Parshas Vayeitzei – Your are a Big Tzadik

And Yaakov went out from Be’er Sheva and he went to Charan. (Bereishis 28:10)

And was (Yaakov) the only one that went out from there? Didn’t many donkey drivers and many camel drivers go out from there? Yet, the Torah says “And Yaakov went out”.

Rabi Azaryah said in the name of Rabi Yehudah bar Simon: at the time when a Tzadik is in a city, he is its splendor and glory, when he leaves the city the splendor and the glory vacate.

The Eitz Yosef explains “and hadara is the kavod (honor) that he (the Tzadik) gives to every person and the honor that they (in return) give to him. The impression that a Tzadik has on a community is that they, in a way, emulate his elevated behavior.”

The Midrash provides an example of this. After Yaakov worked for seven years to marry Rachel, Lavan schemed to exchange her for Leah. Lavan revealed this scheme to the people of Charan. He reminded them that before Yaakov came, Charan lacked water.

When Yaakov arrived, they received the blessing of water. Lavan explained: if we trick Yaakov into working for me for another seven years, we will be guaranteed another seven years of water.

The Midrash says:
And all of that day (the day Yaakov was scheduled to marry Rachel) they (the townspeople) would praise him (Yaakov), and when night fall came, he asked them why they were doing this.
They responded: you did chesed with us (by providing water), therefore we are praising you, they sang Ha Laya, Ha Laya (to hint to Yaakov that) Hee Leah, Hee Leah (she is Leah and not Rachel).

The Midrash is telling us that even though the townspeople had promised Lavan to keep his secret and even though they would have greatly benefitted from another seven years of water, they did not want to trick Yaakov because he had performed chesed for them. This is the impact that a Tzadik can have even on a less than stellar group of people.

Many times, we find ourselves in a situation in which we are in the role of “tzadik”. Meaning, in the eyes of others, we are more righteous. This happens commonly in the workplace where a group will be talking and someone will speak negatively about another or use inappropriate language and then catch himself and say something like “Sorry Moshe, I didn’t realize you were here” or “Excuse me Sarah, I know you don’t appreciate that type of language.”

Commonly, we will respond with something like “It’s fine” or “Don’t worry, I’ve heard worse”.

While this seems polite, it is a lost opportunity to influence others. Instead of excusing the behavior, step up and reply with “Thanks for realizing that I try to avoid speaking crassly or negatively about others. It really enhances my self-worth and the way that I value others, even those with whom I might be upset. We can all try to do that.”

Leadership is not about title, position, or authority. It’s not conferred by elections or coronations. It’s about anyone, even you, who influences others for the good. Go lead!

The Takeaway:
Yaakov made an impression on Be’er Sheva and Charan to the extent that the people who lived there acted more properly. We have the opportunity to do the same in the communities in which we live and work.

This Week:
Think about the personal and professional groups where you carry influence. Play out in your mind how you will respond when faced with improper speech within those groups.

Parshas Toldos – FFB and BT Tzaddikim

Rabbi Yaacov Haber (the YU musmach) has an interesting piece on Parsha Toldos where he points out:

– Rashi says that Yitzchak’s prayers were answered instead of Rifkas because he was a Tzaddik, who was a child of a Tzaddik, while Rivka was a Tzaddik who was the child of a Rasha.

– This seems to contradict the Gemora which says that a Tzaddik can not stand in the place of a Baalei Teshuva seemingly because a BT has a harder job and therefore more reward. And therefore Rifka’s prayers should have been answered because she worked harder.

– Rabbi Haber says that a FFB has it harder than a BT because the BT approaches Judaism with more enthusiasm.

– Therefore Yitzchak’s prayers were answered because he was still a Tzaddik even though he was an FFB (the son of a Tzaddik).

But we all know that to many that BT enthusiasm we have to keep on learning, so here is Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Toldos. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

Toldot
#25 Esav Sells Birthright to Yaakov
#26 Rivkah in Palace of Avimelech
#27 Yaakov Takes Blessing from Esav
#28 Yaakov Goes to Padan Aram

#25 Esav Sells Birthright to Yaakov
* Rivkah is barren
* Rivkah’s painful pregnancy
* Prophecy that she will give birth to twins – two great nations
* Yaakov completely honest, Esav deceitful
* Esav sells birthright to Yaakov

#26 Rivkah in Palace of Avimelech
* Famine
* ‘Don’t go down to Egypt’
* G-d’s promise to Yitschak to be an Eternal G-d & inherit the land forever.
* Avimelech almost takes Rivkah
* HaShem makes Yitschak exceedingly wealthy
* Avimelech tells Yitschak to leave his land
* Three wells of conflict: Esek-Sitna-Rechovot
* Yitschak goes to Be’ar Sheva
* HaShem reassures Yitschak: “Don’t fear, I’m with you!”
* Yitschak builds an altar
* Agreement with Avimelech
* Esav marries at 40 years old

#27 Yaakov Takes Blessing from Esav
* Rivkah persuades Yaakov to impersonate Esav
* Yitschak blesses Yaakov believing him to be Esav
* Esav’s blessing
* Rivkah tells Yaakov to flee from Esav

#28 Yaakov Goes to Padan Aram
* Yitschak tells Yaakov to go to Padam Aram
* Yitschak blesses Yaakov
* Esav marries Mahlat, daughter of Yishmael

Parsha Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha is such a foundation parsha and probably the most popular one for BTs to start with when they start learning. Minimally you can read an Art Scroll translation to fulfill the mitzvah of Shneim Mikra V’Echad Targum and there’s so much available in English and Hebrew on the Parsha.

Here’s a link to Rabbi Welcher’s shiur on Shneim Mikra V’Echad Targum where he says that Rabbi Chaim Sheinberg zt”l says you can fulfill the targum requirement with an Art Scroll Translation.

YU Torah has close to 200 free mp3s for download on Lech Lecha. Enjoy.

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Lech Lecha. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash very inexpensively here.

Lech Lecha
#12 “Go!”
#13 Lot Leaves Avram
#14 5 Kings Battle 4 Kings – Avram Goes to War
#15 Contract at Beyn HaBetarim
#16 Hagar Expelled
#17 Circumcision

#12 “Go!”
* ‘Leave your homeland’
* ‘I Will make you a great nation’
* ‘I will bless you’
* Avram was 75 when he left Charan
* HaShem promised land of Canaan to Avram’s seed
* Avram built an altar
* Avram moved to Bet El and built another altar, called it ‘Shem.’
* Moved south (Negev)
* Famine
* Descends to Egypt
* ‘Say you’re my sister’
* Pharaoh lavishes gifts upon Avram
* Pharaoh takes Sarai
* Pharaoh stricken
* ‘Take her and go!’
* Pharaoh sends royal escort with Avram and Sarai

#13 Lot Leaves Avram
* Avram returns to Negev and finally Bet El
* Conflict between Lot and Avrams’ shepherds
* Avram offers Lot to leave but will remain loyal as brother
* Lot goes to Sdom
* HaShem promises the land of Cana’an to Avram’s seed forever
* HaShem promises Avram his seed will be like the dust of the earth
* Avram walked the entire land of Cana’an to acquire it
* Avram moves to Chevron and builds an altar

#14 5 Kings Battle 4 Kings – Avram Goes to War
* Battle of 5 kings against 4 kings
* Avram saves Lot
* Malki Tsedek blesses Avram

#15 Contract at Beyn HaBetarim
* Divine Vision
* ‘Fear not, your reward is very great!’
* ‘But I’m still childless?!’
* ‘Count the stars!’
* ‘How will I know I will inherit the land?’
* bring 3 calves, 3 goats, 3 rams, 1 dove and 1 pigeon
* Split them in half
* Deep trance, prophecy of 400 year slavery
* ‘You will die very old’
* 4th generation will return to the Promised Land

#16 Hagar Expelled
* Co-wife Hagar
* Hagar expelled, three angels appear to her:
#1 Angel tells her to return to Sarai in submission;
#2 Angel promises Hagar will give birth to a large nation;
#3 Angel names her future child ‘Yishmael’, ‘he will be a wild rebel’
* Yishmael born, Avraham is 86

#17 Circumcision
* 99 years old, ‘Walk before be in simplicity’
* HaShem adds the letter Hey to Avram – Avraham
* HaShem promises to be an Eternal Omnipotent G-d to his seed forever
* HaShem promises Eretz Yisrael will be an eternal heritage to us, forever.
* Avraham commanded in circumcision
* HaShem adds the letter Hey to Sarai – Sarah
* Avraham laughed
* “If only Yishmael would live before you!”
* HaShem promises Avraham that Sarah will mother the Jewish nation
* ‘But I will bless Yishmael as you requested’
* Avraham 99, circumcised entire household, Yishmael was 13

You Don’t Desire? Then Yearn to Desire!

