Erase My Name

This week’s Parsha, תצוה, is the only Parsha from שמות until the end of the Torah that does not have Moshe’s name in it.

The classical answer as to why this is the case, is because when Moshe pleaded with Hashem to forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf, he gave a threat to Hashem. He said that if the Jews were not forgiven, then,”erase my name from Your book.” He was not erased entirely but was erased from פרשת תצוה.

The Vilna Gaon gave a different reason for Moshe’s name not appearing. He said that there was a connection with this Parsha and Moshe’s Yahrtzeit, as it always falls close to the seventh of Adar, the day that Moshe died.(Wednesday night and Thursday is the seventh of Adar.) His name being erased, may be a hint to his ultimate demise.

A third answer could be that it was in this week’s Parsha, it became official that Moshe was erased from being the Kohein Hagadol. He served in that capacity for seven days before the Mishkan dedication. After this, the position was handed over to his brother Aharon. Interesting explanations as to why Moshe’s name does not appear in our Parsha.

Holy Ark

It is important to learn the lessons of the building of the ארון קודש, the holy Ark. There are two specific ideas learned here.

The first is that the measurements were half measurements. They were two and a half cubits by one and a half cubits. The Rabbis explained that the reason for this was to teach how we are incomplete and need to constant work on self improvement. This is a lifelong task to try to grow and go higher in spirituality.

The other lesson is that the Ark had gold on the inside and outside. This was to teach that one should not be אחד בפה ואחד בלב, one way in one’s mouth and another in one’s heart. We are not to be fake or hypocritical. We are to be honest and truthful in all that we do. Two important lessons from the holy Ark.

I Don’t Deserve That

Recently, I was called upon to console a student who was having a difficult time coping with life. In desperation, he said, “I don’t deserve all of this.”

While I tried to show compassion and understanding for this person’s plight, it occurred to me that something was wrong here.

It is a great lack of faith to ever say, “I don’t deserve this.” Such a statement implies a dissatisfaction with the way that Hashem is running the world.

It is important to realize that Hashem owes us nothing and we are not entitled to understand how Hashem conducts our lives. We must remind ourselves that Hashem is the ultimate of justice, even though it’s difficult, at times to see it.

Similarly, we are to feel the same with the blessings we receive from Hashem. The goal in acquiring happiness and peace of mind, is accepting with love, everything that comes our way. This is how we gain humility. And humility is the most admirable of all personality traits.

Coercing to Give Charity

Parshat תרומה begins by telling us that those who donated to the Mishkan, needed to do so with a giving heart. That is, that their contributions were given totally willingly and with love.

We contrast this with a Gemara in בבא בתרא that says that there are times when one may coerce someone to give צדקה. The Gemara says that if there was a situation where the Beit Din learned of a Jew who was very wealthy and never gave charity, they would send messengers of the court to forcibly take his possessions.

The exact situation is not one that could be duplicated today, but it is interesting to note that such miserliness was not tolerated, especially when there were so many poor Jews.

Rabbi Berel Wein claims that 80% of American Jews do not give a penny to any Jewish cause. The lesson from this is to be charitable within our means and to give with love.

480

Shavua Tov. Today’s Haftara discusses the Beit Hamikdash built by Shlomo Hamelech and the 150,000 laborers that he used to get it done.

I often point to the significance of Kings l, Chapter six verse one, as being an important connector in understanding the timeline of Jewish history. The Pasuk simply tells us that it came to pass at the end of 480 years from the exodus from Egypt, that the Temple of Shlomo was completed.

This number of 480 also tells us the number of years that the Mishkan was in operation. We know that the Mishkan stood in Shilo for 369 years as well as Gilgal, Nov, and Givon.

The 480 helps us get to the year 5778 if we start with 2448 as the year we left Egypt. We add the 480 plus 410, the number of years of the first Temple, plus 70, the prophecy of Jeremiah as to how long of an exile between the two temples, and 420, the number of years of the second Temple.

So, remember 480 as a very important number in Jewish history.

Brisker Emotions

Parshat תרומה discusses the various items used in constructing the Mishkan. The פרוכת was the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Heichal.

