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A Pleasant Torah - Parshas Shemini 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
April 17, 2009 - כ"ד ניסן ה' תשס"ט
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 וזה לכם הטמא בשרץ השורץ על הארץ… (יא:כט).

“These creeping creatures are prohibited…” (11:29).

The Torah discusses the permitted and prohibited animals for human consumption. After this comes a list of the eight creeping creatures which convey tumah, ritual impurity, to one who touches them. The astounding question is that the one animal which represents impurity and would be expected to be on this list, is absent! The snake represents the root of all sin and perversion as his forbearer, the first serpent, caused Adam and Chava to sin, yet he is not on the list? Why is this so?

Rabbeinu Bechayah is perplexed by this question. He proposes the following answer which represents the beauty and goal of Torah living! The way of the Torah is defined as, “all its paths are pleasant and harmonious” (Mishley 3:17). Hashem did not declare one tamey for touching a snake for this could cause a hazard to human life. If it were to confer tumah upon touch this might deter someone from immediately killing a snake found in his proximity for fear of becoming tamey when touching it. Thus, any potentially dangerous animal was omitted from the list of those that are impure as a precaution to not cause any Jew to ever get hurt because of it. All eight creatures listed are harmless to humans. The Torah is kind and sensitive to man’s mentality and does not want to place his health in jeopardy for even the smallest fraction of time.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn recounts the story of a beloved and dedicated educator named Rabbi Binyomin Liftin who told over the reason that he dedicated his life to learning and teaching Torah.

As a young student, he set out to study under the great Rabbi Shimon Shkop. He feared the well known difficult entrance-exam required to join the prestigious Yeshiva. He spent an entire day riding the train to Grodna, preparing diligently the entire ride and finally arriving at the Yeshiva, feeling apprehensive, hungry and exhausted.

Not wasting any time, he immediately presented himself before the great Rosh HaYeshiva. It was then that he had the conversation that changed his life. Reb Shimon saw how long of a day it had been for him. He smiled at him and said, “I have only two questions for you… Did you eat yet? Do you have a place to sleep?” When Binyomin answered in the negative, Reb Shimon said, “then let’s get that taken care of immediately! We will speak in the morning when you are well rested! “Wow,” Binyomin thought, ever impressed with the care and concern he so strongly felt, “if this is what Torah stands for, then this is what I want to connect with!”

Reb Shimon’s two questions on that fateful day became the answer to the rest of his life!

The way of the Torah is the most pleasant and sweet. Praiseworthy and fortunate is one who has a part in it! 

Parshas Shemini, Uncategorized

Body and Soul - Parshas Vayikra 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
March 26, 2009 - ב' ניסן ה' תשס"ט
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דבר אל בני ישראל לאמר נפש כי תחטא… (ד:ב)

“Speak to the Jews saying, a soul that sins…” (4:2).

Why does the verse mention the soul, shouldn’t it simply say, “a man that commits a sin”?

To answer this question, the Midrash tells a parable. Once upon a time a king owned a precious orchard. Its fruits were so special that he feared that even his own watch-guards would be tempted to eat from it. He devised a plan to avert this problem. He hired a crippled man and a blind man to be his guards. Thus, one wouldn’t see them, and the other would have no way to reach them, and they would both ward off intruders. All went well until one day the guards started to talk.

The lame one said, “I see delicious fruit”.

“So let’s eat!” came the response from the blind man.

“I can’t reach them,” said the lame one.

What did they do? The lame man got onto the blind man’s shoulders and together they were able to eat the fruit. The king noticed the loss which his orchard had incurred and angrily questioned his guards. “How could I have done it?” said the lame man, “I can’t reach the fruits!” “Look at me,” said the other, “I am blind.” The king however, being intelligent, uncovered their scheme. He placed the lame man on top of the blind man and judged them together!

So too in the future, Hashem will ask the soul why it sinned while alive on Earth. The soul will answer, “blame the body, for ever since we’ve been separated, have You seen me do anything wrong?” Hashem will then ask the body why it sinned. He will respond, “blame my soul, You see that since we’ve been separated, I have lied limply and innocently on the ground!” How will Hashem resolve this? He will place the Neshamah back into the body and judge them together!

Much depth is encapsulated here regarding the function of our body and soul. Let us extrapolate upon a few points.

The soul is the cripple and the body is the blind man.

The soul’s main function is to spiritually attach us to Hashem and to see Him with clarity. He then must provide the body with a clear map as to which course of action should be pursued and which should be avoided. He is the navigator of the powerful machine called “man”. He is the one with proper sight, but is crippled from acting, that is the department of the body.