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz zt”L-

For the Mitzvah that I am prescribing to you today is not beyond your grasp or remote from you…Rather it is something that is very close to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart so that you can accomplish it.’   -Devarim 30: 11, 14

While the closeness of “the Mitzvah” is described as being in our hearts and mouths it is not said to be in our hands. Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, draws an essential lesson about the limitations of human free will from this omission. The precedent for this lesson can be found in the Torahs dissimilar narratives of Avraham Avinus leitmotif.

The hospitality Chesed that Avraham Avinu offered to human travelers is well documented in Chazal and yet in the Written Torah there is only the scantest allusion to it (VaYeetah Eishel-Bereshis 21:33).  In marked contrast the hospitality that he extended to the three angels is described in great detail in the Written Torah.  This is especially odd inasmuch as the Angels were only pretending to eat, drink and rest and needed neither the physical rest and recreation provided to them nor the monotheistic lessons that diners at Avraham Avinus table learned. Avraham genuinely wanted to do kindness to the angels just as he did to all of his visitors. But in reality he did not provide for any of the needs of these special guests.  His desire to do Chesed went unrealized. But the Torah places the greatest emphasis precisely on the episode of desired Chesed, in which no actual Chesed took place.

In truth all that HaShem demands of us, all that is really within the parameters of our autonomy and freedom, is our will, our wants, our desire to do good as expressed in our hearts and our mouths. As the Gemara in Sanhedrin 106B says:  HaKadosh Baruch Hu Leeba Boyee –HaShem wants the heart. Whereas the actual realization of our good will, wants and desires, the actual execution of the Mitzvah comes about only through Seyata DiShmaya,-Divine assistance.  As our posuk says; the Mitzvah… is very close to you…in your mouth and in your heart. However you will need HaShems help so that you can accomplish it.’

L’Dovid HaShem Ohree V’Yishee  is the “anthem” of the month of Elul and the Days of Awe. In it we find the problematic verse (Tehilim 27:4) “One thing have I asked of HaShem,  I will ask it; that I may dwell in the house of HaShem all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of HaShem , and to inspect  His palace.” Once the Meshorer-Psalmist declared that “One thing have I asked of HaShem” why not continue immediately with what is being asked for?  “that I may dwell in the house of al HaShem all the days of my life etc. “ Why repeat “I will ask it”? The blatant, superfluous redundancy of the posuk demands a clarification.

The Rebbe Reb Binim of Przysucha (P’shischa) explains that what the Meshorer has asked of HaShem is NOT to dwell in the house of HaShem all the days of his life but that dwelling in the house of  HaShem become his fondest desire, truly the one thing that he seeks, asks and prays for. He is asking to ask, desiring to desire, wanting to want.  The one thing that I have asked of HaShem is that Ohsah Ahvakesh…that this/it is what I will ask and pray for.

Our hearts are not always in the right place. Perhaps when we were young, or young in our Judaism, as long as we were shtaiging-progressing in our spiritual lives we could get by with very little materially. Even in our youths it is rare that dwelling in the house of HaShem all the days of our lives is our one and only request and desire. Instead it is just one, albeit a major one, of our many desires, wants and needs. Then setbacks, disillusionments, disappointments, societal and family pressures all conspired to distort our value systems and rearrange our fondest dreams and desires. We may have become more interested in maintaining and amplifying our creature comforts and financial security than in finishing Sha”s, davening ecstatically or creating a new Chesed organization that would alleviate the suffering of hundreds. In a word, we are no longer sincerely asking to dwell in the house of HaShem at all. So, whether young or old, during these days of Divine Mercy in particular we echo the prayer of the Meshorer twice daily. We ask to ask nothing else, desire to desire exclusively, want to want monomaniacally all that is good, kind, holy and exalted.

The Kohen of Lublin amplifies the Rebbe Reb Binims reading of Pslam 27. It is not that the Meshorer was trying to avoid overplaying his hand in prayer by asking to actually dwell in the house of HaShem etc. or just “having an off day”. It is that, truth be told, we can never ask for more than correct, ethical and holy yearnings.  The exercise of our free will is limited to what we want and desire and does not extend to what we do and accomplish. The mitzvah is in our hearts and mouths.  The actualization of Mitzvahs is HaShems domain, not that of human beings.

Adapted from Pri Tzadik Parshas VaYera Paragraph 10 (Page 29A)

An installment in the series From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

Parshas Matos- Words are Stronger than Thoughts

אִישׁ֩ כִּֽי־יִדֹּ֨ר נֶ֜דֶר לַֽה” אֽוֹ־הִשָּׁ֤בַע שְׁבֻעָה֙ לֶאְסֹ֤ר אִסָּר֙ עַל־נַפְשׁ֔וֹ לֹ֥א יַחֵ֖ל דְּבָר֑וֹ כְּכָל־הַיֹּצֵ֥א מִפִּ֖יו יַֽעֲשֶֽׂה

A man who takes a vow or swears an oath to prohibit himself, shall not violate his word, whatever comes out of his mouth he shall do. Bamidbar 30:3

The Ralbag comments:

ככל היוצא מפיו יעשה. למדנו מזה שאע”פ שגמר בלבו צריך הוציא בשפתיו אבל דברים שבלב אינם דברים “

… all that comes out of his mouth” We learn from this that even if someone is sure in his heart, (in order for it to be a vow) he needs for it to come out of his lips, but words that are (only) in the heart are not words.

This Ralbag has halachic ramifications regarding vows– they must be spoken in order for them to have the koach of a vow. They also provide insight into the power of words. Words, not thoughts alone, have the power to take something permitted and make it prohibited. Words can literally change the world and actually make someone chayiv a Torah commandment because he uttered certain words. That is not the case if he simply thought those words. The Midrash (in Acharei Mos) relates a machlokes regarding the conduct of Nadav and Avihu:

שֶׁהָיוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן מְהַלְּכִין תְּחִלָּה, נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּ מְהַלְּכִין אַחֲרֵיהֶם, וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל אַחֲרֵיהֶן. וְהָיוּ אוֹמְרִים: מָתַי יָמוּתוּ שְׁנֵי זְקֵנִים, וְאָנוּ נוֹהֲגִים בִּשְׂרָרָה עַל הַצִּבּוּר תַּחְתֵּיהֶם. רַבִּי יוּדָן בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי אִיבּוֹ אָמַר, שְׁנֵיהֶם אָמְרוּ בְּפִיהֶם זֶה לָזֶה, בִּפְנֵיהֶן אָמְרוּ זֶה לָזֶה. רַבִּי פִּנְחָס אוֹמֵר, בְּלִבָּם הִרְהֲרוּ

Moshe and Aaron walked first, while Nadav and Avihu walked after them and all of Yisrael after them. And they (Nadav and Avihu) were saying: “When will these two elders die, and we shall assume leadership after them.”

Rabi Yudan said in the name of Rabi Ibo: The two of them said it with their mouths to one another. Rabi Pinchas said they only thought this in their hearts. This Midrash is speaking about the arrogance of Nadav and Avihu. Why would it matter if Nadav and Avihu said this prideful statement out loud to each other as opposed to simply thinking it? The answer is that thinking something and saying something are two very different things. When we speak our thoughts, they become concretized, they become real, they become entrenched. By speaking this arrogant statement, Nadav and Avihu, on their extremely high levels, became that much more arrogant.

It is improper to think derogatorily about others, but it is a whole other thing to allow those thoughts to be spoken by our lips. We have the opportunity to stop improper speech if we pause before speaking what we are thinking.

Shmirah Ba’Shavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each Parsha.
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Rabbi Moshe Feinstein on The Mistaken Rejection of Torah Leaders

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Darash Moshe comments on the mistakes of those who reject Torah leaders:

Korach’s argument, the entire congregation — all of them — are holy, and why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of Hashem, is the basic argument of those who reject the Torah leaders and think that they know the Torah as well as the gedolim, and they do not need a teacher or a leader.

