Thursday, July 27, 2017

How Hashem's Unlimited Blessing Enters The World

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In this week's parsha, Devarim, Moshe blessed the Jewish people, "Hashem, G-d of your fathers, add to you a thousand times as many as you are, and may He bless you as He spoke about you."

The Sifri, the Midrash and Rashi explain, that when Moshe blessed them with a thousand times as many descendants, the Jewish people said to Moshe, "Moshe, you are setting a limit to our blessing, Hashem already promised Avraham 'if a man will be able to count Them...'" Meaning, that they would be uncountable, like the dust of the earth, the stars in the sky and the sand by the sea. Moshe responded to them, "This (blessing) is from me, however He 'will bless you as He spoke about you.'"

Many ask, being that Hashem's blessing is unlimited, what does Moshe's blessing add?

There are two common answers given to this question.

That Hashem's blessing applies when we keep Torah and mitzvahs, and Moshe's blessing applies even when we are not observing Torah and mitzvahs. Or that Hashem's blessing applies after Moshiach comes, and Moshe's blessing applies before Moshiach comes.

Both of these answers divide the blessings into two separate times or eras. The problem with this is that the verse says, "Hashem, G-d of your fathers, add to you a thousand times as many as you are, and may He bless you as He spoke about you." Which seems to indicate that the blessings are simultaneous, and not at different times or eras. If the blessings are simultaneous and Hashem's blessing is unlimited, what does Moshe's blessing add?

Another question. It is obvious that Moshe's blessing does add something. Being that the case, you have Hashem's unlimited blessing and Moshe's limited blessing simultaneously. How can something be limited and unlimited at the same time?

The Midrash says, "Hashem had a desire to make for Himself a dwelling place down here." In other words, why did Hashem create the world? Because He wanted to dwell in it. And in which part of the world? Down here in our physical realm, which is the lowest. The word for dwelling place used here is dirah, the place where you live, where you can be yourself. Everything Hashem created, compared to Him, is limited, even the most sublime spiritual realms. And He wants to be Himself, unlimited, in this lowly limited physical realm of ours, and He created us, the Jewish people, to accomplish this desire of His. Here again, we see the idea of meshing limited and unlimited.

How do we accomplish this? And why are we able to accomplish this?

Hashem's desire comes from His will, which is beyond the created world. Mitzvahs are Hashem's will as well. When we do mitzvahs, we draw Hashem's unlimited essence from beyond creation into the lowest realm of creation.

In the blessing we say for Torah study and before reading the Torah, we say, "Because You have chosen us." In the Yom Tov amidah (silent prayer) we say, "You have chosen us." Hashem chose us, and true choice comes from one's will, and in this case it is Hashem's will that is beyond creation, His essence, that chose us. So we are connected to His will, and therefore we can draw His unlimited essence from beyond creation.

But aren't we in a limited physical world, making us limited as well? And aren't mitzvahs done with limited physical objects? How are we able to draw the unlimited essence of Hashem?

In truth we can't, but because this is what Hashem wants, and He can do anything, He Himself puts His unlimited Self into our limited realm as a gift to us. Here is how it works. Hashem wants this to happen, but He wants it to come through our effort. When we do a limited physical mitzvah, we set the stage for Hashem to do His part. It is our physical act that makes Hashem want to gift us with His unlimited essence, thereby meshing the limited with the unlimited.

Now we can understand what Moshe's blessing adds and how they work simultaneously. Hashem wants His blessing to come into the limited physical world, but there has to be an action from below that draws the blessing down. Moshe's blessing, although limited, was the act that made, that Hashem's unlimited blessing should come into the limited physical world. Without Moshe's blessing we would not have Hashem's blessing.

Right now we can't see the unlimited blessing or the unlimited essence of Hashem in the physical, that is accomplished by our mitzvahs, but it is there. When we complete our mission, the world will be a true home for Hashem's unlimited essence, and our eyes will be open to see our accomplishment. That is what the era of Moshiach is, Hashem's essence dwelling openly in the world.

By now we have done so much, we are so close. May Hashem send Moshiach and take us out of this dark and bitter exile. The time has come.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Why We Immerse Vessels

In this week's parsha, Matos, we read about the victory over Median. Then we are taught the laws of how to purge vessels (kashering), which is to purge them of any non kosher foods that have been cooked or baked in them, and the law of submerging vessels (toiveling), which is to submerse them in a mikvah or into a body of water suitable for submersion. This was relevant to the war against Median, because in the booty from the war, there were many vessels, and if they wanted to use them for food, the vessels would need purging and submersion.

