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1) TORAH PARASHAT MISHPATIM ,Friday FEB 17, 2012, Candle Lighting 5:15, HAVDALAH 6:15

T O R A H F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go

Monday Kislev 16, 5772/ December 12, 2011

Dear Readers

Chanukah, the holiday of lights, begins next Tuesday night, December 20th.It is interesting to note that the first night of Chanukah can be any night of the week, except on a Monday night.

Q.What is the reason that the first night of Chanukah can never be on a Monday night?

A.It has nothing do with Chanukah.It happens to be a result of the fact that the Hebrew calendar is set in a way that the first night of Rosh Hashana can never be on a Saturday night, a Tuesday night or a Thursday night.

The reason for this is to make sure that Yom Kippur would not be on a Friday or Sunday, so that there shouldn’t be two consecutive days (Shabbat and Yom Kippur) in which cooking is not permitted.This arrangement automatically affects that the first night of Chanukah can never be on a Monday night.

Q.One can light the Chanukah lights using candles or oil.Why is it that many people prefer to use olive oil?

A.The Chanukah lights represent the miracle of the lights of the menorah in the Holy Temple.The lights of the menorah in the Temple had to be lit with olive oil, thus, we prefer to perform the mitzvah with olive oil.

Q.The miracle of Chanukah was that a small amount of oil, with the seal of the High Priest, which had enough only for one night, miraculously lasted for eight nights.If there was enough oil for one day, then its lasting eight days was only a seven day miracle as for the first day there was enough oil.Why do we celebrate the miracle for eight days?

A.Many answers were given to this question.Here are a two:

1)In order for a miracle to take place there has to be something material upon which the miracle will apply.Like the story with Elisha the Prophet, when he told a poor widow, who had only a small jar of oil, to go borrow as many pots as she could from her neighbors and the oil will keep flowing until all the pots are full.Even though a miracle was going to happen, she needed to have a bit of oil in the jar upon which the blessing would apply.

The same was with the miracle of the oil in the Temple.In order for the oil to miraculously get refilled each day, there had to be some oil left in the jar or in the menorah each day.

Thus, even though there was enough oil to fill the menorah for one day, there was a miracle that not all of the oil was used up the first day.Thus, even the first day of Chanukah there was a miracle that not the full amount of the oil was used up and yet it burnt enough time as if the full amount was used.

2)Some give another explanation for the eight days of celebrations.They say that even though there was enough for one day and thus the miracle perhaps was not needed for eight days, yet, the fact that even this one jar of oil was found was a miracle in itself.Thus, we celebrate seven days of the miracle of the lighting of the oil and one day for the miracle of finding the oil.


In loving memory of Horav Mayer Chaim ben Horav Azriel Yartzeit is Kislev 15.

May his memories be a blessing.May his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren follow in his ways.

T O R A H F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go

Rabbi Brikman chabad seagate Brooklyn ny

Tuesday Kislev 3, 5772/ November 29, 2011

Dear Jewswithviews,

In last week’s Parasha, Toldot, the Torah relates the story of the birth of the twins, Esau and Yaakov (Jacob).

Esau and Yaakov were two opposite personalities.Esau was a hunter and Yaakov was a scholar “dwelling in the tents” of Torah.Yaakov followed in the footsteps of his parents and paternal grandparents and was a righteous person.However, Esau followed in the ways of his maternal grandparents who were cheaters and swindlers. Yet, Esau managed to fool his father, Yitzchak, who was blind, into thinking that he was righteous.

The Torah tells us that Yitzchak called Esau and said to him, “I am old, I do not know the day of my death.”Yitzchak asks Esau to go hunting and bring him food, “so that I may bless you before I die.”Rivkah, who knew the true character of her son Esau, wanted Yaakov to receive the special blessings.She prepared special food and instructed Yaakov to dress in Esau’s clothes so Yitzchak may think he is Esau and receive his father’s blessings.

Yitzchak said, “I do not know the day of my death.”The Midrash explains, “Seven things are concealed from a person:

1) The day of one’s death.

2) The exact day of the redemption and the coming of Moshiach.

3) The full severity of G-d’s judgment and punishment to the wicked in the World-to-Come.

4) In which business one will succeed.

5) Another person’s thoughts.

6) The gender of the child while in the mother’s womb.

7) When the wicked kingdom will fall.

According to our sages, the reason that G-d did not reveal the exact day when a person will pass away is in order to keep him/her from becoming depressed as the time of death nears.On the other hand, when the time is far in the future, the person would postpone repenting figuring that there is still time.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Eliezer instructed his students, “Repent one day before your death!”When they asked him, “How does one know the day of death?” He replied, “Exactly!As a result, you must repent each day of your life!”

The reason why the exact date of the coming of Moshiach and the redemption was not revealed is that had the exact date been known, the previous generations, would not have been able to survive the hardship of the exiles without the benefit of the hope and expectation of Moshiach and the redemption.

Another reason is that the date of the coming of Moshiach is not a fixed one.In a way it depends on us, for it can be hastened through our good deeds and performance of mitzvot.

May we, through our deeds of goodness and kindness, hasten the coming of Moshiach – for each mitzvah brings Moshiach and the redemption closer and closer.



(for point of information, the ‘phislisitnes mentioned in below from TORAH is not in no way related to the arabs today calling themselves ‘palistinian’ who are southern syrians and egyptians whereas the PHilisintes thne were seacoast people from crete unlike todays arabs who were nomads traveling from syria to egypt desert to desert and not a united one tribal group.)


Toldot Aliya Summary

General Overview: In this week’s reading, Toldot, Jacob and Esau are born. Isaac relocates to Philistine where he digs wells, resulting in friction between him and the locals. Rebecca and Jacob successfully deceive Isaac, tricking him into giving to Jacob the blessings he had intended for Esau.


each week I post from different sources for either their interesting commentaries or brevity


First Aliyah: Rebecca had trouble conceiving. Isaac and Rebecca prayed for children, and after twenty years of marriage Rebecca became pregnant. She was concerned about her exceedingly difficult pregnancy, and was advised by G‑d that this was due to two children – two nations – struggling in her womb. She gave birth to twin boys: a hairy, ruddy boy named Esau, and a second son, born clutching his brother’s heel, named Jacob. Esau became a hunter, while Jacob was an honest man who frequented the schools of Torah. Isaac favored Esau, while Rebecca preferred Jacob. One day, Esau came home from the field hungry, and pleaded with Jacob to give him some of the stew he was cooking. Jacob agreed to Esau’s request provided that he give him his birthright as firstborn in exchange—and Esau acceded to this barter. There was a famine in Canaan, and Isaac was escaping the famine by traveling to Egypt via Philistine when G‑d told him to remain in Philistine. G‑d also informed Isaac that he would visit upon him all the blessings He had promised to Abraham.


Second Aliyah: Isaac settled in Philistine. When the townspeople inquired regarding his wife, he told them that she was his sister, fearing that otherwise the Philistines would kill him in order to take Rebecca. Eventually, Abimelech, king of the Philistines, noticed that Rebecca was Isaac’s wife and though he reprimanded Isaac, he issued a decree that no one touch them. While in Philistine, Isaac sowed crops, and miraculously harvested a hundred times more than a field’s normal yield.


Third Aliyah: Isaac became extremely wealthy. He also re-dug some of the wells that his father Abraham had dug, but had since been stopped up by the Philistines. The Philistines eventually became envious of his wealth, and asked him to leave. Isaac complied, moving away from the city and settling in the Gerar Valley. There, Isaac’s servants dug two new wells but the Philistines contested his ownership over these wells. The third well he dug was uncontested.


Fourth Aliyah: G‑d appeared to Isaac and blessed him and assured him that He would always be with him. Abimelech approached Isaac and requested to enter into a peace treaty with him.


Fifth Aliyah: Isaac agreed to Abimelech’s request. On that day, Isaac’s servants informed him that they had successfully dug another well. At the age of forty, Esau married two wives. Their idolatrous ways anguished Isaac and Rebecca. Isaac had now advanced in age, and he became blind. He summoned Esau and told him that he wished to bless him, but first he should go to the field and hunt some game for him to eat. Rebecca heard this conversation and advised Jacob to don Esau’s clothing and trick Isaac into blessing him instead. Rebecca prepared meat and gave it to Jacob to bring to his father. She also took hairy goatskin and put it on Jacob’s smooth arms and neck. Jacob approached his father and presented himself as Esau, and Isaac ate from the repast Rebecca had prepared.


Sixth Aliyah: Isaac blessed Jacob with the “dew of the heaven and the fat of the earth,” and granted him mastery over his brother. No sooner than the blessing ended, Esau arrived from the field, only to be informed by his father – who now understood what had transpired – that the blessing was already given to his younger brother. Esau was furious and Isaac comforted him with a minor blessing. Esau was determined to kill Jacob, but Rebecca, who got wind of this plot, asked Isaac to send Jacob to Charan to find a wife. Isaac did so, and blessed Jacob again before he departed.


Seventh Aliyah: Isaac sent Jacob to his brother-in-law Laban’s home, to marry one of his daughters. Esau married again, this time to Machalat the daughter of Ishmael


Parshas Bechukosai

The Special Value of the Jew

Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky

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1. The Special Standard to Which a Jew is Held

The Torah states, “If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him – proselyte or resident – so that he can live with you.” The Torah tells us that if one sees a pack animal of his fellow faltering under its load, he is obligated to unload the animal so that it should not fall. Should the animal fall it would require many people to lift the load. Similarly, if one sees his fellow faltering due to his financial situation, he must assist him before he becomes destitute.

The Midrash Tanchuma cites a verse in Mishlei (Proverbs), “Do not steal from a poor man because he is poor. Hashem will take up his cause.” The Midrash explains, “Do not steal from the poor man because I (Hashem) decreed that he should be poor. If one victimizes the poor person it is as if he is mocking Me (Hashem).” The Midrash asks, “What is the meaning of “stealing from a poor man?” Why would one attempt to steal from one who has nothing? Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) must be addressing a specific situation. Initially one had taken upon himself to give financial assistance to his fellow to alleviate his financial plight. However, after some time the benefactor asks himself, “How long must I continue to support this needy person?” He then decides to withdraw his support.

Since the needy person had relied upon his benefactor for support, withholding the assistance is considered stealing. One must continue to support the needy individual because he has nowhere else to turn. If one withdraws his support, then Hashem will take up his cause and fight his battle. Thus if one ceases to support a needy person (who has come to rely upon him) he is culpable. How do we understand this?

The reason an individual merited wealth while his fellow did not is only because Hashem Willed this to be so. If G-d wanted to reverse the circumstances of these two individuals, He could do so easily. Thus, the person of means should be thankful that G-d put him in a position to be the benefactor rather than the beneficiary of someone else’s support. If the wealthy man decides to withdraw his support (of the one in need), G-d considers it “stealing.” Thus, we see the standard to which a Jew is held is far more reaching than the standard of the nations of the world.

The Gemara in Tractate Shabbos tells us that prior to the Sinai event, G-d approached the nations of the world and offered them His Torah. Each nation refused the Torah because its laws were not in conformity with their lifestyle. For example, when G-d offered the Torah to the Edomites (descendents of Esav) they asked, “What is written in it?” G-d responded, “Thou shall not commit murder.” To this they responded, “If this is the case then we cannot accept it because we received a blessing from our grandfather (Yitzchak) – you shall live by the sword.” Why did all the nations reject the Torah because its principles were contradictory to their lifestyle? Every civilized society has within its governing laws that prohibit murder, stealing, etc.

Rabbi Y.I Ruderman zt’l (Baltimore Rosh HaYeshivah) answers this question by explaining that when G-d said, “It is stated in My Torah – Thou shall not commit murder” it was not the blatant violation of shedding blood and taking a life (which is one of the seven Noachide Laws). Rather it was something at a more sensitive level. The Gemara in Tractate Bava Metzia states,” If one embarrasses his fellow in public to the point that his face changes color, it is considered as if he had killed him. If one undermines his fellow’s livelihood it is considered as if he had taken his life.” Although within the context of the seven Noachide laws, killing means literally taking a life, however, if one were to accept the Torah, he is held to a higher standard. Thus when the verse states, “Do not steal from the poor man,” it does not only mean taking something that is not rightfully yours but rather one should not deprive the person who relies on his support.

Therefore when G-d provides one with wealth it is for the sole purpose of alleviating the plight of his fellow -as the verse states, “If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him – proselyte or resident – so that he can live with you.”

2. Focusing on One’s Spirituality

The Torah states, “If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him…” On a literal level, the verse is addressing one’s obligation to his fellow when he falters financially. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains this verse allegorically. The “brother” who falters is referring to one who is closest to the individual who can help him. One’s soul (neshama) is closest to oneself. The “brother” faltering is thus referring to one’s own spirituality. The Torah is telling us that when one sees that he is faltering spiritually (no longer senses illumination and does not feel energized by his own performance of mitzvos and Torah study) he must strengthen himself. One who is spiritually deficient is considered impoverished because he is disconnected from his source and has thus lost his “splendor.”

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that the reason for spiritual faltering and disconnection is due to the neshama being influenced by the physicality of man. Thus, one must pray to Hashem to restore it to its original state which is unaffected by his own physicality. How does one restore his sense of spirituality when engaging in Torah study and mitzvos? It is only through teshuvah (repentance) that one is able to restore and re-instate his neshama to its original and exalted state. The Torah is telling us when one focuses on materialism it causes his neshama to wither. Therefore, the only approach to reinvigorating one’s spirituality is through the process of teshuvah.

Most people feel and believe that the time for teshuvah is the period of time that leads up to Yom Kippur. We recite three times a day in our tefillah (prayer), “Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah, and bring us near, our King, to Your service, and influence us to return in perfect repentance (teshuvah) before You. Blessed are You Hashem Who desires repentance.” We continuously beseech Hashem to assist us to do teshuvah. If we continuously acknowledge that Hashem wants us to do teshuvah, and we do not attempt to repent, then for what are we praying? Are our prayers sincere? If one truly desires to do teshuvah as much as he wants G-d to assist him with his livelihood, then there is no question that G-d will respond and give him the ability to do teshuvah.

Rabbi Yosef Dov Ber Solovetchik zt’l (The Bais HaLevi zt’l) at one point in his life became disillusioned with the rabbinate. His only interest was to focus on the study of Torah. A delegation from Brisk approached him to assume the position of Chief Rabbi of their community. The Bais HaLevi refused the position outright. However when they returned to him a second time they informed him that the 25,000 Jews of the Brisk community were waiting for him to assume the position of their Chief Rabbi. The Bais HaLevi was not able to refuse. He said, “If the Jews of Brisk are awaiting my acceptance, I cannot refuse.” He accepted the position.

When the Chofetz Chaim heard this story he had said, “If the Jewish people were truly sincere when they pray for the coming of Moshiach, Hashem would bring him immediately.” If the Bais HaLevi could not refuse the sincere request of the Brisk community, it is logical to say that Hashem, the All Merciful One, could not refuse our sincere request to bring Moshiach

The Gemara tells us, “If it were not for Hashem’s assistance, one could not subdue his evil inclination.” Without Hashem’s intervention, it is not possible to develop, refine, and protect one’s spirituality. Every Jew needs G-d’s Assistance. However, one only merits this assistance if he sincerely desires it. Thus, one must first focus on developing a sincere interest in his own spiritual development and then act upon it by beseeching Hashem through tefillah (prayer).

On the holidays, we say a prayer in which we ask G-d to enable us to do deeds that are truly good “in His eyes.” Meaning, even when one believes that he is doing the right thing, it may not be the case. It is only if Hashem values deeds as being “good” that they are so. Therefore, we must continuously pray for His Assistance to direct us to do what is truly good in His eyes.

3. The Innate Value of Torah

The Torah states,”Im BeChukosai teileichu v’es Mitzvosai tishmeru… (If you will follow My Statutes and observe My Commandments and perform them); then I will provide for your rains in their time. And the land will give forth its produce and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.” If one follows Hashem’s Statutes, he will be deserving of G-d’s endless bounty. Chukim (Statutes) are laws that are not able be understood within a rational context.

Rashi cites Chazal who explain that when the Torah states,” If you will follow My Statutes…” it is referring to the quality of the Jew’s commitment to toil in the study of Torah. Thus, the Statute that the Torah is referring to is the selfless commitment to the study of Torah. In addition, the Torah is telling us that one must study for the sake of performing mitzvos. Both the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos should be done with selfless dedication. However, the Torah states, “If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments…I will turn My attention against you…” Evidently, if one toils in Torah, he will be deserving of endless blessing; however if he does not selflessly toil in Torah (although he is studying) he will be deserving of the curses stated in this Portion. How do we understand this?

Toiling in Torah study is classified as a Chok (Statute) which cannot be understood within a rational context. One would think that one’s dedication to Torah study would be a prerequisite for one’s quality of performance of mitzvos and understanding of the Will of Hashem. However the Torah is telling us that the reason one must toil in Torah and apply himself selflessly is not because of one’s own personal understanding but rather because it is the Decree of G-d. If one’s approach to Torah study was solely based on one’s own rational understanding of value, then it is possible that it could be undermined by another rational approach to the contrary. However, since dedicated Torah study is classified as Chok, it is a level of commitment that cannot be questioned.

The verse that introduces the curses – “If you will not listen to Me…” does not necessarily refer to one who does not toil in Torah. Rather it refers to one who may toil in Torah but he does not do so, “for Me (G-d).” Meaning, he does not accept it as a Statute of G-d (Chok). The dedication of Torah study must be purely for the sake of fulfilling G-d’s Decree and not for any other reason.

One only merits the bounty and the blessing of Hashem only if he negates himself to G-d and accepts Hashem’s Will as a Statute. However, if one adheres to the Statutes because of his own rational understating, (although he is observing the law) he will not merit the advanced level of blessing.

One’s adherence to Torah must be rooted in one’s unequivocal acceptance of the G-d’s Divine Edicts. If one does not accept the Torah in this context, his observance of any mitzvah (rational or not) can come into question. Whenever the Torah delineates one’s obligations it does so in the following order: Chukim (Statutes), Mishpatim (Commandments), and Mitzvos. This is to communicate that even when one performs a mitzvah that we can relate to its value, in essence it is being observed as a Chok. This is why the Mishpatim are always predicated on Chukim – to communicate this principle. For example, the Commandments that prohibit killing and stealing, which are classified as rational laws, are in effect not rooted in rational thought but rather based on the Divine. One adheres to all mitzvos (including the ones we seemingly understand) only because it is the Will of Hashem. One merits Hashem’s blessing when one adheres to the Torah under these terms.

Rambam rules that one is only permitted to interrupt his Torah study if another mitzvah presents itself which cannot be delegated through a third party. Thus, if one decides to interrupt his Torah study for any reason other than that permitted by the Torah (although he may be performing a mitzvah) he will not merit blessing. It is only the one who studies Torah, as outlined by the Word of Hashem, who merits blessing.

To achieve a selfless level of dedication to Torah and its ideals, one must negate his own personal rational understanding of its value. Only then will he merit the endless bounty of Hashem.

4. Why are Jews not Counted?

Ramban at the beginning of the Portion of Bamidbar addresses the failing of Dovid HaMelech (King David) vis-à-vis the census that he had taken. Dovid HaMelech took a census of the Jewish people in order to quantify the dimension of his kingdom. As a result of this, thousands of Jews died from plague. Ramban explains that Dovid had violated the law that is stated, “They (the Jewish people) shall not be counted because of their abundance.” The consequence of transgressing this negative precept was the onset of plague. If the basis of the prohibition (of quantifying the Jewish people) is because they are “abundant in number” (and are un-quantifiable), then if they can be counted, they are not at that “un-quantifiable” number. In addition, why is plague a consequence of counting?

The Torah states,” If you will follow My Statutes and observe My Commandments and perform them…You will pursue your enemies; and they will fall before you by the sword. Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand…” The Torah is communicating to us that if the Jewish people adhere to the Word of Hashem, five Jews could pursue one hundred of the enemy and a hundred Jews could pursue ten thousand enemies. How is this possible when the number of people is so incongruous?

The intrinsic value of a Jew does not emanate from his own capabilities. His innate value rests in the fact that he has a connection to Hashem. The Jewish people are the “Kingly, priestly, and holy nation” of Hashem. Just as G-d’s essence is un-quantifiable and limitless, because He is infinite, anything that is connected to Him has a semblance of limitlessness. When the Jewish people adhere to the Torah and live their lives as prescribed by Hashem, they become invincible. Quantitative value plays no role whatsoever.

The Torah tells us that G-d promised Avraham our Patriarch that his offspring will be as innumerable as the stars in the heavens and the sand on the seashore. The reality is that the Jewish people (throughout history) have never reached those numbers. We have always been few in number vis-à-vis the world. How do we understand G-d’s promise to Avraham?

The “abundance” of the Jewish people that is stated in the Torah is not a quantitative measure, but rather qualitative. The Mishna in Tractate Sanhedrin tells us that if one saves the life of one Jew it is the equivalent of saving the whole world. Since this is the case, is it not possible to compute the value of even one Jew. Thus if one takes a census of the Jewish people for the sake of quantification, it is a distortion and a detraction of their true value. Dovid transgressed because his focus was on the physicality of the Jewish people (which is quantifiable) rather than the essence of the Jewish people.

Thus, consequence of this negative precept of counting the Jews is death. If one attempts to value the physical rather than recognizing and appreciating the essence (which is the spiritual), Hashem teaches us that the physical does not matter (i.e. plague).

Shamai, the Elder, tells us in Pirkei Avos that one’s Torah study should be primary while one’s work should be secondary. One’s focus needs to be on his spirituality. As the Torah states,”Im BeChukosai teileichu v’es Mitzvosai t’shmeru… If you will follow My Statutes and observe My Commandments and perform them…” Meaning if a Jew prioritizes his spirituality/Torah study then his focus is his own essence. If this is the case then there are no limitations. One becomes a receptacle for unlimited bounty and blessing without making a commensurate amount of effort.

In the story of Chanukah we read that a handful of Choshmona’im (who were known as Maccabim) were able to defeat the mighty Greek army. How was this possible? The name Maccabe identified the devoted group of Choshmona’im (priests) whose war cry was Me ChaMocha B’elim Hashem (Who is like you G-d). The Choshmona’im defeated the mighty Greeks because they relied solely on their relationship with Hashem and not their own physical capabilities. It was only because of their belief and dedication to G-d that their miniscule number was irrelevant. Thus, one who is committed to G-d and adheres to His statutes will be able to surpass many limitations and merit unlimited beracha (blessing).

5. Appreciating the Merit of the Patriarchs

The Torah tells us that after the Jewish people experience tragedies for not adhering to the Statutes and Commandments of the Torah, they will repent. The Torah states, “Then they will confess their sin…perhaps then their unfeeling heart will be humbled and then they will gain appeasement for their sin. I will remember My covenant with Yaakov, My covenant with Yitzchak, and also My covenant with Avraham will I remember…” It is evident from this verse that the Jewish people will do a sincere teshuvah (repentance) after experiencing the curses. If in fact the quality of their teshuvah is sincere and complete, then why is it necessary for Hashem to “remember” the covenant of the Patriarchs? One would think that teshuvah in its own right would be sufficient.

Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuvah (The Laws of Repentance) that since we no longer have the Bais HaMikdash (Temple – where the offerings of atonement were brought), “teshuvah itself is the altar of atonement.” If teshuvah brings about full atonement there should be no additional prerequisite. However, the Torah tells us that without G-d remembering the covenant of the Patriarchs, the Jewish people will not be forgiven. How do we understand this?

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that confession and repentance alone can only annul the decrees that come upon the Jewish people. The Jewish people are no longer held liable for their past transgressions. However in order to be fully reinstated (as if they had never sinned before) in the Eyes of Hashem, one needs the merit of the Patriarchs – Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.

The Gemara in Tractate Zevachim states when one would bring a sin offering it was accompanied with a burnt offering (korbon olah). The Gemara uses an analogy to explain the need for the additional burnt offering. If one sins against the king and is subsequently forgiven, although a claim against him no longer exists, he is still not in the good graces of the king. He can only reach full reinstatement when he offers a gift to the king. Identically, when one brings a sin offering it brings about atonement; however, full reinstatement is not achieved until the burnt offering is brought. As much a Jew may do teshuvah, he will not regain an intimate relationship with G-d without the merit of the Patriarchs.

The Patriarchs were able to achieve a unique level of intimacy with G-d because of their spiritual accomplishments. When one mentions them in the course of tefillah (prayer), one identifies with the Patriarchs and consequently Hashem is more attentive to his prayers. Without their merit, it is not possible to attain that special level of intimacy with Hashem.

The Torah tells us that despite the failings of the Jewish people, they were not considered “detestable, or despicable to be destroyed and to have the covenant of the Patriarchs nullified.” How has this been demonstrated throughout our history?

The Gemara in Tractate Megillah tells us that despite the fact many of the Jewish people were Helenized and assimilated during the time of the Greek occupation, Hashem did not abandon them. When the Jews were in Babylon, many of them assimilated and intermarried; Hashem did not abandon them. After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, the Jews were not cast away. This was demonstrated by sending Reb Yehudah HaNassi (Judah the Prince) and Torah sages throughout the generations to the Jewish people.

In fact, the only reason the Jewish people have been able to survive spiritually throughout the Edomite (Roman) exile, is that they were sent these Torah luminaries. Since G-d provided special individuals, who guaranteed the perpetuation and dissemination of the Torah, it is an indication that He does not want His covenant to be nullified. Despite the failings of the Jewish people, G-d did not abandon them. However, it is due to the merit of the Patriarchs that the Jewish people have that special standing vis-à-vis Hashem.

The Maharal of Prague explains that the reason G-d’s law (Five Books of Moses) is referred to as “Torah” by G-d Himself, is to indicate (as the meaning of the word implies) that it is meant to be a guide to direct and give perspective to the Jewish people. Hashem provides the Torah sage in order to transmit and communicate the Torah throughout all the generations, thus, confirming that the covenant of the Patriarchs is still intact.

6. The Foundation of Torah Judaism

As a precursor to the curses (tochachah), the Torah states, “If you will not listen to Me and will not perform all of these commandments; if you consider My Statutes (Chukim) loathsome and if your being rejects My ordinances (Mishpatim)…so that you annul My covenant – then I will do the same to you…” Why would one loathe the Chukim, which are laws that cannot be understood on rational basis, and not all the laws that were transmitted at Sinai?

During the era of the Greeks, circumcision, the sanctification of the new moon, the observance of the Shabbos, and the study of Torah were banned. The Greek civilization prided itself in its intellectualism and appreciation for nature and its beauty. Yefes, the son of Noach, is the patriarch of the Greek people. He received a blessing from his father Noach that he should “dwell in the tents of Shem.” The tent of Shem is referring to the wisdom of Torah and its intellectualism. The Greeks had an appreciation of the intellectualism of the Jew; however, they had difficulty with its limitation because it is bound by the parameters of the Torah. Within the framework of Torah the depth and breadth of wisdom is infinite. Although there are many practices and concepts in the Torah, which are not within the human grasp, nevertheless, the Jew accepts them unequivocally because of his absolute belief in G-d. This is demonstrated through the acceptance of the Chok (Statute).

Although existence is bound by time, by Divine order, the Jewish people are able to sanctify and control time through the sanctification of the new moon. One can only accept this reality if one accepts G-d as the Absolute Omnipotent Being. The Greeks could not accept anything unless it was something they were able to comprehend within their own capacity. The concept of the human being affecting time was something beyond their comprehension and thus intolerable. The Greeks therefore decreed that the sanctification of the new moon was forbidden.

A male is naturally born with a foreskin/uncircumcised. The Greeks believed that the uncircumcised state, being part of the natural order, should be appreciated and recognized as part of the perfection and beauty of the human body. Contrastingly, G-d commanded the Jew to remove that foreskin through circumcision because it is only through that act man can achieve perfection. The act of circumcision is classified as a Chok. There is no rational basis for its understanding. Since the Greeks viewed the human body as naturally perfect, circumcision was seen as an act of mutilation. Thus, they forbade circumcision.

The mitzvah of charity for example is a commandment that is embraced even in the secular world only because it is understood as rational and humanitarian. However, Chukim such as circumcision, dietary laws, and the observance of the Shabbos are seen as archaic and primitive practices. Therefore, they are loathed. Since the Chok is incomprehensible, it is loathed and rejected, which is not the case regarding Mishpatim (rational laws). In essence, loathing the Chukim is rejecting G-d’s Will.

One who initially loathes the Chukim will ultimately come to despise the Mishpatim as well. Rational laws such as not stealing, not killing, etc. are accepted by the secularist because they are perceived as moral, ethical, and humanistic. However, these laws were given by G-d at Sinai and the Jew accepts them not because of their humanitarian aspect but solely because they are G-d’s Dictate. Thus, in essence, even the Mishpatim are not accepted because of rational understanding but because they are the Will of Hashem. If Mishpatim were to be based on human reasoning, then it would be possible to justify euthanasia. Thus, the Mishpatim would ultimately be rejected and despised because they are contrary to one’s intellectualism.

To serve G-d selflessly, one must understand that not everything is comprehensible. Man is finite and limited and therefore there are many areas that are not within the human grasp. If one believes that G-d is the Omnipotent Being, there is no basis for not accepting and adhering to the Chukim that are His Will. The moment one has difficulty accepting the Chukim because he “does not understand,” it is an indication that his weakness lies in his understanding of G-d. As long as one is unequivocally committed to the Statutes, the path to spiritual growth and development is open before him.


Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Project Genesis, Inc.

Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.


Behar and The Omer

Parshas Behar

Rabbi Yosef Kalatshy

1. The Gift of the Land of Israel

The Torah tells us that during the Sabbatical year (seventh year) the Land must remain fallow. All agricultural activity must come to a halt. During the seventh year of the Sabbatical Cycle, one is not permitted to exercise any degree of ownership rights over the land. It must remain in an ownerless state regarding the produce of the seventh year. On the fiftieth year, which is the Jubilee year (Yovel), all properties that were sold during the seven Sabbatical Cycles of seven years, must revert back to their original owners. The Torah states as a negative commandment, “The land may not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine (G’d); for you are sojourners and residents with Me.” Because the Jew is only a resident and not an owner of the Land, he has no right to exercise full ownership rights.

The Torah tells us that despite the financial and labor investment of an owner in his land, he has no right to withhold anyone from partaking of its produce every Sabbatical year (every seven years). In effect, he is only leasing the land with certain stipulations set forth in the Torah. All produce in the Land of Israel is subject to numerous tithes – to the Kohen, the Levy, the poor and other times one must take 10% and consume it in Jerusalem. The many laws that pertain to the produce of Israel are a continuous reminder that one is only a beneficiary of its bounty when one abides by the stipulations of the true owner who is G’d. Thus, when one lives in Israel, especially within an agricultural context, one is able to maintain a continuous cognizance of G’d's dominion.

