Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Faith Diet

וַיְעַנְּךָ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת הַמָּן (דברים ח, ג)
HE AFFLICTED YOU, LET YOU GO HUNGRY, AND FED YOU WITH MANNA… (DEVARIM 8:3)


The Midrash (Koheles Rabbah 5:10) interprets this verse to mean that the manna was "a food of hunger". One of the reasons for this was because the manna could not be saved from day to day and one needed to trust and rely on it falling anew the next day. The manna was therefore called a food of affliction, because "One who has bread in their basket is not comparable to one who has no bread in their basket (Talmud, Yoma 74b)." The perceived lack of security left the skeptic anxious and uncomfortable even after filling himself on manna.
We find, however, that Moshe instituted the first blessing of Birchas Hamazon when Bnei Yisrael were granted the manna, in fulfillment of the commandment (Devarim 8:10), "you will eat and be satisfiedand bless G-d" (Berachos 48b). How could the consumption of themanna be cause for a blessing to thank G-d for satisfaction, when in fact it was a "food of hunger" and affliction?
Unlike all other aspects of the physical reality, the manna was unique in that it was obviously being regenerated anew by Divine will each day, and it had no "life of its own". Conversely, in foods that have a shelf life or "basket life", the Divine energy that is recreating them at each moment is not evident; their continued existence seems inherently certain, and not dependent on any "outside" influence.
Consequently, the very "deficiency" which caused the manna to not satisfy the person who sought confidence and self-reliance, would make it the greatest source of satisfaction for the humble man of faith who values a constant and revealed relationship with G-d. Hedelights in being sustained by means in which G-d's influence is clear and revealed, and not from sources where G-d's active involvement is obscured. The manna's direct revelation of the Divine satisfies him more than the sense of security provided by material means, making the manna the food over which it can most fittingly be said, "you will eat and be satisfied" and therefore, "bless G-d."
—Toras Menachem, Sefer Hamaamarim Melukat vol. 4, p. 186

Thou Shalt Not Worship Thyself

הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ . . וְרָם לְבָבֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ אֶת ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ (דברים ח, יא-יד)
BEWARE LEST YOU FORGET G-D, YOUR G-D… AND YOUR HEART WILL GROW HAUGHTY, AND YOU WILL FORGET G-D, YOUR G-D. (DEVARIM 8:11-14)
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The Talmud (Sotah 5a) comments: "From where is derived a prohibition against the haughty? R' Nachman bar Yitzchak said: From the verse, ‘And your heart will grow haughty and you will forget G-d, your G-d'; which is preceded by, ‘Beware lest you forget G-d, your G-d'." Indeed, the Sefer Mitzvos Gadol lists arrogance as one of the 365 unique prohibitions in the Torah. The Rambam, however, does not count arrogance as one of the 365 prohibitions. Why not?
Regarding most sins, the Torah states that G-d "dwells with them, even amidst their defilements", which means, "Although they are unclean, the Divine Presence is among them (Rashi, Vayikra16:16)". An exception to that rule is arrogance, of which the Talmud says (Sotah, ibid), "Every man in whom there is haughtiness, G-d declares, ‘I and he cannot both dwell in the world'." The reason for this lies in the very words of the verse, "Beware lest you forget… and your heart will grow haughty". For the possibility for a person to become conceited and boastful is a direct result of forgetting the only true existence, G-d. He consequently views the world as hispersonal space and dwelling place, driving G-d from his own home, as it were.
As such, the Rambam did not count arrogance as a unique prohibition of its own. For in this sense, the prohibition against arrogance is included in the prohibition of idolatry…
—Toras Menachem vol. 9, pp. 116-120

First Words

AND YOU SHALL TEACH THEM TO YOUR CHILDREN TO SPEAK WITH THEM. (DEVARIM 11:19)
At what age is a father obligated to teach his son? When he begins to speak, he should teach him "Torah tzivah lanu Moshe…", as well as the first verse of Shema Yisrael. —Shulchan Aruch Harav, Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:1