Without the tradition from one of the great men of the generation, one can easily err, just as Korach erred in the laws of tzitzis and mezuzah, and just like the apostasy of Eleazar ben Po’irah, who maintained that the sefer Torah is lying in a corner, and whoever wishes to learn may come and learn (Kiddushin 66a).

The fallacy of this assertion is not only regarding the Written Torah,as the Sadducees maintained, when they denied the authenticity of the Oral Torah. One who believes that the Talmud and all the sefarim in the world are lying “in a corner,” and that anyone can learn from them without the direction and guidance of Torah authorities, is an apostate.

As is manifest, all kinds of apostates find support for their erroneous views in some Rabbinic maxim. This is because they misunderstand the meaning of the Rabbis. Even the generation of the desert, upon whom the Shechinah rested, for they had heard the first two commandments of the Decalogue, still required Moses and Aaron and all the sages of the generation.

Do Not Profane My Holy Name.

וְלֹ֤א תְחַלְּלוּ֙ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֔י
Do not profane My Holy Name.

This is the sixth lav relating to lashon hora set forth in the pesicha to the Sefer Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim, in the Be’er Mayim Chaim to this lav, provides two reasons why there is a particularly intertwined relationship between speaking lashon hora and transgressing the prohibition of “Do not profane My Holy Name”.

The first reason is that lashon hora, in and of itself, does not provide a tangible benefit to the speaker or listener. The gemara in Taanis (8a) says לְעָתִיד לָבוֹא מִתְקַבְּצוֹת וּבָאוֹת כׇּל הַחַיּוֹת אֵצֶל הַנָּחָשׁ, וְאוֹמְרִים לוֹ: אֲרִי דּוֹרֵס וְאוֹכֵל, זְאֵב טוֹרֵף וְאוֹכֵל, אַתָּה מָה הֲנָאָה יֵשׁ לְךָ? אֹמֵר לָהֶם: ״וְאֵין יִתְרוֹן לְבַעַל הַלָּשׁוֹן״. In the days to come, all of the animals will gather together and come to the snake and say to him: A lion mauls its prey and eats it; a wolf tears apart its prey and eats it; but you, what pleasure do you have when you bite (a large animal or person that you are incapable of eating)? The snake will say to them: And what advantage does the speaker of lashon hora gain? A snake commonly kills prey and then slithers away without eating it. The ba’al lashon hora is the same, he kills with his words but does not gain a physical advantage. When someone receives a physical pleasure or advantage from an aveirah, it is, of course, still an aveirah, but we are not perfect beings and in weak moments we can be tempted to do something that might provide an immediate pleasure or physical benefit. When it comes to lashon hora, however, since there is generally no physical pleasure or benefit, it is considered to be a blatant desecration of Hashem and his mitzvos.

The second reason is that, due to the fact that lashon hora has become so commonplace, people often trivialize the halachah and become unable to see their speech as even possibly violating the Torah. If you are to reprimand such a person, the Chofetz Chaim says, he will bring “one thousand reasons” as to why what he said was either permitted or actually obligated. Commonly, he will double down and say even more egregious lashon hora. The Chofetz Chaim asks: הנמצא ×›×–×” בכל עונות שבעולם, למשל אם נראה שאחד נכשל באכילת חזיר בשוגג ונוכיח אם נראה שאחד נכשל באכילת חזיר בשוגג ונוכיח אותו על מהאותו על מה שעבר שעבר על תורת ×”’ ולא השגיח על עצמו שלא לבוא לזה היתכן שיקח עוד חתיכת חזיר בפני המוכיח אותו ויאכל בפניו Can you find any other sin that is like this? For example, if you saw someone inadvertently eating pig and you rebuked them because they are transgressing the Torah, would he take another piece of pig and eat it in the face of the one who is rebuking him?! When it comes to desecration of Hashem’s name through lashon hora, it is a particular affront since it commonly leads to perversion of the Torah and additional bold faced commission of the same aveirah.

The Takeaway:
Those who speak lashon hora, and particularly ba’alei lashon hora– those who habitually speak lashon hora, commit a chilul Hashem because they generally have no physical pleasure from their speech and, therefore, it appears as if they are simply and knowingly acting against Hashem and his mitzvos. Additionally, the baa’al lashon hora will find any excuse to justify his speech and even claim that it is required. This type of immunity to rebuke and twisting of halachah is an egregious affront to Hashem.

This Week:
Think about how you will act if someone tells you that something you have said is or might be lashon hora. Develop a response phrase that will ensure that you won’t fall into the trap of immediately trying to justify your speech. Some examples: “You might be right, l’m sorry, let me think that over.” “I try to be careful about my speech, so thank you for pointing that out.” “I appreciate you mentioning that, I need to think more on this particular situation.”

This twisting of Hashem’s mitzvos and rationalizing in a way that makes it seem that you don’t believe that Hashem is all knowing and seeing is an extreme level of chilul Hashem.

Shmirah Ba’Shavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each Parsha.
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Do Not Accept a False Report

לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֖א שֵׁ֣מַע שָׁ֑וְא
Do not accept a false report. Shemos 23:1

There is considerable discussion about the definition of the word שָׁ֑וְא which we have translated above as “false”. Many meforshim, primary among them Rashi and Onkelos, do translate שָׁ֑וְא as meaning false. Rabbeinu Yonah uses a modifier which would translate to something like “possibly false”. Others, such as the Yad Hekatana and Rav Wolbe, translate it to mean something closer to despised, meaning “a despised report”. The Chofetz Chaim worries that even if the thing actually happened, it is likely that some details will be added, left out or emphasized to the extent that the report becomes distorted and therefore false. The Chelkas Binyomin, one of the more prominent current commentators on the Sefer Chofetz Chaim, explains that even if the thing actually happened, when someone accepts the report as true, the person being spoken about is inevitably unfairly reduced in the mind of the lister and judged in a way that is false. The halacha brought down by the Rambam and relied upon by the Chofetz Chaim is that accepting lashon hora is prohibited, whether or not it is true.

The gemara in Pesachim (118a) relates the end of the previous pasuk, לַכֶּ֖לֶב תַּשְׁלִכ֥וּן אֹתֽוֹ it should be thrown to the dogs, to our pasuk warning us not to accept a false report: וְאָמַר רַב שֵׁשֶׁת מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה: כׇּל הַמְסַפֵּר לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, וְכׇל הַמְקַבֵּל לָשׁוֹן הָרָע, וְכׇל הַמֵּעִיד עֵדוּת שֶׁקֶר בַּחֲבֵירוֹ — רָאוּי לְהַשְׁלִיכוֹ לִכְלָבִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״לַכֶּלֶב תַּשְׁלִיכוּן אוֹתוֹ״, וּכְתִיב בָּתְרֵיהּ: ״לֹא תִשָּׂא שֵׁמַע שָׁוְא״, And Rav Sheishes said in the name of Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya: Anyone who speaks lashon hora, anyone who accepts lashon hora as truth, and anyone who testifies falsely about another is fit to be thrown to the dogs, as it is stated “ you shall cast it to the dogs” and afterwards it is written: “You shall not accept a false report”.

Regardless of any particular understanding of שָׁ֑וְא, the Midrash Rabbah has an insightful explanation of how the pesukim of a false report and being thrown to the dogs are related. The Midrash explains: מַה הַכְּלָבִים אֶחָד נוֹבֵחַ וְכֻלָּם מִתְקַבְּצִים וְנוֹבְחִים עַל חִנָּם, אֲבָל אַתֶּם לֹא תִהְיוּ כֵן, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאַתֶּם אַנְשֵׁי קֹדֶשׁ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְאַנְשֵׁי קֹדֶשׁ תִּהְיוּן לִי. When it comes to dogs, one of them barks and then all of them come together and bark for absolutely no reason. But you (Bnei Yisrael) don’t do this because you are a holy people, as it is written: a holy people you shall be to me. The Yefei Toar expands upon this saying that the first dog might have had some reason for barking but the other dogs are barking for absolutely no reason. A person might have some rationalized reason for speaking improperly, perhaps they are in a fight with the person they are speaking about and are angry. That doesn’t excuse the aveira but at least we can figure out its source. But if others who have no “dog in the fight” repeat it, they are as senseless as the pack of dogs barking for no reason. The Midrash tells us that we are a holy nation and, therefore, we should not do this. Perhaps the end of the Midrash is giving us the solution to how to avoid falling into this trap of senselessly accepting and spreading information– remember that you, and every other member of Bnei Yisrael is holy.

