Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Terumah

Parshas Terumah brings us back from the technicalities of Parshas Mishpatim and returns us to the story of the Bnei Yisrael in the desert. After receiving the Torah and becoming a nation, the Jewish People are now ready to have Hashem’s Shechinah rest amongst them on a constant basis. To this end, Hashem tells Moshe to build a Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Mishkan will house the Shechinah and will be the central location for all sacrifices and services to Hashem while the Jews are in the desert. Many of the same vessels that were used in the Mishkan were eventually used in the Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple) several hundred years later.

One of the vessels made at this time was the Menorah. The pesukim go into great detail describing exactly how the Menorah should look, but the way that it was actually built is a source of great discussion in the Midrash. The pasuk says, “וְעָשִׂיתָ מְנֹרַת זָהָב טָהוֹר מִקְשָׁה תֵּעָשֶׂה הַמְּנוֹרָה“You shall make a Menorah of pure gold, beaten out shall the Menorah be made” (Shemos 25:31). Rashi in his commentary on this pasuk brings out two points. The first is that the word “מִקְשָׁה“beaten out”, teaches us that the Menorah must be made completely out of one piece of gold. You cannot make it in pieces and then connect them together which is no easy task when dealing with something as complicated and intricate as the Menorah. Secondly, he comments on the word “תֵּעָשֶׂה”. The proper form of the word for the act of making in Hebrew is “תַּעֲשֶׂה”, the form used here, “תֵּעָשֶׂה”, means that it was made itself. Rashi brings a Midrash which explains that Moshe could not figure out how to make the Menorah, so Hashem told him to throw a block of gold into a fire and the Menorah came out already fully formed.

Later on in Pasuk 40, the pasuk says, “וּרְאֵה וַעֲשֵׂה בְּתַבְנִיתָם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה מָרְאֶה בָּהָר“See and construct, according to their form that you are shown on the mountain” (25:40). Rashi explains that Moshe was first shown the form of each vessel by Hashem on Har Sinai and then built it based on that picture. The reason this pasuk is said specifically by the construction of the Menorah is because the reason that Hashem showed Moshe these visions in the first place was because Moshe was confused as to the exact form of the Menorah’s construction, so Hashem showed him a vision of the Menorah made out of fire, after which it is implied that Moshe proceeded to build the Menorah. This is a direct contradiction to the Midrash we said in Pasuk 31! The Midrash here seems to say that Moshe built the Menorah himself while the Midrash earlier said that it was made by itself when Moshe threw the gold into the fire?

Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi (known as “Mizrachi”), a commentary on Rashi, tries to reconcile these two Midrashim. He brings a third Midrash which says that Hashem described to Moshe several times how the Menorah should be made and Moshe just could not grasp it. Hashem then showed him a picture of the Menorah out of fire and still Moshe could not understand it. Hashem finally sends Moshe to Betzalel, the architect of the Mishkan (See 31:1-5), who immediately built the Menorah. Moshe was flabbergasted and proclaimed, “How many times did Hashem show me how to make the Menorah and I could not figure it out, but you didn’t even see it and were able to make it! Maybe you were there when Hashem showed me how to make it” (Tanchuma). This Midrash says that Betzalel made the Menorah! We now have three potential builders of the Menorah, Moshe, Betzalel, and that it made itself. So who really built the Menorah? Where do we fit this third Midrash into the Menorah storyline?

The Mizrachi organizes the Midrashim as follows; the first thing that happened was that Hashem showed Moshe the form of the Menorah in fire. Moshe had a lot of difficulty understanding how to make the Menorah, so Hashem told him to go to Betzalel. He then explains that the Midrash we brought that Betzalel made the Menorah must be the same Midrash as the Menorah being made by itself after being thrown into the fire. If this is not true, then how did Betzalel have any idea how to build the Menorah, the most complicated vessel to make?

But why would Moshe have been shocked that Betzalel knew how to make the Menorah, the Midrash says that Hashem told Moshe to throw the gold into the fire and we are now explaining that that is all Betzalel did! Why would Moshe have been surprised at Betzalel doing what Hashem told him to do? The Mizrachi explains that Hashem must have only told Moshe to go to Betzalel with the gold but not that he should throw it into the fire. Moshe figured that Betzalel with his vast knowledge of architecture would know how to build the Menorah and was therefore very surprised to see him just throw it into the fire and watch the Menorah pop out fully formed. Because of this, Moshe exclaimed that Betzalel must have been privy to secrets of Hashem that Moshe himself didn’t even know! (As to how Betzalel knew these secrets, I believe that this is what the pasuk refers to when it says that Hashem filled him with “the spirit of God” [See 31:3]).

