This week's parashah tells us (28:9), "You shall walk in His
ways," teaching that a person, through his good deeds, actually can
walk in Hashem's footsteps. R' Eliezer Zvi of Komarno z"l (died 1898)
observes, though, that most of us don't believe this teaching.
Specifically, we do not believe in our own spiritual potential.
For example, how often do we pray, and, when we see that we are
not answered, we assume that our prayers cannot really make a
difference? The Ba'al Shem Tov z"l (died 1760) taught that this is
the result of excessive self-deprecation. A person must believe that
his prayers have untold consequences in the heavens, even if he does
not see those effects. If a person did believe this, R' Eliezer Zvi
adds, how joyfully would he pray?! How carefully would he pronounce
every letter, every syllable?!
If a person believed that he is (in the words of Bereishit 28:12)
"a ladder standing on the ground with its head in the heavens," if he
believed that every movement, every word, every step and every
business deal makes a spiritual impact on the world, he would do all
of those things for the sake of Heaven. Also, the Zohar comments, "If
people knew the love with which Hashem loves the Jewish people, they
would roar like lions in their eagerness to follow Him."
On the other hand, if a person thinks that he cannot make a
difference, he should know that he is on the road to heresy. If a
person thinks that way, it is a sign that the yetzer hara has
succeeded with him and will soon deprive him of life in this world and
in the next.
Rather than despair, one can learn from Yaakov, who said
(Bereishit 35:5), "I lived with Lavan and I delayed until now." The
letters of "Lavan" are the reverse of the letters of "Naval"/
"degenerate one," a reference to the yetzer hara. Why was Yaakov
successful in turning around the "naval" and "whitening" (from
"lavan"/"white") it? Because "I delayed until now," i.e., because he
did not expect immediate results from his prayers and mitzvot, but
rather had faith that the results would come with time. (Zekan Beto,
"Moshe and the kohanim, the levi'm, spoke to all Yisrael,
saying, `Haskait' / Be attentive and hear, O Yisrael - This
day you have become a people to Hashem, your G-d'." (27:9)
R' Moshe David Valle z"l (1697-1776; Italian kabbalist and
colleague of R' Moshe Chaim Luzzato z"l) writes: "Be attentive and
hear" means "Do not stop paying attention to the curses and warnings
that are in this parashah." This is similar to the verse (Mishlei
3:11), "My child, do not despise Hashem's discipline and do not
despise his reproof."
In addition, our Sages interpret"Haskait" as two words: "has" and
"kait" `Has' has a gematria of 65, equal to Hashem's Name which is
associated with mercy (aleph-dalet-nun-yud). `Kait' alludes to
`katat' / pulverized. This teaches that even when Hashem must strike
us harshly because of our sins, He also injects an element of mercy.
King David said similarly (Tehilim 23:4), "Your rod and Your staff
comfort me." The rod represents punishment, while the staff
represents the Shechinah which supports us.
"Accursed is the man who will make a graven or molten image...
"Accursed is the man who degrades his father and mother..."
The Gemara (Kiddushin 30b) teaches that Hashem considers His
honor and the honor of parents to be equivalent. The reason, R'
Eliezer Dovid Gruenwald z"l (Hungarian rabbi and rosh yeshiva; died
1928) explains, is that as long as one honors his parents, he will not
leave his faith, the faith which his parents have bequeathed to him.
This is why our two verses above are juxtaposed to each other: A Jew
who worships graven images (idols) degrades his parents as well.
"All these curses will come upon you and pursue you and
overtake you, until you are destroyed . . . because you did
not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of
heart, when everything was abundant." (28:45-47)
Is it really possible that merely because one did not serve
Hashem happily that he will be deserving of the terrible curses
described in our parashah? After all, such a person did at least
No! writes R' Meir Yechiel Halevi Halstock z"l (1852-1928;
chassidic rebbe in Ostrowiec, Poland). Rather, the verse should be
read as follows: "All these curses will come upon you . . . because
you did not serve Hashem, your G-d." Did you feel guilty about this?
No, it was "amid gladness and goodness of heart." You were happy and
content over the fact that you were not serving Hashem.
(Meir Einei Chachamim III)
The anonymous work Orchot Tzaddikim (possibly dating to the early
medieval period) interprets this verse as follows: "Because--amid
gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant--you did
not serve Hashem, your G-d." For example, he writes, drinking wine on
Yom Tov is a mitzvah. However, if one focuses on his drink and drinks
to excess, and loses sight of the mitzvah, he would be committing the
violation described in this verse.
"When you have finished tithing every tithe of your produce
in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give to
the Levi, to the convert, to the orphan, and to the widow,
and they shall eat in your cities and be satisfied. Then you
shall say before Hashem, your G-d, `I have removed [literally
`set fire to'] the holy things from the house . . .'" (26:12-
R' Raphael Moshe Luria shlita (Yerushalayim) writes: The sin of
Adam consisted of two parts, and the repentance for each is different.
