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Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

Rabbi's Weekly Dvar Torahs

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Parshat Bereishit

At Hebrew School they were teaching how G-d created everything, including human beings. Little Chaim, a child in the kindergarten class, seemed especially intent when they told him how Eve was created out of one of Adam’s ribs.

Later in the week his mother noticed him lying down as though he were ill, and said, “Chaim, what is the matter?” Little Chaim responded, “I have a pain in my side. I think I’m going to have a wife.”

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Bereishit, G-d warns Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.

The Midrash relates that this command was given to Adam on Friday afternoon, and that it was to remain in effect only until Shabbat began. On Shabbat, the fruit would be permitted. The entire prohibition against eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was to have applied for a period of just three hours.

As we know, Adam was unable to restrain himself. He transgressed G-d’s command and ate from the Tree.

We may ask a valid question: How is it possible that Adam, whom G-d Himself had created only hours before - “the handiwork of the Holy One, Blessed Be He” - could not control himself for three hours?

The answer lies in the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. The sole purpose of the evil inclination is to challenge a person by attempting to prevent him from performing G-d’s commandments, thereby causing him to go against G-d’s will.

Significantly, the evil inclination’s efforts are in direct proportion to the importance of the mitzvah. The more important the commandment or the greater in spiritual stature the individual, the harder the evil inclination will work to lure him into its trap.

We see this for ourselves. It often happens that a person will encounter a mitzvah that is very easy to perform, yet the evil inclination will suddenly rear its ugly head to stop him from doing it. Why? Because that particular mitzvah is especially important to that person’s soul, and the evil inclination will expend great effort to prevent him from fulfilling it.

This, in essence, is what happened to Adam. The commandment to refrain from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was a simple one, but because Adam’s compliance was so crucial (as the dire consequences of his sin attest), the evil inclination was determined to cause him to fall short.

From this we learn that a person must never make his own decisions as to which mitzvot are more significant than others. A Jew must never say, “This mitzvah is an important one so I will fulfill it to the best of my ability, whereas this mitzvah is a lesser one, and the bare minimum is good enough.” Quite often a mitzvah that appears to us as less significant is of enormous importance on a personal level, and failing to perform it will lead to a great spiritual deterioration.

A Jew must observe all of G-d’s commandments in the most beautiful and stringent manner he can, without making distinctions between them. Let’s insure our upper hand over the yetzer hara – evil inclination. Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 3, lchaimweekly.org

Sukkot

 

The farmer’s son was returning from the market with the crate of chicken’s his father had entrusted to him, when all of a sudden the box fell and broke open. Chickens scurried off in different directions, but the determined boy walked all over the neighborhood scooping up the wayward birds and returning them to the repaired crate. Hoping he had found them all, the boy reluctantly returned home, expecting the worst.

“Pa, the chickens got loose,” the boy confessed sadly, “but I managed to find all twelve of them.”

“Well, you did real good, son,” the farmer beamed. “You left with seven.”

 

Of all the Jewish, our joy is greatest on Sukkot, the “festival of our rejoicing.” The commandment to rejoice on Sukkot appears three times in the Torah, while there is no specific command to rejoice on Passover, and the command to rejoice on Shavuot appears only once.

Why is our joy greater on Sukkot? The Midrash explains that the joy of a festival is directly related to the particular stage of the harvest when it occurs.

On Passover, it is spring time and the grain in the fields has just begun to grow. Since no one is yet sure of the eventual yield, our joy is limited. Accordingly, there is no commandment to rejoice in the Torah. By Shavuot, the grain has ripened and is ready to be harvested. So the commandment to rejoice appears only once because our joy is not complete. The grain is gathered together but it remains in the field and cannot yet be eaten.

On Sukkot, the grain is brought from the fields into our homes. Because the grain can now be utilized and fully enjoyed, our joy is greatest. The commandment to rejoice on Sukkot appears three times.

A deeper contemplation of this concept reveals that the events we celebrate on each holiday also correlate to the particular time of year in which it falls.

On Passover, the Jews left Egypt. Yet they were still at the beginning, like grain that has just begun to germinate. On Shavuot, the Jews received the Torah, but they had not yet begun to observe it. This is like a harvest which has ripened but has not yet been brought indoors. On Sukkot, the Jewish people observed the Torah’s commandments of their own volition. The “harvest,” as it were, was finally being utilized.

These three periods are also reflected in the spiritual service of every Jew:

The first stage, “spring,” is symbolic of a Jew’s pure faith in G-d, the foundation of Torah and mitzvot. But faith does not necessarily lead to practical observance. Just like on Passover one is still unsure whether the wheat will flourish. This is the “spiritual Passover” of the Jew.

Reaping the grain is next, but it is not the culmination of the process. In the spiritual sense, this is equal to a Jew’s resolve to keep the Torah before he has begun acting. The “harvest” is still in the field, hence a Jew’s “spiritual Shavuot.”

