Parshat Vaetchanan on Moshe’s continued plea

Parshat Vaetchanan on Moshe’s continued plea

I beseeched G-d at that time (3:23)

Moses prayed 515 prayers—the numerical value (gematria) of va’etchanan, “and I beseeched”—to be allowed to enter the Land. The Yalkut Shemini explains: When Moses saw that the decree had been sealed against him, he went and drew a circle and sat inside it, and said: I am not moving from here until You nullify the decree! . . . He then wrapped himself in sackcloth and covered himself with ashes, and stood in prayer and supplication before G-d until the heaven and the earth and the very laws of creation began to tremble, and said: Perhaps the time has come for G-d to destroy the world? . . . What did G-d do at that moment? He announced at every gate of every heaven and at every gate of every court that Moses’ prayer should not be admitted . . . for the voice of Moses’ prayer was like a sword that slices and rips, and which nothing can stop . . . Said Moses to G-d: If You will not allow me to enter the Land, allow me to [enter] as a beast of the field, which grazes on the grass and drinks water and sees the world that way—let my soul be as one of those!
Said G-d: “Enough!” Said Moses to G-d: If You will not allow me to enter the Land, allow me to [enter] as a bird that flies in the air to all four corners of the earth to collect its feed, and in the evening returns to its nest—let my soul be as one of those! Said G-d: “Enough!”

There is none else beside Him (4:35)

Rabbi Binyamin Kletzker, a chassid of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was a lumber      merchant. One year, while he was adding up the annual accounts, he inadvertently filled in under a column of figures: “TOTAL: Ein od milvado (‘There is none else beside Him’).” A fellow chassid admonished him for his absentmindedness. “Don’t you know, Reb Binyamin, that everything has its time and place?” he admonished. “There’s a time for chassidic      philosophizing, and a time to engage in worldly matters. A person’s business dealings are also an important part of his service of the Almighty, and must be properly attended to.” Said Rabbi Binyamin: “We consider it perfectly natural if, during prayer, one’s mind wanders off to the fair in Leipzig. So what’s so terrible if, when involved in business, an ‘alien thought’ regarding the oneness of G-d infiltrates the mind?”

You shall love the L-rd your G-d . . . (6:5) The Maggid of Mezeritch expounded on this verse, and asked: how can there be a commandment to love? Love is a feeling of the heart; one who has the feeling, loves. What can a person do if, G-d forbid, love is not embedded in his heart? How can the Torah instruct “you shall love” as if it were a matter of choice? But the commandment actually lies in the previous verse, “Hear O Israel . . .” Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch explains: The Hebrew word shema (“hear”) also means “comprehend.” The Torah is commanding a person to study, comprehend and reflect upon the oneness of G-d. Because it is the nature of the mind to rule the heart, such contemplation will inevitably lead to a love of G-d. If one contemplates deeply and yet is still not excited with a love of G-d, this is only because he has not sufficiently refined and       purified himself of the things which stifle his capacity to sense and relate to the divine. Aside from this, such contemplation by the mind will always result in a feeling of love.

 

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

 

Parshat Dvarim on Projection

Parshat Dvarim on Projection

Moshe gives reproof to the Jewish people in the book of Devarim, including the following:

“And you complained in your tents, and you said, because the Almighty hated us He took us out of Egypt to hand us over to Amorites to destroy us.”

Is it truly possible that the Israelites thought that the Almighty hated them?

Rashi, the great commentator, elucidates this verse and gives us a profound insight into human nature. Says Rashi, that the Almighty really loved the Israelites, but because they felt hatred towards Him, they mistakenly felt that He hated them. As people say, “What you feel about someone else, you assume he feels about you.”

Rabbi Kalman Packouz explains: “There is a strong tendency for people to project their own feelings towards others. If you constantly think that other people should not be   trusted, it could show that you feel that others should not really trust you. If you always think that others disapprove of you, it indicates that you don’t approve of others – or    perhaps yourself. To use this positively, if you feel love and compassion for others, you will assume others feel that way towards you. Not only that, but your behavior and     feelings will beget the same from the people you interact with. Try smiling at another  person. You’ll feel better towards him and he’ll be more positive towards you.”