The Gur Aryeh and the Sfas Emes explain these Midrashim by saying that this teaches us that everything that we accomplish in life is only because Hashem decided to give it to us. However, before He gives us anything, we must make the first effort to show that we really want it. Once we make that first effort, Hashem sees our desire and helps us finish our struggles, so in reality, it is our efforts which bring us to our ultimate goal. May we always have this strong motivation to accomplish good and with that little effort on our part, Hashem will take us the rest of the way.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Mishpatim

Back in Parshas Shemos, we discussed Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest leader in the long and illustrious history of the Jewish People. We brought the story of the Burning Bush to show examples of his greatness and how he was able to use all aspects of his existence, physical and spiritual, to serve Hashem. That story took place even before Moshe was leader of Bnei Yisrael! In this week’s Parshah, when Bnei Yisrael have now become a nation and accepted the Torah, we find more examples of Moshe’s greatness.

The first pasuk of Shishi says, “הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ מַלְאָךְ לְפָנֶיךָ“Behold! I send an angel before you…” (Shemos 23:20). Hashem tells Moshe that at some point during the Bnei Yisrael’s trip through the desert he will stop resting his Shechinah directly on Bnei Yisrael and an angel will take his place in leading them through the desert. Rashi explains that later on in Parshas Ki Sisa (33:2-3), after the Bnei Yisrael sin with the Golden Calf, Hashem tells Moshe that he will no longer rest his Shechinah on them. He says that Hashem is telling Moshe now that soon that day will come when a malach will lead Bnei Yisrael through the desert.

The Ramban asks on Rashi’s explanation here. He says that we know from the Gemarah that this punishment never took place; when Hashem told Moshe what he was planning, Moshe davened that the Shechinah should stay, and it did! So how can Rashi say that this pasuk is referring to that “eventual” event?

He answers that while Hashem’s presence remained within the nation during the time of Moshe, after Moshe died, in the time of Yehoshua, a malach took over. The pasuk says in Sefer Yehoshua, “כִּי אֲנִי שַׂר-צְבָא-יְהוָה--עַתָּה בָאתִיוַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה-אִישׁ עֹמֵד לְנֶגְדּוֹ וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדוֹ“And he (Yehoshua) lifted his eyes and saw and behold!- a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand…(the man said) I am the commander of Hashem’s legion” (Yehoshua 5:13-14). The “man” was really a malach of Hashem coming to take control of the Jewish army before their attack on Yericho. This is when our pasuk was fulfilled. Throughout the entire time of Moshe, Hashem himself stayed with the camp but after Moshe’s death, an angel took over.

But why did the angel come then? What was it about Moshe that Hashem did not send an angel till after Moshe’s death? The Ramban explains that this angel which came to Yehoshua was none other than the מלאך הגואל, the “redeeming angel” that Yaakov spoke about in his famous bracha to Menashe and Efraim, which we say every night before we go to sleep. This angel was the messenger of Hashem who was there for Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov in their times of need. (The Ramban brings pesukim showing examples for each one of the Avos, but this is not the place to bring them. For further research, see the Ramban inside.) The medrash says, “א"ל הקב"ה למשה הם מי ששמר את האבות הוא ישמור את הבנים“Hashem said to Moshe, he who watched over the Fathers will watch over the sons” (Shemos Rabba 32:9), the same angel who watched over our Forefathers should also watch over us, their children. This strengthens our question even more! Why shouldn’t this angel watch over Bnei Yisrael even in the time of Moshe? The Ramban explains that while Moshe was alive, he filled the position of the angel. While he was leading Bnei Yisrael, it was as if the מלאך הגואל himself was watching over them. Wow! Moshe took the place of an angel! How was he able to fill such big shoes?

