As our parashah opens, Moshe relates to the Jewish people that
he implored Hashem to be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael. The
Midrash relates that Moshe argued as follows:
"You have written in the Torah (Shmot 21:5-6), `If the slave
shall say, "I love my master, my wife, and my children -- I shall
not go free." Then . . . he shall serve him forever.' You, G-d,
are my Master. The Torah is my wife. The Jewish people are my
children. I love them all. I do not wish to go free - in the
sense of the verse (Tehilim 88:6), `The dead are free [of
mitzvot].' Therefore, let me serve You forever."
What did Hashem answer? "Rav lach" / "It is too much for you!"
(Devarim 3:26). How was this an appropriate response to Moshe's
Our Sages teach that when the Torah says that the slave who
refuses to go free should work "forever," it does not mean this
literally. Rather, it means that the slave should remain with
his master until the next yovel / jubilee year, i.e., for up to
50 more years. Moshe prayed: "Let me enter Eretz Yisrael and
live there for 50 years."
Hashem answered, "Rav lach" / "It is too much for you!" The
standard span of man's life is 70 years, as Moshe himself said in
Tehilim (Chapter 90 - "A prayer by Moshe"): "The days of our
years among them are seventy years." But you, Moshe, are already
120 years old (i.e., 70+50). Any more would be too much for you.
(Quoted without attribution in Otzar Tzaddikei U'geonei
"I implored Hashem at that time . . ." (3:23)
R' Chaim Meir Hager z"l (the Vizhnitzer Rebbe; died 1972)
offers the following suggestions for improving the quality of our
1. One should demand of himself during his prayers not to look
to his sides and not to hear anything that is going on around
2. One should make a supreme effort with all his strength to
focus on the words. One should imagine that the entire world is
desolate and nothing exists besides himself and the words of the
3. One should pray with joy and great enthusiasm, and with
love and awe for G-d. One should not allow thoughts of his past
sins to interfere with his prayers, for such thoughts are the
work of the yetzer hara.
4. One should reflect on the fact that angels must wait until
their appointed times to praise G-d [see Rashi to Bereishit
32:27], while lowly man can praise G-d at any time. [This is
indicates how much G-d values man's prayers.]
5. One should pray from a siddur, for this drives away foreign
6. If one has recited part of the prayers without the proper
kavanah / focus, he should not lose heart. He should simply
start to focus from that point onward.
7. One should pray with the congregation, not come late and
"jump on the moving train" at Yehi Khavod and jump off at U'va
8. One should not speak from the beginning of the prayers
until the end. One must remember that he is standing before the
Great and Awesome G-d!
(Quoted in Chaim Me'irim, 8 Nissan 5762, p. 56)
On the same subject, R' Hager related the following story:
A chassid once came to R' Chaim Hager of Kossov z"l (1795-1854;
known as the "Torat Chaim") and complained that he was bothered
by "foreign thoughts" during his prayers. R' Chaim told him:
"If a Jew wakes up, washes his hands in the manner of G-d-
fearing people, recites Birchot Ha'Torah as required, immerses in
the mikveh, studies Mishnah or Gemara or Zohar, or recites
Tehilim (each person according to his own level), and then goes
to pray, and even so, he is bothered by mundane thoughts - those
can be called `foreign thoughts.'
"However, if a person wakes up, balances his checkbook or
reviews other business matters, and then goes to pray with no
preparation, the mundane thoughts that enter his head are not
`foreign' - they are that person's own thoughts!"
(Ibid. p. 70)
"Anochi Hashem / I am Hashem, your G-d, Who has taken you
out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery." (5:6)
"Shma Yisrael / Hear, O Israel -- Hashem is our G-d, Hashem
is the One and Only." (6:4)
These two verses from our parashah are recognized as two of the
most important expressions of our faith. But what message do
they really convey? Some say that these verses command us to
believe that there is a Creator, but this, writes R' Yaakov
Emden z"l (1697-1776) cannot be. Nobody with any sense [R'
Emden's words] can fail to recognize that there is a Creator.
Obviously, a world that operates in such an orderly way could not
have arisen by chance!
Rather, these verses command us to know G-d by His Four Letter
Name ("Y-K-V-K", which we pronounce "Hashem".) R' Emden
explains: All of G-d's other names are adjectives that describe
His deeds, while the Four Letter Name is His name. Of course,
this abstract concept is not something that the average person
can understand. Thus, a natural extension of this mitzvah is
that we grow spiritually to the point where we can delve into
(Migdal Oz: Otzar Hatov)
"Safeguard the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as Hashem, your G-d,
has commanded you." (5:12)
"Honor your father and your mother, as Hashem, your G-d, has
commanded you." (5:16)
Do we not know that these commandments came from Hashem?
