Parshas Noach

“These are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a righteous man…” Bereishis 6:9

What practical lesson can we learn from Noach, the great antediluvian figure? The pasuk praises Noach by proclaiming that he was a צדיק; he was righteous. This is a tremendous attainment and a worthy ambition for us to seek, but we need some direction as to how to act and what to work on in order to achieve this lofty goal.

The Rabbeinu Bechayei helps us to define the concept of a צדיק, by expounding on a pasuk in Mishlei. ״מתהלך בתמו צדיק אשרי בניו אחריו״ – “One who walks in his innocence is a righteous man; fortunate are his sons after him.” The Rabbeinu Bechayei explains that Shlomo HaMelech is teaching us that a person is not considered a צדיק until he is ״התהלך בתמו״ in his service of Hashem. This “walking innocently” means that he performs the mitzvos properly out of love and fear of Hashem. Not in order to make himself great, and certainly not in order that he should be honorable in the eyes of others for his “righteous” acts. The real and true service of Hashem is to perform good deeds and righteous acts according to one’s capabilities and not to draw attention to them. To work hard to help others and not to utter a word about what he has done. In fact, by relating ones good deeds, publicizing them, and accepting praise for them, one brings about bad in place of the good he sought to achieve in two specific ways. Firstly, he will quickly become haughty when people buy into his glorified tales, and secondly, he will cause embarrassment to the ones who innocently accepted his help, as they now finds themselves and their plight highlighted in block letters on the front page.

The defining characteristic of a צדיק is not to mention the good he has accomplished. As an added bonus, the pasuk in Mishlei ends off ״אשרי בניו אחריו״, which teaches us that not only will the צדיק himself benefit from his humble stature, but his righteousness will as well serve as a protection for his future generations.

Parshas Bereishis

“In the beginning when ד׳ created the Heavens and the Earth” Bereishis 1:1

Ever wondered why the Torah starts with the letter ״ב״? Whatever happened to good old ״א״? Well, you’re not the only one. The Baal Haturim brings Medrashim that pose three answers. First of all, the letter ב represents ברכה – blessing, while the letter א represents ארירה (the opposite of blessing). Hashem in His infinite wisdom said, let’s start with a ב – with a blessing, and give this world a shot at existence. Alternatively, ב is the second letter of the א – ב, and is therefore representative of the two worlds that Hashem created, our material world and the world to come. Finally, the Baal Haturim concludes that the ב of בראשית may be alluding to the two parts of the Torah, תורה שבכתב ותורה שבעל פה – The written law and the oral law. This is to remind us that it is only in the merit of the Torah and the ones who learn and abide by it’s laws that this world was created.

The מגיד תעלומה adds that the תורה שבכתב starts with the letter ״ב״ of ״בראשית״, but the תורה שבעל פה begins with the ״מ״ of ״מאימתי קורין את שמע״. If you put these two letters together you get the word ״בם״, and the Gemara in Yoma (יט) explains that the words of the pasuk in Shema of ״ודברת בם״ – “you shall speak them”, teach us that we should speak only the words of the Torah and refrain from muttering idle speech.

The ב of בראשית is setting a precedent and teaching us that as we begin to read the Torah anew this Shabbos and prepare for the long winter ahead, we should busy ourselves with the words of תורה שבכתב ותורה שבעל פה and not with דברים בטלים – words of void.

Parshas Ha’azinu

“Listen heavens and I will speak, and may the earth hear the words of my mouth” Devarim 32:1

