Thursday, March 28, 2019

Parshat Shemini 5779 - Saving Face


Parsha Paragraphs

Rabbi Naftali Moshe Kassorla

Parshat Shemini 5779
Saving Face
The D’var Torah for this week is dedicated for the Refuah Shleima of my wife’s cousin Rabbi Sruli Rosenman He has MSRA and has been hospitalized. As of last night the overall prognosis is good but he is not doing well.
Please have in mind Yisrael Meir ben Sarah Geulah in your tefillos

If you are interested in sponsoring a D’var Torah in honor or in memory of someone, or for any occasion, please email: ParshaParagraphs@gmail.com


This week's parsha features the incredibly shocking death of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. The inauguration of the Mishkan, a momentous occasion in the history of the Jewish people, is abruptly disturbed by the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, after having brought an אש זרה (“a foreign fire”) upon the altar.

The Torah describes the reaction of Aharon when faced with this decree from G-d: “and Aharon was silent” (Vayikra 10:3). Now plunged into mourning, Aharon accepts this decree without question. The Mefarshim, Sifrei Chassidus and Sifrei Mussar are abound with praise for Aharon’s reaction; his response would serve as a constant source of inspiration for anyone struggling with a Divine decree.

Later on in the parsha, when it came time to bring the daily offerings, a dispute between Moshe and Aharon arose. First some background: Now that Aharon and his sons are in mourning, each is classified halachically as an Onen. [This is the term used to describe one on the day that he loses a close relative. The laws governing an Onen are different, and in some ways more stringent, than those of a mourner during the following days of shivah.] While the Kohen Gadol (Aharon Hakohen) was still obligated to perform the service in the Mishkan even as an Onen, other Kohanim (כהן הדיוט) are prohibited from doing so. However, during the Mishkan’s inauguration, even the other Kohanim were obligated to serve. Included in the service is the eating of the sacrificial meat.

The question which arose was that although Aharon and his sons were obligated to perform the Avodah for the Mishkan’s inauguration, thereby eating the meat from the Korbanot, did this exemption to the law of an Onen allow them to eat from all of the Korbanot? Or were they only permitted to eat from some of the offerings? Moshe was of the opinion that they were commanded to eat from all of the Korbanot, while Aharon believed that the dispensation only applied to specific Korbanot (i.e. the Korbanot classified as “meal-offerings”). Ultimately Aharon acted on his opinion and he and his children only ate from those specific Korbanot.

Moshe is upset by their decision: “And he [Moshe] was wrathful with Elazar and Itamar…why did you not eat the sin-offering in the place of holiness...you should have eaten it in the holy as I had commanded!” (ibid:16-18). Aharon responds: “...Now that such a thing befell me, were I to eat this day’s sin-offering, would Hashem approve?” (Ibid. 19). Upon hearing this, Moshe accepted Aharon’s actions: “Moshe heard and he approved.”

Rashi tells us (quoting from the Gemara in Zevachim 101a) that Moshe’s response is to be praised. For instead of excusing himself by saying that he never heard this halacha from G-d, he admitted outright that: “I have heard, but I forgot it.”

The commentators ask: What are we praising about this response? Would we expect Moshe to lie, saying that he didn't hear this halacha, just in order to save face? Is this really consistent with the esteem that we ascribe to Moshe Rabbeinu? Furthermore, admitting lack of knowledge would be expected from great leaders with stellar traits. Isn’t the fact that we are praising Moshe for admitting that he heard but forgot, a kind of “lowering of the bar” for leadership standards? Why do we seemingly expect so little of Moshe that he is so profoundly praised for this?

The Sefer Shaarei Aharon gives an incredible explanation to this very question which offers an insight about human nature. When one is proven wrong and is faced with the difficult position of admitting defeat, he has three possible options: 1. To stubbornly continue claiming he is right, even though deep down he knows he’s wrong; 2. to admit he’s wrong, begrudgingly; or 3. to approach this excitedly, with the attitude that the person who “bested” him did him a tremendous favor, for they have given him something new to learn.