The Takeaway

The prohibition of accepting/spreading a false report has several interpretations and the halacha is that we are prohibited from believing and repeating lashon hora even if it is true. Someone who accepts lashon hora as truth and/or spreads it, overlooks his own inherent kedushah, the kedushah of his fellow Jews, and is akin to acting like a mindless animal.

This Week
Focus on the concept that according to most opinions someone who believes lashon hora is punished more severely than the person who initially spoke it. If we resolve to not believe and not repeat lashon hora, then those who do speak lashon hora will be unsuccessful in the goal to disparage and damage others.

Shmirah Ba’Shavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each Parsha.
For sefer sponsorships or to sponsor the Parsha Sheet, please contact David Linn connectwithwords365@gmail.com.

Yisro and the Aseres HaDibros in a Nutshell

Here’s Rabbi Rietti’s outline of Yisro. You can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash here.

Yitro
# 18 Yitro Converts – Advice: 10-50-100-1000.
# 19 Preparations for Divine Revelation
# 20 The Ten Commandments

# 18 Yitro Converts – Advice: 10-50-100-1000.
* Yitro arrives at Jewish Camp in desert with Tsiporah, Gershom & Eliezer
* Yitro blesses HaShem when he hears the details of the Exodus
* Yitro eats with Moshe in HaShem’s Presence
* Yitro sees Moshe’s method of adjudicating justice
* Yitro’s advice, delegate judges of 10, 50, 100, 1000
* Yitro returns to Midian

# 19 Preparations for Divine Revelation
* Moshe ascends Mt. Sinai
* You saw how I carried you on eagles wings out of Egypt
* Be to Me a Treasured Nation, a Priestly Kingdom & Unique People
* We declared “We will do!”
* Hashem reveals that the purpose of Divine Revelation is so that the Nation will hear and witness G-d speaking to Moses directly.
* Purify yourselves for the third day, wash clothes, immerse in Mikveh, no contact with wives.
* Loud sounds, thunder, heavy cloud, sound of the Shofar, everyone trembled, we stood ‘beneath’ the mountain, HaShem came down in a fire, entire Mountain trembled, Shofar continued blasting louder while HaShem spoke to Moshe directly in the presence of the entire nation
* HaShem instructs Moshe to warn Kohanim not to ascend the Mt.

# 20 The Ten Commandments (14 Mitzvot)
* “I Am The Master, Your Power Who took you out of Egypt.”
* Have no other gods beside Me.
* Don’t say My Name in vain.
* Practice Shabbat.
* Honor both parents.
* Don’t Kill.
* Don’t adulterate.
* Don’t kidnap.
* Don’t bear false witness.
* Don’t envy.
* We all ‘saw’ the sounds, flames, blast of the Shofar and Mountain smoking.
* We requested Moshe speak directly with us and not The All Powerful G-d
* Moshe ascended to the Arafel where HaShem was revealed
* See ! I spoke to you directly from Heaven
* Don’t make images of Me, gods of silver or gold.
* Make for Me an Altar where you will bring all your offerings
* Wherever I let you mention My Name, I will come down and bless you
* Don’t allow any metal to touch the stone Altar.
* Don’t ascend My Altar by way of steps for modesty sake.

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. Here’s 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

Parshas Vayechi – Of Arrows and Feathers

וַיְמָֽרֲרֻ֖הוּ וָרֹ֑בּוּ וַיִּשְׂטְמֻ֖הוּ בַּֽעֲלֵ֥י חִצִּֽים
And they piled hatred upon him (Yosef) and archers hated him. Bereishis 49:23

The Midrash explains this cryptic reference to archers in the bracha of Yosef.
וַיִּשְׂטְמֻהוּ בַּעֲלֵי חִצִּים, אֵלּוּ בַּעֲלֵי מְחִצָּתוֹ שֶׁהִשְׁלִיכוּ עָלָיו דְּבָרִים קָשִׁים ×›Ö¼Ö°×—Öµ×¥,… וּמָה רָאָה לְמָשְׁלָן בְּחֵץ מִכָּל כְּלֵי זַיִן, אֶלָּא כָּל כְּלֵי זַיִן מַכִּין בִּמְקוֹמָם וְזֶה מַכֶּה מֵרָחוֹק, כָּךְ הוּא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע דְּאָמוּר בְּרוֹמִי וְקָטֵיל בְּסוּרְיָא

“And archers hated him” these are the associates (of Yosef) who cast at him words as harsh as arrows… and why is it fitting to compare (lashon hora) to arrows as opposed to all other weapons? Because all other weapons strike in the place where they are and this (an arrow) strikes further away. So too lashon hora that is spoken in Rome can kill someone in Syria.

The Shaarei Teshuvah expands upon the analogy of lashon hora to arrows. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that one who shoots an arrow will often not know who it is that he ends up striking since they may be very far away. So too with lashon hora, when someone speaks about another person, he may be damaging not just that person but his business associates, his family members and even future generations. Rabbein Yonah also distinguishes an arrow from a sword by saying that if someone draws his sword on someone else and the potential victim pleads for mercy, he can return his sword to its holding place and there will be no damage. This is not the case with an arrow, once it is sent forth, it cannot be retrieved. So too with lashon hora, once the word escapes from our mouths, it is impossible to withdraw it.

One opinion in the Midrash that we quoted is that Yosef’s “adversaries” were his brothers. As pointed out last week, the brothers spoke about Yosef and plotted to harm him when Yosef was מֵרָחֹ֑ק far away. We see from here how their use of improper language was able to do significant harm even from a distance.

The Chofetz Chaim points out that it is often very difficult to do proper and full teshuvah for lashon hora in a case where someone does not know how far flung his words have become. According to some opinions, it is actually impossible to do teshuva for this since it would be impossible to determine who has actually heard them and, moreover, the words may continue to do future harm even to those who are not yet born. We should not look at this as a depressing statement regarding our past speech. Instead, we should look at it as an opportunity to comprehend the far reaching and devastating consequences of lashon hora so that we will be more careful with our current and future speech.

The Takeaway
Lashon hora is compared to an arrow because arrows can do harm in places far from where they are shot. Additionally, once an arrow is shot, it is impossible to retrieve it and avoid the damaging circumstances.

This Week
Analogies, moshelim and comparisons are powerful learning tools. Think about how the analogy of an arrow to lashon hora provides deep insight into the detrimental nature of lashon hora. Remember the famous story about the person who went to his Rebbe to ask him how to do teshuva for his lashon hora. His rebbe told him to empty a pillow full of feathers into the wind. Confused but willing to listen to his Rebbe, the person did so and returned to his Rebbe. His Rebbe then told him to go retrieve each and every feather. The lesson is that it is just as difficult to do teshuva for broad ranging lashon hora as it is to track down and collect feathers that have been scattered to the wind. Create your own analogy or moshel that illustrates the far reaching effects of lashon hora and share it with your friends and family.

Shmirah Ba’Shavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each Parsha.
For sefer sponsorships or to sponsor the Parsha Sheet, please contact David Linn connectwithwords365@gmail.com.

Parsha Chayei Sarah – Your Billionaire Opportunity

וַיִּֽהְיוּ֙ חַיֵּ֣י שָׂרָ֔ה מֵאָ֥ה שָׁנָ֛ה וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה וְשֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֑ים שְׁנֵ֖י חַיֵּ֥י שָׂרָֽה
And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; (these were) the years of the life of Sarah.

The Midrash brings a related incident:
רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא הָיָה יוֹשֵׁב וְדוֹרֵשׁ וְהַצִּבּוּר מִתְנַמְנֵם בִּקֵּשׁ לְעוֹרְרָן אָמַר מָה רָאֲתָה אֶסְתֵּר שֶׁתִּמְלֹךְ עַל שֶׁבַע וְעֶשְׂרִים וּמֵאָה מְדִינָה, אֶלָּא תָּבוֹא אֶסְתֵּר שֶׁהָיְתָה בַּת בִּתָּהּ שֶׁל שָׂרָה שֶׁחָיְתָה מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים וָשֶׁבַע וְתִמְלֹךְ עַל מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים וְשֶׁבַע מְדִינוֹת.
Rabbi Akiva was sitting and teaching, and those assembled there were dozing off. To arouse them, he asked: How could Esther rule over one hundred and twenty seven provinces? It was fitting that Esther, a grandchild of Sarah who lived to one hundred and twenty seven would rule over one hundred and twenty seven provinces.