It is only when the grain is eaten, when the Jew’s resolutions for good find expression in actual deed, that perfection is achieved. This is the “spiritual Sukkot” of the Jew. Thus the highest level of joy is felt on Sukkot, and it is truly “the time of our rejoicing.”

Have a good and rejoice-ful Shabbos Sukkos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 29, lchaimweekly.org

 

Yom Kippur

 Two Jewish women were speaking about their sons, each of whom was incarcerated in the state prison.

The first says: "Oy, my son has it so hard. He is locked away in maximum security, he never even speaks to anyone or sees the light of day. He has no exercise and he lives a horrible life."

The second says: "Well, my son is in minimum security. He exercises every day, he spends time in the prison library, takes some classes, and writes home each week."

 "Oy," says the first woman, "You must get such nachas from your son."

 

 

Is repentance necessary to receive atonement on Yom Kippur? Most of our Sages say that it is. Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi), however, contends that, though one certainly achieves a higher level of atonement with repentance; even without repentance the holiness of the day itself effects atonement.

In this debate in the Mishna, both Rebbi and the Sages agree that the G-dly revelation of Yom Kippur brings atonement. However Rebbi holds that it can occur automatically, whereas the Sages teach that repentance is needed first to reach the level where Yom Kippur can be effective.

Atonement means that a person's misdeeds have been forgiven. Yet, beyond forgiveness, its true meaning is that the person's soul has been cleansed. This cleansing requires the level of repentance where all traces of the sin's impression are erased and even deliberate misdeeds are considered as merits. This only strengthens the question: how can Yom Kippur itself erase this defilement -- without any effort by the sinner?

A Jew's attachment to G-d exists on many levels, the first of which is achieved through the performance of mitzvot. When a Jew declares his willingness to obey G-d's laws, he forges a connection with the One Above.

A deeper level of connection expresses itself in repentance. If a Jew transgresses G-d's command, he is disturbed by the resultant weakening of his relationship with G-d. Thus, the impetus for teshuva is his deep sense of attachment to G-d. By removing all taint of sin, he can restore this bond. And yet, even this level of connection is still limited.

The loftiest level is the intrinsic bond between the soul and G-d's essence. It is above all limitations, transcending even repentance. A bond of this nature cannot be created through man's actions, nor can it be improved through his Divine service. It exists solely by virtue of his Jewish soul.

Conversely, because it is so essential, this highest degree of connection with G-d cannot be weakened by anything at all, not even by sin. It is always intact, untouched by repentance or lack thereof. Thus, as regards the supreme level of our relationship with G-d, Yom Kippur itself is sufficient to achieve atonement.

On Yom Kippur, this essential connection with G-d is revealed within each and every Jew. Because it is so intense, all sins are atoned for as a matter of course. The stains that mar the soul are automatically cleansed.

To sum up: The lower levels of our connection with G-d require repentance. But on the highest level that

is completely untouched by sin, the atonement of Yom Kippur itself is sufficient. Throughout the year,

we strive for a harmony between our lower and higher registers of self. Have a good Yom Tov!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot, Vol. 4, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Haazinu

Moishle was leaving Shul after Yom Kippur services when the Rabbi took him aside. "Moishle, my son." he said, "It's time you joined the Army of G-d. We need to see you in synagogue every Shabbos."

"I'm already in G-d’s Army," Moishle replied.
 
"Then why do we only see you on RH and YK?"
 
Moishle looked to the right and to the left, and then leaned over to whisper in the Rabbi's ear. "Shhh! I'm in the Secret Service."
 
 
This Shabbat is known by two names: Shabbat Shuva and Shabbat Teshuva – both carrying the central theme of repentance and return to G-d.
The name Shabbat Shuva is taken from the opening words of this week's haftorah – reading form the Prophets: “Shuva Yisrael - Return, O Israel.”
 
The second name, Shabbat Teshuva, is derived from the fact that this Shabbat falls out in the middle of the Ten Days of Repentance (Teshuva).
Jewish Mysticism teaches that the Hebrew name for something shows on its essences.
 
The same applies to the two names of this Shabbat and therefore reveal a timely lesson.
 
The phrase shuva – return - is grammatically a command. G-d commands us to return to Him in repentance. Teshuva, by contrast, is a noun denoting the action itself, the actual return to G-d.
 
The word shuva relates to the Commander, more than to the person being addressed – the commanded. The directive has been issued, but not yet carried out. The command itself imparts a certain measure of strength and potentiality, but does not ensure that it will necessarily be fulfilled in the future. Teshuva, on the other hand, implies that action has already been taken, i.e., that the teshuva - return - has already been done.
 
But if that were the case, why would we continue to refer to this Shabbat as Shabbat Teshuva, implying “I’ve already completed my return/repentance to G-d?” The answer is that the act of teshuva consists of both the command to return to G-d and its subsequent implementation.
 