When the Jewish people failed and believed that their success was attributable to themselves, they violated 70 Sabbatical years. Because of this disregard, the Jewish people were displaced (exiled) to Babylon for a period of 70 years.

King David states in Tehillim (Psalms), “As for the heavens- heavens are Hashem’s, but the earth He has given to mankind…” Sforno explains that the words of King David are referring to the world at large and not the Land of Israel. The earth was given to the nations of the world but the Land of Israel/ the holy land was designated for the Jewish people to be there only to observe the Torah.

Maharal of Prague explains that each of the 70 root nations received a location in the world that is suited for its own level of spirituality. For example, the prophet Yechezkel refers to the Egyptian people as “donkeys” (chamor). He states, “Their flesh is the flesh of donkeys.” Maharal explains that the word “chamor” (donkey) is derived from “chomer” which means material. Of all the 70 nations of the world, the Egyptian people have the least relevance to spirituality. Thus, the land of Egypt was the most appropriate location for them since it was a location devoid of spirituality.

In contrast, the Land of Israel is the holy land – thus it is suited for the Jewish people who are a holy people. Since this is the reality of the Jew, G’d does not want him to forget that his existence is only a means and not an end. The Gemara in Tractate Berachos explains that what King David states in Psalms, “…the heaven is for G’d and the earth was given to mankind” is true only after manacknowledges that G’d is the Creator of the earthly existence. This acknowledgement comes about through the recitation of blessings. The Rabbis enacted the recitation of a blessing before partaking of a food item or experiencing other benefits in order for one to be continuously cognizant that man is only a beneficiary of G’d's Goodness. As the Torah states after recognizing “the land is for Me (G’d) you will dwell in the land securely.” Only after one recognizes that all emanates from Him, is one truly secure.

2. The Supporting Beam of the Jewish People

The Torah states, “If your brother becomes impoverished (and he is weakened (moch)) and sells part of his ancestral heritage, his redeemer who is closest to him shall come and redeem his brother’s sale…” It is a Positive Commandment that if one becomes impoverished and is forced to sell part of his inheritance in the Land of Israel, it must be redeemed by his closest relative. If one does not have such a redeemer, he should do so himself if at some later time he attains the means. If he is not able to do so, then it will remain in the hands of the buyer until the Jubilee year/Yovel.

Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that the Torah is alluding to something other than the literal understanding of the verses. The Gemara in Tractate Megillah tells us that the reason the decree of Haman (to annihilate every Jewish man, woman, and child) came about was that “as the result of the laziness the supporting beam became weakened.” Because of the Jewish people’s lack of involvement in Torah and mitzvos during the period of Haman, the supporting force of existence, G’d became weakened. Chazal explain that because the Jewish people were not worthy, they caused G’d to withdraw His blessing from their midst. As it stated by Chazal, “When the Jewish people veer from the proper path they remove the spiritual influences that bring blessing to the world and the Pillar of Holiness is weakened. Everything which comes from above is influenced by how (the Jewish people) behave from below.” If there are difficulties that come upon the Jewish people, it is only because they are not properly engaged in mitzvos; this causes a retraction of Divine Protection and blessing.

Ohr HaChaim continues, “Because the Jewish people were impoverished (in mitzvos) they needed to sell their portion (the Bais HaMikdash), which is their inheritance.

Due to their sins, it was sold to the nations of the world. As the verse states, ‘The nations came into our portion…’ The redeemer who is closest to the Jewish people is the one who can rectify the situation. Who is this redeemer? G’d states, ‘With those who are closest to Me, I will sanctify Myself.’ G’d is referring to the tzaddikim (righteous) among the Jewish people. The tzaddik brings about the redemption by arousing his fellow to do teshuvah. He should ask his fellow, ‘How does it feel to be living outside (a life of materialism)? He should give his fellow an understanding of what it means to be exiled from the table of one’s Father. What is the value of existence without being able to be at one’s father’s table? The tzaddik must elucidate how baseless and detestable are the material pursuits for the sake of lust and desire. He must arouse his fellow to spirituality. This is how the redemption will come about. Those who have the ability to influence others and do not, there will be a reckoning and a judgment. They will be held culpable for the disgrace of the G’d and His location.”

The Torah tells us that in the plains of Moav the entire Jewish people entered into a covenant with G’d that every Jew is responsible for his fellow (aarvus). If even the most simple Jew could influence his fellow, he must do so because it is his obligation. One need not be a Torah Sage to be obligated in this mitzvah.

When we beseech G’d to resolve and remove our difficulties, do we see those who are not involved in Torah Judaism as part of our responsibility? Do we only focus on our own personal issues, which we consider as primary? In actuality, the basis for all difficulty is because “the beam has been weakened.” We must secure the “beam” by strengthening and involving the Jewish people to a greater degree in Torah and mitzvos. This is only possible if G’d will give our fellow Jews a sensitivity and a capacity to appreciate their Jewish heritage. Within the Jewish people, each individual is responsible for his fellow. We must be concerned for our fellow no less than for ourselves. Thus, we will bring about the reinstatement of the Jewish people in their proper location – the Land of Israel.

3. Possession is Rooted in Ego

The Torah tells us that during the seventh year of the Sabbatical Cycle (Shmita), all agricultural activities must cease and all produce of the seventh year are considered ownerless. Despite the level of capital and physical investment, the owner of the field is not permitted to exercise any ownership over the produce of the Shmitta year. All are permitted to enter his land and partake of the produce of Shmitta with impunity.

If in fact, all the produce of the Sabbatical year is left ownerless and the owner is not permitted to engage in any agricultural activities, how is one to survive the future without any level of preparation? The Torah itself addresses this issue. As it states, “If you will say: What will we eat in the seventh year? – behold we will not sow and not gather in our crops! I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period….” The Torah is guaranteeing the Jew financial security in advance so as not to be concerned that his future is in jeopardy. Chazal tell us that the reason the Jews were exiled to Babylon for a period of 70 years was that they had violated and not observed 70 Shmita years. Since they had violated the tenant agreement with G’d 70 times, measure for measure, they were displaced from the Land for 70 years. If G’d provided for their needs in advance without exception, why would they not observe the Shmita?

The Midrash Tanchumah at the beginning of the portion of Vayikra cites the words of King David in Tehillim (Psalms), “Bless Hashem His angels mighty in strength (geborei koach) who do His bidding to obey the voice of His word.” One interpretation cited by the Midrash is that the geborei koach are those who observe the mitzvah of Shmitta (Sabbatical year) (Shomrei Shveeis). The Midrash explains, “Why are they considered geborei koach (people of enormous strength)?” The one who remains silent as he sees the fences protecting his fields being taken down, the produce of his field considered ownerless and taken by strangers, is considered a gebor koach. As it is stated in Pirkei Avos, “Who is considered the strong person – One who subdues/suppresses his inclination.” The individual who remains silent under these circumstances is identified as one with enormous strength. The reason for this is it requires unusual control to subjugate one’s own feelings and inclination to allow the fruits of one’s labor to be taken from him without any consideration.

The reason the Jewish people violated 70 Shmita years was not because they were not compensated by G’d (because they were), but rather, they were not able to contain themselves when they witnessed their hard-earned accomplishments being taken from them by anyone who wished to do so. They had no say in the matter. The only one who is able to witness this and not react is considered a gebor koach.

The Gemara in Tractate Bava Metzia states, “A person prefers his own kav (small dry measure) more than multiple portions of his fellow.” Although he is able to have multiple times (quantitatively) more than that which he created himself, one prefers less because it is the expression of his own efforts. One prefers something of his own rather than that which belongs to another. This was the basis for the difficulty of the Jewish people in relinquishing their ownership rights, despite the compensation they received. Their difficulty was not the loss of value, but rather it was “their” crop that they were not able to control.

One is endowed with ability, success, and blessing only because G’d Wills it so. One’s accomplishment emanates totally through G’d's blessing and does not depend on one’s own abilities. If this is one’s reality in life, then experiencing the Shmita will not cause him any anguish because he understands that all that he has was given to him by G’d – and he must dispense it as He wishes. However, if one does not fully appreciate this, then he will be inclined toward wanting to exercise his ownership rights – as the Gemara states, “A person prefers his own (kav)…” The issue is rooted in humility. If one is willing to forgo his own glory for the sake of G’d then he is able to meet the challenge of Shmita without difficulty. However, if one’s perception of life is that his success is contingent on his own ability, then he must struggle with his ego.

King David writes in Tehillim, “Bless Hashem His angels mighty in strength (geborei koach)…” The angel only acts for the sake of G’d. He has no ego or conflict of interest because of his level of clarity. He understands that his purpose is only to do the will of G’d. Thus, one who is able to subdue his ego/inclination and do the Will of G’d is comparable to an angel.

We say every day in the Amidah (Silent Prayer), “You are holy and Your Name is holy and holy ones (kiddoshim) praise You every day…” The angels and the Jewish people are the “kiddoshim” who praise G’d every day because they are the ones who are removed from the mundane. The Jew has the ability to transcend his physical circumstance and like the angel has relevance to spirituality.

4. The Mission of the Jew

After the Torah discusses the prohibition of lending money with interest it concludes, “I am Hashem, Your G’d who took you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan to be your G’d.” Rashi cites the Gemara in Tractate Kesubos that states, “If you (the Jewish people) live in the Land of Israel, it is the location where I am your G’d, but if you leave it to live in another location – it is as if you are engaged in idolatry.” Ramban explains that every part of the world is under the influence of an archangel representing one of the 70 root nations of the world. The archangel is designated for that location. All sustenance that one receives in those locations is transmitted through the archangel of that particular location. The Land of Israel has no archangel associated with it because G’d has a direct relationship with the Land. Thus, all sustenance that has relevance to the Land of Israel emanates directly from G’d with no intermediary. Therefore, when one lives outside of the Land, sustenance is dependant on the archangels and has a semblance of engaging in idolatry.

G’d gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people because it is the optimum location to accomplish their purpose, which is the fulfillment of the Torah. Since the Land was given to the Jew primarily to develop his spirituality, what would be the consequence if he chose to live a life of physicality devoid of spirituality- rejecting the Torah? Not only would the value of the Land of Israel not have any relevance to their existence, it would be considered a desecration of that location.

The Torah tells us that if one dwells in the Land and does not adhere to the Torah, “The Land will spit you out.” Since the Land of Israel is the location of holiness/spirituality, one must adhere to the Torah in order to remain there. Shalah HaKadosh writes that throughout history the Land of Israel did not tolerate pagan behavior. Any pagan people that established itself in the Land were ultimately cast out. It is only the Jew and the Arab that has remained and occupied the Land since the destruction of the Second Temple. They are both monotheistic people. The reason the Arab remains in the Land until this day is only that he is partially circumcised. However, the Arab will be ultimately removed from the Land. G’d promised Avraham, our Patriarch, that the Land would be his and his progeny until the end of time. The sign that established this covenant (the giving of the Land) was the circumcision. The circumcision of the Jew differs from that of the Arab because it has two elements – meelah (cutting of foreskin) and priyah (pealing it back). The Gemara in Tractate Shabbos states, “meelah without priyah is not considered circumcision for the Jew.” The Arab, on the other hand, as a descendant of Hagar (Ketura), the wife of Avraham, only has the first element (meelah) without priya. Thus, they will ultimately be removed from the Land.

The Jew was only given the Land of Israel so that he can live as a G’d's people. As the Torah states, “I am Hashem, Your G’d who took you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan to be your (la’chem – in the plural) G’d. Sforno points out an interesting fact that the verse uses the word “la’chem (your in the plural) to indicate that the Torah itself could not be adhered to and fulfilled properly unless there is communal interaction. Thus, there are many laws that pertain to relationships between man and man in order to establish that proper community.

5. The Inherent Value of the Species that Qualify as Offerings (from Emor)

According to the Midrash, the species that qualify to be brought for offerings were chosen in the merit of the Patriarchs. The ox (shore) was chosen in the merit of Avraham. As it states regarding Avraham’s hosting of the angels, “Avraham ran to the cattle, took a calf tender and good, and gave it to the youth who hurried to do it…”

It is interesting to note that when the Midrash cites this verse regarding Avraham’s act of hospitality, it could have only said “Avraham ran to the cattle…” in order to reveal the manner in which Avraham performed chesed (kindness). As the Gemara tells us every aspect of hospitality that Avraham provided for the angels, G’d rewarded the Jewish people in the desert in kind (measure for measure). Any aspect of hospitality that Avraham performed himself, G’d directly provided for that particular need of the Jewish people Himself. For example, in the merit of providing the bread to the angels, G’d provided the Manna in the desert. In the merit of offering the shade of his tree to the angels, the Jewish people merited the Clouds of Glory, which protected them throughout the 40 years in the desert.

Yet, we see that the Midrash cites the above verse in its entirety – which seems to have no relevance to his hospitality – “…and gave it to the youth who hurried to do it…” Why did the Midrash cite the entire verse?

Rashi cites Chazal who explain that those particular words refer to Ishmael, the son of Avraham. Although Avraham was in the midst of hosting his guests, he took the time to educate his son in the mitzvah of hospitality. Thus, the ox not only represents the merit of Avraham’s chesed, but also encompasses the merit of him educating his son.

The sheep (kesev) was chosen to be an offering in the merit of Yitzchak. As the verse states regarding the Akeidah (binding of Yitzchak), “And Avraham looked up and saw- behold a ram – after it had been caught in the thicket…” The species of the ram reminds G’d of the special act of the Akeidah, which was the ultimate sacrifice to Him. G-d values every aspect of the sacrifice of the ram as if Avraham had sacrificed his son Yitzchak.

The goat (eiz) was chosen to be an offering in the merit of Yaakov. As the Torah states regarding Rivka, our Matriarch, telling her son Yaakov to take the blessing from his father Yitzchak, “So now, my son, heed my voice to that which I command you. Go now to the flock and fetch from there two good goats…” These goats were meant to be prepared by Rivka as delicacies through which Yaakov would receive the blessings from Yitzchak. The Midrash explains that the goats brought about two positive results. Firstly, Yaakov received the blessings. Secondly, in the merit of the goats, his descendents, the Jewish people, would be atoned through the goats that would be brought on Yom Kippur. One goat was for G’d and the other was for L’Azazel.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos states, “The world stands on three principles – Torah, Avodah (service of G’d), and acts of kindness.” G’d chose the ox to qualify for an offering because it represents the chesed (kindness) of Avraham. The sheep was chosen because it represents the sacrifice and service of Yitzchak. However, what is the value of the goat, which was chosen in the merit of Yaakov? Was it because Yaakov heeded the word of his mother, thus fulfilling the commandment of honoring one’s parents?

If Yaakov had not taken the blessings when his mother instructed him to do so, there would have not been a Jewish people. Rivka understood that if Esav had received the material blessings, the Jewish people would not have come about. Yitzchak, being unaware of Esav’s evil nature, believed that Esav would act as the Zevulon, i.e. supporting the Torah/spirituality of Yaakov (Yissachar). Thus, she instructed Yaakov to take two goats through which he would receive the blessings from his father. The ultimate fulfillment of the purpose of existence, which is the Jewish people accepting and fulfilling the Torah, was able to come about only through the goats that Yaakov had taken. Had it not been for the goats, the world would have ceased to exist, since there would be no Jewish people. Therefore, the goat represents the basis for all Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of G’d's Name) that will come about until the end of time.

It is interesting to note that the goat qualifies as a sin offering. The ox and the sheep do not provide absolution from sin. Since the goat is the species that has relevance to Kiddush Hashem, regarding atonement, it silences prosecution and allows the person to be atoned.


Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and



T O R A H F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go

Wednesday Nissan 30 (15th day of the Omer), 5771/ May 4, 201

Dear Reader

Today is the first day Rosh Chodesh of the new month, Iyar.

Some months have one day Rosh Chodesh and other months celebrate two days Rosh Chodesh. Between the outgoing month, Nissan, and the incoming month, Iyar, there are two days Rosh Chodesh.

There is a special mitzvah, the mitzvah of Sefirat Haomer – the Counting of the Omer, which we began on the second night of Pesach and which connects the month of Nissan and the month of Iyar. We continue counting the Omer each night for a period of forty nine days. On the 50th day we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot – the Giving of the Torah.

Thus, the month of Iyar is unique in that it has this special mitzvah each night for the entire month.

Q. What is the origin and purpose of this mitzvah?

A. The purpose of our liberation from Egypt was, as the Torah says, for the purpose of accepting the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments begin, “I am the L-rd your G-d who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

Our sages tell us that Jews attained true freedom only after receiving the Torah. True freedom must also include spiritual freedom. The Jewish people attained physical freedom when they left Egypt. However, their spiritual freedom came only when G-d gave them the Torah and mitzvot at Mount Sinai.

After leaving Egypt the Jewish people were looking forward to receiving the Torah and counted the days to this holy and most auspicious occasion. They counted forty nine days waiting impatiently to this great moment. As a result, G-d gave this special mitzvah of Sefirat Haomer to Jews of all generations, to count the forty nine days from Pesach to Shavuot and prepare and look forward to the holiday of the giving of the Torah.

The month of Iyar is also connected to “Refuah” – healing. Our sages tell us that the name of this month “Iyar” is an acronym for the words, “Ani Hashem Rofecha” – “I am the G-d, Who heals you.”

Q. Why is this month, which connects the Exodus and the giving of the Torah, associated with healing?

A. When the Jewish people left Egypt, after many years of harsh labor, they were a crushed, sick and weary people. But when they came to Mount Sinai, they were all well and healed. There was not one sick person amongst them. Iyar is a month of healing.

In the Rosh Chodesh Musaf service we pray, “Our G-d and G-d of our fathers renew for us this month for good and for blessing, for gladness and for joy, for deliverance and for consolation, for livelihood and for sustenance, for good life and for peace.”

May the month of Iyar bring blessing, peace and joy to all. May this month bring complete healing (Refuah Shleimah) to all who are sick. May this month bring Shalom and peace to all of Israel. Amen. HAVE A VERY GOOD, HAPPY, HEALTHY & SUCCESSFUL DAY AND CHODESH-MONTH


TORAH.ORGRepent Your Good Ways

Chapter 3, Law 3(a)

“Anyone who regrets the mitzvos (good deeds) that he did and is appalled over the merits, saying in his heart: ‘What have I gained doing them? If only I hadn’t done them!’ — such a person loses them all. [The heavenly court] does not recall for him any merits whatsoever, as it is stated, ‘The righteousness of the righteous person will not save him on the day of his wickedness’ (Ezekiel 33:12). Such can only refer to one who regrets (lit., ‘expresses surprise’) over [his] earlier [merits].

“Just as [the heavenly court] weighs a person’s sins and merits on the day of his death, so too every year they weigh the sins against the mitzvos of all those who pass through the world on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. One who is found to be righteous is sealed for life. One who is found wicked is sealed for death. As for the average individual, [the court] leaves the matter hanging until Yom Kippur. If he has repented he is sealed for life; if not he is sealed for death.”

Up until now this chapter has been discussing the manner in which G-d judges mankind. This law continues the same basic theme, making two unrelated points. We will discuss the Rambam’s first point below and will G-d willing save the second for next week.

The Rambam first states, based on Talmud Kiddushin 40b, that one who regrets his good deeds loses them entirely. He has waived the reward G-d had been prepared to grant him. Their merit is forgotten and disregarded on the Divine scales.

There is a very famous question on this. It was posed by R. Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Ma’amarim), of 19th-20th Century Lithuania. He was a close disciple of the saintly R. Yisrael Meir Kagan (the Chofetz Chaim) and grew to be considered one of the leaders of world Jewry in the period between the wars. He was killed in sanctification of G-d’s name at the hand of the Nazis (1941).

R. Elchanan asks as follows. A number of the classic Jewish philosophers state that the concept of teshuva (repentance) really does not make sense. By rights it should not be possible for a person to just regret his past sins and have them magically disappear — no longer reckoned with on G-d’s divine scales. Where did they go just because you have now had a change of heart? What of their devastating impact and the damage you’ve done to yourself and the universe? Thus, there is really no logic to teshuva. It exists only as a special kindness of G-d. It really should not be — and only is because of G-d’s benevolence.

Based on this, asks R. Elchanan, why does the Talmud state one *can* regret his mitzvos (good deeds) and lose them? If regretting one’s sins is only effective due to G-d’s special mercy, why would He allow the same for one who regrets his mitzvos? Is G-d extending an especial *cruelty* to allow it? We can appreciate that G-d is merciful and may extend an especial kindness, allowing us to regret our sins, but the Talmud appears to state G-d does the same for one who regrets his mitzvos. Why would G-d allow the regretting of one’s good deeds as well?

Several answers have been suggested to this query. I will first quote the answer R. Elchanan himself offers and then quote several offered by my teacher R. Yochanan Zweig ( & Since each one of these approaches is an important life lesson in its own right, I will not dwell too heavily on any of them. Instead, I’ll offer them as a smorgasbord of possibilities.

R. Elchanan explains that there are two aspects to a sin. One is that I have disobeyed G-d and so deserve punishment. The second is that the sin itself — being an inherently evil act — has a detrimental effect on my soul.

Now attaining forgiveness for the first aspect of a sin is basically logical. If I apologize to G-d (as well as the one I have wronged), it makes sense that He may forgive me and refrain from punishing me. Punishment depends on G-d’s displeasure; it may be averted if I appease Him.

What is illogical is that the damaging effects of a sin can be removed based on regret alone. If a sin truly destroys my soul and the universe about, how can my feeling bad do anything about it? It is the equivalent of a chronic overeater “regretting” his eating habits and instantly shedding 75 pounds and halving his cholesterol level. The deleterious aftereffects of sin cannot just be willed away: they’re a reality — if not for the special kindness of G-d.

Explains R. Elchanan that when the Talmud states one *can* regret his mitzvos, it is referring to the first logical aspect of repentance. Just as one can apologize for his sins and if done sincerely can attain forgiveness, so too one who regrets his mitzvos just as logically loses them. He wants no part of them and so has waived any reward G-d was willing to grant him. Perhaps some good effects of such a person’s mitzvos have not been lost (the equivalent of R. Elchanan’s second aspect), but the reward itself can be forfeited just as easily — probably more easily — than the punishments due for his transgressions.

My teacher added several more answers to the mix, each instructive in its own way. I’ll deal with each briefly.

(1) We must distinguish between mitzvos (good deeds) and sins. When we sin, *G-d* has the right to punish us. That our teshuva averts it is a special mercy of G-d. G-d holds the right to punish our sins; the fact that He accepts our repentance is an act of compassion which logically need not be. By contrast, when we do a mitzvah, *we* are the ones who deserve the reward. The reward is thus ours to forgo if we so desire.

(2) There are two ways of viewing the concept of repentance. G-d invented the phenomenon in the world that one can repent his past sins and have them wiped away — that a mere change of heart can literally remove the experience of sin from a person’s record and from his soul. One way of viewing this is basically magic: It really makes no sense that mere regret can change a person’s past, yet even so G-d permits it. If so, there would be no reason why G-d should permit the same for a person’s mitzvos. Why would G-d allow the same nonsensical phenomenon to enable a person to ruin his exemplary past?

The second way of viewing repentance, however, is that it is a reality. G-d created a *reality* in this world that a person can regret his past and by so doing disassociate himself from it. Having a change of heart really makes us different people, forgiven for our past and able to begin anew. Although the creation of this reality was a special act of kindness of G-d, once He created it, it is a reality which works both ways. Just as one can disassociate himself from his past sins, so too — now that the reality of teshuva exists — can one do the same for his mitzvos. The essential creation of teshuva was an act of kindness, but today it is a two-edged sword.

(3) We need to have a proper understanding of the concept of Divine reward. If “reward” is just some sort of currency G-d grants us for behaving — as if we’ll collect x-million dollars of “reward” after 120 — then it would be difficult to understand why G-d would be so cruel as to forfeit it if we later regret our good deeds.

This, however, is not the Jewish concept of reward — at all. What reward actually is is a relationship with G-d. If in our lifetimes we have conditioned ourselves to appreciate G-dliness and spirituality, then we will have what “in common” with G-d, so to speak, when we pass on. Our share in the World to Come will be based on our ability to cleave to holiness — how close we will be able to venture towards G-d, so to speak — man’s ultimate pleasure.

Based on this, it is quite clear why someone who regrets his mitzvos will have no connection to G-d in the World to Come. You cannot force a relationship on someone. If he doesn’t care for the other, there *is* no connection! Such a person may at one time have done mitzvos which *could have* enabled him for closeness to G-d, but he regretted them — in effect stating he is not interested in the relationship they might have afforded. And if you don’t want a relationship, it isn’t there. It can’t just magically happen without you. Perhaps reward as $10,000 bills you can force on an uninterested recipient. But a relationship cannot be stronger than both of the parties’ willingness to share.

This stands in contrast to sin and punishment. Just because a person regrets his sins, saying he *does* now want a relationship with G-d, there is no guarantee that he will be able to attain one. There is still a barrier between him and G-d, brought about by his sins. As the philosophers write, it was a special kindness of G-d that such a phenomenon in fact does exist.

Anyway, wrapping up, we discussed many fundamental ideas in this class. Each provided us with much to think about — so I won’t belabor any of them further now. This law is yet another excellent example of the amount of depth contained in the Sages’ wise words. One simple statement helped us understand so many fundamental ideas of Judaism. May we always approach the words of our Sages with the same reverence and see in them the amount of depth they truly intended.

by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky


Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and



The Torah section of Emor (“Speak”) begins with the special laws pertaining to the kohanim (“priests”), the kohen gadol (“High Priest”), and the Temple service: A kohen may not become ritually impure through contact with a dead body, save on the occasion of the death of a close relative. A kohen may not marry a divorcee or a woman with a promiscuous past; a kohen gadol can marry only a virgin. A kohen with a physical deformity cannot serve in the Holy Temple, nor can a deformed animal be brought as an offering.

A newborn calf, lamb or kid must be left with its mother for seven days before being eligible for an offering; one may not slaughter an animal and its offspring on the same day.

The second part of Emor lists the annual Callings of Holiness—the festivals of the Jewish calendar: the weekly Shabbat; the bringing of the Passover offering on 14 Nissan; the seven-day Passover festival beginning on 15 Nissan; the bringing of the Omer offering from the first barley harvest on the second day of Passover, and the commencement, on that day, of the 49-day Counting of the Omer, culminating in the festival of Shavuot on the fiftieth day; a “remembrance of shofar blowing” on 1 Tishrei; a solemn fast day on 10 Tishrei; the Sukkot festival—during which we are to dwell in huts for seven days and take the “Four Kinds”—beginning on 15 Tishrei; and the immediately following holiday of the “eighth day” of Sukkot (Shemini Atzeret).

Next the Torah discusses the lighting of the menorah in the Temple, and the showbread (lechem hapanim) placed weekly on the table there.

Emor concludes with the incident of a man executed for blasphemy, and the penalties for murder (death) and for injuring one’s fellow or destroying his property (monetary compensation).


The Parshah of Kedoshim (‘holy ones”) begins with G-d’s statement to the people of Israel:

You shall be holy, for I, G-d your G-d, am holy.

G-d then proceeds to command numerous mitzvot, many of which are cardinal precepts of Torah law. E.g.,:

Every man shall fear his mother and his father and keep my Sabbaths; I am G-d your G-d.

Turn not to idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods; I am G-d your G-d…

You shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.

And you shall not swear by my name falsely; neither shall you profane the name of your G-d. I am G-d.

You shall not defraud your neighbor, neither rob him; the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with you all night until the morning.

Charity to the needy,

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleaning of your harvest… You shall leave them for the poor and stranger; I am G-d your G-d.

and equality before the law,

You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment–you shall not give special consideration to a poor man, nor honor the great; in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.

Also in our Parshah: the injunction not to “stand by your brother’s blood” (i.e., the duty to “get involved” when another’s life is threatened); the duty to “rebuke your fellow” over his wrongdoing rather than to “hate your brother in your heart”; prohibitions against slander and gossip, taking revenge and bearing a grudge.

Kedoshim also contains the dictum which the great sage Rabbi Akiva called “a cardinal principle of Torah” and of which Hillel said, “This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary”:

Love your fellow as yourself.

In addition to these “mitzvot between man and man,” there are “mitzvot between man and G-d” such as the chokim (supra-rational divine decrees) against hybrid cross-breeding of different animal species, hybrid planting of plant species, and shaatnez — hybrid use of wool and linen in a garment.


When you shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then you shall reckon their fruit as orlah (“uncircumcised”). Three years shall it be as orlah unto you: it shall not be eaten.

The fourth year’s produce is to be taken to Jerusalem, where it is eaten in sanctity; “its fruit shall be holy for praise-giving to G-d.” Only “in the fifth year shall you eat of its fruit, that it may yield to you its increase.”


You shall not round the corners of [the hair of] your heads; neither shall you destroy the corners of your beard…

Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot; lest the land fall to harlotry, and the land become full of foulness….

You shall rise up before the white-haired, and honor the face of the old man, and fear your G-d; I am G-d.

And if a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not wrong him… and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am G-d your G-d.

A severe warning is issued for those who assume the practice of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan to sacrifice their children to the pagan god Molekh.

Kedoshim concludes with a list of prohibitions against illicit sexual relations: adultery, various incestuous relationships (a father’s wife, a daughter-in-law, an aunt, a sister, a sister-in-law, etc.), homosexuality, bestiality, relations with a menstruating woman.

And you shall be holy to Me, for I, G-d, am holy, and I have separated you from the nations, that you should be Mine.


T O R A H F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go

Friday Nissan 4 5771/ April 8, 2011

This Shabbat we read Parashat Metzora, which deals with laws of “Tzara’at.”

“Tzara’at” is an ailment with physical symptoms similar to leprosy. During the time of the Beth HaMikdash the Kohen (priest) would have to investigate the condition of the one afflicted with Tzara’at and declare the person spiritually “clean” or “unclean.” The laws of “Tzara’at” applied only in the days of the Holy Temple.

Our sages explain that “Tzara’at” was inflicted upon a person as a punishment for speaking “Lashon Hara” – slandering others. The fact that the Torah designated two Parashiot on this subject teaches us that speaking ill about others is an extremely grave sin.

According to our sages, slander hurts three people; the one who speaks it; the person who listens; and the person spoken about! Since we do not have the Holy Temple the laws of Tzara’at do not apply today, yet the prohibition to speak evil about people is nevertheless the same.

The importance of refraining from speaking about others can also be seen from the commandment of the Torah, “Remember what the L-rd your G-d did unto Miriam on the way, as you came out of Egypt” (Deut. 24:9).

This is one of the six things a Jew must remember each day. The Torah refers to a discussion that Miriam had with her brother Aaron. In the course of the discussion, Miriam spoke negatively about her brother Moshe. As a result, she became leprous (Tzara’at). The Torah commands us to continuously remember this episode so that we too should refrain from speaking about others.