Why did Rabbi Akiva choose to use this particular point to arouse his students from their slumbering? The Chiddushei HaRim explains that all of Sarah’s years were lived to the fullest and that for each of those years, her ancestor, Esther, merited an entire province, totalling 127 provinces. Breaking it down even further, the Chidushei HaRim says that for every day of her life that she lived fully, Sarah merited a city for Esther and for every hour of her life that she lived fully, she merited a town. Rabbi Akiva was pointing out the eternal value of every single moment. If his students appreciated this, Rabbi Akiva was teaching, they would arouse themselves and focus on every minute and every second of their learning.

Rabbi Akiva’s lesson, as expounded by the Chiddushei HaRim, has astounding impact when we apply it to shmiras halashon. Throughout the day, we are invariably faced with several situations that test the way we guard our speech. And every one of the moments is an opportunity to create unfathomable reward. The Midrash says:
שֶׁעַל כָּל רֶגַע וְרֶגַע שֶׁאָדָם חוֹסֵם פִּיו, זוֹכֶה לָאוֹר הַגָּנוּז, שֶׁאֵין כָּל מַלְאָךְ וּבְרִיָּה יָכוֹל לְשַׁעֵר
That for every moment in which a person closes his mouth, he merits the “hidden light” (a spiritual reward) that even the angels and other celestial beings cannot comprehend. The Gra, in Alim LeTerufah points out:
רְאֵה שֶׁלֹּא נִזְכַּר בַּמִּדְרָשׁ חֹדֶשׁ אוֹ שָׁבוּעַ אוֹ יוֹם אוֹ שָׁעָה, רַק רֶגַע
Notice that the Midrash did not say (that he held his tongue for) a month or a week or a day or an hour– just a moment. Every single moment that we choose to properly use our speech, we receive incalculable reward.

In 1984, it was estimated that the average person speaks approximately 860,000,000 words in their lifetime. With the understanding that this estimate was published years before the internet was launched and before email and texting became commonplace, it’s fair to assume that the average person now “speaks” close to a billion words in his lifetime. There are a billion opportunities to merit the greatest reward. That’s a jackpot much greater than the Powerball.

The Takeaway
Esther was rewarded with 127 provinces as a reward for her “Grandmother” Sarah’s 127 years of taking full advantage of every mitzvah opportunity. The Midrash teaches us that the spiritual reward for refraining from improper speech is so great that even the malachim cannot comprehend it. We have nearly a billion opportunities to earn that reward.

This Week
Create a reminder for yourself to be careful with your speech and place it on your cell phone. This can be a pasuk that you tape to your phone, a screen saver, or even just a small sticker that will remind you to be careful about your speech when you use your phone.
___________________________
Shmirah Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Our Akeidas Yitzchok

And it came to pass after these things, that G-d tested Avraham, and He said to him, “Avraham,” and he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchok, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you.” (Breishis 22:1-2)

Is it too irreverent to ask about the current and daily relevance of Akeidas Yizchok? There it is in our Siddur to be read every day. What is it telling the “you” and “me” of the world? Sure Avraham Avinu, without question, passed the supreme test of history. That was the height of the heights and yet we find ourselves now as amateur climbers at the base of a tall mountain, gazing with awe in search of a peak at the peak which is shrouded in mysterious cloud cover. How does that loftiest of all accomplishments translate to our ordinary struggles?

A fellow I was learning with, Larry, once told me that he feared that if he didn’t do something dramatic his boys, Jonathan and David, would graduate in a few years from his house without his having ever known them. Until now when he would try to ask them about school they would answer in the shortest way “OK” or “AHA” and he felt he had only the smallest window into their world. What happened to him at work was even less important to them. They would only speak to him sincerely if they were asking for 5$ or a ride. He felt more like a banker or a cabby than a parent.

I strongly suggested he turn Friday night into Shabbos, even though he was not yet a complete Shomer Shabbos- a keeper of the Shabbos. Buy the boys’ favorite foods. Get some grape juice and some fluffy raisin Challos. Arrange your schedule to be home from work on time and have your wife light a couple of candles. Bless the boys in a formal way and require that everyone attend.

Prepare with your wife some stories or lessons that deal with issues or ideals you wish to address. Read from a book each week and play games with them. The hardest and steepest challenge will be not to answer the holy telephone. Let the message machine do its job.

Within a few months Larry was already glowing with joy. The boys were eating up not just the tasty food but the quality of family time and relationship they were building during this time. A while later one of the boys asked if he could go on an overnight Friday night to a friend. The mother rightly told him “no” because this is their special family time.

The next week Larry came home excited with hockey tickets for a Stanley Cup play-off final that somebody in the office had given him. It was for Friday night. He wife looked at him and said, “If you go there on our Friday Night then I will never be able to say “no” to the boys when they might make a similar request.”

With the courage of Avraham at Akeidas Yitzchok, Larry courageously and wisely obeyed his wife and “sending forth his hand” -forfeited those treasured tickets. He missed the Stanley Cup Play-Off Game that year but he kept his family together over many years. He reports to me how close they have grown as a family unit because of their tenacious loyalty to that sacred appointment.

A 7th grade boy was once begging me to find out how he could get a custom filter fitted for his Smart Phone. On his own he went to a designated location where some volunteer tech guys could adjust his phone and remove temptation from his reach. It was heroic and perhaps on his level not less than Avraham Avinu giving up his beloved son.

Taking a bold step in the right direction, curbing a debilitating habit, giving up on what we love for something greater is a not just a mini-replica, it’s our Akeidas Yitzchok!

Tzidkus and Chassidus

It always bothered me that although Noach is favorably called a Tzaddik in the Torah, the adjective, “in his generation”, is taken by one opinion in the Medrash to be a disgrace, by unfavorably comparing him to Avraham, who embodied Chassidus, in his generation.

Another problem I’ve had is that the introduction of Mesillas Yesharim states that Chassidus is the goal, while in Chapter 13, which is the beginning of Chassidus, he says that the majority of the people cannot reach Chassidus. It is enough if they reach Tzidkus. Why did Hashem set up this two tier system of Tzidkus and Chassidus and what should we be aiming for?

Perhaps the answer is that Tzidkus, doing all the mitzvos, is Hashem’s requirement for us to live a proper spiritual life. However, the ultimate goal is to develop an everlasting connection to Hashem, and for that we need Chassidus, to go beyond the basic requirements, to show our love of Hashem.

Noach is discredited for achieving the admirable level of a Tzaddik because that is not enough, we need to go beyond the basics to develop the deeper connection to Hashem, like Avraham.

We all have a requirement to do all the mitzvos and to try to reach Tzidkus, and most of us will not reach Chassidus in all our ways, as the Mesillas Yesharim has stated. However we all have opportunities on a regular basis to go beyond the basic requirements, to perform acts of Chassidus, to develop a closer connection to Hashem. Whether that is giving up our seat, showing genuine concern for another individual, doing a mitzvah in the best possible way, etc… We have to strive for the Tzidkus of Noach, but also look for opportunities to emulate the Chassidus of the Avos.

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) Learn he Art Scroll translation in English during the week (It’s best to verbalize what you read). 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.

Check out https://shnayimyomi.org/

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

Parshas Ki Teitzei- Maintain Your Advantage This Elul

This week’s parsha includes the commandment of זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֧ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֛ה יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְמִרְיָ֑ם בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way out of Mitzrayim. This mitzvah, which references the sin of Miriam when she spoke lashon hara about Moshe which resulted in her punishment of tzaras, is among the seven that we are obligated to remember every day. There are scores of lessons to be learned from this mitzvah as laid out by nearly all of the major meforshim. The Chofetz Chaim speaks about it at length in both the Sefer Chofetz Chaim and the Sefer Shmiras Halashon in addition to an entire sefer dedicated to it known as the Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam.

It’s difficult to choose which of the hundreds of ideas to focus on, but there is a nuance that the Chasam Sofer points out that is highly relevant to Elul. The Chasam Sofer references the gemara in Sotah (9b) which explains מִרְיָם הִמְתִּינָה לְמֹשֶׁה שָׁעָה אַחַת שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחוֹתוֹ מֵרָחוֹק לְפִיכָךְ נִתְעַכְּבוּ לָהּ יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׁבְעָה יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְהָעָם לֹא נָסַע עַד הֵאָסֵף מִרְיָם Miriam waited for Moshe one hour, as it says: And his sister stood from afar. Therefore the nation waited for her seven days in the desert, as it says: and the people did not travel until Miriam returned (from the quarantine that was imposed upon her as a result of the tzaras she suffered from in punishment for speaking about Moshe). This gemara teaches that Miriam was rewarded midda keneged midda for her chesed in waiting for Moshe when he was a baby.

