Friday, November 1, 2013
In this week's parsha we are told of the barrenness of Rivka and
Yitzchak, and their praying to HaShem to conceive.
The passuk says, "Yitzchak entreated HaShem opposite his wife." Rashi
explains that Yitzchak and Rivka would stand in opposite corners of
the room and pray. Yitzchak would pray on her behalf and she would
pray for herself as well. Directly after this, in the same passuk, the
Torah tells us, "And HaShem allowed Himself to be entreated by
Yitzchak, and his wife Rivka conceived." Their prayers were answered.
When reading the passuk, it seems that HaShem answered them very
swiftly; from the very fact the Torah puts both the prayer and its
answer in one passuk, we can see the direct and immediate correlation
between the two. We see clearly from here that prayer was the key to
The Gemara in Yevamot (64a) asks a very famous and hard-hitting
question: This was not the first time or the last time one of our
matriarchs was stricken with barrenness. Why did HaShem allow our
patriarchs and matriarchs to have children only after many years of
heartfelt teffilot? The Gemara gives its answer which has become
famous to many: "For HaShem desires the prayers of Tzaddikim."
This answer is deep and contains within it many concepts which many
have expounded upon. However when we look at the original source, the
Medrash Tanchuma, we are faced with a tremendous peculiarity. The
Medrash asks the same question as the Gemara but adds a new dimension
to the answer. Speaking from Hashem's perspective, it tells us that
HaShem made a reckoning saying, "They [the Avot and Imahot] have
money, they are beautiful, they are respected, if I give them children
they will never pray to me for anything" and the Medrash concludes,
"We see from here that HaShem desires the prayers of Tzaddikim."
This Medrash is startling, to say the least. We are talking about the
Avot whose lives were completely focused on the enhancement of G-d's
glory in this world, the very people who created the concept of daily
prayer. Can it be that they would not pray to HaShem? How can we
understand that HaShem could entertain the possibility that the Avot
would not pray to Him?
From here we can truly gain a deeper understanding of teffilah.
Teffilah is not only a compilation of praise to HaShem, it is a time
for us to connect and recognize The Power which runs our universe and
nourishes our souls. However, that recognition and connection can only
come from a place of total self-abnegation. Only when we realize that
we are so dependent upon His grace for everything we have in life can
we really connect to Him. But how can one truly feel this way if he
lacks absolutely nothing? When we lack something tremendously
important and we recognize that only HaShem can give it to us, we are
more able to pray with a realization of our reliance upon Him and to
forge a real bond with Him. This is the prayer which HaShem desires.
Of course the Avot would have prayed to HaShem even if they had
children, but perhaps their prayer would have been lacking this deeper
awareness – the awareness of the minuteness of man before G-d and his
dependence on HaShem for his every need. It would not have been a
teffilah which one casts all of his burdens, hopes, and dreams onto
HaShem, and allows His providence to control his life. Teffilah L'Ani
– the teffillah of a pauper, of one who is lacking, is not the same as
the teffilah as one who has everything. Because HaShem loves the Avot
so much, He desires that they pray this deeper teffillah, for He
desires the ultimate relationship that it will create.
The lack of something essential in our lives should not be a source of
distress and self-pity. Rather, our feelings of lack can be properly
channeled and utilized as an opportunity to REALLY pray and forge a
true connection with Hashem. Perhaps we can even gain comfort in that
our hardest challenges are a sign of Hashem's love for us and His
desire to provide us with a way of connection with Him. It is as
though He considers us to be tzaddikim, of whom He desires prayer.
May we merit to see and feel the Hand of G-d in our lives and to
constantly connect to Hashem in the deepest way.
Friday, October 4, 2013
In this week's parsha we read of the destruction of the world due to the wickedness of man, and its reconstruction through Noach and his offspring. The Torah tells us at the end of Breishit that society had stooped so low that "Every product of the thoughts of his heart was but evil always." The simple understanding of this is that everything which civilization at that time had accomplished, any advancement, was really done with evil intentions.