In recalling the story of the spies, the Torah states, “And they said, ‘The land which the Lord, our G-d, is giving us is good.” Rashi understands these to be the words of Joshua and Caleb, the good spies; the Chasam Sofer says that these could also be the words of the other spies who were against going up into the land. The other spies could have meant that since the land is so good, the inhabitants will fight for it and not let us win.

Our lesson, according to Rabbi Zelig Pliskin: ‘When one praises you, do not assume   anything negative; when you praise others, be careful that your words cannot be taken negatively. It is important to communicate clearly and unequivocally.

The Torah states:

“And I commanded your judges at that time saying, ‘Listen among your brothers.’ “What does this mean and what lesson for life can we learn from it?

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin writes that some judges may see themselves as elevated    people and the litigants who come to them as wicked. Therefore, the Torah states, “Listen among your brothers.” That is, consider anyone who comes to you as a brother and treat him accordingly. This concept applies to anyone in a position of authority. It is very easy to treat people as objects. However, our attitude towards others should be, “How would I feel, act and talk if this person were my brother?” This is especially         important for anyone who is in a position where people in financial need or emotional pain come to him or her for assistance. The person you are talking with is suffering and often might feel embarrassed that he needs to come to someone for help. Be extremely sensitive to his feelings. If you are able to make him feel that you feel towards him as a close relative, it is a great kindness.

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

 

Parshat Mattot- Masei On being one for the community

Parshat Mattot- Masei On being one for the community

In commemoration of the 7th yahrzeit of our father and Zaidie, Cecil A. Labow- Zisse Alexander ben Yisrael Meir HaLevi Z”L on the 3rd of Av

Prepared by Martin S. Labow and Devorah Bat-Sheva Abenhaim

 

When one walks in to The Jewish Hospital of Hope Pavilion of the Jewish Eldercare Centre in Montreal, they will notice a plaque. This plaque plays tribute to the individuals who were instrumental in the relocation of the      hospital from 7745 Sherbrooke St. East, an area far removed from the Jewish Community, to its present location on Victoria. Under the names of these specific individuals it states:

“Rabbi Gamliel Said: Let all who work for the community do so from a spiritual motive, for then the merit of their fathers will sustain them, and their righteousness will endure forever”. “I credit you with great reward (G-d says) as if you accomplished it all”.

This week, it is customary to read the fifth Chapter in פרקי אבות, “Ethics of our Fathers”. The second Mishnah is the source of the above quote. The question here is “Why does Rabbi Gamliel single out those who do     communal affairs, whereas in the 12th Mishnah of this chapter, Rabbi Yossi says “…let all your deeds be for the sake of Heaven”? In order to understand this, we would have to go back to the beginning of the second       Mishnah, where it says that “it is good to combine the study of Torah with an occupation, for the effort required by them both keeps sin out of mind, while Torah study that is not combined with work will ultimately cease and leads to sin”. This is specifically directed to the Torah scholar. It stresses the importance of not being a burden to the community, because if he the scholar has an occupation, he will be able to both support himself and learn Torah.  This is exemplified by the “Hesder Yeshiva”, which combines Torah learning, with training towards a profession. We now get to the message/reward directed to those who work for the community. It is stressed that they should also have an occupation as a source of income, or have sufficient resources that they should not be under suspicion of doing the work for ulterior motives. The work that they are doing should be “for the sake of Heaven….” לשם שמים”, “ and not for the sake of income. Rabbi Moshe Bogolmilsky, in his commentary on פרקי אבות,  says that “when one works for community, and receives monetary compensation, he is opening himself up to suspicion and disrespect”. The ideal communal workers should be those who can sincerely dedicate their time and efforts to the cause without any thought of monetary compensation. We are proud to say that our father/zaide, whose name adorns the plaque as President, measured up to this ideal.

