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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 Safran z”l (1830-1898; Komarno Rebbe) observes,
though, that most of us don’t believe this, i.e., we don’t believe in our
own spiritual potential.
For example, how often do we pray, and, when we see that we aren’t answered,
we assume that our prayers can’t really make a difference? The Ba’al Shem
Tov z”l (died 1760) teaches that this is the result of excessive
self-deprecation. One must believe that his prayers have untold
consequences in the heavens, even if he does not see those effects. If one
believed this, R’ Eliezer Zvi adds, how joyously would he pray?! How
carefully would he pronounce every letter, every syllable?!
If one believed that he is (in the words of Bereishit 28:12) “a ladder
standing on the ground with its head in the heavens,” that every movement,
every word, every step and every business deal makes a spiritual impact on
the world, he would do them all 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 one thinks that he can’t make a difference, he should
know that he is on the road to heresy. If he 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
“It will be when you arrive at the Land that Hashem, your Elokim, gives you
as an inheritance . . . You shall take of the first of every fruit of the
ground that you bring in from your Land that Hashem, your Elokim, gives you
. . .” (26:1-2)
R’ Mordechai Leifer z”l (1824–1894; Nadvorna Rebbe) explains this verse as
follows: “When you arrive at” the understanding that “the Land” i.e.,
material things, are also part of what “Hashem, your Elokim, gives you as an
inheritance” and that they can be elevated to a spiritual state, you can
accomplish this if you “take of the first” – the loftiest, spiritual part –
“of every fruit,” i.e., if you look for spirituality in everything and aim
to elevate your interactions with the material world. (Divrei Mordechai)
A related thought:
R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato z”l (Italy; 1707-1746) writes: There are two parts to
man’s service of Hashem – those things which man does because he is
commanded to do them, and those things which he does because they are
necessary. This latter category covers man’s use of the material world for
his own needs.
The first rule relating to the second category of Divine service is that man
should stay within the boundaries that Hashem has set – for example, not
eating things which Hashem has prohibited [for example, non-kosher food] or
which Hashem has limited [for example, not eating before davening].
A second rule is that man should eat only things which are good for his
health, and which will sustain him in the best possible way [i.e., healthy,
but tasty]. One should not, however, eat whatever his material body lusts
for. A person’s intention when eating should be to make his body fit and
ready to serve the Creator. If a person does that, fulfilling his material
needs itself becomes part of his Divine service. (Derech Hashem I 4:7)
“The Egyptians were bad to us (אותנו וירעו).” (26:6)
These Hebrew words also can be translated: “The Egyptians made us bad,”
meaning that they were a bad influence on us. R’ Shlomo Amar shlita
(Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel) writes:
We read about the time when Yaakov came to Yitzchak deceptively to receive
the latter’s blessing (Bereishit 27:27), “He (Yitzchak) smelled the
fragrance of begadav / his (Yaakov’s) garments.” Our Sages comment that the
verse can be read, “He smelled the fragrance of bogdav / his traitors”
meaning that Yitzchak was fooled because he sensed that the person standing
before him would have some descendants who were unworthy of the blessings.
[According to this view, Yitzchak knew that Esav was less righteous than
Why then, asks R’ Amar, didn’t the Torah use the word bogdav? He answers:
The Torah is hinting that any traitorous behavior by Yaakov’s descendants is
not inborn; it is merely a garment concealing the person’s true nature, as
in our verse, where the Egyptians were a bad influence on Bnei Yisrael.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Mi’yamim Yamimah)
“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 is a statement that one makes 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) interprets the verse as
decrying the loss of proper focus in many people’s service of Hashem. He
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, “Elokai, 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)
“Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the Name of Hashem is
proclaimed over you . . .” (28:10)
In the kinot for Tishah B’Av we refer to “The glorious crowns with which You
bedecked Your servants.” What does this mean? Do servants wear crowns?
R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l (1903-1993) explains: This passage refers to
tefilin shel rosh / the tefilin worn on the head. These are the most
conspicuous and unequivocal testimony that a Jew belongs to G-d. The Gemara
(Berachot 6a) says, likewise, that our verse, “Then all the peoples of the
earth will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you,” refers to
the tefilin shel rosh. The tefilin are a manifestation of our being Jewish
and a testimony that, in spite of our travail and persecution, we belong to G-d.
R’ Soloveitchik continues: The tefilin are a crown on our head, and they
teach us that there is a power above us. The Torah teaches that the King of
Israel is to wear a crown, but this crown is not a symbol that the king is
an absolute sovereign. Rather, it is a symbol that there is an authority
above the king. Modern political philosophy speaks of a “sovereign state,”
which means that the state has the power to formulate its own policies, that
the source of authority is within the state, and that there is no source of
authority above the state. From the Jewish perspective, this view is
idolatrous. Even the state, even the absolute monarch, should be committed
to a higher power, and that higher power is symbolized by the tefilin shel
rosh. Every Jewish man wears a crown, not because he is powerful, but
because he is committed; not to enhance his power, but to limit it. (Quoted
in Kinot Mesoret Harav p.232)
R’ Shabsai Alpert z”l (rabbi in Plonk, Poland; later in New York) writes:
Teshuvah is the key that opens all of the gates in the world. Without it,
one could not exist. Imagine a person who boarded up his dining room, then
his bedroom, then his study, then the foyer of his house, and then the front
door, until he was left standing outside, with no way to enter his house.
This is what happens when one sins; he locks the gate that would have
allowed him access to G-d, and places an iron curtain between himself and
his Creator. Likewise, when one sins against another person, he locks the
door that would have let him have a relationship with that person. When one
wastes time that could have been spent studying Torah, he not only loses
that time, he actually places a blockade between himself and the Torah.
Suddenly, he realizes that he has walled himself off from all life-giving
forces in the world: G-d, friends, and Torah. The midrash records that
wisdom was asked, “What will become of the soul that sins?” Wisdom
answered, “He shall die.” Wisdom – reason – cannot envision any other
result, for the sinner has left himself no other way. [However, the midrash
concludes, G-d says that “wisdom” is wrong. The sinner need not die, for he
can repent, notwithstanding the fact that the existence of teshuvah defies
reason.] Thus we can understand the verse (Tehilim 118:21), “I will thank
You Hashem, for You have answered me; You have become my salvation.”
We recite in the High Holiday prayers, “Teshuvah, prayer and charity remove
the severity of the decree.” Shouldn’t teshuvah have been listed last?
After all, it is the hardest of the three. Everyone prays, most people give
charity, but how many actually succeed in doing real teshuvah?
Nevertheless, R’ Alpert explains, teshuvah is listed first because, until
one performs teshuvah, the gates of prayer and charity remain locked.
Why then does teshuvah work? Because one who does teshuvah recreates
himself! Suddenly, he is back on the other side of the locked gate where he
In addition, G-d permits teshuvah because, whereas man’s sins decrease the
honor of Heaven, teshuvah restores it. (Sha’arei Olam p.190)
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
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your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
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