Honesty

A complaint that I often hear is that it is difficult to comprehend how Jews can be so unethical when it comes to money matters. It is particularly painful when the dishonest Jew in question is supposedly religious.

It's a horrible feeling to be cheated when the cheater seems to have no conscious when it comes to keeping his word or being honest. We shake our heads in disbelief and wonder how it is possible for another Jew to act in such a deplorable manner.

I have always felt that everything comes down to a lack of יראת שמים, fear of Heaven. If one truly fears G-d and understands that he is accountable for his  actions, he would not dare harm another person in any way at all. This is the real test of one's level of religiosity. Does he have Yirat Shamayim or not?

The Talmud in Brachot 6b, speaks of the merits of the G-d fearing Jew. One who has fear of G-d will have his words heard by his peers. Rabbi Elazar said that the whole world was created for the G-d fearing Jew.

Maybe the Gemara is telling us that the world can only retain its sense of sanity and goodness without the G-d fearing. Without them, the world would be left with dishonest thieves.

First Born Animal

The idea of בכור regarding animals, still applies today. The Torah tells us that ALL first borns are sanctified to Hashem-including animals. This means that one who raises cattle is supposed to be aware of when the females give birth to their first offspring.

If this offspring is a male, it has immediate Kedusha. The Torah forbids us to work that animal or to use it's shearing for any purpose as it is tampering with Hekdesh.

The sanctity of this first born animal ends when the animal gets a blemish. After this, the animal loses its sanctity and can be used for any purpose and can be eaten.

Israeli farmers are aware of this law and have come up with two solutions. One, is to take the animal to pasture and wait for it to develop a  מום, blemish. The second solution is to sell the fetus to a non-Jew, usually a Druze. The Druze technically owns the animal and after birth the animal is bought back by the Jew. This is similar to selling Chametz on Pesach.

It is very interesting to see these ancient laws come back in our time, as Jews return to their ancestral homeland.

The Meisit

Yesterday's Parsha discusses the subject of the מסית. He is one incites people to worship idols or to turn away from observing the Mitzvot.

The Meisit is a very dangerous individual and we are to come down very hard on him. We are not to cover up for him and we are to find the toughest and meanest judges. Judges who fit this description are either grumpy old men or childless judges. If found guilty of such incitement, they are put to death by the court.

On a radio program this past Friday, the rabbi spoke of the מסיתים of today. He said that so much care must be taken to put our children in the best possible environment. Otherwise, the numerous מסיתים that are in the world today, might incite innocent souls and take them away from Torah. Unfortunately, there are numerous choices that young people have that appear to be more exciting than Torah Judaism. Again, the Torah which is for all ages, gives us fair warning about giving proper guidance to our children.

Eating Meat

Shavua Tov. Until now, I thought that there was something admirable about refraining from eating meat. This sentiment was felt because of the wording of the Torah, כי תאוה נפשך לאכול בשר, when your heart desires to eat meat.

Meat that was not eaten as part of a sacrifice was referred to as בשר תאוה, which could also be translated as "meat of lust." This implied that the Torah was allowing us to meat if we have a "desire" to eat meat, that could be interpreted to mean that those who do not desire meat are on a high level.

Then I came across the commentary of the של״ה הקודש. Clearly, putting non-Kosher meat or food into our holy bodies is מטמטם את הלב, confuses the heart. However, when one meticulously observes the laws of שחיטה, ritual slaughter, is raising the level of the animal soul to its own high level of purity.

This implies that eating meat according to Halacha with the intention of strengthening our bodies to better serve Hashem, becomes an act of Kedusha that allows Hashem to dwell among us.

There is merit in being a vegetarian, but meat lovers need not feel inferior if they eat their meat with the right Kavana.

Charity

The Mitzva of giving Tzedaka is learned from פרשת ראה. It comes from the words פתוח תפתח, that we shall surely open our hands to the poor.