Moshe Rabeinu, could not understand why his cousins, and fellow-Levites, Datan and Abiram aspired to the Priesthood, and accused Moses’s of being the seeker of glory and riches (as they certainly were), when in fact, he says to G-d in Bamidbar 16:15, “אַל־תֵּ֖פֶן אֶל־מִנְחָתָ֑ם לֹ֠א חֲמ֨וֹר אֶחָ֤ד מֵהֶם֙ נָשָׂ֔אתִי וְלֹ֥א הֲרֵעֹ֖תִי אֶת־אַחַ֥ד מֵהֶֽם”  “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.” Why does Moshe mention this? When Moshe left Midian with his wife after Hashem told him to return to Egypt, it says in Shemot 4:20, “וַיִּקַּ֨ח מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶת־אִשְׁתּ֣וֹ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֗יו וַיַּרְכִּבֵם֙ עַֽל־הַֽחֲמֹ֔ר” that he used his own donkey to transport himself and family. He did not claim this expense from B’nai Yisrael. Moses, as Israel’s leader, says Rabbi Johnathan Sacks, had always prayed on behalf of his people, even for his sister Miriam when she was struck with leprosy for speaking “lashon hara” (badly) about him. Everything that he did, he did was “לשם שמים”,  “for the Sake of Heaven” Moshe was THE ideal community worker.

 

Parshat Balak on Moses vs Balaam

Parshat Balak on Moses vs Balaam

What is the true message of an entire Torah portion of Balak dedicated to the hiring of a Gentile soothsayer to curse the Israelite nation – but whom instead becomes inspired to bless Israel and portray the ultimate messianic destiny of Israel in the most exalted and majestic of poetic metaphors? Are there indeed individuals with true power to foretell future? And if indeed Balak is a superior human being with profound prophetic insights emanating from a Divine source, why does the Torah triumphantly record the fact that “Balaam Ben Beor the magician” was killed by Israel with the sword together with the corpses of our Midianite enemies during the conquest of Israel (Joshua 13:22)? And why does our Biblical text juxtapose the sublime poetry of Balaam with the seemingly ridiculous tale of the talking donkey?

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin explains: I believe that the entire portion of Balaam is a study in contrast between the legitimately earned prophecy of Moses and the venally inspired sorcery of Balaam. The Torah understands that there exist individuals who seem to have been born with special powers: superior physical strength, a phenomenal photographic memory, sharp vision which can penetrate the thickest of partitions, intense concentration that can cause physical objects to explode, and can perhaps even bring messages from the dead.  There is even a difference of opinion amongst our Sages as to whether such phenomena reflect actual occurrences or are merely slight-of-hand trickery.

In a later generation, the arch-rationalist Maimonides calls all pronouncements emanating from supernatural communications and insights – including the writing and wearing of mystical amulets (kameyot)- “false and vain”, bordering on idolatry (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry 1, 16 and Guide, Part 1, Chapter 61); on this basis, Rav Yosef Karo similarly dismisses all magical incantations as “not availing in the least,” but merely exercising positive psychological influence upon individuals in distress (Shulhan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 179, 6). The Vilna Gaon, on the other hand, suggests that Maimonides’ philosophical study “misled or corrupted him,” insisting that there are amulets and incantations, perhaps and perhaps even communications from the beyond, which are rooted in the sacred and the divine. Perhaps the most important and representative view on the issue is presented by Rav Shlomo Ben Aderet (Rashba, Responsa 548), when he had to judge the credibility of a Reb Nissim who claimed to have received the messages from an angel; the great Talmudic scholar Rashba insists that divine communication akin to Prophesy can only rest on one who is truly wise and pious, strong and courageous, and sufficiently wealthy as to not be in need of monetary contributions from those seeking his advice. Claims, and even what seems to be empirical facts, of supernatural abilities by individuals who are not outstanding in Torah scholarship and piety dare not be taken seriously – at the risk of flirting with idolatrous and even demonic blandishments.

The truth is that the Bible is indubitably clear when it warns us against seeking after any manner of magic or sorcery and exhorts us to be whole-hearted and pure in our service of the Divine (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Our prophets did not major in futuristic prophecies but rather in chastising towards more ethical and genuine behavior; they certainly did not take remuneration for their words. And individual devoid of the proper – difficult to acquire – intellectual and spiritual prophetic attainments who makes pronouncements which even may appear to be vindicated by future discoveries is no better than the “talking donkey” in our Torah portion; a prophet of G-d must first and foremost be a model of Torah scholarship and piety.