The Chasam Sofer asks on this gemara. He explains that there are two ways in which we can look at what Miriam was doing when she was watching Moshe. The first way is to view her as if she was simply a sister watching her brother to see what happens to him in a dangerous situation. The second way is to understand that Miriam had prophecy and therefore knew that Moshe was destined to become the leader and redeemer of Klal Yisrael. As such, her intention in watching him was because she wanted to see if there was something she could do “to assist” Hashem’s chosen leader. This second possibility is clearly on a much higher level as it would have been carried out not simply because of the love of a sister for her brother but lekavod shamayim. The Chasam Sofer points out that we are commanded to give others the benefit of the doubt and, therefore, we would have to say that Miriam watched Moshe for the second, more holy reason. However, that is not the case. We see from the fact that Miriam was rewarded in this world, by having Klal Yisrael wait for her, that Hashem viewed her as waiting for Moshe on the lower, albeit still very lofty level, — as a sister might. Because if she was waiting for Moshe on the higher level, her reward would have been so much greater that it would have been reserved for the next world.

In addition to our obligation to judge favorably, the gemara in Shabbos (127b) tells us: הַדָּן חֲבֵירוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת — דָּנִין אוֹתוֹ לִזְכוּת Everyone who judges his friend favorably, he himself is judged favorably. That means that Hashem also judges favorably. So why was it that Miriam was not judged favorably? The Chasam Sofer answers his question as follows. Miriam made a presumption relating to how Moshe was acting vis-a-vis his wife, and she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, because she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt, she was not given the benefit of the doubt by Hashem. The converse of the gemara is true: anyone who does not judge his friend favorably, is not judged favorably by Hashem. The Chasam Sofer concludes: וזהוּ מוּסר למספּרי לה״ר This is the lesson to those who speak Lashon Hara.

All throughout Elul and the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, we are seeking rachamim from Hashem. We’re asking Him to give us the benefit of the doubt, even when He knows our exact intentions were sometimes less than stellar. And this is something that Hashem actually “wants” to do. However, if, during this same time period, we are not judging others favorably, we are forfeiting the right to ask Hashem to judge us favorably. There are halachos that determine when we must give someone the benefit of the doubt and when we do not need to. During these special days when we want Hashem to tip the scales toward our benefit even when we really don’t “deserve it”, we should be granting others the benefit of the doubt lefnim meshuras hadin.

The Takeaway:
Miriam was not given the benefit of the doubt by Hashem because she did not give Moshe the benefit of the doubt. Hashem judges us in the way that we judge others. When we are asking Hashem to overlook our flaws and see what’s good and focus on the potential within us, we must do the same for others or lose that opportunity ourselves.

This Week:
Assume good intentions on the part of those around you. When something occurs and you have the impetus to create a story about why someone did something, create a story that is positive and gives the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Parshas Balak – Everyone Knows, Except Me

וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר. And Balak ben Zippor saw.
The Midrash asks what was it that Balak saw? מַהוּ וַיַּרְא. רָאָה בַּפֻּרְעָנוּת הָעֲתִידָה לָבֹא עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְשׂוֹנְאָן הָיָה יוֹתֵר מִכָּל שׂוֹנְאִים. שֶׁכֻּלָּם הָיוּ בָּאִין בְּמִלְחָמוֹת וּבְשִׁעְבּוּד שֶׁהֵן יְכוֹלִים לַעֲמֹד בָּהֶן. וְזֶה, כְּאָדָם שֶׁהוּא מוֹצִיא דָּבָר מִפִּיו לַעֲקֹר אֻמָּה שְׁלֵמָה. What Does it mean “he saw”? He saw the punishment that would come upon Israel in the future. And he hated them more than all other enemies. For they all would come with war and subjugation and they (Israel) were able to withstand them. And this one (Balak) was like a man that that which came from his mouth (his speech) could uproot an entire nation.

Balak saw that the power of the Bnei Yisrael was its speech. When all of the nations of the world, even those who seemed mightier, would attack, the Bnei Yisrael prevailed. But Balak knew that this was not due to military acumen or the strength of numbers. It was because of that which came out of their mouths — their Torah study and tefillos to Hashem — that they prevailed. That’s why the Midrash here highlights that Bilam was the perfect enemy for the Jewish people, because he could uproot nations with his speech.

Two pesukim later the Torah says וַיֹּאמֶר מוֹאָב אֶל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן. And the Moabites said to the elders of Midian… The Midrash asks why were the Moabites going to the Midianites in regard to their desire to conquer Bnei Yisrael? מַה טִּיבָם שֶׁל זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן כָּאן. שֶׁהָיוּ רוֹאִים אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל נוֹצְחִין שֶׁלֹּא כְּדֶרֶךְ הָאָרֶץ. אָמְרוּ, מַנְהִיג שֶׁלָּהֶם בְּמִדְיָן נִתְגַּדֵּל, נֵדַע מֵהֶן מַה מִּדָּתוֹ. אָמְרוּ לוֹ זִקְנֵי מִדְיָן, אֵין כֹּחוֹ אֶלָּא בְּפִיו. אָמְרוּ לָהֶם, אַף אָנוּ נָבֹא כְּנֶגְדָן בְּאָדָם שֶׁכֹּחוֹ בְּפִיו. What is the relevance of the ziknei Midian here? It is because they (the Moabites) saw that the Bnei Yisrael were conquering in an unusual way. They said (to themselves), their leader grew up in Midian, let’s find out from them what his defining character is. The elders of Midian told them: his singular strength is his mouth. They (the Moabites) said to them (the Midianites): We will also bring against them a man whose power is in his speech.

The nations of the world, their prophets, and their leaders all understood the true nature of the power of Bnei Yisrael– the power of speech. Unfortunately, in our history, we seem to have often forgotten that about ourselves. As we enter the Three Weeks and turn our focus to the sins of sinas chinam and lashon hora, we have to not only focus on the potentially devastating consequences of improper speech, but also on the positive power of our words. By realizing how precious speech is, and how pure speech brings purity to our learning and our tefillah, we will be ensuring the strength necessary to withstand golus and our enemies and achieve the final geulah.

THE TAKEAWAY: Both Balak and the Elders of Midian understood that the koach of Bnei Yisrael is in the mouth– torah learning and tefilah. We sometimes forget this, and we can get better at remembering by focusing not only on the potential damage that speech can cause but on the tremendous positive impact it can have.

THIS WEEK: Each day, review one of the statements highlighting the positive nature of pure speech found on the second page of this parsha sheet.

Yom Rishon/Sunday
There is an extremely awesome aspect of guarding one’s speech, and that is that he begins to repair Hashem’s mizbeach which was destroyed hundreds of years at the time of the churban which was brought about by baseless hatred and loshon hora.
-Chofetz Chaim, Kuntres Chovas HaShmirah.

Yom Sheini/Monday
Every word of a prayer or of any brocha, ascends to great heights carried by specially appointed angels. Each word has an effect on the upper roots of Creation. In this way, the person saying the prayer becomes a partner with Hashem in Creation, since he is able to build and influence many upper worlds. That is why the Sages refer to prayer as “devarim (things or words) that stand in the highest worlds” (Brachos 6b). In other words, the devarim themselves, the words of the prayer, stand at the highest point of the worlds. -Nefesh HaChaim

Yom Shlishi/Tuesday
According to Rabbeinu Yonah, if one guards his tongue and is careful about what he says, then his mouth is considered to be a holy vessel. Just like a holy vessel confers holiness upon whatever [non-holy] item is placed in it, so too all words that are issued from such a mouth are holy.
-Shem MiShmuel

Yom Revi’i/Wednesday
Although it is commendable to try to minimize your speech, if you see someone sad and distressed, it is a great mitzvah to raise his spirits by speaking with him.
-Sefer Shmiras HaLashon

Yom Chamishi/Thursday
Since man was created as a physical being and not simply a pure, disembodied soul, his pure soul, by itself, is not his complete essence. Rather, the essence of man is his power of speech, which is expressed by the physical organ of the tongue. For man is composed of both physical and soul. Speech is unique to man, since no animal can speak. Speech is rooted in the soul (and yet is found in a physical organ) and therefore is the essence of man (since it combines the physical and the spiritual).
-Maharal, Nesivos Olam

Yom Shishi/ Friday
Midah keneged midah is a foundational principle in all things. Therefore, if one suppresses himself and keeps his mouth from speaking disparagingly against his fellow man and arousing strife against him, so too, above, the Prosecutor will not be able to open his mouth to speak accusingly against him.
-Sefer Shmiras HaLashon

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Parah Adumah – It’s Never as Bad, or as Evil, as It Seems

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-zt”l

How does Jewish sin differ from sin in general?