The Ramban asks, why weren't the laws of purging vessels taught earlier, after the wars against Sichon and Og, mentioned in parshas Chukas? There were definitely vessels in the booty captured in those wars.

The Ramban answers, that because the lands of Sichon and Og is part of the land given by Hashem to the Jewish people, all of the booty was permissible to them, even things that are normally forbidden... And our sages say, "dry meat from pigs were permitted to them," but Median was not theirs, they didn't take their land... Therefore their vessels were considered forbidden.

That is why these laws were taught here, because now they became relevant.

There is a question on this Ramban. Why does he only ask about purging vessels? The same question could be asked about submerging vessels. How come it wasn't taught earlier by the wars against Sichon and Og?

Purging is to remove the physical forbidden flavor that was absorbed into the walls of the vessel. Submersion is for removing spiritual impurities from the vessel. In the wars against Sichon and Og things that were usually forbidden were permitted. But when it comes to submersion, any vessel used for food, that transfers from a gentile's possession to a jew's, needs submersion before he can use it, even if it is brand new. It would make sense to say, that the vessels from the wars against Sichon and Og, needed submersion. So why wasn't the law of submerging vessels taught by Sichon and Og?

To understand this, we need to understand why a vessel we get from a gentile needs submersion, even if it is brand new.

Rashi explains about submerging vessels, that the simple explanation is, that submersion is to remove spiritual impurities. And he continues to explain that Elazar told the Jewish people, that vessels need purging to remove the forbidden flavor that was absorbed into them and submersion to remove the spiritual impurities. Then he says, "Our Rabbis learned from here, that even to make them ready for use, from being impermissible (issur), they need submersion." The sages use the term issur, which doesn't refer to impurity, but rather to something that is not kosher. But isn't that what purging is for? How does submersion help take the vessel from a state of not kosher to kosher?

When a vessel is in a gentile's possession, even if it is brand new, it has the possibility to be used for issur, not kosher. Even if he doesn't use it, it is considered in a state of issur, because it has the possibility to be used for not kosher. When a Jewish person takes possession of the vessel, it doesn't have the possibility to be used for issur any more. To take it out of its previous state of issur, it needs submersion.

Now we can understand why the Ramban doesn't ask, Why weren't the laws of purging vessels taught earlier, after the wars against Sichon and Og? Because the answer is the same. Being that the concept of issur was suspended in those wars, that even "dry meat from pigs were permitted to them," nothing was in a state of issur, therefore nothing had to be submersed.

This will also clarify some other ideas.

When we sell our chametz before Pesach, it is sold to a gentile. If a vessel is among the items being sold, then after Pesach, when the chametz is bought back from the gentile, the vessel doesn't need submersion. Why not? Doesn't his purchase put the vessel in a state of issur?

The answer is, that it does not. Being that the sale is done with the intention to buy it back after Pesach, it doesn't enter a state of issur. Even though he can potentially come and take it, the reality is that he doesn't. It is therefore extremely unlikely, if not impossible that he will come to use it. Also, according to many, the sale is a kind of trick, nevertheless, it works for not having chametz on Pesach. So it doesn't need submersion.

On Shavuoth we have a custom to eat dishes made with dairy products, milk, cheese, butter, etc. One of the reasons for this tradition, is because on Shavuoth we received the Torah and became obligated to keep the laws of ritual slaughter (shechita), and only one who is obligated to keep these laws can do them. So none of their meat was kosher to eat. They couldn't slaughter new meat because according to all opinions, it was Shabbos and on Shabbos we are not permitted to slaughter. But they didn't have these issues with dairy, so they ate dairy.

It is certain that the dishes they ate were prepared in vessels. Before the giving of the Torah, they were not obligated to separate milk and meat, so they would need to be purged. And even if they had vessels that are normally used only for dairy, it would seem that they would need submersion before they could use them, because they had the possibility to be used for issur. If so, how were they able to use their vessels?

When the Jewish people left Egypt, they knew that the purpose was to receive the Torah. Therefore they already started to keep some of the laws. One of the laws they kept, was separating milk and meat. Being that this was the case, their vessels were not in a possible state of issur before the giving of the Torah. Therefore they didn't need submersion.

