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One Hundred Opportunities – Parshas Eikev 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
August 6, 2009 - י"ז מנחם אב ה' תשס"ט
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ועתה ישראל מה ה’ אלקיך שואל מעמך… (י:יב).

“Behold Israel, what does Hashem requests from you…” (10:12).

This verse is the scriptural hint to the rabbinical Mitzvah of pronouncing Me’ah Berachos, one hundred blessings a day! Let us understand what this is all about.

Originally, this precept was enacted by Moshe Rabbeinu. After time, it was partially forgotten and neglected. King David came along and reinstated it as a protection against a terrible plague that was killing one hundred men every day! [See Tur (OC 46) and Kad HaKemach (Erech Berachah)]. The Gemara Menachos (43b) tells us that a play on words spells out this obligation. Read the verse replacing the word מה with מאה. “Hashem requests one hundred (blessings) from you!” The Commentators struggle with the strength of this hint and offer many other hints found in the verse.

The Baal HaTurim adds two other points here. Firstly, the verse itself contains a total of one hundred letters! Additionally, the word ממך has the numerical value of one hundred. Hinting to the fact that Hashem desires one hundred Blessings, ממך, from you! What is the understanding of all three of these hints?

In a relationship, we have the opportunity to develop closeness by expressing gratitude and thanks. This is the way that people grow dearer, by recognizing and appreciating what the other provides for them and expressing thanks! Hence, in our relationship with Hashem we make Berachos! Berachos are a vehicle through which we acknowledge all that Hashem so generously provides us with! There are three requirements for this. The best thank you is expressed with the following three characteristics:

1- It is well thought out.

2- It is stated articulately and not mumbled.

3- It emanates from our own heart, and is not forced.

I believe that this is what the three hints found in the verse express!

1- מה and מאה: The Berachos should be thought out, otherwise they are מה, not worth too much (Based on Sefer HaChaim)!

2- 100 Letters: This shows that it should be expressed clearly and not just sped through sloppily, just as every letter in the verse is important and expressed!

3- ממך: Hints to the idea that it must come from you!

These are the keys to the best blessing and thanks to Hashem!

In the building of the Mishkan, we find the appearance of the number one hundred in a unique place. There were one hundred sockets that held up the walls of the Mishkan. They were the foundation and ground support for the entire building. (The reason that there were two sockets per each of the fifty wall beams, though intriguing, is beyond the scope of this essay.) The purpose of the Mishkan was to provide a dwelling place for Hashem in this world. Our job is to bring Hashem into our lives as well. Hence, Chazal established for us guidelines as to how to accomplish this bond. They gave us Me’ah Berachos which are the foundation for getting close to Hashem! When we make a Berachah, we are thanking Hashem and bringing down many more blessings in return for our gratitude! Just as the sockets were the support and foundation of the Mishkan, so too Me’ah Berachos are the foundation of gratitude and support of our relationship with Hashem.

May we all merit that Hashem should bestow His blessings upon us in return for our proper adherence and care in making Berachos properly for Him!

Parshas Eikev , ,

True Prayer – Parshas Va’eschanan 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
July 30, 2009 - י' מנחם אב ה' תשס"ט
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ואתחנן אל ה’ בעת ההיא לאמר (ג:כג).

“I (Moshe) supplicated before Hashem…” (3:23).

The Midrash (Rabbah and Yalkut Shimoni) on this verse states that there are thirteen types of prayers which people can utilize when davening to Hashem. I would like to briefly explain them and then answer a noteworthy question. Considering all of his choices, what is the reason that Moshe begged Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael specifically utilizing the tactic of ואתחנן, supplication? Anyone wishing to get a fuller understanding of any of these beautiful prayer-styles is referred to the Sefer She’arim B’Tefillah by Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt”l which is the basis for the following list of explanations.

The thirteen types are found throughout Tanach and are in no specific order. Different ones are appreciated and utilized by different people, with varied situations and emotions. Many of them can be used together as well. As one reads through the outline, one will see how these thirteen general categories cover all types of prayers and express many deep emotional chords of Tefillah in one’s heart. Here they are in a nutshell:

1 בִיצוֹר – Bitzor: To call to Hashem when in need.

2 שַעַוָה – Shaavah: A hysterical yet verbally expressed cry to Hashem.

