Conviction

All the elaborate proofs, all the philosophical machinations, none of that will never stand you firmly on your feet. There’s only one thing that can give you that, and that’s your own inherent conviction.

For even as your own mind flounders, you yourself know that this is so, and know that you believe it to be so. It is a conviction all the winds of the earth cannot uproot, that has carried us to this point in time, that has rendered us indestructible and timeless.

For it comes from within and from the heritage of your ancestors who believed as well, back to the invincible conviction of our father, Abraham, a man who took on the entire world.

The doubts, the hesitations, the vacillations, all these come to you from the outside. Your challenge is but to allow your inner knowledge to shine through and be your guide.

Inside is boundless power.

From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory; words and condensation by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman.

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14 Responses to Conviction

  1. “Your challenge is but to allow your inner knowledge to shine through and be your guide.”
    This is so very true, that only one who experienced it or saw somebody else acting under the influence of such an experience may understand what Rebbe Lubavutcher ment, and to prouve it I would like to tell a story that happen to an ordenary jewish woman, and helped her to understand what is false and what is true, though she has no aqueired knowlendge of Judism and Kabbalah.

    On day she came to the work ,and looking very sad, told that she was worried very much about her son, who decided to study Kabbalah. When I told her that today’s generation sooner or later will come to studing it and that it is better for her to help him and to study herself than to oppose him, she told that it isn’t his wish to study Kabbalah that made her very sad, on the contrary she does want him to start coming closer to the jewish roots, and she convinced that she herself made everything to stand between her husband and learning Torah and performing Mitzvot, when they were young and now she is very sorry about it, and she does want her family to keep Shabbath, but now her husband doesn’t want to begin doing it.

    In short she was so mixed up that we hardly could understand what made her so desperatly grieving, and little by little we understood, WHERE her son went to study Kabbalah and , thatwhen she told him that he should first speak with his wife, whether she will agree to keep Kashrut, and Niddah and all the rest of the Mitzvot, he told her that there is no need for that , because today “The Rav” said one may study Kabbalah without performing any Mitzvot, without changing one’s life style.

    She was so depressed that we hardly could find the words to comfort her, she only kept saying ” it is wrong, it is very wrong, I don’t believe that studing Kabbalah has nothing to do with performing Motzvot! I don’t know who this “Rav” is but I don’t believe he underststands what he is talking about.

    Now we have to understand that this woman was born in former Soviet Union, has no jewish education, her both parents were not religious, and even when she married to a man whose family kept some jewish traditions, she did everything to make him “normal” and sucseeded in it very much.We also understand WHERE her son went to study Kabbalah( for those who don’t, we will explain that it is Bnei Baruch organization with the Michael laitman at the head of it.)

    But the fact of the extrime intrest for us is how does this woman undestood that her son is in dange when she, absoulitly not religious woman, heard that Kabbalah isn’t connected with the performing Torah abd Mitzvot.

    And the answer is very simple- we do love our husbands, but there is no comparision with the love of the mother to her son, it is such a deep instinctive bond, that sometimes gets mothers into interfiering into their married sons’ lives, because they are afraid of the young wives not being able to take care of their sons properlly( sorry to say there is even a psyciatric disorder called ” jewish mother or jewish son” depends who suffers more.), but exactly because this feeling of trying to protect their sons is so strong and awakes the deepest layers of consiousness , our mother felt on the inconsious for her level that studing Kabbalah and not performing Mitzvot is very wrong in its root.

    Her inner Knowledge that was under a lot of layers of modern “gabbidge” told her that she made a mistake that stopped her husband from keeping Mitzvot, and that she has to do everything to help her son not to fall into Laitman’s trap, because without knowing who he was, or was kabbalah is exactly, she felt that “the Rav” was absolutly wrong, and that her son is in danger.

    She couldn’t explain why she thinks learning Kabbalah without performing Mitzvot isn’t possible, she just kept repeating”it is wrong, it is very wrong”….

  2. yehudith says:

    I do believe that each and every book written by jewish sage has its reader and its spiritual value, but there is very important thing we would like to stress again.

    We spoke once on the difference of the books and textbooks and we would like to add, that as much as you may try to learn Kabbalah, if you start from the books and not the textbook of kabbalah it will take a lot of time for you to understand the topic, it will never make you independent in your study, because if you haven’t learn the multiplation system, what is the use to try to make your system of multiplation from a lot of observations in different examples.

    First of all nobody of us have a lot of time to see and built the systems, only to discover later, that they were unknown for us only, and you spend your time in vain, which is a serious sin to do, because everything is culculated in your potential and all the plan of its development is installed in your soul, and if you waste your time on less effective ways of development, then your soul may have great difficulties helping you to feel the real way, because you purposely or not make a lot of blocks on the way of the spiritual information coming to you from your soul.

    And on the controry, if you find the most effective way to study spiritual laws, it will clear and open the channels connecting you with your soul and the spiritual information passing form it to you and they will be concieved by you much easerly and used for you correction benifite.

    So though the reading of the books on kabbalah and Tanakh and jewish way of thinking is a good complementary study, we should make an effort and to learn Daf Yommi( one letter) from Ptikha for the beginners and for advanced students a letter form TES every day.

    Only throug the right organization of your study time you will get maximum effect of it, and our strongest conviction is that the TEXTBOOK on Kabbalah for our generation is TES, and those who try to study kabbalah otherwise, will not sucseed in it, because the study of TES is the shortest and the only way for us to get in touch with the information coming to us from the spiritual levels of our souls.

  3. yehudith says:

    Our sages teach us and many of us know by their own experience, that the knowledge of the spiritual laws are deep insight of each and every person, but to unlock them, we have to study the books of our sages and follow their recomendations.

    Here is a place to explain again to those non-jews who are intrested in learning kabbalah.

    Though it will give you some intresting moments and even the insights, they all will be of no value for your soul, because the insights are given for their implementation and the implementation is through study Torah and perfroming Mitzvot.

    Of course we all come from the Ein Sof, but the levels avalible for the activation in our souls differ between jews and non-jews, and for non-jew to be given the possibility to activate more deeper levels of the soul a convertion should be perfomed on him/her.

    The actions perfromed and the words prounaunced by a convert during the convertion in the presence of at least three orthodox Ravs, make the “additional’ levels of the soul to be availabel for the person.

    A kind of this convertion we have for the jewish souls on Shabath too.

    By keeping Shabbath we are given the activization of the deeper levels of the soul and it is called the “additional soul of Shabbath”

    So for those who are jews and not keeping Shabbath, we want to tell that the levels of secret knowledge kabbalah are not avalible without activization the levels of Shabbath belonging to the levels of Binna and Hokma, which are the only way to the Artic Yomin and the rise to the next level.

    Of course needless to say that the performence of each and every Mitzva opens for us more and more fine opportunities for the spiritual discoveries and on the contrary the absence of the perfromence of the Mitzvot leaves us no place- no possibility of getting the spiritual vessels for the Light of spirituality to enter our souls.

    In short for those wishing to get the spirital experience of La”G BaOmmer night as well as for any other opportunities it should be clear that without convertion or perfroming Mitzvot there is nothing to expect from this night, as well as from the possibility of the spiritual life and is a waste of time all together.

    The Gemmara says” Go’i=gentail, who keeps Shabbath should die” and it is relevant for both jews and not jews when we try to get something what doesn’t belong to us, we are: or inprisoned or just die spiritualy, because instead of doing what should be done in the direction of the correction we waste our time and life on shattering, blocking and killing our potential.

    Do not do it to yourselves.

  4. yehudith says:

    Very nice story that I heard this Shabbath, one of our ladies has her daughter studing in Columbia University, law faculty, and as she graduated the second degree, they had a number of ceremonies to attend, BUT the last one- the Final Ball was arrandged on Shabath, and so her daughter was very disapointed, that she may not attend it.

    Though their family is Hozrrei beTshuvva and it isn’t a long time since they keep Shabbath, they felt very at a loss, that on the one hand their daughter graduated the university with the exellent marks, but on the other hand she may not attend the final ceremony and to enjoy the company of the students she studies with.

    On Shabbath we congratulate her with her daughter’s success, and exellence in her study, but what made us really exited was her answer:” You know, she said, that I do feel proud of my daughter, but it isn’t exactly because of her exellent marks, I feel proud of her because I know how much she wanted to attend the Final Ball and together with it, yesterday when we spoke on the phone, she even didn’t mension it, but just talked about what they are going to cook for Shabbath, and of her coming back to Israel for holidays, because she was addmitied for PhD study, and would have to go back to USA, but now, said her moter I am sure we have a really good generation, which put their jewishness First and it is what I am really, really proud of.

  5. Sfas Emes
    by Nosson Chayim Leff
    Parshas Devarim

    Note the following problem. Too often, when we encounter a mashal (metaphor, parable ), or a statement that Chazal wrapped in the form of aggada, we assume that its message is only of marginal importance. For this reason, we do not make the effort to penetrate the code or the metaphor within which the message is presented.