Moshe Rabbeinu is praised by Chazal for responding on this third level. For he didn’t just admit he was wrong, while still upset with defeat. Rather his whole demeanor connoted his deep appreciation for that which Aharon reminded him. Thus says the Shaarei Aharon.

I would like to take this idea a bit further. If Moshe came with a sincere שמחה that Aharon taught him something he had not heard before, and he was excited to learn something new, he would still have saved face, and surely future generations would laud Moshe for wanting to learn something new - for it is eminently understandable not to know something. Yet, as mentioned previously, Moshe admitted to more than not knowing – he said that he had indeed heard, yet forgot! That is surely not an easy thing to admit. And despite the fact that he had forgotten, he still was appreciative of Aharon’s argument. 

Interestingly, when we read the פשוטו של מקרא, nowhere do we find that Moshe actually verbally responded to Aharon’s argument. Yet from the Gemara, we get the impression that he did. How did Chazal see from Moshe’s reaction that וייטב בעיניו really meant “I heard but I forgot”?

Again we see the greatness of Moshe. Perhaps the fact that we learn this from the word בעיניו tells us that the response could be sensed in his eyes. Even if he didn’t verbally respond, his body language said everything! Moshe was so excited at the prospect of being proven wrong, despite his having forgotten, and his demeanor communicated that this wasn’t an impediment to admitting to it. On the contrary – his having forgotten was, in a sense, creating the opportunity to learn it again! His internal feeling was so real and so his excitement at that prospect was clearly communicated to Aharon in the strongest sense.

Moshe teaches us that realizing we are wrong can be an opportunity for growth, and we need not avoid these moments. The ability to admit to it shows true strength of character. For a lack of knowledge isn’t a character flaw, rather it is the refusal to be open to learn something new which shows weakness. We can all rise to the challenge of having the qualities of a great leader. When we do, we will feel the internal joy, and it will be apparent to those around us in every way.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Parshat Vayikra 5779 - The Great Communicator

Parsha Paragraphs
Rabbi Naftali Moshe Kassorla

Parshat Vayikra 5779

The Great Communicator

The D’var Torah for this week is kindly dedicated by R’ Reuven and Shera Gaisin in honor of the 20th yahrtzeit of his maternal grandmother:
Necha Gittel Bas Avrom Zalman ז״ל
If you are interested in sponsoring a D’var Torah in honor or in memory of someone, or for any occasion, please email: ParshaParagraphs@gmail.com

This week’s parsha welcomes us to a new Sefer and the world of Korbanot. The parsha begins: וַיִּקְרָ֖א אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר ה׳ אֵלָ֔יו מֵאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵ֖ד לֵאמֹֽר - He called out to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying” (Vayikra 1:1). Rashi explains that ויקרא, which appears superfluous, comes to teach us a rule – that every statement, saying, and command from G-d to Moshe is preceded with a קריאה (a “calling”) which is a language of endearment, the same language that the ministering angels use.

In communicating with this endearment, G-d does so only with Moshe. The rest of the nation could not hear. Meaning, that this was a prophecy to which only Moshe was privy. Rashi says:
The voice [of G-d] would go, and reach Moshe’s ears, and all of Israel could not hear it. One might have thought that there was a ‘calling’ at breaks (i.e. the breaks in the text indicated by blank spaces).

One might have thought that a break indicates the beginning of a new and distinct prophecy which would be preceded with a new קריאה. The Torah teaches us that no, only when G-d actually speaks is it a new prophecy, but the breaks in-and-of-themselves do not indicate a new prophecy. (Explanation is based on the Mizrachi, as translated by Artscroll.)

Now, if the breaks in the text did not serve the purpose of indicating a new and distinct prophecy, what purpose did they serve? Rashi continues:
To give Moshe the time for contemplation of one Parsha and the next, and between one topic to another. קל וחומר (all the more so) that time between subjects is necessary for a הדיוט (an ordinary person) who learns from another הדיוט.