Rabbi Soloveitchik uses this פרוכת to explain the Brisker philosophy in their being accused of being “cold” and not showing emotion.

The Rav pointed out that his own father never kissed him even as a child. It was as if it was intended that a curtain be placed between one’s outward emotions and internal emotions.

This was a kind of צמצום or constriction, on an emotional level. The Rav argued that such a constriction represents a higher level real attachment than one shown by outward, physical demonstrations.

There was no doubt whatsoever that the Rav’s father, Rav Moshe, deeply loved his son on the highest level of a father-son. There was no need to show this level in a physical, superficial manner. It seemed that the implication of this unspoken, obvious love, was on a higher level than the other.

Whether we agree with Rabbi Soloveitchik’s opinion or not, it certainly gives us insight into the mindset of the great Brisker-Lithuanian scholars. Shabbat Shalom

Loving Every Jew

I began reading Telushkin’s book, “Rebbe” on the plane. It represents a five year study into the life of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

I am two hundred pages into the book and what has impressed me so far, was the Rebbe’s incredible patience for individuals with whom he disagreed.

He had a relationship with Jimmy Carter, Shimon Peres, and even Yossi Sarid, just to name a few.

Even though the Rebbe was very vocal in his opposition of giving land for peace, he somehow managed to say a kind word to those who disagreed with him.

The Rebbe was loved by the masses, but he was constantly being challenged for his affection for all Jews. He had major disagreements with Rav Schach and the Satmar Rebbe, but he never bad mouthed even his biggest detractors.

The goal for all of us is to still find Ahavat Yisrael, the love of every Jew, even when their religious and political views are different than our own.

It is ironic that the Rebbe was one of the few Orthodox Rabbis who reached out to Conservative and Reform Jews. And many feel that today it is the Chabad outreach programs that are causing the reform and conservative to become even weaker. The Jews in these regions are choosing Chabad over their former synagogues.

The bottom line is that whether we agree with Chabad or not, we can certainly learn from the Rebbe what it means to love every Jew.

שבועת ה׳

I am about to board my return flight from LA.

It is interesting how the Torah uses the idea of a שבועה, an oath, as a means of getting to the truth.

There are situations where it is difficult to get to the truth. For example, if someone is paid to guard something for someone, and that object is claimed to have been destroyed due to an unforeseen accident, a שבועה must be made by the watchman to be certain that there was no foul play. The Torah says that שבועת ה׳ תהיה ביניהם, there should be an oath of G-d that he did not act in a deceitful way.

There is sometimes a situation of one’s word against another. The שבועה that should be accompanied with fear of Heaven, is enough proof that that individual is telling the truth. How could a G-d fearing Jew possibly tell a lie in G-d’s name.

This system worked during the time of the Torah and Talmud. I would like to believe such a system would also work today.

מודה במקצת

Last week’s Parsha alluded to the concept of מודה במקצת, admitting partially to an accusation. It is also an interesting observation regarding human nature.

The Torah emphasizes the words, כי הוא זה, which is defined as a type of confession. The case refers to the repayment of a loan.

If one is asked to pay back money that he borrowed, and the borrower claims that he never borrowed anything, he is exempt from payment. The burden of proof is on the lender.

However, if the borrower admits that he did borrow money, but not the entire amount claimed, he must make a biblical oath. He holds on to a Torah scroll and swears in G-d’s holy name the amount he claims that he owes. He pays only that amount.

The rationale of the Rabbis is that a Jew would not dare deny entirely a loan he would receive. However, he could deny part of the loan. This is their perception of human nature. This is the case of מודה במקצת.

The Intruder

The Halacha about an intruder into one’s home, teaches two interesting concepts. The case mentioned in the Torah, involves a thief who breaks into a Jew’s home during the night, when the family is in the house. In such a case, one may kill the intruder in self defense, since it is possible the thief may wish to rob and possibly, kill.

From this case, we learn the principle of הבא להרגך השכם להרגו, that if one wishes to slay you, slay him first.

The Talmud in מסכת יומא says in the name of רבי ישמעאל, that we also learn from this case, the principle of פיקוח נפש, endangering one’s soul, that allows us to violate Shabbat. Rabbi Yishmael reasons that if in the case of the intruder, where there is only a doubt as to whether he intends to harm, you are allowed to kill, then certainly in a case where there is doubt as to the health of an individual, one may violate Shabbat in order to save him.

