Hakel and Yom Kippur

Shavua Tov. Today’s Parsha spoke about the ceremony known as הקהל, Hakel, that was done once in seven years on the Succot following the Shmitta year. ( We just began year four of the seven year cycle.)

The king read the major portions of the Torah and all of Israel were invited to attend. Even small children were encouraged to come to the Beit Hamikdash.

Rabbi Soloveitchik felt that this was compensation for not being able to be in the Temple on Yom Kippur. The Rav claimed that only the Kohanim and elite were allowed to be in the Temple courtyard witnessing the holy service of Yom Kippur by the כהן גדול.

The highlight of this service was hearing the שם המפורש, the ineffable name of G-d being uttered by the High Priest on the holiest day of the year.

It is not clear if those outside of the Temple actually heard this or not. But logistically, all of עם ישראל could not fit in the Temple.

The holiness was certainly felt all over Israel. But the actual entrance to the Temple was once in seven years. Perhaps this seems a little unfair. This made me understand and appreciate how Chassidut was founded to make everyone feel that they have a part in כלל ישראל.

הסתר פנים

The concept of הסתר פנים is mentioned in פרשת וילך. This refers to Hashem hiding His face, so to speak. We know that Hashem is always there running the world, but there are times when He is hidden. This is הסתר פנים.

Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote that the Holocaust was a period of הסתר פנים for the Jewish people. The State of Israel represented an end to Hester Panim.

The Rav explains this concept further. Hashem brings justice to the world either by מידת הדין, strict judgement, or Hester Panim. The latter is worse.

A child is able to handle a reprimand or punishment. However, rejection is unbearable. When a parent refuses to speak to his child and wants nothing to do with him, the child experiences a horrible void and pain.

The same is true of עם ישראל during periods of such rejection from G-d. Thankfully, when we now call out to Him, Hashem hears our prayers. The Shechina, Divine Presence, has returned to Israel along with 6,600,000 Jews. No more Hester Panim. The גאולה is imminent! Shabbat Shalom

עשרת ימי תשובה

The Rambam in הלכות תשובה, sums up the importance of עשרת ימי תשובה, the Ten Days of Repentance. He says the following: “Although Teshuva and crying out to Hashem, is always good for the world, during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is especially effective at this time. One who does call out to G-d during this time, is answered immediately. This is confirmed by the Prophet Isaiah when he says, דרשו ה׳בהמצאו, seek out Hashem, when He is found. This shows that this period is a most auspicious time for repentance.

The Rambam goes on to explain that this applies to an individual. But a צבור, an entire community, that does collective Teshuva, will likewise, receive an immediate positive response. The emphasis of the Pasuk regarding a צבור, is בכל קראינו אליו, when we all, collectively, call out to Him.

Our focus at this time should be both an individual and collective Teshuva on behalf of ourselves and all of כלל ישראל.

Fast of Gedalia

Shana Tova. Tomorrow is צום גדליה also known as the “Fast of the Seventh Month.” It really has nothing to do with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a direct way.

The fast commemorates the assassination of Gedalia Ben Achikam by another Jew named Yishmael Ben Netanya. This murder took place on Rosh Hashanah but we fast on the third of Tishrei.

Gedalia was granted a small area to govern in a place called Mitzpa, after the destruction of the First Temple. Many Jews who had fled to Moab, Edom, and Ammon, returned to Israel.

The king of Ammon was not happy that some of his citizens left his kingdom. He hired Yishmael Ben Netanya to assassinate Gedalia.

After this tragedy of one Jew rising up against another, there no longer was a significant Jewish presence until the Second Temple was built. The Rabbis decreed that an annual fast be observed to mourn for the destruction of the Temple.

Fasting at this time, also allowed us to focus on the seriousness of the Ten Days of Teshuva.

Hashem is King

Shavua Tov and Shana Tova. The theme of Rosh Hashanah is acknowledging that Hashem is King of the Universe. It is necessary that we establish this before we can begin asking for forgiveness for our sins.

It needs to be abundantly clear that we understand our place in relationship to G-d. The prayers for Rosh Hashanah repeatedly mention that it is our sincere desire that ומלוך על כל העולם בכבודו, that Hashem reigns the world with His glory.