Our sages compare the damage inflicted through “Lashon Hara” to a person shooting an arrow at somebody else. As soon as the arrow leaves, the person who shot it has no control over it anymore. Similarly, as soon as a person utters negative words about others, he lost control over them and there is no telling how far they may reach and how much damage they may inflict. Once they have been aired, there is no taking them back.

When Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch, whose yartzeit was two days ago, was a small child the tailor once brought him a new garment for a fitting. As he was being fitted, the child put his hand in the tailors pocket and pulled out a piece of material. The tailor became very embarrassed as it was obvious that he intended to take it for himself.

The little boy knew that he did something wrong by embarrassing the tailor. He then came to his father, Rabbi Shmuel, and asked him what to do to repent for the sin of embarrassing another person.

Rabbi Shmuel asked his young son, “Who was the person you embarrassed?”

To this the boy replied, “Is it not enough that I embarrassed him, I should also mention his name and commit the sin of “Lashan Hara” – speaking evil of others?”


New York area candle lighting time: 7:10


I, the undersigned, fully empower and permit Rabbi M. Chaim Brikman to act in my place and stead, and on my behalf to sell all Chametz and mixtures thereof possessed by me. He is also empowered to lease all places wherein the Chametz owned by me may be found. Rabbi Brikman has full right to appoint any agent or substitute in his stead and said substitute shall have full right to sell and lease as provided herein. This power is in conformity with all Torah, Rabbinic and Civil laws.


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Please return (via fax @ 718-265-2139 or by e-mail: by Sunday____________

Parshas Metzorah

Learning A Lesson From G-d Through Punishment


These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion: Tape # 142, Eyeglasses in Halacha. Good Shabbos!


The pasuk [verse] in our parsha says, “When you come to the Land of Canaan that I am giving you as an inheritance, and I will place a Tzaraas blemish on a house in the land of your inheritance…” [Vayikra 14:34]. Sometimes a person gets Tzaraas on his house!

There is a very famous comment by Rash”i on this pasuk, where Rash”i states — in the name of the Medrash — that the Torah is giving the Jewish people good news. What is the good news? The Emorites hid large amounts of gold, treasures of gold, in the walls of their houses. Blemishes would come on the houses, requiring the Jews to break down the walls, and as a result, they would find the treasures. They would come into easy wealth.

There is a very strange aspect of this Medrash: Tzaraas is a punishment for speaking Lashon Horah [gossip]. How can Tzaraas, which is a punishment, have such a ‘rewarding’ outcome? It does not make sense!

Rav Bergman, in his work Shaarei Orah, interprets this Medrash and provides us with a very fundamental insight. The Ramba”m writes at the end of Hilchos Tzaraas [16:10] “a sign and wondrous matter occurred in Israel to warn them against Lashon Horah, for one who spoke Lashon Horah had the walls of his house change in appearance; … if he persists … the leather utensils in his house change… if he persists further his clothing changes … if he still persists his own skin changes…”

We see that there is a progression of Tzaraas: first there was the type which affected the house, which was the initial warning, (the yellow light). If one did not stop, it got a little closer — it affected the clothes he wore on his body (the red light). If he still did not stop speaking Lashon Horah, then the panic strobe light went off — it affected his own body, necessitating the whole process of being sent outside the camp, being “excommunicated” as it were, etc., etc.

Rav Bergman contrasts the Tochacha, the rebuke of the Jewish p eople, in Parshas Bechukosai (in Vayikra, Leviticus) — which ends with consolation – - with the Tochacha in Parshas Ki Savo (in Devarim, Deuteronomy), which, although longer and more graphic, ends without any words of consolation. Rav Bergman explains that the Tochacha in Parshas Ki Savo does not need a consolation; but the Tochacha in Parshas Bechukosai does.

Why are they different? They are different because in Parshas Ki Savo, G-d speaks in the first person (“I will punish you…”). It is clear that the punishment is coming directly from the Hand of G-d. However, the most prominent theme of the Tochacha in Parshas Bechukosai is the absence of Divine Providence (“And you walked with me in a manner of ‘keri’; so too I will deal with you in a wrath of ‘keri’” [Vayikra 26:27-28]), which means that the punishment was that G-d told them “You are on your own”.

To offer an example: there is one thing worse than being punished by one’s father, and that is not having a father to administer punishment, or not having a father who cares enough about the child to punish him. When one has a father that worries and cares about a son enough to punish him when he is bad — that itself is a consolation. Implicit in the punishment is a tremendous blessing — there is somebody out there!

Heaven forbid, when one does not have a father — or even worse — when the father does not care to punish, but tells the child “you’re on your own — do whatever you want — I do not care!” That is worse.

This is the distinction, Rav Bergman says, between Parshas Bechukosai and Parshas Ki Savo. In the former, G-d chastises Israel for attributing everything to chance, and says “I will show you what it is like to be without a G-d that is concerned.” That is such a terrible punishment that the Tochacha needs to conclude with a consolation.

But the rebuke of Ki Savo, which is given in the language of “G-d will smite you…”, as bad as that is — a t least makes it apparent that it is He who is personally handing out the punishment. This is its own implicit consolation.

What emerges is the following: when a person is aware that the purpose of a punishment is instructive — it is not really a punishment. If I realize, if I am aware that I am doing something bad and G-d says “Stop”, and the way he says it is by punishing me — then it is no longer really a punishment. It is reassuring. I know that I have a Father who cares about me.

When one speaks Lashon Horah and it affects the walls of his house, it is not a full punishment so much as a message of concern. Therefore if a person reacts to this message from G-d, all is as it should be. No real punishment has transpired here. In fact, reward is in order.

Everyone sins occasionally. Everyone has temporary lapses. If G-d sends an initial message and that suffices to correct one’s lapses, then that is exactly what is supposed to be. Not only that, but t he person is deserving of reward for listening to G-d.

With this, Rav Bergman explains the Gemara in Sota [9b] “Samson went after his eyes, therefore the Philistines put out his eyes”. The Sages record that Samson prayed to G-d “In exchange for one of my eyes, I want to have the strength to bring the building down upon the Philistines, and in exchange for my other eye, I want to receive Olam HaBah, the World to Come”.

We can ask the same question which we asked concerning Tzaraas: Samson had sinned with his eyes, which is why he was punished. So why is he now asking for reward, based upon the loss of his eyes?

The answer is once again that there is a kind of punishment, which if it is accepted and causes the person to react and learn a lesson from G-d, is considered something positive. By reacting the way he was supposed to react, Samson was able to turn the punishment into a vehicle of reward.

The problem occurs when things happen to people and they do not react.

We now can understand the Medrash in our Parsha. When a person speaks Lashon Horah, the first sign from G-d is “Look at the wall”. If a person reacts at that point, realizes that he has spoken Lashon Horah, and decides to repent and take corrective action, if he goes to the Kohen at that point, shows him the wall of his house, and follows the prescribed ritual, then he is deserving of reward — a treasure in his house. Reacting at the initial stage of suffering is a mitzvah which should be rewarded.

But what happens if the person doesn’t react and doesn’t take the suffering as an instructive lesson from G-d? Then things get worse and worse. It affects one’s clothes. And if he still does not react, it affects his own body. By then, it is strictly a punishment.

If we look closely, this can be inferred from the language of the Torah. Concerning a blemish which strikes a house, the language of the Torah is that “He [the owner of the house] will come and declare to the Kohen” — voluntarily [Vayikra 14:35]; but concerning a blemish on the skin, the language is “and he is brought to the Kohen” — against his will [13:9; 14:1].

Happy is the person who has the foresight and the insight, the perception and the honesty, to react in the correct fashion when something like this happens.


    T O R A H  F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go 

MondayAdar II 29, 5771/ April 4, 2011

Tonight (Monday night) and tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh – the first day of the Hebrew month Nissan.  The month of Nissan is also called in the Torah, Chodesh HaAviv – the month of spring.


Nissan is special for it is the month in which the Jewish people were redeemed from the Egyptian exile.  According to our sages, it is also the month in which the Jewish people are destined to be redeemed through Moshiach. Due to its special place in the history of the Jewish people, G-d designated it as the “first month of all months of the year.”


As Pesach begins in exactly two weeks (Monday evening, April 18th), it is very important to remember that having chametz in our possession or owning chametz (leavened articles) is prohibited.  In addition to the Torah prohibition for a Jew not to eat chametz during Pesach, it is also prohibited to own chametz from Erev Pesach before midday, until after the holiday.  Any chametz owned by a Jew during Pesach is prohibited even after Pesach.


Thus, in addition to cleaning the house from chametz, it is an ancient Jewish tradition to also “sell” our chametz to a non-Jew before Pesach.  This way we are by law not in possession of chametz.  All chametz which we intend to keep for after Pesach must be sold to a non-Jew before Pesach.  All chametz sold should be stored out of sight (locked in a closet etc.) during Pesach.


This prohibition is not to be taken lightly, for the Torah is very strict about not owning chametz during Pesach.


This sale must be performed according to the Torah-Halachic legal specifications.  We recommend that you perform the sale of chametz through your rabbi.  However, if you need our assistance to sell your chametz, we are here to help.  Please fill out the following form and we will look after your sale of chametz.  Please return (via fax to: 718-265-2139 / or by e-mail: torafax@aol.comcom) by Sunday, April 17.



Contract of sale of Chametz

I, the undersigned, fully empower and permit Rabbi M. Chaim Brikman to act in my place and stead, and on my behalf to sell all Chametz and mixtures thereof possessed by me.  He is also empowered to lease all places wherein the Chametz owned by me may be found.  Rabbi Brikman has full right to appoint any agent or substitute in his stead and said substitute shall have full right to sell and lease as provided herein.  This power is in conformity with all Torah, Rabbinic and Civil laws.



 Home Address:……………………………………………………………………..


City:………………………………………………………………..  State/Province:………………………………………………………


Business address:………………………………………………   City:……………………………………… State:…………………………………..


e-mail address:…………………………………………………  Date:……………………       Signature:…………………………………………..



Please return (via fax @ 718-265-2139 or by e-mail: by Sunday, April 17.


T O R A H  F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go 

Friday Adar II 26, 5771/ April 1, 2011

 This Shabbat is the fourth of the four special Torah readings before Pesach.  Thus, we take out two Torahs from the Ark for the Shabbat Torah reading.  In the first Torah we read Parashat Tazria.  In the second Torah we read Parashat Hachodesh (Exodus 12: 1-20).

Parashat Hachodesh is about the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh.  This is one of the few mitzvot which were given to the Jewish people while they were still in Egypt, proclaiming the month of Nissan as the “beginning of the months of the year.”  This is why Parashat Hachodesh is read on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

Rosh Chodesh Nissan is one day – beginning Monday night, April 4th through Tuesday, April 5th.

Q.  On a Shabbat when we have an extra reading, why do we take out an additional Torah rather than rolling the same Torah from the first reading to the second reading?

A.  This is done out of respect for the congregation, so they don’t have to wait while we roll the Torah.  We prepare another Torah so that it can be used immediately.

It is customary to distribute extra charity before Passover in order to help the needy with their Passover provisions.  Although the mitzvah of charity should be practiced all year long, yet, it is especially important before Passover.  Not only does it benefit those who need, but also the ones who give.  On Passover we all have to feel the feeling of freedom and in order to accomplish that we have to make sure that others are also free of their troubles.

At the beginning of the Seder we recite the following passage, “This is the poor bread which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.  Let anyone who is hungry come in and eat.  Let anyone who is needy come in and make Pesach.”

Upon returning home, after delivering his annual pre-Passover fund raising appeal (“Maot Chititm”) to the members of his congregation, for the benefit of the poor and needy, Rabbi Naftali’s wife asked him, “Was the appeal successful?”

“At this point I can only say that it was half successful,” he answered.

“What do you mean ‘half’ successful?” his wife wondered.

“You see,” replied Rabbi Naftali, “In the mitzvah of charity there are two parties; the poor who receive and the wealthy who have to give.  I was successful with the first half — in that the poor are willing to take.  I’m still not sure about the other half — whether the rich are willing to give!”



Parshas Tazria

If Only!

By Rabbi Label Lam

    HASHEM spoke to Moshe and Aaron, saying: “If a person will have on the skin of his flesh a s’eis, or a sapachas, or a baheres, and it will become a tzaraas affliction on the skin of his flesh: he shall be brought to Aaron the Kohen, or to one of his sons the Kohanim. The Kohen shall look at the affliction on the skin of his flesh; if hair in the affliction has changed to white, and the appearance deeper than the skin of the flesh- it is a tzaraas affliction; the Kohen shall look at it and declare him contaminated. (Vayikra 13:1-2)

Why is the priestly cast, the descendants of Aaron, the ones singled out for the task of diagnosing tzaraas? Why should someone so afflicted be required to visit a Kohen?Everyone knows that the illness referred to here as tzaraas has a particular cause. Everything flows from or is blocked by Loshon Hora- evil gossip. The Chofetz Chaim has pointed out that the sin of Loshon Hora can often be traced to some character flaw in the perpetrator. Therefore the one who speaks ill of others is in need of some correcting himself and yet he chooses to study the deficiencies in others while failing to notice his own faults. What’s to be done to fix such a fellow?HASHEM in his infinite mercy designed a feedback system to indicate that something is wrong and needs correction the same way that car designers have installed an amber light on the dash board when the gas is low or the engine requires checking. The car must be brought to a mechanic and the person with a character defect must go to a Kohen. Why a Kohen? The Mishne (Pike’Avos 1:12) states, “Be from the students of Aaron, love peace, pursue peace, love people, and bring them close to Torah.” Aaron and his children are predisposed to loving and caring for others. It’s not only that they are medically competent to diagnose the physical dimension of the disease but they are largely compassionate and likely to seek out a solution.Just being in contact with and gazing at the holy visage of such a Kohen already affects a partial remedy as the verse states, “And your eyes shall behold your teachers.” (Isaiah 30:20) Also this learned man might also impart some worthy advice that can help the afflicted to curb his tongue and cure his soul.One of the master educators of all time Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel ztl the Alter from Slobodka recounted the following childhood memory: “In my youth in Vilna I saw a woman vendor standing in the market place selling beans. For some reason she got angry at her competitor and began to abuse her loudly. Her wrath increased until she foamed at the mouth and became drenched with sweat. At the peak of her rage, a customer approached her table and asked her for a penny’s worth of beans. In an instant, the vendor underwent an amazing transformation. Her face beamed, her lips curled into a smile, and she graciously turned to wait on her customer.This teaches us a great secret of the human personality. A mere penny has the power to change a person from one extreme to another to make him control his stormiest emotions. This is something that no amount of wisdom can accomplish, but if a penny can do it, so can praise, a compliment, or even a smile or a polite word. All of these can win people’s hearts and dispel their wickedness. This is not the end of the story. After the customer had paid the penny for the beans, she started to thank him for his kindness and to heap blessings on him, his wife, children, and grandchildren. From here we see that not only can a penny cause a person to control his bad midos, it can transform him into a fountain of love and kindness.”“The Alter” lands a powerful point, “Treat every person as a million-dollar customer!” Now, if only “The Alter” could have told us this lesson in person. If only!



Parshas Tazria

To Not Get It

By Rabbi Label Lam

If a Tzaraas affliction will be in a person, he shall be brought to the Kohen. (Vayikra 13:9)

The Talmud tells us that the Torah begins with kindliness and concludes with kindliness. In the beginning HASHEM clothes man and in the end HASHEM buries Moshe. What is the Talmud teaching us? I once heard from Rabbi Avigdor Miller ztl. that if you are investigating whether or not to buy a certain book you might study the first page or so and then the last, and safely assume the rest is of similar content. Here we are instructed by the Talmud that the Torah is chock full of kindliness, since that’s how it start and ends. Now the next question that arises from this is: “Where is the kindliness of something like Tzaraas?”

The Talmud tells us about a tendency in human nature that if left uncured can lead to big trouble. “A person does not see his own faults!” We all have blind spots especially when it comes to ourselves. The purpose of the affliction of Tzaraas writes The Chinuch is “to affix in our souls the that the Divine Inspection of HASHEM is upon each and every one of us… Therefore the Torah cautions that the person to whom this terrible malady reached should not take it lightly, rather he should arrest the negative actions that caused it…” How does a person know what he did wrong if he tends to overlook his own faults?

A fellow was seen looking furiously for something beneath a street light. A passerby asked him what he was doing. He answered that he had lost his keys. The observer asked if had lost them right under the street light to which the man answered, “No, but over here there’s light!” Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” How then does one get unstuck?

Imagine driving in comfort down the highway in your 2012 Infiniti when the amber light indicating “engine trouble” goes on. How foolish would it be to just disengage the light and drive blissfully ignorant!? That light’s an Infiniti-saver. It brings the owner of the vehicle to a mechanic with insights into the inner workings of that model called “Infiniti”. So too the Torah prescribes amongst other remedies to first visit a Cohen, a wise man- a Torah sage- that can evaluate his status and guide him back to a better way. How vulnerable are we nowadays, decries the Chofetz Chaim, without the benefit of such an early warning system.

Immediately upon entering the classroom at 9:00 AM a verbal fight had already erupted between the two usual suspects. Then one let loose an unrepeatable barrage of insults and as the teacher I had to respond immediately. I informed the one boy with the extra foul language that he had effectively lost his recess that day and with a stern tone I shared with the class something I had learned just that morning before school. “It says in the Zohar that if someone speaks too much Loshon Hora then they might come back as a dog, or a rock, or an insect with the helpless awareness they were humans that had abused their power of speech.” (Maybe it was a bit much for 4th graders).

At recess time, the joyful sounds of children reveling in the first glorious Spring-day filled the air. However, one sullen youngster was doing his homework while I was grading tests nearby. He looked up at me sadly and asked sincerely, “Rebbe, how much Loshon Hora do you have to speak to come back as a dog?” Sure, it was cute. Dogs don’t have homework or miss recess, and he wished it could be so. He didn’t get it, what I had said. We can hardly afford to not get it!




The Parshah in a Nutshell


Leviticus 12:1-13:59

The Parshah of Tazria continues the discussion of the laws of Tumah v’Taharah, ritual impurity and purity.

A woman giving birth should undergo a process of purification, which includes immersing in a mikvah (a naturally gathered pool of water) and bringing offerings to the Holy Temple. All male infants are to be circumcised on the eighth day of life.

Tzaraat (“leprosy”) is a supra-natural plague, which also can afflict garments. If white or pink patches appear on a person’s skin (dark red or green in garments), a Kohen is summoned. Judging by various signs, such as an increase in size of the afflicted area after a seven-day quarantine, the Kohen pronounces it tameh (impure) or tahor (pure).

A person afflicted with tzaraat must dwell alone outside of the camp (or city) until he is healed. The afflicted area in a garment is removed; if the tzaraat spreads or recurs, the entire garment must be burned.




“A plague of leprosy”  (13:2)


            “All agree that leprosy is a punishment for slander…This is a miracle received in our nation by tradition, in the same manner and effect of the trial of the Sotah (woman suspected of adultery).  The good effect of this belief is evident” (More Nevuchim/RMBM 3:47).

            In this matter we perceive the double purpose that is evident in many Mitzvot.

1)      the Perfection of mind and character, 2) physical benefit. 

The physical benefit of isolating the leper and thereby preventing contagion of others, although not uniformly found in all the laws of this subject, is indeed an important purpose in itself.

            But the chief intention of the Mitzvot and procedures of leprosy is to impress upon the minds of our nation the urgency of proper qualities of character.  We note that RMBM considers the ancient Torah-leprosy to be a miracle, by which which Hashem manifested His judgement and retribution just as in the case of the guilty Sotah. 
 Yet we must understand that the miracle of leprosy is actually a model for all forms of misfortune which must be considered as the work of Hashem.  “When a man sees misfortune come upon him let him search in his deeds” (Berachot 5A).
            It should be added that even if the leprosy had been sent upon a man for no sin that he committed, yet by his affliction he performs an important service to Hashem, for he provides a lesson and a warning to all men that they take heed and guard against evil-doing.  If this man is entirely innocent, yet he accepts his unhappy state as an opportunity to teach others what could come upon them, and thus cause them to fear Hashem.  How great this man becomes in the eyes of Hashem for his willingness to be a model and a teacher.
            Thus, although leprosy may be Hashem’s retribution upon a sinner, yet when an innocent man is similarly afflicted he may thereby be considered as one chosen by Hashem to perform important service by his suffering for which he shall gain a great merit of reward. 
   Quoted from “A Kingdom of Cohanim” by Rabbi Miller ZT’L
 T O R A H  F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go 

BY: Rabbi Meyer Chaim Brikman, Seagate Brooklyn
quetstions for  this Rabbi should be sent to
Monday Adar II 22, 5771/March 28, 2011



In exactly three weeks, Monday night, April 18th, we will sit down with family and friends at the Seder table to celebrate the holiday of Freedom – the holiday of Pesach (Passover).


Pesach is called, “Season of our Freedom.”  Pesach celebrates our freedom from the Egyptian bondage.  After living in Egypt for 210 years, many of which were spent in brutal, physical and spiritual enslavement, the Jewish people were finally liberated by G-d, on the 15th day of the month of Nissan in the Hebrew year 2448.


Remembering the Exodus is so important that the Torah commands us to recount the Exodus every day!


Q.   On Pesach we remember the Exodus through the Seder, the four cups of wine, the matzah, maror etc.  How do we remember the Exodus each day?

A.   This is accomplished through reciting the Shema Yisrael (Hear O Israel) prayer each day, morning and night, in which we recite the verse from the Torah,”I am the L-rd, your G-d, Who took you out from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you.”   Thus, we remember the Exodus twice daily.  Remembering the Exodus each day reminds us that we have the ability to get out of our own bondage and self imposed restrictions which we encounter every day of our life.


Q.     How does eating matzah during the Pesach holiday celebrate our freedom?

A.    When Jews left Egypt, they left in great haste and as a result their dough didn’t have time to rise and were baked flat as Matzot.


Q.    What is the lesson of the matzah today?

A.    Our sages tell us that Matzah, which is flat, represents humility.  Bread (Chametz), which is prohibited on Pesach, is made from dough that rises and represents haughtiness.   The lesson of the Matzah is that although we have been chosen by G-d and given our freedom, which we are proud of, yet, we must be humble.


Q.    One of the traditions associated with Pesach is to contribute to the “Ma’ot Chitim Fund.”  What is “Maot Chitim”?

A.    “Ma’ot Chitim” literally means “Money for wheat.”  There was a time when every family would have to buy their special Passover wheat, grind it into flour and take it to the matzah bakery to bake matzah.  The “Ma’ot Chitim” contributions were to help the needy to acquire wheat for matzah.  Today, “Ma’ot Chitim” is used to assist the needy with all their Passover provisions and requirements.


We see the importance of helping the needy for Passover that we begin the Seder with the following passage, “This is the bread of poverty which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.  Whoever is hungry let him come and eat.  Whoever is needy let him come and join in the observance of Pesach.”  Remember, it is a great mitzvah to help those in need for Passover.


We apologize for the confusion on Friday’s Torah Fax we followed different calendar hence the difference in candle lighting time.


This Shabbat we read Parashat Shmini.  Parashat Shmini is the third Parasha in the third Book of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus.  In addition to the regular weekly Torah reading, we also read from a second Torah, Parashat Parah.


Parashat Parah is the third of the four special Parashiot which we read every year before Passover.


In Parashat Shemini the Torah indicates the signs of the kosher animals which a Jew is permitted to eat and specifies the non-kosher one’s which we are prohibited from eating. 


Then the Torah says, “Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy for I am holy.”


Q.   Why does the Torah use a repetitious expression, “Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy.”  Naturally, if one sanctifies himself or herself, they are holy?

A.   The Torah tells us that G-d says, “Make an effort to sanctify yourself (“Sanctify yourselves”) and I will then assist you and make it happen (“and you shall be holy”).


Our sages find a wonderful lesson in this.  G-d helps the person who makes an effort to do good.  The Torah guarantees, if one makes the effort, G-d will help them achieve their goal.


“For I am holy” – Says Rabbi Levi Yizchak of Barditchev, “When a father is wealthy it is easier for the child to do well in business, for he has on whom to rely for help.”


“So too, it makes it much easier for a person to be able to achieve holiness when they know that if they make the effort, G-d, Who is holy (“for I am holy”), will help them achieve their goal.”


There is a wonderful story told in the Midrash which illustrates this point:  Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, one of the great Talmudic sages, was very poor.  Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa once saw a beautifully shaped rock which he very much wanted to bring as a gift to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.   However, the rock was too heavy for him to carry and he couldn’t afford to pay porters to deliver it to Jerusalem.


Rabbi Chanina prayed to Hashem for help.  Soon five angels in the form of men appeared and offered to help.  He told them that he would like them to carry the stone to Jerusalem, but he couldn’t pay them.  The five angels immediately offered to carry the rock to Jerusalem, but with the condition that Rabbi Chanina put his finger to the rock and help them carry it.


Our sages explain that, although the angels didn’t need Rabbi Chanina’s help, the lesson is that G-d wants us to do as much as we can.  Then G-d will take care of the rest.  This is what the Torah means, “Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy for I am holy.”



The following is a ***deeper version***

“And it came to pass on the eighth day…”

Last week’s Parshah, Tzav, told of the “seven days of inauguration” during which the Sanctuary was consecrated and Aaron and his sons were trained for the priesthood. This week’s reading, Shemini (“eighth”), begins by recounting the events of the eighth day–which was the 1st of Nissan of the year 2449 from Creation (1312 bce), two weeks before the first anniversary of the Exodus.

And it came to pass on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel.

And he said to Aaron: “Takeyoua young calf for a sin offering, and a ram for an ascent offering, without blemish, and offer them before G-d.

“And to the children of Israel you shall speak, saying: Take a kid of the goats for a sin offering; and a calf and a lamb, both of the first year, without blemish, for a burnt offering; also a bullock and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before G-d; and a meal offering mingled with oil;

“For today G-d will appear to you…”

The offerings are brought as instructed, following which,

Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of G-dappearedto all the people.

And there came a fire out from before G-d, and consumed the ascent offering and the fat [of the other offerings] upon the Altar. And all the people saw, and sang out, and fell on their faces.

Strange Fire

And then, in the midst of the jubilation, tragedy struck.

Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire in it, and put incense on it, and offered strange fire before G-d, which He commanded them not.

A fire went out from G-d, and consumed them, and they died before G-d.

And Moses said to Aaron: “This is it that whichG-d spoke, saying: I will be sanctified in those who areclose to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.” And Aaron wassilent.

And Moses called Mishael and Elzafan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them: “Come near, carry your brothers from before the Sanctuary out of the camp.” So they went near, and carried themin their robesout of the camp; as Moses had said.

Because of the centrality of their role in the revelation of the Divine Presence in the Sanctuary that day, Aaron and his two remaining sons are forbidden to engage in any of the customary mourning practices:

And Moses said to Aaron, and to Elazar and to Itamar, his sons:

“Let not the hair of your heads grow long, neither rend your clothes; lest you die, and lest anger come upon all the people. Your brethren, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the conflagration which G-d has burned…”

And they did according to the word of Moses.

G-d Speaks to Aaron

AndG-d spoke to Aaron, saying:

“Do not drinkwineor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting,lest you die; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations.

“And that you differentiate between holy and the profane, and between the impure and the pure. And that youinstructthe children of Israel all the statutes which G-d has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”

The Disagreement

Moses instructs Aaron, Elazar and Itamar to eat the special offerings of the day, as prescribed (despite the fact that, ordinarily, a priest in mourning does not partake of the offerings). This they do, except in the case of one offering:

And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold, it was burnt; and he wasangrywith Elazar and Itamar, thesons of Aaronthat were left alive, saying:

Why have you not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy… you should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded.”

And Aaronrepliedto Moses: “Behold, this day have they offered their sin offering and their ascent offering before G-d; and such things have befallen me. If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been accepted in the sight of G-d?”

AndMosesheard this, and it wasfavorablein his eyes.

The Dietary Laws

“These are the animals which you may eat,” G-d tells Moses to instruct the people of Israel, “among all the beasts that are upon the earth: Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven footed, and chews the cud.”

To be fit to eat, an animal must have both identifying signs; the Torah cites four examples of animals that have but one, and are thus “unclean”:

The camel… the hyrax… and the hare, because he chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you.

And theswine, though he divide the hoof and be cloven footed, yet be chews not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall you not eat, and their carcass shall you not touch; they are unclean to you.

Water creatures may be eaten if they have both fins and scales (thereby excluding all forms of “seafood” other than the kosher species of fish).

Regarding birds, the Torah does not provide “signs,” but instead lists twenty species of non-kosher fowl:

And these are they which you shall have in abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are abominable:

The eagle, and the bearded vulture and the black vulture. The kite, and the buzzard after its kind. Every raven after its kind. The owl, the kestrel, and the gull; and the sparrow hawk after its kind. The little owl, the fish fowl, and the great owl. The barn owl, the jackdaw, and the gier eagle. The stork, the heron after her kind; the hoopoe, and the bat.

Insects, as a rule, are forbidden–”All swarming things that fly, going upon four, shall be an abomination to you”–with four exceptions:

These of them you may eat: the locust after its kind, and the grasshopper after its kind, and the hargol after its kind, and the hagav after its kind.

Ritual Purity

Carcasses of non-kosher mammals render the one who touches them or carries them tameh, ritually impure, as does the carcass of a kosher animal that was not slaughtered in the prescribed manner. The Torah also lists eight “creeping animals” which render a person tameh: “The rat, the mouse, and the tortoise after its kind; the gecko, the monitor, the lizard, the skink, and the chameleon.”

Utensils, food and drink also become tameh through contact with a carcass. Food, however, can become tameh only if it has first been made “susceptible” by being wetted with a liquid.

A mikveh–a naturally occurring pool of water–or a wellspring do not become tameh; indeed, the mikveh and the wellspring have the power to purify things that have become impure that are immersed in them.

Sanctity and Distinction

You shall not make yourselves abominable [by eating] any creeping thing that creeps, neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled by them.

For I am G-d your G-d; you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy, for I am holy…

This is the law of the beasts, and of the birds, and of every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that creeps on theearth.

Todifferentiatethe pure and the impure, and between the animal that may be eaten and the animal that may not be eaten.


   On this Sabbath, 25 years will have passed since the death of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the most prominent poskim (decisors) of halakha (Torah law) in the 20th century


 This Shabbat, being the Shabbat before Purim, is called Shabbat Zachor.  In addition to the regular weekly Torah reading of Parashat Tzav, another Torah is taken out of the Ark from which Parashat Zachor will be read.


It is called “Shabbat Zachor” for the special Torah reading which we read on the Shabbat before Purim which begins with the word “Zachor” – ”Remember”.


Parashat Zachor states, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt; He met you on the way and cut down all the weak trailing behind you while you were weary and exhausted.  He did not fear G-d.  Therefore, when the L-rd your G-d will relieve you of all your enemies around you, in the land which the L-rd your G-d gives you as a heritage, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from beneath the heaven.  Do not forget!”