3 צְעָקָה – Zaakah: A hysterical cry to Hashem without words.

4 נַאַקָה – Naakah: A feeling of pain transformed into a vehicle to cry to Hashem.

5 רִינָה – Rinah: Happiness and praise that we have Hashem to call to!

6 פְגִיעָה – Pigiyah: A strong yet respectful demanding of one’s needs.

7 קְרִיאָה – K’riyah: A full recognition that Hashem is listening to me.

8 נִיפוּל – Nipul: A cognizance that only Hashem can help me!

9 פִילוּל – Pilul: A moment of true accounting and bond with Hashem.

10 תַחָנוּנִים – Tachnunim: A reliance only on Hashem’s mercy and not on personal merit.

11 חִילוּי – Chiloy: An emotional plea reminding Hashem of the merits of our forefathers.

12 עַמִידָה – Amidah: To wholeheartedly accept to follow whatever Hashem’s will dictates.

13 עִיתוּר – I’tur: To daven again and never give up!

This list is by no means a complete explanation, but I hope that it provided a general picture or reminder for those already familiar with these ever beautiful feelings and expressions.

What remains is an explanation as to why Moshe chose type ten (תחנונים) as his mode of prayer to gain entrance into Eretz Yisrael. Additionally, why did the Midrash wait to bring down these thirteen categories only now, these words of prayer appear numerous times before the word ואתחנן which is at the end of the Torah?! I believe that one answer explains it all!

Moshe was a great man who certainly had many merits of his own. Yet, when he came before Hashem to plead for mercy, he never mentioned his own merits! Rather, he begged Hashem to have mercy upon him as a free gift of kindness which Hashem gives to those in need! This is the greatness and modesty of Moshe Rabbeinu!

The Midrash waited for this verse to lay out all of the prayer options in order to stress that Moshe had many choices. He could have focused on his pain or made strong demands. But he didn’t! Why did he choose the expression which he used? Because of his great humility. (This explanation is almost explicit in the words of the Midrash.) This is the foundation of all prayer, to stand before Hashem in humility. May Hashem answer all of our prayers for the best!

Parshas Va'eschanan

A Day of Introspection – Tisha B’Av 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
July 27, 2009 - ז' מנחם אב ה' תשס"ט
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There is a fascinating historical observation to be made. I believe that this point brings out one of the most powerful themes of the day. Let us examine it and see what we can learn as we struggle to find hope and inspiration on this nationally sad day.

We fast for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash on Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av. However, this is difficult to understand. The Gemara in Taanis (29a) states that the enemy only began the fire upon the Mikdash at late evening of the 9th of Av. The fire caught on and burned down the holy site throughout the entire 10th of Av, night and day. In fact, Rebbe Yochanan says that had the decision been his, he would have made the 10th of Av the day of mourning and not the 9th! Why was this not followed? The Rabbis answered him, that although the majority of the destruction took place on the 10th, we must note the beginning of the trouble and mourn starting from then. This explanation is very significant.

The Gemara (Sukka 52a) tells us that when Moshiach will come, Hashem will slaughter the Yetzer Hara, Evil Inclination. The Tzaddikim and Risha’im will watch and each will cry. The righteous people will perceive the Yetzer Hara as a mountain. They will cry in disbelief that they were able to overcome such a great challenge. The evil people will perceive him as a small hair. They will weep in retrospect that such a small thing distracted them from living their lives productively.

The question is, whose perspective is correct? Is the Yetzer Hara a mountain or is he a hair? The answer is that the sinners are correct. In truth, he really is a small and worthless creature. So what is the mountain? The answer is that it refers to foresight. The Yetzer Hara tries to get us by means of a gradual buildup. He doesn’t come to tempt us with the greatest sins first. We would never listen. Rather, he begins his lure with small things, gradually expanding the victim’s horizon. Slowly but surely he gets one to sin until one day he is able to escalate the gravity of the sins and persuade one to indulge in something that in the past he would have never dared to commit (based on Nidda 13b).

A fool does not think ahead. He justifies his actions by stating that, “it’s not a big deal”. Slowly and daily he gets more deeply sucked into the clutches of failure. The wise man understands the ramifications of his actions and knows that if he gives in to one temptation, the next time it will only be harder. The Yetzer Hara will keep building from today’s small hair, to his ultimate large mountain!

