Sunday, November 16, 2014

Toldot 5775

The Torah Portion of Toldot 


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And these are the generations of Yitzchak, Avraham's son  -- Avraham begot Yitzchak."  (Bereisheet 25:19)


Why is it necessary to say "Avraham begot Yitzchak", since it was already stated that "these are the generations of Yitzchak, Avraham's son"?  Rashi explains that Yitzchak was similar to Avraham in his facial features.  And the Abarbanel explains that everything that happened to Avraham happened also to Yitzchak.  Both of them took a wife from within their families.  Avraham and Yitzchak both suffered with problems of infertility.  They both had two children, one of whom was righteous and one of whom was wicked.  In both of their times there was a famine, as a result of which Yitzchak went in exile to Gerar and Avraham went in exile to Mitzrayim (Egypt).  Both of them said about their wives "she is my sister".  Both of them were blessed with many cattle.  Both of them dug wells which the Philishtim plugged up.

"And Yitzchak entreated Hashem...and Hashem let himself be entreated by him"  (Bereisheet 25:21)


Why is it written "entreated" and not "prayed"?  Rashi writes that he "engaged much and urgently in prayer".  And when it says "...and Hashem let himself be entreated by him", Rashi writes that "He let himself be urged, conciliated, and persuaded by him".  Why was it necessary for him to pray with so much effort?  The Meforshim (those who expound the Torah) explain that if Eisav would have been born before that, Avraham would have had to die sooner.  For behold, when Eisav was 15 years old, Avraham died so that he would not see Eisav going out to do uncivilized, evil acts.  Therefore Yitzchak needed to pray a lot because it was a decree from Heaven to delay the birth of Eisav, so that Avraham would not need to die many years before his time.  And the Gaon R' Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld ztz"l adds that the Gematria (numerical value of the Hebrew letters) for "and Hashem let himself be entreated by him" (in Hebrew: V'yei'ater Lo Hashem), which is 748, is equal to the Gematria for "five years" (in Hebrew: "Chameish Shanim"), since Avraham needed to live for 180 years like Yitzchak, and died 5 years before his time. 

"And the children struggled together within her and she said 'If so, why is it that I am?'..."  (Bereisheet 25:22)


Rashi explains that when she would pass by the entrances of places of Torah study, Yaakov would struggle to come out, and when she would pass by the entrances of places of idol worship, Eisav would struggle to come out.   And the Meforshim (those who expound the Torah) ask, perhaps in the case of Eisav it is understandable that he wanted to go out to idol worship and not to learn with the angel (which teaches Torah to the baby before birth), but why did Yaakov want to go out, for behold, he was learning with the angel before he was born?  And the explanation is that it was better for him to go out to the world, even if he needed to give up on the possibility of learning with the angel, than to be together with Eisav in one place.

"...And they called his name Eisav."  (Bereisheet 25:25)


The Baal HaTurim says that the name "Eisav" has the same Gematria (numerical values of the Hebrew letters) as the word "Shalom" (in English: "Peace").  [Translator's note: the numerical values of the Hebrew letters of "Eisav" are Ayin = 70,  Shin = 300, and  Vuv = 6, which adds up to a total of 376.  The numerical values of the Hebrew letters of "Shalom" are Shin = 300, Lamed = 30, Vuv = 6, and Mem = 40, which also adds up to a total of 376.]  If his Gematria had not been "Shalom" ("Peace") he would have destroyed the whole world.

"...and he called his name Yaakov..." (Bereisheet 25:26)


The letters of Yaakov's name are Yud, Ayin, Kuf, and Beit.  The Daat Zekainim says that the letters of Yaakov's name are hints, as follows:  Yud, which has a Gematria (numerical value) of 10, hints at the 10 Commandments. Ayin, which has a Gematria of 70, hints at the 70 Elders (who assisted Moshe Rabbeinu in leading the Jewish people in the desert.)  Kuf, which has a Gematria of 100, hints at the  Beit HaMikdash (the Temple) which stood at a height of 100 Amot.  Beit, which has a Gematria of Two, hints at the Two Tablets of the Covenant (upon which were written the 10 Commandments.)