Rashi, quoting the Torat Kohanim (1:9), explains that G-d gave Moshe the time to contemplate and to understand the subject, and from the rule of “kal vachomerwe learn that ordinary people must also give – and be given – that time to contemplate.

However, there is a glaring question that arises when analyzing this Midrash. What is the logic behind this kal vachomer? It makes sense that while Moshe was the greatest prophet to have ever risen, and was master of all wisdoms, perhaps even he needed that time to contemplate when learning from G-d Himself. For when learning the Torah from G-d – Whose wisdom cannot be fathomed, Whose essence cannot be grasped, and Whose grandiosity cannot be comprehended – of course if even Moshe would need the time to properly digest the concepts, an ordinary person would as well. But who is to say that in the case of twoordinary” people, where both are on the same level, that time must be given for the other to comprehend? The Midrash’s conclusion, bringing a kal vachomer from Hashem and Moshe to two ordinary people, seems completely incongruent. How can the logic of this Midrash be explained?

To answer this question we must first take a step back and ask a fundamental question: What is the true intention of the Torat Kohanim, what overall message does it convey? Is it trying to tell us that due to the “lack” of the student we must give the רווח (space) to understand? Or perhaps it is telling us that when a teacher teaches (whether or not the student is lacking) he must be careful to teach in a way that the student has the ability to comprehend.

If the need to give time and space stems from the lack on the part of the student, then our original question stands, for as we spoke out earlier, of course even Moshe in comparison to Hashem is considered lacking. However, if the Torat Kohanim is giving a lesson about the mark of a good teacher – that a teacher is lacking if he does not giving ample time for students of any kind to comprehend – then we have our answer.

From the fact that G-d [the greatest of teachers] allows Moshe [the most wise and humble of the prophets] the time to contemplate, we can learn that in our dealings, as “ordinary teachers” we too must present our ideas in a way for them to be comprehended. Bottom line: the Midrash is giving us a lesson about the method of teaching – on the part of the teacher – regardless of the level of the student. A good teacher presents his ideas with clarity in all situations.

This idea can be helpful in a myriad of aspects of teaching, including how loud one projects, how slowly one speaks, or a hundred other pedagogical methods which can aid the clarity of the message and comprehension of the student. But this is also a powerful lesson regarding the most basic underpinning of teaching: the teacher’s mindset and motivation.

A Rebbe is not there for himself; his objectives in teaching should be based solely on the comprehension of the students. And, barring other factors, if the student is not understanding, then he has failed his mission. For if students are not walking away with more clarity and understanding, what then is being accomplished?! That the Rebbe himself said a good shiur? That he felt honored? That he understood the subject? Of course his endeavors are worthless so long as the student is left clueless.

I was once conversing with a friend who had a thirteen-year-old son in a “top tier” Yeshiva Ketana in Eretz Yisrael, and he was decrying the amount of sources and analytical approaches the teacher was “cramming” into the students. Rather than just explain the material in an easily digestible form, instead the teacher was overwhelming the class with more and more material. My friend felt his son was not understanding. This father, who himself is a Rosh Kollel, told me that he was not the only one; other parents had also expressed frustration that their children were not following shiur. When the parents finally gathered the courage to, as a group, confront the Rebbe and express their concerns, they were shocked by his response, the Rebbe said: “I teach the students on the level where I am holding. I was the top of my class, and I want them to witness what is true scholarship.”

When I heard this, I was blown away. How is it possible for someone, who has been entrusted with the holy task of חינוך (education) to think in such selfish terms? How could he get it so wrong? I believe the the truth is that this “Rebbe” is teaching for all the wrong reasons. He is not teaching with the aim of התבוננות and הבנה of his students, which would lead anyone to the natural conclusion that he must lower the level of the shiur.