Shuva teaches us that even after a Jew has done teshuva, he/she still needs to work on him/herself. No matter how much teshuva a person has already done, it is always possible to rise higher. As the Prophet exhorts us, “Return, O Israel unto the L-rd your G-d.”
 
There is always room for improvement, for an even deeper and more infinite level of teshuva, as G-d Himself is Infinite and without limitations. This is the lesson of Shabbat [Te]Shuva: A Jew must never be content with whatever spiritual accomplishments they have already attained. Never think that because I worked on my self-refinement a whole week, I am now entitled to “slack” because it is Shabbat.
 
No, today is Shabbat Shuva! Even after one has done teshuva, more work is required because the service of teshuva is continual and without end.

Good Shabbos and may we all have already been sealed for a good and sweet year!
 
Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from lchaim.org

Parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech

A Loan Officer was at the gates of heaven trying to get in after his 120 years. The heavenly court asked him, "What did you do when you were living?". The Loan Officer answered, "I was a mortgage loan officer." The court told him, "Go right into heaven – you’ve already been through the other place and back!"


The Torah portion of Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.

It begins: "You are standing this day, all of you, before the L-rd your G-d, your heads, your tribes, your elders... all the men of Israel, your children and your wives ... that you should enter into the covenant of the L-rd your G-d."

With these words, Moses brought the Jewish people into a state of collective and mutual surety.

Indeed, our Sages declared, "All Jews are guarantors for one another." Let us examine the concept of surety more closely.

What exactly is a guarantor, and who is eligible to act as one? According to logic, only a person who is superior to another in a certain respect can provide a guarantee. Consider the example of the poor man who has requested a loan. If the lender cannot rely on the poor man’s ability to pay him back, he asks for a wealthy guarantor as collateral. This way, the lender is assured repayment.

Conversely, it would be illogical to expect a poor man to act as guarantor for a rich man’s loan.

This would not make sense, as the poor man has less money to begin with.

What, then, are we to make of the fact that "All Jews are guarantors for one another"? How is it possible that even the lowliest individual can act as guarantor for the greatest?

Commenting on the verse You are standing this day, all of you, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, explained that Jews comprise a single entity. Metaphorically speaking, the Jewish people form one body, with each individual Jew being an integral part of the whole.

A physical body is composed of many organs and limbs, each serves its own unique function.

That the head is superior to the foot is obvious, but without the foot, the body is incomplete. A defect in the foot affects the entire person. The head suffers if any of the body’s limbs are flawed. In order to exist as a healthy entity, the body requires all of its organs to be in prime condition and to work in consonance.

So too is it in regard to the Jewish people. There are many different types and categories of Jews. Some are on the level of “head,” while others may be said to be the "feet." Nonetheless, each and every Jew is of inestimable value, an essential part of the Jewish people without whom the "body" of Jews would be incomplete. For this reason, all Jews are “guarantors for one another," as each individual possesses unique qualities which are necessary for the health and integrity of the whole.

True unity is only possible when all Jews stand together as one. Not only does this require the participation of our "heads," "tribes" and "elders," but the “hewers of our wood" and "drawers of our water" are no less important. As we stand together this Rosh Hashanah, let’s truly stand together.

Good Shabbos and Shannah Tova!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 4, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Ki Tavo

A teacher was grading a test from the day before, and she realized a girl had copied off her partner’s paper. So she called the girl over and said, “Sue, why did you copy off Helen’s paper?”

Sue answered, “Why do you say that?”

The teacher answered, “Well, on the first question Helen answered ‘no,’ and you did, too.”

Sue said, “So what? That doesn’t prove anything.”

“Well, on the second answer, Helen answered ‘yes,’ and you did, too.”

Sue shrugged and said, “So what?”

“Well, on the third answer, Helen answered ‘I don’t know,’” the teacher continued, “and you put "I don’t know, either.’”

 

According to Maimonides’ enumeration of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot, general commandments such as “You shall be holy” or “You shall keep My laws” are not, as a rule, considered mitzvot in their own right. Rather, these injunctions are classified as broad directives encompassing all of Judaism.

It is therefore surprising, at first glance, that the commandment in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, “You shall walk in His ways,” is classified as a positive mitzvah, requiring a Jew “to emulate the Holy One, Blessed Be He.” Maimonides writes, “Just as G-d is gracious, so shall you be gracious. Just as G-d is merciful, so shall you be merciful. Just as G-d is pious, so shall you be pious.” Indeed, the commandment implies that a Jew is required to emulate G-d to the best of his or her ability, at all times and in all circumstances.

But why is this commandment different from all other general statements in the Torah, to the point that it is characterized as a separate mitzvah? What does the verse “You shall walk in His ways” entail that other similar commandments do not?

