they measured all good changed. They recognized that the greatest good ever bestowed upon man is the ability to change, to mold himself into something different so that he will merit to cling to HASHEM. They recognized that everything that we humans value as important pales in comparison to the opportunity to grow close to HASHEM. Because they understood this point so vividly, to them the greatest good possible was the receiving of the Torah — G-d’s word, the ultimate spiritual experience.

And so, while they anxiously anticipated the redemption from slavery as a great good that would free them from physical oppression, they valued the reason they were being freed even more. They were to receive the Torah.

Davening is me talking to HASHEM; learning is HASHEM talking to me

This concept has great relevance in our lives, as we have the ability to tap into this instinctive knowledge of the importance of learning. When a person gets caught up in the temporal nature of this world, the currency with which he rates things changes. The value system now becomes honor, power, career, or creature comforts. That is what he views as good, and that is what he desires. The more a person involves himself in these, the more important they become, and the less precious the Torah becomes. Our natural appreciation of Torah becomes clouded over by other desires and an ever-changing value system.

However, the more a person focuses on his purpose in the world, the more he values the Torah. He recognizes it as the formula for human perfection. He now sees the Torah as the ultimate gift given to man because it is both the guide and the fuel to propel his growth. With this changed perspective, the very value system with which he measures things changes, and now his appreciation, love, and desire to learn increase until finally he becomes aligned with that which HASHEM created him for — perfection and closeness to HASHEM .

For more on this topic please listen to Shmuz #166 – Sefiras HaOmer –

Rabbi Shafier is the founder of the Shmuz.com – The Shmuz is an engaging, motivating shiur that deals with real life issues.

All of the Shmuzin are available free of charge at www.theShmuz.com or on the Shmuz App for iphone or Android. Simply text the word “TheShmuz” to the number 313131 and a link will be sent to your phone to download the App.

Classic Ramban on “Be Holy” – “Don’t Be a Scoundrel with the Permission of the Torah”

One of the most famous Rambans in the Torah is on Vayikra 19-2, where the Torah says “You Shall be Holy”. Here is translation of that Ramban from Sefaria.

You shall be holy: “One should be separate from sexual transgressions and from sin, for any place that one finds a fence [before] sexual transgressions, one [also] finds holiness (kedusha)” – this is the language of Rashi.

But in Sifra, Kedoshim, Section 1, Chapter 2, I saw only, “You shall be holy.” And [so,] they learned there (Sifra, Shemini, Chapter 12:3), “‘And you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, since holy am I’ (Leviticus 11:44) – Just like I am holy, you should be holy; just like I am separate, you should be separate.”

But according to my opinion, this separation is not to separate from sexual transgressions, like the words of the rabbi (Rashi). But [rather], the separation is the one mentioned in every place in the Talmud where its [practitioners] are called those that have separated themselves (perushim).

And the matter is [that] the Torah prohibited sexual transgressions and forbidden foods, and permitted sexual relations between husband and wife and the eating of meat and [the drinking of] wine. If so, a desirous person will find a place to be lecherous with his wife or his many wives, or to be among the guzzlers of wine and the gluttons of meat. He will speak as he pleases about all the vulgarities, the prohibition of which is not mentioned in the Torah. And behold, he would be a scoundrel with the permission of the Torah.

Therefore, Scripture came, after it specified the prohibitions that it completely forbade, and commanded a more general [rule] – that we should be separated from [indulgence of] those things that are permissible: He should minimize sexual relations, like the matter that they stated (Berakhot 22a), “That Torah scholars should not be found with their wives [constantly] like chickens.” And he should only have relations according to the need for his execution of the commandment.

And he should sanctify himself from wine by minimizing it – just as Scripture calls the Nazarite, holy (Numbers 6:5); and mentions the evil that comes from it in the Torah with Noach (Genesis 9:21) and with Lot (Genesis 19:33).