In the previous parsha, Va'eschana, the Torah commands us: "– You shall teach them thoroughly to your children". Rashi (6:7) explains that "children" in that context is a reference to students, and the words ושננתם לבניך instruct us to teach the Torah to all who seek to study, and not only to our own children. It is only from the command in Parshas Eikev "וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֹתָם אֶת בְּנֵיכֶם לְדַבֵּר בָּם - teach them to your children to speak with them" that we learn the Halachic obligation for a father to personally teach the Torah to his biological progeny. (See Shulchan Aruch Harav, Hilchos Talmud Torah 1:1.)
These two phrases are interpreted differently because the commandment of ושננתם, to teach the Torah thoroughly (see Rashi there), can only begin when a child is of the age of comprehension, whereas the commandment ולמדתם speaks of a much earlier stagein education.
The commandment of ולמדתם is to "teach your children to speak with them", that a child's earliest speech should be words of Torah. As Rashi explains, this means, "From the moment your son knows how to speak, teach him (the verse) "Moshe commanded us the Torah." Let him learn speech through this." This obligation obviously begins at home, long before the child can be sent to a teacher. Clearly then, this refers to a parent's personal obligationto teach Torah to his children, an obligation which begins when the child first begins to talk. Already at this early age, the father must recite verses of Torah with his child, thereby etching words of Torah in the child's memory.
—Likutei Sichos vol. 9, p. 33 fn. 3, and Sichos Kodesh 5737, 20 Av

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Middle East

בֹּאוּ וּרְשׁוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע ה’ לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב לָתֵת לָהֶם וּלְזַרְעָם אַחֲרֵיהֶם (דברים א, ח)
COME AND POSSESS THE LAND WHICH G-D SWORE TO YOUR FOREFATHERS, TO AVRAHAM, TO YITZCHAK, AND TO YAACOV, TO GIVE THEM AND THEIR DESCENDANTS AFTER THEM. (DEVARIM 1:8)
No one will contest the matter, and you will not need to go to war; if they had not sent the spies, they would not have needed weapons of war. —Rashi


Moshe rebuked Bnei Yisrael for their misdeeds in the desert, chiefly their acceptance of the spies’ report about the dangers of entering the Land of Israel: “You did not want to go up, and you rebelled against the commandment of G-d”. This caused them to be denied entry to the Land of Israel for forty years. Furthermore, Rashi explains that if not for listening to the spies, Bnei Yisrael could have entered the Land of Israel without any battle at all: “No one will contest the matter, and you will not need to go to war.”
A careful reading of Rashi shows, however, that his concluding statement speaks not of accepting the spies’ report, but of an earlier mistake, “if they had not sent the spies”. Furthermore, Rashi begins by saying that G-d was ready to bring Bnei Yisrael in to the land of Israel without war, but he concludes saying that they would not have needed weapons.
These changes indicate that Rashi is referring here to another point, in addition to Moshe’s rebuke. Moshe is addressing what could have happened even after Bnei Yisrael sent the spies. If only they hadn’t refused to forge ahead based on the spies’ report, Bnei Yisrael would have conquered Eretz Yisrael without a fight. The mere sight of Bnei Yisrael’s military capabilities would have caused anyone who opposed them to flee.
Yet before then, an even greater opportunity had been forfeited. The request to send spies, as a preparation for conquering the land through natural means, indicated a lack of trust in G-d’s plan to deliver the land into their hands miraculously. If not for this lack of faith, says Rashi, even the show of strength by bearing arms would have been unnecessary.
The same is true of our return to our homeland with the coming of Moshaich. If we have the faith and courage to openly state that the Land of Israel is ours as a G-d given right, then the land will be given into our hands without any conflict, without even carrying weapons.
—Likutei Sichos vol. 34, pp. 7-8

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Nine Days

The first nine days of the month ofAv, and also the morning of the tenth,1 are days of acute mourning for the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples.
During this time, we don’t:
  • Eat meat or drink wine, for during this period the sacrifices and wine libations in the Holy Temple ceased.2The exceptions to this rule are meat and wine consumed on Shabbat or as part of a meal that celebrates amitzvah, such as a circumcision, bar mitzvah, or the completion of a tractate of the Talmud.
  • Launder clothing (except for a baby’s)—even if they will not be worn during the Nine Days—or wear freshly laundered outer clothing.3 Those who wish to change their clothing daily should prepare a number of garments and briefly don each of them before the onset of the Nine Days. Then it is permitted to wear these “non-freshly laundered” garments during the Nine Days.
  • Swim or bathe for pleasure.
  • Remodel or expand a home.
  • Plant trees to be used for shade or fragrance (as opposed to fruit trees).
  • Buy, sew, weave or knit new clothing—even if they will be worn only after the Nine Days.
    Exceptions to this rule: (a) If you will miss a major sale, or if the garment will be unavailable later. (b) For the purpose of a mitzvah, such as purchasing new clothing for a bride and groom.
  • Cut nails during the actual week of the fast of Tisha B’Av—i.e., starting from the Saturday night before the fast until the conclusion of the Nine Days.
  • The Sephardic custom is to observe the stringencies regarding meat, wine and bathing only in the week of Tisha B’Av.
    Some more observances:
    • The Sanctification of the Moon is postponed until after Tisha B’Av.
    • There is no law forbidding traveling during the Nine Days; however, it is customary to refrain from traveling (or engaging in any potentially perilous activity) during these days, unless it is absolutely necessary.
    • One may become engaged to be married during this period, but no celebration should be held until after Tisha B’Av.
    Note: All these restrictions are in addition to the restrictions that apply during all of the Three Weeks.