"...And Yaakov was a man of simplicity (or wholesomeness)..." ( Bereisheet 25:27)  


Rashi says that someone who doesn't know how to deceive is called simple (or wholesome).  (Translator's note: the word in Hebrew "Tam" can be translated as either simple or wholesome.)  Apparently, however, we see that when he was with Lavan, Yaakov knew how to deceive.  Rather, Rashi's intention is that someone who doesn't know how to deceive is called simple.  In contrast, Yaakov was not "simple", but rather, a man of simplicity (or wholesomeness), who ruled over his simplicity and knew when to be straightforward and when not to.  The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) say that Yaakov represents the aspect of Truthfulness, as it is said "Give Truth to Yaakov..." (Micah 7:20), yet we see that several times he acted in a cunning manner: 1)  he took the birthright of the firstborn son,  2)  he took the blessings, and 3) with Lavan, he used the sticks (to increase his flocks).  For we don't know what is "Truthfulness", but the Tzaddik (Righteous Man) knows when to act in a straightforward manner and when to act cunningly.


"And Yitzchak loved Eisav..." (Bereisheet 25:28)


The Gaon R' Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld ztz"l explains why Yaakov is called the "select one of the Patriarchs", in connection to the verse "and Yitzchak loved Eisav".  If the Torah writes this verse, that means that the love of Yitzchak for Eisav was a true and recognizable love.  In spite of that, when Yaakov and Eisav were going out in the morning, each one went on his path; Yaakov went to serve Hashem by making an effort in Torah and prayer while Eisav went to do evil deeds.  In the evening when they returned Yitzchak showed love to Eisav and didn't pay any attention at all to Yaakov, and so it was for the duration of a long period of time.  And because of this, Yaakov of necessity would have thought that certainly since Yitzchak was the greatest person of the generation and he gave emotional support only to Eisav, perhaps his (Yaakov's) way of serving Hashem wasn't appropriate.  But in any event, he didn't pay attention to that and stayed with strength and persistency on his path, even though he saw that Yitzchak related only to Eisav.   Therefore he is called "the select one of the Patriarchs", since he was in a constant state of living with a very difficult challenge, and in spite of it all, he remained steadfast in his wholesomeness.

"..and in that year he reaped a hundredfold, and Hashem blessed him." (Bereisheet 26:12)


What is the meaning of the ending of this verse, "and Hashem blessed him"?  Wasn't it already written  that he reaped "a hundredfold" before that?  The Seforno explains that even though a lot of produce grew and it would have been appropriate for the produce to be sold cheaply because of the increased output, in any event he was able to still sell it for a high price, and that is what it meant by "and Hashem blessed him".

"And Yitzchak returned and he dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Avraham his faher...and he called them by the same names that his father had called them."  (Bereisheet 26:18)


Rabbeinu Bachya explains that from here we see a proof that one shouldn't change from the ways of his fathers, and that is the explanation of "the same names that his father had called them", that one should act according to the traditions of his fathers.

"And the servants of Yitzchak dug...and he called the name of the well Eisek ...Then they dug another well...and he called its name Sitnah...and he dug another well...and he called the name of it Rehovot and he said 'For now Hashem has made room for us and we shall be fruitful in the land'." (Bereisheet 26:19-22)


Three wells were dug by the servants of Yitzchak.  The first well is symbolic of the First Temple and it was destroyed, and therefore it was called "Eisek" (a name which means "contention").  The second well is symbolic of the Second  Temple, and it was therefore called "Sitnah" (a name which means "enmity").  The third well is symbolic of the Third Temple, and it is therefore called "Rehovot (a name which means "expansiveness"),  and regarding that well it is written,"and we shall be fruitful in the land".  (from the Ramban)

"And the servants of Yitzchak dug...and he called the name of the well Eisek ...Then they dug another well...and he called its name Sitnah...and he dug another well...and he called the name of it Rehovot and he said 'For now Hashem has made room for us and we shall be fruitful in the land'." (Bereisheet 26:19-22)


In the case of the first two wells, it is written "And the servants of Yitzchak dug...", and regarding the third well, it is written "and he dug", meaning that only Yitzchak dug.  And the reason for this is that in the beginning Yitzchak's servants dug and there was no blessing from that, and therefore afterwards Yitzchak dug by himself and then they saw blessing. 