HaShem chose to destroy man rather than allow this type of behavior to continue. Yet at the very end of the parsha it says, "But Noach found grace in the eyes of HaShem." Obviously this grace was tremendous, so much so that it was the saving factor of the human race. We owe our entire existence to this merit. So the question begs itself: what was this merit that Noach had? And in answering this perhaps we can understand why Noach specifically was chosen to be the regenerator of the world's population.
First let us examine a profundity in the pesukim. The parsha begins in a interesting way: the Torah states, "These are the offspring of Noach." Seemingly, the logical continuation would be a list of Noach's children, yet instead, the Torah lists praises of Noach: "Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; Noach walked with G-d." Only afterwards does the Torah mention his children. To explain this, Rashi quotes the Medrash, and in his second interpretation he says this is coming "to teach you that the main offspring (i.e. creations) of the righteous are good deeds." The Torah is telling us that Noach's main contribution to the world was his good deeds. From this Medrash, we gain a window into the core of Noach's character.
The essence of Noach was altruism. His ideas and thoughts were directed towards positive creativity, and utilizing that creativity to help others. This is what set Noach apart from his entire generation. Noach viewed technological development as an opportunity to do good deeds and make the world a better place, rather than for personal advancement.
This trait which HaShem saw in Noach is the foundation of a truly progressive society, a society which strives to advance and accomplish not for profit and personal gain, but rather for the betterment of the world. The error of the generation of the flood was that it lived according to the lowest aspects of Man; the people succumbed to the natural inclination towards selfishness and greed. Instead of rising above their base nature, they indulged in their Id,* until it became their very essence. However, Noach and his family because of their altruism, could serve as the seeds for the recreation of human kind, and build a civilization that would strive to improve the world. Now mankind would begin on the proper footing to continue the development of society in a positive way.
May we merit to continue this trait of Noach and let it echo our every action.
*This illuminates for us why the generation had fallen so low that they involved in bestiality, for when man allows himself to fall into this trap of selfishness, and self-indulgence, there truly is no difference between Man and Animal. The line between man and animal was blurred and this was reflected in their actions.
Furthermore this indulgence in self worship explains why the generation was judged on the sin of stealing: their lust for self advancement caused them to steal from others.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Friday, August 23, 2013
Friday, June 7, 2013
This week's parsha features the rebellion of Korach and his followers against Moshe. Korach's main point of contention was Moshe's appointment of Elizafan Ben Uziel as a Prince, even though, in terms of age, Korach was next in line. Korach, perceiving this to be a fabrication of the will of HaShem, gathered together two-hundred and fifty heads of the assembly to challenge Moshe's leadership.
The Medrash Tanchuma asks a deeply penetrating question regarding the motives of Korach. "Korach was a clever man; what did he see that brought him to such foolishness? The medrash answers "His eyes misled him, for he saw a great chain of descendants emerging from him: Shmuel Hanavi, who was as important as Moshe and Aharon, as it says in Tehillim (99:6) 'Moshe and Aharon were among his priests and Shmuel was among those who invoke his name.'" Korach saw from the fact that Shmuel is mentioned in the same sentence as Moshe and Aharon, that Shmuel is just as important as them.
Korach's line of reasoning is very difficult to understand. He feels that he is justified in replacing Moshe and Aharon as leader because he saw that one of his descendants will a very important person. How does his offspring prove that he is fitting to be a leader? If Shmuel himself was leading this rebellion, then the argument would make sense: Shmuel is just as important as Moshe and Aharon, so perhaps he could be fitting to lead in their place. But what does Shmuel's greatness say about Korach's own worthiness? Furthermore, this thought process only proves the very opposite Korach's entire goal. Inherent in his line of reasoning is the assumption that Moshe and Aharon are men of spiritual greatness. Korach deduces that since Shmuel is just as important as them, Korach himself deserves to lead. But yet, he claims that Moshe and Aharon are unfitting, and that they are fabricating the will of HaShem. How can they be great enough to prove his own greatness, yet not great enough to be the rightful leaders? How can Korach make such an illogical argument?