I have recorded a homiletic interpretation … of R. Moshe Hadarshan … And have them take for you: … just as they took off their own golden earrings for the calf, so shall they bring this [cow] from their own [assets] in penance. A red cow: This is comparable to the baby of a maidservant who soiled the king’s palace [with fecal matter]. They said, “Let his mother come and clean up the mess.” Similarly, let the cow come and atone for the calf.] … [Midrash Aggadah and Tanchuma Chukath 8]

–Rashi Bemidbar19:22

A Kohen who converted to an idolatrous religion should not “raise his palms” in the priestly blessing. Others say that if he repented then he may perform the priestly blessing.

–Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 128:37

But if he actually worshipped an idol, even if he was forced to do so and even if he subsequently repented, he may not perform the priestly blessing.

–Be’er Heitev ibid footnote 63

Approach the altar: [The salient corners of the altar reminded Ahron of the juvenile horn-buds of the Calf] because Ahron was embarrassed and frightened of approaching [the altar] Moshe said to him: “Why are you ashamed? You have been chosen for this [role]!”

– Torath Kohanim on VaYikra 9:7

Fire came forth from before HaShem and consumed them [Nadav and Avihu], such that they died before HaShem. Then Moshe said to Ahron, “This is precisely what HaShem meant, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me (Shemos 29:43) … “

–VaYikra 10:2,3


מוֹצִיא מִזָּלוֹת יְקָרוֹת. מַתִּיר מֵאֲסוּרוֹת מֻתָּרוֹת. נוֹתֵן מִטְּמֵאוֹת טְהוֹרוֹת
HaShem brings forth the priceless from the worthless, He allows the permissible from the prohibited, He produces the pure from the impure.

Piyut-“Yotzros” for Parshas Parah

The mei chatas-the waters whose main ingredient were the ashes produced from immolating the carcass of the Parah Adumah-the Red Heifer, are the only means to gain purity after contracting impurity through contact with the dead- tuma’as meis. A person who has become tamei meis may not consume the korban Pesach-the Passover sacrifice. (Or, for that matter, any consumable sacrifices.) When the Bais HaMikdash-the Temple in Jerusalem, stood those who were tme’ei meis would undergo the mei chatas purification process required to enable them to offer their korban Pesach.  Nowadays, as the Bais HaMikdash lies in ruins, the four special parshiyos/ maftir readings that precede Pesach are all meant as a preparation for the holiday.  So we can easily understand that it is apropos to read Parshas Parah at this time of the year.

However, during each of the shalosh regalim-pilgrimage holidays, multiple offerings had to be sacrificed and consumed in a state of ritual purity.  This being the case, the Biskovitzer asks: Why is the reading of Parshas Parah limited to pre-Pesach preparation?  Logically, we ought to be reading it before Shavous and Sukkos as well. The insights that he and other members of the Izhbitzer school provide by way of answering this question reveal a profound and deep-seated difference between Jewish sin, and sin in general.

In Torah literature the Parah Adumah is known as THE Chukas haTorah, THE (most) irrational mitzvah of the Torah (preceded with the definite article.)  In a broad sense the entire body of Torah law covering the rules of purity and impurity contains only chukim-irrational mitzvos.  After all, the states of ritual purity or impurity rise above sensory perception.  We can neither see taharah-purity nor smell tumah-impurity.  Similarly, there seems to be no rhyme or reason when trying to connect the dots between cause and effect in either tumah or taharah or in endeavoring to understand their various levels.  But what makes the Parah Adumah a category of chok unto itself is the conundrum of it being a factor causing both tumah and taharah.  Those who prepare and handle it contract a low level of tumah while those who were sprayed with the mei chataas regain a state of purity after being in the thrall of the most powerful and fundamental form of tumah.

Tumah is identified with sin while having attained atonement and rapprochement is associated with taharah.  As such, the conflicted nature of the Parah Adumah serves as a metaphor for the convergence of sin and repentance; of merit and the demerits; of kilkul-spiritual ruination, and tikkun– it’s repair and restoration. The Parah Adumah itself is seen as atoning for the greatest of all sins; the Golden Calf.  It is the mother that comes to clean up the mess that her baby left in the king’s palace.

While the Calf is the “child” and the Red Heifer the “parent” oddly enough, in this case, it is the child that gives birth to the parent.  Absent the Golden Calf there would never have been a Red Heifer. The Biskovitzer maintains that the message of the Parah Adumah is that Jewish sins even the most catastrophic an egregious of Jewish sins; are not all bad.  A weed cannot produce a tasty apple.  If we were to see a delicious apple hanging from a noxious weed we would be forced to conclude that there’s more to this weed than meets the eye.  While it may look and smell like a weed, it must contain some genetic material capable of producing such delicious and nourishing fruit.

If ever there was a sin, a metaphysical weed that looked “all bad” it was the Golden Calf.  Yet when considered on a deeper level it was motivated by something virtuous. K’lal Yisrael, the Jewish People wanted (a) god to lead them.  Ultimately HaShem agreed to this and said “and they should make a sanctuary for me and I will cause my Divine Indwelling to be among them.” (Shemos 25:8) And when they besieged Ahron to become their agent to serve/ worship and to build the altar this too remained as a permanent fixture in the Divine service of HaShem, as Ahron became the Kohen Gadol.

Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, when listing many examples of spiritual/metaphysical darkness that are the necessary prerequisites to the light that follows, goes so far as to say that the sin of the Golden Calf was the primary cause of the construction of the Mishkan and that the sin of Nadav and Avihu was the primary cause of the Mishkan’s holiness.  Still, the Lubliner Kohen pointedly reminds us that, while the light is contained in the darkness and that spiritual purity and sanctity are present in potentia in every Jewish sin, that sin nevertheless remains, well, sinful … and something to be ashamed of. (cp Taanis 11A Tosafos D”H Amar Shmuel). Otherwise, why would it be prohibited to remind those Ba’alei Teshuvah-masters of repentance, who were motivated to repent by the love of HaShem, of their earlier misdeeds?  While we know that repentance motivated by such love has the power to transform premeditated, and even malicious, sins into zechuyos, merits/ mitzvos, there is nonetheless something untoward and unseemly about the original acts which still appear as sins in the historical record.

This explains Ahron’s reticence and sense of shame and apprehension when he first approached the altar to do the Divine service.  Ahron had done absolutely nothing and exerted no efforts to attain the Office of Kohen Gadol.  On the contrary, his culpability in the sin of the Golden Calf would have seemed to torpedo any chances that he had to serve in the Mishkan.  The halachah states that a Kohen who worshipped idols is disqualified from serving again as a Kohen to HaShem, even after returning to the fold and repenting. How much more so for the “enabler” of this foulest idolatry of the Jewish People? It was only his profound sense of shame over his involvement in the sin of the Golden Calf and his feelings of unbridgeable distance and alienation from HaShem that, paradoxically, brought him closer to HaShem than anyone else. To paraphrase the paytan-liturgical poet, of the Parshas Parah yotzer vis-à-vis Ahron;  HaShem brought forth the premier servant from the most mutinous rebel.

The Biskovitzer concludes that while ritual purification from contact with the dead is required in order to consume any of the korbanos we read Parshas Parah before Pesach because they convey the identical message.  During the Exodus from Egypt the ministering angels “challenged” HaShem’s salvation of the Jews and simultaneous destruction of the Egyptians by saying; “these and those are both idolaters.”  Yet, during the night of the slaying of the firstborn, HaShem “passed over.” He, kivyachol-as it were, leapfrogged from one Egyptian occupied home to the other while leaving the Jews occupying the homes in the middle, unscathed.  On a level so profound, deep and imperceivable that even the angels could not grasp it, there was, indeed, a difference between Jewish idolatry, and the concomitant descent into the 49 gates of impurity, and the idolatry of the Egyptians.  While both Egyptians and Jews worshipped idols, the Jews had suffered terribly for k’vod Shamayim-for god’s greater Glory.  Jewish idolatry was not all bad, somehow the purity and sanctity of Mattan Torah-the revelation at Sinai inhered in the degradation, defilement and, yes, even in the idolatry of the Jewish slavery experience in Egypt.