"And the servants of Yitzchak dug...and he called the name of the well Eisek ...Then they dug another well...and he called its name Sitnah...and he dug another well...and he called the name of it Rehovot and he said 'For now Hashem has made room for us and we shall be fruitful in the land'." (Bereisheet 26:19-22)


The Chafetz Chaim says that from the wells one can learn the way to serve Hashem, for in the beginning they dug and didn't succeed and the its name was called "Eisek" ("contention").  And the second time they also didn't succeed and its name was called  "Sitnah" ("enmity").  Only after that they dug and then it was called "Rechovot" ("expansiveness") and it was stated, "we shall be fruitful in the land".  Similarly, regarding a student who comes to learn Torah and even though in the beginning he doesn't see any success, he should never despair, and then in the end he will truly succeed.

"...I am sick of my life on account of the daughers of Chait, if Yaakov takes a wife from the daughters of Chait like these, from the daughters of the land, why do I need life?"  (Bereisheet 27:46)


Why didn't she say to Yitzchak that Eisav wants to kill Yaakov, like she said to Yaakov?  The Ohr HaChaim HaKodesh says that because of the prohibition of Rechilut (Gossip)  she gave another reason to Yitzchak, but by revealing it to Yaakov, she fulfilled a Mitzvah (from Vayikra 19:16) of "do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor".

"...mother of Yaakov and Eisav."  (Bereisheet 28:5)


Rashi says, "I don't know what this teaches us".  There are early commentators who explain that it was necessary to write this so that one wouldn't wonder how an evil person like Eisav would come out from two Tzaddikim (righteous people) like Yitzchak and Rivkah.  Therefore it states "...to Lavan the son of Betuel the Aramean, the brother of Rivkah, mother of Yaakov and Eisav" (Bereisheet 28:5), to tell you that since most of the sons are similar to the brothers of the mother, therefore Eisav was similar to Lavan the Aramean.  

"...to Lavan the son of Betuel the Aramean, the brother of Rivkah, mother of Yaakov and Eisav" (Bereisheet 28:5)


According to Rabbenu Bacchya, this verse comes to explain to us how it could be that Yaakov went to seek a marriage partnership which would connect him with an evil person who was the son of an evil person, that is to say with "Lavan the son of Betuel the Aramean".  The explanation is that he (Lavan) was "the brother of Rivkah".  He was the brother of a righteous woman (Rivkah) and it was likely that his daughters would be similar to his sister.  Afterwards, the verse continues with a praise of Rivkah, that she was the "mother of Yaakov and Eisav", and it would have been expected for her to love both of them equally since she was the mother of both of them, and if anything we would expect her to love Eisav more than Yaakov, for it is the nature of mothers is to love their firstborn son.   And nevertheless, Rivkah's love was directed mainly toward Yaakov, because she saw the beauty of his character traits.

"And Yaakov listened to his father and to his mother..." (Bereisheet 28:7)


It is necessary to understand, what is the meaning of "to his father and to his mother"?  The explanation is, that there were two different commands.  His father told him to take a wife from Charan, and Rivkah told him to get up and flee from Eisav to Charan.  And that is why it is written that "Yaakov listened to his father", regarding taking a wife, "and to his mother", to flee to Charan.


The Torah Portion of Toldot has 106 verses. Haftora: Machar Chodesh" (Shmuel Aleph, 20:18-42).