    By contrast, when the Sfas Emes works with a difficult ma’amar of Chazal, he insists that the statement must make sense. Accordingly, he takes the time and effort necessary to understand the ma’amar,and explain it to us. Here are two examples that illustrate the Sfas Emes’s discipline in this respect. They also show the potential benefit that we can gain from taking Chazal’s words seriously rather than taking the path of “let’s skip the Aggadata.”

    For the first example, we go to, the second paragraph of the Sfas Emes’s ma’amar in the year 5634. That paragraph: “Kol Dor …” (That is: “Any generation in which the Beis Hamikdash is not rebuilt is on the same low spiritual level as the generation which merited the Churban — the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.”)

    If taken seriously and literally, this is a very powerful, if enigmatic, statement. So much so that that the Sfas Emes explicitly questioned its truth. Thus, he observed that, in fact there had been, many generations following the Churban in which exceptionally worthy and pious people (“tzaddikei elyon”) lived. Can we honestly say of those generations, he asks, that they literally merited the Churban of the Beis Hamikdash in their days ? Likewise, do we truly expect that there will arise a generation so virtuous that it will, on its own, merit the Ge’ula (Redemption) that no earlier generation deserved?

    The Sfas Emes answers that the Ge’ula will come as the result of a cumulative process, in which the spiritual achievements of each generation will be added to those of all preceding generations until finally we reach the “target level.” Thus, every generation that adds spirituality to the world, by bringing light to where darkness had previously reigned, participates in building the Beis Hamikdash. (Note: This perspective implies a view of history as progress rather than of decline or degeneration.) It turns out, then, that the Jewish people have actually been rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash throughout the entire duration of the Golus!

    Further, we can be building it right now. The Sfas Emes notes that this ongoing process is precisely referred to (twice) in our Siddur (in the daily Shemoneh Esrei and in Birkas Hamazon): namely, “Bonei Yerushalayim” (“He who builds – present tense! — Yerushalayim”).

    The Sfas Emes explains that this Chazal (“Any generation in which the Beis Hamikdash is not rebuilt … “) refers to a generation that does not participate at all in the cumulative process.

    So far, following the text from Chazal, the Sfas Emes has been speaking in terms of “generations”; i.e., Klal Yisroel as a collectivity can be rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash right now. Now he adds that the same process also operates at the level of the individual (“Vechol Ahdam Bifrat”). Thus, he is telling us that we should be aware that each indivudal’s actions can also help to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash right now!

    The Sfas Emes concludes this paragraph (yes, all of this has been packed into a single, concise paragraph) with a quote from Chazal: “Hakol Mesa’ayin Lebinyano Shel Melech.” That is, each and every one of us can/may/should help in building the King’s palace.

    The following is another example in which, by taking a ma’amar of Chazal seriously, the Sfas Emes is led to a question which (to my very limited knowledge) had not been asked before and, in addressing that question, takes us to a totally new perspective. This example comes from the Sfas Emes of the year 5635.

    As we know, Sefer Devarim begins in a surprising way, with a list of geographical sites. Why so? Rashi follows (some of) Chazal in reading the place names in Devarim 1:1 as a veiled rebuke. That is, they see Moshe as mentioning these sites to rebuke Bnei Yisroel for the Aveiros (sins) that they had committed in those places. Thus, the reference to a place named “Di Zahav” is in reality a rebuke to Bnei Yisroel for the sin of Eigel Hazahav, the golden calf.

    To this the Sfas Emes reacts, asking: What is the point of rebuking Bnei Yisroel of this generation — i.e., the generation that was about to enter Eretz Yisroel — for these Aveiros? These Aveiros had been committed by the previous generation, not the people to whom Moshe was now speaking!

    The Sfas Emes answers that every generation begins life with the Aveiros of the previous generation on its back, so to speak. And for this reason, every generation has the responsibility of correcting those Aveiros. Thus, just as there is Zechus Avos (people can benefit from the merit of their forefathers), so, too, there is “Cheit Avos” — the Aveiros that the previous generations pass on to succeeding generations.

    Note how neatly this thought of the Sfas Emes fits in with common sense. Take a moment to think about this question, you will soon reach the same conclusion. In fact, we do start life with both the assets and the liabilities of our parents — and indeed, of the whole generation to which they belonged.

  6. Rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem – and within ourselves.
    by rav Eliyahu Yaakov

    The Temple is like a spiritual hotspot. Just as there are hotspots
    that receive satellite beams and activate your laptop’s internet, so
    too, there are God spots – spots that access God-perception and
    activate the soul.

    Imagine an advanced satellite whose beams exist equally in all places.
    But to access those beams you need a receiving device. Similarly, God
    is equally “present” in all places. The difference between a regular
    spot and a God spot is in our ability to dial in to God’s presence.

    This is what makes a place holy. It’s not that God is more in that
    place than any other place – that would imply physical limits to God.
    Rather, the holy place is a location inherently more susceptible to
    God-consciousness and matters of the soul.

    The Hebrew name for the Temple is the Beit Hamikdash – translated
    literally as The Holy House – it is the God spot. But just as the
    Temple is holy, i.e. a place of God-perception and experience, Jewish
    mysticism teaches that each of us can make ourselves into a
    mini-Temple – a mini God spot – by being like a temple. At that point,
    God “dwells” (i.e. is perceived and experienced) within each one of us
    just as God “dwells” within the Temple. And similar to the manner in
    which people would go to the Temple in Jerusalem for a God experience,
    they can get a piece of that just by meeting up with you for a cup of
    coffee.

    Building Our Temple

    For many of us, this idea sounds distant. How can I be a mini-Temple?
    Do you have any idea where I have been and what I have done?

    No matter where you are, each of us has as our true essence a Godly
    soul that we can always reconnect to. So turning into a God spot may
    not be that far off after all.

    Think of something you do that is goodly or Godly – even the smallest
    thing. Perhaps you are giving, a real “people person.” Perhaps you
    have good organization skills Perhaps you are disciplined, or good at
    fixing things. Since your essence is a soul, a spark of the Infinite,
    it is impossible that this not be reflected somewhere in your life. If
    you’re having a tough time finding anything goodly or Godly, it just
    means you have to keep searching. It is impossible that a soul not
    show its true self.

    It’s true that we may have done things we are not all that proud of,
    but if we look inside we discover that this is not really who we are
    at our core.

    Once you have found a single Godly aspect within yourself, note that
    this is the real you.

    The negative stuff, no matter how strong it is, doesn’t reflect the
    essence of who you are.

    It’s a distraction and deviation from your true self. (Of course, the
    intent here is not to absolve anyone from responsibility for their
    negative actions. We are responsible for every choice we make. But
    realize those negative actions do not truly reflect the person’s Godly
    essence.)

    The moment you come to terms with this, you judge yourself differently
    – and favorably – and you let go. You can start to notice more good
    points about yourself. And gradually you align your consciousness with
    the perspective that the mistakes and mis-moves you have made are not
    the real you. This helps give you the confidence to change your course
    of action and live more in sync with your soul. And the more you do
    that, the more you become a God Spot, a person who reflects Godliness
    in the world. That’s what it means to become a mini-temple.

    Searching for Myself

    With the loss of the Temple, the focal point of piercing clarity has
    faded. As the beacon of light dims, confusion and darkness increases.
    The world’s source of inspiration and experience of self-awareness has
    become a memory. But there is still the spark of hope…

    It is specifically during this deepest darkness – this spiritual
    midnight – that we search out a point of light in ourselves from which
    to build. After all, if I can find a point of goodness and Godliness
    even in the most difficult and darkest of circumstances, I can grab a
    hold of that, strengthen it, reinforce it, and build myself up from
    there.

    And the same applies to the world.

    When we are experiencing times of difficulties, hardships, and
    dangers, it is easy to fall into a sense of despair. It is easy to
    feel abandoned and alone. However, if I can hone in on one spark of
    clarity and Godliness; if I can find one aspect of my life or one time
    in my life in which I experienced a “spot” of God, I can draw strength
    from that to not only carry on, but to look deeper into other areas of
    my life and find a spot of God there too.

    As we take on this way of living and gain this perspective, we build
    the world back up to the time when we all merit to see the return of
    the God spot, the Temple in Jerusalem.

    May it be soon!

