Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Mishpatim

Even though it does not seem that way, Parshas Mishpatim is really a continuation of last week’s parshah. While last week was more of an introduction to the Torah with the Ten Commandments, this week’s parshah deals with the more nitty-gritty ideas. While not as dramatic, these are the laws which make up the day-to-day problems Rabbanim have to deal with.
The first topic of this week’s parshah, however, does not fit in this category. We start off by discussing the sale, purchase, and treatment of a Jewish slave by another Jew. There are two instances where a person is sold as a slave, either where a person steals and has no money to pay back, in that case Beis Din sells him to pay back his debt, or he is destitute and sells himself to support his family. In both of these cases, the sale is valid for six years after which he is free to go home. During his time as a slave, his owner must provide for him and his family, and cannot pleasure himself with anything which the slave does not have as well. The owner has the benefit of giving the slave a gentile slave to marry and the owner keeps any offspring.
If after six years the slave decides he enjoys his comfortable life in slavery with his master and his gentile wife and children, he is able to stay as a slave until the next Yovel (50 year cycle). However, this is not what we prefer. If he decides to stay a slave, we take him to Beis Din and by the doorpost, pierce his ear. Rashi explains the reason for this in perek 21 pasuk 6, “ומה ראה אזן להרצע מכל שאר אברים שבגוף, אמר רבי יוחנן בן זכאי (קדושין כב ע"ב) אזן זאת ששמעה על הר סיני לא תגנוב, והלך וגנב, תרצע. ואם מוכר עצמו, אזן ששמעה על הר סיני (ויקרא כה נה) כי לי בני ישראל עבדים, והלך וקנה אדון לעצמו, תרצע” “Why do we pierce the ear as opposed to any other body part? Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai says, this ear which heard by Har Sinai ‘Do not steal’, and stole, pierce it. This ear which heard by Har Sinai ‘For the Bnei Yisrael are servants to me (and not other humans)’, and went and bought himself another master, pierce it.”
The Maharal in his sefer on Rashi, Gur Aryeh, makes sense this difficult explanation in Rashi. First off, if the reason for our piercing him is because of his becoming a slave, how come we pierce his ear at the end of his servitude? Shouldn’t we pierce it right after he is sold? He says a chiddush that the slave is not considered to have acquired another master until he has decided to remain a slave. While he has a time limit of six years, it is not considered as that he has a second master besides for Hashem. After he becomes a slave till Yovel, however, it is considered as if he has a second master since a period of fifty years is considered “forever” in halachah and now he will forever have two masters. Therefore, he is not punished until after the six years.
Another question on this Rashi is that if the piercing is done because he stole, what is more significant about stealing that we pierce his ear for it more than any other sin? He answers simply that you will only be punished with piercing for sins that lead to slavery. This leads into his last and biggest question which is that at the end of the day, what is the connection between his theft and this piercing? Even if you say that theft potentially leads to slavery, that is only the first six years! He is pierced for staying a slave afterwards! So really his punishment should only be for “ואם מוכר עצמו, אזן ששמעה על הר סיני (ויקרא כה נה) כי לי בני ישראל עבדים, והלך וקנה אדון לעצמו, תרצע” “This ear which heard by Har Sinai ‘For the Bnei Yisrael are servants to me (and not other humans)’, and went and bought himself another master, pierce it.”, and have nothing to do with the fact that he stole?
The Gur Aryeh explains with another chiddush. The gemarah in Kiddushin explains based on the pasuk here (See 21:6) that in order for a slave to be able to stay longer in slavery, and as a result have his ear pierced, he must love his master and his gentile wife and children provided to him by his master (the gemarah explains that he does not get pierced if his master did not give him a wife). The Gur Aryeh says that it is a given to us that even before he starts his servitude, that he will love all of these people. Therefore, the real reason why he is still a slave is his theft which led him to this point. So when Rashi explains that he has his ear pierced because of his act of stealing, even though it is his decision after six years to stay a slave that results in his piercing, the real cause is his theft six years earlier which put him in this situation.    
Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Yisro