Embracing Difficulties

Shavua Tov. There is a Pasuk in the Parsha that commands us to be kind to the convert. He is also known as the stranger in our midst. We are to be especially compassionate because we, too, were strangers in a strange land.

Rabbi Soloveitchik writes that it would not have been possible for us to have become a nation of morality and kindness, had we not known the suffering of the Galut.

This helped shape the Patriarchs and continues to be a major experience for us today. The point here is that sometimes knowing hardships and suffering, ultimately shapes us.

This could be an explanation as to why there is a lack of idealism among the younger generation. On the one hand, those under forty have not witnessed any real Jewish discrimination in their lifetimes. Judaism can be practiced freely all over the world and Jews who want to come to live in Israel can do so if they so desire.

The downside of this religious freedom is complacency and lack of motivation. We must learn to embrace the difficulties Hashem sends our way, for that is what shapes us. This is what was learned from our experience in Egypt and allowed us to become a kind and compassionate nation.

Money

Among the laws mentioned in פרשת משפטים is the Mitzva to lend money to the poor. If one is blessed with excess money, he should see it as his duty to help the less fortunate with a loan.

Rabbi Soloveitchik comments that the wealthy man should be fully aware that the roles could easily be reversed. If fate would be different, he could be the one in need of the loan.

The Rav further says that historically, Jews have fared poorly when given great wealth. He goes so far as to say that when people acquire great wealth, they become like animals. They become arrogant, forget about Hashem, and act haughtily.

Jews have done better in poverty. They are much more motivated and the drive for survival is accompanied with faith, humility, and a dependence on G-d.

As it says in ארחות צדיקים, money can be a test, a curse or a blessing. May we blessed with wealth that is only a blessing. Shabbat Shalom

Respect for the Widow

This Shabbat we read פרשת משפטים. In 1981 and again in 1982, Rav Meir Kahane זצ״ל, was our guest in our home in Los Angeles. Coincidentally, Rav Kahane was with us both Shabbats for פרשת משפטים.

Perhaps my being in LA right now reminded me of that privileged memory. What I also remember is that among all of the laws mentioned in the Parsha, Rav Kahane emphasized the importance of treating the widow with great respect. He quoted the אבן עזרא who said that mistreatment of a widow is so severe that if one sees someone else afflicting the widow, and he does not try to stop it, it’s as if he actually afflicted the widow.

Rabbi Soloveitchik echoes this point by saying that even making a grimace, or gesture that the widow could take as belittling, is a violation of this Mitzva.

The Torah itself continues with the warning that if one does mistreat the widow, his wife will become a widow as well! We must take extreme caution to especially treat the widow, regardless of her age or how wealthy she is, with the greatest care and respect.

Idolatry and Adultery

Among the Ten Commandments is the prohibition of idol worship. Rabbi Soloveitchik says there is a close connection between idolatry and adultery. Both represent a kind of betrayal. One is a betrayal against a spouse. The other is a betrayal against Hashem.

Both situations are difficult to comprehend. The transgressor certainly is not taking into account the consequences of his actions.

Such behavior is a serious renouncement of the purity of the relationship that individual had with his spouse or G-d. He has reached a point of no return. It is a severance of a once holy relationship.

The road back is long and difficult. If the woman committed adultery, there is no returning. If people would only think before acting, so much unnecessary grief, could be avoided.

Religious Therapy

The accepted interpretation of Yitro’s advice to Moshe was that there was concern about Moshe’s being overworked. Yitro saw that he was busy from the morning until the evening answering Halachic questions. Yitro felt that Moshe needed to delegate some of his workload to others.

Rav Soloveitchik felt that there could not have been such difficulties related to Jewish Law. In the desert, everything was provided for the people. They were protected and they had food and water.

The Rav’s original idea was that the people were traumatized by their lengthy slavery. They loved Moshe and felt great comfort just by being at his side. Moshe didn’t even need to speak to speak to the עם. His presence gave them strength and reassurance.