This is Shabbat Mevorchim for the Month of Kislev.
Rosh Chodesh Kislev is on Sunday.
The Molad is on Yom Shabbat Kosesh (Shabbat in the daytime)  at 9:46 with 17 Chalakim.
 We say Borchi Nafshi.

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chayei Sarah 5775

The Torah Portion of Chayei Sarah 


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"And it was that the lifetime of Sarah..." (In Hebrew: "Vayihu'yu Chayei Sarah..."-- Bereisheet 23:1) 


The first word of this verse in Hebrew is "Vayih'yu".  The word Vayih'yu is a palindrome; that is it is spelled the same way backwards and forwards, with the Hebrew letters Vuv Yud Hey Yud Vuv.  So "Vayih'yu" when it is read backwards also is "Vayih'yu".  This comes to hint that if a man does Mitzvot and good deeds, the day that has passed isn't thought of to be in the past, for even though the day has already gone by, the Mitzvot that he did continue to exist and stand before him always.  And that is why it says "Vayih'yu Chayei Sarah", with the word "Vayih'yu" which is read backwards also "Vayih'yu", to tell us that because she was a righteous woman,  even when looking backwards, that is at the days which have already passed, these days are still thought of as the lifetime of Sarah (i.e., as if she is still alive) because of the good deeds which she did.

"And it was that the lifetime of Sarah..." (In Hebrew: "Vayihu'yu Chayei Sarah..."-- Bereisheet 23:1)


The first word of this verse in Hebrew, "Vayih'yu", has the Gematria (numerical value of its letters) of 37.  (Note: The Hebrew letters of Vayh'yu are Vuv Yud Hey Yud Vuv. The numerical value of Vuv = 6, Yud = 10, Hey = 5, Yud = 10, and Vuv = 5.  The sum of 6 + 10 + 5 + 10 + 6 = 37.)  This is a hint that 37 years were the most important, best years of Sarah Imenu's life, because from the time that Yitzchak was born until Sarah passed away there were 37 years.

"when she was 100 years old she was like 20 years old" (Rashi on Bereisheet 23:1)


There are those that explain that thus are the ways of man, in the days of his youth he is connected in his nature to the desires of this world but on the other hand he is strong in the trait of being alacritous (to do Mitzvot), but an elderly man is the oppposite way -- he is weak in the trait of alacrity but on the other hand he is not as connected to the desires of this world as he was during his youth.  And this verse comes to tell us that Sarah had both of these good traits together.  All her days she was like a 20 year old regarding the matter of being alacritous to do Mitzvot, and also she was like a 100 year old, distant from the desires of this world all of her days.

"when she was 100 years old she was like 20 years old" (Rashi on Bereisheet 23:1)


Tehillim Chapter 100 is "Mizmor L'Todah" (in English: "A Psalm of thanksgiving") , and Tehillim Chapter 20 is "Ya'ancha Hashem B'yom Tzarah" (in English: "May Hashem answer you on the day of distress").  In all situations one needs to thank Hashem, also on a day of distress.  In addition, the custom is to say the Tehillim "Ya''ancha Hashem" aloud and slowly (that is, with deliberation and enunciation of each word), and also the Tehillim "Mizmor L'Todah" needs to be said that way.  In the Shulchan Aruch  Orach Chaim (Siman 51) it's written that "Mizmor L'Todah" needs to said with a melody.

"...the years of Sarah's life."  (Bereisheet 23:1)


Rashi explains that "they were all equal in goodness".  And behold, in truth Sarah had much anguish and suffering in her life.  Until the aged of 90 she didn't have children, and she was also taken into the house of Pharoah and the house of Avimelech, and she also suffered from famine.  And in spite of all that, she accepted everything with love, and that is the explanation of what Rashi said that "they were all equal in goodness".  Even the difficult days were thought of in her eyes as good.