From here we can learn a tremendous lesson what having a personal bias - a negiah- can do to a straight-thinking person. When one has a negiah; even a minutely subconscious one, he can skew reality with an absolutely newfangled interpretation, just in order for it to fit into his desired goal. Korach's main thrust was to overtake Moshe and Aharon was his desire for honor. This negiah led him so far astray: he came to the ridiculous conclusion that he was fitting to be a leader, even though the progeny that would have actually been fitting for the job would not be born for generations. Additionally, it caused him to mount a rebellion against leaders which he himself inherently believed were great and holy men!
We see further proof to this idea in the very words of the Medrash. It says, "His eyes mistook him for he saw a great chain of descendant's emerging from him." Why does the Medrash use the "eyes" to connote his mistake? Why not say simply "he made a mistake"?
The passuk in Kriat Shema says "You shall not stray after your heart and after your eyes." Here, HaShem warns us not to desire that which we see with our eyes. From this we learn that the "eyes" imply desire. Perhaps according this explanation, the Medrash is telling us that Korach's personal desire for kavod is what led him to skew and misinterpret reality.
May we merit the strength to realize and overcome our biases, and may we be able to see reality in a pure form that will allow us to fulfill the true will of HaShem.
Friday, May 31, 2013
In this weeks parsha we read the story of the Meraglim, who were sent to survey the land of Israel before the Jewish people would enter and conquer it. Returning with a negative report, they sparked fear in the hearts of the nation, and the entire generation was punished for this needless fear. Hashem says: "All who anger me shall not see [the land]" (Bamidbar 14:33). According to the Midrash, this means that everyone, even the young children, would die before entering the land.
From this we can ask a seemingly obvious question: why did everyone need to be punished? The infants did not take part in the sin; what did they do wrong that they should not be allowed to go into Eretz Yisrael?
To answer this we need to understand the sin of the spies. When we look at the report of the spies, we see that all of their "facts" about the land were delivered in a negative light. For example, they brought back the tremendous fruit and deduced that this was an abnormal place. They saw that people were attending funerals and assumed that this is a land that consumes its inhabitants. In truth, the large fruit was a demonstration of the incredible produce of the land, and the fact that men were dying was a miracle from Hashem to distract the residents from the presence of the spies. However, the spies had a "bad eye" an "ayin rah" which did not allow them to see the amazing good that Hashem was bestowing upon them. It was this trait of negativity that they ingrained in the Jewish nation when they delivered their report.
Perhaps we can say that it was for this reason that the entire nation that experienced the sin of the spies could not enter the land. For even if they did not actively participate in speaking lashon harah about Eretz Yisrael, they were all influenced to see the land in a bad light. Now they would never be able to fully appreciate the goodness of Israel. Only a nation which wasn't tainted by pessimism would be able to enter and enjoy the benefits of the land.
So too, only one who has a positive eye can recognize what Hashem is giving him, and one who cannot see the good does not deserve to receive it. Such a bad trait can permeate and spoil the attitude among the nation. What we see from here as well is the trait pessimism is so bad that it affects our perspectives subtly, even when we are not consciously aware.
Eretz Yisrael is an amazing place, a gift from Hashem, but one who has a bad eye will not see this. There can be many challenges to living in Israel, back then in the time of the spies, and today as well. It is easy for a negative person to get distracted by these challenges and completely miss the point of what it means to live in Israel. But one who has a positive eye and a real appreciation for what is most important in life will recognize the spiritual opportunities afforded to one who lives there.
May we all find the strength to view all of life's challenges in light of the blessings in our lives, so that then the challenges will not seem so large, and we will merit even more blessing from Hashem.