Moshe Rabbeinu in his farewell address to the Bnei Yisrael enlists the heavens and the earth as his witnesses against the Bnei Yisrael. What is the specific significance of the heavens and the earth that Moshe turned to them for testimony? Rashi explains that if after Moshe had passed on, the Bnei Yisrael were to deny entering into the covenant with Hashem, the heavens above and the earth below would still be around to testify that the Bnei Yisrael had indeed accepted the Torah upon themselves. Rashi continues to explain that according to the Torah, if two witnesses testify against someone for committing a sin, and the accused is found guilty and charged with the death penalty, the very same witnesses that brought the sinner to court are to be the first to throw the stones upon the offender. Therefore, seeing as Moshe Rabbeinu called upon the heavens and the earth to be his witnesses, if the Bnei Yisrael were to stray from the straight path, the heavens and the earth would be the first to mete out the punishment. Perhaps we can explain the particular repercussions to be dealt by the heavens and the earth according to the Gemara in Nedarim (.לב). R’ Elazar says that Torah is the greatest for if not for the Torah, the heavens and earth would cease to exist. So it turns out that if we don’t keep the Torah and delve into it’s depths constantly, the heavens and the earth will be the first to serve our comeuppance by ceasing to exist.

Moshe Rabbeinu is parting with a simple message. You want a good life filled with blessing, inspiration and the strength to hold true to the resolutions you made on Yom Kippur and the fortitude to maintain that good-behavior all throughout the year to come? Don’t stop learning Torah.

Just in case anyone was looking for something to do while spending all that time in the Sukkah…

Parshas Vayeilech

“And Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Yisrael” Devarim 31:1

It’s the question everyone is asking, everybody wants to know, where did Moshe go? All of the Commentators venture their answers, but the Kli Yakar’s second explanation is particularly poignant for our current standpoint, in the midst of the Ten Days of Repentance, and on the verge of Shabbos Shuva and Yom Kippur. The Kli Yakar says that Moshe Rabbeinu went to awaken the hearts of the nation to do Teshuva and repent for their sins. He gave them harsh Mussar, admonished them, and said, “Whoever has what to repent for, come forth and repent!”

But, because it is quite hard for someone to see their own faults, and it is practically unheard of for a sinner to drag himself to the “doctor” to ask for help in mending his sick soul, Moshe got up and went from tent to tent, to each and every member of the Bnei Yisrael to speak to their hearts about the importance of Teshuva.

The Kli Yakar reasons why Moshe felt the urge to go out and reproach the Bnei Yisrael one last time before his death. Perhaps, Moshe was trying to foster שלום – peace. שלום is unlike all other mitzvos. In general, we are commanded to fulfill the mitzvos when the opportunity arises. however, is special in that we are required to proactively work to create and maintain it. The Kli Yakar gives two reasons as to why this is true. He begins by explaining that there are two types of שלום. Peace between man and his Father in Heaven and peace between man and his friend. Peace between man and Hashem is achieved by doing Teshuva – repenting for one’s sins. In this regard, we find that Chazal teach us that Teshuva is great because if even one person does Teshuva, Hashem can forgive the entire world.

Peace between man and his fellow is imperative because most of the year, (except for the עשרת ימי תשובה). Hashem only accepts our Teshuva if many people enact change together. Therefore, the more people that make amends and repent from their interpersonal misdeeds will help Hashem accept the Teshuva of the majority.

Striving for שלום can help bring about Teshuva, which is why we are required to chase after it. That is exactly what Moshe Rabbinu did, he went out to the Bnei Yisroel and encouraged them to do Teshuva by guiding them through the process of creating שלום both between man and Hashem and man and his peers. Rather a timely lesson for us to learn and take to heart on Erev Shabbos Shuva with Yom Kippur on the rise.

Parshas Netzavim

“You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d – the heads of your tribes, your elders and your officers – all the men of Israel.”

At the beginning of this week’s Parsha Moshe Rabbeinu gathers all of the Bnei Yisrael together in order to enter them into an eternal bond with Hashem. The Ramban explains that Moshe was preparing them to receive the ״תורה בביאורה״ – The Torah with the explanation of its depth. The Baal Haturim points out that the word ״נצבים״ which refers to how the Bnei Yisrael stood here in this week’s Parsha is just like the word ״ויתיצבו״ which is the word used to describe the way the Bnei Yisrael stood by Har Sinai when they received the Torah.

