Friday, October 28, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Noach

Because of Tiyul with yeshiva this week, I didn't have so much time to write up a dvar torah this week, so its more of a torah "thought". Either way, I hope you enjoy.

אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת נֹחַ נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו אֶת הָאֱ־לֹהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ נֹחַ“These are the generations of Noach, Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; Noach walked with G-d.”(Bereishis 6:9). This week’s parshah starts off with the introduction of Noach, the main character in this week’s parshah. This is the great man who was worthy of being the only human to survive the flood and destruction of the entire world. But how great was he really? Rashi brings a gemarah in Sanhedrin where Chazal argue how big of a tzaddik Noach really was. The key words in the pasuk are, “תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹרֹתָיו“(Noach was) perfect in his generation”. The first opinion is that even in a time with more tzaddikim, such as the time of Avraham, Noach would have stood out as a great man. The other opinion in the gemarah is that the pasuk is teaching us that Noach was only perfect for his generation, however, if he had lived in the time of Avraham, he would have been a run-of-the-mill, albeit still good, person. But by no means would he have been perfect, like the pasuk says. (This is difficult to understand by itself as Noach was still worthy of speaking to G-d and of being saved when in reality G-d didn’t have to save anybody. So while more explanation is needed, this is not the point of our discussion so we will not do so here.)

The very next Rashi focuses on the words, “אֶת הָאֱ־לֹהִים הִתְהַלֶּךְ נֹחַ“Noach walked with G-d”. Rashi explains that by Avraham the pasuk says that he walked before G-d (See 24:40), while here by Noach it says that he walked with G-d. What is the difference? The medrash explains that in order for Noach to stay a tzaddik, he needed Hashem next to him, supporting him the entire time to ensure he would stay on the correct path. Avraham, however, was firm in his beliefs and actions and therefore could support himself in his righteousness and therefore could walk “before” G-d. Rashi seems to be taking sides in this machlokes by bringing in this medrash which clearly goes like the second explanation that Noach was not a real tzaddik!

It is easy at this point to say that Rashi has shown us which side of the machlokes he follows and end it at that, but I believe we can see from another Rashi that he is not taking sides, rather he is bringing explanations for both sides. In pasuk 14, Hashem tells Noach to build a תבה, an ark. Rashi explains there, "הרבה ריוח והצלה לפניו, ולמה הטריחו בבנין זה, כדי שיראוהו אנשי דור המבול עוסק בה מאה ועשרים שנה ושואלין אותו מה זאת לך, והוא אומר להם עתיד הקב"ה להביא מבול לעולם, אולי ישובו."He (Hashem) has many ways of rescue, why then did he trouble him to build this (ark)? In order that the people of the Generation of the Flood would see him working on it for 120 years and ask him, ‘For what do you need this? ’And he would say to them, ‘Hashem is going to bring a flood to the world’. Perhaps they would repent.” The way I understood this Rashi is that he is saying that Hashem has many ways of rescue so why would Noach have to build a תבה when Hashem could do a miracle and save him. But I don’t understand, don’t we have a rule that “אין סומכין על הנס”, we don’t rely on miracles? And even without that, wouldn’t Noach have to do some sort of השתדלות in order to be saved? Hashem is not just going to make a huge miracle, like creating a giant bubble for Noach to live in during the flood, without Noach doing his part!

I believe from this Rashi we see like the opinion that Noach was a tzaddik. Therefore, of course Hashem would have saved him using a miracle, whether we are supposed to depend on them or not, and the only reason why he had to build the תבה was in order to give the generation a chance to do teshuvah. So Rashi has not “taken sides”, rather he is still explaining both sides of the machlokes, giving the same respect to all the sages involved.

Shabbat Shalom!