And so [too], he should separate himself from impurity – even though we are not prohibited from it in the Torah – as they mentioned (Chagigah 18b), “The clothing of ignorant people are [considered] midras (a type of impurity) for perushim.” And just as the Nazarite is also called holy for his guarding [himself] from the impurity of the dead.

And he should also guard his mouth and his tongue from becoming defiled from the multitude of coarse food and from disgusting speech, as mentioned by Scripture (Isaiah 9:16), “and every mouth speaks a vulgarity.” And he should sanctify himself with this, until he comes to separation (perishut) – as they said about Rabbi Chiya, that he never spoke idle conversation in his life.

For these [things] and similar to them comes this general commandment – after it listed all of the sins that are completely forbidden – until he includes in this general rule the command of cleanliness of his hands and his body. As they stated (Berakhot 53b), “‘And you shall sanctify yourselves’ – these are the first waters (to wash hands before the meal), ‘and be holy’ – these are the last waters (to wash hands after the meal), ‘since holy’ – this is fragrant oil (to ward off bad odors).”

As even though these commandments are rabbinic, the essence of Scripture prohibits things like these; that we should be clean and pure and separate ourselves from the masses of people, who dirty themselves with those things that are permissible and with those things that are ugly. And this is the way of the Torah to state the particulars and [then] the general rules.

And similar to this is when after the prohibition of the specific laws of trade among men – do not steal, do not burglarize, do not deceive, and all of the other prohibitions – it states the general principle, “And you shall do the straight and the good” (Deuteronomy 6:18), so that it places into a positive commandment, uprightness, compromise and going beyond the letter of the law towards the will of his friend – as I will explain (there), when I get to its place, with the will of the Holy One, blessed be He.

And so [too] with the matter of the Shabbat, it forbade the types of work with a negative commandment and the exertions with a general positive commandment, as it states, “rest”; and I will explain this more (Ramban on Leviticus 23:24), with the will of God. And the explanation of the verse saying, “since Holy am I the Lord, your God,” is to say that we merit to cling to Him by our being holy.

And this is like the matter of the first statement in the ten statements (Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:3). And it commanded (Leviticus 19:3), “A man, his mother and father must fear” [here], since there (in the Ten Commandments), it commanded about honor, and here it will command about fear. And it said [here] “and guard my Shabbats,” since there it commanded on the remembering [of the Shabbat] and here on the guarding and we have already explained the matter of both of them (see Ramban on Exodus 20:8).

If you Really Want Unity, Stop Sleeping!

Yisro-An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz

… and Israel camped there opposite the mountain

-Shemos 19:2

 וַיִחַן[the singular form, the pasuk does not say that the Israelites camped there. This indicates that they camped there] “as one man with one heart”, but all the other encampments were [on bad terms] with complaints and strife. — [from Mechilta]

-Rashi ibid

I am HaShem your Elokim who brought you out of Mitzrayim, from the place of slavery.

-Shemos 20:2

Sleep is one 60th of death.

-B’rachos 57B

Many meforshim commentaries address this question: why is HaShem’s calling card in the 10 commandments so provincial?  Why does He introduce Himself as “the One who brought you out of Egypt” rather than as “the One Who created the cosmos”?

Conventional wisdom views sleep as, at worst, a benign activity.  When sleeping we recharge our batteries, no more and no less. But the Izhbitzer school takes a much less sanguine approach to slumber than we do.

The Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, explains that that when one is asleep there is a kind of disintegration and dissolution at work.  It is only the wakeful, conscious mind that integrates a human being into an organic whole.  Under the sovereign direction of the mind and soul all of the body’s organs, limbs and digits work towards the attainment of the common goals that are mutually beneficial to the person as a whole.

Asleep and in a horizontal position the human head is on the same plane and level as all the other limbs and organs of his body.  This is true both literally and metaphorically.  The position of the recumbent sleeper is that of the proverbial level playing field.  It is an egalitarian posture in which no one member of the body has any pre-eminence or dominance over any other.