So it seems that there are two reasons for submerging vessels, to purify them from spiritual impurities, and to change their status from forbidden to permissible.

Every mitzvah we do is precious to Hashem. Some may seem more important than others. For example, we can easily understand purging vessels, it makes sense, it is even scientific, but it is harder to wrap our heads around the mitzvah of submerging vessels, which is more spiritual in nature and we don't see the change in the vessel. Perhaps when Moshiach comes, and our spiritual awareness is heightened, we will see and understand the spiritual.

For now we do them just because it is what Hashem wants, and that to Him, is most precious of all.

May the merit of the mitzvahs we do tip the scale and usher in the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Making The Torah Yours

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In this week's parsha, Pinchas, we read about the laws of inheritance of the land of Israel.

The daughters of Tzelafchad brought their case before Moshe. They were five women who were very learned in Torah, and they had no brothers. In the laws of inheritance, when there are brothers and sisters, the land goes only to the brothers, and they support their sisters, so they benefit from their father's estate. When they get married, they are supported by their husband, so they benefit from his estate.

The outcome is that land doesn't shift from tribe to tribe, keeping the tribe's territory intact. For example, if a daughter of the tribe of Menashe were to inherit her father's land, and then marry a man from the tribe of Efraim, that land would shift and become the territory of Efraim.

The question that the daughters of Tzelafchad had was, what if a man only has daughters, who inherits his land?

There are two possible answers. Either it goes to the closest male relative, or to the daughters. In Tzelafchad's case, if it goes to the closest male relative, it will get swallowed into his estate, and not be identified as Tzelafchad's land. And that is what his daughters wanted, that a part of the land of Israel should carry their father's name.

Rashi tells us, that Moshe forgot the law. Not that he didn't yet receive the law from Hashem, but rather, that he knew it and forgot it. One of the reasons brought by Rashi for this memory lapse, is that Hashem wanted that this law "be written by their hands," meaning, in the daughters of Tzelafchad's merit.

There was one other time that Rashi tells us that Moshe forgot the law, in last week's parsha, by the story of Zimri. When he took a Midianite princess to have relations with her. Moshe forgot the law, that if a Jew has carnal relations with a non Jewish woman, zealots may take action against him.

Why would Hashem make it that Moshe, the teacher of the Jewish people, should forget specifically these two laws? It is obvious that it was necessary for him to forget them, and that there is a positive gain and outcome from his lapse of memory in these laws. If not, what was the purpose of telling us these stories. So what is the positive outcome of this event?

Another question. Why is so much prominence given to the daughters of Tzelafchad? They are mentioned by name three times in the Torah.

In both of these stories, Moshe would not have been believed to say what the law was, because he was personally involved. By forgetting the law, it had to be transmitted in a different way, or it had to be retransmitted by Hashem to Moshe, to give it the strength and validity of every other mitzvah that Moshe taught.

In the case of Zimri, he wanted to be with a Midianite woman, and being that Moshe's wife was Tzipora, Yisro's daughter, a Midianite, he was too involved to give the ruling. Because of this, the Torah law had to be transmitted through a different person, Pinchas.

In the case that the daughters of Tzelafchad brought, Moshe wasn't originally involved, but they dragged him in. They said that their father wasn't part of Korach's rebellion against Moshe. Which although it seems like a minor thing, it would be enough to weaken the ruling. By forgetting the law, he had to go to Hashem to receive it again and that was enough to give it the full strength of Torah.

The daughters of Tzelafchad are mentioned three times in the Torah, each time it says their names, Machla, Tirtza, Chagla, Milka and Noah, specifically connected to the laws of inheritance. This is because of their self sacrifice and total investment into these laws. Their father died in one of the first years after the Exodus, so some of them were born yet in Egypt and their case was brought in the fortieth year after the Exodus. They all refrained from getting married until their case would be heard, because once they would be married, their case would not be so strong, because they would be connected to their husband's land. This was a major sacrifice on their part, now they were around forty. They also delved into the subject with all their being, making it theirs, hence they merited to have it "written by their hands," in their honor.

This is a lesson to each of us, that if we put our effort into Torah study and do it with self sacrifice and not for a personal gain, like the daughters of Tzelafchad. Then the Torah becomes ours, and as if it was written in our honor. This is true for any sacrifice that is done for Hashem and His Torah, it makes it yours and in your merit.

