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Sages and Saints (Naso 5779)

Thursday, 13th June 2019

 

Sages and Saints (Naso 5779)

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Shavuos

Tuesday, 4th June 2019

Dvar Torah - Shovuous

 

Did we really receive the Torah on Shavuos? Let's ruin the party, we did not get the Torah on Shavuos. 

Bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel) sinned with the egel hazahav (golden calf) and we did not get the Torah until the following Yom Kippur. So what are we commemorating on Shavuos? 

When Moshe (Moses) warns Bnei Yisrael not to forget Sinai (Devorim 4), he reminds them not to forget the spectacle of the lightning, thunder, and awe-striking ceremony they saw. Why does he not tell them not to forget the giving of the Ten Commandments themselves? 

The answer is that standing by Har (Mount) Sinai was to instil in us yiras HaShem (the fear of G-d), and that comes before Torah, for it dictates our ability to receive and forge a connection with the Torah and its Giver. This is what Moshe is warning the people not to forget, for it is the key to Torah.

So although we did not get the Torah until Yom Kippur, on 6th Sivan we became worthy to receive yiras HaShem - and this is what we relive on Shavuos.

Bechukosai

Thursday, 30th May 2019

Blessings are great, but curses, well no one wants to hear those. This week’s Torah portion sets out the blessings that will occur when we do the Will of our Creator, and G-d forbid the curses that will occur if we don’t.

One of the curses although bad, could seem worse. "Venastem V'einRodef - and you shall flee when no one will pursue you" (26:17). We will feel as if the enemy is chasing after us and we will flee out of fear, whilst in actual fact they won’t even be chasing us.

This is a curse but wouldn’t it be worse if they were really chasing after us? Surely it’s not so bad if at the end of the day there is no enemy really behind us?

The Rambam (Moses Ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Rambam - Hebrew acronym for "Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon", was a preeminent medieval Jewish philospher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages) was the doctor of the Sultan of Egypt. He held a great position in the country and many of the other Sultans advisers were jealous. Eventually they came to the Sultan asking him to get rid of the Rambam, and place a better Arab Doctor in his stead.

The Sultan called the Rambam and the Arab Doctor and proposed a test to them. Each one was known to be a great physician and had knowledge in medicines and cures. He told them that he would give each one, a week to nurture up a poison that would be able to kill the other. Each one would also have at their disposal any medicines they wished. Whoever would die, would be the loser and the one who lived through the experience would stay on as the Sultan’s doctor.

The Arab doctor went home and started to nurture up an amazing poison, one that would be impossible to cure.

The Rambam on the other hand didn’t wish to waste his time, trying to make a poison that could kill. He had much more important things to do. He kept to his daily routine of attending to the long queue of patients waiting outside his house, and concentrating on his Torah teachings.

The final day came and the two doctors stood in front of the king. The Arab doctor gave over the poison to the Rambam. The Rambam examined it and before swallowing it made a medicine he deemed right to cure the poison. He then consumed the poison followed by the medicine. It seemed to work, but no one could be sure, as the poison might take a few hours to work on him.

Now it was the Arabs turn to consume the Rambam’s poison. But the Rambam had no interest in killing the Arab and merely gave him a cocktail of some food he had nurtured for the occasion.
Looking at it with great focus the Arab Doctor couldn’t define which "poison" it was. Perhaps the Rambam had managed to make some kind of super poison, one whose cure did not yet exist. After a few minutes of examination, he too made a concoction of medicine to counter the "poison". He consumed both the food and the medicine. He saw that nothing happened to him and he was amazed. He was happy with his medicine, but he didn’t underestimate the Rambam.

He started to think that perhaps the Rambam's poison only takes effect when a person eats meat. He decided not to eat meat. After a few hours he saw that the poison still hadn’t reached its climax. He said perhaps it’s not to do with meat, perhaps it’s to do with eating wheat. He decided not to eat wheat.

He stayed like this for a few days, until one day the Rambam met him in the street. The Rambam was concerned to see the Doctor looking so pale and started to ask him how he was doing and feeling. Then the Rambam asked him how he felt after he drank milk. The Arabs face turned red, and he thought that the Rambam meant that with milk the poison was supposed to take full effect. He had just drank a glass of milk, and was so concerned that due to his weak status he had a heart attack and died. The king heard that the other doctor had died, and called for the Rambam to be brought to him.

Wow, I knew you were a great physician, but I didn’t realise you knew how to make poison last for so many days before working and killing the man. The Rambam answered the king and told him that he was no killer. Rather the man had died due to his own weakness and anxiety.

Is imagination good or bad? It depends – if we use our imagination to form worlds to create our ideas and fulfil our destiny it is an awesome act. If however we use it to fool ourselves, to convince ourselves of a false world and to place importance in the wrong direction – it could be a curse.

The Torah states that one of the worst curses is to run when no one is really chasing. To imagine people are there, and they really are not. To live in constant fear when there is no need too. Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where our business affairs, and the outside world pretend to chase us, our imagination is let loose and we charge great importance to these to the extent that we can make ourselves ill and die.