Hence, the Risha’im are correct in seeing him only as a small hair. Sins are worthless and begin small. However, the Tzaddikim have the wisdom and foresight to realize that small sins only lead to a large mountain of destruction.

This is the foresight of life. In order to succeed we must train ourselves to think ahead. We should not make light of our choices before us. We must see that the actions we take have significant ramifications.

Before Hashem sent us into exile, he sent prophet after prophet to warn us to mend our ways. The Jews were too stubborn to listen; they hid behind the fact that that their actions were only insignificant “hairs”, small sins. However, their permissiveness build up to the point that they began committing “mountainous” sins of murder, adultery, Avoda Zara and destructive speech. They were out of control. Hashem now had to put them in their place and stir them from their illusion.

If we go back to the original sin that happened on the first Tisha B’Av ever, we will find the same concept. Hashem told the Jews that He would bring them into Eretz Yisrael and take care of them. They however, did not trust Him and insisted on sending spies to check out the land. The spies came back with their slanderous report and the Jews spent the night crying. Hashem was enraged and decreed that because of their distrust He would now give them something to cry for. A “small” act that had terrible ramifications.

The Rabbis specifically instruct us to fast on the 9th of Av. This is to show us the significance of foresight. They are training us to see a small fire and the end result of destruction that it could bring. The entire day begs us to accept the message of effective thought. We are taught to see the ramifications of our actions. May we all use the day to its fullest.

Tisha B'Av

Words That Build – Parshas Devarim 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
July 22, 2009 - ב' מנחם אב ה' תשס"ט
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אלה הדברים אשר דיבר משה אל כל ישראל… (א:א).

“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of the Jews” (1:1).

The Sefer of Devarim contains the recounting of all the events which the Jews experienced throughout their forty years in the wilderness. Moshe’s life was drawing to an end and he wished to instill in them a passionate desire to continue on their journey of true service of Hashem. Let us focus on the first verse which opens this communication and draw from it Moshe’s lesson for a lifetime!

Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (Chid”a, 1724 -1807, a great Talmudist and Kabbalist) points out that there are two concepts being hinted from this verse. The word “אלה, these”, stands for אבק לשון הרע, borderline evil slander. The Gemara (Bava Basrah 165a) states that everyone commits this sin! The next words in the verse, “אשר דיבר משה, which Moshe spoke”, hints to the greatest words taught by him, the holy Torah. Hence, the verse is hinting to two areas which need constant care. They are how one speaks about others and the importance of  Torah learning and application!

I would like to point out one more hint found in the verse and then show a common theme present here. The next three words are, “אל כל ישראל, to every Jew”. This hints to the goal of Achdus, unity, that the people should all be together! Let us develop this.

The first woman that Hashem created was named ‘Chava’. This name stems from the word L’Chavos, to verbalize, hence, her name means ‘talkative’! Additionally, Chazal in Kedushin (49b) tell us that women possess nine out of ten measures of chatter in the world! Before anyone takes offense, please let me explain this beautiful concept which the Torah is expressing with these two facts.

Humans are superior to animals. They have intelligence, freewill and the ability to talk! They are termed “Midaber, speaker”. What does this mean? Speech is the greatest tool of connection and communication. When two people speak, they are able to connect to each other. Even alone, when one speaks out his ideas, he connects to them better. In fact, Chazal summarize man’s job in this world as, “to speak before Hashem in words of Torah and prayer!” Hence, we see the power of talking! When we speak in Torah and when we daven to our Master for His assistance and care, our speech is the conduit which bridges the gap between us and builds true bonds.

Now I ask you, who more than women understand this ability to connect emotionally and deeply through the medium of speech?! This is their greatness when used in the right context. To be able to talk signifies the focus on building a deep relationship and bond with other people and with Hashem. When a woman talks with love to her baby, or chats with her friend in need of an ear, or converses with her husband or family member seeking her counsel, she is forging a deep union and connection!

With the great potential and power of words comes great danger as well. Improperly used words can cause great harm, Hashem-forbid! Moshe wanted to stress to the Jews the importance of properly used speech. Hence, the entire Sefer is called, Devarim, words! He opens his lesson with three hints which are one. Please speak carefully, do not speak borderline slander. This consideration will help build unity. Please use your speech for Torah, the ultimate connector to Hashem.