R' Shraga Feivish Schneebalg (mid-20th century rabbi in London)
explains: These verses are teaching us how to observe mitzvot.
Do them "as Hashem has commanded you." Just as He had no
ulterior motive for giving us the mitzvot - after all, He gets
nothing out of it - so we should perform the mitzvot with no
(Pitcha Zuta: Kuntreis Shraga Ha'meir La'Torah)
"You shall speak of them while you sit in your home, while
you walk on the way, when you lay down, and when you arise."
The Gemara (Berachot 10b) records a dispute between the sages
of Bet Hillel and the sages of Bet Shammai regarding the proper
position for reciting Kriat Shema. The latter group of sages
derives from the above verse that one should recite the morning
Kriat Shema standing (as it is written, "when you arise") and the
evening Kriat Shema leaning over (as it is written, "when you lay
down"). The sages of Bet Hillel disagree and state that both
recitations of Kriat Shema may be done in any position in which
one finds himself when the time for Shema arrives -- sitting,
standing, even lying down.
The Gemara and the later halachic authorities state very
emphatically that the halachah follows Bet Hillel's view. The
Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 63:3) states that if one is already sitting
and he stands up to recite the morning Kriat Shema, he is called
a "sinner." One reason for this is the general principle that:
"The views of Bet Shammai do not count in the face of the views
of Bet Hillel." However, R' Amram Gaon z"l (Babylonia; died 876)
suggests that there is another reason why one should sit, not
stand, when reciting Kriat Shema:
The Midrash teaches: The verses of Shema are the King's (i.e.,
Hashem's) proclamation. It is usual when a mortal king's
proclamation is read that all of the king's subjects drop what
they are doing and stand in the town square to hear the king's
words. Not so with Hashem's proclamation, says the Midrash.
Hashem says, "I do not trouble you to stand in the town square.
Read it `while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way,
when you lay down, and when you arise'." We see, writes R' Amram
Gaon, that Hashem takes pride, so-to-speak, in not troubling us
to stand for Him. How then can a person attempt to be "pious"
and stand for Shema!?
(Seder R' Amram Gaon)
R' Simcha Zissel Ziv z"l
(The "Alter of Kelm")
born 5584 (1824) - died 8 Av 5658 (1898)
Of the three leading students of R' Yisrael Salanter, founder
of the mussar movement, R' Simcha Zissel was the one who R'
Yisrael expected to carry on the movement. R' Simcha Zissel
devoted his entire adult life to R' Yisrael's teachings. Though
he never held any official position -- when he was offered the
rabbinate of St. Petersburg, he recommended his friend R'
Yitzchak Blazer instead -- his students included many of the
mussar greats of the next generation: R' Nosson Zvi Finkel of
Slobodka, R' Yosef Yoizel Horowitz of Novhardok, R' Aharon Bakst,
R' Reuven Dessler (whose son authored the classic Michtav
M'Eliyahu), R' Nachum Ziv, and R' Hirsch Broida.
The historian, R' Dov Katz, summarized R' Simcha Zissel's
approach to mussar / character improvement as consisting of three
guiding principles: (1) one should become emotionally involved
in his studies, whether joyful or sad; (2) one should ask
himself after everything he learns, "What did I think before, and
what do I know differently now?"; and (3) one's study should
always include stripping away the veneer and getting to the
essence of the topic.
R' Simcha Zissel taught that the whole world is a classroom
where one can learn to improve his character and increase his
belief in G-d. Such study was not limited to books or to Torah
sources. Of course, worthwhile lessons do not come merely from
observation. Rather, intense reflection is required. Also, one
must realize that this study never ends. This is why Torah
scholars are called, "talmidei chachamim" / "students of wise
men." R' Simcha Zissel used to quote Socrates, who said that
true wisdom is knowing that one doesn't know.
R' Simcha Zissel was very sickly his whole life. Therefore,
much of his teaching was through letters that he wrote to his
students, rather than in person. (He also encouraged his
followers to establish groups to strengthen each other and review
his teachings.) Only a small portion of his written legacy has
been published (Based on Tnuat Hamussar).
[Ed. note: This biography is dedicated to Mr. Bert King - R'
Simcha Zissel's great-great-grandson, a distinguished member of
the Silver Spring, Maryland community, and a dear fried of
Hamaayan - who will be making aliyah in the coming weeks iy"h.]