The של״ה הקודש says that if we did not help the poor, they would have no choice but to resort to stealing. The idea of forgiving debts in the Sabbatical year is also a form of charity and is also mentioned in the Parsha. It is also derived from the wording of the Torah that really everything belongs to Hashem, and by giving charity we are giving back what is His.

The Rabbis say that צדקה תציל ממות, that charity saves from death. Rav Elazar Abuchatzeira זצ״ל used to say that if Tzedaka saves a person from death, it also saves him from the IRS and from jail, and certainly from sickness.

Hashem wants to see generosity on our part. The number of times that we open our hands to the poor, so will Hashem open His hand to us. We must never minimize the importance of this Mitzva. Shabbat Shalom

טומאת העמים

This week's Parsha, ראה , has fifty four laws in it. These laws helped shape Jewish life when they were to enter Eretz Yisrael.

A strong point that is made in the Parsha is that the land is not able to tolerate idol worship. There is a commandment to destroy all forms of עבודה זרה in order to purify the land. However, we are to be careful not to destroy any of our holy places where the name of G-d is upon it. This includes the prohibition to destroy a synagogue.

The של״ה הקודש quotes the Talmud in Chullin 13 that says that Gentiles outside of Israel are not considered idol worshippers. This is because the rest of the world is ruled by negative forces. Chutz L'aretz is defined as טומאת העמים, the impurity of the nations. The Rabbis assigned Chutz L'aretz a degree of טומאה that one needed to purify himself for whenever one left Israel. Because of all of this, idol worship outside of Israel was not such a contradiction.

This also helps us understand why the Rambam felt that it was preferable for a non-Jew to practice Christianity or the Islamic religion, than no religion at all. He no doubt was speaking of חוץ לארץ where the negative forces are present. It was better that they believe in something rather than believe in nothing. And as long as it was חוץ לארץ, it wasn't really עבודה זרה.

All of this kind of makes one wonder why a Jew would choose to live anywhere but Israel.

Few in Number

There are two explanations to Moshe's reminder that we were not chosen for our special role among the nations because of our great numbers. On the contrary, we are very small in numbers.

The של״ה הקודש explains that our low numbers emphasizes the importance of humility. In other words, Hashem does not love us because of our numbers, but because of our humility.

Leaders of the Gentiles like Nimrod, Pharoah, and Nebuchadnezzar, displayed great arrogance.

Our leaders displayed humility. Avraham Avinu said that he was dust and ashes. Moshe and Aharon said, אנחנו מה, what are we? And King David said that he was a worm and not a man.

The second explanation of our small numbers is to teach us that we must remain separate from the other nations. When we maintain our unique character and way of life, we will experience greater blessings than the other nations.

Specialness of Eretz Yisrael

An important point made in last week's Parsha, is the specialness of Eretz Yisrael. The beginning of the Parsha speaks about how Hashem is bringing us to a good land that is lacking nothing. It is the land of the Seven Species where we do not need to eat bread in poverty.

The end of the Parsha also speaks about Israel and says that it is not like Egypt. Rashi says that it is a better land than Egypt. The eyes of Hashem are upon this land from the start of the year to the end of the year.

The intention of Judaism was that we become a nation not a religion. As a nation, we are meant to all live together in our land. The three parts of Judaism are עם ישראל, תורת ישראל, ארץ ישראל, the Torah, the people, and the land.

It is simply not natural for a Jew to be living outside of our land. Rashi even points out that the observance of Mitzvot outside of Israel are for practice, so that we will know what to do when we come home.

We must never minimize the important role that Israel plays for every Jew. And especially today, when every Jew is free to come, the gift of Eretz Yisrael should not be taken for granted.

Fear G-d

The של״ה הקודש makes a connection between Shlomo Hamelech and yesterday's Parsha. At the end of Kohelet, we have the famous Pasuk: סוף דבר הכל נשמע את האלוקים ירא ואת מצוותיו תשמור כי זה כל האדם. That when looking at all of the endeavors and pursuits of man, when all is said and done, we are to fear G-d and keep His commandments. This is all there is to man.