I once heard from a very prominent Rabbi, that a teacher who is purely focused on himself is included in the prohibition of being המתכבד בקלון חברו - putting down others to raise up your own honor; such a person is punished with losing his share in Olam Habah (Yerushalmi Chagigah 10a, Rambam Hilchos Deos 6:3). For a teacher who neglects the progress of the students, while using them to honor himself, is the same as one who actively degrades them. This teacher is involved in a nihilistic and self-serving pursuit under the guise of virtue, all the while using the students as his footstool to raise up his own honor. That is when torah stops from being a סם החיים, and instead becomes a סם המוות (Yoma 72b).

One of my most favorite quotes that I’ve heard is in the name of Rabbi Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik זצ״ל. He would often remark that his favorite title was not Rav, Rosh Yeshiva, or Posek (halachic expert); rather it was מלמד, just a simple teacher. Rabbi Soloveitchik felt that this was really the greatest praise, for G-d Himself is called teacher: המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל. Rabbi Soloveitchik felt that the highest calling, that which emulates G-d himself, is that of מלמד. And we learn from Hashem, in giving that “space” to Moshe to contemplate and comprehend, a demonstration of the proper way to accomplish the holiest of tasks – teaching Torah, with the holiest goal: to better the student.


Shabbat Shalom



Thursday, March 7, 2019

Parshat Pikudei 5779 - Soulful Sounds

Parsha Paragraphs
Rabbi Naftali Moshe Kassorla
Parshat Pikudei 5779
Soulful Sounds



The Parsha this week recounts for us again the details of the Mishkan. Though it may seem to our superficial perspective that this parsha is a mere repetition, as we all know, nothing in the Torah is said unnecessarily – there is always something to be gleaned from the depths of the Torah.



The pasuk says:
וּבְצַלְאֵל בֶּן־אוּרִי בֶן־חוּר לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה עָשָׂה אֵת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּה ה׳ אֶת־מֹשֶׁה
Now Betzalel, son of Uri son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehuda, had made all that Hashem had commanded Moshe.



Rashi, quoting the Yerushalmi (3:1) and the Midrash Rabbah (1:14) notes the oddity of the phrasing of “That Hashem had commanded Moshe”, and not “what Moshe had communicated to Betzalel.”



ובצלאל בן אורי וגו' עשה את כל אשר צוה ה' את משה. אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה מֹשֶׁה אֵין כְּתִיב כָּאן, אֶלָּא כָּל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' אֶת מֹשֶׁה, אֲפִלּוּ דְּבָרִים שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר לוֹ רַבּוֹ, הִסְכִּימָה דַּעְתּוֹ לְמַה שֶּׁנֶּאֱמַר לְמֹשֶׁה בְּסִינַי
It is not stated here: “that Moshe commanded”, but “all that the Lord commanded Moshe” — even regarding such things which his teacher (Moshe) did not tell him, his own opinion was in agreement with what had been told to Moshe on Sinai.



Seemingly, Betzalel was not told everything in it specifics from Moshe. Rather, there were some details which Betzalel inherently understood on his own. Despite the fact that it had not been directly communicated to him, he was still able to understand what Hashem intended.



Why and how was Betzalel was able to do this? To discern the ratzon Hashem on his own? I believe the answer is thus: Hashem, by implanting within us a neshama, has allowed us the ability to reach deep into the recesses of ourselves to touch Divinity.



This is because the Neshama of a Jew is a חלק אלוקי ממעל – a piece of G-d Himself. And when a person truly connects to that piece of Kedusha, he is connecting to Hakadosh Baruch Hu directly. Using this means, Betzalel was able to correctly intuit what Hashem wanted – because the answer was already within him.



Not everything needs to be spoken out directly (and sometimes things aren’t able to be spoken out). A person can intuit within the expanses of the Neshama. But this is only true when one has done the requisite work to actually reach the truth that lies in their Neshama. Only then is he able to draw upon that latent inspiration.