To explain:

Maimonides classifies “You shall walk in His ways” as a distinct commandment, as it contains a unique aspect not found in any other general directive in the Torah. This innovation is alluded to in the specific use of the word “walk,” which implies an ongoing and perpetual sense of motion.

One of the differences between the soul of a Jew and an angel is that angels are stationary beings, fixed in their spiritual positions, whereas the Jewish soul constantly ascends from one spiritual level to the next. The Jew is constantly in motion, reaching higher and higher spiritual heights by virtue of his actions.

It sometimes happens that a Jew may observe mitzvot, yet he remains on the same spiritual rung as before. The performance of the mitzvah did not cause him to progress or ascend any further. The commandment “You shall walk in His ways” comes to teach us that a Jew must never be stagnant, and that his performance of the mitzvot must always lead to an improvement of his overall spiritual condition.

How are we to accomplish this? By observing the Torah’s mitzvot solely because they are “His ways” - because of our desire to emulate the Creator. For when we do, our spiritual ascent to higher and higher levels of G-dliness is assured. In more Chassidic terminology, don’t just be good, be G-dly!

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol 4, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Ki Teizei


Passengers aboard a luxurious cruise ship were having a great time when a young woman fell overboard. Immediately there was an 80-year-old man in the water who rescued her.

The crew pulled them both out of the treacherous waters. The captain was grateful as well as astonished that the white-haired old man performed such an act of bravery. That night a banquet was given in honor of the ship's elderly hero. He was called forward to receive an award and was asked to say a few words.

He said, “First of all, I'd like to know who pushed me.”

 

This week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, closes with the following verses: “Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. When they encountered you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted, they cut off those lagging behind... Therefore, you must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. You must not forget.”

The command is not only read in our Torah portion. It is recited every day, at the end of the morning prayers, as one of the “Six Remembrances.”

Who was Amalek and why are Jews - described by the Torah as “compassionate” - commanded to destroy the people of Amalek?

The destruction of Amalek is symbolic of the nullification of a specific negative trait which can manifest itself within each one of us.

When a person is inspired and wants to go out of “Egypt,” from boundaries and limitations of a corporeal nature, “Amalek” comes along and tries to prevent him from doing so.

How does Amalek accomplish this? The phrase “When they encountered you” in Hebrew is “karcha.” “Kar” means “cold.” Rashi explains that Amalek attempted to stop the Jewish people by making them cold.

Holiness thrives on warmth and excitement. Amalek cools down a person's inclination to G-dliness, and numbs the excitement about anything holy by planting seeds of doubt. In fact, the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in the word “Amalek” is the same as “safek” - doubt.

The antidote to Amalek is “remember.” We must always have Torah thoughts engraved in our mind and memory, to meditate on them at any time and in any place. Through this a person can nullify the evil of Amalek.

But how was Amalek able to hurt the Jews? Weren't they protected in the desert from enemy attacks by the Divine clouds that accompanied them throughout their sojourn there? Amalek attacked those who were “tired and exhausted.” Rashi explains that the protective cloud that encompassed them cast out some of the Jews due to their sins. They had “no strength” to overcome their desire to sin.

Amalek attacked only those Jews who had transgressed and whom the Cloud had thrown out of the camp. Yet, it was to save these very Jews from Amalek that the entire Jewish people left the protection of the Cloud to go to war.

When the need arises, we too, must go out of the comfort and safety of our own “clouds” in order to help another Jew, no matter who he is, where he is, or what he has done in the past. Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from the works of the Rebbe, lchaimweekly.org

 

 

Parshas Shoftim

 

Taking his seat in his chambers, the judge faced the opposing lawyers. “So,” he said, “I have been presented, by both of you, with a bribe.” Both lawyers squirmed uncomfortably. “You, attorney Leon, gave me $15,000. And you, attorney Campos, gave me $10,000.” The judge reached into his pocket and pulled out a check. He handed it to Leon … “Now then, I m returning $5,000, and we’re going to decide this case solely on its merits.”

 

This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, speaks about the cities of refuge where a person would flee if he accidentally killed someone. The unintentional killer would live there protected from the wrath of the victim’s relatives, until the High Priest who served in the Holy Temple passed away.

But not only unintentional killers sought refuge in these cities. Even someone who committed murder intentionally was expected to flee there as well. The court would then convene and issue its ruling on the death. The cities of refuge offered protection, if only temporarily in some cases, to anyone who had caused a loss of life.

After the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people, the cities of refuge ceased to exist in the physical sense. Yet the Torah is eternal, and its lessons apply in every generation. In our times, therefore, the concept of cities of refuge finds expression in the spiritual dimension.