In today’s world, this idea is badly needed to be adopted. It is clear that in societies or philosophies that negate Hashem’s influence, they are without limits and they crumble. Belief in G-d clearly makes the world a better place. This is why we end the עלינו prayer with ביום ההוא יהיה ה׳אחד ושמו אחד. May that day come soon!

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

כי קרוב אליך הדבר

There is a Pasuk in this week’s Parsha that says, כי קרוב אליך הדבר, that the matter is very close to you. Moshe Rabbeinu is speaking about Teshuva and the ability to come close to Hashem. He says that it’s not an insurmountable task to achieve this.

Rabbi Soloveitchik suggested that there should be a fourteenth אני מאמין that would say the following: I believe with perfect faith that the Torah given to us is to be observed, realized, and fully carried out in every place and at all times; even in every technological situation. This אני מאמין rejects the notion that Judaism needs to be improved.

When we say the Torah is close to you, it means that Torah is not found among the arrogant. Humility is the precondition for learning. It means awareness of ignorance and the need for self-criticism.

Moshe’s message is that G-d gave us the perfect Torah applicable for all times. It is easily available to us if we humbly seek out its truth and allow it to shape us. Shabbat Shalom

מסורת

This week’s Parsha is נצבים. The word, נצבים, means, standing. Moshe tells the people before his death that they were standing before Hashem in a unique covenant.

Unlike the covenant on Mount Sinai that was more of an oath, the נצבים was a covenant for all generations. The Pasuk says כי את אשר ישנו פה as well as ואת אשר איננו פה. This commitment to Hashem applied to those who were physically there with Moshe, as well as those who were not there.

In other words, this was the moment that our ancestors also committed future generations to the Torah given by Moshe Rabbeinu. We must see ourselves as the carriers of this obligation. We are to take it seriously and see it as our duty to teach it to our children and grandchildren.

This is what is known as the מסורת, tradition, that is the major reason why we survived as a people for nearly two thousand years of Galut.

Kol Nidrei-Annusim

The Kol Nidrei prayer on Yom Kippur, is one of the most solemn prayers of the High Holiday liturgy. We are unable to enter the fast, without having our vows nullified.

Our complete slate is meant to be wiped clean on this holiest day of the year. In addition to praying for forgiveness for our sins, we also ask to be forgiven if we inadvertently made unfulfilled vows.

We begin this prayer by asking for permission to pray with the עבריינים, or transgressors. This is a highly unusual way to begin a prayer.

The ספר התודעה explains that this line was inserted from the period of the Annusim in Spain. These were Jews who practiced Judaism in private, while pretending to practice Christianity in public. They did this to save their own lives. They only came out of hiding on Yom Kippur.

Their choice of survival was not approved by the entire Jewish community. Therefore, permission was requested to pray with the עבריינים, the Annusim, when Kol Nidrei was recited.

שמחה

In many ways, the theme of פרשת כי תבוא, is שמחה. The beginning of the Parsha discusses the joy that was felt when one brought his first fruits, the Bikkurim.

In the תוכחה, the rebuke ends with the notion that none of these curses would take place, if we find a way to be in שמחה. This comes about when we have the realization that Hashem provides us with all of our needs.

In Chassidut, there is a great deal discussed about the power of שמחה. It is empowering when one is in this state all of the time. It energizes a person and definitely adds to one’s good health. And the most important factor to remember about שמחה, is that this is such a high level emotion that it brings great contentment and peace of mind in our service of Hashem.

Study with חברותא

There is a word used in כי תבוא, that is found only once in all of תנ״ך. This is the word, הסכת, that is usually translated to mean that we are to pay close attention to the Mitzvot.

The גמרא in ברכות says that the word הסכת means that we are to make כתות כתות ועסקו בתורה, groups upon groups and be busy with Torah study.

This is a source for the study of Torah in חברותות, in pairs or groups, and not individual study. Torah is better acquired in חברותא study. The Gemara goes further to say that we are sinning for lack of knowledge.