The way to do this is by actively changing the perspective of the “self” – to view oneself and our interactions with the world through the prism of being a Neshama. By doing this, a person connects to the Divine. The more Mitzvos we do, the more we are nourishing the true self. The logical and obvious inverse is that when a person does Aveiros, it drags him further away from the conscious connection to G-d that lies within him. This makes it more difficult to connect to the רצון ה׳ – the true Will of G-d.



There is a beautiful piece in צוואת הריב״ש (Last Will and Testament of the Baal Shem Tov). There he discusses this concept – of viewing our reality through the prism of our neshama – as a tool to further our connection to tefillah.



אין מתפללין אלא מתוך כובד הראש. פירוש אל תתפלל בשביל דבר שחסר לך כי לא יקובל תפלתך. אלא כשתרצה להתפלל תתפלל על כבידות שיש בראש כי הדבר שחסר לך החסרון יש בשכינה. כי אדם חלק אלקי ממעל והחסרון שיש בהחלק יש בכלל. והכלל מרגיש את החסרון של החלק. א"כ תהי' תפלתך על החסרון של הכלל וזהו פירוש אלא מתוך כובד הראש.
The Gemara (Brachot 30b) says that a person should pray with a serious frame of mind [lit. a heaviness of head]. Meaning, do not pray for something that you yourself are lacking, for this prayer will not be accepted. Rather, when you wish to pray, pray over the “difficulty you have in your head- for that which you are lacking, the Shechina [presence of Hashem] lacks as well!  For a person is part of the Divine above, and the lack which is felt in the part [us] is also felt by the Whole [G-d]. And the Whole [G-d] feels the lack of the part [us]. Therefore, your prayer should be with the awareness of the lack of the Whole. This is the meaning of praying with a “heaviness of head”



Here we see that when we consciously realize that we are a part of G-d and truly tap into this notion, it will change our entire outlook on the world and how we relate to it. We are not merely a body with a Neshama; rather we are a Neshama with a body. We can pray with the awareness that when we feel lacking, Hashem so-to-speak feels that lack, for we are a part of Him. We do not live alongside G-d, we live with G-d, in unison. And our mission in this world is: to bring out the G-dliness that is contained within each of us.



The awareness of our individual Divine spark should give us the confidence necessary to confront some of the big questions in life. Though it is unquestionably a prime Jewish value to seek guidance and direction from those greater than us, it is important not to neglect the need to foster within ourselves a healthy trust of the Chelek Ha’Elokus that Hashem gave us. A good mentor will try and nurture that within his student.



Even with the awareness of the importance of being attuned to the sounds and emanations from our Neshamas, we must still endeavor to create the proper environments to be able to hear Hakadosh Baruch Hu. It feels almost impossible in our day and age to find a moment of quiet and calm. We are bombarded with a world that is always in motion, always jumping to the next step. We must make a concerted effort to create an outer calm, to be able to hear the inner calm. This is integral to cultivating a real connection with the Borei Olam.



This is also a very timely and important lesson to focus on as Purim approaches. The Gemara tells us: “Nichnas Yayin, Yatzah Sod” – When one gets drunk, the truth comes out (Eiruvin 65a, Sanhedrin 38a). The true personality surfaces as the person loses their inhibitions. If one has done the proper work on his character in polishing off the aveiros that have tarnished his Neshama, the great sterling qualities of his Neshama will shine forth.



As we embark on the path of finding that outer and inner calm and reaching our souls, may our efforts to come closer to Hashem be blessed with success.



Shabbat Shalom

Friday, February 8, 2019

Parshat Terumah 5779 - To Dwell Among Us

Parsha Paragraphs
Rabbi Naftali Moshe Kassorla
Parshat Terumah 5779
To Dwell Among Us


In this week’s parsha, God commands the nation: ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם - “Make for Me a Sanctuary – so that I may dwell among them” (Shemot 25:8). The people are inspired and contribute to the construction.