Then, the soul begins to stir the body into wakefulness and the human being transitions from a horizontal position to a vertical one.  The life-giving soul stands the person up and, by doing so, establishes a hierarchy (a shiur komah) in which the feet scrape the floor and the head, containing the mind and soul, is at the very top of the pecking order.

Our sages teach us that we don’t wake up merely because, when our batteries are fully recharged, so to speak, we are “done” sleeping. Instead it is because our souls, mostly absent during slumber, have been restored to our bodies.  This concept underpins the first words we utter upon waking “I admit to You, O living and eternal King that You have compassionately returned my soul within me, Your trustworthiness is abundant” and the morning blessing that is part of our daily liturgy that begins with the phrase “my L-rd, the soul that You put into me is pure etc.” It is only when we are awake and vertical that our diverse limbs, organs and faculties become truly incorporated into a united whole.

In stark contrast; death does not merely render the body inert and motionless. Death initiates the dissolution of the human being.  In death, anatomical connections begin loosening and the body breaks apart. The teaching of our sages can now be understood to mean that the disintegration of sleep is 1/60 of the decomposition, and utter disintegration, of death.

The unity that K’lal Yisrael   the Jewish People, achieved prior to the Revelation at Sinai was more than preparatory, it was anticipatory. As HaShem’s Shechinah Divine Indwelling, began shining forth from Sinai, it was the macro-soul beginning to enter the slumbering body of K’lal Yisrael that blended the various tribes and the conflicting interest groups of Israel into an integrated organism “as one man with one heart.” A plural, multiplicity of “Israelites” fused together to become “Israel” in the singular.

Rav Gershon Henoch, the Radzyner Rebbe spells out his father’s Torah more explicitly:

The aseres hadibros are most commonly translated as the 10 commandments.  However this translation is both literally and factually inaccurate.  The translation is erroneous on a literal level, because dibros, a plural form of dibur, translates as “sayings” or “pronouncements.”  Factually imprecise, because only the last nine dibros are expressed as  mitzvos-commands, the first one is not.  The opening of the Decalogue is a statement of fact, a presentation of credentials, as it were.

On the macrocosmic level the head and soul of the cosmos is HaShem Himself.  The Radzyner explains that it was K’lal Yisrael ‘s clear, expanded consciousness of HaShem’s Oneness and Omnipresence, that nothing and no one but He truly exists – ein od m’Lvado, that exerted an irresistible tug on them to follow the Head, the Mind and the Soul and, as such, to coalesce and form an organic whole.  With this clarity of G-d consciousness a command to believe in G-d was not only unnecessary, it was inconceivable.  It would have been as if a person’s two legs began walking in opposite directions or if his respiratory system began hyperventilating without any physical exertion and the mind would suddenly need to verbalize a command saying “hey YOU pay attention, I’m in charge here!

This explains why the first of the aseres hadibros ends with the limited “the One who took you out of Egypt” rather than with the universal “the One Who created the cosmos.” For if HaShem is the Omnipresent Soul that animates everything and all, what is it that is unique about K’lal Yisrael in particular?  The answer to this question is contained in the exodus experience.  The letters that spell the word Egypt, Mitzrayim, also spell the word constraints, metzarim.

When HaShem brought K’lal Yisrael out of Egypt He was also unshackling them of all the narrow-minded constraints that conceal and camouflage His control and management of the cosmos.  The balance of humanity was never liberated from these.  HaShem’s control and management of the cosmos is beyond their comprehension.  When “introducing” Himself to, and into, K’lal Yisrael HaShem informs them that it is only because I brought you, in particular, out of Mitzrayim /metzarim that you were uniquely capable of integrating and uniting to sense my Divinity, the Mind and Soul that directs and animates all.

There is a minhag Yisrael kedoshim   Jewish custom, of staying awake throughout the first night of Shavuos.  The Magen Avraham494 bases this minhag on the midrash that says that the Jews “overslept” the Revelation at Sinai and that kivyachol  so to speak, HaShem had to awaken them. We stay awake in order to be metaken  put right, the negativity generated by those who overslept.