Our Sages taught that “the words of Torah absorb.” In other words, the Torah itself is the refuge in which all may seek asylum. In the spiritual sense, “killing” symbolizes the act of committing a sin, causing a spiritual death to the G-dly soul, for the Torah’s 613 mitzvot are the “ropes” that bind the soul to G-d. Transgressing the Torah’s commandments damages those ties, and threatens to cut the soul off from its G-dly source.

We learn from this week’s Torah portion that it is never too late to do teshuva, repent/return, no matter how grave a transgression has been committed. Even the person who deliberately sinned can do teshuva and seek protection in the refuge of Torah.

In one sense, nowadays we have a distinct advantage over our forefathers who lived during the times of the Holy Temple. In those days, repentance alone was not enough to atone for a sin. The unintentional killer had to remain exiled in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, and the intentional murderer (as defined by the Torah) received capital punishment. Yet after the destruction of the Temple, teshuva alone can atone for even the gravest sin.

Years ago, when Jewish courts had ultimate authority, a judge could only rule on what he himself had seen. G-d, however, can look into the heart of man and judge whether or not his repentance is sincere.

In the same way, the month of Elul, during which we take account of our actions of the previous year, is a “city of refuge” in time, offering us the same opportunity to clear the slate and merit a good and sweet year to come. Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Re'eh

The clerk walks into the boss’s office and says, “The auditors have just left, sir.” “Have they finished checking the books?” asks the boss. “Very thoroughly,” is the reply. “Well, what did they say”, says the boss. “They want 15% to keep quiet.”

 


This week’s Torah portion, Re’ei, is always read around the beginning of the Hebrew month Elul, the 30 days of prep for the High Holidays.

Re’ei begins with the verse, “Behold, I am giving before you today the blessing...” Each word in this verse emphasizes that the blessing, and the revelation of G-dliness that accompanies it, comes from Above.

Behold: Seeing implies the establishment of a deep and powerful connection, as our Sages state, “hearing does not resemble seeing.” An eyewitness can not act as a judge as once someone sees a misdeed committed, he will never be able to conceive of a redeeming virtue for a defendant. In contrast, when a person is told about an event, he or she is allowed to serve as a judge and indeed, all trials depend on listening to such testimony.

The rationale: with hearing you approach a concept step by step, gathering all the particulars - an ascent upward. In contrast, when seeing, you are brought into direct contact with an event as a totality all at once. Only afterwards do we process and focus attention on the particulars. This reflects the approach of revelation from Above.

I-”Anochi”: This refers to G-d’s essence in a most uplifted and magnified manner. The Hebrew word “anochi” is used rather than the more common “ani” as it communicates a greater sense of pride and magnitude than “ani.”

Am giving: It is clearly G-d giving us a gift from Above.

Before you - “lifneichem”:  In Hebrew this relates to the word “p’nimiyut”- inner dimension. In other words, the approach of revelation from Above goes from the outside to our insides, an uplifting process of elevating what is here below to Above. In contrast to when we begin by focusing on our own personal inner being and then proceed to the external dimensions.

Today (emphasis on “day): This reflects the concepts of light and revelation, for the day is the time of light. In this case the revelation of G-d’s light, which enjoys a dimension of eternality, does not take into consideration the nature of the recipient.

Blessing: Blessing refers to the Divine influence and beneficence from Above.

In counter distinction from ALL the above, the activity of the month of Elul is totally different. In Elul our spiritual workout focuses on elevating ourselves through our own initiative and not through a “gift from Above.” So where then is the connection between our Torah portion and the fact that we read it at a time connected to the month of Elul?

Elul is the time we take stock of the entire year that has passed which requires a dual approach. We must put tremendous effort into elevating ourselves and our surroundings through our own initiative as well as making ourselves a worthy receptacle for G-d’s inspiration and blessings from Above. The cosmic combination of the beginning of Elul and this week’s Torah portion, Re’ei, gives us the spiritual strength and fortitude to do the work that leads us to being inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet new year! Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, lchaimweekly.org

 

 

Parshas Ekev

A Jewish man and a Chinese man were conversing. The Jewish man commented upon what a wise people the Chinese are.

“Yes,” replied the Chinese man, “Our culture is over 4,000 years old. But, you Jews are a very wise people, too.”

The Jewish man replied, “Yes, our culture is over 5,000 years old.”

The Chinese man was incredulous, “That's impossible, he replied. Where did your people eat for a thousand years?”


In this week's Torah portion, Eikev, Moses looks back upon the Jewish people's 40 years in the desert and mentions twice the manna they ate. Both times, Moses seems to imply that eating the manna was somehow distressing: “And He afflicted you and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna”; “[He] fed you in the wilderness with manna...that He might afflict you.”

In fact, the Children of Israel complained bitterly over having to eat it. “But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes.” “Our soul loathes this light bread.”