Many education experts have marveled at the Yeshiva system of study. When we are able to bounce off ideas with our learning partners, we are able to achieve greater clarity in understanding the material.

Torah study is important. But Torah study with a חברותא, is even better!

Diligence in Torah Study

Shavua Tov. Before the ceremony at הר גריזים and הר עיבל, Moshe Rabbeinu tells the people that on that day the people became a nation.

The Gemara in Brachot asks the obvious question. Didn’t we become a nation forty years earlier on הר סיני. The answer is to teach us that the Torah is beloved to those who study it each day, as if it was given anew on הר סיני.

The Torah Temima points out that Moshe was hinting that those who study the Torah diligently, like the Kohanim and Leviim, see the Torah as if given on Sinai. However, the masses who do not study, are unable to come to this level of appreciation.

The Torah is a treasure that needs to be unlocked. The rewards for its study are far greater than we are aware of. Let us all resolve to be more diligent in our Torah study during the coming year.

Fear

This week’s Parsha has the long תוכחה rebuke, of Moshe Rabbeinu. He makes it abundantly clear the reward that awaits us if we observe the Mitzvot. The punishment for not obeying is presented in vivid detail.

There is one Pasuk in particular that is very interesting and often overlooked. It simply says, ופחדת לילה ויום, that you will live in fear by day and by night. This is a very serious curse.

Rabbi Soloveitchik expands on this and says that the Torah is referring to fear that has no foundation. It is a fear of nothing tangible. Fear is good in small doses only. Large fear is harmful. The Rav goes on to say that fear is the source of all neuroses.

The remedy is to cleave and return to Hashem. When we are close to Him, we feel His protection and realize that there is nothing to fear at all. Shabbat Shalom

Things We Need to Fix

It is often very difficult to get into the Teshuva mode. Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching and somehow, we need to get motivated to begin working at self-improvement.

The חיי אדם helps us in this endeavor, as he points out areas that we are all a bit lax, and certainly need to work on.

One area is connected with speech. We are all guilty of speaking some kind of Lashon Hara. We probably have made oral vows and commitments we did not keep. We may have used bad language at one time or another. And, we have not been perfect in remembering to say a Bracha, before and after eating.

The next area would be in the way we conducted ourselves with others. Did we belittle someone? Did we cause shame or embarrassment to our fellow Jew? Did we violate our obligation to love every Jew?

The final category deals with our own character flaws. Were we unable to conquer our anger? Were we insincere in our interaction with others? Did we scoff or give insincere flattery? Did we act humbly or haughtily?

The חיי אדם wants us to know that we all have work to do. Hashem gives us this time of year to try and fix these flaws. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity!

The Zionistic Birkat Hamazon

The ברכת המזון that we recite after every meal, is a very Zionistic prayer. It is also known as שלוש ברכות, the three blessings.

In actuality, there are four blessings in Birkat Hamazon. The first three are from the Torah, and the fourth is from the Rabbis.

This fourth Bracha of הטוב והמטיב, was decreed by the elders of Yavne. It was a blessing of thanksgiving after the fall of Beitar, when the bodies of the fallen Jews, did not decompose.

The first Bracha acknowledges how Hashem sustains us. The second Bracha gives thanks for Eretz Yisrael. And the third, gives praise and gratitude for Jerusalem.

In essence, every time we “Bench”, we thank Hashem for our food and we give thanks for the beautiful land and Jerusalem that we were given by the grace of G-d.

Truth and Peace

In כי תצא, there is a Pasuk that says, מוצא שפתיך תשמור, that one needs to guard his lips. Rabbi Soloveitchik explains this to mean that the tie that bounds the heart and tongue, must not be loosened.

The heart and tongue should go together. We must be careful how to use speech. One of the great dangers is the lure of the tongue.

We must never minimize the power of speech. One of the themes of the High Holiday season is אמת and שלום. One cannot achieve complete peace of mind if he is not truthful. Truthfulness begins with speech. If one is always careful to tell the truth, it might help to face the world without delusions and rationalizations.

Not only is it healthier to face the truth about one’s existence, but it is the key towards achieving real happiness. And this happiness begins by being truthful with the tongue. One’s heart and one’s mouth must be the same.