The body on the other hand, has much raw force, he moves freely, but he is blind as a bat and needs to be directed and channeled towards the correct direction. To summarize, the soul only sees but cannot move by itself, thus it is cripple. The body, on the other hand, can move but cannot see where to go, thus it is blind.

Actions that one takes stem from both the control center, the soul, and also the vehicle, the body. The Neshamah must not allow itself to become tainted and perverted, it must focus on the true goals of life. The body must not let itself be dragged down by its two detractors. Firstly, the body is intrinsically materialistic, and secondly it is found in a physical surrounding. This is hinted to by the words of Shlomo at the beginning of Koheles. “Mah yiss’ron l’adam b’chol amalo she’yamol tachas ha’shamesh, what gain does man benefit from all of his physical toil which he performs under the sun.”

1- Man is called Adam which connotes adamah, dirt, as his essence is physical.

2- He is found “under the sun,” his place of residence is physical.

The job of the Neshamah is to purify itself, attach to Hashem, achieve a clear vision of how to bring out its full potential and grab the reins of the body and steer towards success. The body however, must cooperate.

Thus, we can now understand the verse which we began with. If it were to say “a man that sins,” one may think that “man” refers to the body, who is exclusively responsible. This is not true, as man is one unit comprised of both a body and a soul. Therefore, it says “a soul who sins,” to tell us that even the soul is responsible for a sin.

Let us learn to function with our bodies and souls together, serving Hashem according to our great potentials!

Parshas Vayikra, Uncategorized ,

Action - Parshas Pikudey 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
March 19, 2009 - כ"ד אדר ה' תשס"ט
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אלה פקודי המשכן… (לח:כא).

“These are the accountings of the Mishkan…” (38:21).

We have four whole Parshiyos which all discuss the building of the Mishkan.

1- In Terumah we were given the blueprint for the Mishkan and all of its vessels.

2- Tetzaveh described the instructions for the making of the vestments of the Kohanim.

3- Vayakhel is the description of the actual building of the vessels, “and Bezalel made the Aron…. the Shulchan…. the Menorah”.

4- Pikuday discusses the making of the garments and a tally of all the material used.

Could not the precious Torah have conserved much space by simply stating what was done only once?! What is the message which the Torah is teaching us here?

There is an idea being expressed which is very pertinent to one wishing to properly grow in his service of Hashem. We begin every quest for growth toward Emes, truth, by first finding a blueprint with clear and simple instructions as to what we should be striving for. After this clarification, we extend all of our efforts to implement our knowledge into action. The two stages of growth therefore are:

1- knowledge

2- application, implementation.

Thus, the Torah here stresses the importance of both these aspects, expressing them in regards to the building of the Mishkan,

1- Terumah, Tetzaveh: establish the instructions clearly,

2- Vayakhel, Pikuday: are to do it!

But as we know well, it’s not that simple! A person can know much; he can intellectually understand where his strivings should be directed, but without implementing his knowledge, it is practically worthless! R’ Yisroel Salanter would ask his students, where do you find the largest space on earth between two objects? They would try suggesting all sorts of places, from Earth to the heavens etc., not understanding what he wanted from them. He would then teach them the lesson of life: The greatest distance in the world is the space between the brain and the heart! From the time that one knows something in his head until he actually acts upon it, can be an eternity!

The Torah hints to this as well. Between the first set of Parshiyos, those of the blueprint, and the second set, those of the action of building, comes an interrupting Parshah which many are bothered by how apparently out of place it is. Parshas Ki Sisa, which discusses the sin of the Golden Calf, is placed between the two, even though according to Rashi, chronologically, the sin of the Calf occurred before the Mishkan was ever commanded. What is going on here?

Based on our above stated principle, its placement is precise and well understood. It signifies that if one only has Terumah and Tetzaveh, i.e. the intellectual instructions for success, but lacks Vayakhel and Pikuday, i.e. the carrying out of those ideas in action, then he is still capable of Ki Sisa, the Golden calf, the most terrible sin! “The main thing is action, not (intellectual) study” (Avos 1:17).

The Torah elaborates on the building of the Mishkan in two segments to teach us this great lesson. We all have plans for greatness and personal development. We must always remember that the desire to grow is very important, it serves as a useful map, but only when it is followed by action in congruence with the knowledge, can it be made real! May we all merit to live accordingly!

Hashkafah, Machshuvah, Parshas Pekudei, Uncategorized

Our True Colors - Purim 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
March 8, 2009 - י"ג אדר ה' תשס"ט
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בשלשה דברים אדם ניכר: בכוסו, ובכיסו, ובכעסו. ואמרי ליה אף בשחקו. (עירובין סה:)

“One’s true personality is measured through three things: how he deals with:




Some add a forth item: laughter” (Eruvin 65b).