  7. Devarim(Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)
    by Rav Yehonasan Gefen

    The Connection Between Calmness and Trust in God

    The Torah Portion begins with Moses rebuking the Jewish people for the various sins that they committed in the desert. One of the first sins that he addresses is that of the spies. Moshe recalls the events that led to this tragic occurrence. “And you all approached me and said, ‘let us send men ahead of us who will spy out the land for us, and they will tell us the way which we should go in it, and which cities we should come to.’ ” (1)

    Given that all of Moses’ words involve some kind of rebuke, the question arises, what exactly is the criticism found in these words? Rashi explains that the way in which they approached Moses was inappropriate. “You all approached me in an irbuvi (disorganized muddle),(2) the children pushing ahead of the elderly, and the elderly pushing ahead of the leaders.” (3)

    The simple understanding of this criticism is that Moses was rebuking them for a lack in derech eretz (respect) and kavod HaTorah (respect for Torah). Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky writes that it is difficult to say that this was the focus of Moses’ reproof. It is clear from the account of the spies in the Torah Portion of Shelach, that the main failing of the spies was a lack of bitachon (trust in God). This caused them to be fearful of the mighty people living in Israel, and to mourn their perceived inability to conquer the land. Accordingly, what is the connection between the fact that the people approached Moshe in an inappropriate manner, with the lack of bitachon that was the true cause of the sin?

    Rav Kamenetsky explains that indeed, the lack of bitachon was the cause of the sin of the spies; the lack of derech eretz displayed was merely a symptom of that lacking. Had they had the appropriate level of trust, then they would have calmly approached Moses, in the correct order. However, since they felt a great deal of anxiety about entering the land, they acted in an agitated fashion, and broke the conventions of who should approach Moses first. In this way, their lack of bitachon was the cause of their agitated behavior.(4)

    Rav Kamenetsky uses this idea to answer a pressing question in the story of the spies. In Shelach, the order of the spies is not in the same order as anywhere else in the Torah. Normally, they are written according to their age, but here they are not. The commentaries offer various suggestions as to the reasoning behind the order.(5) Rav Kamenetsky suggests that there is no reasoning to the order of the spies in this instance; the spies, with the exception of Joshua and Calev, felt the same anxiety as the people, therefore they also approached their entry to Israel in a state of behala. Behala results in a lack of order, accordingly, it is appropriate that the spies are mentioned in no specific order as a reflection of their agitated attitude.

    We have learnt from the principle of Rav Kamenetsky that when a person acts in an agitated or hurried fashion, there is a strong possibility that his behavior stems from a lack of trust in God. A person who has such trust, will feel no sense of panic when he needs to do something, and will have no sense of impatience when events do not take place as quickly as he would like them to. Rather, he recognizes that God is constantly guiding him, and any tests that he undergoes are God’s way of giving him opportunities to grow. However, when a person does not have the security that bitachon provides, he feels no sense of calmness (menucha), and may feel eager to make events happen quicker than they should.

    The first lesson that one can take from this idea is to be aware of situations when he may have a tendency to be impatient or agitated. When he is aware that he is in this state, he should make every effort to refrain from any action that he may later regret. Rather, he should try to step back and take a measured view of the situation at hand. Secondly, he should understand that his behavior may well stem from a lack of bitachon, and he should try to internalize that which intellectually he knows to be true – that God is with Him and therefore, there is no need to get agitated.

    May we all merit developing the bitachon( Faith in the Creator) that will enable us to live with menucha.

  8. yehudith says:

    Mourning on the 9th of Av: The Reasons

    by Rav Jacob Mendelson

    We find the catastrophe of Tisha B’av attributed by our Sages to a variety of causes:

    “Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things: idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed.” (Yoma 9b)

    “Judea was exiled out of affliction-because they ate Chometz, leaven, on Pesach (rather than the bread of affliction, Matzah).” (Medrash Eicha Rabba – on Eicha 1:3)

    “Why was the Land lost? Because they abandoned My Torah-because they did not say a Bracha (blessing) on learning Torah.” (Nedarim 81a)

    “Jerusalem was destroyed because they violated the Shabbos; …because they neglected to say the Shema morning and evening as it says, “Woe to those that get up early to drink beer;” …because the children did not go to Cheder (school), …because they had no shame; … because they did not rebuke each other; …because they ridiculed scholars. (Shabbos 119b)

    These four sources appear to be in conflict over the reasons for the destruction of the First Bais Hamikdosh (Temple). Upon closer scrutiny, however, I would suggest that they do not disagree. Rather they refer to different aspects of the Churban, the destruction. Each of the statements of Chazal, our Sages, describes the tragedy with a distinct word. The first speaks of “Churban,” destruction; the second refers to “Galus,” exile; the third mentions “Avdan, “being lost; and the fourth focuses on Yerushalayim, Jerusalem.

    Beginning with Churban, destruction, let us look for its connection to the three cardinal sins of idolatry, immorality, and murder. These three are all crimes of passion. [While this is quite obvious with immorality and murder, we are taught that idolatry, as well, was a sin of passion in the days of the First Bais Hamikdosh. The Yeitzer Horah, or Evil Inclination, for idolatry was very active and almost irresistible in those days. Upon building the Second Bais Hamikdosh, the Sages prayed successfully that the power of the Yeitzer Horah should be curtailed in the area of idolatry. It is therefore difficult for us to understand the extreme nature of the temptation for idolatry in those days. Thus idolatry in its heyday was indeed a crime of passion.)

    Passion burns in the human heart. When it is channeled towards good, then passion leads to great accomplishments in Torah, Chesed (kindness), and every area of human development. In marriage it produces a strong stable family and household. When passion is misused, however, it destroys families and homes, and brings destruction to society – all symbolized by the destruction of the Temple. To put it another way, the Psalmist says “We will go to the House of Hashem with _feeling_.” The Bais Hamikdosh is the place for the fiery and passionate expression of emotion to Hashem in prayer, repentance, thanksgiving, and joy. But if the passion is wrongly directed, then its fire consumes the holy place. Thus destruction is the result of passion.

    The second passage speaks about the exile of the Jews from their land. We have seen that the misuse of passion results in the loss of vehicles for positive and meaningful emotional experiences, but it does not necessarily result in exile. We lost our right to our Land, not because of passion, but because of arrogance, as symbolized by eating Chometz on Pesach. Chometz is the opposite of “Lechem Oni,” bread of affliction. Chometz – with its rich, fermented, expansive development – is the bread of opulence, of power, of haughtiness. It bespeaks gloating self-assuredness. As the Torah says in Parshas Eikev, “And you shall eat and be satisfied … and your heart will soar…” The Torah then goes on to say that we will be driven from the Land of Israel. Our People should have celebrated our continued freedom with Matzah, the bread of affliction, showing that we did not rise to success on our own, rather our freedom and power comes from Hashem. Instead we ate the bread of arrogance, thus eliminating the true Source of our power, and forfeiting our very claim to the Land. For we have only one ultimate claim to Eretz Yisrael (as the commentator Rashi says at the beginning of Bereishis), and that is that Hashem gave it to us. Thus exile is the result of arrogance.

    In terms of the Talmudic passage in the tractate Nedarim, it says that we were lost because our People did not say a Bracha on the Torah. The Ran, a commentator, explains that the Torah did not seem important enough to them that it should warrant a Bracha. When the Torah is not special, when it is not the touchstone of wisdom and value, when it is not the measure of all things, when it is just another subject, then we are missing our moral compass and we are truly lost. The incredible nihilism, reflected in the “anything goes” attitude of contemporary culture, the total lack of any real values that is so prevalent today is to a great degree traceable to the fact that contemporary man has no moral anchors, no areas of complete certainty, no strong, fundamental beliefs. Our generation is all adrift. Thus being lost is the result of not appreciating Torah.

    Finally, the passage in the tractate of Shabbos addresses itself to the destruction of Jerusalem. In general we find that in our prayers we emphasize the City of Jerusalem more than the Bais Hamikdosh. For example in the daily Shemoneh Esray, we say “And to Jerusalem your city,” asking for the restoration of Jerusalem “_Your_ City,” without a specific reference to the Temple. The same emphasis exists in the Haftorah of Shabbos Chazon as well as in the prayer of “Nachaim,” said on Tisha B’Av in the afternoon. The simple explanation for this emphasis on the City and not the Temple is, of course, that the Navi, in the Haftorah of Chazon, decries the People’s insincere devotion to the Temple and its rituals, at the expense of righteousness and justice. However we can look deeper.

    Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh writes (in Bereishis4:7) that the word “Ir,” which means city, is related to the word “Ur,” which means awaken. The city, with its concentration of people in close proximity, and the constant exchange of ideas, offers the possibility for the greatest development of man. In the city a person utilizes and develops his most human capabilities. It is in cities that civilization develops. While the country provides food for the body, it is the city that provides food for the mind and the spirit.

    Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (in “Jerusalem, the Eye of the Universe”) develops this idea further by reference to a statement of Chazal that “there is no city but Jerusalem,” (Kesubos 111b) meaning that Jerusalem is the quintessential city. With the Sanhedrin (the great court) and all its great Sages, with the Bais Hamikdosh and its ten daily miracles, with the presence of the Shechina, the Divine Presence, a person has the opportunity, more than in any other place, to develop his human and spiritual side. That is why we are bidden to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, “Aliya Leregel” on the three Festivals of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. The commentator the Maharsha adds that all other cities are but suburbs of Jerusalem, B’nos Yerushalayim, Daughters of Jerusalem. In other words, all civilizations should be nurtured and developed by relating to Jerusalem as the model civilization.

