R' Henach Leibowitz shlita (rosh yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim
Yeshiva in New York) taught: The commentators write that after
Bnei Yisrael had traveled through the desert for forty years,
they reached a level of appreciation of Hashem's kindness greater
than the heights they had reached at Har Sinai. They understood
that all of their military victories and their miraculous
survival in the barren Sinai desert were due to Hashem's
generosity. At this point, Hashem sees fit to ask Bnei Yisrael
to make a pact that they will not become haughty and somehow
credit themselves for all their achievements in the desert.
Why did Hashem choose this occasion to warn them? R' Leibowitz
asks. One would think that it would be superfluous at this time
since they had such a great appreciation of Hashem's wonders.
Wouldn't another time, perhaps when their hakarat
hatov/appreciation for the good bestowed upon them was waning,
have been more appropriate?
The Torah is revealing a paradox in human nature: When a person
reaches higher levels of spiritual perfection, he must become
more vigilant of the tricks and subterfuge of the yetzer hara and
not less wary, as one might think.
As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and reflect upon the past year,
we will undoubtedly realize that, at least in some respects, we
have grown considerably. The yetzer hara - our constant
adversary - will immediately whisper into our ears: "You're OK!
Teshuvah isn't really necessary this year." This seems logical,
but it's far from the truth. As we grow spiritually, we only
become bigger targets for the yetzer hara's missiles. We should
not downplay our accomplishments, but we must remember that
precisely because of those accomplishments we must continue to be
on guard. (Majesty of Man p.279)
"An Aramean 'ovaid' my father and he descended to Egypt . .
R' Zvi Hirsch Kalischer z"l (1795-1875) writes: The
commentators struggled mightily to understand the word "ovaid"
because it is an intransitive verb (meaning: "becoming
destroyed") used as a transitive verb (apparently meaning: "tried
to destroy"). In addition, how does the fact that our father
Yaakov descended to Egypt follow from the fact that Lavan the
Aramean tried to destroy him?
R' Kalischer answers these questions as follows: The more that
two things are unlike, the more each tries to use the other one
for its own purposes. For example, he writes, wind can put out a
fire, but the wrong "amount" of wind will make a fire worse.
This happens because the fire adapts the force (i.e., the wind)
that opposes it for its own purposes.
Similarly, man's earthiness ("chomer") and intelligence
("saichel") oppose each other. If the chomer prevails, it takes
charge of the saichel, and man becomes less than an animal.
After all, how much harm can an animal, who has no saichel, do
compared to this person?
The above principle explains why a wicked person attempts to
recruit others to his wickedness and why he cannot tolerate the
existence of tzaddikim. It is because there are no two forces in
the world that are more opposed to each other than
kedushah/sanctity, on the one hand, and tum'ah/impurity, on the
other. For the same reason, if the tzaddik is not enticed to
wickedness, but instead defeats it, he becomes much greater. He
literally takes the goodness out of the rasha and makes it his
own. This is the meaning of the teaching (Avot 5:2): "Avraham
received reward for all of the ten generations that preceded
The same thing happened between Yaakov and Lavan. Lavan wanted
to draw Yaakov's kedushah towards his own tum'ah. This
demonstrates how great is the hatred that tum'ah has for
kedushah, for Lavan was willing to destroy his own children and
grandchildren in the service of impurity. What happened instead?
"Yaakov stole Lavan's heart" (Bereishit 31:20), i.e., he took all
that was good from Lavan and inducted it into the service of
kedushah. After this, there was, so-to-speak, nothing left of
With this idea, we can understand our verse as follows: "My
father" does not refer to Yaakov, as most commentators assume,
but to Lavan. He, too, was our ancestor. My father, the verse
says, was an Aramean who was "ovaid"/"becoming destroyed" by his
encounter with Yaakov. This also explains the continuation of
the verse. The reason that Yaakov had to descend to Egypt was to
continue the never-ending duel between kedushah and tum'ah.
R' Yaakov Abuchatzeirah z"l (Morocco; 19th century) explains
the connection between Lavan's aims and Yaakov's descent to Egypt
as follows: Lavan saw prophetically that Yaakov's descendants
would be prepared by their exile in Egypt to receive the Torah.
In his hatred for kedushah, he sought to destroy Yaakov before
Yaakov could descend to Egypt.
(Bigdei Serad, p.34)
Customs for Parashat Ki Tavo
(From Nit'ai Gavriel: Dinei U'Minhagei Yamim Nora'im, ch.4)
Ezra ordained that Ki Tavo should be read before Rosh
Hashanah in order to usher out the year's curses. [This parashah
contains the tochachah/ Moshe's foretelling of the horrible
punishments that would befall our nation if we sin.]