Later on in the Parshah, Moshe approaches Har Sinai together with Aharon, Nadav and Avihu (Aharon’s sons), and the Zekeinim. The pasuk says, “וַיֶּחֱזוּ אֶת הָאֱ־לֹהִים וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׁתּוּ“…and they perceived G-d, and they ate and they drank.” (Shemos 24:11). Rashi says Nadav, Avihu and the Zekeinim saw Hashem, then went and ate and drank. They then became haughty about what they had perceived as a result of their gorging. It’s easy to see that they sinned by overindulging but how could these great tzaddikim even make this mistake in the first place?

The Kli Yakar explains that this whole episode shows the difference between Moshe’s Nevuah (Level of Prophecy) and the Nevuah of everyone else. Malachim are created completely spiritual with no physical needs. This puts them to a certain degree on a higher spiritual level than human beings. People who are created with a physical side must train themselves to use their physical abilities for spirituality. Moshe was the only prophet to speak to G-d “face to face”. At this point in time, when he ascended Har Sinai for forty days, he reached so high a level that he no longer needed his physical side! He connected to Hashem, even as a human, from a completely spiritual perspective. In fact, the Gemarah in Yoma (4b) explains that the first six days Moshe spent on the mountain were used to purge his body of all remaining food and water, so that he would benefit only from the spiritual influence of Hashem. (The pasuk later on says that Moshe did not eat or drink the entire time he was on Har Sinai.) Everyone else, however, still had to use their physical characteristics to try and connect to Hashem. Therefore, immediately after “seeing” Hashem, they went to eat and drink to try to connect to Hashem that way. Rashi explains that they failed in that regard. Moshe didn’t need that; his physical side had completely disappeared leaving him on the same level as an angel.

We explained back in Parshas Shemos that Moshe is compared to the sun because he was light on all “sides”, meaning all aspects of his life. But his student, Yehoshua, is compared to the moon. While one side is lit up, but the other side is always dark. We see again how lucky that generation was, and how lucky we are as a nation, that we once had a leader like Moshe Rabbeinu. May we be zoche to once again have a leader like Moshe and may we be able to reach his level, where even our physical strengths are used completely for spiritual growth.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Yisro

This week's Dvar Torah is dedicated in Memory of Rabbi Yosef ben Yitzchak Isaac Tendler zt''l, my high school principal who passed away on Wednesday. His Neshama should have an aliyah.

At the beginning of this week’s parshah, Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro, joins Bnei Yisrael in the desert, along with Moshe’s wife and children. The parsha starts off, “וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ כֹהֵן מִדְיָן חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱ־לֹהִים לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמּוֹ כִּי הוֹצִיא יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִםוַיָּבֹא יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה וּבָנָיו וְאִשְׁתּוֹ אֶל מֹשֶׁה אֶל הַמִּדְבָּר“Yisro, the minister of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that God did to Moshe and to Yisrael, His people- that Hashem took Yisrael out of Egypt…Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, came to Moshe with his sons and wife, to the desert…”(Shemos 18:1,5). Rashi here asks, what did Yisro hear that caused him to come? He answers that he heard about the Splitting of the Sea and the miracle of the war with Amalek. When Yisro arrives, the pasuk describes his meeting with Moshe. “וַיְסַפֵּר מֹשֶׁה לְחֹתְנוֹ אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְ־הֹוָ־ה לְפַרְעֹה וּלְמִצְרַיִם עַל אוֹדֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵת כָּל הַתְּלָאָה אֲשֶׁר מְצָאָתַם בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיַּצִּלֵם יְ־הֹוָ־ה“Moshe told his father-in-law everything that Hashem had done to Paroh and Egypt for Yisrael’s sake- all the trouble that had befallen them on the way- and that Hashem had rescued them.” (18:8). Rashi again explains here that he told him about the miracles by the sea and the battle, learning it out from the word “הַתְּלָאָה“the trouble”.

The Kli Yakar asks several questions on these two instances of Yisro hearing about the miracles that Hashem did for Bnei Yisrael. First off, very simply, why did Moshe have to retell to Yisro the story of the miracles that happened to the Bnei Yisrael? The only reason Yisro came was because he had heard about the miracles! Next, he points out the discrepancies between the pesukim. When Yisro hears about the miracles, the pasuk says that he heard about “אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱ־לֹהִים לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל“all that God did to Moshe and Yisrael”, but when Moshe tells over the miracles to Yisro, he describes them as “כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְ־הֹוָ־ה לְפַרְעֹה וּלְמִצְרַיִם עַל אוֹדֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל“everything that Hashem had done to Paroh and Egypt for Yisrael’s sake”. Why the difference? Another point he brings from this phrase is why does the pasuk have to state explicitly that he heard Hashem took Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, the pasuk said earlier that he heard everything that Hashem had done for them? Was the Exodus not included in that?

