R' Azaryah Figo z"l (Italy; 1579-1647) writes: Our trust in
Hashem is based on three things. These are: His honor, His
kindness, and His promises to us. Moshe Rabbenu appealed to
these attributes when he prayed (Bemidbar 14:15-19): "Then the
nations that heard of Your fame will say . . . And now, may the
strength of my Lord be magnified as You have spoken, saying,
'Hashem, Slow to Anger, Abundant in Kindness . . . ' " The first
phrase ("Then the nations that heard of Your fame will say")
appeals to Hashem's honor. The second phrase ("as You have
spoken") appeals to Hashem as one Who keeps His promises.
Finally, the third phrase ("Hashem . . . Abundant in Kindness")
appeals to Hashem's kindness.
The above idea explains why we read in the Torah that those
praying for repentance often magnified the severity of their
sins. One would expect someone seeking repentance to downplay
the sin; nevertheless, in our parashah, Kayin said (after he
killed Hevel - Bereishit 4:13), "My sin is too great to be
borne." Similarly, when Moshe prayed after the sin of the golden
calf, he said (Shmot 32:31), "This people has committed a
grievous sin." When one says, "My sin is great, but I trust in
G-d to forgive me nevertheless," one demonstrates his belief in
the magnitude of G-d's honor, His kindness and His fulfillment of
His promises. (Binah La'ittim: Drush Aleph L'Yom Aleph Shel
"To Adam He said, 'Because you listened to the voice of your
wife and ate of the tree . . .'" (3:17)
R' Aharon Yosef Bakst z"l (Poland; 1869-1941) taught: Why was
Adam's repentance not accepted? (We can see that it was not
accepted from the fact that the decree of death was not lifted,
says R' Bakst [but see the opinion of Rabbenu Nissim z"l,
Adam was not punished for eating from the tree - for which he
repented. Rather, he was punished: "Because you listened to your
wife." By listening to Chava when she offered him the fruit,
Adam demonstrated that he did not have the willpower to withstand
peer pressure. That is a sin for which repentance is impossible.
One who succumbs to peer pressure negates his very existence and
therefore has no place in this world.
In Shmuel I (Ch. 15) we read that King Shaul lost his kingdom
because he did not destroy Amalek as he was commanded to do.
Shaul himself defended his actions by saying that he was afraid
of the people (who wanted to keep Amalek's animals). However,
says R' Bakst, it was precisely because Shaul listened to the
people that he was not fit to continue in his position.
(Lev Aharon p. 68)
A related thought: The mishnah (Sotah 9:15) states that in the
last days before the time of Mashiach, "The face of the
generation will be like a dog's face." What does this mean?
When a man walks his dog, the dog walks in front as if it is
leading its master. However, when the dog comes to a crossroads,
it stops and looks back to receive instructions from its master.
So, too, in the days before Mashiach, "leaders" will pretend to
walk ahead of their people as if they are leading. In reality,
though, all of their decisions will be based on the polls that
tell them what their "followers" want. In this way, the face of
the generation - the leaders who walk ahead of a nation as one's
face precedes his body - will be like a dog's face.
(Heard from R' Moshe Eisemann shlita)
Rabbenu Nissim z"l (Spain; 14th century) writes: Adam's death
was not a punishment per se. Rather, it was the consequence of
his actions. He explains:
In order to live forever, as Adam was supposed to, one's soul
must be strong and must overpower his body. In turn, one's soul
is strengthened when he focuses on intellectual pursuits and
minimizes physical pursuits.
In contrast, the Etz Ha'da'at/Tree of Knowledge awakened the
physical desires of the one who ate from it. When Hashem said
(2:17), "For on the day you eat of it, you shall surely die," He
did not mean that Adam would be punished with death. He meant
only that Adam would change from being a person who was capable
of living forever to a person whose nature it is to die
(Derashot Ha'Ran No. 1)
Birkat Hachodesh/Blessing the Month
It is customary in most Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities
that an announcement is made on the Shabbat preceding rosh
chodesh (such as today) that rosh chodesh will fall on a certain
day or days during the coming week. The reason for this custom
is so that people will know to recite Ya'aleh Ve'yavo and other
rosh chodesh prayers on the appropriate day(s).