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dvar Torah for Succos

       "וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן" “And you  shall take for yourselves on the first day”(Vayikra 23:40). So the pasuk begins, describing the mitzvah of Arba Minim, the Four Species. Chazal teach us that each one of these species represent a different type of Jew. The Esrog, which has both a pleasant smell and taste, represents a Jew who both learns Torah and does mitzvos. The Aravos, willow branches, have neither taste nor smell and represents a Jew with neither Torah nor mitzvos. The Hadasim, myrtle branches, have a pleasant smell and represents someone who does mitzvos but does not learn Torah, while the Lulav, the palm branch, has a taste but no smell and represent someone who learns Torah but does not do mitzvos.
       On Succos we tie all four of these species together and wave them and if you are missing one of the four, you have not fulfilled the mitzvah. The significance here is clear, on Succos we stress the importance of Achdus, unity, in Klal Yisrael. In the time of the Beis Hamikdash, Jews of all types from all over the world would come to Yerushalayim to celebrate together. Especially after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and having done teshuvah, on Succos it is important that we work on our Bein Adam L’Chaveiro, relationships between our fellow man, to show that we are committed to our promises we made to become better people.
       Another mitzvah done at Succos time is the mitzvah of Hak’el. Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael about this mitzvah in Parshas Vayeilech (see Devarim 31:10-13). During the Succos immediately following the Shmittah year, the nation would gather together in the Beis Hamikdash and listen to the king read the entire Sefer Devarim. The pasuk specifically mentions that this mitzvah is for everyone, including men, women, and even small children. Rashi brings the gemarah is Chagigah(3a) which explains that the men come to learn, the women come to hear, and the kids are brought in order to give שכר, merit, to the ones who brought them.
       The Kli Yakar that this reasoning does not make sense, if the children are brought to give שכר to the ones who brought them, if their parents had brought a bundle of wood instead they also would have been rewarded for that? There must be a reason why they should bring the children specifically.
       He brings a medrash that says that the first day of Succos is the first day after Yom Kippur that Aveiros are counted. They bring a proof from the pasuk of “וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן” that we brought earlier. The pasuk use the words “בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן” “on the first day” even though Succos starts on the fifteenth of the month! Rather, the pasuk is coming to show me this explanation. (This is the midrashic interpretation. The way we explained this pasuk earlier is still the simple way to understand the pasuk.) The days between Yom Kippur and Succos are so filled up with the mitzvos of preparing for Yom Tov, building the Sukkah and buying Arba Minim that there is no time to do Aveiros, so the first day you even have an opportunity for them is the first day of Succos.
       Because of this, Succos becomes a time of preparation, preparation for a new teshuvah. During the year, Hashem accepts teshuvah only from congregations of people davening together for each other, but during the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, even the teshuvah of a single person is accepted. So when Succos starts, we must join together as a group in order that Hashem will continue to favor us even when we eventually sin. This is the reason we take the Arba Minim on Succos and even more so on the first day. “וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן”, on this first day when Aveiros become reality again after the awesome day of Yom Kippur, we most join together with all different types of Jews to become united in teshuvah. Our Achdus becomes extremely important at this time and because of this we work hard on it during the Chag.
       Hak’el does the same thing in promoting Achdus. Immediately after Shmittah, everyone feels like they are in the same boat, the poor people have not been able to collect their normal Tzedakah from the fields and the rich people have also had to make do with much less then they are used to since they did not plant anything. What better time to promote unity in Klal Yisrael then when everyone feels and understands their friend’s situation! And Succos is the perfect time as well, when everyone has left their homes, be they big or small, and is living in temporary huts. Everyone is once again in the same situation. This is why we read Sefer Devarim which has all the pesukim of Teshuvah. And this is also why we bring the children to Hak’el, so Hashem should have mercy on the children if not on us, thus giving שכר to the ones who brought them!
       During the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, we asked Hashem for ourselves, for our families, our friends, neighbors, people who are close to us and involved with our lives. Succos is the time when we branch out, when we start thinking about the big picture, when we think more about the entire Jewish People as one. When you would come to the Beis Hamikdash for Yom Tov, the scene that immediately hit you was the thousands and thousands of Jews all coming together for the same reason, to celebrate the Chag in the holiest place on Earth. At that time, the entire nation came together in unity, in Achdus. Even though we don’t have the Beis Hamikdash nowadays, Succos still represents that time, the time when we all live in temporary houses, when we have just finished a Yom Kippur and have a clean slate for the new year, the time when we must join together with all Jews in a show of Achdus. With that, we will surely merit a final and complete teshuvah and the Geulah speedily in our times.     

Chag Sameach!