Grounds for Divorce

Related to yesterday’s Parsha, the Mishna in Gittin gives three opinions as to what are grounds for divorce.

Beit Shamai emphasizes the word ערוה and says that a serious act of nakedness or infidelity must take place. Beit Hillel says that there must be a reason for divorce with emphasis on the word, דבר, something. Rabbi Akiva said that he doesn’t need a reason and as long as he no longer wants his wife, he divorces her.

Rabbi Soloveitchik commented on the reason of Rabbi Akiva. He said that the marriage bond must be pure and holy. If the husband no longer wants his wife, it is likely that he found someone else. The fact that he would even consider someone else, is a form of adultery. Such a couple, should not remain married.

Amalek

Shavua Tov. Today’s Parsha ended with the commandment to remember Amalek. Rabbi Soloveitchik has some harsh words for Amalek and those that behave like them. The Amalekites attacked Israel in the desert. They possessed no land and the only motivation to harm Israel was their pure hatred of עם ישראל.

The Rav went on to say that any nation that declares that it wishes to destroy Israel, is Amalek. Hitler and Stalin were Amalek personified.

Civilized men can become the personification of evil. The Jews of Shushan were surprised that Hamas turned into a satanic beast. Jews everywhere must realize that, “Yes. It can happen here.

Strong words from the Rav. Thank G-d we have Israel.


Message of יפת תואר

Rabbi Soloveitchik has a completely different take on the story of the יפת תואר. Instead of taking the case literally that we are referring to a non-Jewish woman taken captive in battle, there is an entirely different message here.

The Rav claimed that the יפת תואר alludes to a lesson in how we are to interact with other cultures, when we are forced to live among them.

Using Greece as an example, we are meant to carefully examine what we might learn from them. Gaining a greater insight into math, science, or architecture, could be beneficial.

However, when a particular culture lives with immorality, or other decadent practices, we must be vigilant to be certain that our own sanctity, is not harmed.

There is no shortage of egotism, vulgarity, and impurity in the world. The יפת תואר reminds us that we must never allow ourselves to compromise our sacred Jewish values. Shabbat Shalom

Submission and Vulnerability

Parshat כי תצא is filled with numerous miscellaneous laws-more than any other Parsha. There are more than seventy of the 613 Mitzvot in כי תצא.

A common idea that could be found in the Parsha, is man’s vulnerability and the need for הכנעה, submission to Hashem’s holy laws.

A simple law such as the construction of a מעקה, is one example. We must build a fence around our roof and remove all safety hazards from our home. The Torah says, “Lest the faller will fall.” This unusual language teaches that even if an individual was meant to die suddenly by falling, it should not happen in our home.

Man’s vulnerability is alluded to when we realize that one can perish in a second, if that is his destiny.

Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote that, “human pride and arrogance disappear, when one becomes aware of this vulnerability.”

Similarly, when we read in the Parsha of the difficult plight of the one labeled, “Mamzer”, or the עגונה, a woman unable to remarry for being unable to attain a גט, we feel compassion for their sorrow.

Nevertheless, we accept the yoke of Heaven, and submit to a Torah and its wisdom, that is far greater then our own.

Can we be so bold to believe that we have more knowledge than the Vilna Gaon or the Ketzot Hachoshen?

If we accept these lessons and accept our vulnerability and submit to Hashem’s Torah, we will succeed in life.

No Sorcery or Witchcraft

There is a Pasuk in פרשת שופטים that deals with the subject of sorcery and witchcraft. It simply says, תמים תהיה עם ה׳ אלוקיך, that we must remain wholehearted in our serving Hashem and act with perfect faith.

According to the Rambam, there are fifty-one out of the 613 Mitzvot that are related to עבודה זרה, idol worship. Many of these laws deal with all kinds of strange worship that involves all kinds of superstitions. It is easy to be lured into some of these practices as often, the practitioners are able to do impressive feats.

The problem is that they get their strength from כח הטומאה, from the side of impurity. We are to attach ourselves only to the holy and pure.

This is why there is a special commandment to serve Hashem without getting sidetracked by that which will distance us from Him.