First, because he disobeyed G-d's command, there was an element of
blasphemy in his sin. And, because his sin involved an element of
deriving improper pleasure from G-d's creation. When one repents from
a sin that involves blasphemy, one must distance himself entirely from
his past. On the other hand, to repent from a sin that involved
improper pleasure, one must elevate his enjoyment of creation to a
level where it can be considered a Divine service.
Paralleling these two forms of repentance, there are different
laws relating to produce. Sometimes--for example, in the case of
orlah / fruit of a new tree--the prohibited food must simply be thrown
away. In contrast, some mitzvot involve elevating the food--for
example, by giving it to a levi as ma'aser or to a convert, orphan, or
widow as ma'aser ani. One who has thus elevated the pleasures of this
world can truly say, "I have set fire to the holy things," i.e., I
have ignited a holy fire, using ordinary items "from the house."
(Ori Ve'yishi II, Introduction p.2)
"I did not eat of it in my intense mourning, I did not
consume it in a state of impurity, I did not give of it for
the needs of the dead ..." (26:14)
Literally, this verse is a statement that a Jew is required to
make upon completing the three year tithing cycle attesting that he
has complied with all the laws of ma'aser. However, in the spirit of
the High Holidays, R' Moshe Avigdor Amiel z"l (1883-1945; Chief Rabbi
of Antwerp and Tel Aviv) interpreted the verse as decrying the loss of
proper focus in many people's service of Hashem. He writes in part:
In past generations, Yizkor was never a big deal. It has no
source in the Torah or the books of the Prophets. Yet, it has become
a major event, and people are very meticulous to observe it.
In contrast, many people forget to remember their own souls. We
are supposed to recite every day (at the very beginning of the morning
prayers), "Elokai / My G-d, the soul which You have placed in me is
pure. You created it, You `blew' it into me, You guard it within me,
and You are destined to take it from me and return it to me in the
World-to-Come." This "Yizkor" has the potential to save man from sin,
but it has taken a back seat to a much less important Yizkor.
Likewise, Jews in our time take particular care to observe
yahrzeits as if that is one of the Thirteen Foundations of our faith.
This is another practice that seems to have received very little
attention in earlier generations. In contrast, man forgets to observe
his own yahrzeit. What does it mean to observe ones own yahrzeit?
Our Sages teach: "Repent one day before you die." But, does a person
know when he will die? they ask. Indeed not! Therefore, one should
repent every day.
(Derashot El Ami)
R' Mordechai Golob shlita (Yerushalayim) writes: Our Sages teach
that if a person is in the process of becoming a tzaddik, Hashem
showers goodness on him even now. In contrast, if a person is
becoming wicked, Hashem judges him based on his present condition, not
based on his future. If a person is destined to be neither a tzaddik
nor a rasha, but just "average," Hashem does good to him now because
of the good that he (the person) is destined to do, but He does not
punish him for the bad that he has not yet done.
Therefore, one would be well advised in preparing for the High
Holidays to get on the right path, the path that leads in the
direction of achieving completeness and perfection. How? R' Golob
offers some suggestions from sages of earlier generations:
(1) Study Torah. The Midrash notes that the study of Torah has
the potential to bring back even those who are quite distant from
Hashem. Certainly, then, it can bring closer those who are already
close. The Gemara (Kiddushin 30a) quotes Hashem, "I created the
yetzer hara, and I created the Torah as an antidote to it."
(2) Study mussar / works on character development. The Chafetz
Chaim writes that he spoke to many great sages who were opponents of
the mussar movement in its early years [the late 19th century], and
even they agreed that the study of mussar is necessary in "our" time
[i.e., the early 20th century, and certainly the 21st century].
Without the study of mussar, the Chafetz Chaim writes, we have no
assurance that our Torah knowledge or our fear of G-d will be
retained. R' Yaakov Lorberbaum (the "Nesivos"; early 19th century)
likewise wrote to his children in his will, "I warn you to set aside
time every day to study mussar, for because of our sins, our hearts
are hardened like stones, but mussar has the power to soften the
stone." Finally, the Chatam Sofer (also early 19th century) wrote,
"Believe me! On a day when I do not study mussar, I feel that my fear
of G-d is weakened noticeably."
(3) Choose a good environment and good friends. Rambam writes
(Hil. De'ot 6:1), "It is only natural that a person's views and ideas
are influenced by his friends and comrades . . . Therefore, a person
must attach himself to tzaddikim . . ."
(4) Choose a rabbi or spiritual mentor who will guide you. The
Gemara says that a person should always live near his mentor. The
proof for this is that as long as King Shlomo's rebbe was alive, King
Shlomo did not marry the daughter of Pharaoh.
(5) Pray regarding spiritual matters. If one prays for help in
improving his Torah study or in some other spiritual undertaking,
Hashem will certainly answer him.
(6) Study the laws of lashon hara. This will help a person
improve in all areas of interpersonal relations, not just in the
specific area of not speaking evil about others.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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