Indeed, in the rebuke that follows, Moshe lists off all of their sins that revolve around improper speech. They are shown how their words were misused for expressing complaints and questioning Hashem, the Spies slanderous report, Korach’s negative words, and the Golden Calf where blasphemous words of the idol-worshipers persuaded many to sin! Thus, Moshe stressed to them the proper usage of words and its great benefit in building their relationship with Hashem and their fellow people.

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will….. emotionally scar me for life!” This is the Torah perspective. Words are powerful! Moshe begged the Jewish people to dedicate themselves to utilize their words for the great task of positive construction and harmony! Words connect us to Hashem and to each other.

Parshas Devarim , ,

Passionate Actions – Parshas Mattos 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
July 16, 2009 - כ"ה תמוז ה' תשס"ט
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כל דבר אשר יבוא באש תעבירו באש וטהר… (לא:כג).

“Any object cooked in fire, must be purified through fire…” (31:23).

At the end of the war with Midyan, the Jewish victors were left with many spoils. In order to be able to use their newly won vessels of the gentiles they needed to kasher (purify) them, by removing the absorbed materials inside their walls. The formula for determining how to purify the vessel is simple and yet most fascinating. Rashi states the rule, “however it was used, that’s how it must be cleaned out”. If a pot was used over an open fire, then this was the heat required to burn out the non-kosher from it. If it was used for roasting, then that was the heat required. If it was only used for cold items, they simply had to rinse it off! (These laws still apply today with specific qualifications beyond the scope of this essay.)

This concept applies to our relationship with Hashem as well. We follow Hashem and strive to fulfill his commandments everyday of our lives. Sometimes though we get sidetracked and commit a sin. Other times we get very sidetracked and commit a large sin! We then catch ourselves and desire to do teshuva, repentance. How is this to be done?

The Seforim tell us that whatever body part was used to sin, that limb must be used for service of Hashem. Also, however enthusiastically one acted to commit the sin, so too that is how much effort he must put in to repent! If, for example, one ran excitedly to go to a place that he should not have ventured, then in order to fully repent, he must correspondingly run excitedly to go to the Bais Midrash to learn or to daven! If one got distracted by a pleasurable sin and put in much thought to arrange for its actualization, then he should learn Torah and exert his mind to attain understanding.

The Arizal writes that when one goes to burn his chometz before Pesach and he gets near the fire and begins to sweat, this gains him forgiveness for his sins which he exerted himself to do and and perspired while pursuing them! Chometz represents the Yetzer Hara and thus when one desires to burn the chometz he is symbolically ridding himself of the Evil Urge’s shackles. Thus, just as he welcomed the Yetzer Hara’s suggestions at an earlier time and exerted himself to sin, now, when he comes to receive atonement, he correspondingly breaks a sweat doing a Mitzvah!

Rabbeinu Yonah (Sha’arey Teshuva I:15) states that when Dovid HaMelech felt that he had sinned to Hashem by following after his eyes, he cried to Hashem to forgive him. He used the exact body part which he sinned with to do his repentance.

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 84a) tells us that before Reish Lakish became the world-renowned Torah scholar that he was, he was a most successful thief! His specialized in sly stealing and dishonesty. The Seforim point out a beautiful idea worth noting. After he repented and accepted upon himself  the yoke of Torah, he raised to heights in the Torah world. What is amazing is the specific quality which he became known for. The Gemara Yumah (9a) tells us that any person whom Reish LaKish acknowledged as honest in business was unanimously accepted by all. Reish LaKish became the epitome of honesty. He took his bad trait and made it his strength! He transformed himself from being a pathological liar to a passionate advocate of truth!

Indeed, this is parallel to the purification of the vessels. If there is tamey, impure substances, inside them, the only way to remove it is to counter the Evil with an equally powerful surge of holiness!

Parshas Mattos ,

Take It Slow! – Parshas Masei 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
July 16, 2009 - כ"ה תמוז ה' תשס"ט
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אלה מסעי בני ישראל אשר יצאו מארץ מצרים (לג:א).

“These are the travels of Bnei Yisrael who departed from Egypt” (33:1).