The reason we read Parashat Zachor before Purim is because Haman, who tried to wipe out the entire Jewish nation, was a direct descendant of Amalek.


We read this portion before Purim so that we shall never forget what Amalek did.  It also serves as a reminder that just as G-d saved us from Amalek and Haman in their time, so too will He protect us against those who, openly or through various disguises, in every generation, try to spread hate against the Jewish people.


Q.   Many nations have tried to harm the Jewish people, why is Amalek singled out more than any other nation?

A.   Amalek was the first nation to wage war against the Jewish people after the Exodus.  Our sages explain this with a parable: A tub of water was so hot, everyone was too terrified to get close out of fear of getting burnt.  One person was stupid enough to jump into the water.  Although he got burnt, it diminished everyone’s fear and eventually they, too, tried to enter the tub.


The same was with Amalek. The Torah tells us that when G-d took the children of Israel out of Egypt, “The nations heard it and trembled; pangs of fear gripped the inhabitants of Phlistia; the chieftains of Edom were terrified; the mighty men of Moab were panic-stricken; all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away..” (Exodus 15).


Amalek, like the man who jumped into the hot tub, although he lost the war and was defeated, the fear of the other nation was gone.  All subsequent wars are in a sense a result of Amalek’s battle against Jews.


Remember: Attend synagogue Saturday night and Sunday morning for the reading of the Megilah, or arrange for a private reading, if possible.  Also, remember to perform the other mitzvot of Purim on Sunday.


New York area candle lighting time: 6:48


In honor of Robert & Francine Pines.

May G-d bless you with long life, happiness and success in all your endeavors





T O R A H  F A X ®  by Rabbi Meyer Chaim Brikman

Torah on the spot for people on the go 

Tuesday Adar II 9  5771/ March 15, 2011


            Q. & A. about Purim, which is Saturday night and Sunday.


Q.   How long ago did the miracle of Purim occur?

A.    The miracle of Purim took place close to 2300 years ago.


Q.   Why is there much more merriment on Purim than on any other Jewish holiday?

A.   We can relate to the miracle of Purim much more than to any other one of the miracles which the holidays celebrate.  At no other time in history was there a decree as in the days of Achashveirosh and Haman, to annihilate the entire Jewish population, men, woman and children and the entire Jewish nation lived in the countries which were under the rule of Achashveirosh.  Thus, the miracle of Purim is like no other miracle in which the entire Jewish people were saved.


Q.  Why doesn’t G-d’s name appear in the Megilah?

A.  Life and everything in it is a miracle.  Our very existence is a miracle.  Yet, some miracles are easily recognized as miracles, while others are not clearly seen as miracles and we have to dig deep to recognize them as such.


The reason for this is that G-d performs miracles in two ways.  One way is by changing the laws of nature temporarily.  For example, the Exodus, the splitting of the Sea, the Giving of the Torah, the miracle of Chanukah, when a small amount of oil, enough to burn only one day, lasted eight days etc. These miracles are easily recognized and they affect us… they make us say WOW!!


Another form of miracles are miracles “hidden” within nature.  In this case, we do not see an obvious miracle.  These miracles are all around us constantly, but we take them for granted and thus, it takes some effort and concentration to recognize them as miracles.


The miracle of Purim was a “hidden” miracle, for it came through Queen Esther’s intervention in which case one may attribute the final outcome not to a Divine miracle but to the King’s desire to please his queen.  G-d performed the miracle of Purim within the laws of nature.


This point is emphasized by the fact that G-d’s name does not appear in the Megilah.  Miracles like these happen every day.  They include; walking, breathing, movement… etc.) which we take for granted, but G-d’s role in them are hidden.  They require effort to recognize their divinity and G-dly connection.  Miracles like these are part of our daily tests.


Purim teaches us that the daily “hidden miracles,” in which G-d’s presence is not revealed, actually represent the greatest miracle of all!




Parshas Vayikra

It is Divine Providence, Not Coincidence

Rabbi Pincus  Winston, TORAH.ORG

And God called to Moshe, and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying…(Vayikra 1:1)There is no such thing as chance or coincidence, only Divine Providence, or in Hebrew, Hashgochah Pratis. As the Nefesh HaChaim explains at the very beginning of his sefer, every second God is recreating Creation anew, and directing all of it every second. We may have free-will, but even that is heavily influenced by events that God creates and circumstances into which He puts us.Others would beg to differ. They have no proof for their point of view, but surmise it based upon their understanding of history and their own personal life experience. They say, “If there was a God, then shouldn’t Event A have occurred, and Event B, not have happened?” It’s as if they say, “If I were God, I would do X, and I certainly would not do Y!” Since God does not fit into their understanding of what God should be like, they think that He must not exist.I was recently directed by a reader to view a short clip by a Murray Gell-Mann on the topic of Emergence. Murray Gell-Mann, born September 15, 1929, into a family of Jewish immigrants, is an American physicist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the theory of elementary particles. He is currently the Presidential Professor of Physics and Medicine at the University of Southern California. Clearly he is a highly intelligent person.His main point of the presentation that I saw was that “you don’t need something more to get something more.” For example, he says, “life can emerge from physics and chemistry—plus a lot of accidents. The human mind can arise from neurobiology—and a lot of accidents.” And when a reader of his book asked him, “Isn’t there something more beyond what you have there?” presumably something supernatural, he laughed at the question and said, “Anyways, there isn’t.”It never ceases to amaze me how people with such great minds can make such great mistakes. But then again, I’ve dealt with this issue before many times, and it is the basis of the introduction to my book, “The Big Picture: Thirty-six Sessions to Intellectual and Spiritual Clarity.” The assumption is that if someone like this is so smart, he ought to be able to see God if He is in fact there. If he is so smart, the assumption continues, and he doesn’t see God, then God must not be there.But, it is more like being a top physicist, with little or no knowledge of classical music, and listening to a piece by Bach while sitting next to a maestro. In spite of his intelligence and expertise in physics, more than likely he will not be able to appreciate the recital on the same level as the expert musician, and any comment the physicist may make will probably fall short.

    “How about you stick to you area of expertise,” the maestro might politely tell the scientist, “while I stick to mine.”

However, I find it fascinating that while explaining how “life can emerge from physics and chemistry,” Gell-Mann is quick to add the words, “and a lot of accidents.” When saying, in a mocking tone that “the human mind can emerge from neurobiology,” he finishes off by repeating, “and a lot of accidents.”A lot accidents? Is that not a contradiction of his initial premise that “you don’t need something more to get something more”? Are the accidents not something more you need to allow neurobiology, chemistry, and physics to do their things?In other words, what we call Hashgochah Pratis—Divine Providence—Gell-Mann calls ‘accidents,’ or more specifically, random events that occur merely as a function of physical creation and nothing more. They either happen or they don’t happen. If they do, then something wonderful can result. If they don’t, then it won’t, and that’s just life in this world.But, though he may be an expert physicist, he possesses a mind that is committed to deal with laws of Creation only as they emerge from physical Creation. More than likely he is a firm believer that “what you see is what you get,” and no more. If it is not visible to the eye, measurable by accepted scientific methods, and reproducible in a laboratory, then it is off his grid, and that of many of today’s greatest scientists.And, many people laugh along with him (and did on the video). For they figure that since both Gell-Mann and Creationists deal with the origins of existence and the physics of everyday reality, they are talking about one and the same thing. And, since such physicists bring proof for their theories from the world around us, while Creationists allow faith to be their guiding principle in life, a self-honest intellectual, many believe, must side with the physicist and at least be skeptical about the existence of God and a Divine purpose to Creation.A tragic mistake, as this week’s parshah explains. And, the point is both simple and yet fundamental. Indeed, it is represented by a small letter Aleph at the end of the first word of this week’s parshah—vayikra—the primary letter of the Aleph-Bais. Its message is very deep.As Rashi explains, it is the Aleph of vayikra that stands between the Moshe Rabbeinus and Bilaams of history. For the Moshe Rabbeinus, God is not only Omnipresent, He is accessible. This is the word vayikra, with the Aleph, indicating the continuous relationship that Moshe Rabbeinu enjoyed with the Master of the Universe.For the Bilaams of history, not only is God not Omniscient (Rashi, Bamidbar 22:9), but He is completely inaccessible, unless He chooses otherwise. This is the word vayikar—without the Aleph—from the word mikreh, which means, to borrow the words of Gell-Mann, “a lot of accidents.” It is the perception of events being random, as opposed to the result of a specific will of God.I can’t say for sure, but it almost seems as if the basic premise of the atheist is, if God really existed, He’d want us to see Him, and rather easily. Therefore, if it is not perfectly clear to us that He is here, then it must be that He isn’t. “Why,” the Atheists seem to ask, “would God exist and hide—which includes bad things happening to good people and good things happening to bad people—His Presence from mankind?”It also includes nature, which is cause-and-effect based. It’s as if life should be either natural or supernatural, but that it can’t be both. For the skeptic, there is no such thing as the supernatural reality of the natural world. “The human mind can arise from neurobiology—and a lot of accidents,” which, for the believer means Divine Providence, but which for the doubter means weird events we haven’t quite figured out yet.Based upon this, I’d like to offer an additional pshat for the small letter Aleph in this week’s parshah. The first four letters—Vav-Yud-Kuf-Raish—like the everyday physical world that they represent, are quite visible. The last letter, the Aleph, like the invisible spiritual world it represents is small and elevated, and far less visible than the previous letters, especially from a distance.Yet, it controls all of the letters before it, determining their overall value. With the Aleph, they are part of a Godly and eternal experience. Without the Aleph, they are empty and tenuous, associated with a spiritually-void world, the world of physicists like Stephen Hawkings and Murray Gell-Mann. They can see the Vav-Yud-Kuf-Raish perfectly well, perhaps even better than most, but they are blind to the Aleph.The question is why, and than answer is alluded to by the Aleph itself, and described quite well by the following quote:

    Among the causes of this scientific tunnel vision I would like to discuss two that result from the nature of scientific tradition. The first of these is the issue of methodology. In its laudable insistence upon experience, accurate observation and verifiability, science has placed great emphasis upon measurement. To measure something is to experience it in a certain dimension, a dimension in which we can make observations of great accuracy which are repeatable by others. The use of measurement has enabled science to make enormous strides in the understanding of the material universe. But by virtue of its success, measurement has become a scientific idol. The result is an attitude on the part of many scientists of not only skepticism but outright rejection of what cannot be measured. It is as if they were to say, ‘What we cannot measure, we cannot know; there is no point in worrying about what we can’t know; therefore, what cannot be measured is unimportant and unworthy of observation.’ Because of this attitude many scientists exclude from their serious consideration all matters that are—or seem to be—intangible. Including, of course, the matter of God … The other development that is assisting us to escape scientific tunnel vision is the relatively recent discovery by science of the reality of paradox. A hundred years ago paradox meant scientific error to the scientific mind. But, exploring such phenomena as the nature of light, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics and relativity theory, physical science has matured over the past century to the point where it is increasingly recognized that at a certain level reality is paradoxical.” (The Road Less Traveled, III Growth and Religion, Scientific Tunnel Vision; Simon and Schuster, 1978)

Measurement, explains Kabbalah, was also a creation. Indeed, it was one of the first phases of Creation, to make possible a spiritual environment that would support free-will and therefore, spiritual growth. But, prior to that, there was only Ohr Ain Sof, the unlimited, non-measurable light of God. At that stage, nothing physical had been created, and even spiritual entities such as angels couldn’t even exist. Just the infinite light of God.And, even after the sublime will of God resulted in the creation of the world by constricting the Ohr Ain Sof, making possible the reality of measurement, still the Ohr Ain Sof remained the spiritual ‘backbone’ of everything. As a result, everything physical that exists has a core of supernatural reality; everything measurable has a non-measurable essence that exists beyond the realm of the physical brain and concrete laboratories.This is what the Aleph is telling us in this week’s parshah. It is saying that, what you see is not all that you get. Beyond that which you can see is something invisible. Beyond that which you can measure is something that cannot be measured. The random reality that you think you perceive is really a very well-orchestrated system run by Heaven with tremendous precision. The randomness and chaos of daily life in our vast universe is perfectly controlled.What the Aleph is also saying is that you have to choose to see this for yourself. Just as you have to look a little more carefully at the Sefer Torah to see the smaller Aleph than the rest of the letters, likewise you have to look more carefully in everyday life to see the hand of God behind all of it.That is not just a part of life, that is life itself. That is when you connect to God on a sublime and eternal level, and fulfill your destiny. It is the essence of what it means to serve God, and ultimately, to serve yourself. For, the study of physical Creation is a fascinating hobby, but nothing is more fulfilling than being able to see God behind every aspect of life, and to be able to call on Him when you need to. And, nothing speaks more highly of a person than for God to be able to call on Him whenever He wants to.



Rabbi Yaakov Menken

We have a wonderful and illustrious heritage, and much history to remember. Judaism calls upon us to recall the Exodus from Egypt, the Revelation at Sinai, and above all our unique relationship with G-d.This week, though, we find one of our oddest “remembrances” in the special Maftir which precedes the Purim holiday. G-d commands us to remember that the nation of Amalek attacked us at the beginning of the Exodus — and to destroy its remembrance. Amalek attempted to destroy the Jewish People, and to deny our unique relationship with our Creator, and therefore we are called upon to destroy Amalek instead.There are no modern maps with “Amalek” listed. There is no Amalekite government, no UN representative, not even an Internet Country Code. The only people remembering Amalek are the Jews, and we have a Commandment to destroy their memory. It would seem that the best way to perform this Mitzvah is also the easiest — namely, to forget the whole thing.Would that it were so simple! It may be true that there is no nation to which we can point, but Amalek’s descendants live on: ideological descendants, and, according to the Medrash, even physical ones. We read this special Parsha of Remembrance immediately before Purim, because Haman was from the Amalekites. Nazi Germany, of course, also followed this same ideology, and there are certain Talmudic passages about a country called “Germania” during the Roman Diaspora (the current exile) which seem eerily prescient today. There may be no country called Amalek, but the commitment to destroy the Jews is alive and well. You can find ideological Amalekites in Europe, the Middle East, even in America. Clearly, we still need to remember.There is a fascinating comment by the Ohr HaChayim concerning the battle with Amalek. The Medrash discusses a later attack by the Canaanites, also during the Exodus. The Medrash says that the Clouds of Glory covered the people in the desert, as described in the Torah, and therefore no one knew exactly where they were. Once Aharon passed away, however, the Clouds of Glory departed, and the Canaanites were able to attack.This being the case, the Ohr HaChayim asks: how did Amalek know where to look? His answer is that Amalek “struck behind you,” as it says in our reading. Amalek could not enter the clouds, but Amalek could follow after them and attack those stumbling behind.As this passage from the Ohr HaChayim makes clear, we are not referring here to physical tiredness. The Clouds of Glory did not fail to protect G-d-fearing insomniacs. Amalek finds his opening when there is spiritual tiredness, when the connection between the Jews and their G-d is weak.This is borne out in the Purim story. The Megillah begins not with Haman’s plot, but with the King’s banquet. Why is the celebration relevant? Is it only because it led to Vashti’s death, and the elevation of Esther as the new Queen?The Sages provide a much more profound reason. The King ordered this Celebration because he knew the Jewish prophecy that their exile would last 70 years. He miscalculated the starting time, however, and came to the conclusion that the 70 years were now over — and yet the Jews had not been redeemed. He concluded that the Jewish G-d had been defeated, and celebrated by having this banquet, and using the sacred vessels from the Holy Temple to serve the buffet.Unbelievably, even though the Jewish spiritual leadership (Mordechai et al.) avoided the party, most of the Jews of Shushan saw nothing wrong with attending a banquet celebrating the demise of their faith! This indicated such tremendous spiritual weakness that Haman’s moment had arrived.Spiritual weakness is the real enemy, even without a Haman or a Hitler. We ourselves are witnessing an unprecedented decline in Jewish affiliation. Over the next generation the Jewish people may suffer a decline as great as the Holocaust, without a drop of blood being shed!We can counter this trend, just as the Jews of Shushan did: by strengthening ourselves. For them, it was three days of fasting and prayer (during the Passover holiday, no less) that reversed the decree. For us, it is a new commitment to Jewish education for all our children that will be needed, to provide the Jewish people with the needed spiritual strength and commitment to ensure our future. “VeNehapech Hu” — it shall be reversed, turned upside down, as committed generations produce a growing population of committed Jews.And that, on Purims to come, will be a wonderful thing to celebrate!Good Shabbos, 



by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky

The Mishkan is completed in these portions, and the Torah recaps the stunning accomplishment. “These are the reckonings of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle of Testimony that was reckoned through Moshe’s bidding. And Betzalel son of Uri, son of Chur, did everything that Hashem commanded Moshe” (Exodus 38:21-22). The Torah calls the Mishkan a Tabernacle of Testimony. To what is it testifying? Architectural ability? A fund raising phenomenon? Or perhaps something even loftier?

Rashi tells us that the Mishkan, in fact, testified that Hashem forgave the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf.

It always has bothered me. Forgiveness comes with a correction of a misdeed. Obviously, each account needs direct redress. Stinginess is forgiven with acts of munificence. Sins of uncontrolled rage are forgiven when the transgressor acts with undeviating gentleness.

What connection does the building of the Mishkan have with the forming of the Golden Calf? Why is the completion of the Mishkan a testimony to absolution?

The second verse is also is disconcerting. “Betzalel did what Hashem told Moshe.” Did he not do what Moshe told him? It seems that he jumped the chain of command. It should have stated that “Betzalel did what Moshe told him.”

Dr. Abraham Twerski, in his book Do Unto Others, relates an amazing story that he personally experienced. Early in his career, Dr. Twerski would teach students by having them accompany him through psychiatric institutions. There he would introduce the young observers to the live subjects, rarely seen outside textbooks.

In a chronic care facility, Dr. Twerski pointed out a most difficult case, a male patient whom no doctor was able to cure. The man was mute and would not communicate. He had entered the facility 52 years earlier and was suffering from strange schizophrenic-like symptoms. Immediately following breakfast he would go into the corner of the large community room, contort his arms, palms outstretched in an upward manner and stand there until lunch. After lunch, he would resume his position until bedtime. No treatment nor medication, shock therapy, or cajoling was able to get the man off his feet. His condition was so severe that due to standing all day he developed excessive accumulation of serous fluid in tissue spaces in his feet.

On one visit, a student asked if he could talk to the patient. Dr. Twerski agreed, while wondering what the young doctor could offer that had not been explored by the experts.

After a brief conversation the man stared blankly at the young doctor. But then the student assumed the man’s exact contorted position and said to him, “I’ll stand here like this. You can go sit down.” The patient smiled, proceeded to a couch, and for the first time in 52 years he actually sat down!

Dr. Twerski surmised that the patient felt he was holding up the world. Without him, it would collapse. (He had no explanation for the meal or bedtime gaps.) The moment the patient was convinced that someone could carry the mission as well, he relaxed.

Commentaries explain that the sin of the Golden Calf began when Moshe did not return from Sinai on time. The minute that 40 days elapsed and Moshe was missing the nation panicked. No one, they felt, could lead them but Moshe, so they created a false deity. And they prayed and danced to a new-found god. The Mishkan, however, was an antidote. Moshe charged Betzalel with the tremendous task, and he accomplished it. In fact, our sages explain that he even challenged Moshe in certain directives, and Hashem concurred with him! Betzalel did what Hashem wantedexactly the way it was told to Moshe. He had the ability to perform as if he received the directive himself! That is the goal of mesorah. Tradition has the next generation holding the torch though passed from previous leaders as if it were passed from the Almighty Himself. The nation saw that it is possible to continue despite the former leader holding up the world every step of the way. There is room for young leadership to carry on the directives of the elder generation. That is the way the Torah carries on. And that is the way we hold up the world.

Good Shabbos

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky

Dedicated in memory of George Fisch and Rebecca Stein by Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Fish


T O R A H  F A X ®

by Rabbi Meir Chaim Brickman, Brooklyn NY

Torah on the spot for people on the go

Tuesday Adar I 25, 5771/ March 1, 2011

The Torah reading this Shabbat is about the contributions for the Mishkan.  Shabbat we also read from a second Torah about the mitzvah of Machatzit Hashekel – the giving of the half-shekel coin.  During the month of Adar it is a mitzvah to give more Tzedakah-charity than usual.

The mitzvah of Tzedakah is whenever, whatever and however we give.  Yet, there are various levels in the performance of this mitzvah.  Maimonides categorizes the mitzvah of Tzedakah-charity into eight levels:


1)  The highest level is when one helps the poor person in a way so that he can earn his own livelihood.  For example, lending him the money he needs to start a business or through giving him employment.


2)  Contributing to charity which is collected by trustworthy collectors who then distribute it with utter discretion.  This way, the giver doesn’t know who the poor person is and the poor person doesn’t know who the giver is. 


3)  The giver knows who receives the charity, but the poor person does not know the identity of the giver.  The Talmud records stories of sages who, in order not to embarrass the poor, would discreetly deposit money at their door so they would not know who their benefactor is.


4)  The poor man knows who the giver is, but the giver doesn’t see the poor person as he gets the money, thus sparing him the shame.  The Talmud records stories of sages who would place money in a bag carried over their back.  The poor would take from the bag and the sages would not see who was taking so as not to shame them.


5)  When one gives to the poor even before they ask. 


6)  Giving after the poor man asks, but giving a fitting amount and giving it cheerfully, 


7)  Giving cheerfully, but less than a fitting amount. 


8)  When one gives with a glum, mournful face. 


The Talmud tells the following story about Binyamin the Righteous who supervised a charity fund.  One day, during a year of scarcity, a woman came to him and said, “Master, provide sustenance for me.”  Binyamin replied. “There is no money left in the charity fund.”  She pleaded, “Master, if you do not provide for me, a woman and her seven children will perish.”  He provided for her out of his own pocket.


Sometime afterwards Binyamin became very ill and he was at the point of death.  The angels above said to G-d: “Master of the universe, You said that he who saves even one soul is considered as if he had saved the entire world.  Shall Binyamin the righteous, who saved the lives of a woman and her seven children, die at such a young age?”  The Talmud concludes that, as a result, twenty two years were added to his life!




 This Shabbat we will read Parashat Pekudei, the final Parasha of the Book of Exodus.  Parashat Pekudei describes the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).  It gives a detailed account of the total amount of gold, silver and copper donated for the Mishkan and how it was all brought to Moshe to assemble the Mishkan.


The contributions for the Mishkan were so generous that the craftsmen complained to Moshe, that the people are bringing much more than is needed.  As a result, only three days after Moshe first told them to donate for the Mishkan, he announced that, “No man or woman shall donate any more for the sanctuary.”


Q.   Every letter in the Torah is precise.  Why is the story of the building of the Mishkan, about which we read before in Parashat Terumah and Tetzaveh, repeated in such great length in Vayakhel and Pekudei?

A.   The building of the Mishkan was a sign of G-d’s forgiveness for the gravest sin committed by the Jewish people, the sin of worshipping the Golden Calf.  The Mishkan is called “Mishkan Haeidut” – “The Mishkan of Testimony,” – the Mishkan served as testimony that G-d forgave the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf.

This is why G-d wrote in the Torah about the Mishkan in such great length and detail in order to prove that the sin of the Golden Calf was forgiven and His love for the Jewish people did not diminish.

Q.   The Torah, in this week’s Parasha, Pekudei, tells us that Betzalel was in charge of the building of the Mishkan; “And Betzalel, son of Uri, son of Chur of the tribe of Yehuda, had made all that G-d had commanded Moshe.”  Who was Betzalel?  How old was Betzalel when he built the Mishkan and its contents? 

A.   Betzalel was a great grandson of Moshe’s sister, Miriam.  He was only 13 years old!


Q.   How many people did it take to actually put up the Mishkan?

A.   Moshe put up the Mishkan by himself!  This was a miracle in itself, for the weight of the beams of the Mishkan were beyond the capability of any person to lift.  In fact, the first seven days after the completion of the Mishkan, he assembled and took apart the Mishkan each day.


Q.   Why did G-d perform this special miracle that Moshe should erect the Mishkan by himself?

A.   The Midrash says: Every person contributed or was involved in the construction of the Mishkan, except for Moshe.  G-d told Moshe that his part would be to put up the Mishkan.  Moshe said to G-d, “How could a human being erect it by himself?”  G-d said to Moshe, “You work with your hands and it will go up by itself”  The lesson: When we do what we have to do, G-d helps us get the job done.



T O R A H  F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go

Monday AdarI 24, 5771/ February 28, 2011

 In the beginning of  last week’s Parasha, Vayakhel, the Torah tells us that Moshe gathered the entire congregation to inform them about the contributions and the work for the Tabernacle.  But first he began with the commandment of observing Shabbat.


The Parasha begins, “And Moshe assembled the entire congregation and said to them, ‘These are the things which G-d commanded to be done, six days you may work, but the seventh day should be holy to you, a day of complete rest to G-d.’”


Q.   If Moshe wants to tell the people to rest on Shabbat, why does he begin with, “six days you may work”?


A.    Moshe wanted to impress upon them that not only resting on Shabbat is because G-d commanded us, but even the work we do during the six working days, is also because G-d told us to work.  During the six working days we also have to conduct our work and business according to G-d’s wishes; with integrity, with honesty and contribute to charity as prescribed by the laws of the Torah.


Q.   One of the mitzvot which apply every day, except Shabbat and holidays, is the mitzvah of Tefillin which we place on the arm and head.  Why don’t we wear the Tefillin on Shabbat and Yom Tov?


A.   The Tefillin serve as a sign that G-d took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  Shabbat and holidays are also called a “sign,” between the Jewish people and G-d.  Being that Shabbat and Yom Tov are already a sign we don’t need the sign of the Tefillin.


Q.   One of the foods which are customary to eat on Shabbat is fish.  Why?


A.   Fish in Hebrew is “Dag.”  The numerical value of the word “dag” is seven, which represents the seventh day of the week – Shabbat.


The Bnai Yissaschar explains that eating fish on Shabbat represents a triple blessing.  Here is how; The Torah tells us that, on the fifth day of creation, when fish were created, G-d gave them a special blessing; “And G-d blessed them saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’” (Gen. 1:22).  Later when G-d created Adam and Eve he gave them also a special blessing, “And G-d blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28).  The day of Shabbat also has a very special blessing; “And G-d blessed the seventh day.” (Gen. 2:3).  Thus, by eating fish on Shabbat we combine the three blessings (fish, mankind, Shabbat).


On the lighter side: Yankel, the store keeper, was a G-d fearing man. His store was always closed on Shabbat.


Chaim to Yankel:  “Business must be good.  Your store is always full of customers.”


Yankel:  “Oy Vay!  Don’t ask Chaim.  Every day that my store is open I lose money!”


Chaim:  “So how do you make a living, if you lose money each day that your store is open?


Yankel:   “Thank G-d for Shabbat!”

The Parshah in a Nutshell


by chabad

Exodus 35:1-38:20

Moses assembles the people of Israel and reiterates to them the commandment to observe the Shabbat. He then conveys G-d’s instructions regarding the making of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

The people donate the required materials in abundance, bringing gold, silver, copper, blue, purple and red-dyed wool, goat hair, spun linen, animal skins, wood, olive oil, herbs and precious stones. Moses has to tell them to stop giving.

A team of wise-hearted artisans make the Mishkan and its furnishings (as detailed in the previous Torah readings of Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Tisa): three layers of roof coverings; 48 gold-plated wall panels, and 100 silver foundation sockets; the Parochet (Veil) that separates between the Sanctuary’s two chambers and the Masach (Screen) that fronts it; the Ark and its cover with the Cherubim; the Table and its Showbread; the seven-branched Menorah with its specially-prepared oil; and the Golden Altar and the incense burned on it; the Anointing Oil; the outdoor Altar for Burnt Offerings and all its implements; the hangings, posts and foundation sockets for the Courtyard; and the Basin and its pedestal, made out of copper mirrors .


T O R A H  F A X ®

Rabbi Meyer Chaim Brickman Brooklyn NY

Torah on the spot for people on the go

Monday Adar I  17, 5771/ February 21, 2011


There are 613 mitzvot prescribed in the Torah.  Many of the mitzvot are to be practiced only under certain conditions; such as the laws which apply to the Holy Temple, the laws which apply to a Jewish king etc. 


Many of the mitzvot apply only to a certain category of people; such as the laws for the Kohanim (priests) or the specific laws for judges etc.  Then there are the mitzvot which apply only during certain years; such as the laws of the sabbatical year (Shemitah) and the Jubilee (Yovel) years. 


Then there are mitzvot which apply each day, such as the laws of Kashrut, love your fellow as yourself, love and fear G-d etc.  Another category of mitzvot are those which apply only certain days or certain dates of the year; such as the mitzvot of Shabbat and the holidays.


This week’s Parasha, Vayakhel, and next week’s Parasha, Pekudei, speak about the contributions and the building of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle, which served the Jewish people during their forty year journey in the desert.


The Parasha begins, “And Moshe assembled the entire congregation and said to them, ‘These are the things which G-d commanded to be done, six days you may work, but the seventh day should be holy to you, a day of complete rest to G-d.’”  Then Moshe goes on to tell them about all the requirements for the building of the Tabernacle (Mishkan).


Q.   In the previous Parasha, Ki Tisa, we read about the sin of the Golden Calf, the breaking of the Tablets and Moshe going back on the mountain and coming down with the Second Tablets.  When did Moshe come down with the Second Tablets?

A.    Moshe came down with the Second Tablets on Yom Kippur.  This is why G-d established Yom Kippur as the Day of Atonement and forgiveness for all generations.


Q.    What is the connection between this Parasha, which speaks of the building of the Mishkan, to the previous Parasha, Ki Tisa?

A.    As mentioned, this Parasha comes right after the Story of the Golden Calf, the breaking of the Tablets, Moshe’s prayers for G-d’s forgiveness and Moshe coming down with the Second Tablets.  Moshe came down with the Second Tablets on Yom Kippur.  The gathering this Parasha speaks about took place on the day after Yom Kippur.  Thus, this Parasha is connected with the previous Parasha for the building of the Mishkan was a result of G-d’s forgiveness and it took place the day after Yom Kippur.


Q.    The purpose of this gathering was to tell them about the building of the Sanctuary.  Why did Moshe begin with the mitzvah of observing Shabbat?

A.    Moshe wanted to remind them the importance of observing Shabbat.  Even when building a Mishkan – a sanctuary for G-d, they had to observe the laws of resting on Shabbat. 




Parshas Ki Tisa

A Stiff-Necked NationBy Rabbi Label Lam

And HASHEM said to Moshe, “I have seen the nation and they are a stiff-necked nation.” (Shemos 32:9)

A stiff-necked nation: They turn the back of their neck to the one rebuking them and they refuse to listen. (Rashi)

A stiff-necked nation: You might think this is an insult to Israel but it is really their praise. After they accepted upon themselves the Mitzvos of the Torah, they give their lives entirely to sanctify the Name of HASHEM. Rabbi Avin says that until this very day Israel is referred to amongst the nations of the world as a “stiff-necked people” because of their devotion to the Torah without deviation. (Shemos Rabba)

Is this description of the Jewish Nation as a “stiff-necked nation” intended as an insult or a compliment? Which is the truth? If it is meant as praise, then why mention it here by the sin of the golden calf? The context would clearly tilt in favor of an unfavorable image. Why then does the Midrash choose to color it in more flattering tones?

With prophetic vision Dovid HaMelech describes “us” as follows: “All this has come upon us and we have not forgotten You, nor have we been false to Your covenant. Our heart has not turned back nor have our steps turned away from Your path. Even though You crushed us in the place of reptiles and covered us in the shadow of death. Have we forgotten forgotten the Name of our G-d and stretched out our hands to a strange g-d? Would not G- d have searched this out for he knows the secret of our hearts!? It is for Your sake that we are killed all the day, we are considered as sheep for the slaughter.” (Tehillim 44:18-22)

In the Teshuvos HaRashba 1548, he writes about our people: “Israel the inheritors of truth, the descendants of Jacob, the man of truth, seed of truth, would prefer to suffer continued exile and its horrors rather than accept something without critically and thoroughly analyzing it, step after step, to separate out any doubtful validity… even when it appears to be miraculous and absolute”

It’s recorded in a book about the Klausenberger Rebbe, The War Years: “Even during the most terrible times the Klausenberger Rebbe never lost his focus on Avodas HASHEM. Right under the noses of the Nazis, he studied and davened, and observed Mitzvos. Without regard for his personal safety he avoided the most minor transgression of the law. A survivor named Asher Brenner recalled, “In Auschwitz I was placed into the same group as the Klausenberger Rebbe. The Rebbe suffered even more than the rest of us because of his stubbornness. He refused to eat non-kosher food. He managed to bring his Tefillin into the camp with him, and he put them on every day. Notwithstanding the great danger he organized daily minyanim for prayer services. We often forgot about Shabbos but the Rebbe avoided desecrating Shabbos every week and made sure that no one else did the work that was imposed upon him. All this, of course, drew the attention of the Kapos, and they punished the Rebbe with vicious beatings. The Rebbe accepted the beating calmly, whispering to himself verses of consolation.”

Like any other trait, stubbornness can be used for good or the opposite. Therefore, for the sake of our survival, a stinging rebuke was needed, as it were, to reset the broken bone so it would not grow firm, committed to some corrupt value. So we have survived!

The historical record of the Jewish People’s enduring loyalty, under extreme duress is not less than a glorious testament to the truthfulness of that proud title The Almighty Himself draped lovingly over us as a talis-“A Stiff-Necked Nation!”


DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and


NOTE: all Rabbis Lectures shiureem are strickly Torah orthodox and not watered down conservative or deformed  twists of  TORAH


Parshas Tetzaveh

Inconspicuous Assumption

by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky

In this week’s portion Moshe is charged to prepare every detail of the priesthood for his brother Aharon and his descendants. In intricate detail, the sartorial traits of every one of the priestly vestments are explicated, down to the last intertwined threads.

And though Moshe is in charge of setting up the administration and establishing the entire order of service while training his brother and nephews, his name is conspicuously missing from this portion.

Our sages explain the reason for the omission. When Hashem threatened to destroy His nation, Moshe pleaded with Him: “And now if You would but forgive their sin! — but if not, erase me now from Your book that You have written”(Exodus 32:32) As we all know, Moshe’s plea were accepted. The nation was spared. But Moshe was not left unscathed. His request of written eradication was fulfilled in one aspect. He was left out of one portion of the Torah Tezaveh. Thus the words of the tzadik were fulfilled in one aspect. But why this portion?

Though this English-language publication is not wont to discuss Hebrew etymological derivations, it is noteworthy to mention a thought I once heard in the name of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. Moshe’s plea “erase me now from Your book,” bears an explanation. The word sifr’chah, “your book” can be broken down to two words sefer chaf — which means the twentieth book. Thus Moshe was removed from this portion of Tezaveh, the twentieth portion of the Torah.

But why would Moshe intone such omission in this, of all the portions of the Torah? Why not omit his name in the portions that declare the tragic outcome of sin or the calamities of insurrection? Wouldn’t that be a better choice for omission? Why did Moshe allude to having his name omitted in the week he charges Aharon with all the honor and glory that is afforded the High Priest?

Rav Yitzchak Blaser was once seated at a gathering of the most prominent sages of his generation that was held in his city of St. Petersburg.

Among the Talmudic sages present was Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soleveitchik of Brisk, world renown for his Talmudic genius. Rabbi Soloveitchik presented a Talmudic question that his young son, Reb Chaim, had asked. After posing the question, a flurry of discussion ensued, each of the rabbis offering his own answer to the riddle, while other rabbis refuted them with powerful rebuttals. During the entire repartee, Rabbi Blaser, who had a reputation as a Talmudic genius, sat silently. He did not offer an answer, nor did he voice approval to any of the answers given by the Rabbis.

When Rabbi Soleveitchik ultimately offered his son’s own solution, Rabbi Blaser sat quietly, neither nodding in approval nor shaking his head in disagreement. It seemed as if he did not comprehend the depth of the insightful discourse. It was as if he was not even there! Bewildered, Reb Yosef Dov began having second thoughts about the renowned Rabbi Blaser. “Was he truly the remarkable scholar that the world had made him out to be?” he wondered.

Later that evening, Rabbi Soloveitchik was in the main synagogue where he got hold of the book “Pri Yitzchok,” a volume filled with Talmudic exegesis authored by none other than Rabbi Blaser himself.

After leafing through the large volume he saw that the afternoon’s entire discourse, his son’s question, the offered and reputed responses, and the final resolution, were all part of a dissertation that Rabbi Blaser had himself published years earlier!

“Now I realize,” thought Rabbi Soleveitchik, “Rabbi Blaser is as much a genius in humility as he is in Talmudic law!”

Our sages tell us that actually Moshe was to have been chosen as the Kohen Gadol in addition to the leader of the Jewish nation. It was his unwavering refusal to accept any of those positions that lost him the opportunity to serve as Kohen Gadol. Instead, Hashem took it from him and gave it to Aharon.

Many of us would have always harped on the fact. How often do I hear the claims “I got him that job!” “I could have been in his position!” “I started that company! Had I stayed, I would be the one with the stock options!” “That was really my idea!”

Moshe, too, could have injected himself as the one who propelled and engineered Aharon’s thrust to glory — especially after a seemingly tainting experience with the Golden Calf. In his great humility, Moshe did just the opposite.

Moshe did not want to diminish Aharon’s glory in any way. He wanted the entire spotlight to shine on Aharon and his great service to Klal Yisrael. Therefore, in the portion in which Moshe charges, guides, and directs the entire process of the priesthood, his name is conspicuously omitted.

One of the greatest attributes of true humility is to let others shine in their own achievement without interfering or announcing your role in their success. The greatest educators, the wisest parents, and most understanding colleagues know when to share the spotlight and when to let another friend, colleague, sibling, or child shine in their success or accomplishment. They know exactly when to be conspicuously or inconspicuously “missing from the book.” Good Shabbos © 2000 Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky

Dedicated by Ira & Gisele Beer in memory of Harry Beer — L’Iluy Nishmas Reb Zvi Mendel ben Reb Pinchas — 8 Adar Aleph


  T O R A H  F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go

Friday Shevat 30, 5771/ February 4, 2011

Rabbi Meyer Chaim Brickman, Seagate Brooklyn

  After being caught up with flight cancelation due  to the storms that have been hitting us across the country it is with an added pleasure  that I return to the (warm) TORAH FAX desk to share our daily dose of Torah.


Today is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Adar 1.  Shabbat will be the second day Rosh Chodesh. 


This year, being a leap year in the Hebrew calendar, we have two months of Adar (Adar 1 & Adar 2). 


Adar is a special month.  Our sages say, “Mishenichnas Adar, Marbim B’Simcha – “When Adar comes, we increase in joy.”  Although Purim is celebrated in Adar 2, yet the joy and happiness begins with the first Adar.


One of the additional Rosh Chodesh prayers (Mussaf) which we recite today, we ask G-d, “Our G-d and G-d of our fathers, renew for us this month for good and for blessing, for gladness and for joy, for deliverance and for consolation, for livelihood and for sustenance, for good life and for peace, for the forgiving of sin and the pardoning of wrongdoing.”  May this month bring joy and blessings to us all.  Amen.


Q.   What is the reason for the additional month of Adar every few years?

A.   The reason is that the Hebrew calendar year, which is based on a lunar cycle, consists of 354 days in contrast to the solar year which has 365 days.  Each regular Hebrew year is about eleven days shorter than the solar year.  If left unadjusted, Passover could eventually occur in the winter, fall, or summer!  Since the Torah refers to Passover as Chag HaAviv, the “holiday of spring,” thus, we have to add an additional month every few years.


Q.    How often do we have a leap year?

A.     There are seven leap years in every nineteen year cycle.


This week’s Parasha, Terumah, speaks of the building of the Mishkan and its contents; the Aron (Ark), the Kaporet (Ark cover), the Shulchan (Table), the Menorah (Candelabra) and the Mizbe’ach (Altar).  The Torah details the materials, measurements and construction of the sanctuary and each of the above contents within the sanctuary.


The Ark was covered with the Kaporet, which was of solid gold, upon which there were two golden “Keruvim.  Each of the Keruvim looked like the face of a child and each had wings which extended over its head.  The Torah states, “And the Keruvim shall spread out their wings on high, screening with their wings the ark-cover, with their faces one toward the other.”


The Keruvim teach us two very important lessons.  First, the guardians of the Torah are the children. Teaching our children Torah and the practice of mitzvot is the only way to guarantee Jewish continuity.  Another lesson is that we must face each other.  The continuity of our nation is only through love and harmony amongst us.  


Teaching our children Torah and brotherly love amongst Jews were two very important factors and pre-conditions for G-d giving us the Torah. 




New York area candle lighting time: 4:59



The Shovevim

We are currently in the midst of the holy days of Shovevim. What is the significance of this period?

The word Shovevim conveys a call to repentance. It means “wayward” and contains the root of the word teshuvah (repentance), as in Shuvu banim shovevim, “Return, O wayward children” (Yirmiyahu 3:23). Indeed, this period is conducive to repentance, as there is an ancient custom to fast during these days.[1]

The letters of Shovevim (שובבי”ם) are the initials of the parashiot of these weeks, which describe Israel’s exile in Egypt and its redemption: Shemot, Va’era, Bo, Beshalah, Yitro, and Mishpatim. In a leap year, the period includes also the weeks of Terumah and Tetzaveh and is therefore known as Shovevim Tat (שובבים ת”ת).

Every week, the parashah read arouses spiritual influx related to its content. The mekubalim teach that the bondage in Egypt accomplished Tikun HaYesod; that is, it rectified blemishes related to personal holiness and the covenant of circumcision. This covenant does not end with a once-in-a-lifetime procedure; it involves living a life of personal holiness continually. The weeks of Shovevim are conducive to rectifying our own blemishes in this area.

The following questions and answers are meant to provide a better understanding of this period and how we should relate to it.

During the days of Shovevim, there is much talk about making tikunim (rectifications) for our souls. What exactly should we be doing? And is there a difference between Torah scholars and laymen in this area?

Before we even touch on the subject of tikunim, it must be absolutely clear that the tikun is the very last step in the process of repentance. First a person must separate from his sin and repent of it totally, complete with deep remorse, tears, heartache, and a broken spirit. Then he must persist in his state of purity for several years. Only after all of that is it possible to even think about making a tikun – rectifying the root of the blemish caused by the sin, in accordance with the instructions of the Arizal and the other true mekubalim, so that he will not be punished for it even in the world to come.

While a person is still in the grip of sin and is still wrestling with the evil inclination, making a tikun will not help. He is like the proverbial tovel vesheretz beyado, the one who immerses himself in a mikveh for purification while holding an impure object. Even worse, the tikun is liable to harm rather than help. Sefer Haredim wrote to the following effect: “Fasts and self-affliction are a mockery when done by someone who is not yet worthy. In our time, one evildoer, after three days and three nights of continuous fasting, promptly returned to his sins.”

Who is the subject of this report – some joker? Far from it. It was a man who fasted three days and nights straight! Even so, because he had not repented completely, he immediately backslid into sin.

Sefer Haredim continued: “Thus Rabbenu Yonah wrote that a person who has sinned greatly should not undertake self-affliction until he feels deep regret, resolves to abandon the sin until the day of his death, remains in a state of total purity for a long time, and has tears on his cheeks. Then, with shamefacedness and submissiveness, he may offer a fast as a sacrifice.”

Sefer Haredim went on to describe how tikun looks without true repentance. The gist of his words is as follows: “You see people who fast six days and nights of the week nonstop, especially during the Shovevim. But before starting the fast, they did not examine their sins, character traits, business conduct, and thoughts, and then separate for a long time from any evil they found. As a result, some revert to their previous sins immediately after, and may even commit worse sins than before. One flew into such a rage that he almost lost his mind. (We are not speaking of the righteous, heaven forbid, but of a few ordinary people.) Rabbenu Yonah words are exact and deeply significant.”

We see that in the repentance process, no steps can be skipped. Why?

Imagine taking a monkey, starving him, rolling him in the snow, immersing him in the mikveh, and dragging him through thorns. Will the monkey achieve any spiritual level?

A person’s superiority to a monkey lies in his Torah study and mitzvah observance. Tikun, which completes the mitzvah of repentance, is appropriate only for someone who has already repented sincerely and has built his spiritual stature through Torah and mitzvot.

What about someone who studies Torah full time, has repented completely in the course of years, and has built his spiritual stature? Should he do a tikun that includes fasting, although the weakness it causes might negatively impact his Torah study?

Rabbi Hayyim Vital discussed this question (Sha’ar Ruah HaKodesh, Kavanat HaTaanit, page 7b). He wrote that on the one hand, even a Torah scholar must erase every sin and fix every blemish. On the other hand, the Gemara said (Taanit 11b): “If a scholar fasts, let a dog eat his meal.” A scholar who fasts thinks that he is strengthening the forces of good, but in fact he is feeding the forces of evil, symbolized by the dog.

Rabbi Hayyim Vital resolved the seeming contradiction as follows: “Someone who has not sinned in his entire life should not fast¼, for Torah study is greater than fasting, because it draws spiritual energy from On High into his soul¼. But someone who has sinned is required to fast in order to erase his sins and rectify the place that he blemished.”

Thus if someone has sinned intentionally, at least once in his life he should fast for a tikun as prescribed by the Arizal to erase the blemish of sin, even at the expense of his Torah study.

But the poskim wrote in the Arizal’s name that a Torah scholar does not need to fast; he should better learn, and once a month devote himself to repentance. How can the contradiction be resolved?

Fasts and other types of self-affliction that were not prescribed by the Arizal are a waste of time that could better be spent learning. But fasts (or their redemption) prescribed by the Arizal and the true mekubalim are a different matter. It is worthwhile for a scholar to take time away from learning once in a lifetime to purify his soul of all blemishes of sin. From then on, his purity will take him to higher levels of Torah study.

Can the fast be redeemed by giving money to charity?

The Arizal, who specified what tikun to do and how many fasts to undertake for each sin, never mentioned redeeming fasts with money. Subsequently, however, some great rabbis (such as the Hesed L’Avraham) determined that the weak or ill may redeem the fasts on condition that they also fast one day; other rabbis maintained that fasts cannot be redeemed. The greatest poskim and mekubalim decided in favor of the more lenient view in these weak generations – provided that the penitent makes a substantial donation to charity. The reasoning was that making such a donation is as difficult as fasting. The amount of the donation was fixed as the cost of eighty-four days’ worth of meals. Eighty-four is the number of days that one must fast to erase blemishes related to the covenant of circumcision.

Nowadays we see advertisements announcing that a tikun is being organized, and that if you send in a token amount of money, your sins will be erased. This is a mockery of weighty matters: sins, the blemishes they cause, and repentance. It encourages people to think, “I can sin now and repent later; no problem.” I have even been asked if one can pay in advance to cover the sins of future years. The organizers of the supposed tikun are creating a stumbling block for the public. Although there is some benefit in reminding the public to repent, the harm they do exceeds the benefit.

A tikun for the childless who wish to have children is different (see Leshon Hachamim or Roni Akarah). Since the purpose is to gain merit and nullify the decree of childlessness, it is possible to benefit from the tikun by giving charity. But how can we rectify our souls by sending in a donation? The root of tikun is repentance, and no one else can repent for us!

Some organizers go so far as to prepare redemption money for the penitent. He acquires it legally by lifting it up, after which he gives it in for the tikun. But the possibility of redeeming a fast is based on the hardship of giving away our own money. Here, there is no hardship of fasting or of giving away money, so there is no rectification either.

But wasn’t that an old custom in Jerusalem?

I investigated the matter and found that this was done during a terrible famine some sixty or seventy years ago, when people died of hunger in Jerusalem. The rabbis were lenient in order “not to lock the door in the face of penitents” and not to discourage repentance during the Shovevim. But to establish this custom for all subsequent generations is a major stumbling block.

Should yeshiva students participate in the tikunim?

No. A yeshiva student should not get involved in fixing the past; his task is to fix the present and the future. He must study Torah in depth, immersing his entire being in the discussions of Abayyei and Rava. Of course he must repent and avoid sinning. But he should keep away from rectification of sins, for that itself is liable to pull him into sin or even worse, into sadness and gloom. Depression is worse than the gravest sin, because it leads to casting off the yoke of Heaven entirely. Some years after marriage, though, a serious Torah student can ask a rabbi who is an expert in this area how to rectify his past.

So fixing sins is liable to pull a yeshiva student into sadness – but the sins themselves also pull a person into sadness. How can we break out of this vicious cycle?

A yeshiva student who immerses himself deeply in Torah study will find satisfaction, pleasure, and joy in his learning. Seeing that he has a share in Hashem’s Torah will encourage him to fight valiantly against his evil inclination while bearing in mind that “a tzaddik falls seven times but rises.” The merit of the Torah will stand by him; and if, in addition, he does not to delay building a Jewish home, everything will surely be fine.

The holy books bring many opinions about repentance and the numbers of fasts. How do we find our way through them?

The absolute authority in these matters is the Arizal. His opinion is definitive, and we should follow it. As Rabbi Akiva Eger wrote in his glosses on Shulhan Aruch: “But in the writings of the Arizal we find¼ and him shall you obey” (Orah Hayyim, Dinei Kedushah, siman 125, se’if 1).

The Arizal fixed the number of fasts for every sin. Regarding Shovevim, he prescribed eighty-four consecutive fasts.[2]

Someone whose health does not permit many fasts can redeem them with a sizeable donation to charity, combined with one actual dawn-to-nightfall fast. A token donation does not suffice. The donation must be equal to the cost of eighty-four days’ worth of meals. Even better is five times eighty-four (corresponding to the five aspects of this sin, which the Arizal mentions). If he is hard-pressed financially, he can consider each meal as consisting of bread and something to eat it with, such as an egg or a tomato (72 derham of each). The one-day fast must take place during the Shovevim so that its merit will help the redemption.

Some make a taanit dibur[3] and read the Book of Tehillim three times, and claim that doing so is worth 56,600 fasts. Is this true?

This tikun was originated by the mekubal Rabbi Yitzhak Alafiyya (see Kuntres HaYehieli, Helek Bet HaShem, page 65 ff, for his reasoning).

Certainly guarding one’s tongue is a tremendous virtue, and whoever does not control his tongue will not manage to rectify himself during the Shovevim even with all the fasts and tikunim in the world. Reading Tehillim is also a tremendous thing.

But to equate a taanit dibur and the reading of Tehillim with the Arizal’s methods for fixing the sin at its root would be a serious mistake. How can one equate inventions of the human mind with tikunim that were revealed through Divine inspiration? There are rabbis who even doubted that fasts can be redeemed with money since this possibility was not offered by the Arizal. The Hida wrote: “Who ascended to heaven, or had revelations of Eliyahu zachur latov regularly, after our teacher the Arizal, to make compromises in matters that stand at the height of the world, and tikun in Names and upper spheres?” (Moreh B’Etzba, Helek Tziporen Shamir, siman 10, ot 95).

It is true that not everyone is capable of fasting the number of days specified by the Arizal, and the door should not be locked in the face of the penitents. But these problems were already solved by permitting redemption through money in combination with a one-day fast.

In my opinion, publicizing that a taanit dibur combined with saying Tehilim is equivalent to myriads of fasts will cause the public to make light of the mitzvah of repentance.

Some books mention a special tikun for a leap year, which applies to a month where the molad is ten hours before Rosh Hodesh, and involves fasting thirty-seven hours before the molad. Is this a valid tikun?

No. It is not found among the Arizal’s writings, and there have always been many questions about it. However, all the questions disappear in view of a startling discovery.

This tikun is cited in the name of “the holy Rabbi,” as the Arizal and the Rashash were commonly called. But there is someone else whose disciples called him “the holy Rabbi” in a sly attempt to compare him to the Arizal – namely, Natan of Gaza, the so-called prophet of the false messiah Shabtai Tzvi. In the manuscript of a book called Hafsakah Gedolah, written by Natan of Gaza, we find this tikun cited word for word.

There are also other “tikunim” whose source is in the cult of Shabtai Tzvi. Beware! Use only tikunim that are cited explicitly in Sha’ar Ruah HaKodesh of the Arizal and were arranged by the Rashash in his sidurim.

In Yesod HaAvodah, the saintly gaon Rabbi Avraham of Slonim wrote that studying Torah for five hours straight is equivalent to fasting from Shabbat to Shabbat. Some people are particular to study this way throughout the Shovevim. How should we relate to this?

The Arizal’s tikunim rectify blemishes caused by particular sins. But fasting can have harmful side effects, such as anger or arrogance. Studying Torah in depth and diligently is always a great tikun for the soul and is entirely beneficial (see Nefesh HaHayyim, sha’ar 4).

The point of Yesod HaAvodah is that five hours of uninterrupted learning refines and purifies the soul, helps a person reach a higher spiritual level, and generally rectifies the upper worlds through the supreme power of Torah study. This is far more than anything a person of our times can accomplish by fasting from Shabbat to Shabbat.

Besides the fasts and tikunim, how should we conduct ourselves during the days of Shovevim?

The holy books contain plenty of good, solid advice for strengthening ourselves spiritually. The essence, especially for young married men engaged in full-time Torah study, is learning diligently and deeply with analysis and toil, teaching disciples, and writing new Torah insights. It is known that the primary blemishes to rectify during the Shovevim are those of the mind, and their rectification comes only through toil in Torah with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge – which is what the mind was created for.

Together with this, we should work on fixing our midot; improving our interpersonal relationships, especially in matters of holiness, such as guarding our eyes and tongue; and ridding our minds of wrong outlooks and beliefs.

The main thing is to be balanced in all our ways, and to differentiate between primary and secondary, relevant and irrelevant, seemly and unseemly. We should seek the guidance of scholars and not jump to levels for which we are as yet unprepared. The Torah says, “You shall not ascend by steps on My altar, so that your nakedness will not be exposed on it.” (Shemot 20:23). This hints that if a person tries to ascend beyond his true level in the service of Hashem, he will be exposed as bare of preparation and unworthy of the higher levels.

This year is a leap year, with Shovevim Tat. Is the main tikun of the Shovevim only during a leap year?

From the Arizal’s words (in Sha’ar Ruah HaKodesh, Tikun HaShovevim, Tikun 27), it seems that all years are equal. First, the Arizal mentioned no preference for a leap year. Second, he explained that reading the Parashiot about the Egyptian exile, which we do during the weeks of the Shovevim, reawakens the Tikun HaYesod that was made then. Accordingly, a leap year has no advantage over an ordinary year.

However, the Hida wrote that the main tikun of the Shovevim is during a leap year. In Tziporen Shamir (siman 10, ot 98), he cited the Arizal’s disciples as his source; in Birkat Yosef (Orah Hayyim, siman 685, ot 1) he cited Rabbi Hayyim Vital himself. But I did not find it in the writings of Rabbi Hayyim Vital, or of anyone else who could be called the Arizal’s disciple (besides the Shelah, at the beginning of Parashat Shemot; but he does not mention Tikun HaYesod).

The poskim wrote that the fasts of Shovevim were instituted mainly for leap years, but not that the purpose was Tikun HaYesod (see Levush, siman 685, se’if 1). Thus their opinions have no bearing on the Arizal’s.

If someone who has attained a high spiritual level carries out the tikunim properly, can he be certain of having rectified everything?

This is not the place to elaborate about the uppermost worlds, so I will be brief.

A person who repents truly and who does the Arizal’s tikunim with the correct number of fasts for each sin will completely rectify all blemishes made by his sin in the upper worlds and will return them to their original state, fixed and prefect.

In conclusion, I would like to mention one more tikun that the Arizal prescribed for the Shovevim: to say the bedtime Shema with great kavana. In this way, all the negative forces created by the sin will be wiped out.

[1] These included fasts of forty-eight hours, each of which counts as twenty-seven dawn-to-nightfall fasts.

[2] Since a fast of forty-eight hours counts as twenty-seven dawn-to-nightfall fasts, three forty-eight fasts hours count as eighty-one, and the number is brought up to eighty-four by three short fasts. For details, see my Takanat HaShavim, pages 114-115.

[3] Literally: “fast of speech,” in which one refrains from speaking except to pray or study Torah.

This essay contains divre Torah. Please treat it with proper respect.


Rabbi Yaakov Hillel

Rosh Yeshiva

Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom


“Insights into Pirke Avot.”

Perek Alef, Mishnah Tet-zayin

1:16 Rabban Gamliel says, make a rabbi for yourself, and remove yourself from doubt, and do not regularly separate tithes by estimate.


Make a rav for yourself.

At first glance, it appears that Rabban Gamliel merely repeats the words of Yehoshua ben Perahiah, who also said “make a rav for yourself” (see 1:6).


The word rav means both “teacher” and “rabbi.” Yehoshua ben Perahiah spoke of the need for a Torah teacher who can guide us in learning. The Rambam and the Bartenura both write that Rabban Gamliel’s words refer to a rabbi who is an authority in halachic rulings, not to a rabbi who excels in teaching Torah. When a halachic question arises, we should consult a qualified halachic authority, rather than making our own layman’s decisions or bringing our questions to a rabbi who is not an expert specifically in applied halachah.

The wording of the two mishnayot supports this explanation. The earlier mishnah deals with the setting of the bet midrash where we study Torah: “Yehoshua ben Perahiah says, make a teacher for yourself and acquire for yourself a friend.” As we explained, “a friend” means a havruta, the study partner with whom we learn Torah. Rabban Gamliel, on the other hand, speaks of the realm of halachic knowledge, as we see from the continuation, and remove yourself from doubt. We need the guidance of a rav well-versed in halachah, because halachic rulings must be clear and unequivocal, with no room for doubt.

The mishnah uses the singular term “rabbi,” because in the complex field of halachah, we should follow the rulings of one authority. Otherwise, we are headed straight for trouble. Imagine that we are faced with a question in halachah and start shopping for answers. The first rabbi we consult considers the question and rules “forbidden.” The next one has received a different tradition concerning questions of this kind, and he says “permitted.” Another scholar tells us that we may rely on a certain lenient opinion, and yet another says that it is correct to be stringent in such cases. We have heard quite a bit about the different approaches to our question, but we are still left with no clear understanding of what we should actually do. If we wish to remove ourselves from doubt in observing mitzvot properly, we must make a rabbi for ourselves. Not many rabbis – one. We should follow his rulings consistently, thereby freeing ourselves from uncertainty and doubt.

There is an additional advantage to bringing all our questions to only one rabbi. If we consistently consult the same rabbi, we will eventually develop a personal connection, enabling him to better answer our specific questions. He knows us, and knows if it is appropriate to rule leniently or strictly for us, while remaining within the bounds of halachah (see 1:5). We find allusion to this principle in another teaching of our Sages in a later mishnah in Avot. They tell us, “Do not judge your fellow man until you reach his place” (Avot 2:4). A rabbi cannot judge – issue a halachic ruling – until he is capable of standing in the questioner’s place. This means that the rabbi needs to be aware of his level in order to know whether he can handle a stricter ruling, or whether it is ultimately better to provide a more lenient, yet still halachically acceptable answer.

We discussed our Sages’ teaching that it is better to learn bekiyut or girsa from a single teacher, so that we will acquire a clear, consistent version of the text, and iyun, in-depth analysis of the text, from several teachers, for broad, well-rounded comprehension (Avodah Zarah 19a). We mentioned the Sefer HaGan’s recommendation, cited in Rabbi Tzvi Michel Shapira’s Tikun Hatzot, to have three teachers and guides, because in our times, it has become rare for an individual scholar to be fully proficient in every field of Torah.[1] Perhaps ironically, we may compare this to medical knowledge. Not that long ago a good general practitioner handled all ills, from sore throats to surgery, and did it well. Today, every few inches of the human frame has its own specialist.

Apparently, questions relating to daily halachic practice are comparable to studying bekiyut; our Sages tell us we should have a single specific rabbi whose authority we accept and rely on. However, halachah is itself a very broad field, encompassing a vast number of topics and specialties. A rabbi may be an expert in monetary law, the laws of Shabbat, or any of the other many areas of Torah law. If we do not have access to the premier Torah authority of our times, who is knowledgeable in all areas of halachah, we may legitimately bring our questions to an expert in a given specialized field.

On Our Own Side

There is another compelling reason us for to make a rabbi for ourselves – namely, ourselves. In just about any issue, human beings are notoriously biased. Especially when it comes to money, we are almost helplessly slanted in our own favor. With this in mind, it is imperative that we consult an objective authority when faced with a halachic question.

Rulings concerning kashrut are a classic example. A butcher buys a cow, which he intends to have slaughtered in order to sell the meat. If all goes well and the meat is kosher, he can turn a fine profit. There is one problem, though. He cannot be certain of the animal’s kashrut status until it is examined after slaughtering, at which point it is too late for a refund. The slaughterer does his job and the bodek (an expert trained in checking animals for kashrut problems) looks at the relevant organs. The butcher peers nervously over his shoulder and breaks into a sweat; could that be a lesion on the lungs? His instinctive reaction is a frantic, resounding “NO.” It can’t be, because he stands to lose a thousand dollars or more if it is! He looks at it, perhaps extends a shaky finger. Well, he mumbles, even if it is a lesion, it looks minimal, and there are – there must be – some opinions which rule leniently on this particular type of case. Perhaps he can convince the expert to pronounce the meat kosher, or else look for another expert who will rule a little less strictly.