May the merit of our sacrifices for Hashem and His Torah stand up for us, and storm the gates of heaven, asking that Moshiach should come already. The time has come.

Friday, July 7, 2017

How To Respond To A Nudnik

Dear friends,
With this article, I begin the forth cycle of Dvar Torahs. Please forgive the lateness, as my computer was giving me trouble. Enjoy!

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At the end of this week's parsha, Balak, we have the story of Zimri who was the Nassi (the leader) of the tribe of Shimon, who together with others, were tempted into having relationships with Midianite women. The Midianites put their daughters up to doing it, even the king of Midian, Tzur, sent his own daughter, the princess Kozbi, to take part in the scheme.

What was the point of this scheme? As the Jewish people made their way to the Holy Land, all the nations were afraid to engage them in battle. Not because the Jewish people had a powerful army, they certainly did not, but because they realized that Hashem was with them and was granting them miraculous victories over very mighty nations. They searched for a way to get us to do something that will put us at odds with Hashem. They reasoned that our close connection to Hashem, was because of our holiness and purity, and they were right. How can they get us to betray Hashem and defile ourselves? Their answer was this ploy, and to some extent, it worked.

The story continues that Zimri took Kozbi to be with him, and Pinchas killed them, saving the Jewish people.

The Midrash tells us that Zimri brought Kozbi before Moshe and asked him, "Is she allowed or forbidden? And if you say she is forbidden, then who permitted the daughter of Yisro (a Midianite) to you? The law was hidden from him (from Moshe)." Which law did he forget? The Midrash continues that Pinchas "saw what (Zimri) was doing and he remembered the law..., that one who does a carnal act with a non Jewish woman, zealots may take action against him."

Why was Moshe allowed to marry Tzipora, Yisro's daughter? And why didn't Moshe answer Zimri, and explain how it was different?

Moshe married Tzipora before the receiving the Torah, and standing at Mount Sinai we all became Jewish together including Tzipora. So she was definitely permitted to him.

However during the inauguration of the Mishkan, Moshe played the role of Kohen, and according to some opinions, this put him in the status of Kohen for the rest of his life. A Kohen has to keep to a higher standard, he is not allowed to marry a convert, someone who was previously from a different nation. So it seems like Zimri had a good question.

The rule is that a Kohen can marry a widow, a Kohen Gadol cannot, but if he married a widow before becoming a Kohen Gadol, they are permitted to remain together, because when they got married they were allowed to marry.

The same could be said for Moshe, when he and Tzipora married, because it was permitted, now that he was a Kohen, they could stay together.

The Talmud tells us that the law of Jewish marriage was given to us while we were still in Egypt. Therefore, after the giving of the Torah, there was no need to redo marriages.

So according to all opinions Moshe's marriage to Tzipora before the giving of the Torah was valid and held the weight of the Torah. So why didn't he explain this to Zimri? Zimri wanted to blatantly take a non Jewish woman, and he knew that it was clearly forbidden.

There is a rule that a sage that teaches Jewish law, who is asked about a law when he is in a similar situation, is not supposed to respond, because he is not believed to say, "so has the oral tradition been transmitted to me," in this case. It is like a judge that recuses himself from a case because he has a stake in the outcome of the case.

This is one reason that Moshe wouldn't respond.

Another reason is a practical one. When a person asks a question sincerely, you should try to give him or her the answer. However, sometimes a person asks a question insincerely, and he doesn't really want your answer. He just wants to do what he wants, and engaging him in this discussion, will only bring you down to his level. In this case, Zimri clearly knew the law, he didn't really care for an answer.

The same is true when the evil inclination tries to engage you to do something wrong. He is insincere, and he doesn't have your best interest in mind. Don't even entertain the thought, he is a nudnik, don't let him bring you down to his level. Instead drag him with you to do something that Hashem wants, like learning Torah or some other mitzvah.

I remember when I first went out to be a rabbi, when I started giving classes. Young and naive, I would engage every nudnik and try to answer their questions. It would leave me feeling empty and like I wasted my time. So I took a new approach. When I would be asked that kind of question, I would say, "good question," and then I would invite them to learn. Most of the time, they would enjoy the Torah study, and forget about their question. As it turned out, they weren't nudniks at all, and many became life long friends.

May we have the strength to persevere and overcome the evil inclination and get closer to Hashem. And may we soon merit to see the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.