The Torah enumerates all of the travels of the Jews throughout their forty year sojourn in the desert. Yalkut Reuveni makes a cryptic comment here. He states that אלה אלהיך ישראל, the serving of the Golden Calf as a god, caused אלה מסעי בני ישראל, the wandering of the Jews in the desert. This statement seems to defy our understanding! What is the lesson and connection between the two?

The Daas Sofer offers a deep insight here which I believe has tremendous practical implications to us all. In truth, geographically, Hashem could have brought the Jews directly from Egypt straight into Eretz Yisrael in a very short amount of time. However, since they were at such a low level of spirituality then, they first had to spend time ridding themselves of their Egyptian impurity to acquire the proper level for living in Hashem’s chosen land. Just as one who moves from a cold environment to a warm one may have trouble with the change of climates, and thus should make the move slowly, so too the Jews had to slowly prepare themselves for a new land which was filled with spiritual potential unlike their former decadent dwelling place. The trip had to be gradual, thus it took time!

The Yalkut Reuveni can now be understood. Indeed, the worship of the Golden Calf showed that the Jews still possessed in them the poison of Egypt. It showed that they were still docked at a lower level required of them in order to enter the land. They were therefore required to wander through the wilderness, slowly raising their spiritual standing to a holier plateau. Hence, we see how the Golden Calf warranted the wilderness travels! The lesson is that one must devote time to gradually achieve greatness!

Rabbeinu Bachayah explains Moshe’s first prophetic experience. Hashem led him slowly towards perceiving Him in order not to shock him. Moshe first saw a burning bush and thought it to be a natural fire. As he approached it he saw that the tree was not being consumed, this convinced him that it was supernatural. Slowly, his mind probed the possibilities and then an Angel appeared to him. A voice like that of his father’s called his name until his mind developed further and finally Hashem called out to him directly. The process was gradual in order to give his mind time to fully comprehend the experience. Like a man who sat in a black and dark room, if he were to immediately emerge into the bright sunlight, this would damage his eyesight, rather he must gradually accustom himself to the light. This is how one achieves “enlightenment” of the mind as well. Deliberation and patient persistence is the key, not extreme and rushed actions. Thus, Hashem appeared to Moshe in stages.

Many times we are inspired with new ideas. This is wonderful and action should be taken immediately! But we must proceed slowly though, always remembering that if one takes a glass out of freezing ice-water and place it into steaming hot water, he will only remain with many shattered pieces! When one slowly works towards his goals, then they will be gratified by the results!

Parshas Masei

Your Best – Parshas Pinchas 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
July 9, 2009 - י"ח תמוז ה' תשס"ט
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צו את בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם את קרבני לחמי לאשי ריח ניחוחי… (כח:ב).

“Command the Jews to bring an offering for me…” (28:2).

Chazal (Tanchuma, Naso 11) say there were three times that Moshe was startled by commands Hashem gave him. These Mitzvos which he was being taught, were very perplexing to him:

-Hashem commanded each Jew to give one half Shekel calling it, “a redemption for their soul”. Moshe wondered, considering how precious and valuable life is, how could one simply redeem himself with a small coin?

-Hashem commanded that the Mishkan, Tabernacle, be built in a place where He could dwell. Moshe wondered how mere humans could possibly produce a resting place for the Infinitely Great God?

-In our Parsha, Hashem commanded that Klal Yisrael bring the Karban Tamid, Daily Offering, calling it “an offering for Me”. Moshe wondered how Klal Yisrael could offer anything sufficient enough for Hashem?!

Hashem gave one answer to all three quandaries. It is fundamental to our daily service. “Moshe, I’m not asking you to give according to My standards, I am asking you to give according to the best of your abilities!” Hashem wants our effort and sincerity!

Every person is born with their own potential and abilities. Our job in life is to give it our all. Nothing more is expected, only our best! Chazal say in Berachos (5b), “whether you produce a lot or a little is not important, Heaven only looks at your intentions and efforts!

Reb Naftoli Amsterdam once bemoaned his deficiencies to his Rebbe, Reb Yisrael Salanter. “If only I had the brain of the Shages Aryeh, the enthusiasm of the Yisod V’Shoresh HaAvodah, and Midos like you, Rebbe, then I could be a true servant of Hashem! Reb Yisrael set him straight on the proper perspective. “You strive to serve Hashem to the best of your abilities, with your brain, your heart and your Middos! That is what Hashem desires from you!”