What is the connection between Parshas Netzavim and our acceptance of the Torah at Har Sinai? The Zohar explains that the word ״היום״ in our pasuk is referring to Rosh Hashanah. It appears that there is a re-embodiment of our nation’s acceptance of the Torah that must occur on Rosh Hashanah. Why is this so? Chazal tell us that אדם הראשון; Adam, was created on Rosh Hashanah, and the Rabbeinu Yonah in Pirkei Avos פרק ג משנה י says ״כי על מה נברא אדם אך לעסוק בתורה״, which means that the essence of our creation is for us to accept the Torah. Therefore, an integral part of our job on Rosh Hashana; which is the anniversary of our creation, would be to re-accept the Torah upon ourselves.

With regard to the sequence of events that led up to the creation of man, we find the Gemara in Sanhedrin, which explains that when Hashem set out to create man, He first created a group of Angels – ״מה אנוש כי תזכרנו ובן אדם כי תפקדנו״ and asked them what they thought of the idea. They responded “What is man that You should remember him and the son of mortal that You should be mindful of him”? Hashem promptly burnt those Angels up and created another group, had a similar interaction, incinerated them and created a third group of Angels. This third group answered as follows, “Hashem, Master of the World, the world belongs to You, You shall create in Your world as You see fit.” As we know, Hashem went ahead and created mankind. The angels kept quiet through the early generations, until the Generation of the Flood and the Tower of Babel, when they piped up and said, “Were the original angels incorrect in their assumption that man, if created, would surely sin?” Hashem answered ״ועד זקנה אני הוא ועד השיב אני אסבל״ – “Until old age I am unchanged, until your old years I will carry you”. The Maharsha explains that Hashem replied that He will deflect the complaints against our misdeeds until Har Sinai, when the Bnei Yisrael will accept Torah and sit in toil in Yeshiva. For the purpose of creation is for the Bnei Yisrael to fulfill the Torah.

Hashem held off the criticizing Angels and is waiting for us to accept the Torah and sit and toil over it in Yeshiva. It seems that the appropriate time to re-pledge our allegiance to Hashem and to re-accept the Torah should be on Rosh Hashanah, for that is the exact time when the Angels initially disagreed to the concept of our creation in the Heavenly Court. Parshas Netzavim represents Rosh Hashana and embodies the quality of קבלת התורה; our acceptance of the Torah, which is a necessary component of our preparation for these Awesome Days and a key to our vindication on the day of Judgment, when we will all stand before Hashem and once again, anoint Him as our King.

[Adapted from ביאורים וחידושים בעניני חודש אלול and לקוטי נחמת יצחק גליון מס׳ 9]

Parshas Ki Savo

“Then we cried out to Hashem, the G-d of our forefathers, and Hashem heard our voice
and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression” Devarim 26:7

The Ohr HaChaim provides us with a beautiful narrative of the pasukim at the beginning of this week’s Parsha, which outline the special mitzvah of Bikkurim; the ritual bringing of the first fruits of one’s field every year (except for Shemittah) up to the Beis Hamikdash. As part of the Bikkurim process, the one who presents his fruits in the Beis HaMikdash must read specific passages from the Torah. These pasukim detail the tale of our nations descent into exile in Egypt, and how we were ultimately redeemed. (These are the same pasukim that we recite on the Seder night of Pesach.) The Ohr HaChaim explains the pasuk describing how we cried out to Hashem to redeem us and how Hashem chose to save us when He “saw” our allegiance to our Torah lifestyle. The words “And we cried out to Hashem” teach us that we must beseech Hashem every day to save us from our evil inclination and then Hashem will answer our prayers because He sees our loyalty to Him. The Ohr HaChaim explains that the word ״ענינו״ ,which literally means “our affliction”, has the root of the word ״עני״ – poor” and may therefore be referring to the frugal existence of those who devote their lives to Torah learning. (The Ohr HaChaim adds that even though we sometimes do find that there are Bnei Torah who are financially stable, they are still required to live simply for that is the way of the Torah.) עמלנו״Our toil”, is referring to our toil in the Torah, especially today in our
current generation, which requires us to expend tremendous effort just to clarify even one halacha. לחצנו״” – “Our oppression” – may be an indication of the pressure felt by those who take upon themselves the yoke of supporting the Talmidei Chachamim. They may feel suffocated by the deluge of requests for Tzeddakah as all eyes turn to them for assistance.