The Psikta recounts an amazing occurrence. When the decree came to Moshe for the Nation to build a sanctuary, Moshe literally shook and exclaimed, “How can man make a house for G-d?!” And God answered, “Not according to My capabilities do I ask, rather according to your own capabilities.” The Chofetz Chaim concludes from this Midrash that G-d does not unfairly critique man for his shortcomings; rather He asks only that we try, to the best of our abilities.

I would like to focus on this intriguing back-and-forth between Hakadosh Baruch Hu and Moshe. Firstly, why is Moshe “shaken”? What is so shocking about Hashem’s request to build a Mishkan? Perhaps Moshe’s great astonishment was that he found it difficult to fathom that G-d could manifest Himself in this world. If so, we can still ask: why is Moshe shocked only now? Didn't the Shechina previously come down at Har Sinai (Ibid. 19:20)? Furthermore, what did Hashem respond to Moshe which then resolved his question? And finally a third question: what can we glean practically for ourselves from G-d’s response?

I would like to suggest that Moshe's shock was rooted in a deep and fundamental difficulty pertaining to the essence of G-d. The Greek and Roman philosophers, l’havdil, wrestled with a question: How can G-d, Who is יושב במרום (dwells in the supernal realms), be “concerned” with the menial ways of man?1 Man is inherently physically limited, debased with desires and selfish needs.

Different philosophers arrived at two separate and distinct responses. Some said that G-d is in fact so holy that He is removed from this world entirely. Aristotle, the “father of western philosophy,” explained his concept of G-d – “The Unmoved Mover”– as that of an unfeeling, removed Power Who is involved in deep Self-contemplation (The Middle Platonism by John Dillon - Cornell University Press 1977). Meaning that G-d’s “interests” are above and beyond the base thoughts of man.

Alternatively, they explained that G-d (or gods by their perception) were made in the image of man, and were just as debased, selfish and petty as man could be; this is evidenced by the Greek mythologies of rampant licentiousness and jealousy on the part of their deities.

However, Judaism has a wholly different philosophy on the essence of G-d, and we can see this totally divergent idea from the Psikta quoted above. In responding to Moshe, G-d says: “Not according to My capabilities do I ask, rather according to man’s capabilities.” G-d was in essence telling Moshe that not only is He interested in our actions, but He desires to dwell among us too! This, I believe, is the depth and beauty of G-d’s call to man “Make me a sanctuary.” The Torah’s concept of G-d is the synthesis of these two, seemingly, divergent philosophies: the loftiness of G-d’s essence, coupled with His deep desire to connect with us.

This idea can perhaps elucidate for us another issue once raised by a student of mine. Human civilizations has for millennia been engaged in building centers of worship, altars, and great monuments to their idols. Some archeological digs have even unearthed ruins that have had a similar floor plan to the Mishkan. The student was bothered by this, wondering: what makes the endeavor of the Jewish people to build the Mishkan so unique? Perhaps the Jews in the desert were just like any other developing nomadic tribe that felt strengthening of tribal bonds through building a communal altar to worship, similar to Stonehenge in England, the Ziggurats in Mesopotamia and other similar feats of architecture. What made the Mishkan, and by proxy the Jewish people, any different?

To answer this question, I heard from the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yechiel Perr Shlit”a the following idea that I believe provides the proper approach: Human history is rife with man’s desire to reach out to G-d. However, the building of the Mishkan marked the first time in recorded human history that the building of a monument was preceded by G-d reaching out to man to “Make me a sanctuary.”

This made the Mishkan a different structure entirely – at its core. For while the building is built from man’s actions, it is initiated by G-d’s directive. The call to build G-d a sanctuary infuses its every vessel with sanctity. Now it has become elevated to a G-dly level. So while it may look the same as other “sanctuaries,” its essence was not anything of this world.2

This is an important lesson for us, as we should know and strengthen this idea that G-d is not only interested in our lives, but wishes to “dwell” within them. He infuses all of our “menial” actions with holiness and meaning, when we answer His call.