This idea is found once again in the Parsha when Yehoshua is appointed as the successor of Moshe. Moshe requested from Hashem that the incoming leader possess one fundamental trait and Hashem agreed with him regarding the importance of that trait. The leader must understand each Jew individually, according to his own capabilities!

Every morning we pronounce a blessing expressing our appreciation to Hashem for who we are. “She’asah li kol tzorki, Thank You Hashem for giving me everything that I need!” You provided me with all of my physical needs as well as my spiritual needs. We surely beg Hashem for more earthly care and more divine inspiration, but the perspective is still kept straight. We recognize that Hashem has provided us with all of our needs to serve Him the best that we can!

There is no competition to outdo anyone else! We are all here for the unified purpose of serving Hashem, and each of us possess different talents and capabilities which Hashem has endowed us with. Our job is to bring out our unique potentials and to serve Hashem to the best of our ability!

Parshas Pinchas

The 17th of Tamuz – A Three Weeks Perspective 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
July 6, 2009 - ט"ו תמוז ה' תשס"ט
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 This time of the year is very difficult. The Jewish calendar is rich with joyful occasions gracing each month. Delicious flavors of Shabbos, Yom Tov and jovial days inspire our lives. I have often thought about the contrast of how easy it is to celebrate a Yom Tov, versus how difficult it is to get into the mind-set and feelings of the Days of Mourning. Indeed, from the 17th of Tamuz until after Tisha B’Av, we are in a twenty-one day period of national mourning, for the loss of the Bais HaMikdash. How do we connect?

Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l gives a beautiful parable that sends chills up my spine and never fails to strike cords in my heart. If one attends a wedding, he is surrounded by hundreds of dancing and excited people. It is often hard to tell who exactly is a close friend and family versus just an average attender. This is because people are easily drawn into the celebration and fun atmosphere. However, when attending a funeral, (may Heaven protect us) the close family and friends are easy to detect.

So too, he finishes, throughout the joyous occasions of the year, we all celebrate with Hashem and dance along. This is not the test of true closeness. It is only when we reach this sad time of the year, that we reveal our true standings between us and Hashem. The real relatives are easy to identify. True and powerful words.   

So how can one work on this in a practical way? Let us understand what this fast is all about and why Chazal (Taanis 26a) saw fit to declare this time of the year one of sadness and introspection. Five significant catastrophes occurred on this day:

-The Luchos, tablets, were broken.

-The Karban Tamid was stopped from being offered.

-The city of Yerushalayim was penetrated and its downfall began.

-Apustomus burned a Sefer Torah.

-An idol was stood up inside the Bais HaMikdash.

What is the common denominator between all five? They all represent a downward fall, yet one that does not immediately catch the eye. Let us understand this.

There was once a man who was driving, when suddenly a small rock hit his windshield. It left a tiny crack in the glass. Insurance paperwork was too complicated and he didn’t have the $300 to get it fixed, so he decided that it could wait. As the weeks went by, the crack got larger and began to disturb his driving. Soon the crack had spread throughout a large portion of his window. One day, he was back on the highway, and a truck tire sent a rock right towards him. This time, it took out the entire glass pane! He pulled over to clear the glass off his lap and to wait for the tow-truck. Now it would cost him more time, energy and money to fix!

In life, we often see small problems emerging; we know full well that they can be fixed, but that it would take much work and perhaps money. And so we delay. I meant to fix that, we say. I know my relationship with my spouse or child needs more work, but… I meant to apologize… I meant to bring it in…. I really wanted to go learn or daven…. Unfortunately, often, our problems do not get smaller or easier with the passing of time. Sometimes, we begin to make a change, but then one day, we stop (with valid justification!), and somehow, we never get back on track. Often, in retrospect, it is difficult to even put our finger upon where, when and how the downfall started. We just have the present situation which is a sad deterioration from where we wish to be.

We are all idealistic and growth oriented people. We truly want to use our lives productively and find enjoyment in serving Hashem. But life goes on and it is hard to change our daily routines. That is where the three weeks enter the scene.