At first glance their complaint is surprising, as the Torah describes the manna as being delicious - “and its taste was like wafers made with honey.” Our Sages comment further that the G-dly manna was unique in that the person eating it experienced whatever flavor he wished. Furthermore, the manna was completely digested, having no waste. How then could such a wonderful food be perceived as “torment”?

However, the Talmud explains that it was precisely these qualities that left the Jews with a sense of hunger. It was hard to get used to this “bread from the heavens” that had no waste and could taste like anything in the world. The Jews wanted regular bread, “bread from the earth.” They longed for food that looked like what it was.

But the truth is that the Jews' resentment was motivated by the Evil Inclination. At first, the Evil Inclination draws a person into small sins, slowly working its way to more serious ones. So it was with the Children of Israel: They started by complaining about the manna, then progressed to “crying among their families,” implying transgressions in the area of family life.

The dynamics of the Evil Inclination never change, and even today, the Evil Inclination still chafes against “bread from the heavens.” Symbolically, “bread from the heavens” stands for Torah and G-dly wisdom, while “bread from the earth” is secular, worldly knowledge. The Evil Inclination tries to make the Jew dissatisfied with his “bread from the heavens,” and attempts to convince him that a steady diet of Torah will leave him hungry. “The Torah is endless,” it whispers in his ear. “You can never learn it all; the more you'll learn, the more you'll see how infinite it is. Why not turn your mind to worldly matters? At least you'll get a feeling of fullness and satisfaction.”

On an even finer level, the Evil Inclination tries to dissuade a Jew from studying Chasidut, the innermost part of Torah, which is also likened to “bread from the heavens.” “Bread from the earth,” the revealed part of Torah, is enough, it claims.

But the truth is the opposite. Because the Jew's essence is spiritual, he can never be satiated by worldly matters. Only Torah, and the innermost part of it, can make the soul feel full, for it is through Torah that the Jew connects to the Infinite. Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 4, lchaimweekly.org

 


Parshat Va'etchanan

 A Sunday school class had been carefully drilled for the coming of a very important rabbinic visitor.

Chaim practiced to say “God,” in response to the question, “Who made you.”

Yakov was to pipe up with “Out of the dust of the earth,” in response to the second question “With what did He make you?”

The great day of the review arrived, and as planed the guest rabbi asked the class, “Who made you?”

After a silence of a few seconds, the question was repeated, “Who made you?”

“Please, Sir,” spoke up a freckle faced youngster in the front, “the little boy G-d made is home with the measles.”


In this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, Moses addresses G-d in prayer, opening with “You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand...” With these words, Moses establishes that it wasn’t until his generation that G-d began to reveal His greatness in the world.

The Zohar asks how this can be possible. Many years before, it points out, there was a great tzadik (righteous person) named Jacob, who was one of the three Jewish Patriarchs. In fact, Jacob is called “the chosen” of the Forefathers, and he merited to see many G-dly miracles. So how could G-d have first begun to show His greatness only in Moses’ time?


The Zohar answers its own question: “That which Moses had, was had by no other human being.” How do we understand this and what is its lesson?

In Jacob’s time the Jewish people was very small in number, far fewer than the several million who existed in Moses’ generation. From the “seventy souls” that went down to Egypt at the beginning of the exile, by the time of the Exodus they had already multiplied to 600,000 men between the ages of 20 and 60, plus the millions of women, children and men in other age groups, .

It was not until Moses’ generation, when the Jewish people had become “great” also in number AND stood together in unity and oneness, that the true “greatness” of G-d was manifested.

This contains a practical lesson for the Divine service of every Jew. Every individual, regardless of age, must do everything he or she can to strengthen Jewish unity and make the Jewish people more cohesive. Every person must strive to increase their love for their fellow Jew, connecting to as many Jews as possible.

This is one of the reasons we preface our daily prayers with the words “I hereby accept upon myself the positive commandment of ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself.’” Before we ask G-d to fulfill a personal request, we identify and connect ourselves to the totality of the Jewish people.

Indeed, it is then that the “greatness” of the Jew is expressed. A single Jew is not alone, nor is a single Jewish family or Jewish community. Every Jew is connected to every other Jew, and to all Jews throughout the generations.

As the Zohar explains, the process of showing G-d’s “greatness,” initiated by G-d in the generation of Moses, will reach its culmination with the coming of Moshiach, who will redeem not only the Jewish people but also the entire world. At that time we will experience wonders and miracles far greater than those witnessed during the Exodus, and indeed, incomparable to anything experienced in history.

As we find and appreciate the greatness in each other, G-d’s greatness becomes more revealed. Yes, each individual can make a colossal difference! Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

From the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 7 Menachem Av 5740, lchaimweekly.org


Parshas Devarim

A baby mosquito came back from his first flying.

His dad asked, “How do you feel?”

He replied, “It was great. Everybody was clapping for me!”

 

“See, I have set the land before you,” Moses relates in this week's Torah portion, Devarim. “Come and possess the land G-d swore unto your fathers.”

Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator whose explanation on the text expresses its most literal meaning, explains that the Jewish people did not have to wage war in order to take possession of the land of Israel. Had they not sent the spies, they would not have needed any weapons.

“There is no one to contest the matter,” Rashi comments. Since G-d Himself promised the land to the Jews, no one in the whole world could have prevented this from happening.

Historically, however, we see that instead of a miraculous entry into the land, the Jewish people did indeed engage in battle with their enemies. Their lack of faith and insistence that Moses send spies to bring back a report, spoiled their opportunity to enter the land unopposed, and made it necessary for them to follow a natural procedure instead of a miraculous one. In other words, it was their own negative attitude and conduct which forced them to wage wars in order to assert their Divine right to the land.

This contains a moral for our own times and present condition:

The Torah tells us that the Final Redemption with Moshiach will be very much like our first redemption from Egypt, but will be accompanied by even more wonders and miracles. It follows that if the entry and settlement of the land of Israel was supposed to be accomplished in a supernatural manner the first time, how much more so will it be miraculous in our own times, with the Messianic Redemption!

Again, just as before, the entire matter depends on us. We must show absolute faith in G-d and His promise that the entire land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. We must not be afraid to inform the nations of the world - unequivocally - that the land of Israel is our eternal legacy. Our Divine right to the Land of Israel is not cause for apologetics.

When we will demonstrate this true and absolute faith in G-d, we will immediately merit that “no one will contest this, and there will be no more wars nor the need for any weapons.”

May we enter into Shabbos with this strength of optimism and faith so our Divine rights to both our material and spiritual Eretz Yisroel remain uncontested from without and within. Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Devarim 5747, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Matot-Massei

A husband asks his wife, “When I get mad at you, you never fight back. How do you control your anger?'

Wife, “I wash the floor.”

Husband, “How does that help?''

Wife, ''I use your toothbrush.”

 

This week we read two Torah portions, Matot and Masei which tells when the Jewish people returned from the war against Midian with their spoils. Moses commanded them to purify themselves from their ritual uncleanliness caused by contact with the dead through the ritual of being sprinkled with water containing ashes of the red heifer. Afterwards, Elazar the High Priest enumerated the various laws of how to render the Midianites' non-kosher vessels kosher.

Why was did Elazar teach these laws instead of Moses? Rashi explains, “Since Moses came under the influence of anger, he came under the influence of mistaken judgment, and the laws of cleansing (koshering) vessels which had belonged to heathens were concealed from him.” As related a few verses previously, Moses had become angry when he saw the Midianite women the Jews brought back with them, so soon after the devastating destruction that came in the wake of immorality with these women.

Moses did not render “mistaken judgment” in that he stated the laws incorrectly. His failure to teach these laws stemmed from a different kind of “mistake”.

Moses had assumed that the ashes of the red heifer could render the non-kosher vessels kosher. If a few drops of these potent “waters of sprinkling” could remove the greatest impurity of them all, contact with the dead, surely it had the power to kasher utensils.

That is why Elazar prefaced his words with the declaration, “This is the statute of the Torah.” The fact that the ashes of the red heifer can remove ritual impurity is a statute, a super-rational law that only applies to that specific type of ritual uncleanliness, but it cannot address the forbidden foods that were absorbed into them. For even after a vessel's impurity has been removed by the “water of sprinkling,” the non-kosher food tastes must be physically purged.

Removing uncleanliness and making something kosher are two separate things: To remove spiritual uncleanliness, a few drops of water are sufficient. But to render a vessel kosher, a more fundamental, practical type of purging is necessary, according to the particular manner in which the utensil was used.

Symbolically, purity is an “encompassing” G-dly influence that surrounds a person from without. For that reason, it is relatively simple to purify oneself: immersion in a mikvah, or being sprinkled with the “water of sprinkling.” By contrast, the process of making something kosher implies an inner and essential cleansing to remove embedded evil.

Moses, who viewed the Jewish people from his perspective “on high,” believed that external purification would automatically purify the “inside” as well. Elazar, by contrast, saw the Jewish people on their real level. As a kohen he saw they were on a level that required elevation and understood that externals weren't enough. That level of spiritual kashering had to come from within.

So too with us today, we can not suffice with a superficial or shallow connection to our Judaism, and hope it will make us more G-dly people. We need to do the work, and purge from the inside out, that is how we achieve true purification and becomes a proper “vessel” for holiness.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 8, lchaimweekly.org

Parshas Pinchas

 

A rabbi was retiring and saying farewell to his congregation at the shul doors for the last time. He shook the hand of an elderly man as he walked out. He said “Your successor won't be as good as you.” “Nonsense”, said the rabbi, in a flattered tone. “No, really”, said the old man, “I've been here under five different rabbis, and each new one has been worse than the last.”