"...to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her." (Bereisheet 23:2)


Why is it written first "to eulogize" and afterwards "to weep"?  This is not the usual way of mourners, who at the beginning weep and afterwards eulogize, as it is written in the Gemara (Moed Katan 27b): three days for weeping and seven days for eulogizing.  And the Rishonim explain that when Avraham came he found the people in his household eulogizing her because three days had already elapsed from the time of her passing, so Avraham made eulogies with them, and afterwards he wept for her.  And the Kli Yakar explains that in general, for everyone who passes away the mourning gradually decreases, because with the passage of time everything is forgotten.  But in the case of this righteous woman, on each and every day the people of her generation increasingly felt her absence, because of the absence of her Torah and good deeds, which were lost from her generation.  Therefore, the eulogizing came before the weeping.

"... and to weep for her."  (in Hebrew: "V'livkotah", Bereisheet 23:2)


The Hebrew word "V'livkotah", which means "and to weep for her", is spelled Vuv Lamed Vait Kaf Tav Heh, and the letter Kaf is written smaller than the other letters. Why is the letter Kaf smaller? The Baal HaTurim says that he wept only a little bit because she was already old.  There is another explanation, that Avraham only wept a little bit so that people wouldn't say that he regretted the Akeida (binding of Yitzchak), because Sarah passed away as a result of being told about the Akeida.  And there is another explanation, that it appears as if the word is written "and for her daughter" (in Hebrew: "V'l'bitah" ,without the Kaf since it written smaller than the other letters), because at the same time the daughter of Avraham also passed away.

"...Chayei Sarah..." (Bereisheet 23:1) and "Vayechi..." (Bereisheet 47:28)


There are two Torah Portions in which matters of death are discussed and yet, the names of the Torah Portions are based linguistically on the word for life in Hebrew, "Chaim" ("Chayei" in this week's Torah Portion, and "Vayechi" in the Torah Portion of Vayechi).  In the Torah Portion of Chayei Sarah, the deaths of Sarah and Avraham are discussed, and in the Torah Portion of Vayechi, the deaths of Yaakov and Yosef are discussed and yet it begins with the words  "Vayechi Yaakov" (in English: "And Yaakov lived").  The reason for this is that Tzaddikim (Righteous People) are also called "Chaim" (alive) even when they have died. 

"And Avraham was old, coming with days..."  (Bereisheet 24:1)


The commentators on the Torah say that he filled all the days of his life  with Torah and with Mitzvot, and that Avraham came to the Next World with all the days (of his life), for there was no defect in any of them.

"...and Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything." (Bereisheet 24:1)


Rashi explains that the Hebrew word for "with everything", "BaKol", has the same Gematria (numerical value) as the Hebrew word  for "son" (in Hebrew: "Ben").  (Note: The letters of the Hebrew word "BaKol" are Beit, Kaf, and Lamed. The numerical value of Beit = 2, Kaf = 20, and Lamed = 30. The sum of 2 + 20 + 30  is equal to 52.  The Hebrew letters of the word "Ben" are Beit and Nun.  The numerical value of Beit = 2, and Nun = 50.  The sum of 2 + 50 also is equal to 52.  So the Gematria of "BaKol" is the same as the Gematria of "Ben".)  And there are those that say that he had a daughter and her name was "BaKol".

"BaKol" (in English "with everything") has the same Gematria as "Ben" (in English: "son")


There are those that ask, why did this need to be stated indirectly, by means of Gematria?  Why couldn't it just be written in the verse "and Hashem had blessed Avraham with a son"?   And the explanation is that someone who has a righteous son like Yitzchak Avinu already has everything, and that is the explanation of "BaKol" (in English: "with everything").