All five events represent a small, yet significant start towards a downward spiral. The Luchos being smashed, could have been a forgotten event. After all, the Jews repented and received a second set. However, Chazal tell us that in truth the world would have been a different place had the Jews not sinned with the Golden Calf which warranted the destruction of the Luchos. No one would have ever forgotten their learning, and Moshiach would have come in that generation. A small event, yet it reshaped history. The Karban Tamid, was the last remaining merit that the Jews had to remain in control of their homeland. Its halt and the desecration of the Mikdash began a new era, one that had been unknown for close to a thousand years since the Exodus. It was called Galus, exile, which we all know well. Yerushalayim put up a good fight to keep the enemy out. Once their wall was breached and they lost some of their bravest and strongest men (see Josephus for a full description), their morale was lowered and it was only a matter of time until the enemy would have full control of the the once illustrious city.

Chazal want to sensitize and train us to nip the trouble in the bud. To learn to recognize and isolate destructive and dangerous behaviors and begin to fix them, to prevent their spread. Hashem wants to be close with us. Now is the time to reawaken our hearts to pursue Him as we truly and deeply desire to.  

The Seforim state a profound idea. From Rosh HaShana (the 1st day of Tishrey) until the last day of Succos (21 Tishrey), there are twenty-one days. So too, correspondingly, we have twenty-one days from the fast of the 17th of Tamuz until the 9th of Av. What does this mean? Just as the days of Tishrey are days of achieving Simcha and closeness to Hashem, so too, this time period is meant to be utilized for building closeness to Hashem as well. Only, it is in a different mode. The Tishrey holidays focus on our celebration for being Hashem’s nation. The three weeks in the summer revolve around our recognizing how we strive to mourn together with Hashem in pain for our loss and lack of togetherness. They are days of recognizing how our lack of closeness has caused us terrible suffering and pain throughout history.

During this time period, we work towards mending our relationship with Hashem and each other. We strive to pinpoint the areas that are beginning to wane and to make the proper alterations. We wish to be united with Hashem and our fellow people. In this merit, may we see these days transformed into the greatest happiness and redemption, as Hashem has promised us and longs to fulfill.  

Shiva Asar B'Tamuz

A True Relationship – Parshas Balak 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
July 2, 2009 - י"א תמוז ה' תשס"ט
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ויען בלעם… אם יתן לי בלק מלוא ביתו כסף וזהב לא אוכל לעבור את פי ה’ אלקי… (כב:יח).

“Bilaam responded… ‘even if Balak were to pay me his entire treasury of gold and silver, I cannot transgress against the word of Hashem, my God…” (22:18).

A cursory glance at the character of Bilaam may yield a surprising result. Is he really such a bad guy after all?! Certainly, the Torah tells us that he was terribly evil, however, my question is: from where do we see this in his actions?

He simply followed everything that Hashem said!? He asked Hashem if he could go with Balak’s messengers and Hashem replies in the negative. Finally, after repeatedly asking, he obtained clearance from Hashem and thus proceeded to join them. He asked Hashem for permission to curse the Jews and in the end only used the exact phraseology that Hashem dictated to him! So everything he did was with Hashem’s permission, what did he do wrong?!

Reb Elchonan Wasserman zt”l hy’d is perplexed by this question and his response is a masterpiece that underlines the foundation of our religion! He says that Bilaam followed the word of God, but that was precisely all that he followed! He cared not for the desire and wish of God, only whatever he could manipulate into the words of Hashem, to be congruent with his personal whims and desires! He only followed the letter of the law, but cared not for its spirit.

Hashem showed Bilaam repeatedly that He did not support this venture. Nevertheless, on account of man’s freewill, Hashem eventually allowed him to travel as he desired. Only when it came down to the actual curse did Hashem intervene and disallow him from hurting the Jews! Bilaam was not looking for a relationship and closeness with God, for that he chose his donkey. Bilaam did not care what Hashem wanted, it was only that he could not deny God’s existence and thus had to work within His framework! He himself stated this most clearly in our verse, “Pi Hashem, I follow the word of God!”

There are those that follow the letter of the law; you cannot catch them unable to cover their tracks based upon it. They are quite unpleasant to be around! But there are those that realize that a relationship does not just follow rule-books. Rather it thrives on a striving to understand the other and a sensitivity towards their feelings and wishes. One can live his whole life following the book technically, and yet no one will want to have anything to do with him. Only one who is committed to going beyond the call of duty and is dedicated to truly understanding others is a pleasure to share a relationship with.  