This was Shlomo's conclusion after pondering and trying for himself that which occupies man. In the end, all is vanity and this world is full of injustices. The only thing that is worthwhile is to fear G-d and keep His commandments, for this is all there is to man.

Similarly, in the Parsha, Moshe asks, "What does Hashem want from you, but to fear Him and keep His commandments and walk in His ways.

And for good measure, King David also uses the phrase, ראשית חכמה יראת ה׳, the beginning of wisdom is to fear Hashem.

We learn from Moshe, David, and Shlomo that what grounds us and keeps us focused is that we always remember to fear Hashem as the basis of our lives.

The Enemy from Within

This Shabbat's Haftarah was the second of seven Haftarot of comfort following Tisha B'Av. There is a very strong Pasuk in today's text that is worth remembering.

The Prophet Isaiah tells us מהרסיך ומחריביך ממך יצאו, that the destroyers and damagers of Klal Yisrael will come from within. In other words, historically, our troubles always begin from Jewish traitors who turn us over to the enemy, and help fan the flames of hatred against us.

The של״ה הקודש says that this enemy from within is the Eirav Rav or mixed multitude. He blames Moshe Rabbeinu for accepting these questionable converts during the exodus from Egypt. Hashem was not in favor of letting them in but deferred to Moshe.

The strong lesson here is that it becomes very dangerous when people believe that they are more compassionate than the Torah. Hashem is perfection as are His laws. We need to learn these lessons that have had very serious consequences for us. Shavua Tov

יסורים של אהבה

In this week's Parsha, we have a reference to יסורים, generally translated to mean, "suffering or rebuke. The Torah tells us that just as a father מייסר, rebukes his son, so does Hashem rebuke the Jewish people.

The subject of יסורים is difficult to understand. On the one hand, the Talmud in Brachot says that one who is עוסק בתורה, busies himself with the study of Torah, will not be visited by יסורים. And one who could be involved in Torah study, and chooses not to, will suffer יסורים.

But on the other hand, the Talmud goes on to say that if one examined his actions and cannot see where he sinned, and yet he goes through יסורים, should take on a different perspective. He should recognize that Hashem sends יסורים only on someone He truly loves. It says in Mishlei, כי את אשר יאהב ה׳ יוכיח, that Hashem rebukes the one He loves.

Whatever the case may be, we should view the difficulties that we are presented with as יסורים של אהבה, a rebuking of love." We should try to learn from these difficulties, and trust that Hashem is sending them our way to shape us and bring us closer to Him. Shabbat Shalom

A Little Perspective

Parshat עקב is probably the strongest Parsha in the Torah in terms of outright Mussar, guiding us how to live. There are numerous ideas mentioned that are designed to give us the proper perspective on life.

We must never forget how fragile man really is. All is temporary and we are constantly placed at Hashem's mercy. We must never get carried away with whatever it is that we achieved in our lives because it is Hashem that is נותן חיל, which means that He allowed for the successes to happen. Without Hashem's influence and guidance, we would not be able to accomplish anything.

We are also reminded that we must never feel a sense of entitlement, or in Hebrew we say, מגיע לי. Moshe makes a point that the nation has been rebellious from the day he met them. Whatever we have is only because of Hashem's kindness, and not because we deserve it.

Our holy Rabbis have a saying, אין אדם מורד לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא אלא מתוך שביעה, that man only rebels against G-d when he is filled up. When he feels he has it all, he doesn't need G-d. It is a challenge to always cleave to Hashem in good times as well as bad. But studying the message of עקב helps give us a little perspective.

Truth of Judaism

The Kuzari and its author, Rav Yehuda Halevi do some comparative religion. He brings a Pasuk from last week's Parsha to prove his point.

Moshe Rabbeinu actually tells the people the following: "Has G-d ever attempted to take one nation from the midst of another nation with signs and wonders, as He did in Egypt?"

The Kuzari is saying to look at the origin of each religion and how it began. Judaism began with the witnessing of supernatural miracles as well as the revelation from Hashem Himself. Every Jew of all ages heard G-d speak!