In many Sephardic communities, this announcement is preceded by
the following prayer:
Yehi ratzon/May it by the will of our Father Who is in
heaven to preserve among us the sages of Israel - them,
their wives, their sons, their daughters, their disciples
and the students of their disciples in all their dwelling
places, and let us say: Amen.
Why is a prayer recited for the sages and their families at the
time that the new month is announced?
R' Shemtov Gaugin z"l (early 20th century Sephardic Chief Rabbi
of London) offers the following reason: When the Sanhedrin still
existed, that body set the day for rosh chodesh based on the
sighting of the new moon. Because the scheduling of rosh chodesh
was dependent upon the decision of the sages, the day when rosh
chodesh is announced is a fitting time to pray for the welfare of
the sages and their families.
Ashkenazim recite the above prayer for the sages after the
Torah reading on every Monday and Thursday. Why? R' Gaugin
suggests that it is because Monday and Thursday are days when
prayers are accepted more readily. In recognition of the
indispensability of the sages to our lives, we pray for their
welfare on those days.
(Ta'amei Minhagim Ketter Shem Tov p. 227)
The "yehi ratzon" prayer recited by Ashkenazim before
announcing the new month is based on a prayer found in the gemara
(Berachot 16b). This prayer (without the words "that You
inaugurate this month upon us for goodness and blessing") was
recited by the sage Rav at the conclusion of shemoneh esrei every
Recitation of this prayer is widespread, but the reason for
doing so at this time is obscure. In fact, some authorities
question its recitation at all because one is not supposed to
make personal requests on Shabbat. R' Chaim Elazar Shapiro z"l
(the Munkatcher Rebbe; died 1937) suggests that this is why some
people add the words: "In the merit of Rav's prayer." It is as
if they are saying, "We are not making personal requests on
Shabbat; we are merely telling the story of how the sage Rav used
to pray every day."
(Divrei Torah IV, No. 107)
R' Zvi Elimelech of Dinov z"l (the "Bnei Yissaschar"; died
1841) writes: The custom of saying "In the merit of Rav's prayer"
is a mistake. Originally, some siddurim had the notation after
this prayer: "Berachot Tefilat Rav" - i.e., the source of this
prayer is in Tractate Berachot and it is Rav's prayer. Later, a
printer changed one Hebrew letter and the notation now read:
"Bezchut Tefilat Rav"/"In the merit of Rav's prayer."
(Maggid Ta'alumah: Berachot 16b)
Letters from Our Sages
The following letter was written by R' Simcha Zissel Ziv z"l
(died 1898; one of the three leading disciples of R' Yisrael
Salanter). It is published in Ohr Rashaz, Volume I, No. 7.
To my dear son, the delight of my heart, the understanding one,
Nachum Zev, may your light shine seven times [brighter than the
sun - see Yishayah 30:26]
On this past Shabbat, I spoke about that which we observe, that
every species of living thing has its own name. This is because
each one has a purpose all its own, and its appearance informs us
of its purpose.
Adam, G-d's handiwork, was a very wise man, and he understood
from each species' appearance what its purpose was. [Therefore,
he was able to name each species - see Bereishit 2:19.]
Mankind has a name different from anything else on earth [i.e.,
from the Torah's perspective, man is not part of the animal
kingdom]. Why? Because man was created in the tzelem/image of
Elokim - "in Our image, after Our likeness" [Bereishit 1:26].
Rashi interprets this to mean: "Understanding and intelligent."
Man's appearance indicates the presence of understanding and
intelligence; this is the tzelem of G-d. If understanding and
intelligence are lacking, then man is an animal in human form.
The sin of such a person is too great to bear, for he himself
causes the degradation of the tzelem of Elokim (besides the fact
that he transgresses the command of the King of kings, the Holy
One, blessed is He). . . .
Accordingly, every person is obligated to guard his own holy
tzelem. From this arises the obligation to study Torah
constantly or to contemplate it day and night, in order to guard
the tzelem of Elokim which is on and in oneself. Also one's
activities - if he does them in accordance with the Torah, and
his mind is constantly on the Torah, [hoping] to return to it and
to study wisdom or mussar/ethics to the extent that he can -
these too become part of [using] one's understanding and
intelligence. May we be aided by the One Who aids and Who has
mercy on His creations without limit so that the complete image
of man will be upon us . . .
the Parness family
in memory of
Anna Parness a"h