"...and Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything."  (Bereisheet 24:1)


What is the blessing to Avraham "with everything"?  If it's good for everyone and not just for himself, that was regarded as a blessing by him. (from Mayana Shel Torah)

"And he said, Hashem, G-d of my master Avraham.."  (Bereisheet 24:12)


The cantillation mark that is written for  the Hebrew word "Vayomar" in this verse (in English: "And he said") is a Shalshelet.  The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) explain that the way of the Evil Inclination is that it doesn't come in the beginning with enormous transgressions, such as telling you to go serve idols and the like, but rather it starts with small things.  And therefore it is written regarding Lot, "And he delayed" (Bereisheet 19:16), with a Shalshelet, for the Evil Inclination made him lazy and weak with regard to fulling a Mitzvah (to leave Sodom) and he delayed and didn't hurry.  And after that, the Shalshelet appears in the current verse (Bereisheet 24:12)  on the Hebrew word for "And he said";  the Evil Inclination enters into a conversation with him and entices him.  And after that, it's already written "And he refused" (Bereisheet 39:8) with a Shalshelet, because he already doesn't want to learn Torah, and after that it's written in the Torah Portion of Tzav "And he slaughtered" (Vayikra 8:23) with a  Shalshelet, for the Evil Inclination has already conquered him entirely.  And there are those who explain this sequence of verses containing a Shalshelet with a good ending, that "And he refused" (Bereisheet 39:8) means that he doesn't want to listen to the Evil Inclination, and that "And he slaughtered" (Vayikra 8:23) means that he conquered the Evil Inclination.

The Sages say that three asked inappropriately.


Eliezer said "the girl...who says drink and I will also give water to your camels..." (Bereisheet 24:14), and this was inappropriate, for perhaps a crippled girl would come out.  Shaul HaMelech said that whoever would kill Goliath, he would give him his daughter.  And that was not appropriate, because perhaps the person who would succeed in that goal would have a defect.  But Yiftach asked inappropriately and didn't succeed, because he was forced to offer up his daughter as an offering.  And all three of these are hinted at by the cantillation mark of the Shalshelet on the word "Vayomer" (Bereisheet 24:12 -- in English: "And he said"), because the Shalshelet contains three "waves" of musical notes of rising and falling pitch.

"And the servant ran...and she hastened...and she ran" (Bereisheet 24:17 - 20)


It's necessary to understand why it is mentioned here several times the concept of alacrity and swiftness.  On a simple level, it's possible to say that this is to teach us that all the deeds of righteous people are done with alacrity.  And the Gaon HaRav Yitzchak Zev  HaLevi Soloveitchek of Brisk ztzvk"l explained that Eliezer said "may it happen before me today" (Bereisheet 24:12), that is, that the sign was that it would happen on that very day, and since it was approaching evening, therefore everything needed to occur quickly in order for all of it to happen before the sunset, so that all of it would be on that very day.

"...drink and I will also give water to your camels..."  (Bereisheet 24:14)


The commentators on the Torah ask, what was so special about that?  Behold, also today we see that the daughters of Israel do much kindness similar to that.  The explanation is that Eliezer arrived with many servants and Rivkah could have thought to herself that kindness is something that one should do only if it's needed, but in this instance Eleazer, who was very wealthy and also had a lot of servants, why should he bother a small girl of three years old?  And even so, Rivkah didn't make any calculations like that and immediately acted kindly.  And this is called an act of kindness without any excuses or calculations, because if an opportunity to perform a Mitzvah comes to your hands you shouldn't miss the opportunity because of various answers and excuses.  And this is similar to someone who sees a diamond on the ground, that he shouldn't tell someone else to pick it up.

"And she finished giving him to drink,  and she said" (Bereisheet 24:19)


The Seforno explains that Rivkah waited to speak until he finished drinking, just as the Sages say (Taanit 5b) "One shouldn't speak at the time of eating and drinking lest something goes down into the trachea (tube in the throat for breathing) instead of the esophagus (tube in the throat for swallowing) and the person's life can become endangered".

"And he (Eliezer) said 'I will not eat until I have spoken my words', and he (Lavan) said 'speak'. And he (Eliezer) said 'I am a servant of Avraham'..." (Bereisheet 24:33-34)


The Baalei HaTurim says that Eliezer told them, I need to say beforehand the blessing on washing the hands, and the blessing on the bread.  And when Lavan said "speak', he meant, so say it already, and his intention was that he should say the blessings quickly without enunciating the words carefully and slowly.  And when Eliezer said "I am a servant of Avraham", his intention was to say, that since I am a servant of Avraham, I don't do that in a rush.  I pray and say blessings with intention and slowly, with careful enunciation of the words. And because of that Eliezer was saved from the death (by poisoning of the food) that they were plotting against him. 