Behar

Wednesday, 22nd May 2019

The first half of Behar deals with various laws regarding "Shmita" . In short, the commandment of "Shmitta" is that in the 7th year all agricultural activities ceases, and the land of Israel lies fallow.

The land will give its fruit and you will eat to satisfaction...And if you will say ‘What will I eat in the seventh year? – Behold, we will not sow and we will not gather our crops’, I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for three years (25:19-21)

Hashem (G-d) promises that if someone keeps the Shmitta year by not harvesting his field or gathering crops, he will be blessed in the year preceding the Shmitta and he will reap enough food to last the next three years.  From the verse quoted above it sounds like Hashem is giving a blessing to someone who does not trust fully in Him.  What is the explanation of these verses?

Rashi explains that the blessing of “satisfaction” that one receives from observing the Shmitta is that “even within the stomach there will be in it a blessing”, which means that one will be satiated after eating only a small amount. When the Torah then says “And if you will say ‘What will I eat in the seventh year?’” and continues to detail the blessing, one will note that the blessing is that there will be “crop sufficient for the three years”. 

The Sforno explains that any person who keeps Shmitta will be blessed with enough to eat for three years.  However, the initial blessing of “even within the stomach there will be in it a blessing” is reserved for someone who trusts in Hashem and does not question His ways.  This person will see the same small crop for one year but find that it lasts him three years.  If however, he questions Hashem and asks ‘What will I eat in the seventh year? – Because he kept the Shmitta, he still receives the blessing of having enough to eat for the three years, but when this person will receive enough crop in the first year to last for three years, he will receive the quantity of three years worth of food.  This person will have to work three times as hard on all of his fields in the sixth year, whereas the person who trusts in Hashem will not even have to work any harder in the sixth year and he will receive the same amount (qualitatively) as the one who questioned Hashem.

Emor

Thursday, 16th May 2019

Kiddush/Chillul HaShem (Sanctification or profaning of G-d's name)
 
The verse seems to be repetitive, "do not desecrate my name and I will be holy"? 
 
The verse is issuing a special warning and is addressing certain special situations where there is potential for both. 
 
Making a Minyan (Quorum for prayers) on an airplane, for example, has much potential for people who have never seen a davening (prayer service) before, to see it first hand and take part in a Holy activity.  But on the flip side, it also has potential to be a chilul Hashem due to people being inconsiderate to the people sitting in the seats closest to the Minyan. 
 
Therefore Hashem in this verse is telling us, think of this verse when you go to make a Kiddush Hashem and make sure that you do not desecrate my name and then, only then, I will be holy.

Pesach

Wednesday, 17th April 2019

Pesach (Passover) is the classic example of a festival in which we eat, drink, and live the ideas that it represents. We modify our home environment by removing all leavened products, we change our diet to eat matzah. We refrain from working, and we transform a festive meal into a high-impact, super-charged educational experience – the Pesach Seder.

Why do we go to such lengths? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just spent some time thinking about the Exodus and the lessons it teaches? The following source answers this question.

Quoting from Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah #16 – A person is shaped and influenced by his actions. Therefore, Pesach involves many actions to ensure that the miracles of the Exodus and its lessons are imprinted permanently into our consciousness.

It is fitting for us to do symbolic actions [e.g. eating matzah, having a Pesach Seder and telling the story of the Exodus] that remind us of the tremendous spiritual heights we reached at the Exodus. Through these actions and symbols the experience of the Exodus is imprinted permanently into our consciousness.

A person is affected and shaped by his actions [more than by his thoughts alone]. A person’s thoughts and feelings follow after his actions, either for good or for bad …

For example, if a complete degenerate … will inspire himself and exert himself to study Torah and perform mitzvos – even for the wrong reasons, such as honour and prestige – he will still begin to change in a positive direction. His self-destructive tendencies (yetzer hara – evil inclination) will be weakened since he will be influenced by his positive actions.

And on the other hand, if a completely righteous and upstanding person, who exerts himself in Torah and mitzvos, will occupy himself with negativity and impurity all day long (for example, is someone forced him to do it), at some point he will turn into a degenerate. For even the strongest person is affected by his actions …

With this principle in mind – that a person is shaped by his actions – we understand the need for the many “mitzvos and actions” regarding remembering the Exodus and its miracles, for they are a central feature of the entire Torah.

 

Metzora

Thursday, 11th April 2019

No one needs to be convinced of the problems people cause through negative speech. We probably all remember the time we wished we hadn’t said something. Sensitivity in what we say is an important key to living a happy, effective life.

There is a famous analogy regarding the topic of speech. A man who was not particularly careful about his speech came to a Rabbi. He had decided to change, and needed advice on how to go about it. The Rabbi gave him a very peculiar answer. “Take a feather pillow into the street, and release its feathers in every direction.” The man was perplexed, but his resolve was firm to do as he was advised and change his life. After doing as he was told he returned to the Rabbi. “Now what should I do?” he asked. “Go back into the street and collect all of the feathers to the very last one,” was the astounding reply. Again the man made his way into the street and began the daunting task. At his wits end he returned to the Rabbi dejected reporting his inability to keep his last words of advice. “Remember,” said the Rabbi, “that your words are like those feathers. Once they leave your mouth they never return. Make sure the words you allow out are ones you won’t have to go chasing after!”