    When the Gemara speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem, it means the loss of that shining example of human development that Jerusalem was meant to be. All the causes mentioned in the Gemara, are factors that destroy civilization. _Shabbos_ . Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) was able to convince Pharaoh that he should give the slaves a day of rest because civilization cannot exist and be productive without a Sabbath. _Shema_. When people do not say the Shema, reaffirming priorities and basic direction in life, but instead run straight to the nearest bar (read “drug dealer”), there can be no civilization. _Cheder_. Without a well functioning system of (elementary) education, no civilization can survive. _Shame, Rebuke…Sages_. When people have no relationship with each other and are complete islands, when they don’t care enough to criticize one another’s behavior, and when they cannot learn from those who are wiser, then the entire function of the city, as it was conceived to be, is wasted. Instead of being a cradle of civilization the city becomes a hellhole of degradation and crime, a phenomenon that we all too often witness.

    We need desperately to re-connect to our spiritual moorings, through learning Torah and seeking out -from our Torah luminaries- its teachings in all areas of contemporary life. For only the Torah, its Halacha (laws) and its Hashkafa (philosophy), can effectively guide us through the confusion of contemporary existence.

    Through clarity in the Torah, we can “find’ ourselves again. Through remembering that our freedom and power derives only from Hashem, we can once again deserve our Land. Through a passionate re-dedication to Hashem, we can once again merit the Bais Hamikdosh, may it be built speedily in our days. Through an appreciation of the vast spiritual resources inherent in Jerusalem and the Mitzvos connected with it, may we merit to experience its rebuilding.

  9. yehudith says:

    How to Look for Holiness
    by Rav Nosson Weisz

    “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel, on the other side of the Jordan, in the wilderness, in the Arabah, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tofel, and Laban and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab; eleven days from Horeb, by way of Mount Seir to Kodesh-Barnea.” (Deut. 1:1)

    This description of the venue of Moses’ speech cannot have been intended to guide us to the actual location – there is far too much confusing detail, and a lot of the places described are not even near each other.

    For this reason, the rabbis interpreted this verse as being a description of the content of the speech itself rather than a description of its location; it informs us that Moses’ speech contains a message of chastisement. In his final speech to them, Moses chastised the Jewish people and pointed out their shortcomings during the forty-year desert sojourn that was coming to its conclusion with his death. Each place mentioned in the verse refers to the venue of a transgression.

    In the same breath, the Rabbis also stress that this was the only occasion that Moses ever chastised the entire Jewish nation as a group, and they cite several reasons for this. (See Rashi’s commentary for the details.)

    But there is something very perplexing about this interpretation. If he was indeed delivering the only speech of chastisement during his tenure as the leader of the Jews, Moses was addressing the wrong audience. Most of the sins and shortcomings he refers to in his speech – such as the sin of the Golden Calf, or the sin of the spies – were committed by people who had passed away in the desert. How can we relate to the idea of chastising a later generation for the sins committed by their parents or grandparents?

    But this is not the strangest aspect of this speech of chastisement. On the surface, almost the entire Parsha is dedicated to the simple recounting the sin of the spies in all its detail and describing its aftermath without any apparent commentary. If this was a speech of chastisement, where are the words of chastisement? What is the point of recording the speech and omitting the chastisement?

    NON-SEQUITUR

    The answer is obviously that the chastisement is there to see if we search for it. If we delve beneath the surface a bit, we find that Moses made two major points. We can uncover the first of these points by analyzing what appears to be a glaring non-sequitur. (See Deut. 1:6-8.)

    Following the introductory statement referred to, Moses begins his discourse by relating how God told the Jewish people to leave Mount Sinai; they had tarried there long enough and it was time to go and conquer the land. Right after this beginning, Moses makes an apparently bizarre digression that takes up ten full verses (Deut. 1:9-18). He describes the implementation of Jethro’s advice (offered in Exodus 18:14-27) concerning the appointment of judges as a means of reducing his [Moses’] workload to manageable proportions. Then (ibid. 1:19) he returns once again to the theme of the conquest; the verses that follow describe the sending of the spies and the issuing of the edict against the Exodus generation that was its consequence.

    What is the story of the appointment of the judges doing here? What connection does it have to the story of the spies?

    THE LESSONS OF HISTORY

    The maxim states; a wise man should always learn from history. Only a fool repeats mistakes that have already been committed and suffers needlessly thereby. This seems like good advice, but it is one of those bits of conventional wisdom that are difficult to apply in practice. History is easy to understand but difficult to interpret. The true causes of historical events are often quite obscure, and this makes the lessons of history difficult to decipher. The task is even more daunting if you subscribe to the prophetic view of history followed by Jewish tradition.

    For example, historians offer many sound economic and social reasons for the rise of the Babylonian Empire. But the Jewish prophets take a different view. Jeremiah repeatedly refers to Nebuchadnezzar as God’s agent of destruction. Prophetic theory attributes the rise of the Babylonian Empire to the need to create an agency that had the power to destroy the Temple and send the Jewish people into exile.

    The emergence of a superpower was a pre-requisite of the destruction. No simple enemy raider could destroy the Temple. The Jewish people fought like lions displaying great courage and self-sacrifice to protect the physical symbol of their connection to God. Indeed, both Temples were destroyed by the superpowers of the time, which were compelled to dispatch enormous armies to accomplish the task and subdue Jewish resistance.

    The major theme of Jeremiah’s prophecies concerning the rise of Babylon is related to the destruction of the first Temple, but Jewish tradition advances the same theory concerning the rise of Rome and the destruction of the second Temple. The Talmud associates the rise of Rome with Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter, and to the establishment of idols by Jeroboam (Talmud, Shabbat, 56a).

    JEWISH HISTORIC CAUSE

    If the theories of Jewish tradition are accurate, Jewish sin is the true cause of all the enormous upheavals that took place in the ancient world. Jewish sin is the true cause of all the suffering caused by the exercise of the immense power of these great empires and is also responsible for the positive cultural effects of their existence on human history and culture. Rebellion against God by the Jewish people renders the continued existence of the Temple impossible and its destruction mandatory; this makes it mandatory to create an aggressive force with a sufficient concentration of power to carry out the task of destruction; the world ends up with imperialistic superpowers such as Babylon and Rome.

    According to the theory, the economic and social factors that apparently led to the rise of these great powers would have been entirely ineffective in the absence of Jewish sin. It is clear that if we accept this view, we are forced to conclude that the secular historians who study these events and extract “scientific” principles that can be applied to related situations are barking up the wrong tree. The factors that secular historians interpret as causes of great historic movements are not causes at all. They are actually effects.

    It follows that only the prophets can teach us the true lessons of history because it is only they who understand them. In a Divinely directed world only God’s spokesmen are able to explain His actions in an authoritative way.

    BACK TO THE NON-SEQUITUR

    It is in this vein that we should regard Moses’ apparent digression. Moses was not interested in merely retelling the story of the sin of the spies; he was interested in pointing out its underlying causes. If we accept the Torah view that Jewish sin is the underlying cause of all historic upheaval, then it makes sense to attempt to unravel the underlying causes of sin itself. Learning the causes of sin is the way to avoid repeating the mistakes of history. If you know the cause of sin you can learn to avoid sins in the future and avoid the upheavals they cause. This is the lesson that Moses wanted to teach the next generation. This is what needs to be corrected so we do not fall once again into the pit.

    He was not addressing the wrong audience. He did not wish to merely chastise. He wanted to teach the Jewish people how to avoid the errors they committed during his tenure as leader. He called them all together to teach them the dynamics of history as they must be understood by Jews. To learn from the mistakes of the past you have to understand them first. His primary concern was the successful settlement of the land of Israel, the chief failure of his tenure as leader. It is understandable that the problem he focused on first in his final address was the sin of the spies, the main topic of the Parsha.

    If we look at the ‘digression’ from this perspective, Moses was saying that the sin of the spies was caused by the same underlying factor as the failure to object to the loss of Moses’ own direct leadership. For the Jewish people did not protest the setting up of the hierarchy of courts. They did not tell Moses, “Why are you telling us to hear the word of God second hand? You are our major link to God. If we insert layers of authority between you and ourselves, we are in effect distancing ourselves from God’s word. We don’t want it.”

    The definition of efficiency is to accomplish the same result more effectively. But as the object of Torah observance is to bring people closer to God, the implementation of a system that increases the distance between God and the Jewish people can hardly be termed efficient. The court system may function more efficiently but the Jewish system of justice is only a means to an end. The goal it is directed to reach, a greater closeness to God, would actually recede with the implementation of the hierarchy of courts.