Hashem recognized these telling codes of conduct and the way of life that our forefathers in Egypt maintained even while under immense duress, and heeded their plea for redemption. The non-ostentatious lifestyle coupled with a genuine pursuit of gleaning true Torah knowledge while striving to pitch in and lend a helping hand to a struggling companion is a time tested equation for success. It helped our ancestors witness redemption and can help us as well to invoke the mercy of Hashem at this crucial juncture before the New Year.

Parshas Ki Seitzei

“When you will go out to war against your enemies and Hashem your G-d will deliver them into your hands and you will take your captives.” Devarim 21:10

The Toras Moshe explains that this pasuk is figuratively describing the ceaseless battle with our eternal foe, our evil inclination. The Gemara in Kedushin states, “The evil inclination of a man struggles to overcome him every single day and if it were not for Hashem’s helping Hand, he would not be able to withstand the test”. It is true that with Hashem’s help we will win the daily fights, however, it is extremely difficult to withstand our Yetzer Hara and one may understandably throw his hands up in defeat. That is why the Torah tells us in this week’s Parsha, ״כי תצא״ – when you will go out to war against your enemy. All you need to do is go out, just start the war, spark the fight, show Hashem that you want to be good and are loath to fall into the dirty traps of the Yetzer Hara, and then you can rest assured, ״ונתנו ד׳ אלוקיך בידך״ – Hashem will provide support from the Heavens to help you succeed, for as we know, ״הבא לטהר מסייעין אותו״ – “one who strives to become pure, will receive Heavenly aid in his quest.”

The Baal Shem Tov teaches, in the hour that you wage war against your perpetual nemesis, the evil-inclination, you should learn from his ways. Look how he lurches towards the battle with alacrity and how he fights you to the death with hardheaded determination to make you fail and take you captive. Take your cue from him and fight back with the same strength and vigor!

The Kedushas Levi uses this concept to explain the pasuk in Tehillim ״מאויבי תחכמני מצוותיך כי לעולם היא לי״ – From my enemy- my evil inclination, I learned how to keep Torah and Mitzvos. When we see how eagerly people race towards sin which provides only a fleeting pleasure, we should think to ourselves, how much more so should we be running to fulfill a mitzvah whose reward is ultimate and everlasting.

It’s still Elul, the clock is ticking. Time to beat up on our Yetzer Hara and be meticulous in our fulfillment of the mitzvos.

Parshas Shoftim

“Judges and officers you shall appoint for yourselves in all of your gates that Hashem your G-d has given to you; according to your Tribes, and they shall judge the nation righteously.” Devarim 16:18

The Rabbeinu Bechayei sheds light on the connection between the end of last week’s Parsha and the beginning of this week’s Sedrah. We left off talking about the thrice-yearly mitzvah for the Jewish nation to make a pilgrimage to Yerushalayim on the holidays of Pesach, Shavuous and Sukkos. This weeks Parsha begins with the mitzvah to appoint judges and enforcement officers to stabilize the nation’s judiciary system. The Rabbeinu Bechayei explains the juxtaposition of these two mitzvos. Even though the Bnei Yisrael will travel to Yerushalayim three times a year, and there they will find the Kohanim, Leviim and great Torah Sages to whom they may ask all of their questions regarding how to properly fulfill the Torah and Mitzvos, and they will clarify all of their uncertainties, still, we are commanded to appoint judges and enforcers in all of our outlying cities, in order to maintain the integrity of the law throughout the rest of the year. The Shoftim are the Sages who know the ins and outs of the law and who ultimately pass the verdict. The Shotrim are the law-enforcement officers whose job is to see to it that the words of the judges are carried out in full. (Yes, they may use such aids as batons and whips to assist them in their task. See Rambam in the first halacha in hilchos Sanhedrin.)