"And they blessed Rivkah and said to her, 'Our sister, may you come to be thousands of myriads...'  "  (Bereisheet 24:60)


The Sages say that because of this blessing, Rivkah was infertile, so that people wouldn't say that Rivkah had been blessed by this blessing.  It can be asked, haven't the Sages said "Don't let the blessing of an ordinary person be a light manner in your eyes, and even the blessing of a gentile", such as the blessings of Aravna and Darius?  And the explanation is that they (Aravna and Darius) blessed in the name of Hashem.  Aravna said to David HaMelech, "Hashem Elokim should be pleased with you" (Shmuel Beit 24:23).  Darius said to Daniel "May your G-d, Whom you serve regularly, save you" (Daniel 6:17).  But Lavan and his mother blessed Rivkah without mentioning Hashem, and therefore this is not considered to fall into the category of a blessing by an ordinary person.  

Why did Avraham command Eliezer to take a bride for Yitzchak from his family?


It has been asked by the Meforshim (those who explain the Torah), why did Avraham command Eliezer to take a bride for Yitzchak from his family, who were idol worshippers? The explanation is that even though they (his family) had corrupt opinions, in any event the Canaanites had corrupt character traits and that was worse, because character traits can be passed on through inheritance but opinions are possible to change.  (from Drashot HaRan, Avnei Nezer)

The Torah Portion of Chayei Sarah has 105 verses. Haftora: "V'hamelech David" (Melachim 1:1).

We say Borchi Nafshi.

May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Monday, November 3, 2014

Vayeira 5775

The Torah Portion of Vayeira 


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"...in the plains of Mamre..."  (Bereisheet 18:1)


The Sages say that Avraham asked Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre about Brit Mila (Circumcision).  Aner said to him that circumcision was difficult for him because he was old.  The Hebrew letters of the name Aner (Ayin, Nun, Reish) are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of  the Hebrew phrase "Inui Nefesh Ra", which in English means that "Causing the soul to suffer is bad".  Eshkol said to him, after you killed the four kings you have many enemies, and if so, it's possible that circumcision will instigate new hatred against you.  The Hebrew letters of the name Eshkol (Aleph, Shin, Kaf, Lamed) are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the Hebrew phrase "Avraham Sonim Kabirim Lecha", which in English means "Avraham, you have powerful enemies".  And Mamre told him to circumcise.  The Hebrew letters of the name Mamre (Mem, Mem, Reish, Aleph) are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the Hebrew phrase, "Maheir Malei Rotzon Avicha ", which in English means, "Quickly fulfill the will of your Father".  The Rebbe told to his students that in Yiddish, the letters of the name Mamre are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the phrase "Mimuz Malen Reb Avraham", which in English means "You must circumcize, Mr. Avraham". 

"...Mamre..." (Bereisheet 18:1)


The letters of the name Mamre (Mem, Mem, Reish, Aleph) are the Roshei Teivot (initial letters) of the difficult events which had happened to Avraham Avinu.  Mem stands for "Mitzrayim" (in English: Egypt), where Pharoah took Sarah.  Another Mem stands for "Malachim" (in English: Kings); this refers to the war with the four kings.  "Reish" stands for "Ra'av" (in English: famine), referring to the fact that there had been a famine in the Land of Israel.  "Aleph" stands for "Aish (in English: fire); referring to the incident in which Avraham was cast into a burning furnace in Ur Kasdim.  And this is what "Mamre" was hinting to Avraham, that after the Holy One Blessed Be He saved you from all of those difficult straits, it's appropriate that you should fulfill his will and circumcise yourself.  

"...and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day."  (Bereisheet 18:1)


The Sages say that Avraham sits next to the opening of Gehinom and doesn't allow anyone to enter that is circumcized, and that is what is hinted at in the verse by "sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day".  The "heat of the day" is referring to Gehinom which burns like fire.