What would he say if it had been someone else’s cow? How big/small/major/minor would the problem have looked to him then?

This is why Rabban Gamliel tells us to make a rabbi for ourselves, and remove ourselves from this type of agonizing, often soul-wrenching doubt. It is more than difficult to be objective when our own interests are in the balance, and we need the calm impartiality and expertise of a rabbi. This was the practice followed by our Sages, despite their obvious qualifications. When Rav Huna had to issue a ruling, he would bring along ten scholars from the bet midrash, and when Rav Ashi had to rule on the kashrut of an animal, he would summon the local slaughterers to hear their opinions as well (Sanhedrin 7b).

Making a Rabbi

Make a rabbi for yourself.

While we understand that we need a rabbi to guide us in proper observance of halachah, this teaching raises a question. How do we make anyone a rabbi? The knowledge and authority of a Torah scholar are the product of his years of toil in Torah; they are not something we “make” for him. For example, no one grandly announces that he has appointed Rav Elyashiv, shlita, his rabbi, because Rav Elyashiv does not need to be appointed, nor does he need our declaration to make him a rav and halachic expert.

It is possible that with these words, the mishnah points out that since we are the ones who need the rabbi and teacher, we must make sure that we have one, even if he might not be the premier Torah scholar of the generation (see 1:6). From our standpoint, it is essential that we have someone to guide us, so we must make a rabbi for ourselves, in keeping with the options available. At the same time, though, it is obviously preferable to try to find a scholar who really is capable of answering all our questions and resolving all our doubts. Rabban Gamliel tells us, make a rabbi for yourself and remove yourself from doubt. We should see to it that we have someone to turn to; the fact that we do not have access to the generation’s leading authorities does not mean that we are therefore better off on our own. At the same time, even if we realize that we will have to appoint a somewhat lesser authority as our personal rabbi, we should nonetheless try to consult a scholar who is truly knowledgeable and competent (see Commentary of Rabbenu Yonah).

There is another way to make a Torah scholar our rabbi: through shimush hachamim, serving and learning firsthand from a great Torah scholar. In an earlier mishnah, we discussed the Vilna Gaon’s teaching that the best way to acquire an accurate, reliable tradition in halachah and Torah study is by close contact with a Torah scholar. If we spend time attending him, we can observe him and learn more than we could ever accomplish on our own (Imre Noam on Berachot 7b).[2]

The Right Answer

Make a rabbi for yourself, and remove yourself from doubt, and do not regularly separate tithes by estimate.

We can explain the words remove yourself from doubt as a reference to the halachic authority himself. Speaking from personal experience and observation, there is special siyata diShmaya (Divine assistance) granted to a halachic authority when he rules on an actual halachic question. This is not true of hypothetical, academic questions – only of cases where a real question requires a practical ruling. Personally, I generally avoid answering theoretical halachic questions, because my response will not have the Divine assistance bestowed upon “real” questions. If we make a rabbi for ourselves by asking him to instruct us concerning our questions in halachic practice, he will have siyata diShmaya and there will be no doubt concerning his ruling.

As we see, the Tanna tells us that we should accept the authority of a rabbi or teacher, and thus remove ourselves from doubt. Also, when we separate tithes, we should not make it a practice to rely on a general assessment. We should make a precise calculation so that our tithes will be exact, although we may occasionally – not regularly – rely on an estimate. What is the connection between the two parts of the mishnah, which appear to be totally unrelated?

We may say that the mishnah as a whole teaches us about the need for accuracy and precision in halachic rulings. Rabban Gamliel’s instructions not to rely on an estimate in separating tithes allude to the great care necessary in halachic rulings in general. We should make a rabbi for ourselves: we should seek the advice of a Torah scholar expert in the relevant halachot, so that his ruling is based on a solid foundation of knowledge, not merely intuition, common sense, or estimate.

Ten Percent

Do not regularly separate tithes by estimate.

Tithes should be precisely calculated, not guessed at. The commandment to separate tithes, often called “giving maaser (one tenth),” comes from the Torah: “You shall tithe all the grain of your planting” (Devarim 14:22). However, tithing, or giving maaser, relates not only to agricultural products, but also to giving ten percent of our earnings to charity (Rambam, Hilchot Matanot Aniyim 7:5)

The Bet Yosef provides detailed information on the correct way to set aside this ten percent. He writes: “And one should be careful not to give less than a tenth, and one should also not add [more], for ‘one who increases, decreases,’ since l’maaser sod v’yesod: tithes have esoteric significance (sod) and a base (yesod).” Giving maaser involves more than the basic halachic obligation to donate money to charity.

The way this tenth is given is not random. It must be exact, and this precision has both sod and yesod. For example, let us say we would like to make an extra effort, fulfilling the mitzvah in a better-than-minimal fashion. We want to give away somewhat more than just ten percent, or perhaps even as much as homesh, a fifth of our income. The Bet Yosef writes that we should first make an exact calculation of the basic ten percent and set it aside as our maaser for charity. Once that is done, we can certainly add any further sums we choose to give. This, he writes, is the correct way to give maaser. There is sod v’yesod, a profound significance, in setting aside specifically one tenth (Avkat Rochel, Hilchot Maaser 3).

We should realize that this principle works in both directions. Our tendency to personal bias can get in the way of the finest intentions. We are tempted to say, “I made roughly x amount of money this year, so I’ll give away y dollars. That should more or less cover everything, so it’s probably good enough.” With this haphazard method, we may well end up giving less than we should, because we are separating tithes by estimate. If we are not precise in separating the basic ten percent, we are too likely to undershoot.


This is the simple meaning of the mishnah. However, the commentary on Avot attributed to Rashi explains that these words relate to the study of Kabbalah, the Torah’s hidden wisdom.

Based on Rashi’s interpretation, we can explain maaser, a tenth, as a reference to the ten Sefirot, extremely profound spiritual concepts related to the ten Utterances through which Hashem created the world and rules it (see Avot 5:1). The wisdom of Kabbalah elucidates the meaning of these ten Sefirot, and we dare not try to understand the subject by estimate, using our own guesswork. This sacred study cannot be casually approached, G-d forbid. The word Kabbalah literally means “receiving”; it is a tradition which must be transmitted by a reliable teacher. We cannot study it on our own by simply reading the text and then venturing an educated guess as to its meaning. There is no room in Kabbalah for creative, independent brainstorming. In fact, Rabi Hayyim Vital writes, “The secrets of the Torah and its hidden [wisdom] will not be revealed to people through of their intellectual capabilities, but only by a Divine influx bestowed from Above by His messengers and angels, or by the Prophet Eliyahu” (Introduction to Shaar HaHakdamot).

The Dangers

The slightest error or misunderstanding concerning Kabbalistic concepts is catastrophic, because they relate to the very basics of our faith (see 1:1). Our Sages tell us that one who distorts these sacred teachings has “destroyed the saplings” (Hagigah 15a). Rashi comments, “He has ruined and distorted, like one who enters an orchard and cuts down the plants.”

The Ramban’s Commentary on the Torah includes numerous Kabbalistic references. The Ramban cautions those who study his Commentary, “I make a faithful covenant and give good advice to anyone who looks into this book. He should not try to comprehend [the Kabbalistic teachings that I mention] through his own understanding, and ponder and conjecture concerning the allusions I make to the secrets of the Torah. For I clearly inform him that my words will not be understood, and he will never comprehend them through his own intelligence, except through a sage proficient in Kabbalah, from whom he has received the tradition.” He concludes with a warning that any attempt to figure them out by one’s own logic and understanding is not only futile, but also extremely dangerous.

The words used in Kabbalistic texts cannot be understood literally. They are a parable, in which deceptively familiar terms are used to refer to entirely different, immensely profound concepts. If we merely read the “parable” and take it at face value, we will still know nothing about its true esoteric meaning, and the consequences of studying these writings on a literal level are nothing short of disastrous. For example, it is one of the thirteen basic articles of faith listed by the Rambam that Hashem is not a physical being (Perush HaMishnayot, Sanhedrin, Perek Helek), while the Zohar uses terms borrowed from our physical world in relation to the Al-mighty. We do not understand the real significance of these terms at all except in accordance with the Kabbalistic tradition, but to the superficial reader who takes them literally, they could suggest, G-d forbid, that the Al-mighty is in fact physical. Irresponsible, uninformed dabbling in Kabbalah carries the risk of heresy.

As the Ramban writes, “Any conjectures will be harmful and destructive, without purpose. Make no mistake, your own theories will only lead to harm, because you will come to forbidden thoughts about Hashem Himself, for which there is no forgiveness.” He warns readers unfamiliar with Kabbalah to stay away from these dangerous matters, and confine themselves to study of the revealed Torah and its commentaries.

Rabbi Hayyim Vital cites the Ramban’s words and continues, “If the Ramban, the last of the great Mekubalim, went so far as to say that no one will be able to understand his words concerning Kabbalistic topics, how can a human mind think he will be capable of understanding the Words of the Living G-d, taught by Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai [in the Zohar]? His words are a consuming fire! They are sealed and hidden with a thousand seals.”

He goes on to list many other prerequisites and conditions for learning Kabbalah, adding a warning: one who wishes to approach the study of Kabbalah should know that it is dangerous. “Angels of destruction and the blade of the revolving sword guard the way to the Tree of Life” (Bereshit 4:24), keeping out the unworthy.

Even one who meets the exacting requirements and is in fact qualified to learn Kabbalah can only receive it through authentic tradition, from a scholar who is “wise and understands on his own.” Otherwise, he courts disaster. The amateur who peruses Kabbalistic texts unaided can lose his mind, G-d forbid. The Rivash describes the dreadful outcome: he may seek to achieve clarity in understanding the Al-mighty as One, but he will end up going even further than the Christian doctrines. They believe in three gods, while those with distorted, superficial perceptions of Kabbalah will believe in ten, G-d forbid (Responsa of the Rivash, 157).

Rabban Gamliel says, make a rabbi for yourself. If we want to learn Kabbalah, we must make sure we have a teacher who can guide us safely through this dangerous terrain and remove us from doubt. He will teach us how to interpret the terms and concepts and parables correctly, so that we will understand the true Oneness of G-d and never come to any doubt. But, as Rashi cautions, we may not delve into the secrets of the ten Sefirot equipped only with our mortal logic and rational thought, “estimating” that we have succeeded in grasping these deep spiritual, abstract concepts. We may not try to guess our way through these sacred matters. If we plunge heedlessly into places where we do not belong, we will come to ruin.

Meat and Wine

The only way to undertake the study of Kabbalah is with the careful guidance of a pious, scholarly teacher who can accurately pass on the tradition transmitted by our Sages, in person. As we said, there are other criteria as well, and they are very exacting – it takes a great deal to be a suitable candidate for Kabbalah study. The potential student should not be too young, and he must be married. He should have highly refined middot, and live a life of piety and holiness. He must also be an exceptionally advanced Torah scholar with thorough, comprehensive knowledge of the revealed Torah.

The Rambam writes that “It is not proper to stroll in the ‘Orchard’ [of Kabbalistic knowledge], except for one whose stomach is filled with bread and meat. And ‘bread and meat’ is knowledge of [the revealed Torah, which teaches us] what is forbidden and permitted, and the like concerning the other commandments” (Hilchot Yesode HaTorah 4:13).

The Rambam’s choice of words is significant. We learn with our mind, not with our stomach. Why did he not say, “for one whose head is filled with Talmud and halachic rulings”?

Because if we learn only with our heads, keeping our Torah confined to the realm of the academic, we have missed the point. The Torah we learn must seep into our being – into our stomach, so to speak – affecting on us on a physical level as well. Torah which is purely intellectual, detached from practical obligations, will not help our middot and will not change us for the better as Jews and human beings. King David said, “And Your Torah is in my intestines” (Tehillim 40:9). For him, Torah was not merely an interesting exercise for the mind. He acted on his knowledge and it penetrated to his innermost being, making him the incomparable tzaddik that he was. It is only by immersing ourselves in study of the Revealed Torah that we can perfect our middot and subdue our lusts and desires, reaching the high spiritual standards required for the study of Kabbalah.

Rav Hayyim Vital elaborates on this topic. “One should not say, ‘I will go and engage in the wisdom of Kabbalah before engaging in Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud. For our Sages, of blessed memory, have already said that one should not enter the Orchard [of Kabbalah] unless he has filled his stomach with meat and wine.” Before we can even dream of Kabbalah, we must be full to the brim with Written and Oral Torah. He goes on to say, “He must toil in Torah, pshat, remez, derush, and sod,[3] as it says, ‘if he would grasp My stronghold’ (Yeshayahu 27:5). He should not think that the secrets of the Torah will be revealed to him while he is empty [of the Revealed Torah], as is written, ‘He gives wisdom to the wise’ (Daniel 2:21).” Hashem will only entrust the secrets of the Hidden Torah to one who has already acquired the deep wisdom of the Revealed Torah.

Even the Torah scholar who can legitimately undertake to study Kabbalah may not abandon the study of the Revealed Torah for even a single day – it should in fact remain the staple of his daily spiritual diet, so to speak. Rabbi Hayyim Vital writes that knowledge of Kabbalah must come through knowledge of the Revealed Torah. He relates that before his teacher, the Arizal, taught his students Kabbalah, he would first deliver an in-depth lecture lasting two hours on a Talmudic topic. This was not merely a minor preliminary. It was an intense, fiery, high-level shiur, during which the Arizal would present no less than seven original interpretations for every topic (Shaar HaMitzvot, Parashat V’e'thanan p.33a,b).

Sur Me’ra V’Aseh Tov, co-authored by Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh of Ziditchov and Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov (known as the Bne Yissachar), provides an additional important insight. When the Rambam warned that one should not study Kabbalah until “he has filled his stomach with meat and wine,” he was not speaking of a goal to be reached, after which the study of the Revealed Torah can then be set aside in favor of Kabbalah. A student of Kabbalah must replenish his supply of meat and wine on a regular daily basis. After restocking for the day with the study of Shas and poskim, he may continue on to a session of Kabbalah study. Even an advanced Torah scholar should not go overboard and spend the majority of the day on Kabbalah.

The Wisdom of the Wise

Rabbi Hayyim Vital cites the verse “He gives wisdom to the wise” (Daniel 2:21) as proof that only an advanced Torah scholar with extensive knowledge of the Revealed Torah can study Kabbalah. The wording of this verse raises a question. If it is the Al-mighty Who grants man wisdom, then how can He “give wisdom” to one who is already wise? Where did the wise man’s initial wisdom come from, if not from Hashem?

Some branches of wisdom can be acquired by dint of dedicated toil. We certainly can (and should) exert ourselves to learn Shas and poskim, the writings of the Early and Later Authorities, and more. Only if we obtain this knowledge through our own hard work, can we hope that Hashem will grant us the wisdom of Kabbalah. “He gives wisdom,” knowledge of Kabbalah, only “to the wise,” who have already labored to acquire the wisdom of the Revealed Torah.

Rabbi Yosef Irgas, author of the Kabbalistic work Shomer Emunim, cites Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak), one of the greatest Mekubalim and the Arizal’s teacher, concerning study of the Revealed Torah as a prerequisite for study of Kabbalah. The aspiring student of Kabbalah must be “one who has seen the light of pilpul”; he must know how to learn Torah in depth, with discussion, argument, and analysis (Ohr Ne’erav, Part 3, Chapter1 and Part 1, Chapter 6; Shomer Emunim, Vikuah Rishon, Ot Kaf-he).

Why is this so?

To answer this question, let us consider the first mishnah in Baba Kama, a tractate which deals with the laws of damages. It describes four main categories of damages (Avot Nezikin): those caused by an ox’s tooth, by an ox’s foot, by a pit, and by fire. These entities are concrete, familiar elements of our physical world, and we know what they are. But in order to begin to understand the Gemara, we need much more than the knowledge that an ox is a type of farm animal and that a pit is a hole in the ground. We need to be able to read the text properly, putting in the implied periods, commas, question marks and exclamation points as needed. Once we have the text and the terms, we can go on to Rashi, Tosfot, and other Early Authorities, working to understand what they say and the differences between their interpretations. After that we can start on the Maharsha and other Later Authorities, studying them carefully until we grasp what they are saying. Then we have the rulings of the major halachic authorities. What does each of them say, and how did they reach their decisions? What are the differences between all these opinions? Anyone who has worked through a piece of Gemara in a truly thorough, comprehensive manner knows just how difficult and demanding a job it is. And this is the “revealed” Torah, where we deal with familiar physical concepts!

Kabbalistic terminology is all a parable, written in code. We see the word “hand” or “foot,” but the hand and foot of Kabbalah have no relation to the entities we know by these names. They refer to different concepts entirely, and if we do not understand the code behind the parable, we cannot know anything at all about its meaning.

In addition, the various Kabbalistic terms discuss entities which have no existence in the physical world. They are abstract, spiritual forms, and we have no way of understanding them. How can we presume to grasp esoteric material, written in code, which treats pure abstracts which cannot be touched or felt or sensed? To cite just one example, can we define our own soul? What is it, and how does it look? Is it a kind of light, or is it perhaps a mist or a vapor? We honestly have no idea. If we are so ignorant about something which relates to our own essence, how can we expect to comprehend any of the other sublime Kabbalistic topics and concepts, let alone the Creator Himself?

And there is even more to it. Our Sages use the expression, “reveal one handbreadth and conceal one handbreadth.” The study of Kabbalah, Rav Hayyim Vital writes, “reveals one handbreadth and conceals ten thousand cubits.” Kabbalah is not spelled out for all comers. Our Sages tell us that the Torah’s secrets are only passed on “to one who is wise and understands on his own.” Even then, “he is taught only rashe perakim,” the main headings which will guide him in understanding the rest (see Hagigah 13a).

May the Al-mighty spare us from the follies of our times. “The secret of Hashem is for those who fear Him” (Tehillim 25:14). He reveals His secrets to the G-d-fearing (Metzudat David), not to ignorant, empty idlers. The sacred words of Kabbalah are not meant for the street corners where self-styled “Institutes for Kabbalistic Studies” may recklessly choose to fling them. “Wisdom is with the modest” (Mishle 11:2), “who conceal themselves due to their great humility” (Metzudat David). Only truly exceptional, saintly individuals, with highly refined middot, can even begin to think about studying Kabbalah.

Pull and Push

A young man once proudly announced to me that two-thirds of his learning day was devoted to Kabbalah. He was all of twenty-two years old! This certainly was vastly overdone, and I said so plainly: even two hours a week was probably too much for him. He was not happy with my response.

“But I feel pulled to it,” he protested.


“‘An animal is acquired by pulling,’” I told him. “Not Kabbalah.”

We may feel “pulled” to ice cream or falafel and decide to have some, but a pull to Kabbalah? That is not the way it works. A feeling of attraction for mystical topics, with all the accompanying honor and fanfare, does not mean that we are ready for them.

Our Sages tell us, “One who engages in Torah study for its own sake merits many things.” One of them is that “the secrets of the Torah are revealed to him” (Avot 6:1). The pious scholar who is indeed on the level to study Kabbalah will be granted Divine assistance. If he is truly meant to learn, Hashem will send him the right teacher, the right yeshivah, the right texts. Whatever he needs will fall into place and he will find the way, so that “the secrets of the Torah will be revealed to him.” As Rabbi Hayyim Vital writes, in every generation there are always a few exceptional Torah scholars who are granted knowledge of the Torah’s esoteric secrets through Divine inspiration, and who are taught by the Prophet Eliyahu.

If, on the other hand, an eager junior Kabbalist finds himself running after these elusive secrets, he probably is not meant to find them. There is no need to push and strain. One does not become a great Mekubal by attending dubious “Kabbalah classes” advertised in the local newspapers. If he is worthy, Hashem will send the Prophet Eliyahu to teach him. If he is not, his efforts will do him no good.


Do not regularly separate tithes by estimate.

To all these precautions we must add another. Even if we are on the proper level to study Kabbalah, we should not do so regularly. We find allusion to this in the verse, “If you have found honey, eat only what suffices for you, lest you be satiated and vomit it up” (Mishle 25:16). Honey should be consumed only in small quantities, as a restorative. If we overdo we will end up losing it all, even the little bit that would have done us good (Metzudat David). A spoonful of honey is delicious and refreshing. Ten spoons, let alone an entire jar, will make us sick.

This verse is explained as a reference to the study of Kabbalah. “If you found honey,” if you were taught the secrets of the Torah, “eat only what suffices for you.” We should benefit from this esoteric knowledge only in minute quantities, as a sweet addition to our main diet of Revealed Torah. We dare not spend all our time on Torat HaNistar (the Hidden Torah) at the expense of Shas and poskim, and all the other elements of service of Hashem. If we do not maintain the proper balance, we stand to lose everything, G-d forbid.

[1] See Insights into Pirke Avot 1:6, part 1 for a fuller discussion of this topic.

[2] See Insights into Pirke Avot 1:4 for a fuller discussion of this topic.

[3] Pshat: literal meaning of the text. Remez: proofs of explanations of Torah opinions based on allusions to Scriptural verses. Derush: explanations based and developed upon Scriptural verses and teachings of the Sages. Sod: esoteric interpretations of Torah unrelated to literal meaning.

This essay contains divre Torah. Please treat it with proper respect.


Rabbi Yaakov Hillel

Rosh Yeshiva

Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom



Torah on the spot for people on the go

Rabbi Meyer Chaim Brickman, Brooklyn NY 

Friday Tevet 10, 5771/ December 17, 2010


Today, the 10th day of the Hebrew month Tevet, is a fast day.  Normally, we do not fast on Friday, in honor of Shabbat.  The 10th of Tevet is the only time we fast on a Friday.


There are six fast days in the year: Tzom Gedaliah – Fast of Gedaliah (3rd of Tishrei); Yom Kippur (10th of Tishrei); Asara B’Tevet (10th of Tevet); Ta’anit Esther – Fast of Esther (13th of Adar); Shiva Asar B’Tammuz (17th of Tammuz); and Tisha B’Av (9th of Av). 


The fasts of Tzom Gedaliah, Asara B’Tevet, Shiva Asar B’Tamuz and Tisha B’Av are mentioned in the Prophets and are associated with the destruction of the First Temple.


Q.   Why do we fast on the 10th of Tevet?

A.   On the 10th of Tevet in the year 3336 (-425), Nebuchadnezar, king of Babylon, began his siege of Jerusalem.  It ended in the year 3338 (-423), with the destruction of the First Beth Hamikdash (Holy Temple) and the exile of Jews from Israel to Babylon. 


Though Nebuchadnezar’s mighty army laid siege to Jerusalem, the small Jewish army within its walls inflicted heavy loses on their Babylonian attackers.  Despite starvation in the city, they fought bravely for two and a half years.  Finally, on the 17th of Tammuz, Nebuchadnezar’s army breached the walls of Jerusalem.  Three weeks later, on the 9th of Av, they set fire to the Holy Temple. 


The holy Temple was built by King Solomon four hundred and forty years after the people of Israel entered into the land of Israel.  The First Temple stood for 410 years until it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezar.   Today’s fast observes the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple.


Q.    Why should we remember a tragic event which took place two thousand five hundred years ago?

A.   The Code of Jewish Law states: “The purpose of the fast is to stir our hearts to repentance and to remind us of our own misdeeds, as well as those of our ancestors, which brought upon them, as well as upon us, all these troubles.  Remembering these events encourages us to improve our ways.”   


There is a happy note to the fast; The Prophet Zechariah tells us that the 10th of Tevet, as well as all the other fast days connected to the destruction of the Holy Temple, will be suspended when Moshiach comes and will, in fact, become days of happiness, rejoicing and festivity (Zechariah 8).  May it be speedily in our days.  Amen.


As in all other fast days, we read from the Torah in the morning (Shacharit) and afternoon (Mincha) services.   It is customary to distribute more charity on a fast day.


With the reading of this week’s Parasha, Vayechi, we conclude the Book of Breishit (Genesis).  Breishit begins with the story of creation and ends with the final chapter in the life of Yaakov, after which began the exile and enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt.




Perek Alef, Mishnah Tet-vav (Part 3)

1:15 Shammai says, make your Torah study fixed, say little and do much, and greet every person with a cheerful face.

Silent and Safe

Shammai says, make your Torah study fixed, say little and do much.

What is the connection between these two pieces of advice offered in our mishnah?


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Our Sages tell us that “thoughts are harmful, even for Torah study” (Sanhedrin 26b). Rashi explains that our ambitious thoughts about how many tractates we plan to study actually hinder the outcome we seek to achieve. If this is true of private thoughts, it is all the more true of speech. We should never make announcements like, “Today I’m going to learn for six hours straight” or “This week I’m going to cover five full pages of Gemara.” Forget grandiose statements; even grandiose thoughts arouse the negative attention of the Forces of Evil, and then we are in trouble. So we think we want to study Torah… the evil inclination knows all about our plans, and will do his best to stop us. He will fabricate disturbances and interruptions and distractions without end, anything to make sure we do not fulfill our fine plans. Quiet, discreet ideas and plans are blessed; overly ambitious, highly publicized bravado is not.

If we truly want to study Torah, the most helpful thing we can do is keep quiet. If we announce our plans, we are just asking for them to be thwarted. This is why Shammai says, say little and do much. Less talk will lead to more action, because silence is a safeguard against unwanted interference. If we say little we can do much, while excessive chatter will only cause us to do much less…

Speech and Thought

We find a corresponding concept in Avot D’Rabbi Natan: “Two who sit and engage in Torah, their reward is received in Heaven, as it says, ‘Then those who fear Hashem spoke to one another, and Hashem listened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear Hashem and those who give thought to His Name’ (Malachi 3:16). Who are ‘those who fear Hashem’? Those who declare, ‘let us go free prisoners and redeem captives,’ and the Holy One, blessed be He, helps them go and carry out their plans immediately. And who are ‘those who give thought to His Name?’ Those who think in their hearts and say, ‘let us go and free prisoners and redeem captives.’ The Holy One, blessed be He, does not allow them to carry out their plans, and an angel comes and knocks them to the ground [preventing them from fulfilling their intentions]” (Avot D’Rabbi Natan 8:5).

What is the difference between “those who fear Hashem” and “those who give thought to His Name?” Their good intentions appear to be identical. Why are the former granted Divine assistance, while the latter are dashed to the ground?

We can answer this question by studying the Avot D’Rabbi Natan’s interpretation of the verse in Malachi. The words “those who fear Hashem” refer to “two who sit and engage in Torah.” They are tzaddikim whose involvement in Torah study has elevated them to a high spiritual level. Their trust in Hashem is so complete and so implicit that they do not hesitate to discuss their good intentions openly, certain that He will help them. When they “speak to one another,” their words make an impact in Heaven, and they are granted Divine assistance in bringing their plans to fruition.

“Those who give thought to His Name,” on the other hand, are on a lower spiritual level. Their lack of trust in Hashem generates a lack of confidence, so that they are unable to express their good intentions in words. Unspoken, their plans never go beyond the realm of thought, and as a result, they do not merit Hashem’s help.

Our Sages’ words in Avot D’Rabbi Natan appear to contradict their teaching in Sanhedrin that one should avoid publicizing plans for Torah study. However, in Sanhedrin, they specifically say that “thoughts are harmful even for Torah study”; they do not mention mitzvot. Clearly, in this respect there is a difference between making plans to study Torah, and making plans to do a mitzvah.

If we publicly announce our intentions to study a certain amount of Torah, we risk arousing the attention of the evil inclination and the Forces of Evil. They will oppose our efforts with all their might, doing anything to prevent us from carrying out our plans to learn. But if we intend to do an important mitzvah, relying on the merit of our Torah study to help us fulfill it, we should not let our mitzvah remain only in the realm of thought. We should speak about it, as the first step to acting on it.

Plan of Action

There are those who spend almost their entire lives making plans, continually seeking new strategies for success in Torah study and service of Hashem. They mean well but accomplish very little, because they never stick to one definite system. There is always another attractive program out there, in the latest mussar work they have studied or the latest lecture they have attended. It sounds good and it might well work, so rather impulsively, they immediately switch tracks. For example, perhaps their Torah learning time is at present devoted to in-depth study (iyun). Then they hear or read that it is important to cover ground, gaining familiarity with a large quantities of material (bekiyut). They promptly drop the iyun and switch to bekiyut. But even the bekiyut does not last long, because someone later tells them that it is really more important to study halachah – until the next idea comes along. Such people are always involved in grand plans, with very little to show for them. This is why Shammai tells us, say little and do much. Don’t plan – do. A study program undertaken and actually implemented will bring good results. Theoretical discussion of what we would like to do will not.

Many of us have a tendency to talk quite freely. We cheerfully make commitments and take on obligations, and do not follow through. There is an element of dishonesty here: we announced our plans to others and did not keep our word. We even received undeserved honor and credit for what we did not actually do. We would have done better not to have spoken at all. Shammai advises us to shift our emphasis. We should say considerably less, and do considerably more. It is better to promise little and deliver, perhaps even exceeding our pledge, than to promise the world and do next to nothing. What is more, the very fact of saying less will help us succeed in doing more.

Right and Left

Say little and do much

Shammai’s words are excellent advice for those who are eager to grow in wisdom.

One who realizes that he is lacking will seek to fill his lack; the wise always view their accomplishments as inadequate, and try to learn more and understand more. We find allusion to this in the verse, “The heart of the wise man is to his right, and the heart of a fool is to his left’ (Kohelet 10:2). Obviously, this verse cannot be literally understood, as everyone’s heart is positioned in the same place. However, we can explain it as a reference to our approach to Torah study. Hebrew books are read from right to left. The wise man looks to the right, back at what he has already studied. Rather than rushing ahead to the left-hand side before he truly understands the earlier material, he goes back to the right, realizing that he must continue to study and review in order to achieve fuller, deeper comprehension.

The wise man knows that the Torah is endlessly vast. Our Sages teach that “Everything has defined boundaries… except for one thing. What is [this unlimited entity]? It is Torah, as it says, “Its measure is longer than the earth’ (Bereshit Rabbah 10:1, citing Iyov 11:9). This realization is his incentive to further study and review, resulting in enriched, expanded knowledge.

The fool, on the other hand, looks impatiently to the left, to the next page, the next chapter, the end of the book. He is convinced that his quick perusal will suffice for full retention and comprehension, so he never bothers to go back to clarify and review. So certain is he that he knows all, that he remains a fool.

It is against this tendency that the Tanna warns us with the words say little and do much. We should always consider our accomplishments to be few and little. A realistic assessment of what we still lack will prod us to do much more, because we understand that we cannot afford to sit back and relax – we still have very much left to do!

Learning How

Make your Torah study fixed, say little and do much.

Our Sages teach us that “The purpose of Torah is repentance and good deeds. One who has studied Scripture and Mishnah should not kick out at his father and his mother and his teacher, and at one who is greater than him in wisdom and years, as it says, ‘The beginning of wisdom is fear of Hashem, good understanding to all who fulfill them’” (Berachot 17a).