The last question he asks is from Pasuk 11. The pasuk says, “עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי גָדוֹל יְ־הֹוָ־ה מִכָּל הָאֱ־לֹהִים כִּי בַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר זָדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם“Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods, for with that they schemed against them…!” (18:11). Rashi explains that Yisro tried every single form of idolatry that existed and had rejected them all. He could therefore truly say that “Hashem is greater than all the gods”. But if Yisro had already heard all that Hashem had done for the Jews, how come it took him till now to realize that Hashem was the greatest god? He should have realized this before he even came!

The Kli Yakar explains that at the time, many people believed that there were two gods, one who controlled all the good events in the world and one who controlled all bad events. The god that controlled the good events had absolutely no power over the god that controlled bad and vice versa. This meant that you could not believe in both of them since they canceled out each other. Yisro was a little more progressive than the rest of the world and was hoping to find a god who controlled both good and bad. So when he came and joined the Jews in the desert, he was hoping to find proof that Hashem was the answer to his long search for a deity. When he heard about all the miracles that Hashem had done for the Jewish People by the Red Sea and by the battle with Amalek, he only heard about the good things that Hashem did for the Jewish people, like the fact that they walked through on dry land, but not the bad things he did to the Egyptians at the same time (i.e. when he drowned them in the sea). So Yisro still did not have proof that Hashem had control over anything other than good events. This is also why the pasuk mentions the Exodus out of all the other miracles. It symbolizes only the good things which Hashem did to Bnei Yisrael, but not the bad things he did to the Egyptians.

Later on when Yisro talks to Moshe and hears about all the things that Hashem did to Paroh and Mitzrayim, it is referring to all the bad things which Hashem did to them like the makkos and drowning them in the sea. So only then Yisro could truly say, “עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי גָדוֹל יְ־הֹוָ־ה מִכָּל הָאֱ־לֹהִים”. Only now he realizes that Hashem is the one true God who controls everything that happens in the universe and is therefore worthy of service.

However, there still exists the possibility of two gods, one who controls good and did good to Yisrael and one who controls bad and did bad to the Egyptians? Let’s take another look at Pasuk 11. “עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי גָדוֹל יְ־הֹוָ־ה מִכָּל הָאֱ־לֹהִים כִּי בַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר זָדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם“Now I know that Hashem is greater than all the gods, for with that they schemed against them…!”(18:11). Rashi asks, what exactly did Yisro see from what Egypt schemed against the Jews that Hashem was the greatest God? He explains that Yisro saw that Hashem punished מדה כנגד מדה, measure for measure. Whatever and however the Egyptians wanted to punish Bnei Yisrael, Hashem punished them the exact same way. If the god for bad and the god for good are two separate gods, then why would someone who did bad be punished? You are fulfilling what “god” wants! Rather, it must be that Hashem is the one and only God and he was punishing the Egyptians for doing bad to his nation, Yisrael, for which he wanted to do good.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Dvar Torah for Parshas Beshalach

Parshas Beshalach offers many topics to speak about. From the splitting of the Red Sea to the Shirah to the beginning of the Bnei Yisrael’s travels in the desert, this parshah is full of famous stories and Divrei Torah. This week I would like to discuss the only topic I did not mention in the last sentence, the מן (Manna). Though its name identifies it simply as “food”, the manna was anything but simple.

The pesukim themselves as well as the midrashim on the parshah list the many miracles that surrounded the מן. First off, the manna was delivered straight from the sky to your doorstep each morning covered with a layer of dew on top and bottom of it for protection. The medrash adds that depending on how righteous the person was, the manna would be left closer or farther from your door. (This allowed people to judge themselves every day[!] and see where they were holding.) While the pasuk tells us that it tasted like dough fried in honey, the medrash tells us that the manna could acquire the taste of whatever food you desired it to taste like. Another miracle was that Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael to collect only enough for an omer (approx. 3.64 liters) per person. The pasuk relates that no matter how much a person collected, when the manna was measured later it always came out to exactly an omer per person.