This Gemara is well known and quite cryptic. What is it trying to teach us? Much has been said on the matter. Let us illustrate the beauty of how this adage relates and defines the goal of our Purim celebration.

The Mishnah in Avos (4:21) tells us that there are three root destructive behaviors which prevent a person from enjoying this world. They are:

1- Ta’avah, lustful pursuit of pleasures,

2- Kinah, jealousy,

3- Kavod, desire for honor.

One who dedicates his life to these pursuits will never find happiness or fulfillment. On the flip side, one who is balanced and content in these three departments will live productively and happily. The real servant of Hashem trains himself to control his evil urges and to pursue truth and spirituality. The Torah teaches one how to do this.

There are three aspects of one’s life. They are:

1- His relationship with himself,

2- his relationship with others,

3- his relationship with Hashem.

Each has its own importance and specific dynamics.

The three destructive behaviors (pleasure, jealousy, honor) enumerated in Avos and the three personality yardsticks (wine, money, anger) quoted above, are tied together by the three departments of our relationships (self, others, God) in the following way:

1- One who drinks wine, very quickly loses himself. Thus, this corresponds to man’s intrapersonal relationship with himself, showing how he deals with his personal desires.

2- One’s wallet represents his business dealings. Thus, how honest he is in business shows where he is holding regarding his interpersonal relationships with others. Subsequently, if he is honest, he has controlled his jealousy.

3- One who is easily angered lacks proper belief in Hashem. The proof  is that he thinks that his actions are determining factors in his success and cannot bear to see anyone violate his plans! He demands honor and recognition for his own greatness. Hence, this anger corresponds to and gauges one’s relationship and connection to Hashem.  

These are the three departments, the full picture of a person’s life.

How do we then explain the opinion which adds a fourth component in sizing up a person (wine, wallet, anger, laughter) based upon his “laughter”? What does that signify, have we not already covered all of the categories?! The answer is that this is what brings everything together! Laughter represents enjoyment and fulfillment in what one does. Only one who lives life and develops himself in these three departments can truly find happiness. Only one who lives with Hashem and His Torah will achieve bliss and enjoyment.

In the time of Purim, the Jews were not serving Hashem properly, this prompted Hashem to send Haman to threaten to annihilate them. By repenting and coming back to Hashem this meant that they committed themselves to act properly in all three departments of their service. The result was their salvation and achievement of an exalted state of happiness in their Torah observance. They developed and honed their three relationship groups and even more so they achieved the fourth level of bliss and laughter from their application and commitment to Torah study. Thus, we see how these four elements (wine, wallet, anger, laughter) directly relate to Purim. Let’s examine this further.

We have four Mitzvos on Purim relating to these four things as well:

1- To overcome our lusts and desires, we have a party L’shem Shamayim, using food and drinks for the service of Hashem. In our minds we train ourselves to have self-control.

2- To overcome our selfish ego and jealousy, we open our wallets and perform Mishloach Manos, gifts to other people. This helps us articulate that the world does not revolve around us, rather we strive to relate and care for others as well.

3- Our pursuit of honor makes us reluctant to give charity to others, as we wish to remain rich and powerful ourselves. However, Hashem desires that we emulate His kindness and acknowledge that He runs the world. An angry person only gets enraged because he feels that he is the boss, and gets upset when someone violated his wishes. However, our job is to follow Hashem and realize that He makes the rules. To develop a deeper connection to Hashem, we emulate His kindness by giving Matanos La’Evyonim, donations to those in need of money!

4- The last and most important aspect of the day is the one which brings everything to life and provides the greatest laughter, happiness and fulfillment. This is learning and applying of Torah! Thus, hearing and internalizing the words of the holy Megillas Esther is the savoring of inspirational and joyous words of Torah! Now we have a complete understanding of our service on Purim and also our daily Avodas Hashem.

R’ Yissachar Rothschild zt”l explains that we eat Hamentashin to show what destroyed Haman. The translation of their unique name (Hamentashin) is: “Haman tash, the weakening of Haman.” They are three-sided to show that when the Jews regained control and fulfilled their roles in their three aspects of their service of Hashem (self, others, God), this destroyed their enemy!

Purim is a special day when Hashem answers our prayers. This is because when we totally dedicate ourselves to Him, this produces strong feelings of closeness and love. Who would not do anything for someone that they adored? May our true colors shine forth and help us utilize this amazing day to achieve closeness with Hashem and may He answer all of our requests speedily, for the best!

Hashkafah, Purim, Uncategorized , , , , ,