Thus, it is fitting to end with the famous quote attributed to the Alshich:

ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם: בכל אחד ואחד
G-d desires to dwell within every individual 

We would be wise to open the door to let Him in.

Shabbat Shalom


1 See Rashi in Bamidbar (24:3) regarding Bilaam. G-d made Bilaam blind because he found preposterous the idea that G-d would be interested in the “lowly ways of man”: ורבותינו אמרו (נדה לא.) לפי שאמר (במדבר כ״ג:י) ומספר את רובע ישראל שהקב"ה יושב ומונה רביעותיהן של ישראל מתי תבא טפה שנולד הצדיק ממנה. אמר בלבו מי שהוא קדוש ומשרתיו קדושים יסתכל בדברים הללו ועל דבר זה נסמית עינו של בלעם. Much appreciation to Rav Chaim Pollock Shlit”a Rosh Machal of Michlala, for directing me to this source.

2 There is a very interesting Sicha from the The Lubavitcher Rebbe, where he explains the difference between the Kiyum Mitzvot prior to Matan Torah and after. Basing this on a Midrash, He explains that before Matan Torah, Mitzvot that were performed by a person did not bestow upon an object a kedusha, for how can man endow a cheftza with kedusha? This is something that only G-d can do! But after Matan Torah the cheftza has kedusha because of the direct commandment. This is in line with Rav Perr’s idea, but more globally – that physical objects are infused with a special level of holiness through G-d commanding it. Many thanks to Rav Ally Ehrman Shlit”a for showing me this sicha.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Parshat Mishpatim 5779 - Tunnel Visions

Parsha Paragraphs
Rabbi Naftali Moshe Kassorla

Parshat Mishpatim 5779
Tunnel Visions
The D’var Torah for this week is dedicated in memory of:
 הר״ר שמעון בן צבי דוב מנלו זצ״ל

Who’s Yahrtzeit was just this past week. May his memory be a blessing for his entire family
If you are interested in sponsoring a D’var Torah in honor or in memory of someone, or for any occasion, please email: ParshaParagraphs@gmail.com


In this week’s Parsha, after the awesome moment in history when God reveals Himself through the giving of the Torah, the laws of the Torah are delineated, to be the cornerstone of a just society. These laws would not only guide the Jewish nation but also be a beacon of morality to the rest of the world.

Among the societal laws such as open pits in the public thoroughfare, bodily damages, and bearing false witness, we are told of another:

כִּֽי־תִרְאֶ֞ה חֲמ֣וֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ֗ רֹבֵץ֙ תַּ֣חַת מַשָּׂא֔וֹ וְחָדַלְתָּ֖ מֵעֲזֹ֣ב ל֑וֹ עָזֹ֥ב תַּעֲזֹ֖ב עִמּֽוֹ
“If you see the donkey of your enemy crouching under its burden, would you refrain from helping him? You shall help repeatedly with him” (Shemot 23:5).

Now the question is: who is this “enemy” that the Torah is referring to? Though we are all guilty of this, it is in fact forbidden to hate a fellow Jew, so it must be referring to someone else.


Chazal in Pesachim (113b) tells us that this pasuk refers to someone who it is in fact permitted (even obligated) to hate. This is someone who sins consistently, despite multiple warnings. Such a person is no longer considered part of the Jewish people. Yet even so, the Torah demands that we help him with his animal’s burden. Why? Is this not still considered showing love for a wicked person, by lending a helping hand?

I would like to suggest a reason for why this is so.

The Gemara in Bava Metzia (32b), in discussing whether the prohibition of צער בעלי חיים  (causing pain to animals) is Biblical or Rabbinic in origin, actually cites our verse as the source that it is from the Torah (and so rules the majority of the Rishonim). Meaning that reason why we help the animal is not as a friendly act to the sinner, but rather as a kindness to the animal.

This implies to us that despite the fact that the owner is wicked and is not considered part of the Nation, nonetheless we still help the animals with it’s burden. For although it may be a mitzvah to hate this willful sinner, it is not a mitzvah to cause pain to the animal – That is completely forbidden. But it is all too easy for this important point to get lost in the shuffle.