The Rabbeinu Bechayei continues with two more interesting points about the significance of an upstanding judicial system. He brings the Medrash Tanchuma, which highlights the crucial interplay between the Shoftim and the Shotrim. The Medrash blatantly states there cannot be one without the other. For without proper enforcement the law will never be upheld and without true judgment the proper verdict will remain unknown. Finally, the Rabeinu Bechayei emphasizes just how important the power of justice is. When there is justice down on earth, Hashem does not sit in judgment on the world, rather He judges us with mercy. But if there is no justice here on Earth, Hashem will judge us with the trait of Divine Justice. The Medrash Tehillim states: “If justice is not found on earth, then justice is in the Heavens, and Hashem sits in judgment and repays accordingly. But, if there is justice on the earth Hashem does not have to sit in judgment – for exacting justice is the work of Hashem. If we do His work down here, Hashem is free to judge us mercifully from the Heavens.

As we merge into the month of Elul with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the rise, Parshas Shoftim comes to teach us that if we live justly all year round, not only on the holidays or when we are under scrutiny, then Hashem will be left free to grant us our prayers and allow us a merciful judgment for the coming year. (By the way, a little Teshuva and Repentance won’t hurt either.)

Parshas Vaeschanan – Shabbos Nachamu

“I beseeched Hashem at that time saying” Devarim 3:23

Parshas Vaeschanan begins with Moshe Rabbeinu pleading with Hashem to allow him to
enter into Eretz Yisrael. The Gemara in Sotah (.יד) asks a famous question. Why was Moshe
Rabbeinu so frantic to gain entry? Did he need to eat from it’s fruit or fill himself up with it’s
goodness? The Gemara answers that Moshe Rabbeinu’s burning desire was purely spiritual. He
yearned to fulfill the specific mitzvos that can only be performed in Eretz Yisrael.

The Ksav Sofer questions the wording of the Gemara’s question. The Gemara could have
asked, “Did Moshe need to eat?” Why did the Gemara specifically mention the fruit of the land?
Furthermore, why the double language of “Did Moshe need to eat from the fruit and become
satiated from it’s bountifulness?”

The Ksav Sofer explains the particular language of the Gemara based off of the Rambam
in הלכות תשובה פרק ט הלכה א.The Rambam teaches that the entire purpose of living in Eretz
Yisrael is only in order that we should able to serve Hashem in a pure and uninterrupted fashion.
This may be the meaning of the three-faceted blessing that we recite after eating from the
seven species with which Eretz Yisrael is blessed. ״לאכל מפרי׳ ולשבוע מטובה״ – through eating the
fruits of the land we can complete our souls and become wise in Torah knowledge for the air of
Eretz Yisrael makes one wise.

Moshe Rabbeinu did not require this extra spiritual cleansing boost that one can receive
from being in Eretz Yisrael, for on his level he was able to complete the purpose of his soul even
outside of Eretz Yisrael. Nothing could enter his periphery that might distract him from his
service of Hashem. This is the question of the Gemara. If Moshe Rabbeinu did not need the fruit
of the land to enhance his service of Hashem, why was he crazed with the need to be there?
That is why the Gemara comes to teach us that there was another special characteristic about
the Land, the special mitzvos that can only be accomplished there. It was those mitzvos that
Moshe Rabbeinu so dearly wanted to fulfill.

Moshe Rabbeinu is our eternal leader. He cherished Eretz Yisrael to the utmost degree,
even though all he wanted from the Land was to fulfill it’s mitzvos. We stand to gain even more
than Moshe by being there, for we can all surely use the extra spiritual enhancement that Eretz
Yisrael provides.