    REPEATING THE MISTAKE

    This same mistaken attitude was responsible for the misunderstanding that led to the sin of the spies. The true object of the conquest of Israel and the attainment of a Jewish homeland is to enable the Jewish people to demonstrate to themselves and to the world that even everyday secular life can bring one to close to God when it is properly conducted. The attainment of holiness does not require the abandonment of ordinary existence in favor of a life of contemplation and asceticism. The path to holiness leads smack through the house, the farm and the factory.

    The goal of Jewish nationalism must be to demonstrate that Jews can remain as close to God even as they occupy themselves with building and maintaining all the trappings associated with the modern secular state as they were when they were eating manna in the desert and were engrossed in full time Torah study. Moses himself makes this point later in his speech.
    “Then I said to you: Do not be broken and do not fear them! The Lord your God, Who goes before you – He shall make war for you, like everything he did for you in Egypt, before your eyes. And in the wilderness, as you have seen, that the Lord your God bore you, as a man carries his son on the entire way that you traveled, until you arrived at this place…” (Ibid. 29-33)

    The Jews obviously felt that life in the land of Israel would be fundamentally different than life in the desert. As long as they were in the desert, the fact that they were forced to rely on God to conduct their affairs miraculously did not cause them anxiety. They were up to living with miracles because they were leading very holy, unmaterialistic lives. But settled in Israel, living a secular life of comfort and materialism, they did not believe that it would be possible to maintain the same sort of spiritual intimacy with God. Secular life is inherently lacking in holiness. Israel was beyond their reach because they needed miracles to live in Israel and once they left the desert miracles would be beyond their reach.

    Moses was countering their argument by teaching them that the entire point of their settling in Israel was the maintenance of the same relationship and intimacy with God they had in the desert in the midst of an outwardly secular life; the commandments of the Torah were designed specifically to enable them to do this. He was using the story of the appointment of the judges as a teaching aid. No gain in efficiency is worthwhile if you have to sacrifice your major goals in order to attain it.

    The Covenant of Sinai was about establishing an intimate relation with God. The entry into Israel could not possibly jeopardize such intimacy otherwise it would never have been contemplated. Their parents weren’t willing to listen to this message and he was pleading with them not to commit the same error. If they failed to realize and appreciate the goals of Jewish nationalism they were headed for disaster.

    THE SECOND LESSON

    The first lesson of Moses’ speech concerns the factors behind the commitment of sin. If it is important not to repeat the mistakes of history, it is just as important to learn how to fix these mistakes in case they are committed once again. Moses’ second lesson concerns the proper way to correct sins after they have been committed. A full account of how to remedy the failures of the desert generation must include a lesson about the proper way to repair the damage to the relationship with God in the unfortunate event that it has been allowed to occur. For the desert generation attempted to remedy their error:
    “Then you spoke up and said to me, ‘We have sinned to God! We shall go up and do battle according to everything that the Lord, our God, has commanded us!’ Every man of you girded his weapons of war, and you were ready to ascend the mountain! God said to me: Tell them, ‘Do not ascend and do not do battle, for I am not among you; so that you will not be struck down before your enemies.’ So I spoke to you but you did not listen. You rebelled against the word of God and you were willful and climbed the mountain.” (Ibid. 41-43)

    The Ohr Hachaim asks: Why did God reject this act of collective repentance? Surely, by readying themselves to conquer the land once again the Jewish people demonstrated that they had remedied the defect of the lack of faith in God. Chastised by God’s anger they returned to Moses fully ready and willing to gird their loins and go into battle. They had obviously overcome their fear of the nations of Canaan and renewed their faith in God. What did God find unacceptable about their repentance?

    The key is in God’s own words: “Do not ascend and do not do battle for I am not among you.” For anyone whose interest in conquering the land of Israel is based on a true desire to enter into a state of intimacy with God, this Divine statement should have functioned as a bright red light. For God Himself was stating in the clearest terms ‘that I am not among you’; there is no point to making the conquest now; the spiritual land of Israel is simply not there to be conquered under the circumstances. Even if the Jewish people could somehow acquire the physical Israel by the force of arms, in their present state of sin, living in Israel would not provide the means of establishing the state of intimacy with God that was the purpose of the whole enterprise.

    The situation demanded true repentance first; obedience to the original command would no longer serve the purpose. God’s chief concern was not the act of disobedience itself; the cause of His powerful reaction was the underlying reason behind the sin. He did not want the Jewish people in Israel unless they fully understood that the goal of their entry was to maintain the level of intimacy with God in the context of ordinary life that they enjoyed in the desert. As soon as God declared, “I am not among you,” they should have abandoned every other project and focused on repairing the damage to the relationship with God. They focused on correcting their disobedience instead. Had they gone about repenting correctly, God’s edict against them would surely have been revoked.

    A FAULTY JUSTICE SYSTEM

    We generally read this Torah portion on the Shabbat immediately preceding the 9th day of Av, the day of the anniversary of the commission of the sin of the ‘shedding tears in vain’ whose consequence was the issuance of the edict of death in the desert against the Exodus generation. The shedding of these vain tears caused the need to shed real tears through Jewish history. The 9th of Av is also the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples as well as many other major tragedies of Jewish history such as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, from England, and the outbreak of the First World War.

    The Haftorah reading is taken from Isaiah 1, a chapter that prophetically warns of the impending destruction of the first Temple. An examination of the details reveals that the Jewish people had not yet internalized the lessons of history that Moses had attempted to teach them. A reading of the Haftorah shows that the Jews of the period were diligently observing their duties toward God. They were offering the Temple sacrifices as proscribed, they were faithfully observing the tri-annual pilgrimage to the Temple, and they were being diligent in their prayers. Something else was missing, and it was this missing factor that caused the destruction:

    “How the faithful city has become a harlot! She had been full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your heady wine diluted with water. Your princes are wayward and associates of thieves; the whole of them loves bribery and pursue illegal payments; for the orphan they do not do justice, the cause of the widow does not come unto them.” (Isaiah 1:21-23)

    The prophet brings us right back to Moses’ non-sequitur. Once again it is a faulty justice system that is highlighted as the underlying cause of destruction. The Jewish justice system is the ultimate expression of the Jewish people’s public attitude towards Torah observance. When the Jewish justice system reduces to no more than a method of settling disputes, it reflects an attitude towards the laws of the Torah that is similar to that of all law-abiding citizens observing any secular system. Torah law is like any other law. It must be observed in all particulars and all disputes must be settled according to its dictates. But this attitude misses the point of Torah law entirely.

    The laws of the Torah were given to us as a means of attaching our everyday lives to God by investing life’s mundane details with significance and holiness. The Jewish judicial system is intended to bring God’s justice into the world and to reflect the workings of a society that conducts its business affairs in the light of holiness. When it takes no notice of the oppression of the widow and the orphan, when it tolerates bribery and corruption, it indicates that it is nothing more than the Jewish method of settling human disputes. A society that has such notions is fundamentally lacking in holiness; it does not require the land of Israel or God’s Temple within it.

    Jewish nationalism must be goal directed. Its aim can never be simply to live peacefully and securely within a Jewish secular state. It must be focused on the establishment of an intimate relationship between man and God, to teaching how you can live a normal life in this world and still be obviously God’s holy people. The normal life patterns of everyday living in a Jewish state must be imbued with spirituality and reflect holiness. The aim of Jewish life is not the attainment of holiness through the performance of acts of devotion. The aim is not to step out of life into holiness; it is nothing short of the elevation of life itself.

    Each generation of Jews has to grapple with the same spiritual problems, and must aim to attain the identical goals. God constantly readjusts the circumstances of the struggle to conform with the capacity and cultural orientation of the particular generation of Jews living at the time, but it is never the historic task that changes, only the circumstances under which it needs to be carried out. If ever any generation fully succeeded at the task of demonstrating the potential Godliness in everyday life, the aim of Jewish history would be attained and the Messiah would finally come.

    The lessons of Moses apply to all Jews at all times. We must still correct our historic mistake. There cannot be a viable Jewish state in the Land of Israel that doesn’t concern itself with connecting the secular trappings of statehood to God. In whatever fashion appropriate to the times, God must be somewhere in the picture.

  10. yehudith says:

    Rashi cites evidence for the antiquity of the Oral Law Code.

    Deuteronomy 12:21

    “When the place which Hashem, your God, has chosen to place His name there, is distant from you and you will slaughter from your cattle and your herd which Hashem has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat in your gates as all your soul desires.”

    RASHI

    And you will slaughter etc. as I have commanded you – RASHI: This teaches us that there is a command regarding slaughtering [animals to be eaten], how one should slaughter, and these must be the laws of slaughtering which were told to Moses at Sinai.