I would add that the Izhbitzer insight adds richness and complexity to this custom. Oversleeping the Revelation was much worse than a breach of etiquette or an extremely poorly timed  slothful self-indulgence. It was antithetical to the entire experience and to the first of the dibros in particular. At the foot of Mount Sinai, organic unity for K’lal Yisrael was both the prerequisite for, and the direct response to, HaShems Revelation. The souls (re HaShems) return to the body (re K’lal Yisrael ) requires one that is awake, alert and able to coalesce and integrate, not one that is disintegrated through death-like slumber.

~adapted from Bais Yaakov Yisro 40 (pp113B, 114A)
Sefer Hazmanim , First Day Shavuos 5643 D”H Vayeechan page 61

The Natural, the Supernatural and the Counter-natural

VaEra-An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz

Therefore say to the Bnei Yisrael-chidren of Israel, “I am HaShem. I will extricate you from the burdens of Egypt and free you from their slavery. I will redeem you with a demonstration of My power and with great acts of judgment.

-Shemos 6:6

I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and thus will produce the opportunities to display many miraculous wonders and signs in Egypt.

-Shemos 7:5

At the end of parshas Bo, in validating the centrality of the mitzvos that serve as reminder to the exodus from Egypt, the Ramban famously explains that the makkos– the 10 plagues, were meant to pierce the veil that conceals G-d.  The strands of which that veil is woven are the Laws of Nature. All of the makkos were openly miraculous, flouting numerous Laws of Nature in the most overt way.

The Maharal and the Chidushei haRi”m explain that the 10 makkos , seven of which occur in our Sidra, were the bridge between the asara ma’amoros shebahem nivra haolam– the 10 pronouncements through which the world was created, and the aseres hadibros-the 10 commandments through which the Torah was revealed.  A world that does not perceive god as the Creator is unready to accept G-d as the Divine Legislator.  By laying bare the existence of a Force that superseded Nature, that could utterly manipulate Nature and that could bend Nature to It’s supernatural Will, the makkos removed any the lingering doubts about the existence of G-d the Creator and proved the truth of numerous principles of our faith.

Thus understood, one could jump to the erroneous conclusion that the G-d-concealing, illusion-of-independence-projecting, natural order is constantly at odds with G-d. In fact, nature is the regular and consistent expression of the Divine Will.  Why and when the Divine Will chooses to superimpose the hanhagah nisis– the miraculous management of the cosmos upon and, apparently, against the hanhagah tiv’is– the natural management of the cosmos, is something that only the Divine Mind knows.

In this same vein many of us striving to make good moral/ethical choices and grow spiritually regard our own human natures as G-d-negating, mortal enemies. We are conditioned to fight our natural impulses. We associate them with our yetzer hara – inclination to evil. But the pasuk says “everything that HaShem has made is for His own sake.”(Mishlei 16:4) That is to say for His greater Glory.  All of the works of creation are expressions of the Divine will.

When inanimate objects and living beings behave according to the laws of nature they are fulfilling the will of HaShem. The great challenge with things behaving “naturally” is that they appear to be on autopilot.  The Divine Will that created the Laws of Nature and that continues to direct natural law often becomes obscured by natural processes. This is why Torah numerologists have pointed out that Elokim shares an equal numerical value with  hateva-the Nature (86) and why Torah etymologists teach that the root of the word olam-cosmos, world, is he’elam-concealment.

When Rabi Pinchos ben Yair traveled to redeem a captive Jew (pidyon sh’vuyim-redeeming captives, is the highest form of tzedakah-charity) he reached the banks of the Ginai River and could go no further. He commanded the river waters to interrupt their flow so that he could cross through the riverbed and proceed on his mission of mercy. The river responded “you go to do the Will of your Creator and I go (flow) to do the Will of my Creator.  There is only a chance that you will fulfill the Creator’s Will but, so long as I flow, I’m most definitely fulfilling the Creator’s Will. If so, why should I cease my flowing so that you can get going?” (Chulin 7A).