Another miracle was that if the manna was left overnight, by the next morning it had rotted. This miracle in particular can help us understand what the whole purpose of the מן was. The מן in general is very important to understand; if this is what Hashem decided we should eat in the desert, there must be a lesson for us wrapped up in its texture, taste, and portion size. The pasuk describes the purpose of the מן as, “…וְיָצָא הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ דְּבַר יוֹם בְּיוֹמוֹ לְמַעַן אֲנַסֶּנּוּ הֲיֵלֵךְ בְּתוֹרָתִי אִם לֹא“…and the people should go out and gather what they need for the day, so that I can test them, whether or not they will follow My teaching.” (Shemos 16:4). Rashi explains that the test here is to see if Bnei Yisrael will listen to the obligations that came with the manna, namely, not to leave any of the מן overnight and not to collect it on Shabbos.

The Kli Yakar explains Rashi further and says that these restrictions were supposed to test the level of ביטחון of the Bnei Yisrael. Someone who knows that he has food for the next day has no fear of starvation and therefore does not feel the need to save the manna for the next day. Also, Bnei Yisrael received a double portion of manna on Friday so they would not need to collect on Shabbos which went against the normal policy of not collecting more than they needed for one day. Because of this, there were people who thought they would still have to go out and collect manna on Shabbos. However, someone who trusted Hashem believed Moshe when he said that the food would last for two days. By giving them מן every day, Hashem could measure the level of ביטחון Bnei Yisrael had constantly.

The Ramban brings down a Gemarah in Yoma (75b) which explains the deeper significance of the manna. The pasuk in Tehillim describes the manna as, “לחם אבירים אכל איש“Humans ate the bread of angels” (Psalms 78:25). R’ Akiva and R’ Yishmael learn this verse differently. R’ Akiva explains it simply, that the Jews ate the exact same bread that the angels eat. R’ Yishmael argues that angels do not eat bread and instead explains “לחם אבירים” as “לחם שנבלע במאתים וארבעים ושמונה אברים“bread which is absorbed into the 248 bones”. There still is a need to understand R’ Akiva’s explanation as it does not make any sense, angels don’t eat bread! The Ramban explains that R’ Akiva is basing his explanation off of a medrash that angels are sustained by the shine of the Shechinah which contains the “supreme light” of Hashem. He wants to explain that the manna comes from this same “supreme light” and therefore the angels and the Jews eating מן are being sustained by the same thing!

The Kli Yakar explains that someone who learns Torah has distractions from inside and out. The inner distraction is the effect that eating has on the body. When you eat heavy food, it slows down your body, and more importantly, your mind, thereby preventing you from using your full mental faculties for Torah. It is for this reason that Moshe did not eat anything for the forty days he was on Har Sinai, in order that he would be able to concentrate completely on the Torah he was learning. The outer distraction is the hassle involved in obtaining food which takes away from a person’s time which could be used to learn Torah. The מן was designed specifically with these two problems in mind. Therefore, it was delivered directly to their doors which removed the outer distraction, and by using R’ Akiva’s explanation in the Gemarah in Yoma, we see how it removed the inner distraction as well. The מן was only physical in appearance, but in how it affected a person’s body, it was made up of the “supreme light” of Hashem! With these two characteristics we see that the manna was a completely spiritual “food” which only enhanced the nation’s ability to understand and study the Torah.

We can now understand the medrash which explains that specifically the generation which ate the manna received the Torah. Not only was it important that Bnei Yisrael have an easy path to understanding the Torah, there was also a middah which they had to learn before they could receive it. It is important that anyone who learns Torah has a middah of Sufficiency, the recognition that I don’t need anything more than what is necessary in order to survive. Only someone who is not worried about where his comforts will come from but just knows that he will be okay as long as he has at least his minimal needs, can learn Torah with complete peace of mind, which is the only way he will be able to absorb it all.

The Kli Yakar concludes that this was the test that Hashem was giving Bnei Yisrael. What he gave them was essentially an obstacle-free path to learning Torah. If the nation would not follow the laws even with this spiritual existence, they obviously were not ready to accept the Torah. Except for very few exceptions, they passed this test.

Hopefully soon our generation will also reach this level of the מן, and then we too will be able to learn the Torah and keep its laws in a worry-free state, completely covered inside and out by the shechinah.

Shabbat Shalom!

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