Can any other religion make such a claim of the masses witnessing beyond any doubt, the existence of G-d and His connection to His people. And even more impressive is that the other major religions acknowledge that these events actually occurred.

Moshe is strengthening the people before his death so that they pass this along to every generation. There must be no doubt to the truth and authenticity of the Jewish religion.

Three Precious Gifts

The של״ה הקודש points out that the three gifts that are acquired with יסורים, suffering, are alluded to in פרשת ואתחנן. They are the acquisition of Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and Olam Haba.

The study of Torah is emphasized by the commandment to learn Torah. This is derived by the words, ושננתם לבניך, and teach your children, taken from the Shema. How are we able to teach our children if we don't study ourselves?

Eretz Yisrael is mentioned by the commandment to destroy the seven nations. These seven nations represent the ultimate in impurity. Israel is meant to be a holy land which requires us to remove that which is not holy.

The concept of Olam Haba is hinted at whenever the word "טוב" is used. The real "good" that awaits the righteous is in the next world. This is why the Rabbis mention that one moment in Olam Haba is equal to all of the bliss one might have in his entire life.

These three precious gifts of Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and Olam Haba only come to us by way of hard work and diligence.

Her Son, Not Your Son

It is well known in Jewish law that a child is Jewish if his mother is Jewish. This is known as "matrilineal descent." I will try to explain the basis for this law.


There are two places in the Torah that deal with the subject of matrilineal descent. The first relates to the subject of the Hebrew slave. A Jew can be sold into slavery if he was a thief and was unable to pay for the item he stole. As a form of rehabilitation, the court will assign him a Jewish family to live with and work for over a period of six years.


During those six years, his master may give him a non-Jewish slave to sire children with her. The Torah is very specific in telling us that at the end of six years, when the Hebrew slave goes free, "His (non-Jewish) wife and children belong to the master, and he goes free."


The children are considered her children and not his, and they also have the status of Canaanite slaves. This case is our first proof that the offspring of a Jewish man and non-Jewish woman, follow the mother.


The second proof comes from today's Parsha that discusses the prohibition of intermarriage in Chapter seven of Deuteronomy. This is explained in the Talmud in Tractate Kiddushin 68b.


The Torah is very specific by telling us, "You shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son." The next verse begins with the words, "When your son shall be removed from before Me and he shall worship other gods."


The Talmud explains that this verse is only referring to the case of your daughter marrying a non-Jewish man but not the case of your son marrying a non-Jewish woman. The reason being that the son that comes from such a union is "her son" but not your son.


The belief based on the Talmud is that this tradition taught my Moses himself was that the offspring of the union of a Jewish man with a non-Jewish woman is "her son" and not your son. Hence, that child is not considered Jewish according to Jewish law.


Hopefully, this gives a little better understanding of the origin of matrilineal descent. We must remember that the Jewish people managed to survive through a very harsh exile, due to their strict adherence to the Torah and traditions handed down from generation to generation.

The Tenth Commandment

The Ten Commandments are repeated in this week's Parsha, ואתחנן. There are several differences between the text in פרשת יתרו and in ואתחנן. One such difference concerns the final commandment.

In יתרו, the last commandment ends with the words, לא תחמוד, which we translate to mean, "Thou shall not covet." But in ואתחנן it says, לא תתאוה, which has more of a connotation of lusting after that which our neighbor possesses.

The מכילתא explains this difference in words to teach that לא תתאוה is the first stage of coveting, and it leads to לא תחמוד, where one acts on this high level jealousy.

The לא תחמוד represents obsessing over the other person and actively wishing bad on him. This is also described as a serious רוח רעה, bad spirit that overtakes a person. It could even lead to committing crimes against that person, such as stealing or slandering.

Of all the negative personality traits that one can have, it is probably jealousy. It takes away the possibility of being happy with one's lot and prevents a person from being happy, in general.