~adapted from Neos Desheh Parshas Parah
Takanas HaShavin 5 page 21
Resisei Laylah 24 pages 3031

This post is An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK

Parshas Korach – Give it Up

וְאִם הוּא מַחֲזִיק בַּמַחְלֹקֶת עַל יְדֵי סִפּוּרוֹ עוֹבֵר עוֹד עַל לָאו דְּ”לֹא יִהְיֶה כְקֹרַח שֶׁהוּא אַזְהָרָה, שֶׁלֹּא לְהַחֲזִיק בְּמַחְלֹקֶת ×›.
And if he gives strength to a dispute through his own speech, he has also transgressed the prohibition of “You shall not be like Korach and his followers”, this (commandment) is a warning to not strengthen a dispute. (Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chekek Alef, pesicha, Lav Yud Beis).

The Chofetz Chaim, on this lav, references the gemara in Sanhedrin (110a). ויקם משה וילך אל דתן ואבירם אמר ר”ל מכאן שאין מחזיקין במחלוקת דאמר רב כל המחזיק במחלוקת עובר בלאו שנאמר ולא ×™×”×™×” כקרח וכעדתו And Moshe got up and he went to Dasan and Aviram, Reish Lakish says from here (we learn) not to strengthen a dispute, as Rav says: anyone who strengthens a dispute has transgressed the prohibition of “You shall not be like Korach and his followers”. Rashi points out why it is that we learn this concept from the actions of Moshe: שמחל על כבודו והוא עצמו הלך לבטל מחלוקת (Moshe) was mochel on his honor, and he himself went out to nullify the dispute.

There is a fairly common misunderstanding that the prohibition of being mechazek a machlokes is limited to those outside the actual machlokes. In other words, it’s telling us not to get involved in other people’s disputes. Yes, this is certainly prohibited, but this issur is not limited to that. The gemara is telling us that even those involved in the machlokes itself, and even those who are absolutely correct should do what they can to dampen or uproot the machlokes. We learn this from the actions of
לרפואה שׁלמה חיה גיטל בת מלכה

Moshe who was on the side of Hashem, had been personally attacked, and was הֶחָשׁוּב שֶׁבְּיִשְׂרָאֵל the most important person in klal yisrael. Nonetheless, he “got up and went” to Dasan and Aviram in order to do what he could to quell the dispute.

The Midrash says that because Moshe went to the tents of Dasan and Aviram, four tzadikim were saved from Gehenom– the three sons of Korach and On ben Peles. The Chofetz Chaim in Sefer Shmiras HaLashon emphasizes the extent to which we need to go to seek peace. He explains the pusek in tehillim בַּקִּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ Seek peace and pursue it as: Seek peace among your friends, pursue it among your enemies; Seek peace in the place where you are, pursue it in other places; Seek peace with personal efforts, pursue peace with your financial resources; Seek peace when it concerns you, pursue peace even when it only involves others; and Seek peace today, pursue peace even for tomorrow (if your efforts at peacemaking don’t bear fruit today, try again tomorrow).

THE TAKEAWAY: We have an obligation to avoid machlokes and to actively and incessantly pursue peace. Moshe, the greatest prophet to ever live, was willing to forego his honor in order to attempt to make peace.

THIS WEEK: Start building or working on the muscle of giving in. Give up on something that you feel is due to you in order to avoid or deepen a conflict.
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Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Parshas Behaloscha – Five Barriers, Three Breakthroughs

לזכות חיים יוא־ל בן ארי־ה משׁה הלוי

Our parsha contains the most well known incidence of lashon hara and tzaras– Miriam speaking about Moshe. Before any discussion of this incident can be undertaken, it is imperative to understand that Miriam was among the greatest prophets ever and that due to her lofty level, she was held to an extremely exacting standard. There is not a single meforesh that explains that Miriam ever intended harm to Moshe. In fact, most explain that Miriam’s intentions were constructive. Nonetheless, she was taken to task for not living up to her potential.

The Chofetz Chaim wrote five seforim addressing the halachos and hashkafos of lashon hara: Sefer Chofetz Chaim, Sefer Shmiras HaLashon-chelek alef, Sefer Shmiras HaLashon-chelek beis, Chovos HaShmirah, and Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam. The Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam focuses to a large extent on the mitzvah to remember what Hashem did to Miriam. According to most opinions, we have a daily obligation to remember this by reading, out loud, the pasuk (found in most sedurim at the end of shacharis): זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֧ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֛ה יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְמִרְיָ֑ם בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way when you were coming out of Egypt. In the first perek of Zachor LeMiriam, the Chofetz Chaim provides five reasons why people don’t always see the full benefit of saying this pasuk:

1. People often don’t appreciate or understand that they suffer from the malady of lashon hora, and since they don’t realize this, they do not seek to be cured from it.
2. Even those who verbalize the zechirah of Miriam don’t think deeply about it and don’t try to understand the depth of bitterness that Miriam experienced after this incident.
3. People look at others who are scrupulous to say the pasuk daily and assume that it does not help since they still see them speaking lashon hora.
4. Many don’t understand that in order to remedy their improper speech, they need to take the steps to uncover the root causes of their own lashon hara (the Chofetz Chaim provides a list of these causes in Sefer Shmiras HaLashon: anger, cynicism, arrogance, futility, negativity, and rationalization).
5. People think that their lashon hora is so entrenched that they believe they will never be successful in removing their yetzer hara in this regard.

The Chofetz Chaim provides advice for how to get past these five barriers. His advice is well known to us: עֲקַבְיָא בֶן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר, הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים וְאִי אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן. Akivah ben Mehalelel said Gaze at three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you will stand in judgment and provide an accounting. The Chofetz Chaim provides several insights into each of these three concepts. We will only focus on one insight for each of them.

Know from where you came. In addition to the insight with which most of us are familiar — that we come from a putrid drop, the Chofetz Chaim accentuates the positive. He explains that although man is physical–like all other creations– he has a soul that is divine–מִן הַשָׁמַיּם . We are lofty beings and when we remember that, we will be careful not to besmirch ourselves with lashon hara and not to disparage our fellow man, each of whom possesses a divine soul.

Know where you are going. The Chofetz Chaim points out that the language here is in the present tense. It’s not “know where you will end up”, it’s “know where you are going, right now”. Every day we are aging, moving closer to the day when we will leave this world and return to dust. If so, what possible arrogance (the primary root of lashon hara and all sins) can we have? Our physicality and physical possessions? These are amortizing, decreasing in value, every day.

Before whom you will stand in judgment and provide an accounting. There is no hiding or rationalization before Hashem. The Chofetz Chaim explains that each of us will have to give an accounting for every word we have spoken, particularly for speech that is forbidden: lashon hara, rechilus, deceptive speech, harmful words, lies, false flattery, words that publicly embarrass others, and words that create or sustain machlokes.

The Chofetz Chaim summarizes the mishna: when we focus on these three things, we will not be ensnared by the middah of gaivah- arrogance, שֶׁהִיא רֵשִׁית לְכָל חֵטְא which is the primary cause of all sin. The Chofetz Chaim concludes that man should also focus on the tremendous kindness that Hashem extends to him throughout his entire life and then he will be happy with his lot. When we are happy with what we have — with what we have been gifted– we will not be worried that others have more, and we won’t look to bring others down through negative speech.

THE TAKEAWAY: We are required to remember what Hashem did to Miriam for speaking improperly. People don’t always get the full benefit of this mitzva because: they don’t realize how deficient their own speech is, they say the words without getting a deeper understanding of them, they look at others who say the pasuk but still speak lashon hara, they don’t investigate the root causes of their improper speech, or they believe that their improper speech is so entrenched that they cannot repair it. By thinking about the purity of our souls and those of our fellow Jews, understanding that we have nothing to be arrogant about, and remembering that we will have to provide an accounting for every word we speak, we will arouse ourselves to fight the yetzer hara for improper speech.

THIS WEEK: The Chofetz Chaim points out that if we think about the three things discussed in the mishna above, we will distance ourselves from sin. But, he also says that each one on their own can divert us from sin. Read this short Mishna (Pirkei Avos 3:1) daily this week and take a moment to think about which of these three things speak to you the most. Set a reminder/alarm for yourself to stop and think about this particular aspect at least once during your day.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com