This is what the Tanna teaches us: say little and do much. Action – good deeds – should be the stronger element, as we learn from a later mishnah in Avot: “One whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom endures. And one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom does not endure” (Avot 3:9). Rabbenu Yonah explains why this is so.

Let us say that we are eager to fulfill Hashem’s mitzvot. We do whatever we can and whatever we know, working to translate our knowledge into the best possible practice we can achieve. Our enthusiasm for deeds pushes us to acquire more and more wisdom – we learn Torah because we want to be able to fulfill the mitzvot properly. At this point, our deeds may well exceed our wisdom, but we keep learning more and more, because we want to do more, and do it better. This goes even further; we do not limit our fulfillment of mitzvot to those which we have studied in depth. We fulfill any mitzvah we know about, even if we do not yet have comprehensive knowledge of the topic. The more we do, the more we want to learn, and as a result, we grow in both directions. With such an attitude we are sure to keep learning and keep doing. The wisdom we acquire in this pursuit will stay with us, because everything we study is transformed into action.

But what if our attitude is somewhat different? We know quite a bit, but do not feel impelled to act on all our accumulated knowledge. We may even begin to pick and choose, deciding which mitzvot are “important,” and which are not, G-d forbid. Our deeds do not match up to our level of wisdom, so why should we bother to acquire still more learning that we do not use in any case? Lacking both the impetus of practical application and the satisfaction of enhancing our fulfillment of mitzvot as we learn more, our learning will gradually lag behind, and finally fade away. We begin to feel that we don’t need any more than what we already have, and that even that is more than enough.

Shammai warns us against falling into this rut, and gives us, at the same time, excellent advice about how to grow in Torah. Say little and do much, he tells us; make sure that your performance outdoes your knowledge. The push to do will in turn provide the push to learn, so that we will indeed make our Torah study fixed.

Time to Talk

Say little and do much

Shammai teaches us to say little and do much. Talk about trivial or material matters should be reduced to a minimum, freeing us to do much by concentrating on Torah study and service of Hashem.

We can gain valuable insight into the need to control our speech from Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. Our Sages tell us that at first, Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai said that had he been present at Mt. Sinai, he would have asked the Al-mighty to create man with two mouths, one for words of Torah, and the other for mundane matters. He later changed his mind, saying, “As it is now, when man has only one mouth, the world is on the verge of destruction because of all his forbidden gossip. If he had two mouths, how much worse it would have been” (Jerusalem Talmud Berachot 8a).

Hashem in His great wisdom gave us one mouth. If that mouth is busily engaged in talking nonsense, it is obviously unavailable for its true purpose – speaking words of Torah. This is why Shammai tells us, say little and do much. The less time we spend on futile or foolish talk, the more opportunity we will have to achieve: our precious time will be free for Torah study and mitzvot.

Our Sages cite the verse, “‘Is there indeed silence when you should be speaking of righteousness?’ (Tehillim 58:2). What should be man’s vocation in this world? He should make himself [silent,] as if mute. [Does this apply] also to words of Torah? The verse continues, ‘you should be speaking of righteousness’” (Hullin 89a). When it comes to aimless, pointless chatter, we should be as if mute. For words of Torah, our tongue should speak freely and fluently.

Clearly, the Sages were not warning us against outright forbidden speech, such as slander and vulgarity – that is not something to curtail, but to eliminate altogether. They are telling us that even “harmless” idle or mundane talk should be kept to a minimum. We find this idea in the prayer composed by the Hidda for Tashlich, which requests that “the bulk of our speech should be devoted to Your service and Torah study.”

This does not mean, for example, that it is forbidden for a husband to compliment his wife on the dinner she prepared; it is appropriate for him to express interest and appreciation of her efforts on behalf of their family and their home. However, topics of this nature should not be elevated to a place of primary importance, and granted an excess of our valuable time.

The Hidda gives a very vivid description of certain people’s overpowering interest in food: their days, their thoughts and their conversations revolve around the daily menu. What to eat today, tomorrow, and the next day are the topic of intensive discussion and dispute with their families, alive with all the fire of a high-level Talmudic debate.

He points out that the need to eat is one of the three functions man has in common with animals. Does it really deserve so much of our time, energy, and mental capacities? We would do better to invest our efforts in upgrading our daat, the G-d-given intelligence we share not with animals, but with angels, relegating the needs of our stomach to the humble position they deserve (Avodat HaKodesh, Tziporen Shamir 3:45).

Even One…

We can understand the words of the mishnah somewhat differently as well, in relation to Torah study. We should say little and do much, because even a little learning can result in much positive doing. Learning just one halachah can motivate us in countless different ways, and a single concept in mussar can translate into a variety of situations. A little Torah is much more powerful than we may realize.

We should not underestimate the importance of every last bit of Torah, even for a great Torah scholar. Rav Shach, of blessed memory, the Rosh Yeshivah of Ponevizh, led the Jewish people with Torah for some eighty-five years. In the course of these decades he produced thousands of first-rate students, gave countless shiurim, and wrote important works of Torah. In his ethical will, read at his funeral, he asked that those of his students who had derived any benefit from him, whether in Torah, fear of Heaven, or middot, should do hesed with him and study Torah for the merit of his soul.

How much Torah did he ask that they study for him? Not very much – “even one mishnah or one mussar thought.”

One mishnah? That was the gadol hador’s final request? Didn’t Rav Shach’s saintly soul have enough merits without being helped along by the “one mussar thought” of a long-ago Ponevizher? Why did he ask for these things? It seems so small, so inadequate.

He asked for them because he truly appreciated the great value of every particle of Torah, and understood the profound meaning of our Sages’ advice to say little and do much. Say refers to learning. Every little word of Torah will have great impact on our lives, affecting everything we do and bringing light into our lives. This is true, in Rav Shach’s remarkable words, of “even one mishnah or one mussar thought.”


Shammai said…. greet every person with a cheerful face.

Following an unfortunate fad, some attempt to attribute characteristics and personality traits to the Sages based on sayings, incidents and halachic rulings recorded in the Talmud. As a result, Shammai is often viewed as a harsh, unbending person, with little patience for others. Our mishnah, which summarizes the basic principals of Shammai’s teachings, proves this perception wrong. If Shammai taught others to greet every person with a cheerful face, he clearly fulfilled his own instructions in the finest possible manner. The Gemara does recount instances where Shammai appeared to be short-tempered with those who questioned him, but these stories require careful study, as do all the words of our Sages (see Shabbat 31a). Apparently, Shammai felt that his questioners were not serious and sincere, and that their intention was to challenge the teachings of the Torah. As such, he answered them in kind. In any other instance, his policy was to greet every person with a cheerful face.

Good Reception

Shammai says, make your Torah study fixed, say little and do much, and greet every person with a cheerful face.

The three parts of our mishnah are in fact a single unit. It begins with an important fundamental principle: make your Torah study fixed. We will be able to accomplish this if we say little and do much, avoiding unnecessary speech unrelated to Torah. However, we should not imagine that since we are busy with Torah study, we are exempt from the basic obligation to do hesed with others and treat them pleasantly, with dignity and respect. This is why the mishnah concludes with the words greet every person with a cheerful face.

We can understand this by picturing a serious young man who has internalized all the important lessons of this mishnah. He has made his Torah study fixed, as immovable as a boulder, and tries his best to do much. While he learns day and night, he is careful to say as little as possible, thereby warding off the intrigues of the evil inclination. He is going strong, and it’s going great. Then a friend approaches him with an innocent “Hello, how are you doing? Do you have a minute?”

All of a sudden, he turns into ice. He barely looks up, mumbling, “Can’t you see I’m learning now? Don’t bother me. I have no time for you.”

Unfortunately, he has forgotten the crucial concluding teaching of Shammai’s mishnah: and greet every person with a cheerful face. Up to a point, he is right. We should do many mitzvot and do them well, and study Torah continuously, doing that well too, concentrating on good deeds rather than on fine talk. But our obligations do not end there. We must also treat our fellow men properly, according them the help and attention they need. We should not growl at others because we are afraid they will disturb our hard-won piety. Instead, we must refine our character traits to the level where we greet every person with a cheerful face. This does not mean that we should engage in never-ending conversation in order to be gracious; it does mean that we must always extend a warm – albeit brief – greeting, even if we happen to be in the middle of learning.

The Hebrew word mekabel, greet, literally means receive, and its use here tells us something about how we should greet, or receive people. Our obligation to greet every person with a cheerful face does not end with a hurried wave on the corner as we wait for the light to change. We should be prepared to receive our fellow man in our home and accommodate him or help him as needed, even if it means sacrificing some time for him and his problems.

But how does this fit in with Shammai’s instructions concerning Torah study? How can we study Torah day and night if we are busy greeting and receiving all comers, expending precious minutes on patient, cheerful talk?

We must learn to put things in their proper place. We mentioned our Sages’ teaching that “the purpose of Torah is repentance and good deeds” (Berachot 17a). We learn Torah in order to become better people, not to become unpleasant and obnoxious! Treating others decently – with a cheerful face – is a major factor. If we are not learning at a given moment, we should be cordial and helpful to those who need us. Perhaps we need not abandon our learning every time someone wants to chat, just because it’s important to be nice. And yet, there is a right and a wrong way to do everything. We can make a friend feel foolish for trying to speak to us, and we can make him feel that we’re looking forward to a good talk, as soon as we’re available. Speaking from personal experience, it is devastating to be brushed off because we are interrupting, and it need not be that way. It is certainly possible to be gentle and polite, giving the other party a positive feeling while postponing the conversation.

This is a point very much worth bearing in mind. Many well-meaning people, often new to Torah study and observance, do not understand how to combine dedication to Torah study and proper relationships with others. To say the very least, our Sages were well aware that Torah is life, and understood the value of every moment of Torah study. And yet, they instruct us to greet every person with a cheerful face, even it takes a few minutes of our time, and to “be the first to greet every person” (Avot 4:15). What is more, they even discuss circumstances under which it would be permitted to interrupt recitation of Keriat Shema, the most important of all prayers, which affirms our belief in Hashem as the one G-d, in order to greet or acknowledge others (Berachot 11a).

Time taken away from Torah study to do hesed is not lost. It will be restored to us, and Hashem will grant us extra success in our learning. We find an allusion to this in our Sages’ teaching, “One who completes the weekly parashah which will be read by the community on the upcoming Shabbat, his days and years are lengthened” (Berachot 8b). “Completing the weekly parashah” means reading each verse twice in Hebrew and then once again in the Aramaic Targum.

Why does one who completes the weekly Torah readings with the community merit having his days and years lengthened?

These words are addressed to Torah scholars who are involved in other, more profound Torah studies. Reading the entire parashah three times, twice in Hebrew and once in Aramaic translation, is a time-consuming task. They may find it difficult to sacrifice the time from their in-depth studies to simply read and translate all these verses. This is why the Sages reassure them that their time is not being wasted: they will be granted long days and long years in the merit of this study.

The wording of the blessing for “long days and long years” is not merely a poetic repetition; it refers to different aspects of our lives. “Long years” is our life span – the number of years we will be granted in this world. “Long days” relates to the way we utilize any given day. A day used in full, taking advantage of the opportunities every new hour brings, is long and blessed. A day wasted on idle futility is empty and short. The Ben Ish Hai explains that the long life referred to here by our Sages is qualitative, as well as quantitative. Our days will be lengthened in that we will be able to utilize our time to the fullest, deriving the most out of the years of life the Al-mighty has allotted for us (Benayahu ben Yehoyada, Berachot 47a).

Meticulous fulfillment of the Al-might’s commandments enhances His honor in this world. When a commandment appears to be an unnecessary burden – as in the case of reading of the weekly parashah, not just once but three times – and we are careful to fulfill it nonetheless, we will be doubly blessed. The same is true of being kind to others, even if it will cost us a few valuable minutes of learning. We will be granted long days and long years, which will compensate for any time we gave up to greet every person with a cheerful face.

Him Too

Shammai says, make your Torah study fixed, say little and do much, and greet every person with a cheerful face.

Our Sages teach us that that “derech eretz precedes Torah” (Vayikra Rabbah 9:3). Derech eretz in this context means good middot, the essential prerequisite which enables us to serve as a suitable receptacle for Torah (see Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv HaTorah, Chapter 8). In this mishnah, Shammai first instructs us to make our Torah study fixed, and then goes on to tell us how: with good middot, as implied by the words greet every person with a cheerful face.

Why does the mishnah specify that we should greet every person with a cheerful face? Why not say simply, “greet people with a cheerful face”? Because of human nature. There are some people whom we are happier to greet than others, and some whom we would really rather not address at all…

Imagine that we are lucky enough to be present when a prominent, distinguished rabbi enters the room. We nearly cause a stampede in our hurry to greet him, speak to him, get close to him, help him, hopefully spend time with him. We do anything we can and we savor every minute, basking in the knowledge that along with all the other benefits, we have fulfilled Shammai’s dictum to greet every person with a cheerful face.

We should certainly honor Torah scholars and seek out their company, and it is a mitzvah to do so. But let us carry the scenario a bit further. Later on when the excitement quiets down, a poor, unknown visitor wanders in, looking rather lost and ill at ease. This is the time for all true spiritual disciples of Shammai to spring to their feet with a nice shalom alechem, accompanied by offers of assistance or directions, and perhaps a drink from the cooler or coffee machine. Yet how many of us will bother to glance his way or even waste a nod on him? This may be our instinctive reaction, but it is not right. We must learn to greet every person with a cheerful face, the insignificant and unimportant included. They surely need our smile and kind words even more. Every Jew is created in the image of G-d and as such, deserves honor and respect.


Our Sages give us further instructions about how to properly receive those around us, telling us to “be the first to greet every person” (Avot 4:15). The Bartenura adds, “even an idol worshipper in the market.” Here too, our Sages teach us not to restrict our good manners exclusively to the upper crust.

We should be the first to say shalom in any encounter, not waiting for the other party to make the initial move. This is not always easy, because there might possibly be people around whom we do not especially like, or with whom we are angry. Forget about saying hello first – we do not want to see them at all! So we look carefully away, suddenly absorbed in the sidewalk or the elevator bank. This behavior is wrong. We should make the effort to say hello, not waiting for “them” to break the ice. This simple courtesy should be extended to non-Jews as well, in order to maintain cordial, peaceful relationships with the society around us.

Not only that, we should even learn to be gracious to our enemies. Rather than fanning the flames of an argument, we should try to treat an enemy pleasantly. King Shlomo tells us, “As water reflects the face looking into it, the heart of a man reflects that of his fellow man”(Mishle 27:19). Our friendly behavior will strike a chord, and he will respond with friendship as well.

The Zohar does mention an exception to this principle: “There is no shalom, said Hashem to the wicked” (Yeshayahu 48:22). The word shalom means peace, and it is used as a greeting. It is also one of the Names of Hashem, and as such, we should not use it to greet the wicked or those who do not obey Hashem’s Torah. They can be appropriately greeted with such phrases as good morning, good afternoon, good evening, how do you do, or any other polite salutation. Shalom should be reserved for the righteous (Zohar, vol. I, p.71b).

I know of a certain rabbi who put this principle into practice when speaking to his sister, who unfortunately was not observant. He did not want to offend her, but he did not want to say shalom, so he would greet her with a friendly shalon. The Sefer Hassidim (51) cautions us that we may not deceive a non-Jew by saying something which sounds like a greeting but is actually a curse, or even just not really a greeting. To do so is genevat daat, forbidden deception. We should not use Hashem’s sacred Name to greet the wicked, but there is no shortage of legitimate alternatives.

In this mishnah, Shammai speaks of establishing Torah as a fixed part of our daily routine. As we see, his advice to say little and do much can also be explained as related to enhancing Torah study. The words greet every person with a cheerful face obviously refer to our relationships with others, but in a deeper sense, they too relate to Torah study. We need considerable merit to become a fitting vessel for Hashem’s holy Torah. Treating others properly, important in and of itself, will help make us worthy of receiving the Torah.

This essay contains divre Torah. Please treat it with proper respect.


Rabbi Yaakov Hillel

Rosh Yeshiva

Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom


  T O R A H  F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go

Friday Kislev 19, 5771/ November 26, 2010


This week’s Parasha, Vayeishev, describes the special relationship that Yaakov had with his son Joseph.  The Torah says, “Israel [Yaakov] loved Joseph more than all his children because he was the son born to him in his old age; and he made him a coat of many colors.” 


Yaakov’s special relationship with Joseph caused jealousy and rift between the brothers and Joseph.


We read in the Parasha about Joseph’s dreams which he told his brothers, for which they hated him even more.


In the first dream, he and his brothers were out in the field binding sheaves when his brothers’ sheaves bowed down to his.  In the second dream, the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed to him.  The eleven stars refer to his eleven brothers, further increasing their jealousy and hatred for him.


Later, when Yaakov sends Joseph out to the field to check on his brothers, they sell him to a caravan of merchants and Joseph ends up in Egypt where he is sold as a slave to Potifar.  When Joseph refuses the advances of Potifar’s wife, he is imprisoned. 


At the end of the Parasha, Joseph properly interprets the dreams of the king’s butler and baker who were also in prison.  In next week’s Parasha, Mikeitz, Joseph is summoned to interpret King Pharaoh’s dream, as a result of which Pharaoh appoints him ruler over Egypt.


For all these years, Yaakov thought that Joseph was devoured by a wild animal and he mourned after all these years.  Only later did Yaakov come to Egypt where he was re-united with Joseph.


Q.   How many years were Yaakov and Joseph separated?

A.   Yaakov didn’t see Joseph for 22 years.  He was sold at when he was 17 and reunited with Yaakov at 39.


Q.   What did Yaakov do to deserve such harsh punishment for 22 years?

A.   It was measure for measure for the 22 years which Yaakov was away from his parents.  He spent 20 years with his father-in-law and two more years on the road returning home.  For those 22 years that he was away, his son Joseph was away from him.


Although it may have been a punishment, yet, Joseph’s ending up in Egypt was ordained by Divine Providence to benefit Yaakov and his family.  G-d told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land.  By Joseph being the ruler of Egypt it made Yaakov’s transition to Egypt much easier.


Q.   What do we learn from this story?

A.   The Talmud emphasizes that the story of this Parasha, concerning the jealousy between the brothers and Joseph and the consequences which resulted, is an important lesson for parents not to favor one child over another.


Candle lighting New York area 4:13


Parasha by: Rabbi Shmuel Ani – The Sarah Dabah School

Divine Supervision – “Hashgacha Peratit”

Whatever happens in this world is planned and controlled by Hashem. People often question “Why, if Hashem controls everything, do bad things happen?”

Often, we can’t perceive the reason for certain events; however, this doesn’t mean that there is no explanation. What we lack is the ability to see events in total perspective from the vantage point of hindsight.

What might seem tragic today might prove to be a blessing tomorrow. Life is like a puzzle with all the pieces scattered about, and we seem unable to fit them together into a logical form.

However, Hashem designed the puzzle and it is He who will eventually link together all the pieces into a perfectly comprehensible whole.

The truth of this can be seen from Yoseph’s story. While the ups-and-downs of his life seemed hard to explain at the time, they eventually led to his ascent in Egypt, which in turn lead to B’nai Yisroel’s immigration to Egypt where they were able to stay alive amidst the famine.

The Divine Hand had been in command of the situation throughout, and His Divine plan became clear in retrospect.

So also in our lives Hashem is in command of the situation throughout, and His Divine plan will become clear to us later on.

Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Shmuel Ani        


Question - “Vayishlach Yaakov Malachim”. Rashi explains this at its simple interpretation, that Yaakov sent Malachim (angels) to his brother Esav. Why is it necessary to send real angels to meet Esav, Wouldn’t regular people have been sufficient?

Answer - In many ways we see that Yaakov was trying his hardest to beg Hashem to protect him. And to make Esav stop hating him. Much of what he did was trying to accomplish one of these 2 goals.Some explain that he actually sent 2 sets of messengers – one set was regular people to meet Esav and another was angels to plead before Hashem. So the Passuk has a dual meaning. And Yaakov sent Malachim in front of him to Esav his brother. He was sending regular people to Esav his brother, and he sent angels “in front of him”- meaning to plead before Hashem.


Parasha by: Rabbi Danny Tawil – Madison Torah Center

As the brothers of Yoseph were deeply troubled by his behavior and felt very threatened by what they thought were his aspirations to dominate over them, they ruled in favor of killing him. It is apparent in a later episode that Reuben disagreed and voiced his objection, but was unsuccessful in convincing them that they had misjudged their brother. He did however come up with a plan in which he would save Yoseph without their knowledge, by convincing them to throw him in a pit rather then killing him directly. His intentions were, as the Torah testifies, that he would later return to the pit and rescue Yoseph after his brothers had left the scene. To his shock and dismay when he did return to the pit Yoseph was no longer there, as the brothers decided to sell him as a slave instead.

Our sages make a startling comment that had Reuben been aware that the Torah would publicize his role in this affair, he would have had the courage to pick up Yoseph on his shoulders and carry him back to Hebron despite the will of his brothers. Superficially this statement seems quite inappropriate to suggest that a man of such great stature would act differently for the sake of the fame it would accord him. Moreover, if that was the intention of our rabbis with this remark it would serve no purpose, as there is no positive lesson to be drawn from this.

Perhaps we can offer the following explanation. We are all truly concerned with our reputation not for the sake of fame but for the sake of accuracy (at least what we believe to be accurate) By nature, we believe our over-all character is positive and healthy, and the faults we may have are dismissed as common “bumps” but by no means define who we really are. Whenever we find ourselves in the “spotlight” we become extra vigilant in our behavior because due to the attention given, it becomes a defining moment, and we want to make sure we are viewed favorably. A simple example of this would be how very often we go about our day without smiling even if we’re doing OK and certainly not if we are in a gloomy mood, and yet as soon as there is a camera pointed at us our long drawn faces turn bright and happy. We smile for the camera because we realize that this particular moment will be frozen in time forever, and we therefor want to look our best. Without the camera however we’re not so concerned with our behavior, for just as much as that opportunity came and went another one will come along as well.

Had Reuben recognized that the essence of his character was being determined at this moment for the rest of history he would have gathered up the courage and acted according to what he knew was the truth – because that was the truth!

In reality, every moment in life presents us with another opportunity to shape our character. There is no such thing as an opportunity which was just simply lost, rather an indelible mark remains behind. At all times wherever we are whether we are in the company of others or not, and all the more so in the presence of our children and peers, the way we act molds and shapes who we want to be and how we want to be remembered. Our cheerfulness, courtesy, dignity and respect are constantly adding to the big picture. its important that we stay focused on this point and always smile for the camera!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Danny Tawil  – Madison Torah Center


T O R A H  F A X ®

Torah on the spot for people on the go

Friday Kislev 5, 5770/November 11, 2010

 In this week’s Parasha, Vayeitzei, the Torah relates the following episode which took place with our forefather Yaakov (Jacob).


On his way to Charan, Yaakov prays that G-d should watch and protect him.  Knowing that his uncle, Lavan, is a liar and cheater he is scared of the unknown. 


G-d appears to him in a dream and says, “I am the G-d of Abraham and Isaac, I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants will be as many as the dust of the earth; and you will spread out to the west, to the east, to the north and to the south.  All the families of the earth will be blessed by you and your descendants.  I am with you and I will guard you wherever you go.  I will bring you back to this land, for I will not abandon you until I have carried out what I have spoken to you.”


When Yaakov woke up he made the following vow, “If G-d will be with me and he will guard me on this route in which I am going; and He will give me bread to eat and garments to wear; and I will return in peace to my father’s house; and G-d will be my G-d; This stone which I have placed as a monument will be a house of G-d and I will give tithes for you (10% to charity) from everything which You give to me.”


Indeed, on this very place where Yaakov slept that night and placed the monument is where the Holy Temple was built many years later.


Q.   Why does Yaakov specify in his prayer, “bread to eat and garments to wear”?  Wouldn’t it be enough if he asked for bread and garments, without specifying “to eat” and “to wear?”   What else would he do with bread if not to eat; and garments, if not to wear?

A.     There is a very profound lesson in this for everyone.  Sometimes we tend to forget the purpose of our work.  Too many people too many times become so involved in their work and business day and night to the point that instead of eating the bread, the bread eats them!  Instead of clothing to wear, the clothing business or the expensive designer clothing, wears them down!  Many people become so consumed in their business chasing after money and more money even at the expense of family and health.


Until now Yaakov was immersed in the study of Torah.  Now that he was on his way to build a home, a family and financial success, Yaakov was worried that he may be completely consumed with his physical welfare at the expense of forgetting the spiritual purpose of it all.


So he prayed that G-d give him, “bread to eat and garments to wear.”  That he should have whatever he needs and be successful in his work, but always remember that they are a means to an end – a spiritual purpose. 


He asked for bread to eat and not be eaten by it; for clothing to wear and not that his financial success will wear him down.   The lesson of it is obvious, especially in today’s hustle bustle business world.


New York area candle lighting time: 4:23









Dedicated in Memory of:

Fred Assoulin A”H – Yehoshua Ben Bahiyeh

Sherry Assoulin A”H – Shulamit Bat Zarifeh

 Parasha by: Rabbi Danny Tawil – Madison Torah Center

It is certainly a point of interest to note how in regards to the names given to the Shevatim, Yaakov, for the most part, is not involved. What’s more perplexing, is that the choice of names given by Leah, refer specifically to her personal relationship with her husband. It would seem almost ridiculous for any woman to choose a name (that will stick with her child for his entire life) that reflects such an intimate matter, let alone Leah Imenu assigning names to the children of Israel that will be used for thousands of years!

Rav Chaim Friedlander A”H explains, that the names of the Shevatim were given not as an expression of Leah’s relationship with Yaakov but out of a recognition of the benevolence of G-D. Leah wanted to impress upon herself an appreciation for everything Hashem had done for her, including all the difficult progressive steps that led her to her goal. She therefore chose names that would serve as a reminder to her, every time she would call her children by their name, to be grateful for all that Hashem had done for her every step of the way.

After 7 years of marriage, Rahel Imenu was blessed with her first child, and eventually expressed her feelings, “G-D has taken away my disgrace”. It might have seemed unnecessary to comment on what painful feelings she was referring to, yet the commentators offer different explanations. (apparently the word “herpa” used here carries a heavier connotation) according to some, Rahel was beginning to feel that people viewed her position in the marriage, as a woman whose role was for disrespectful purposes, or that she was considered to be cursed. Rashi quotes a Midrash stating that people were talking about her saying that Yaakov was going to divorce her and she would end up in the hands of Esav. It’s very likely that all the above mentioned feelings were true, in addition to the simple shame that she bore for not having children while her sister had many. However, Rashi then cites another explanation from the Midrash which is a bit hard to swallow. So long as a married woman does not have a child, if any mishap happens in the home there is no one to lay the blame on, but now that she has a child, if indeed the husband is curious as to what happened to all the fruit or who broke the dish – she can use the child to cover up! Hence Rahel expressed her relief that with her newborn child, she now had the means to avoid such disgrace. Now aside from that which we all understand -that Rahel Imenu isn’t stealing cookies from the cookie jar, and if she did break a plate, she’s not looking to throw the blame on someone else, but how is it possible to imagine that this would be her reaction to having a child after being barren for 7 years?

The cute point of the Midrash is indeed a reality. No wife is looking to sneak a fruit behind her husband’s back, or deny responsibility for minor mishaps, but when the house is full of children, such things aren’t noticed and she feels more relaxed. The more she is burdened with the raising of children, the less she is expected to have dinner ready on time, or to have the house “spic n span”. In as much as such issues are highly insignificant, it is still a point that Rahel wanted to be grateful. As Rav Gedalia Schor explains, Rahel Imenu in her appreciation for the blessings she was given, recognized the trivial points as well as the major ones. She was thankful for not being a topic of scorn and shame, and as well for having a home in which she felt less pressure. All the benefits, big and small, were on her mind when she said, “G-D has taken away my disgrace.”

We tend to take things for granted and only open our eyes when the bi things happen. Concern should be given for recognizing and appreciating all the different facets of our lives that we enjoy. Our rabbis teach us that the more we condition ourselves in this area, the more we will become happier with our lot in life.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Danny Tawil  – Madison Torah Center


T O R A H  F A X ® by:Rabbi Meyer Chaim Brikman Seagate Brooklyn NY

Our sages say that whatever happened to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs of the Jewish people, is a sign and guide for their descendants.  Thus, the stories the Torah tells about the patriarchs and matriarchs are not merely to tell us historical events of thousands of years ago, but serve as a lesson for every Jew, in every country, in every generation.


One of the episodes told in this week’s Parasha, Vayeitzei, which is about Jacob’s travel to Charan to the home of his uncle and future father-in-law, Lavan, where he spent twenty years, is how he prepared for this journey.


The Torah tells us that on the way he passed by Mount Moriah, the mountain upon which G-d’s tenth test to Abraham was performed, the place where G-d tested Abraham if he was ready to bring his beloved son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. 


Coming there Jacob prayed and went to sleep for the night.  It was there that Jacob made his final preparations before leaving the land, which was later to be the homeland of the Jewish people, and continuing onto the land of Charan, which comes from the word “anger.”  A country where it’s people made G-d angry through their behavior.


How does Jacob prepare himself for this transition from the holy land and the security of his parents’ home to this unholy place?  The Torah tells us that after he prayed, “He took from the stones of that place and placed them around his head.”


The Torah commentator, Rashi, explains the reason that Jacob placed the stones around his head, “Because he was afraid of the wild beasts.”  He placed the stones around his head for protection.


The obvious question is: If Jacob was afraid for his physical welfare why did he place the stones only around his head?  He should have placed them around his entire body for protection?


The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains: Our sages say that after Jacob left his parents and before going to Charan, he first went to the yeshiva of Eiver (Noah’s grandson), where he studied the Torah for fourteen years.


Jacob knew that coming to Charan he would have to work for his father-in-law; built a family and would have to deal with physical and monetary matters.  He was afraid that they may pull him away from his connection to G-d.  He was worried that he may be to involved in making a living and thus forget the purpose of it all; that everything is from G-d, Who gives us the strength to accomplish whatever we have to accomplish.


Thus, Jacob placed “the stones of that place around his head.”  He said to himself, “Even when I will have to work and be involved in my family’s physical success, my “head;” i.e my thoughts will be protected by the holy stones of this holy place upon which the Holy Temple would later be built, so that the Torah study of these fourteen years and the holy atmosphere of my parents’ home will stay with me throughout the years in Charan.


This is a lesson for each and every one of us.  Although we spend so much of our time being involved in our physical and monetary success, we must remember the purpose of it all.  We have to remember to place as much emphasis on our spiritual success as on our physical and make sure that they enhance each other.


Torah on the spot for people on the go

Friday Mar-Cheshvan 28, 5771/ November 5, 2010


In this week’s Parasha, Toldot, we read about the blessings which Yitzchak gave to Yaakov (Jacob). 