Click here to see last year's Dvar Torah for Succos


Friday, October 7, 2011

Dvar Torah for Yom Kippur 5772

      Now that we find ourselves on the other side of Rosh Hashanah, we are faced with the daunting spectacle of the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance) and Yom Kippur. This week was set aside by Hashem as the time for us to repent for our sins of the past year. While Yom Kippur is obviously the most important day of them all, it being the date set aside by the Torah for repentance, this entire period must be taken seriously, with each day an added preparation for Yom Kippur. Because of this, Chazal recommended accepting certain stringencies on ourselves for just this week. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in his sefer Michtav MeEliyahu says that this might seem silly since we know that starting the next week we won’t care about any of these laws. He explains that this week we are supposed to try to familiarize ourselves with doing mitzvos and being Ovdei Hashem (Servants of Hashem) as much as possible, if that means accepting a stricter halachah for only one week, so be it. Even if we don’t keep the halachah afterwards, it is worth it in order to put us in a “do-gooder” mood.          
       Let us try to understand Yom Kippur itself. The pasuk says in Parshas Emor,” אַךְ בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי הַזֶּה יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים הוּא מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶםBut on the tenth of this seventh month, it is a day of atonement, it shall be a holy day for you and you shall afflict yourselves…” (Vayikra 23:27). On Yom Kippur, we are obligated to keep a few extra restrictions which are known collectively as “עינוי”. עינוי (Inui), affliction, includes no eating or drinking, no washing hands below the knuckles, no wearing leather shoes, and a few other restrictions. The only one other day during the year on which there is a concept of Inui is Tisha B’av, the day on which we mourn the destruction of both Batei Mikdash. First off, it is very important to understand that there is a very fundamental difference between these two days. Tisha B’av is the saddest day of the year, the day we mourn the loss of the greatest connection we had to God in this world. As such, we treat ourselves like mourners who are obligated to pain themselves, Inui.
       Yom Kippur, however, is completely different.  This day is one of the greatest gifts Hashem has given us, a chance to wipe away all of our sins and start over completely from the beginning. It is when we show Hashem that we are ready and willing to become better people. In order to do that, we try to separate ourselves from the material world as much as we can, till we reach the level of angels. We hope that by acting like angels, Hashem will treat us like holy beings and forgive us and believe that we will change. The way we separate ourselves is by undertaking the ways of Inui, not to pain ourselves, but to show that we have no need of worldly pleasures. Just like a malach (angel) has no need of food, drink, or comfortable shoes, so too we do not need these things. All we need is to bask in Hashem’s presence.   
       The majority of the davening on Yom Kippur is dedicated to Vidui, confession, a part of the mitzvah of teshuvah. It is a discussion amongst the various commentaries if Vidui and Teshuvah are two separate commandments or one and the same, but regardless, everyone agrees that without Vidui, which is specifically a verbal confession, your teshuvah is not complete. The question becomes that how come an internal repentance is not enough? What are you adding to the teshuvah when you confess out loud? R’ Samson Rafael Hirsch says that if you say verbally what and how you have sinned, the sin becomes an external force which you can always look at to make sure you won’t commit that sin again. Once you say something out loud, that confession is now permanent, it cannot be erased. Even if you admit you were wrong, but you don’t verbalize your guilt, you can always back out of it. Once you commit verbally, it is a full exposure of your sin. Someone who can make this type of commitment, is worthy of extreme praise. To show how important Vidui is, Chazal placed it in every tefillah, including the minchah on Erev Yom Kippur. If we can have the proper Kavanah (concentration) required during Vidui, surely Hashem will have mercy on us.
       While we are preparing for Yom Kippur and everything that comes with it, there is a very important gemarah to consider.  דרש ר' אלעזר בן עזריה  (ויקרא טז, ל) ‘מכל חטאתיכם לפני ה' תטהרו’, עבירות שבין אדם למקום יוה"כ מכפר עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו אין יוה"כ מכפר עד שירצה את וחביר” “Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah learned out from the pasuk ‘…from all of your sins, before Hashem, you will become pure.’ Sins that are between man and God will be absolved by Yom Kippur. Sins that are between man and his friend are not absolved by Yom Kippur. They will only be forgiven when the man pleases his friend” (Yoma 85b).The meaning of this gemarah is very clear, if we have wronged a friend over the course of the year, davening to Hashem for forgiveness will not work in this case. We must seek out that person and ask forgiveness from them. In some ways, this is harder than asking Hashem for forgiveness. And even though Yom Kippur is not mechaper (does not atone) for any sin against another person, these sins are still included in your judgment! So it is extremely important to ask for forgiveness since they are your only way of doing a complete Teshuvah.
       Yom Kippur is our day, the day when we are put in the spotlight for the events of the past year and are judged for good or bad. We must take advantage of this time and do everything we can to make the din (judgment) go in our favor. The one day the Satan has no power on is Yom Kippur, this means that there are no outside forces opposing us and trying to put us in a bad light. The only things present at the judgment when our fate is decided are ourselves and our actions. At this final stage, it is completely up to us. Let us all commit to live by the Torah and all of Hashem’s mitzvos and with that we should all merit a happy, healthy year.    

Gmar Chasima Tova!