Tazria

Wednesday, 3rd April 2019

There is a strange Law regarding Tzoraas (Leprosy): 
 
If tzoraas partially covers one’s body they are tamei (unclean).  But if the nega (blemish) has spread and now covers their entire body they are tahor (clean). 
 
What is the reason for this seemingly strange Halocho (Law)?   A person who is covered from head to toe with tzoraas should be the most tamei!?
 
The commentaries explain that G-d created Tumah (impurity) to challenge a person to achieve greater heights. It is the weapon of the Yetzer Hora (evil inclination) who seeks to suck the good out of a person.  A nega is a spiritual blemish.  When the Yetzer Hora sees this blemish, he sees a weak victim and a great opportunity to further the damage.  He wants to take what is left of this person’s good and turn it into bad. Therefore this person becomes tamei due to the attachment of the forces of evil and impurity to his body.
 
However if a person has a nega covering his entire body, this means that he is completely bad and bereft of any goodness within him.  In this case the forces of tumah have no work and no role to play in this person.  He therefore is tahor. 
 
This could be why people who hit rock bottom are capable of suddenly making a change for the good.  The battle is over and the Yetzer Hora has gone.  From there, the only way is up.

Shemini

Thursday, 28th March 2019

This week's parsha (Torah portion) contains the first occurrence of the laws related to identifying Kosher animals, fish, and fowl in the Torah. The pasuk (verse) says: "But this is what you shall NOT eat from among those that bring up their cud or that have split hooves: the camel (gamal), for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split (parsah einenu mafris) – it is impure to you; and the hyrax (shafan), for it brings up its cud but its hoof is not split (parsah lo yafris)– it is impure to you; and the hare (arneves), for it brings up its cud, but its hoof is not split (parsah lo hifrisa) – it is impure to you." [Vayikra 11:4-6].

There is a striking inconsistency here. With the camel, the verb used to discuss the fact that the hoof is not split is conjugated in the present tense: "Parsah einenu MAFRIS" [the hoof IS NOT split]. Yet with the shafan, the verb is in the present "Parsah lo YAFRIS" [the hoof WILL NOT BE split]. Finally, with the arneves, the verb used is in the past tense: "Parsah lo HIFRISA" [the hoof WAS NOT split].

This is glaring. The terms should all be present, all future, or all past tense. There has to be a message here in the fact that the Torah uses a different form of the verb for each of these three animals.

A beautiful homiletic thought on this matter: When someone is about to pronounce "Tameh" [Impure] on a species or on any entity, one needs to be aware of its past, its present, and its future. Unless one is aware of the situation in the past, present, and future, one does not know the whole story and should not be so quick to pronounce the words "Tameh hu" [this one is impure].

One of the teachers at Bais Yaakov told the following story: There was a couple who went through the Holocaust. Before the Holocaust, they were fully observant of Torah and Mitzvos (all of it's commandments). After the Holocaust, unfortunately, the husband lost faith and said "That's it! I've had it with G-d!" The husband gave up every thing in terms of religious practice and belief.

His wife did not have that reaction. She begged her husband -- "At least go to shul (Synagogue)." The husband refused. This went on for a while. Finally the wife said to the husband, "Listen, do me a favor. Every morning you go out and buy a newspaper and you read it from cover to cover. Humor me, when you pick up the paper at the newsstand, rather than coming home to read it, go to shul and read the paper in shul -- just to make me happy!"

The husband wanted to please his wife. He spent the time reading the newspaper anyway, so he agreed to her proposal. He would go to shul every morning, sit in the back row and read the paper. This went on for years.

Now ask yourselves: If you saw a fellow come into the back row of your shul every morning, not put on Tallis (prayer shawl) or Tefillin (Phylacteries), not take a Siddur (prayer book) off the shelf, but simply make himself comfortable and read the newspaper for 45 minutes, what would your reaction be?

Most likely our reaction would be very negative. "If you want to read the newspaper, go home and read the newspaper! How dare you be so disrespectful of this holy synagogue?"
 
To their credit the people in this particular shul did not say anything critical to this individual. They did not chastise him. They began to schmooze (chat) with him, they invited him to join them for a l'chaim (drink) after davening when someone had a Yahrtzeit, they invited him to join them in social gatherings. To make a long story short, this Holocaust survivor went from reading the newspaper in the back row of the shul every day to davening in shul three times a day! Eventually, he even became president of the shul.

What does that tell us? Our inclination would have been to immediately pronounce "Tameh who lachem -- this species is definitely not a kosher animal"! But we did not know the fellow's past. We were not clear about his present situation, and we certainly could not have guessed what his future turned out to be. This is what the Torah is teaching. In order to proclaim "This one is Tameh" we must know that the hoof was not split in the past, the hoof is not currently split, and the hoof will never be split in the future. 
 
Short of that do not be so quick to say "Tameh hu lachem."

Revealing The Hidden

Monday, 18th March 2019

 

Purim: Revealing The Hidden - Rabbi Tzvi Sytner

Click here to watch the video from Aish

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