    SOME BACKGROUND

    The laws of shechita, ritual slaughter, are an important part of daily Jewish living. The fact that meat must be prepared in a specifically kosher manner is something with which every traditional Jewish household is familiar. These laws are quite complex and precise. Yet, despite their centrality in Jewish life, these laws are nowhere to be found in the Written Torah! Why something so basic to the Torah way of life should be missing from the Torah, is answered in our verse.

    WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?

    Rashi bases his comment on the fact that the verse tells us that we are to slaughter an animal “as you were commanded.” Yet, nowhere in the Written Torah do we find a command relating to slaughtering animals in a specified halachic manner. Thus, Rashi concludes that these laws were, in fact, commanded to us, but since they were not incorporated into the Written Torah, they must have been given by God to Moses orally at Mt. Sinai.

    The SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS COMMENT

    I have chosen this Rashi-comment, not because of any difficulty in interpretation, but rather because it teaches a very important concept about the Oral Torah. The halachic corpus in Judaism is comprised of different levels of authority. There are the 613 mitzvot that are taught to us in the Written Torah and explained in finer detail by the Sages in the Talmud. These explanations, based on argumentation and analysis, comprise a substantial part of what is called the Oral Law. The source of these laws was also God, Who gave them to Moses at Sinai together with the Written Law. There are other laws that the Talmudic Sages themselves promulgated; they are called Rabbinic Laws, and are of a lesser authority than the Written Law. Some examples of these: The laws of muktza on the Sabbath; taking the Four Species on Sukkot for the seven days of the holiday, in the synagogue; and the writing of a marriage contract (ketuba).

    There is yet another category of laws called “halachah l’Moshe mi’Sinai” – “a law given to Moses at Sinai.” These are laws that do not appear in the Written Torah, nor are they laws decreed by the Sages. And while there is no hint of them in the Written Torah they, nevertheless, have the same authoritative level as the laws found in (or derived from) the Written Law. Rashi is telling us that the laws which regulate the slaughtering of animals belong to this latter category.

    THE IMPLICATION OF RASHI’S COMMENT

    The implications of Rashi’s statement are quite significant from an historical and a theological perspective. What this means is that along with the Written Law, an accompanying codex of laws was received by Moses from God and imparted by him to the people at Sinai. It must be emphasized that these laws existed at the time of Moses (as is implied by our verse). They were not later accretions to the basic Sinai laws.

    Thus when the Torah says, “and you shall slaughter as I have commanded,” this indicates clearly that we were commanded at some point by God as to how to slaughter animals, even though we find no hint of these laws in the Written Torah.

    The whole question of the existence of a corpus of Oral Law, which accompanied the Written Law, has now become a matter of dispute between traditional Jewish philosophy and more modern interpretations of Judaism. Our verse offers validation for the belief that the Oral Law Tradition did indeed exist side-by-side, contemporaneously, with the laws found in the Written Torah.

    by Avigdor Bonchek

  11. yehudith says:

    Shoftim(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)
    Exile and Its Egregious Effects
    by Rav Boruch Leff

    We may not notice it as much as previous generations did due to the relative good relations with the non-Jewish world (though recent events have shaken us), but we are in exile and have been for almost 2000 years. The prolonged exile has devastated normal Jewish life in numerous ways.

    The recent period of the Three Weeks of mourning the Temple’s destruction, from 17th of Tamuz until 9th of Av, is designed to remind us of all that we are mourning. While it is true that the Three Weeks have now passed and we have reverted back to our relaxing summer vacations, it is important particularly now to reflect on the growth that we were supposed to have attained.

    We do this in the spirit of the Talmud in Brachot 32b, “The early pious ones would prepare for prayer for an hour, pray for an hour, and contemplate their prayers an hour afterwards”, in order to apply and bring the growth they just experienced into their regular lives. At the end of our reflections, we will see a strong link to our weekly Torah portion, Shoftim

    The Three Weeks determines the “who we are and how we live” as Jews. When we mourn for the Temple, when we feel the pain of its loss and the sufferings that our ancestors experienced during this period, it is not a “pain” that we are mourning. Pains don’t last 2,000 years. The most intense and sharpest of pains dissipate. A year later they’re weak, ten years later they’re weaker, and a thousand years later they’re not felt at all. It isn’t the pain that our ancestors felt which we are mourning; it is the loss that is affecting us to this day.

    This is the recognition and the statement that we make when we fast on 17th of Tamuz and keep the laws of mourning of the Three Weeks and Tisha B’av. It is a statement that not having a Temple renders us a broken people, unable to live a normal life. It means that we have been thrown to a state of spiritual disease and illness, where we cannot think correctly, feel correctly or live correctly.

    We are in a state of darkness, unable to reach out and to relate to our Creator as we should to live spiritual, healthy and full lives. It is not simply that extra opportunities are lost to us, but we are crippled and we live as cripples. This is the most important and tragic effect of all. A blind man reaches the point where his blindness is so accepted that he is not aware of a sense of loss. He is not aware that he does not live a normal and full life, that he is handicapped and that there are whole areas of experience and existence that are closed to him. He starts thinking that this is life at its fullest. He doesn’t know that the inability to see colors, the inability to see the magnificence of God’s creation, is a lack and a loss. He accepts it as being the norm. That is tragic because in doing so, he reduces God’s creation.

    If this is true in material matters, how much more so is the effect when it comes to accepting a spiritually crippled life as being the norm. If we come to feel that as a people without a Temple we are living a full life, think of the effect this has on our understanding of what existence is all about, of what our relationship with our Creator is all about. We accept as a normal way of living life without God’s face turned to us. Somehow it seems to us as though the way we live is perfect. It doesn’t make sense to us to go and bring animals, slaughter them in a Temple, put them on an altar and burn up the meat. As a nation, we have begun to feel that maybe sacrifices aren’t necessary after all.

    We have lost the sense of commitment and service to God, which can only be completely filled by bringing a sacrifice. We have lost the value of being able to physically reach out and show God that we give ourselves to Him with totality and completeness. And if we don’t shed our own blood, it’s because we substitute the blood of the sacrifice. But we are ready to give ourselves, our bodies, our blood for His sake. (See Temple Full of Blood http://www.aish.com/torahportion/kolyaakov/A_Temple_Full_of_Blood.asp) If I bring a sacrifice even once a year, it transforms my entire year. The knowledge that I have open to me the opportunity, the desire, the decision, that I will bring a sacrifice, makes me prepare many days for it. It’s an experience that lifts me up. It’s a different and higher form of existence.

    The recognition that the loss of the Temple is really something significant, that I suffer now every minute of my life from that loss, is an absolute necessity in keeping our sanity as Jews. This is why the Rabbis instituted the mourning period of the Three Weeks. The Torah given at Sinai included all components necessary to live a full life in the service of God and was not lacking anything. What then are we to make of the holidays and fast days which are of Rabbinic obligation? Why would the rabbis add new laws to a perfect Code given by God Himself?

    The only possible solution to this difficulty is to realize that every rabbinic law that we encounter within the framework of Torah does not exist as an ideal. Rather, the existence of rabbinic laws reflect a failing of the Jewish People within particular areas which forced the rabbis to respond and correct these failings. As the first Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) teaches (loose translation): “Assu Syag LeTorah” – “Make a fence around the Torah when you deem it necessary. Add precepts and rituals to the Torah to enhance the performance of each of the 613 commandments.”

    Ideally, the original Torah given directly by God was designed to be “self-sufficient” in terms of spiritual growth. But the enactment of the Three Weeks was necessary in order for us to keep an awareness of what it is to be a true servant of God, to know and relate to Him. Therefore, we must use the Three Weeks to make us aware again, to keep us from falling into the trap of accepting our lives now as normal.

    But it goes even beyond this. Not only do we accept a world without a Temple, a world without the sacrifices, as being a tolerable world, but, worse, we accept a world in which the Jewish people and Torah values are subordinate, as being a normal tolerable world. We’re comfortable in America, in Canada, in England and all over. It doesn’t feel as though we’re in the Diaspora at all. We can speak their language and we can relate to them. We live with their value system that at times is antithetical to Torah.

    We accept from them the definition of what a good marriage is, and we start thinking of romance and love as being the basis of marriage. And then marriage becomes primarily a means for self-fulfillment. Shortly thereafter, selfishness becomes ingrained and a part of the very fabric of our existence, instead of the realization that the purpose of marriage is to learn to be concerned one for the other, to be outgoing, to be giving to another.

    We learn from them, we take from them because we don’t feel the exile, because we feel at home. And if once in a while someone says,”Well, but you’re not really at home,” we don’t want to hear it, we don’t want to face it. We feel at home, we’re comfortable. This is degradation and falsehood; this isn’t the way to live.

    Observance of the Three Weeks is more than mourning, it is an acceptance of a commitment that we want a different way of living, and that we understand the purpose of our existence to be an entirely different one than the way in which we are living presently. It is a commitment to seeking a true Jewish existence and a true human existence that requires the awareness of the need for God as an actual presence.