    Shabbat Chazon

    The Shabbat preceding the Ninth of Av is called Shabbat Chazon—“Shabbat of the Vision.” This Shabbat’s reading from the Prophets begins with the wordsChazon Yeshayahu, the “vision of Isaiah” regarding the destruction of the Holy Temple. The legendary chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said that on this special Shabbat, every Jewish soul is shown a vision of the third Holy Temple. The purpose of this vision is to arouse within every Jew a yearning to actually see this edifice which will be built by G‑d, and to do as many mitzvotas possible in order to realize this dream. While this vision may not be sensed with the physical eyes, the soul certainly experiences this vision, and it affects the person on the subconscious level.
    There is no mourning on Shabbat
  • If We try to moderate the sadness through participating in permissible celebrationspossible, this week’s havdalah wine or grape juice should be given to a child—younger than bar/bat mitzvah age—to drink.
  • When the month of Av enters, we reduce our joy . . .”
    —Talmud, Taanit 26b
    The entire month of Av is considered to be an inopportune time for Jews. Our sages advised that a Jew who is scheduled to have a court hearing—or anything of a similar nature—against a gentile during this month should try to postpone it until after Av, or at least until after the Nine Days.
    On the positive side, as we get closer and closer to the messianic era, when these days will be transformed from days of sadness to days of joy, we start to focus on the inner purpose of the destruction, which is to bring us to a higher level of sensitivity and spirituality, and ultimately to the rebuilding—with even greater grandeur and glory—of all that was destroyed.
    We therefore try to moderate the sadness through participating in permissible celebrations. It is therefore the Chabad custom to have someone complete a tractate of the Talmud each day of the Nine Days, in order to infuse these days with permissible joy.

War of Words

For forty years in the desert, the primary occupation of Bnei Yisrael was the study of Torah. The battles against their enemies were fought through supernatural means: “As the Aron travels… Your enemies shall scatter and your haters shall flee (Bamidbar 10:35)”.
Now, Bnei Yisrael stood poised to conquer the Land of Israel from the seven gentile nations who lived there, which would take (seven years of) physical fighting and warfare. For what purpose did Moshe translate the Torah into seventy languages at this point? How was translating the Torah necessary or relevant for the phase that Bnei Yisrael were about to enter?
The answer is that by translating the Torah, Moshe was taking a critical part in the conquest of the seven nations who occupied the Land of Israel.
For everything that transpires in the physical world has a spiritual source. Success at our endeavors in the physical world begins through change affected in the spiritual realm. According to the Kabbala, the seven nations who occupied the Land of Israel are the collective source of all seventy nations of the world. By bringing the Torah into all seventy languages, breaching the language barrierbetween the Torah and the seventy nations, Moshe began the spiritual conquest of all the nations of the world.
Now that Moshe achieved this spiritual victory, Bnei Yisrael were ready to deliver a physical victory as well.
—Sichos Kodesh 5730 vol. 1, Parshas Va’eira

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Village or City?

Several verses in the books of Devarim (3:4-5, 14) and Yehoshua (13:30) speak of as many as sixty (!) cities included in Yair's territory. Why then does the Torah speak only of villages conquered by and named for Yair?
A few verses earlier, the Torah mentions that Bnei Yisrael renamed cities which were previously named for idols and idolatry. The commentaries (see Rabbeinu Bechaye) explain that this was in fact the motive of the tribes who asked to settle in the lush lands of Sichon and Og: to prevent these agriculturally attractive areas from being repopulated by idol-worshippers who would dedicate these cities to pagan deities once again. Instead, the tribes of Reuven, Gad and Menasheh capitalized on the opportunity to occupy these cities with service of G-d, and to annul the idolatry which previously occupied this space by changing its name and identity.
By referring to the areas that Yair conquered as villages, the Torah alludes to this transformation. Chazal (see Chagigah 13b, Rashi ad loc.) contrast the reaction of one who lives in a metropolis or capital city upon seeing the king, with the way a villager reacts and reports it. For the urbanite, the king and his entourage are a common sight. For the villager who is unfamiliar with seeing royalty, this is exciting and novel.
Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that Yair conquered “villages” and called them “Villages of Yair”. For Yair’s line of work was marked by the villager-like constant excitement of the King of Kings making His appearance in places where until then He was relatively unknown.
—Likutei Sichos vol. 38, pp. 120-121