And with this can learn a tremendous lesson: the importance of compartmentalization, and understanding where and when to apply our principles. Though it is a mitzvah to despise this particular person, that mitzvah is not a carte blanche allowance to ignore the pain of the animal. Principles should not lead to “tunnel vision” whereby one does not take heed of other issues as well. If certain principles causes one to impinge upon other aspects of civility, it is a reflection of the quality (or lack-thereof) of that principle within us.


I recall hearing from the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yechiel Perr Shlit”a in the name of the Vilna Gaon, that in order to determine if one's actions are in fact good, he must examine the after-effects. This, explains the Gaon, is the meaning of the Mishna in Avot (4:2): מצוה גוררת מצוה – one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah. If the consequence of one’s “mitzvah” is negative, it is usually a sign it is not the right path. And if the fruits of one’s actions are clearly positive, one may rest assured knowing it was indeed a mitzvah. So too here, when the person is applying the principle of hating this wicked man, he must apply it with a wide scope, utilizing שיקול הדעת and a keen eye for the possible repercussions. With that eye he can determine if it is in fact a mitzvah to demonstrate hate at that time, or not.

Rav Yisroel Salanter זצ״ל famously once quipped, that a man can have all the spiritual, mystical intentions in the world as he puts on his Tallit. But the minute he wraps the Tallit around his head, thereby whipping the Tzizit strings into the face of the person behind him, all the כוונות go down the drain. Why? Because this ״עבד ה׳״ has tunnel vision, putting on the Tzizit has been transformed into a selfish endeavor - quite the opposite of an “other-worldly act”.

Again, the key is to not fall into the trap of tunnel vision. And when we overcome it and are able to take in all factors of the situation, allows us to correctly prioritize competing values. We must be able to approach life in a nuanced way.


Thus, when one is faced with “someone you hate,” rather than be a proverbial bull in a china shop and rigidly push away any thought of helping, or not even stop to notice the animal’s pain, one must leave open a space in his mind and heart to notice the suffering of the animal as well. For he should know intuitively that his “mitzvah” cannot come at the expense of the animal.

This explanation could perhaps illuminate another part of the Parsha. After the law of relieving the burden of your enemy’s animal, the very next verse is a call to Judges: “You shall not pervert the Judgement of your destitute person in his dispute” (ibid. 6). The Sforno explains: “You [the Judge] shall not be soft with this one, and difficult with this one during the court proceedings when each side presents their cases.” Why not? Is this person not destitute? Perhaps ruling against the poor man may be devastating for him financially! Furthermore, perhaps the other side is rich! Can he not spare a few dollars to help this poor man? The Mechilta (ibid.) even says that this verse refers a situation to where one litigant is wicked and the other is righteous. Would it not be appropriate to rule in favor of the righteous individual? Is this not justice? Isn’t this what G-d would want? The answer is of course not. The Torah calls this way of thinking actually a perversion of justice. By taking these foreign factors into account when rendering the Halacha, the Judge is perverting the system of law. Nothing other than the facts of the case, regardless of the economic or social status of the baalei dinim, may be taken into account.


This ability for the Judge to see each person equally can only come when the Judge has trained his mind and שכל to not allow outside factors to cloud his judgment. Whether one side is destitute, a widower, or an orphan, this skill will allow him to filter out or properly weigh the factors that are needed to render a דין אמת.

Both of these instances – one who helps the burden of an animal, by ignoring his hate for the owner, and a Judge who rules against the poor man, by ignoring his social status – result in a fair, just and kind society that is in tune with the needs of the people, yet at the same time creates the environment for enforcement of an equal system for justice.

This is the result of God-centered society: fairness, sensitivity for all of G-d’s creatures, and a proper application of morals and values. May we merit to implement these ideas and see this in our own society.



Shabbat Shalom

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