 

In the Torah, the laws of Shabbat and Holidays are enumerated in two different Torah portions, this week’s of Pinchas and an earlier one of Emor.

At the end of Emor the Torah states, “And Moses declared (vayedabeir) the festivals of G-d to the Children of Israel.”

At the end of this week's Torah reading, Pinchas, the Torah states, “And Moses said (vayomeir) to the Children of Israel according to all that G-d had commanded.”

What is the difference between “declaring” and “speaking,” and what are we to learn from this distinction?

The Torah portion of Emor deals primarily with the prohibition against labor on Shabbat and holidays, and enumerates the particular mitzvot that are associated with each of them, such as matzah on Pesach, the sukkah, lulav and esrog, etc. The Torah portion of Pinchas, by contrast, deals primarily with the various sacrifices that are offered on Shabbat and festivals.

The commandments contained in Emor are thus mitzvot that we can perform at all times, regardless of whether or not the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) is standing. Refraining from work on Shabbat and observing the particular mitzvot of each holiday is something that is done by the Jewish people even in exile.

The bringing of sacrifices, however, is dependent on the existence of the Beit Hamikdash. In exile we can only study the Torah verses that refer to them, and recite them in our prayers. When a Jew studies the laws of sacrifices, G-d considers it as if he has actually brought that particular offering. Our thoughts and words can create a holy reality.

When speaking of the obligations and prohibitions that apply in any era, the Torah uses the relatively harsh word “vayedabeir” - declare; when speaking of the sacrifices we can only bring in the times of the Beit Hamikdash, the Torah uses the softer and more gentle term, “vayomeir” – said. In doing so, G-d is entreating and inviting our involvement with the study and recitation in prayer of these laws, even when they are not applicable in the physical sense. He is telling us that our study and prayerful conversation of these themes, creates closeness to G-d similar to what the actual sacrifice accomplished.

May it be G-d's will that in the merit using our thoughts and words to create this spiritual truth, we will very soon be able to actualize this into a tangible experience of holiness and Divinity in the Third Beit Hamikdash, speedily in our days. Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 18, lchaimweekly.org

 


 

Parshas Balak

At a men’s club meeting a very wealthy man rose to tell the rest of those present about his tremendous faith in G-d.

“I’m a millionaire,” he said, “and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of G-d in my life. I remember that turning point in my faith. I had just earned my first dollar and I went to shul that night. I knew that I only had a dollar bill and had to either give it all to G-d’s work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give my whole dollar to tzedaka. I believe that G-d blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today.”

He finished and there was an awed silence at his testimony as he moved toward his seat. As he sat down a little old man sitting in the same pew leaned over and said to him: “I dare you to do it again.”


This week’s Torah reading, Balak, focuses on the blessings given the Jewish people by the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam. The king of Moab, Balak, feared that the Jews would attack him and his people on their way to Israel, and so he hired Bilaam to curse the Jews.

Although Bilaam sought to do Balak’s bidding, whenever he prepared to deliver curses, G-d put blessings in his mouth and he was forced to utter them. So powerful were his blessings that they are recorded in the Torah for eternity and some are part of our prayers.

When Bilaam saw that G-d would not allow him to curse the people, he sought to harm them in another way. “Their G-d,” he told Balak, “hates immorality. Have your women seduce their men.”

Balak did that and as a result, a plague beset the Jewish people, killing thousands.

Our Sages ask, “Why did G-d bestow spiritual insight and gift of prophecy upon a wicked man like Bilaam?”

They explain that in the future, the non-Jewish nations will complain to G-d, telling him that the Jews were granted prophets and therefore they were able to advance spiritually.

G-d will answer that it was not the gift of prophecy alone which caused the Jews to advance. For He also granted the gentiles a prophet, Bilaam, and what did he do? Instead, of helping the people advance spiritually, he encouraged immorality.

Implied within the narrative is an important lesson for all time. Spiritual insight cannot be seen as separate from a person’s conduct. The concept of a knowing wizard, aware of spiritual reality and yet living a depraved existence, runs contrary to Judaism’s fundamental thrust.

Judaism sees spiritual awareness as a tool to enhance and intensify one’s day-to- day experience, not merely a lofty spiritual plateau. Whatever spiritual insight and experience one has must be applied in deeper and more meaningful conduct. Spirituality is not a high to be enjoyed, and then ignored. Instead, it must be incorporated in the way we build our relationships, establish our families, and forge our role in society at large.

The lesson is two-fold:

Those seeking spiritual experience must realize that this should lead to a deeper commitment to moral life at home and at work.

Those who work to promote family values and moral truth should focus on the spiritual component of these values and truths and understand that such awareness can enhance and intensify the power of their message both for themselves and for their students.

Have a good Shabbos.

Rabbi Shraga Sherman

From Keeping in Touch, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, 
lchaimweekly.org

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