Parshas Yisro contains the most important event in World History, the Giving of the Torah. No event has had as big an impact on the Jewish nation and the world at large as Matan Torah. The Torah is the blueprint as well as the sustaining influence for creation; its being given over to mortal man is to give him the keys to the entire universe. How lucky we are that it was given to us!
The Torah describes the scene at Matan Torah in a way that’s impossible to imagine. The mountain on which the Torah was given, Har Sinai, was smoking, there was lightning and thunder and a mighty shofar blast could be heard for miles around. To top it off, Hashem himself “spoke” out the Ten Commandments, leading the nation to run away, faint, or, in some cases, die from fear. Chazal say that the entire world heard the Torah being given, such was the effect it had on the world physically and spiritually.
The lightning and thunder had an extra miracle to them. For the first and only time in history, thunder could be seen and lightning could be heard! With all these amazing and awesome miracles happening at the same time, Bnei Yisrael were unable to take this all in. As a result, they asked Moshe to say the commandments himself instead of hearing them directly from Hashem. As it says in the pasuk, “וְכָל הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת הַלַּפִּידִם וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר וְאֶת הָהָר עָשֵׁן וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק” “And the entire nation could see the sounds and the flames, the sound of the shofar and the smoking mountain; the people saw and they moved and stood from afar” (20:15).
The Meforshim (commentators) have different ways of explaining what it means that the sounds were visible. Some say that the use of the adjective of sight is to symbolize a deeper understanding by the people of what it meant to see Hashem. Some explain that it is simply referring to what caused the noises.
The Kli Yakar comes to explain this point and to also ask two more questions. First, how come the pasuk has to say twice that the nation could see the sounds? Also, the next pasuk states that after the Jews had been scared by the entire scene, “וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל מֹשֶׁה דַּבֵּר אַתָּה עִמָּנוּ וְנִשְׁמָעָה” “And they said to Moshe, ‘you speak to us and we shall hear…” (20:16), that Moshe should tell them the rest of the Torah and not Hashem. How come they had to say “and we shall hear”, isn’t that obvious?
He explains that each time Hashem spoke one of the commandments, the speech itself was so real, that the words themselves were floating in the air in front of them! He brings a proof that this is possible from the gemarah in Chagigah (14a) that everything Hashem says turns into a malach (angel) to do his bidding, this is because everything that comes out of Hashem’s mouth becomes a new creation. So too by the commandments, when they were brought into the physical world directly from Hashem, even through speech they became physical. He uses this to explain a different gemarah in Pesachim (87b) which says that when Moshe broke the first Luchos, the letters flew into the air and later came down onto the second set of Luchos when they were built. How else could this be unless there was something actually physical about the letters! So what it means when Bnei Yisrael saw the sounds is that they saw the physical speech of Hashem as it came out of his mouth.
Now, a person’s sense of sight is more powerful than his sense of hearing. Therefore, when Bnei Yisrael ran away in fear of Hashem’s presence, their thought was that even if they couldn’t hear Hashem (they could still hear the thunder and the shofar), they would still be able to see what he was saying. However, after a short time, they realized that they were wrong to run away from this amazing display of Hashem’s glory, and they decided to come back. But, since they were still scared of Hashem’s “voice”, they asked Moshe to take over saying the commandments. That is why it says “and we shall hear”, that even if they would no longer see the dibros (commandments) since Hashem was no longer speaking, at least they would hear them.
May we all be zoche to fulfill the Torah with all its Mitzvos and opportunities!
Shabbat Shalom!     