Indeed, with this principle we can understand why Hashem sent Bilaam much embarrassment through the medium of the words of a donkey! One who only follows “Pi Hashem” is put in place by “Pi HaAsone, the mouth of the donkey!” Chazal in Bava Metzia (30b) tell us that Yerusalayim was only destroyed on account of the people being inflexible and unwilling to act beyond the call of duty towards each other! Imagine, they did everything in the book and followed the precise Torah laws. So what was their sin? They lacked in the realm of thoughtfulness and sensitivity and so Hashem allowed the enemy to conquer them and plunged them into exile! Powerful words!

We as Jews strive for closeness and enjoy the deepest relationship with Hashem who loves us dearly as well. In appreciation of our commitment to serving Him, Hashem rewards us in that (Tehillim 145:19) “He will grant the wishes and desires of those that fear Him!”

Parshas Balak

Carefree Society – Parshas Chukas 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
July 2, 2009 - י"א תמוז ה' תשס"ט
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“…דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו אליך פרה אדומה תמימה אשר אין בה מום אשר לא עלה עליה עול (יט:ב).

“…Command the Jews to take for themselves a Red Heifer that is perfect and unblemished and has never carried a burden upon it” (19:2).

A most amazing and relevant Midrash is quoted by Rabbeinu Bechayeh on this verse. Chazal show how the four expressions of the verse hint to the four Exiles which the Jews were to suffer from, until our final redemption. (This Midrash is found in many places and variant texts all fill in details missing from others.) Let us quote it in partiality and then take out an important lesson. Here it is:

-“Parah Aduma, a red heifer”, refers to Bavel, as red is similar to gold which they are represented by… (they served idols but because of their respect for Hashem are compared to gold.)

-“Temimah, perfect”, refers to Madai who assisted the Jews in rebuilding the second Bais Hamikdash”. They had an element of deference for that which is sacred.

-“Asher Ain Bah Mum, unblemished”, refers to the Greeks, who gave respect to Shimon the Righteous.

-“Lo Alah Alehah Ol, has never carried a burden”, refers to Rome, who never accepted responsibility and ruler-ship of Hashem upon themselves! They are carefree!

Indeed, many lessons can be learned from this, and I would like to focus on the last stanza which is relevant to us being in the final and longest exile of Rome (who destroyed the second Bais HaMikdash).

Note how brilliantly Chazal summarized their essence! We see the attitude of society clearly expressed, “I don’t care about anything; I’m not interested in respecting that which is important!” This is the culture that we live in. People are looking to get by without having to extend any effort or taking responsibility for their actions. Our job as Jews is not to allow this lazy and carefree attitude to become our mind-set. We strive to maintain our desire and commitment to accept the yoke of true service of Hashem and true dedication to our family, friends and entire nation!

What is left to be explained is why exactly this is expressed in a verse describing the Red Heifer? The Heifer is the antidote which brings purification to one who comes in contact with a dead body, why is it linked to the exiles?

One simple thought is that it is teaching us the attitude by which to view our potentially dangerous influencers. We must view them as dead corpses with nothing of value to offer us! This is how we will escape their negative outlooks.

There is something deeper here as well. The Red Heifer is the most perplexing law in all of Torah. Its entire purpose is to purify those in need of cleanliness by having its ashes sprinkled upon then. Yet, paradoxically, everyone involved in its preparation becomes ritually impure?! This is indeed mind-boggling! The very object of purity brings impurity! It is the antithesis of logic, yet this is God’s decree!

The same paradox is found regarding Galus, our exiles. Hashem exposes us to terrible subjugation and much pain throughout our bitter exile. Yet at the same time, this Tumah, evil, and suffering is for the ultimate purpose of perfecting and cleansing us! The exile causes much Tumah, but its purpose is to clean us! Thus, the Red Heifer is directly associated with the four Exiles.

We may not understand how this works, indeed, the ultimate answers will only be fully understood at the time of Moshiach, but nevertheless our job is clear. We strive to maintain our Jewish goals and serve Hashem to the best of our ability. This is the ultimate purification!

Parshas Chukas