The Torah tells us, “It came to pass when Yitzchak become old and the vision of his eyes had dimmed.  He summoned his older son, Esau, and he said to him, “Now I have grown old, I don’t know when I will die.”  Yitzchak asks Esau to prepare, “tasty food which I love, so that I will bless you before I die.” 


Upon his mother’s urging, Yaakov disguised himself as Esau and got his father’s blessings.  After giving Yaakov the blessings, Esau came into the room and asked for his blessings.  Yitzchak realized his mistake and he then gave Esau some blessings.


There is a difference between the blessings he gave to Yaakov and Esau.  The blessings which Yitzchak gave to Yaakov are, “May G-d give you of the dew of the heaven and of the fat of the earth…  Nations will serve you; kingdoms will bow to you. You will be a master over your brothers, and your mother’s sons will bow down to you.  Those who curse you will be cursed and those who bless you will be blessed.” 


When Yitzchak gave Esau his blessings he reversed the order and mentions earth before heaven, “Of the fat places of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew from heaven above.”


Q.    Yitzchak lived to 180 years.  Why, now at 123, was he worried about dying?

A.     Our sages say that when a person reaches within five years of when their parents passed away, they should start preparing for death.  Sarah passed away at the age of 127.  Yitzchak was now 123, so he was within five years of his mother’s passing age and thus he prepared for death.


Q.    Why did Yitzchak begin the blessings to Yaakov with, “the dew of the heaven,” and then, “the fat of the earth,” while to Esau he reversed the order, “Of the fat of the earth,” and then, “of the dew from heaven?”

A.     Our sages explain that “heaven” refers to heavenly matter (spirituality) and “earth” refers to earthly matter (physical).  Yaakov was blessed that “heavenly matters” should come first and be his goal in life.  “The fat of the earth,” should only be secondary – earthly matters should be a means in order to achieve a spiritual goal. 


But to Esau, for whom the physical and earthly matters take preference over heavenly matters, he reversed the order and mentioned earthly matters first.


The Midrash gives the following parable to explain how we should view worldly pleasures.  A bear was standing in the market-place adorned with diamonds and precious stones.  His owner announced, “Whoever will get on top of the bear can have all the diamonds and precious stones.”  But there was a wise person in the crowd, who called out: “You may all be watching the diamonds that are on top of the bear, but I’m watching its teeth…”  


So too, when the fat of the land is preceded with “heaven – spirituality and purpose” then wealth is a blessing.  However, if the “fat of the land” supersedes and becomes more important than our spiritual G-dly purpose, then one must be aware of the dangers of the “teeth of the bear,” for one may be consumed and destroyed by it.                                                                    SHABBAT SHALOM

                                                              Candle lighting New York area:5:30




One who seeks a big name for himself, will lose his own name. Are we eager for acclaim? Our efforts to achieve it will lose us whatever reputation we do have.

One who does not increase, decreases. Do we think we have learned enough to be able rest on our laurels? Our complacency will lose us whatever knowledge we do have.

One who does not learn, deserves death. Do we feel that our time is ours to burn, with no need to use it for Torah study? Our laziness will lose us whatever time we still have left on this earth.

One who uses the crown passes on. Are we anxious to reap profit and privilege by using the Torah’s honor as if it were our own? Our disgraceful behavior will lose us all that we already do have, including our lives.

We explained that the first part of the mishnah, one who seeks a big name for himself will lose his own name, refers to the drive for honor. If we study Torah in order to develop an impressive reputation, we will lose any good name we had. This theme continues throughout the entire mishnah. We may decide that if the Tanna warns against studying Torah for honor, perhaps we are better off not studying Torah at all, lest we become entrapped in the quest for a big name and as a result, lose everything. This is a mistake, as the mishnah goes on to tell us: one who does not increase, decreases. If we do not engage in Torah study, we are lost in any case, because one who does not learn, deserves death.

The solution is to learn Torah with the intention of teaching others. Rashi writes that “One who does not teach all those who seek to learn, deserves death.” If we both study and teach, we may attribute any incidental honor not to our learning but to our teaching, which by its nature, makes us known to others. Teaching Torah fulfills the Will of Hashem, and will not cause us to lose our own name. The one who is in danger is the scholar who uses the crown – he passes on, because he has used Hashem’s sacred Torah to further his own purposes. However, if that crown is acquired by sincere dedication to studying and spreading Hashem’s Torah, both the scholar and his Torah will endure and flourish.

We find a similar idea in the Kesef Mishnah (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:10), cited by the commentary of Tosfot Yom Tov on our mishnah. He relates to the idea that perhaps the safest policy would be not to learn to begin with, thus avoiding the risks of losing one’s name through a desire for honor. The answer to this is one who does not increase, decreases. The sin of not learning at all is greater than the sin of learning with ulterior motives. He who does not learn has no merit to stay alive.

We can understand the words one who uses the crown, passes on in two ways. It is forbidden to seek benefit from one’s status as a Torah scholar. In addition, it is forbidden to make use of a scholar who bears the crown of Torah, taking advantage of him for favors and services.

Misusing the Crown

Earlier in our mishnah, we mentioned Rabbi Hayyim Vital’s teaching concerning those who study Torah or do mitzvot for the sake of prestige, rather than in Hashem’s honor (see 1:13, part 1). He writes that their souls are those of the erev rav, the mixed multitude who left Egypt with the children of Israel (Shmot 12:38). He goes on to say that these people display so-called sincerity and humility, maintaining that their Torah study is entirely lishmah, strictly for Hashem’s honor alone. The words of the great Tanna Rabbi Meir testify that their claims are untrue. He writes that “He who engages in Torah for Hashem’s honor merit many things… the secrets of the Torah are revealed to him, and he becomes like an overflowing fountain and a river which does not cease”(Avot 6:1). Such a scholar has no need to labor to extract words of Torah drop by drop, as if drawing water from a rock.

These heirs of the erev rav clearly lack all the qualities outlined by Rabbi Meir, proof that their involvement in Torah is not at all lishmah, but rather, motivated by personal interests (Introduction to Etz Hayyim, citing Zohar, vol. I p. 25b).

Rabbi Hayyim Vital’s powerful words are the most basic explanation of one who uses the crown, passes on. The Torah is Hashem’s crown, not man’s. Using it as a tool for personal advancement is comparable to selling a king’s royal crown at a hawker’s stall in the market.

Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin discusses the concept of the Torah we learn as the crown of the Al-mighty. He writes that every word of the original Torah insights developed by a Torah scholar is very precious and beloved to Hashem. These words make an enormous impact in the higher spiritual worlds, actually creating new spiritual worlds. They are “the new heaven and new earth” referred to in the verse, “For behold, I am creating new heavens and a new earth” (Yeshayahu 65:17). He cites the Zohar’s teaching that one should engage in Torah study day and night, because the Al-mighty listens to the voices of those who study Torah, creating a new heaven with each word. Every new interpretation ascends and stands before Hashem’s Throne, and He kisses it and crowns it with seventy engraved, sculptured crowns. New Torah insights rise up to rest on the Head of the Al-mighty (Zohar, Introduction to Bereshit, p. 4b, cited in Nefesh HaHayyim, Shaar Daled, Chapter 12).


One who uses the crown, passes on.

The most obvious meaning of the concept of “using the crown of Torah” is deriving benefit from our knowledge of Torah. Perhaps we have devoted a number of years to serious study and have accumulated a considerable store of Torah knowledge. Word gets out, and those around us begin to take note. We judge that we qualify as a Torah scholar now, so that the respect we are granted is quite in order, or so we feel. It is also very convenient, because the Jewish people love and honor Torah scholars, and we discover that others are willing to help us and do us all sorts of favors. We find that we enjoy it, so we tell ourselves that it is only proper for others to show respect for Torah, even if it happens to be the Torah vested in our person.

Why are we getting carried away? Why are we using our achievements in learning to improve our material lot in a material world? One who uses the crown, passes on.

We have discussed the opinions of the Rambam and other authorities about accepting financial support while learning full time.[1] As we saw, this is a complex issue. What is certain is that Torah should be studied lishmah – for Hashem’s honor. On the most basic level this means learning Torah in order to fulfill the mitzvot. Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin explains the term somewhat differently. Lishmah, he writes, means for the honor of the Torah itself; we should learn in a way which brings honor to the Torah. He cites the words of the Rosh: “All your speech and your dealings in words of Torah should be for the sake of the Torah, in order to know and understand, to increase learning and discussion, and not to disparage and boast” (Nefesh HaHayyim, Shaar Daled, Chapter 3).

How does one learn in a way which does or does not bring honor to Torah?

Let us say that due to our circumstances or occupation we are considered to be a figure who represents Torah. The image is nice, but our actual level and style of learning are very superficial. The day comes when we are asked a question in halachah, or engage in a supposedly learned discussion. Our knowledge is sketchy and shallow, and even if we can toss around the terminology, our answer or opinion is unfortunately nonsense. Is this Torah, and is this a Torah scholar? It is a disgrace, and it obviously contributes nothing to the honor of the Torah.

But perhaps we do things differently. We love learning Torah, and immerse ourselves fully in any topic we tackle. We labor over every word and every nuance, until we achieve real knowledge and comprehension. We approach Torah study as the Rosh instructs, “to know and understand, to increase learning and discussion,” revealing the unparalleled beauty and truth of G-d’s Word. This is Torah lishmah. It is the ultimate in bringing honor to Torah, and it is the purpose of our study.

How dare we misuse Torah for personal gain? One who uses the crown, passes on, because there is nothing more for him to do here in this world.

Poor Exchange

The Hebrew word ­halaf (passes on) can also be translated as exchanges. One who uses the crown, exchanges the spiritual entity of Torah for a petty material payoff. Rather than proclaiming the glory of Hashem’s holy Torah to the world, he uses it to get a discount on a pair of shoes. What a miserable exchange! Even worse, it is a desecration of Hashem’s Name to use one’s standing as a Torah scholar to press for a better deal.

The risk of hilul Hashem (desecration of Hashem’s Name) is especially great for Torah scholars. Our Sages ask, “What is considered a desecration of Hashem’s Name? Rava said, ‘If someone like me were to buy meat and not pay for it immediately’” (Yoma 86a). Picture a gentleman whose dress and (hopefully) deportment announce that he is “a rabbi” stepping into a butcher shop to pick up his family’s Shabbat order. He glances at the bill and says, “I’ll be in to pay next week.” Even under optimum circumstances, the butcher may not really want to extend credit; it is not worth his while. But what can he do? How can he refuse a rabbi? He turns away from the customers, sighs, and packs up the order, feeling that he has no choice. He only hopes that the rabbi will be good for the money without too many reminders… Our Sages tell us that this is a desecration of Hashem’s Name. It is also an instance of misusing the crown of one’s status as a representative of Torah.

This does not mean that it is forbidden to receive a discount when offered. Our Sages teach that “One who brings a gift to a Torah scholar is considered as if he brought an offering of First Fruits to the Temple” (Ketubot 105b; see also Kesef Mishnah on Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:10). It is a mitzvah to assist a Torah scholar, and if a generous individual wishes to do so of his own volition, the Torah scholar may use his own discretion in deciding whether or not to accept. Our Sages teach us the proper approach to this situation. “One who wishes to derive benefit should do so like Elisha, and one who wishes not to derive benefit should do so like Shmuel” (Berachot 10b).

Whenever the prophet Elisha would pass through the city of Shunam, a prominent local woman insisted that he stop to eat at her home. Recognizing his saintly qualities, she suggested to her husband that they prepare and furnish a small upstairs room for his use, where he could stay whenever he was in the area. They put together a room with a few basic items and Elisha agreed to use it (II Melachim 4:8-11; see Ketubot 105b).

The prophet Shmuel was scrupulously careful about covering his own expenses, even those incurred on behalf of the people. He paid for the sacrifices he offered when he prayed for the nation, and traveled from town to town on his own donkey to teach and judge. In all his years of selfless, dedicated public service, there was no expense account at all (I Shmuel 12:2-4, Bamidbar Rabbah 18:10).

Some of our great Torah scholars agreed to accept assistance which was offered spontaneously; others refused even that. We have discussed the concept of a Yissachar-Zevulun agreement, where one party supports another’s Torah study, and the two partners split the spiritual proceeds (see 1:10). This is not the subject of our mishnah; it speaks of those who use their honored status as scholars to achieve various material benefits and bonuses, trading in their Torah for a proverbial ten percent off. This is a poor exchange of the spiritual crown of Torah, a degradation of G-d’s Word and the scholars who study it.

It’s Me…

There is another way to misuse the crown of Torah, as we learn from an incident related by our Sages (Nedarim 62b). The Tanna Rabbi Tarfon once ate some figs that were halachically considered hefker, ownerless. A guard assigned to keep watch over the crop was having trouble with fruit thieves, and when he saw Rabbi Tarfon with the figs, he assumed that he too was a thief. He grabbed Rabbi Tarfon and prepared to throw him into a nearby river. Realizing that his end was near, Rabbi Tarfon said aloud, “Woe to Tarfon, this man is going to kill him!” When the guard heard just whom it was that he had apprehended, he dropped him and ran off.

Rabbi Tarfon’s cry saved him, but as our Sages tell us, “for the rest of that tzaddik’s life he regretted this. He said, ‘Woe to me that I used the crown of Torah.’” He always felt that he should have attempted to make a financial settlement with the guard, which he could easily have afforded. Instead, he dropped his own name, so to speak, and was saved. Rabbi Tarfon cried and fasted all his life because he had used his status as a Torah scholar for personal gain – to save his own life!

What did Rabbi Tarfon do with the years of life he gained by identifying himself? Without doubt, he utilized them to the fullest, learning Torah and doing innumerable mitzvot. Even so, he never made peace with his use of the crown, no matter how necessary, or more correctly, compelling and lifesaving, it had been, and he spent the rest of his life repenting for it.

Profaning the Crown

One who uses the tagga, passes on.

We can understand this mishnah in another sense as well. The Tanna does not use the word keter, the more common term for crown, but tagga. As we know, a Torah scroll is written with taggin, small crowns atop specified letters. These taggin have great esoteric significance.[2]. The phrase uses the tagga can refer also to profane use of the Sacred Names of the Al-mighty for profit, such as writing amulets containing these Names. There have been great mekubalim who did use the holy Names to bypass the laws of nature and perform miracles, but only in cases of great need for the Jewish people, or to sanctify Hashem’s Name. There was never any personal gain involved, G-d forbid, for this would have been destructive sacrilege of the holy Names. One who uses the tagga, profaning Hashem’s sacred Names for selfish purposes, passes on; it would be better for him to depart from this world. Avot D’Rabbi Natan says even more: “One who uses Hashem’s sacred Names for mundane purposes has no share in the World to Come” (Avot D’Rabbi Natan 12:13).

We find this principle in an insight from Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, one of the great Torah scholars of old Jerusalem. The Torah describes the pure olive oil used to light the Menorah in the Temple. It could only be “pure olive oil, crushed specifically for [the purpose of] illumination” (Shmot 27:20; see Rashi, citing Menahot 86a). The first drops carefully extracted from each olive were exceptionally pure and clear, and they alone were used to light the Menorah. The rest of the oil, of a lower grade, was suitable only for menahot offerings. The word menahot literally means “gifts.”

He explains that oil represents hochmah, wisdom. The Menorah’s pure oil, obtained with great effort, is symbolic of the hidden wisdom of Torah, which can only be obtained with diligent hard work. This profound knowledge is intended only “for illumination,” or in other words, for purely spiritual purposes, to bring light to the Higher Worlds. It is not for menahot – it should never be used for personal benefit, to receive gifts, money, or other advantages. One who uses the crown, passes on. Unscrupulous phony “kabbalists” who uses the holy Names of G-d for profane purposes do so at their own risk.


It is ludicrous for anyone in our lowly, spiritually impoverished generation to presume to engage in Kabbalah maasit (literally “practical Kabbalah”)[3] in the hope of producing various minor miracles. Rabbi Hayyim Vital cites our mishnah and Avot 4:5, warning that no one should dare to use sacred Names and practical Kabbalah to change the natural order (Shaare Kedushah 3:6 and 2:6). Rabbi Hayyim Vital passed away in 1620. His contemporaries were such saintly Torah giants as Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulhan Aruch, Rabbi Elazar Azkari, author of the Sefer Haredim, and Rabbenu Eliyahu di Vidash, author of Reshit Hochmah. And yet he wrote in those days that there was no longer anyone great enough to allow himself to engage in practical Kabbalah. He goes on to mention some of the requirements for one who wishes to involve himself in Kabbalah maasit. To begin with, he should be completely untainted by sin, both intentional and even unintentional. Having reached the exalted spiritual level where even the Angel of Death cannot touch him because he is totally free of sin, perhaps he can then begin to contemplate the use of Kabbalah maasit.

He points out that Kabbalah maasit is dangerous business. “In our own times,” he writes, “we know that those who used Kabbalah maasit either became apostates or died young, either them or their children, like Rabbi Yosef Di Lorena and Rabbi Shlomo Molcho.” Sincerely concerned for the sufferings of their people, these two scholars engaged in Kabbalah maasit, straining far beyond their level with tragic results.

Rabbi Yosef Di Lorena, assisted by five disciples, used the names of angels, binding them with oaths in an attempt to force the coming of the Messiah. Of the five disciples, two died in the attempt, while another two went mad and later died in agony. Rabbi Yosef Di Lorena himself became an apostate, engaging in the worst possible sins. When threatened with earthly retribution for his crimes, he committed suicide. The one disciple to survive the ordeal spent the rest of his life as a bedridden invalid, tormented by the demons he had encountered in the abortive push to bring Mashiah before his time. It was he who recorded the terrible details for posterity.

Using different channels, Shlomo Molcho, a Portuguese Marrano who was inspired to openly embrace Judaism, also tried to force the Redemption. He died a horrible death at the early age of thirty-one, sentenced to the stake by the Inquisition. The colleague who had been his original inspiration spent the rest of his life in the unspeakable misery of a medieval jail.

Rabbi Hayyim Vital sees this horrible outcome as a certainty: one who uses the crown, passes on. It may be tempting to toy with the idea of the powers of practical Kabbalah, but pretenders will gain nothing and lose everything, their souls, their sanity, and their very lives included.

The Nefesh HaHayyim, explain the connection between the names of the angels and created beings. Every living creature has its own root in the higher spiritual worlds, which is its life force. This root is its mazal (constellation). Each creature sings its own song of praise to the Al-mighty, through which it causes its particular constellation to draw down bounty to its species. These songs are the Pirke Shirah, a compilation of the verses of praise recited by various creatures. The Nefesh HaHayyim explains that man has within himself the energies of all the created beings, and as such, is able to draw Divine bounty down to them all by reciting Pirke Shirah (Nefesh HaHayyim, Shaar Alef, Chapter 11, based on Shaar HaMitzvot, Parashat Va’et’hanan, p. 36b and Shaar Maamare Rashbi, p. 60d). We find a similar concept in our Sages’ teaching that every individual blade of grass has its own mazal in the Heavens, which strikes at it and tells it, “grow” (Bereshit Rabbah 10:6). Every created entity has a Heavenly root, its personal guardian angel. One who knows the name of the angel appointed over the lions, for example, can bind that angel with an oath that the lions not harm him.

Sacred Names

The Shulhan Aruch rules that use of sacred Names by means of the Sefer Yetzirah the sefer yetzirah is permitted (Yoreh Deah 179:15). The Shach (ibid. 18), citing the Levush in Ateret Zahav, elaborates. He writes that the sacred Names revealed and explained in the Sefer Yetzirah are holy, powerful conduits, imbued by the Creator with the power to bring about miracles when used by great tzaddikim and the Prophets. Doing so demonstrates Hashem’s great might, causing a sanctification of His Name.

However, these Names may not be used for personal gain of any sort, only in order to sanctify the Name of the Al-mighty, or in order to rescue the Jewish people from danger. Even in these cases, the sacred Names may only be used in sanctity and purity by very saintly tzaddikim who are completely free of any trace of sin, including even unintentional sin, a state virtually impossible to achieve in our times. Even in earlier generations, the great Prophet Yeshayahu was punished for his use of sacred Names (see Yevamot 49b).[4] If this was true of Yeshayahu, it is certainly vastly more true of succeeding generations, who are far below his level of sanctity and purity. What G-d desires of us is pure, wholehearted faith and trust: He searches our heart to see if we truly trust in Him alone, and then He will come to our aid.

The Shach goes on to say that the mekubalim all agree that use of the sacred Names is strictly forbidden, unless in a case of very great emergency for the Jewish people. He quotes the Rema, who cites the words of our mishnah, one who uses the crown, passes on, and writes that according to some opinions it refers to the use of sacred Names (Yoreh Deah 246:21). He concludes by saying that the mekubalim write that it is a grave sin to use the holy Names, and “one who refrains will be blessed.”

A frightening instance of the consequences of the use of sacred Names is recorded by Rabbi Menahem Azariah of Pano (Kanfe Yonah 1:110). He writes that students of Rabbenu Yonah wanted to test their expertise in the use of holy Names, and they ventured into a forest full of wild animals. They succeeded in saving themselves by using the sacred Names, and returned to tell the tale. Their teacher understood that their experiment would cost them their share in the World to Come. He told them to return to the forest and face the animals again, this time without using holy Names to protect themselves. They obeyed him, and nature took its course – they were devoured by the animals. They died in this world, but did not lose their eternal portion in the World to Come.

Rule by Mazal

We can better understand the concept of using sacred Names and Kabbalah maasit by understanding something about the levels through which Hashem rules the world.

The lowest level is the natural order which Hashem built into Creation. It operates according to a defined set of rules under the influence of the stars and the zodiac, known as mazal. Our Sages teach that “Everything depends on mazal, even a Torah scroll in the Ark” (Zohar, vol. III, p.134a). All of man’s worldly affairs are directed by mazal, even something so apparently minor as which of several Torah scrolls will be removed from the Ark to be used for the Torah reading.[5] The Torah tells us, “if… you relate to Me as if by chance, I too will relate to you as if by chance” (Vayikra 26:23-24). If we take the attitude that life is no more than a series of random, chance coincidences, we will be left to the exclusive control of our mazal, and will have to contend with whatever “coincidences” it brings our way.

On a higher level are the angels appointed over the various mazalot. Each of these angels has its designated realm of authority in the olam ha’asiyah (the physical world of earthly activity), with specific angels in charge of every worldly entity and occurrence, be it created beings such as birds, animals, trees, and grass, or health, wealth, children, and marriage. Whether a given individual will be rich or poor, whether or not he will have children, and the like, are determined by the angels appointed over his mazal. This is actually the meaning of the term Kabbalah maasit – it is Kabbalah which is related to the world of asiyah, where these angels operate. It is possible to alter the lot designated by one’s mazal with Kabbalah maasit. Kabbalah maasit binds the angels of the olam ha’asiyah with an oath by mentioning their names and administering an oath that they obey the one who pronounced it. The Arizal teaches that they are compelled to obey, because Hashem has so decreed (Shaar HaMitzvot, Parashat Shmot).

However, when this happens, the angels carefully examine the spiritual standing of the person administering the oath. If they discover that he is unworthy and is making unjustified use of them for personal needs, they avenge themselves both upon him and on the one whom he seeks to help with the oath. For example, if he binds the angels with an oath so that a certain party will bear a child, there is great likelihood that the child born will be sickly or disabled. As history proves, all those who engaged in Kabbalah maasit came to a bad end: apostasy, insanity, terrible illness and death, may G-d spare us. Kabbalah maasit is a very, very dangerous tool.

The highest level is hanhagah Elokit elyonah, direct rule by the Al-mighty Himself through the ten Sefirot. The Sefirot are ten spiritual forces through which Hashem rules the world, each known by a different Name of G-d and each a different level of connection to Him. They are revelations of the ways in which Hashem relates to His created beings, in accordance with their deeds. The Jewish people can sidestep their mazal and the angels appointed over the mazalot to attain direct connection with Hashem in one of two ways.

One is through the use of the Divine Names as revealed by the Sefer Yetzirah. Appropriate use of the Names of Hashem at the right time can generate an influx of Divine bounty for the Jewish people. (Clearly, it is impossible to bring about any occurrence or influence which contradicts the Will of Hashem.) This avenue is not for the masses, by any means. It can only be used in a state of utmost sanctity by truly saintly tzaddikim on an extremely lofty spiritual level. The mishnah’s words are a warning: one who uses the crown, passes on. We dare not attempt to use the Names of the Al-mighty. Even the rare tzaddik who is on the level to do so, should only resort to this practice in case of exceptional circumstances for the benefit of the Jewish people.

The other way is by cleaving to Hashem with complete, unswerving faith and trust, praying to Him to help us even in contradiction of our predestined mazal. Any Jew on any level can turn to Hashem with prayer, and Hashem will hear His prayers and help him.

No one in our times should engage in use of sacred Names or Kabbalah maasit. Great tzaddikim in earlier generations who availed themselves of its powers never misused it for mundane personal considerations, only as a means to attain greater levels of spirituality and sanctity. In addition, it was only used in a state of ritual purity through the ashes of the Red Heifer. Today we are all ritually impure, and we dare not presume to mention the holy names of G-d or the names of the angels, binding them by oath. Those who attempt this endanger themselves. In addition, it goes without saying that it is strictly forbidden under any circumstances to make use of the names of the Forces of Impurity. Anyone who dabbles in sorcery or the occult, or uses the names of impure forces to interfere with the natural order, will perish.

The way of a Jew has always been complete faith in the Al-mighty. We should pray to Him and look to Him to help us, and we will merit His Divine protection and assistance in all we do.

No Mazal

Our Sages make a very interesting statement on the subject of mazal: “Rabbi Yohanan said, Israel have no mazal” (Shabbat 156a). And yet, we see that the Zohar tells us that “everything depends on mazal, even a Torah scroll in the Ark.” Let us try to understand the role of mazal in the destiny of the Jewish nation.

As we explained, the Al-mighty created a system called “nature,” and above that, a system of angels appointed over the various constellations which control the natural order. Man too has his own specific mazal, determined by the moment of his birth. This mazal will be a determining force in the course of his life. However, our Sages say, “Israel have no mazal;” the Jewish people are not entirely bound by the influence of the constellations. Israel alone, unlike the other nations, have the power to rise above the lot determined by mazal, by connecting directly to the Al-mighty. One who is linked to Hashem bypasses mazal. Hashem personally guides his destiny with His Own direct intervention rather than through intermediaries – firsthand, so to speak.

The Sages cite our Forefather Avraham as proof of this principle. Avraham, already an elderly man, had no children, and it seemed that his only heir would be his steward, Eliezer. When Hashem promised him that his own son, and not a servant, would inherit him, Avraham could not understand how this could be; based on his mazal at birth, Avraham knew that he could not father children. Hashem told him, “Step outside.” Our Sages explain that with these words, Hashem instructed Avraham to ignore his astrological calculations. They were no longer relevant to him, because Israel have no mazal. Through his enormous faith and devotion to Hashem, Avraham had “stepped out” of his mazal and would became the father of a son, and ultimately, of the Jewish nation (Shabbat 156a; see Bereshit 15:5, Rashi).

It is in this sense that everything depends on mazal, even so sacred an object as a Torah scroll residing in the Ark. The choice is ours. If we confine ourselves to nature, we will remain within the constraints of our mazal, administered by the constellations and the angels. If we cleave to Hashem, He alone will guide us and direct our lives with Divine love and mercy.

[1] See Insights into Pirke Avot 1:10, Part 1 for a fuller discussion of this topic.

[2] See Insights into Pirke Avot for a fuller discussion of this topic.

[3] Kabbalah, the esoteric secrets of the Torah, is the body of transmitted wisdom concerning understanding of the Creator (Kabbalah Elokit) and the use of the names of the angels, binding them with an oath to perform miracles (Kabbalah maasit).

[4] The Prophet Yeshayahu escaped the wrath of Menashe, the wicked king of Israel, by using Kabbalah maasit to enter a tree and become part of it. Menashe ordered that the tree be cut down. Yeshayahu was killed when the axe reached his mouth, in punishment for having criticized the Jewish people as “a nation of impure lips” (Yeshayahu 6:5).

[5] Ordinarily, the Torah scroll to be used for the Torah reading is rolled in advance to the appropriate place. It may happen that a particular scroll is removed from the Ark, even if it was not the one that was prepared. Once it is removed, however, it must be used, even if it was not rolled to the proper place beforehand, as it would be disrespectful to the Torah scroll to “reject” it and return it to the Ark unused. It is possible that this type of mistake happens because the donor of the scroll needs the special merit of having his scroll used, so mazal dictated that this specific scroll, and not the one previously designated and prepared, be removed from the Ark for use.

This essay contains divre Torah. Please treat it with proper respect.


Rabbi Yaakov Hillel

Rosh Yeshiva

Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom

Shabbat Shalom


Insights into Pirke Avot.”

Perek Alef, Mishnah Yud-Gimel (Part 2)

1:13 He [Hillel] would say, one who seeks a big name for himself will lose his own name. One who does not increase, decreases. One who does not learn, deserves death, and one who uses the crown, passes on.

More or Less

One who seeks a big name for himself will lose his own name. One who does not increase, decreases.

The second part of the mishnah continues the theme of the first part. The attempt to seek a big name will fail, because fame based on external factors has no substance and will not last. One who does not increase – one who is not growing in Torah and mitzvot – decreases. His efforts to achieve recognition in other ways, even if they appear successful for a time, will lead nowhere.

One who does not increase, decreases

Our Sages use the term “Bne Aliyah,” literally “those who seek to ascend” (Sukkah 45b). We must always strive to advance and grow. If we feel that we have already scaled our personal peak, what purpose is there to our lives? We are finished; we have done it all. If we do not increase, if we are not progressing spiritually, we may as well decrease – in other words, depart from this world. The very fact that we are here, that Hashem continues to preserve us and grant us life, means that we still have work to do in this world. Life and time are gifts given so that we can grow, develop, and achieve spiritual perfection. If we imagine otherwise, there is unfortunately no point in our continued presence. One who does not increase may as well decrease, in the most drastic sense of the term.

Moving On

Man is not meant to be a static being, treading endlessly in the same place. Man is a “walker,” constantly moving ahead, as we learn from the verse, “I will make you a walker among these standing ones” (Zechariah 3:7). The term “standing ones” is a reference to the angels (see Rashi and Metzudat David), who are static and unchanging. This is usually explained as a reference to the need for constant spiritual growth and development. However, we can also understand it as a reference to our lifelong walk towards the day of death.

Angels go nowhere. Man, in contrast, is always advancing towards his end, with every moment bringing him a step closer. We find reference to this concept in the verse “And the day of death is from birth” (Kohelet 7:1). From the moment of birth, we start heading towards death. With every fleeting moment we lose a little more of our life force, expending it on speech, vision, hearing, and thought.[1]

We may compare this

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