We must work on our Midot and remove all jealousy that we possess and learn to truly be happy for other people's success. Shabbat Shalom

Mashiach

The Rambam in Hilchot Melachim discusses the coming of the Mashiach. He is emphatic that nobody really knows for sure what will happen when he comes. We are certain that there is Olam Haba and תחית המתים, the resurrection of the dead.

Some say that all three, Mashiach, Olam Haba, and תחית המתים will all come at the same time. Others, like the Rambam, say that it is a long process that will begin with no שעבוד מלכיות, servitude to other nations. The rest will come over a long period of time.

The Rambam advises that we should support the individual who claims to be the Mashiach. This depends on this person having wonderful character traits and being a great Torah scholar. If he seems that he might have these qualities and he's not a Kohein or Levi, the Rambam tells us to root for him that he is Mashiach.

If he successfully constructs the third Temple, then he is definitely the Mashiach. He will be crowned King of Israel and there will be ingathering of our people. Whatever opinion you follow, know that Mashiach's coming is a great thing for the Jewish people and the world. May he come speedily in our day.

Tisha B'Av

Five things are forbidden on Tisha B'Av: Eating and drinking, washing, anointments, wearing of leather shoes, and marital relations.

Five tragedies occurred on this day: It was decreed that the generation of the desert would not enter Israel and would die in the wilderness. First and second Temples were destroyed. Beitar was captured. Jerusalem was plowed through after the Destruction.

The expulsion of Jews from Spain also took place on the Ninth of Av.

Nevertheless, this day is called, "Moed" and no Tachanun is said. This day will one day become a day of celebration.

We put on Tefillin at Mincha and recite the prayer נחם in שמונה עשרה. We begin to anticipate and prepare ourselves for the Redemption from after midday. We also begin the שבעה דנחמתא, the Seven Weeks of Comfort between Tisha B'Av and Rosh Hashana.

Torah and Tisha B'Av

It is interesting to note that being that Tisha B'Av is a day of mourning, it is forbidden to study Torah on that day. The study of Torah truly gladdens the heart and does bring a person great joy.

For many, they do not totally relate to this idea and the joy of Torah. As it is with anything of value in this world, something of real value is only attained through hard work. The same is true of Torah study. One needs to persevere for years with great diligence, to unlock the specialness and beauty of Torah. When this is accomplished, one understands how learning Torah brings tremendous joy and satisfaction to an individual.

The Mashiach is supposed to be born on Tisha B'Av. The Rabbis describe Messianic times as those where the Tzadikim will wear crowns on their heads and will be absorbed in Torah study. This is the ultimate bliss of this world and the next.

One can now understand why the only Torah study allowed on Tisha B'Av is that which pertains to the sadness of the destruction of our two holy Temples. May the third Temple be built speedily in our day when Tisha B'Av will become a Yom Tov and day of celebration.

The Expulsion from Spain

The sin of the spies took place on Tisha B'Av when the entire nation cried all night after hearing the evil report concerning Eretz Yisrael. Hashem said that because they cried for nothing, בכיה של חינם, this day of Tisha B'Av will be a day of crying for generations, בכיה לדורות.

One such example of a tragic event on this date was the expulsion from Spain in 1492. There was a Jewish presence in Spain for over 1400 years from the time of the destruction of the second Temple. Most are familiar with the term, " the golden age of Spain." However, of the 1400 years the Jews lived in Spain, only 200 years of their stay was really pleasant.

This occurred when the Muslims had overthrown the Christian influence. They were kind to the Jews who helped the Muslims establish their rule. When the Christians again regained power, they were extremely oppressive to the Jews. Those who did not actually convert to Christianity, had to pretend to be Christian, while practicing Judaism in secret.

When the situation became unbearable, 300,000 Jews were expelled on Tisha B'Av, 1492.

Perhaps one of the lessons of this period of the "nine days" is that wherever Jews lived outside of Israel, it always ended in assimilation, expulsion, or extermination. We must never stop giving thanks that we have returned home to Israel.