One should not be called for the aliyah that contains the
tochachah if he hates the ba'al koreh or if the ba'al koreh hates
It is proper that the one who goes up for the tochachah
should think repentant thoughts so that his deeds will not awaken
Divine judgment against him.
In some places, before the reading of the tochachah, the
gabbai calls out the verses from Mishlei (3:11-12): "My son, do
not despise Hashem's discipline, and do not despise His reproof,
for Hashem admonishes the one He loves, and like a father He
mollifies the child."
In some places, they do not call out: "Ya'amod"/"Arise, so-
and-so the son of so-and-so." Rather, they call out: "Arise,
whoever wishes." In some places, the person who is called to the
tochachah is paid. In some places, the ba'al koreh himself
receives the aliyah, and this was the custom of many tzaddikim
(including the rebbes of Sanz, Sighet, Munkacz and Lubavitch).
If the ba'al koreh is a kohen, the aliyot may be apportioned so
that the tochachah will be an eighth aliyah and may be given to a
In some places, the one who receives the aliyah that
contains the tochachah does not recite a berachah either before
or after. The preceding aliyah ends just prior to the tochachah
and the one who receives that aliyah recites the after-berachah.
Some wrote harshly against this custom (including R' Shlomo
Kluger z"l, R' Eliezer Dovid Gruenwald z"l and R' Moshe
It is customary to read the tochachah quickly and in a soft
voice. However, one must be careful not to read so quietly that
the congregation does not hear, because then the congregation
will not fulfill the mitzvah of heaing the Torah reading. Some
have the custom to read in a loud voice-- the purpose being to
awaken the congregation to repentance.)
It is forbidden for the ba'al koreh to have in mind that
the tochachah should befall any specific person. Some are
careful not to stand directly in front of the ba'al koreh. (The
author of the Bnei Yissaschar and his descendants, the Muncaczer
Rebbes, insisted that no one stand opposite them when they read
the tochachah.) Some also have the custom that the person who
received the previous aliyah leaves the bimah before the
tochachah is read.
Letters from Our Sages
This week's letter was written by R' Eliezer Zusia
Portugal z"l (1898-1982; the "Skulener Rebbe") to a student
in Israel. While the letter is undated, it appears to have
been written during the winter after the author's arrival in
the United States from Romania in 1960. (A biography of the
Skulener Rebbe appeared in Hamaayan two weeks ago.)
The letter is printed in Noam Eliezer, Bereishit, No. 42.
I received your letters, and your complaints that I have not
written are just. However, my dear . . . , do not accuse me of
being lax in respecting others, especially you. Certainly I know
that one must be diligent in respecting other people, as Chazal
say (Berachot 19b): "Respect for others is very important. Even
for stones, the Torah demanded respect" (see Rashi at the end of
Parashat Yitro). [Rashi explains that the reason that the altar
had a ramp and not stairs is so that the kohanim would not insult
the stones by spreading their legs too far apart while ascending
to the altar.] This is one of the reasons that we cover the
challah on Shabbat . . . so that the challah does not witness its
degradation. [According to the usual order of precedence, the
berachah on bread should precede the berachah on wine, but on
Shabbat we reverse this order.] We see that G-d cares for the
honor of inanimate things; certainly for one's friend who is made
in the image of G-d. And, since the Torah obligates us to take
care with honor of His creations, it is my desire to fulfill that
[obligation], especially with regard to the honor of someone who
is very beloved to me. I know how hard you worked on my behalf .
. . therefore please do not suspect me of intending any insult to
you . . .
Although I have no pleasure from the fact that I could not
write to you, I do have pleasure from one thing, at least after
the fact. That is, that I have seen the good trait that you
possess of forgiving your honor. Although I did not write to you
or answer you, you went above-and-beyond ("lifnim me'shurat
ha'din") and wrote time after time. Therefore I see that you
possess the good trait of forgiving your honor. In Ta'anit (25a)
our sages taught us the power of this trait, i.e., that Rabbi
Akiva was answered in a time of trouble and drought, and a
Heavenly Voice proclaimed that it was because Rabbi Akiva was
forgiving. For this reason, the blessing that you conferred upon
me means a great deal to me . . .
I recognize that I am obligated to fulfill the words of Chazal,
who commented on the verse [Tehilim 150:6], "Let every
neshamah/soul praise G-d" - "For every neshimah/breath praise G-
d." "Alenu le'shabe'ach la'adon hakol"/We must thank the Master
of all that He took us out and saved us from between the lion's
teeth. I still remember the narrow room in which I was
imprisoned [in Romania] . . . bereft of tzitzit, tefilin or a
book. It was almost impossible to think of ever being free. . .
I feel in my soul, literally, the power that G-d gave me to live
. . .
Dr. and Mrs. Irving Katz
on the yahrzeit of father
Moshe Aharon ben Menashe Reiss z"l