Moses was a prophet of G-d; Balaam was a soothsayer. Moses sought Divine truth while Balaam yearned for gold and silver. The conclusion of our Torah portion is most succinct and specific: ”There is no sorcery for Jacob or magic for Israel.” 

Parshat Shelach Lecha on Tzitzis as a remedy for the spies

Parshat Shelach Lecha on Tzitzis as a remedy for the spies

The theme of vision is paramount in SHELACH LECHA. The parshah begins with G-d telling Moses to send men who “will SPY OUT the Land of Canaan which I am giving to the Children of Israel”. The parshah ends with the passage recited by every Israelite in the SHEMA morning and evening: “They will make for themselves TZITZIS on the fringes of their garments. and you shall LOOK at it and remember all the commandments of HaShem and you shall do them, AND YOU SHALL NOT GO SPYING AFTER YOUR HEARTS AND AFTER YOUR EYES that you went astray after them.” (Numbers 15:38-39). The same word for spying occurs in the opening and closing verses of the parshah, highlighting the importance of the theme of vision throughout the parshah. The Tzitzis are the remedy for faulty and sinful vision.

In the words of Rashi’s comment on the latter verse (Numbers 15:39): The heart and the eyes are spies for the body, and they act as the body’s agents in sinning. The eye sees, the heart desires and the body carries out the sins.” The fringes of the Tzitzis surrounding us on all four sides, are a visual reminder of G-d’s presence everywhere. The blue TECHEILES thread in the Tzitzis is the color of the sea, which is a reflection of the color of the heavens, the seat of G-d’s glory.

Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum explores the spies’ actions: ‘

On their tour of the land, the spies saw exactly what they wanted to see. With the exception of Joshua and Kalev, they rejected the vision of the forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They did not want to accept the traditional report that their ears alone had heard: that G-d promised to take them to a land “flowing with milk and honey”. They could not take it on trust. They wanted to check it out with their own eyes and decide for themselves. And they saw what they wanted to see: a real place, a land governed by natural laws, where people live and die. A beautiful land, but one which it was against all the laws of nature that the puny ex-slave Israelites could conquer in the face of a sea of entrenched Amalekites and Canaanites. “And we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes” (Numbers 13:33).  The sin of the spies was a failure of faith. They allowed themselves to be misled by the external appearance of the natural world into a colossal failure of nerve, despite all the promises given by G-d that He would bring them to the land. The faith of Israel does not depend upon what the eyes see. On the contrary, we declare our faith wrapped in the Tallis, clutching the Tzitzis by our hearts, closing our eyes to the visual world around us and covering them with our hand: “Sh’ma Yisrael, HaShem is our G-d.!” Only Joshua and Kalev closed their eyes to external appearances, knowing that with G-d’s help, it is possible to “bend” nature. “We will go up and take possession of it, for He can — we can — (conquer) it.” Perhaps the spies feared the people could not live up to the level of the law of the land, and they preferred an easier, more natural way of life outside of Israel. As leaders of their tribes, the spies conducted an ingenious operation of public opinion manipulation, using skillfully chosen words to implant in the people’s minds a vision of the impossibility of achieving their natural destiny that led them all to tears. (This the spies achieved with words alone, even without the use of television, which is the Satan’s ultimate deceiver of eyes.) “And all the community cried out, and the people WEPT on that night.” Tears come from the eyes, the organs of vision. With our tears we try to wash away the bad that our eyes have seen. The people should have focussed their vision on that which is beyond nature — the miracles that had been performed for them. This should have given them the faith that G-d has the power to fulfill His promises. (See Rashi on Numbers 14:11). Those who had seen the miracles and still did not believe in G-d would not see the land. “All the men who see My glory and My signs that I did in Egypt and in the Wilderness yet have tested Me in this ten times, and have not listened to My voice — They shall not see the land that I have sworn to their fathers, and all who despise Me shall not see it” (Numbers 14:22-3). Yet immediately after the imposition of the decree, the Torah continues with a series of commandments that can only be fulfilled in the Land of Israel, including the laws of the wheat, oil and wine libations that accompany animal offerings in the Temple, and CHALLAH, the gift of the first portion of one’s bread to the priest (Numbers Ch. 15). The positioning of these commandments directly after the narrative of the spies is a reminder that even though the exile  may be lengthy, eventually Israel will inherit the entire land and have the merit of offering its choicest produce in the Temple and on the table of the priests.’

Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim

 

Parshat Beha’alotecha on Perseverance

Parshat Beha’alotecha on Perseverance

When we open the Ark and take the Torah out, everyone recites a verse from this week’s Torah portion: “And it was when the Ark traveled, Moshe said, ‘Arise Almighty and disperse Your enemies, and those who hate You will flee from You.’ ” Why is this verse recited then? Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, a Torah luminary, who lived in the Old City of Jerusalem until 1932, answered this question at the dedication of a Yeshiva. “Whenever someone wants to start some worthwhile Torah institution or project, there are always people who will try to stop him. Therefore, when we take out the Torah we ask that the Almighty should disperse the enemies of Torah and prevent them from causing trouble.”  Rabbi Zelig Pliskin explains: Torah is the lifeblood of the Jewish people. Our enemies knew that if they could keep the Jewish people from learning Torah, the Jewish people could be swayed and conquered. Therefore, for the Jewish people to be strong and to continue, we must give our support for every effort to teach and spread Torah. Any Jewish leader who does not throw his support behind efforts to teach Torah and expand Torah schools for our children, sorely lacks the fundamental principle crucial to our survival.

The Torah states that there were people who were in a state of ritual impurity because they had come in contact with the dead; therefore, they were unable to participate in the Pesach offering. They complained to Moshe: “Why should we be diminished by not offering God’s offering?” Moshe responded, “Stand and I will hear what God will command you” (Bamidbar 9:7-8). Rashi comments, “How fortunate is a mortal who can feel secure that he can turn directly to God and receive an answer.” Reb Yechezkel of Shinuv asks, “Inasmuch as the Torah states that Moshe was the most humble person on earth (Numbers 12:3), is this not out of character for Moshe to feel that he has free access to speak with God at any time? How could someone so humble be so presumptuous?” Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski expounds on this: “When Moses saw how heartbroken these people were because they were unable to participate in the Divine service of the Pesach offering, he was certain that their sincere desire to serve God would merit a Divine response. Moses was not presumptuous. His statement, “Stand and I will hear what God will command for you” was based on his conviction of their merits, not his.”

And I will emanate of the spirit which is upon you, and will bestow it upon them (11:17) The Lubavitcher Rebbe brings forth the following commentary: “On the most basic level, this is the difference between physical and spiritual giving. In physical giving, the giver’s resources are depleted by his gift—he now has less money or energy than before. In spiritual giving, however, there is no loss. When a person teaches his fellow, his own knowledge is not diminished—if anything, it is enhanced. Upon deeper contemplation, however, it would seem that spiritual giving, too, carries a “price.” If the disciple is inferior to the teacher in knowledge and mental capability, the time and effort expended in teaching him is invariably at the expense of the teacher’s own intellectual development; also, the need for the teacher to “coarsen” and simplify his ideas to fit the disciple’s mind will ultimately detract from the depth and abstraction of his own thoughts. By the same token, dealing with people of lower moral and spiritual level than oneself cannot but affect one’s own spiritual state. The recipients of this “spiritual charity” will be elevated by it, but its giver will be diminished by the relationship, however subtly. Indeed, we find an example of such spiritual descent in Moses’ bestowal of the leadership upon Joshua. In contrast to the appointment of the seventy elders, where he was told to “emanate” his spirit to them, Moses is here commanded to “take Joshua the son of Nun, and lay your hand upon him . . . and give of your glory upon him” (Numbers 27:18–20). Here the Midrash comments, “Lay your hand upon him—like one who kindles a candle from a candle; Give of your glory—like one who pours from one vessel into another vessel.” In other words, there are two kinds of spiritual gifts: a gift that “costs” the giver nothing (“emanation,” which is like “kindling a candle from a candle”), and a gift that involves a removal of something from the giver in order that the recipient should receive something (“pouring from one vessel into another”). There are times when we indeed sacrifice something of ourselves for the benefit of a fellow. But there are also times when we commit ourselves to our fellow so absolutely—when the gift comes from a place so deep and so true within us—that we only grow from the experience, no matter how much we give of ourselves.”

 Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim