מי שענה

There is a section of סליחות that is repeated each day that begins with the words, מי שענה. There is a long list of biblical characters who were answered by Hashem in times of crisis.

We mention Moshe on Mount Sinai, Avraham in the fiery furnace, Yitzchak at the Akeida, along with many others. The purpose of this section is to remind us of how Hashem answers the prayers of the righteous and to all who call out to Him in truth.

Human nature plays tricks with us and doesn't allow us to fully grasp how much Hashem is there for us. Too often I see situations where we witness our own little miracle of salvation. And instead of rejoicing with it, we acknowledge it but then worry how we will overcome the next challenge sent our way.

That little miracle of seeing a loved one recover from an illness, or someone falling in love with his intended, or miraculously being given the gift of being able to live in Israel, are not small things. They are indications of Hashem's love and protection.

In our own way, when we witness our own מי שענה, that Hashem answers us, it should certainly give us the peace of mind that just as He is with us now, He will always be with us and never forsake us.

הנשמה לך

As the Selichot season are now upon us, it is important to recognize some of the recurring themes of these special prayers.

At the beginning of each סליחות service, there is a lengthy prayer that ends with the words, הנשמה לך והגוף פעלך, the soul belongs to Hashem and the body is His handiwork.

The continuation of this prayer says that we have come with reliance on Hashem's holy name. We ask that Hashem give us salvation for the sake of His holy name.

This is setting the tone as Rosh Hashana approaches. We need to be in a state of absolute humility and dependence on Hashem. The more we achieve this total הכנעה or surrender, to Hashem, the more likely it is that our prayers will be answered.

Humility is always an admired trait. Now it is needed for our very survival.

Priorities

Shavua Tov. I found an interesting Pasuk from the Book of Mishlei that is appropriate for this holiday season. It is from Chapter 17 verse 1. It reads as follows:

"Better a dry piece of bread with peace in it than a house full of contentious celebrations." The interpretation is given by the Malbim who says that worldly success may be an illusion. A pauper with a tranquil home is more fortunate than a wealthy person, whose home is filled with strife.

At this time, we are to give serious reflection on what is truly important in life. Many chase rainbows and believe that wealth is the answer to everything. They somehow are unable to count their blessings and realize how wealthy they really are by having Shalom Bayit and a home filled with love and harmony.

The statement that money can't buy happiness should be taken very seriously. This is the time when we must do some serious soul searching to be certain that we get our priorities right and focus on the important and throw out the unimportant.

היום

A common idea that is mentioned throughout ספר דברים and פרשת נצבים-וילך, is how we translate the word היום. We all know that the simple translation is "today". But the commentators repeatedly mention that היום is teaching us that we should always view the Torah as if we received it today.

The message here is that we must not allow Judaism to become stale and a matter of routine. After all, we repeat the same prayers every day and follow the same patterns of religious practice throughout the year. It is difficult to get excited about practices that are done over and over again.

However, everything is about our mindset. If we see things as boring and monotonous, that's how they will be. But if we can change this mindset to one of intense gratitude to Hashem, with the recognition that every day is a gift from Him, we will also appreciate the greatest gift of all- the Torah.

When we see the world through positive eyes with hope and optimism, we see every day as a new beginning. It becomes easy to feel as if the Torah was given היום. Shabbat Shalom

Shofar and Lulav on Shabbat

There is an interesting explanation to the question as to why we do not blow the Shofar if Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbat. The same question applies to why we do not take our Lulav on Shabbat of Succot.

The difficult part of the question is that both Shofar and Lulav are Torah laws, and yet the rabbinic concern that we might come to carry, outweighs these Torah laws.

The answer to this question has to do with the concepts of קום ועשה, "Get up and do it", which applies to positive commandments, and שב ואל תעשה, "Sit and don't do it" that applies to negative commandments.

The Mitzvot of Shofar and Lulav are positive commandments. If we fulfill them, we have fulfilled the Mitzva. If we don't do the Mitzva, we haven't done anything wrong. In this case, we are commanded to שב ואל תעשה, stay at home and do not do the Mitzva.

The Rabbis felt that the risk of carrying had more at stake than Shofar and Lulav. Carrying on Shabbat could be punishable with סקילה, stoning. Therefore, better not to fulfill Shofar and Lulav, that is not a sin, but an unfulfilled Mitzva, than risk carrying that is a very severe negative commandment.

Viduy

Another important theme of the holiday season is the concept of וידוי, or confession. The Rambam mentions that the essence of Teshuva is וידוי. It is also a Torah commandment to confess one's sins as is written, והתודו את חטאתם, "and they shall confess their sins."

There are different aspects of this Mitzva of Viduy. One is simply that we must overcome the difficulty in being able to admit when we are wrong. Often those three little words, "I was wrong," are so difficult to utter. Our egos don't allow it and we must learn to swallow our pride.

But perhaps another more important aspect of Viduy is the ability to be able to review our lives and admit to the mistakes that we may have made. It takes strength for us to own up to our past indiscretions. However, it is essential that we not delude ourselves about what is the truth.

After doing some serious soul searching, it is also necessary to accept what was, but not dwell on it. Our past mistakes should give us the resolve to be stronger and not repeat those same mistakes. All of this fixing, begins with וידוי and the ability to honestly and humbly face the world.

Thirteen Attributes

A major theme of the High Holiday season is the role of the י״ג מידות, or the thirteen attributes of Hashem. We were introduced to these attributes when Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf.

Hashem Himself taught Moshe the י״ג מידות and explained to him that its recitation changed the heavenly decree of pure judgement into mercy. It was almost as if by saying these "magic words", the results would be favorable for the person saying them. This is especially important when we consider that Rosh Hashana is known as the יום הדין.

The Rabbis teach us that nobody can survive when we are faced with Hashem's דין, or justice. Therefore, we must judge others favorably so that He will treat us in similar fashion.

We should pay attention to these י״ג מידות and say them with great Kavana. The Selichot prayers have them several times as does the Yom Kippur prayers. And in the final prayers of נעילה, they are said at least seven times. May we all be granted Hashem's abundant mercy.

Specialness of Am Yisrael

Moshe Rabbeinu, in his closing address to the nation, reminds them of the special role they are to play throughout history.

We have a Pasuk that tells us that we are to be an עם סגולה, a unique and special nation. And the following verse says ולתתך עליון על כל הגוים, that you are  to be "above" all of the other nations. It is to be לשם ולתפארת ולהיותך לעם קדוש. You are to be a name and adornment and a holy nation.

Based on the Talmud in מסכת ברכות, the תורה תמימה says that these praises are meant to show the importance of עם ישראל by remaining separate from the other nations. We become an עם סגולה by staying together and not mingling with the other nations.

We welcome sincere converts from all nations who come to us for guidance, rather than our going out to them and risking being tainted by טומאת העמים, the impurities of the nations.

Our Challenge to G-d

Shavua Tov. Today's Parsha made it clear that there will be abundant blessings if we follow the ways of Hashem, and horrible curses and punishments, if we do not listen.

There is an interesting Pasuk that seems to allow us to challenge Hashem. When it says, השקיפה ממעון קדשך מן השמים וברך את עמך ישראל, that Hashem should look upon us from His heavenly dwelling place, and bless His nation, Israel.

Rashi quotes the Midrash in the ספרי and says that we are actually saying to Hashem in a somewhat demanding way, "We did that which was decreed upon us. Now it's Your turn to fulfill Your promises." We are entitled to rain its proper time, and all of the other blessings of abundance.

We must remember that for the nation, this declaration was made twice every seven years. It followed our announcing that for the past three years, we were meticulous in taking all of the proper tithes and we forgot nothing. If we are able to say this, we can ask Hashem to do His part.

But the Kohanim say this every morning after Bircat Kohanim. They similarly ask for Hashem's blessings after they did their job of blessing the people. May we all be worthy of Hashem's abundant blessings.

Walk in His Ways

One of the lesser known laws mentioned in פרשת כי תבוא is והלכת בדרכיו, that we are to walk in Hashem's ways. The Rambam uses this Mitzva as the basis for staying physically fit. He says that we are to walk in Hashem's ways and not crawl in his ways.

This is the basis for הלכות דעות, the laws of dispositions in the Mishna Torah of the Rambam. We are to eat right and exercise so that we are able to literally walk and not crawl in Hashem's ways.

The של״ה הקודש adds a little to the previous idea. He says that not only must we try to see to it that all of our limbs are in perfect condition, but this also applies to our spiritual and emotional faculties. They, too, must be in good working order.

We must be gracious to others, as G-d is gracious to us. When we fulfill והלכת בדרכיו, we become a מרכבה, a carrier of Hashem's Presence on earth. Man's purpose is to perfect his resemblance to the Divine. We do this by fulfilling, והלכת בדרכיו. Shabbat Shalom

Breaking Bad Habits

One of my favorite quotes is from Rav Yisrael Salanter. He said, "The loudest sound in the world, is the sound of a bad habit breaking!

The Rambam also speaks of the danger in doing even minor sins habitually. Unless a person does Teshuva, he also could lose his share of Olam Haba.

Some of these minor infractions done on a regular basis are: Calling a person by a nickname ( even if he doesn't mind,) embarrassing someone in public, getting honor at someone else's expense, treating one's rabbis and Torah scholars in a demeaning way, and not showing proper respect for Chol Hamoed, by treating more in a profane manner rather than in a holy manner.

The Rambam recommends some serious soul searching for habitual violators of these sins mentioned. We must not despair for there is always room for Teshuva.

Other Deviants

Continuing with the subject of those who lose their share of Olam Haba, there are three others that the Rambam enumerates. They are: מגלה פנים בתורה, the מוסר, and מטילי אימה על הציבור.

The מגלה פנים בתורה refers to one who does עבירות with no shame. He reveals himself as having no reverence for the Torah. He is like King Yehoyakim who similarly did gross acts of disrespect towards Hashem and the Torah.

The מוסר is a traitor. There are two kinds of מוסר. One hands over a Jew to a non-Jewish court to stand trial. (It is not believed he will get a fair trial.) The second type of מוסר hands over Jewish property to non-Jews.

The third group that loses its share of Olam Haba, are the מטילי אימה על הציבור. These are people who misuse their position of authority. They needlessly put fear into the community and it is not לשם שמים. They are only interested in their own honor and glory. These are considered very severe for which תשובה is difficult.

We must constantly work on ourselves to avoid all negative personality traits.

Rodeif- Rape and Murder

There is a Pasuk in כי תצא that needs some interpretation as to what it means. While discussing the subject of rape, the wording is: כי כאשר יקום איש על רעהו ורצחו נפש כן הדבר הזה. The translation would be, "Just as in a case where one gets up and murders his friend, so it is the same in this matter."

This is a perfect example of a need for the Oral Law to make sense as to what it is saying.

The explanation of the Rabbis is that this Pasuk is referring to the דין רודף. When it says that it is the same in this matter, rape, as in the matter of murder, the Torah is telling us that we have the same permission to do anything possible to stop a rape as we are expected to do to stop a murder. That is, even if we have no choice but to kill the atracker in each case, we are allowed and even commanded to do so.

When carefully studying the Torah, we see many questions that our rabbis have dealt with and explained.

Truth

Another observation made by the של״ה הקודש in connection with the Parsha is the importance of telling the truth. He says that Hashem hates שקר and all types of falsehood.

There are laws related to proper weights and measures as an example of honesty. The returning of a lost article also involves the integrity to do the right thing. The same could be said regarding the taking of interest.

There are laws in the Parsha dealing with not lying about the integrity of one's new wife and bringing a bad name on her. And there are rules about fulfilling one's vows.

The Torah explicitly says מוצא שפתיך תשמור, that one must guard his lips.

It is fitting that the Parsha ends with עמלק who are the epitome of falsehood.

Shlomo Hamelech once said that he would rather forego all of his wealth than say a word of falsehood. And the Rambam says that a false oath, even though it does not carry with it כרת or a death penalty, is considered a severe violation.

In short, we must take great care to always be truthful.

Shatnez

Shavua Tov. Among the numerous laws mentioned in today's Parsha, is the law of Shatnez, forbidding a mixture of wool and linen.

This Mitzva is known as a חוק, one that we are not meant to understand its reason. &&Some say that separating wool and linen is learned from Cain and Abel. Cain, representing the linen as he was a farmer, and Abel, the wool, as he handled the sheep. This is an answer but not really that clear.

The של״ה הקודש gives an interesting answer by scrambling the letters of the word, שעטנז. He says that the same five letters of the word שעטנז, spells, "שטן עז", which means that Satan is strong when one wears Shatnez.

So be careful to check your suits for this forbidden mixture. For although we don't truly understand its reasons, its ramifications could be serious.

And, our group has a licensed Shatnez checker among its members. How convenient!

כי תצא

This week's Parsha, כי תצא, has more laws than any Parsha in the Torah. The של״ה הקודש says that of these seventy three laws, they all fall into two basic categories. One is the holiness of the body and the other has to do with handling money.

The של״ה הקודש notes that the word מטבע can have two meanings. One meaning is that we come "from nature." And the other is "coin" or "money". Man's nature is to pursue money in order to earn a livelihood. However, he direct this desire to act in a lofty way.

We are not allowed to take interest in our business transactions. We must be careful with proper weights and measures. We must not oppress our borrowers by taking away their livelihood as a pledge. We allow workers and beasts to eat on the job. Our need for money must not come with hurting others.

The holiness of the body is learned when our Parsha not only tells us about marriage, but it also tells us that a husband must be close and not leave his wife during the first year of marriage. This holiness forbids an עמוני and מואבי convert from marrying a Jewish girl. Prostitution is frowned upon as it brings forces of impurity into the world. Even during war, the camp must be kept holy by having a special area for the soldiers to relieve themselves. We protect the body by building a fence on our roofs so that nobody will get hurt.

There are more examples of handling money in a holy manner and protecting the holiness of the body. This Parsha is focused on the two in order to teach us valuable lessons. Shabbat Shalom

Other Losers

The Rambam continues to speak of others that lose their share of עולם הבא. They are known as מומר, מחטיאי הרבים, and פורש מדרכי צבור.

The מומר is one who violates either the entire Torah or one particular Mitzva with no shame. He does this in a brazen way and does this with the intention of making a mockery and angering those around him.

The מחטיאי הרבים, are those that cause others to sin. They incite people to violate the Torah by trying to convince them of the irrelevance of its laws. This applies even if we were speaking of a more trivial law like Shatnez, or a more serious violation such as idol worship. Either way, he is dangerous.

One who is פורש מדרכי ציבור is one who separates himself from the community. He may not even violate the Torah but does not observe the commandments together with them. If a public fast is declared, for example, he will not fast together with the rest of the community. This is considered serious enough to cause such a person to lose his share of the next world.

אפיקורס, מין, כופר

On a more optimistic note, the Rambam mentions that even רשעים who have more sins than Mitzvot, still have a share in the world to come. He also says that חסידי אומות העולם, righteous Gentiles, have a share in עולם הבא.

However, says the Rambam in chapter three of הלכות תשובה, that there are certain individuals who will not have a share of the next world, because their level of evil is absolutely intolerable.

He lists about twelve categories of such despicable human beings. I will describe them in the coming days.

The top three are מינים, אפיקורסים, and כופרים.

The מינים are deniers in the existence of G-d. Or they believe that G-d does not supervise the world or that there is more than one G-d. Or, he may believe that G-d has a physical form, or he may worship the stars as an intermediary. All of these are מין.

The אפיקורס does not believe that Hashem communicates with man, and does not believe in prophecy. He does not accept the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu. And he does not believe that Hashem knows the thoughts and actions of man. This is an אפיקורס.

The כופרים are deniers. The כופר בתורה does not accept that the Torah is from Hashem. Even if he denies one word of the Torah is not from Hashem, he is a כופר. If he says that Moshe made things up and they were not from Hashem, he is also a כופר.

We begin to see why these individuals have a different status than everyone else. More tomorrow, G-d willing.

Always Room for Teshuva

The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva talks about what a true Baal Teshuva is. He describes this as someone who stumbles by sinning, and he sincerely regrets his indiscretion. He becomes a true Baal Teshuva when confronted with the same sin, but this time refrains.

The Rambam also refers to a strange Gemara in מסכת שבת that talks about different physical signs of aging that ultimately ends with a person's death. There are signs of such aging in one's forehead and in his eyes. It also can be seen in one's jaw that all show deterioration.

While all of this is painfully morbid, the Rambam does this in order to make a point. As long as there is still a breath of life in an individual, as long as he acknowledges Hashem as the Creator, and he shows genuine remorse for his sins, he will be saved and granted a share in the next world.

We must never despair. There is always room for Teshuva!

Elul

Now that the month of Elul has begun and we blow the Shofar each morning, and add the prayer, לדוד ה׳ אורי, it is time to begin reflecting on the task ahead. We are to feel grateful to Hashem that He gives us the opportunity to start over again by doing Teshuva.

Sometimes it seems redundant that time passes so quickly and the Chagim are already upon us. Nevertheless, the seriousness and intensity of what lies ahead, should not be taken lightly.

The real issue is that we must never take anything for granted and that all that we have is because of Hashem's kindness. His חשבונות and calculations are far beyond our comprehension. The more we rely on Hashem, the more we feel His closeness and protection.

If Rosh Hashana is called the יום הדין, it's because every creation is being judged and his fate is being decided at this time of year. I thought it worthwhile that we begin to have the mindset necessary for this coming season. May we all be written and inscribed for a healthy and happy new year as we do sincere Teshuva.