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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5758) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz


Volume XII, Number 47
28 Elul 5758
September 19, 1998

Today’s Learning
Niddah 2:7-3:1
Kitzur 205:2-6
Pesachim 34
Yerushalmi Pesachim 2

Our parashah promises, “He will return and gather you in from all the peoples to whom Hashem, your G-d, has scattered you.” Chazal observe the Torah does not say, “He will return _you_.” Rather it says, “_He_ will return.” It seems that Hashem, himself, will, so-to-speak, do teshuvah.

R’ Yochanan Luria z”l (died 1577) explains: Hashem will repent for exiling us, even though He (obviously) committed no sin. The lesson in this is that we, too, should not be ashamed to repent. Indeed, if He who was not on the wrong path promises to change His ways, then certainly we can and should leave a path which is wrong.

To what may Hashem’s promise be compared? asks R’ Luria. To a doctor whose patient is afraid to take the medicine which has been prescribed for him. In order to show the patient that the pills are not harmful, the doctor may himself swallow some. So, too, a person may be afraid to change for the better because such a change is an implicit admission that his old ways were misguided. Such an admission can be embarrassing and painful. Hashem therefore says, “I will change My ways first (i.e., gather your scattered people), then you can follow Me.”

R’ Luria adds: I used to disapprove of tzaddikim who constantly fast and afflict their bodies. I reasoned, “Hashem has created the human body in an ideal fashion, and a person who protects that body enhances his ability to obtain knowledge.” Later, however, I realized that these tzaddikim, who fast to obtain atonement although they have barely sinned, make it possible for those who really have sinned to repent without standing out or being noticed. Regarding these tzaddikim it is said (Daniel 12:3), “Those who bring merit to the public will shine like the stars forever.” (Meshivat Nefesh)


“The later generation will say – your children and the gentile who will come from a distant land . . . ‘For what reason did Hashem do so to His land, this great wrathfulness’?” (29:21-23)

R’ Chaim “Brisker” Soloveitchik z”l (1853-1918) observed: This verse contains a terrifying prophecy – that there will be a generation of Jewish children whose knowledge of Judaism and G- d’s ways will be no more than that of a gentile from a distant land! (Quoted in Torat Chaim, p.180)

“Hashem will make you abundant/ve’ho’tirecha in all your handiwork . . .” (30:9)

R’ Yehuda He’chassid z”l (author of Sefer Chassidim) writes: The same blessing appears in last week’s parashah, but there it is “lacking,” i.e., the word “ve’ho’tirecha” is missing the letter vav. This is because the earlier blessing refers to the building of the Second Temple, which lacked permanence. The blessing in this week’s parashah, however, refers to the final, and complete, redemption. (Ta’amei Masoret Ha’kra)


An Astonishing Midrash

When Bnei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael, a Heavenly voice proclaimed, “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob.”

R’ Akiva Sofer z”l (died 1960) explains: The lesson of this midrash is, very simply, that we were not given Eretz Yisrael because of its physical beauty or to reap its agricultural bounty. Rather, we are given Eretz Yisrael because it is Hashem’s land and is, therefore, the best place to study Torah. It is for this reason that we prefer Eretz Yisrael over all other lands, although they are more bountiful.

With this understanding, writes R’ Sofer, we can understand the following verse in this week’s parashah (30:1): “When it will be that these things will come upon you – the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you – then you will take it to your heart among all the nations where Hashem, your G-d, has dispersed you.” We can readily understand that the fulfillment of Hashem’s curse will cause Bnei Yisrael to repent, but the blessing?! Rather, the verse is promising that notwithstanding the blessings which many Jews will find in the lands of their dispersions, they will, nevertheless, recognize that their true place is in Eretz Yisrael, and they will repent. (Da’at Sofer)


Rosh Hashanah

Three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah, one for the completely wicked, one for the completely righteous, and one for those in between. Where is this alluded to in the Torah? In the verse (Sh’mot 32:32), “And if not, erase me please from Your book which You have written.” “Erase me please” – this is the book of the wicked; “from Your book” – this is the book of the righteous; “which You have written” – this is the book of those who are in between. (Rosh Hashanah 16b)

What are these three books? Also, the relationship of the verse to the three books is unclear. In particular, we usually assume that Hashem writes in these books, whereas the verse speaks of erasing! R’ Yosef Engel z”l (1859-1920) explains as follows:

The gemara (Ta’anit 11a) teaches that a person should not say, “I will sin in private, and who will testify against me?” In fact, the gemara states, a person’s soul will testify against him. How does a person’s soul testify against him? R’ Engel explains that the soul is a living Sefer Torah. Each of the mitzvot, in all of its halachic detail, is engraved on a part of the soul. If a person observes a particular mitzvah properly, the corresponding part of the soul shines with holiness. On the other hand, if a person neglects a particular mitzvah (or a particular detail), the corresponding part of the soul is dulled. The writing on that part of the soul is, so-to-speak, erased.

This is how the soul “testifies” against the sinner. When the Heavenly Court looks at the soul, the soul shows for all to see which mitzvot that person observed and which he neglected.

In a similar vein, R’ Engel continues, the soul is itself the “book” which is opened on Rosh Hashanah. If a person has been a complete tzaddik, Hashem will be able to read the entire Torah from that person’s soul. That soul will be (in the words of the verse) “Your book,” i.e., the complete book of the Torah. The soul of an “in-between” person will no longer contain the entire Torah but will be a mix of clear writing and erasures. It will retain only some of that “which You have written.” Finally, on the soul of the wicked person, the Torah which had been engraved there will have been completely erased. (Kuntres Shav D’nechemta p.53)


Authors of the High Holiday Prayers

[The following are brief biographical notes on some of the paytanim/liturgists who authored the additional prayers which are recited during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.]

The identity of the most prolific paytan, R’ Elazar Hakalir, is unknown. This subject was addressed at length in Hamaayan for Devarim 5758.

R’ Shimon Hagadol lived in the 10th century and may have been Rashi’s uncle. His biography appeared in Hamaayan for Bemidbar 5758.

The story of how R’ Amnon composed U’nettaneh Tokef is well- known. In contrast, the person himself is unknown, other than the fact that he lived in Mainz, Germany around the year 1000. After his death, R’ Amnon appeared in a dream to R’ Meshullam ben Kolonimus of Lucca, also known as R’ Meshullam Hagadol (“the Great”), and taught him U’nettaneh Tokef. The version of the Yom Kippur Avodah (the description of the Temple service) recited by Ashkenazim is the work of R’ Meshullam, as are many other piyutim.

While the basic prayers of Tashlich are taken from Tanach, some machzorim include additional supplications by R’ Chaim Yosef David Azulai (“Chida”). He was born in Chevron in 1724 and died in Italy in 1806. He wrote approximately 70 books on halachah, kabbalah, chumash, bibliography and other subjects.

R’ Yose ben Yose Hakohen lived in the sixth century in Eretz Yisrael. He and his colleagues wrote liturgy whose purpose was to teach Torah at a time when open Torah study had been outlawed by the Byzantine emperors.

R’ Yom Tov ben Yitzchak of Joigny was a student of Rashi’s grandson, Rabbenu Tam. R’ Yom Tov was martyred in York, England in 1191.

R’ Shlomo ibn Gabirol lived in Spain in the 11th century. He also wrote works on philosophy and ethics.


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Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.

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