    Think for a moment. After explaining here in detail many of the exile’s horrific effects upon the Jewish soul and value system, what would be the most debilitating consequence of the exile?

    Parshat Shoftim opens with the verse:

    “Judges and policeman shall be placed in all of your cities which God, your Lord, has given you – all of your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” (Devarim 16:18)

    The general themes of Parshat Shoftim are the laws of kings, judges and a central authority of justice present with the existence of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Jewish law.

    This is the most debilitating consequence of the exile – the loss of our judges and Supreme Court. If we had a Sanhedrin, disputes among the Jewish people would cease to exist. While free discussion and questioning has always been encouraged in Jewish learning (as the old expression goes, “Two Jews, three opinions”), as long as a Sanhedrin existed, all Jews followed the same law ruled upon by Sanhedrin as the bottom line. There were no separate groups or factions, observing different laws, customs, or philosophies. The Jewish people were united.

    Without a central authority, disputes may begin for the “sake of heaven” and with God’s law in mind, but all too often, they end with personal, hate-filled arguments and fights. A Jewish people divided is a Jewish people that cannot achieve great accomplishments and brings upon itself terrible suffering. Our internal fighting removes Divine protection from us, which makes us vulnerable for the attack of our enemies. As the Yerushalmi Peah, Chapter 1 says (paraphrased): “Although undeserving, King Achav (an ancient Jewish king) won many wars because the people of his generation were at peace with one another. The opposite is true as well: if Jews fight among themselves, they will lose wars.”

    This is what we mean in the Shemoneh Esrai prayer, 11th blessing:

    “Restore our judges to the influence they once held and our advisers to the prestige they had in earlier times, and thereby remove sorrow and groans.”

    All of our sorrows and groans result from discord and fighting, and our fighting comes as a result of the lack of central authority governing Jewish law and practice. This is why non-existence of the Sanhedrin is perhaps the most debilitating consequence of the exile.

    We have expressed here the pains and sorrows of the exile. Let us live to see the joys and jubilation of the redemption, speedily and soon.

  12. The Path of the Just
    Chapter 25 (Part 1)

    There’s only one way to acquire the sort of deeply affecting and stunning emotion that is the fear of G-d, and that is by taking these bold truths to heart, as Ramchal depicts them: first, “that G-d’s Presence is found everywhere”, and second, “that He involves Himself in everything, great and small”. That’s to say that G-d Almighty’s will and being infuses each and person, place, and thing at every moment, and that He interacts with everything and everyone irrespective of their station.

    In fact, “nothing is hidden from Him, either because it’s vast or insignificant. (indeed,) regardless of whether something is great or small, scant or imposing, G-d constantly sees and understands it” and busies Himself with it.

    After all, didn’t the prophet report that, “The whole world is full of His Glory” (Isaiah 6:3); didn’t G-d Himself say, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24); didn’t the psalmist effulge, “Who is like G-d our G-d, who dwells on high, who lowers Himself to look upon the heavens and the earth?” (Psalms 113:5-6) as well as, “Though G-d is high up, He nonetheless notices the lowly”(Psalms 138:6)?

    Given, then, that “the Holy One involves Himself in everything, and that He sees and hears everything, you can be sure that all (your) actions make an impression” up above, so it would be wise to always have that in mind and to act accordingly.

    Ramchal goes on from there to then suggest that, “when it (in fact) becomes clear to you that wherever you are, you’re standing before the Divine Presence, you’ll (indeed) arrive at the fear and dread of stumbling in actions that would not be fitting before G-d’s profound Glory” as you’ll be infused with the fear of Him and of sinning against Him.

  13. Nitzavim(Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)
    The Snake Oven
    by Rav Aba Wagensberg

    In this week’s parsha (Deut. 30:12), we are told that the Torah “is not found in Heaven” (Lo BaShamayim Hee). The Talmud (Baba Metzia 59) relates a story that connects to this verse:

    There was once a debate concerning the status of an oven’s purity. It was dubbed the “Snake Oven,” due to the amount of discussion ‘coiled’ around the topic, as a snake coils around its prey. Rabbi Eliezer maintained that the oven was pure, while the other Sages argued otherwise. To prove his viewpoint, Rabbi Eliezer said, “If the law is like me, let this carob tree prove it.” The tree suddenly uprooted itself and flew about the length of a football field. The Sages, unimpressed, commented that a proof of Jewish law cannot be brought from a carob tree.

    Rabbi Eliezer continued, “If the law is like me, let this stream of water prove it,” at which point the stream began to flow uphill, a truly miraculous event! Again, the Sages were unmoved and stated that Jewish law could not be verified through water. So Rabbi Eliezer continued, “If the law is like me, let the walls of this study hall prove it.” Suddenly, the walls began to cave in.

    Although the walls of the study hall caved inward out of respect for Rabbi Eliezer, they did not collapse completely, out of respect for Rabbi Yehoshua and the Sages, but remained at a tilt. The Sages stated that we do not bring proof for Jewish law through the walls of a Beit Midrash. And Rabbi Yehoshua, one of the Sages, exclaimed to the walls, “Why are you getting involved in a debate between the Sages?!”

    With the Sages still not persuaded, Rabbi Eliezer called to Heaven to prove his opinion correct. Immediately, a heavenly voice (Bat Kol) rang out, “Why do you argue with Rabbi Eliezer? The law is like him at all times!” To protest, Rabbi Yehoshua arose and cited the verse in this week’s portion, Lo Bashamayim Hee – [Torah] is not in Heaven.” Since God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, at Mount Sinai, authority over Torah matters is here on Earth, not in Heaven!

    Furthermore, since the Torah states (Exodus 23:2) that we are to rule according to the majority, that in itself is explicit proof that in the case of the oven the law was in accordance with the consensus of Sages.

    Some time after this incident, Rabbi Nathan saw Elijah the Prophet and asked him how God had reacted at the conclusion of the “Snake Oven” debate. He responded that God had (metaphorically) smiled and said, “My children have been victorious over Me!”

    Several questions arise concerning this story: If the first sign (the uprooted carob tree) that Rabbi Eliezer revealed did not impress the Sages, why did he continue to convey more? Surely the Sages were not interested in proof from signs. And why did Rabbi Eliezer choose these specific signs? What do these items symbolize?

    * * *

    THE THREE KEYS

    The Vilna Gaon explains that there are three keys to success in Torah:

    Histap’kut – Sufficiency, that is being content with one’s (material) lot.

    Anivut – Humility.

    Shkeida Raba – Diligence.

    There are several sources where we learn of the importance of Histap’kut in acquiring Torah. For instance, the Talmud says (Avot 6:4) that “the way of Torah is eating bread with salt, drinking a measured amount of water, and sleeping on the ground” – in other words, where a person could handle, if necessary, a life where physical needs reach only the most basic level.

    Furthermore, the Talmud (Brachot 17b) relates that every day a voice is heard from Mount Sinai, saying, “The whole world is sustained through the merit of My (God’s) child, Chanina, who sustains himself on a measure of carob from one Shabbat to the next,” implying that Rabbi Chanina’s greatness was achieved by subsisting on a bare minimum.

    This could be a reason why Mount Sinai is also referred to as Chorev (Exodus 33:6), as it has exactly the same letters as the word Charuv – carob. The way to acquire Torah, given at Chorev, is by being able to make do with a minimal amount of material comforts.

    The second key which the Vilna Gaon mentions – humility – is derived from the Talmud (Ta’anit 7a, citing Isaiah 55:1) which compares the Torah to water. Just as water runs from high places and comes to rest in low places, so too Torah moves away from “high” or haughty people, and resides in “low,” humble people. The importance of this attribute is emphasized in the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) which states that the law is always like Hillel, who was known for his humility, as opposed to Shamai, even though the latter was intellectually superior.

    The third key – diligence – is highlighted in the Talmud (Eruvin 21b-22a) which states that Torah is found among those who rise early and stay late in the study hall. Diligence in Torah necessitates dedicating much time and energy to it’s study, and is of paramount importance for success in becoming a Torah scholar.

    [We could suggest that these three keys are hinted at in the three blessings that we recite prior to studying Torah (see Brachot 11b). The first blessing, La’asok BeDivrei Torah – “to engage, or toil over the words of Torah,” corresponds to the attribute of diligence, as much time, effort and dedication is required for success in this area. The second blessing, ‘VeHa’arev Na’, where we ask God to make the Torah sweet for us, refers to Histap’kut, as happiness and sweetness are achieved by means of being satisfied with one’s material lot. Finally, the third blessing, ‘Notein HaTorah’, where we mention ‘the One who gives us the Torah’, corresponds to the trait of humility, as we humbly recognize that we do not take the Torah from God but rather, that God chooses to whom He gives the Torah. It is therefore fitting that prior to learning Torah, we recite these blessings, to remind us of the three ways to achieve success in our studies.]