Ultimately the river split for Rabi Pinchos ben Yair and he accomplished his mission of pidyon sh’vuyim. But the “conversation” between him and the river is significant in that it establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that even inanimate things functioning according to the Laws of Nature are doing the will of the Creator, HaShem. It belies the philosophy that Nature opposes G-d. Nature is no more G-d’s enemy than the veil is the face’s adversary.

HaShem brought the cosmos into being through the “10 pronouncements”.  All that exists in the cosmos, and the way in which they function, are expressions of HaShems will. We define a mitzvah as a thought, word or act having a positive and ethical charge.  What makes them “good” or positive is that they are consistent with, and fulfillments of, HaShem’s will.  As such it follows that every one of HaShem’s non-free-will-endowed creatures that behave according to natural law is, in a sense, performing mitzvos.

Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, teaches that just as in the macrocosm, a river running downstream is “running to do with the Will of its Creator” so too, in the microcosm known as man, all the natural impulses induce man to “run to do the Will of his Creator.”  When a man thirsts, it is G-d’s will that he hydrate himself.  When a man hungers, it is G-d’s will that he ingest nutrition.  When a man desires intimacy it is G-d’s will that he procreate.  When a man grows fatigued it is G-d’s will that he sleep. When human acts of eating, drinking, procreating and sleeping are done as responses to the dictates of human nature they too are mitzvos.  When they are indulged in excessively, going beyond the dictates of nature, they are not. This is the point that the gemara is trying to get across when it says that when one engages in physical intimacy that he do so “as if compelled by a demon” (Nedarim 20B). Absent an irresistible compulsion to act, physical intimacy fails to rise to the level of “running to do with the Will of his Creator”

Over the past decade Perek Shirah has gained enormous popularity. This concept is the deeper meaning of Perek Shira.  When we hear a frog croaking cacophonously we run for a pair of earplugs. We hardly consider this croaking to be the music of a symphony orchestra. But when the frog tells King Dovid that “I sing HaShem’s praises day and night” (Zohar Pinchos 222:B)what it really means to say is that just acting naturally and croaking, in accordance with the nature endowed in the frog by its Creator, is sweet music, a “singing of the Divine praise.”

… [The frogs will be] in the homes of your officials and the people, even in your ovens and in the kneading bowls.

-Shemos 7;28

Why did Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah deliver themselves to the fiery furnace, for kiddush HaShem-the sanctification of the Divine Name? They argued a kal v’chomer- a fortiori to themselves: If frogs,[of the second plague] which are not commanded concerning kiddush HaShem yet it is written of them, “and they shall come up and go into your house . . . and into your ovens, and into your kneading bowls.” when are the kneading bowls to be found near the oven? When the oven is hot! [Then we must certainly do so.]

-Pesachim 53B

While behaving “naturally” is the default setting for “running to do with the Will of the Creator” it is essential to remember that in some unusual times and circumstances, supernatural and contra-natural behaviors are required in order to “run to do with the Will of the Creator”. The most basic instinct for all species is the survival instinct. Yet, during redemption process, when HaShem chose to superimpose the supernatural hanhaga nisis upon the hanhaga tiv’is, then, as part of the second plague, the frogs threw themselves into the hot ovens flames contravening their survival instinct.

While humans are endowed with free-will and the rest of G-d’s creatures are not, we must nevertheless learn from them and exercise our free-will choices appropriately. While choosing to maintain our lives and responding to the dictates of our natures is often a mitzvah, making choices that are contra-natural, even to the point of mesirus nefesh and self-destruction, can be “running to do with the Will of the Creator” as well.  As the pasuk says “[HaShem] Who teaches us — from the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser — from the birds of heaven.”(Iyov 35:11)

As it goes for the macrocosm so it goes for the microcosm.  There is room for the redemptive and the supernaturally, contra-naturally miraculous within human beings as well.

Adapted from: Tzidkas Hatzadik 173