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Beshalach

Parshas Beshalach starts a new chapter in Jewish History, one where the nation’s faith in Hashem is built, their entire existence is dependent on clear miracles, and the Nation of Israel is formed. This all starts in this week’s parshah with the first of several major miracles Krias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea. It continues throughout the parshah with the sweetening of the waters at Marah, the man (manna), Moshe hitting the rock to draw out water, and the Jew’s victory over Amalek in battle. However, before all this, we must first see how the Jews left Egypt, or more specifically, how they prepared themselves for the way ahead.
The Kli Yakar comments on a very interesting choice of words in the first few pesukim in the parshah. The parshah starts off, “וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת הָעָם וְלֹא נָחָם אֱ־לֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא כִּי אָמַר אֱ־לֹהִים פֶּן יִנָּחֵם הָעָם…” “And it happened when Paroh sent (out) the nation that God did not lead them towards the land of the Philistines, because it was near, for God said, ‘perhaps the nation will reconsider…” (13:17). The next pasuk says, “וַיַּסֵּב אֱ־לֹהִים אֶת הָעָם” “And God led the people around…” We see in these three places that the Jews are referred to as the common noun “nation”. However, later on in the same pasuk, we see them referred to as the pronoun. As it says, “…וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם” “…and the Children of Israel went up armed from Egypt”(13:18).
The Kli Yakar asks several questions based on these pesukim. First off, how come the Jews are referred to as “the nation” the first three times in the parshah and the fourth time they are called the Children of Israel? For his next questions, he brings a midrash that when it says that they were armed, it means that they were each armed with five different weapons of war. Why did they need weapons? Weren’t they the Jewish people watched over and protected by an all-powerful and mighty God? Even if you want to say that a person must do his part to succeed on a natural level and what the person does not accomplish, the miracle will, still, how come we need to know how many weapons they each had? Lastly, these people had been slaves for their entire lives. They had no idea how to fight with real weapons! The best thing for them to do would have been to find some good, sturdy clubs and fight with those?
He answers these questions by understanding why the Jews had to have the miracle Krias Yam Suf and travel through the desert in the first place. He explains first off that the midrash is not referring to five weapons of war, but rather the five books of the Torah as the word “חֲמֻשִׁים”, armed, is related to the word חמש, five. He explains that when B’nei Yisrael left Egypt, they were not worthy of receiving the Torah, only after experiencing Krias Yam Suf and the journey through the desert did they reach that level. What exactly was lacking? We see after they crossed the Red Sea, the pasuk states, “וַיַּאֲמִינוּ בַּי־הֹוָ־ה וּבְמֹשֶׁה עַבְדּוֹ” “And they believed in God and Moshe his servant” (14:31). It’s obvious that they could not accept the Torah if they did not believe fully in Hashem or his messengers. That’s why they needed the miracle of the Yam Suf. Another trait necessary before accepting the Torah is to rid yourself of your materialistic needs. This was accomplished through the manna, which was literally nothing more than fried dough (though its potential was enormous). A nation which could survive on nothing but that had clearly taken this character trait to heart. The rest of the miracles in the desert just added on to their level of emunah (belief in God).
Furthermore, the only thing which separates the Jewish People from the rest of the world is that we have the Torah. Yes, we’ve had some really great people as ancestors, but at the end of the day, without the Torah, we are just another nation. This is the reason why the parshah opens with B’nei Yisrael being referred to as the “nation”, as long as we didn’t have our “weapons”, we were no different than anyone else. We needed the Torah before we could be anything special. Therefore, “וַיַּסֵּב אֱ־לֹהִים אֶת הָעָם” “And God led the people around…”, he led them back around towards the Yam Suf in order to start the process of strengthening our belief in order for us to accept the Torah. Only then are we referred to as בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, even before the pasuk ends! But we still hadn’t accepted the Torah, how can the pasuk say we were armed? The answer is that as soon as we had begun the process of accepting the Torah by trusting in Hashem and following him into the desolate wilderness, we already had the Torah’s protection over us.
We can all take something very important from this. Even if it seems to us as if we don’t trust in Hashem like we should or we don’t keep everything the Torah says to keep, it does not take much work to come back! All it takes is to start the process. Once you start, the Torah’s influence will already be on you, making it easy to come all the way back to where you should be. Because only with the Torah are we worthy of being called B’nei Yisrael as opposed to being like everyone else.
Shabbat Shalom!        

Saturday, January 8, 2011

No Dvar Torah This Week

Sorry, but due to scheduling conflicts there is no dvar torah for this week, Parshas Bo. We will return, b'ezras Hashem, next week for PArshas B'Shalach