I have witnessed similar connections to holy Rabbis in our day. The aura of holiness that emanates from these Tzadikim, gives great comfort to their disciples. Even sitting in the home of the צדיק is similarly relaxing and reassuring. And nowadays, we are fortunate to have the Kotel Hama’aravi, that has that same magical effect of giving comfort. We need to take advantage of such religious therapy.

The Special Role of Mother and Father

When Moshe prepared the עם for the receiving of the Torah, he is commanded to speak to בית יעקב as well. This refers to the women and the special role that women have in Jewish life.

Rabbi Soloveitchik reminisced about his own childhood. He said that he learned about the warmth of the Mitzvot from his mother. She taught him how to feel Hashem’s Presence. Her teachings had a profound effect upon him.

When it came to Shabbat, his mother taught him how to greet the Shabbat. His father taught him how to live it.

This is the beauty of a Jewish home, where the father and mother compliment one another in educating their children.

Yitro and Amalek

Shavua Tov from LA. Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that there are actually two kinds of gentiles in the world. They are either like Yitro or Amalek.

What the two types have in common is that they both admire and are impressed with the Jewish people. In Yitro’s case, this admiration leads to befriending the Jews or even converting to becoming part of עם ישראל.

In the case of Amalek, their being impressed with the Jews, leads to hatred and the desire to exterminate every Jew.

The Rav refers to Amalek as Satan-man, and Yitro as the Archbishop of Midyan. We must be aware of this reality. Thankfully, as we come closer to the גאולה, is acquiring more and more admirers. But we must also keep our eyes open to the Amalekite attitude that still tears its ugly head in the world.

Hashem Exists

This week’s Parsha, יתרו, contains the Ten Commandments. The first commandment begins with the words, אנוכי ה׳ אלוקיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים. From the fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt, we affirm that Hashem exists.

The belief in Hashem’s existence is one of the 613 Mitzvot and is learned from the Pasuk just quoted.

Rabbi Soloveitchik tells a moving personal story that affirms Hashem’s existence. He described the painful experience of watching his beloved wife’s health decline. He felt that the hospital was too sterile a place for him to pray, so he waited until he got home. He chose a small room to pour out his heart to Hashem in prayer.

He writes, “At that moment of anguish and desperation, I felt G-d right there with me in that little room. He appeared to me as friend, brother, and father. It was as if I could feel his warm hand on my shoulder, giving me consolation. And I did find great comfort at that special moment.”

This story was what the Rav chose to prove that Hashem exists.

Rav Shmuel Eliyahu of צפת, says that the fulfillment in our day of numerous prophecies in the State of Israel, allows him to convince the doubters of Hashem’s existence.

So we have proofs from a personal story as well as a nationalistic proof that we are witnessing every day. An early Shabbat Shalom

Tu B’Shvat

In honor of Tu B’Shvat, there is a beautiful story from מסכת תענית, using trees as the analogy.

The Gemara relates that when Rav Nachman took leave of Rav Yitzchak, he asked him for a blessing.

Rav Yitzchak answered by describing a beautiful tree that gave the sweetest and most delicious fruit. This tree also provided wonderful shade and was alongside a stream of clear drinking water. The only praise for that tree was that the seeds of this tree should grow into similar beautiful trees.

You, Rav Nachman, have been blessed with wealth and wisdom. You are outstanding in your character and Midot. The only blessing for you is that your seed, your descendants, should follow in your path.

Torah is עץ החיים, the tree of life. May our connection to Torah influence us, our children and children’s children. טו בשבט שמח

Lessons from the Manna

The discussion of the Manna in the Torah has important lessons for us. We are to learn what our attitude should be about Parnassa, earning a livelihood.

We are taught that Hashem dislikes hoarders. Those who had faith in Hashem, had the מן come to their doorstep. The less the faith, the further they needed to go to gather it in.

Overall, the Jewish people showed a very strong commitment to Hashem. They were fed this food for the entire time in the desert. It was an incredible level of commitment that the Jewish people were sustained in such an uncertain way.

We are to realize that we are given what we are supposed to be given. We cannot force the issue. We should not worry about someone taking away our livelihood. If we take this attitude that ultimately we have what we are supposed to have, we will have much more peace of mind and happiness.