    * * *

    THE THREE PROOFS

    We can now understand the answer to the third question posed earlier, regarding why Rabbi Eliezer used the specific items of a carob tree, water and study hall as signs to verify his halachic decision, and why Rabbi Eliezer continued to bring more signs even after the Sages were unmoved by the first sign.

    Through the carob tree (symbolizing Histap’kut), Rabbi Eliezer hinted to the Sages that he possessed the attribute of being content with his physical lot. He assumed that his acquisition of this key to Torah would serve as confirmation of his accurate understanding of the law. The Sages, however, were unimpressed, so Rabbi Eliezer thought to show his possession of the majority of keys to Torah. He therefore proceeded to the next sign, using water, which symbolizes humility, as a proof that he had also attained the second key to Torah.

    Again, however, the Sages were not swayed, so Rabbi Eliezer realized that he must show that he has acquired all the keys to Torah. He therefore brought the third sign, where the walls of the study hall began to collapse, hinting that he possessed the attribute of diligence. Surely, after proving that he had acquired all three keys, the Sages would admit that his understanding of Halacha must be correct?

    Finally, once Rabbi Eliezer realized that even all three keys would not impress the Sages, he called upon Heaven to verify his conclusion. A heavenly voice was heard, validating all of Rabbi Eliezer’s halachic rulings, but Rabbi Yehoshua, still undeterred, promptly arose and exclaimed, Lo BaShamyim Hee – “Torah is not in Heaven!”

    A Midrash helps us understand why even the voice from Heaven did not sway the Sages to accept Rabbi Eliezer’s decision. The Midrash (Bereishit Raba 8:5) relates that when God wanted to create Man, some angels were in agreement, while others opposed the idea. This scenario is hinted to in Psalms 80:11 which says, “Kindness and Truth have met.” The Midrash states that Chesed (kindness) went to God, as it were, and told Him to create Man because he will perform many good deeds. However, Emet (truth) claimed that Man will be filled with falsehood and should therefore not be created. God took Truth, says the Midrash, and cast it to Earth. (As it says in Daniel 8:12, “And it shall cast Truth to the ground,” and in Psalms 85:12, “Truth grows from the ground.”)

    Why did Truth claim to God that Man was unworthy of being created? The Vilna Gaon suggests it was due to the fact that Man, with his limited intellectual capacity, would not have the ability to fully recognize Truth. Thus to circumvent this claim, God cast Truth to the Earth, enabling Man to access it – and thus worthy of being created!

    The Vilna Gaon explains that Torah is the truth which God cast to Earth (Torat Emet – see Malachi 2:6). This is why Rabbi Yehoshua and the Sages, even after hearing the heavenly voice thundering that Rabbi Eliezer’s conclusion is correct, were undeterred. They recognized that Truth, the will of God, lies not in Heaven, but here on Earth, with the word of God that was already handed to us at Mount Sinai, in the Torah.

    We could suggest that is why God smiled and said, “My children have been victorious.” In effect the oven incident was a test from God to see whether the Sages would concede under pressure from the signs (particularly the heavenly voice) and accept the validity of Rabbi Eliezer’s ruling, or whether they would stand firm with the Truth of Torah. The Sages succeeded, and thus guaranteed the eternity of the Torah in the world, because the only way that Torah can be perpetuated down the generations is through the teachings of our Sages who hold the keys to the truth. (The words ‘victory’ and ‘eternity’ share the same root, netzach.)

    The real bearers of Truth are those connected to Torah. Our tzaddikim individuals with fully refined characters and giants in Torah wisdom, hold the keys to the will of God. We must not doubt nor fear the decisions and advice of our Sages, but follow them wholeheartedly, as we are told in Deut. 17:11, because we recognize that it is they who know the truth.

    And with this, may we all merit the keys to spiritual success!

  14. Vezos HaBracha – Moses’ Greatest Deed
    by Rav Yonasan Gefen

    The Torah concludes with a stirring eulogy for Moses, ending with
    praise for, “the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed
    before the eyes of all Israel1.” The Medrash, cited by Rashi, explains
    that the phrase, “before the eyes of all Israel” refers to Moses’
    decision to break the two tablets that he had just received in front
    of the Jewish people. Why, of all Moses’ great deeds, does the Torah
    choose to single this one out at its finale as perhaps the greatest of
    them all?

    The Ateres Mordechai offers a profound insight to answer this
    question2. Moses had invested great effort over many years in bringing
    the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt to the point of the Giving
    of the Torah, and now he had just spent 40 days without food or drink
    fending off the angels and securing the Tablets for the Jewish people.
    When he returned from the mountain and saw the people worshipping the
    Golden Calf he realized that they were not on the level to receive the
    Tablets and that he must destroy them. However, imagine what a test it
    must have been to forsake all that effort and energy that he had
    invested to get to this moment. He surely could have rationalized that
    although they did not deserve the Tablets now, perhaps things would
    change soon and it wasn’t necessary to destroy them right away. But
    Moshe did not do so; he showed great integrity and intellectual
    honesty to break the Tablets purely because that was the correct
    course of action.

    Very often in life, we are placed in similar situations to that of
    Moses – we invest time or energy into something and then we are faced
    with the possibility that we have made a mistake and need to start
    again or that there has been a new turn of events that makes our
    original stand obsolete. There is a great temptation in such instances
    to dig our heels in and stand by our initial plan against our better
    judgment. It is very hard to admit that we are wrong or need to start
    again after putting in so much effort into something. And perhaps the
    most difficult aspect of knocking down what we have already built is
    that we are showing that we have made a mistake – it is extremely
    difficult for people to admit that their opinions, lifestyle or
    attitude is wrong.

    Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz brings an example from the Books of the Prophets
    of how a person can become so set in his ways that he cannot change
    even when placed under the greatest pressure3. After the destruction
    of Jericho, Joshua placed a curse on anyone who would rebuild it. Many
    years later, in the time of King Achav, a man named Chiel decided to
    defy the curse and rebuild Jericho4. When he laid the first brick, his
    first-born died, and as he continued building his sons continued dying
    one by one until when he completed the city his youngest son also
    passed away. How can a person be so foolish to continue in a path that
    causes his misery?! Rav Shmueleviz answers that he was so convinced in
    the rightness of his actions that he could not admit that he was wrong
    and he preferred to bury all his sons over admitting that he was
    wrong!

    In contrast the Talmud shows an example of the greatness involved in
    admitting one’s mistakes. Rabbi Shimon HaAmsoni used to explain every
    word ‘es’ in the Torah as providing a secondary meaning to the object
    mentioned5. For example, in the mitzvah of honoring parents, there is
    an ‘es’ from which he derived the inclusion of older siblings, and
    consequently a person must honor his elder sibling as well as his
    parents. However, when he came to the verse, “Es Hashem Elokecha tira”
    he was unable to find a secondary recipient of the fear that we must
    feel for God. His students asked him, “what will come of all the
    instances where you have explained the word ’es’”? He replied, “Just
    as I have been rewarded for expounding them, so shall I rewarded now
    for abandoning them.” Then Rabbi Akiva came and taught that the ’es’
    in the verse teaches us that a person must fear God and also Torah
    scholars. The Alter of Kelm notes the greatness of Rabbi Shimon who
    did not hesitate to abandon the theory that he had held and developed
    throughout his life when he felt that he could no longer justify it.
    Moreover, he taught his students a priceless lesson – that his
    abandoning of his theory which was done in a moment was as great as
    all the investigating and explaining he had done all his life6!

    This lesson is strongly connected to the day of Simchas Torah with
    which Vezos Habracha always coincides. We end the Torah and then
    immediately restart it again, reading the opening verses of Bereishis.
    This alludes to us that even though we have completed the whole Torah,
    we should not feel that we do not need to repeat it again. We can
    relearn it and develop new insights, sometimes even contradicting our
    present understanding and we should not feel embarrassed to
    acknowledge that we were wrong.

    Rav Frand suggests that this idea is also alluded to in the marriage
    ceremony7. The custom is that the groom breaks a glass, and most
    commentators explain that this is a remembrance of the destruction of
    the Temple. However, he notes that one commentator connects this
    custom to the breaking of the Tablets. Why do we need to be reminded
    of that event during a wedding? He answers that perhaps it is to teach
    the new couple that in order for their marriage to work, they must
    strive to emulate Moses’ actions in breaking the Tablets. In order for
    a marriage to work, both husband and wife must be willing to act with
    great honesty and admit their mistakes rather than stand on their
    pride. Both need to be prepared to let go of their preconceived
    notions and prejudices and strive for truth. These are not easy
    demands, but if we see that Moses was ready to break the most valuable
    thing in the world because it was the right thing to do, then we too
    can surely be prepared to make changes when it is clearly the God’s
    will.

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