"...and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent..."  (Bereisheet 18:2)


Why did he already start running from the entrance of the tent?  The explanation is that according to the Halacha, someone who is going to do a Mitzvah needs to run, and someone who is returning from doing a Mitzvah needs to walk slowly.  And if he returns from doing one Mitzvah and is going to do a different Mitzvah, if the two Mitzvot are of equal value, then the first half of the way he needs to walk slowly and afterwards he needs to hurry.  But if the second Mitzvah is greater and more important, then he needs to hurry from the start.  Therefore, since the Mitzvah of Hachnassat Orchim (hospitality -- receiving guests) is greater and more important than receiving the face of the Shechina (the Divine Presence), he needed to run already as soon as he started going to do the Mitzvah, and that was "from the entrance of the tent".

"...please do not pass by from before your servant." (Bereisheet 18:3)


It is written "please", and this is a word indicating a request, because Avraham implored them and requested them to come to his house.  From this we see what it means to love Chesed (in English: kindness) and to pursue Tzedakah (in English: charity or righteousness) and Chesed. 

"Let a little bit water be brought, please..." (Bereisheet 18:4)


Why did he request only a little bit?  The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) say that it's forbidden to be a Tzaddik (Righteous Man) at someone else's expense, and since he was requesting that the water be brought by a Shaliach (someone else who was acting as his agent), he only requested a little bit. 

"Let a little bit of water be brought, please...And Avraham ran to the cattle"  (Bereisheet 18:4-7)


The Sages say that regarding what Avraham did for the angels directly by himself and not by means of a Shaliach (someone else who was acting as his agent), also Hashem paid for it (by giving something similar) to his descendants afterwards in the desert directly by himself and not be means of a Shaliach -- and that was the Mannah and the Quails. And what that Avraham gave by means of a Shaliach, Hashem gave to the children of Israel by means of a Shaliach -- and that was the water which was by means of Moshe who hit the rock in Chorev.  And there are those that ask, behold, wasn't Avraham 99 years old and certainly this wasn't the only time that he gave food and drink to guests? And if so, why is it only because of this occasion of receiving guests that his descendants merited this, since all his days he occupied himself with the Mitzvah of Hachnassat Orchim (receiving guests)?  And the explanation is that to give food and drink to the people of Israel in the desert is beyond the ways of nature, and therefore only the merit of Avraham at the time of his old age and in the days of his sickness on the third day after his circumcision, when he not only gave them food, but ran after them and exerted himself to fulfill all their needs in the best way possible (which was going beyond the ways of nature), only this merit was what stood by the children of Israel in the desert so that they could also receive their food in a way that was beyond the ways of nature.  (Based on Be'er Yosef) 

"Let a little bit of water be brought, please...And Avraham ran to the cattle"  (Bereisheet 18:4-7)


The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) would explain the lesson that we need to learn from this, that the smallest act has an effect for generations on one's descendants afterwards.  And we see this from the story of the Hachnassat Orchim (receiving guests) of Avraham Avinu o"h.  Because he brought the water by means of a Shaliach (an agent acting on his behalf), therefore the children of Israel needed to receive water by means of a Shaliach, and because of this it came about that Moshe hit the rock at the end of 40 years, and from that it was decreed that he would not enter the Land of Israel.  And if Moshe had entered the Land of Israel, it is brought by the Sages that the Bait HaMikdash (Temple) would not have been destroyed and we would not have been exiled from the Land of Israel.

"...Shall I hide from Avraham that which  I am doing...For I have known him, because he commands his children and his household after him"  (Bereisheet 18:17-19)


Hashem revealed to Avraham that he wanted to overthrow Sodom, and we need to understand the connection between Hashem's need to notify Avraham about the destruction of Sodom and Hashem's knowledge that Avraham  "commands his children".  Those who explain the Torah say that this can be understood by means of a parable.  When an old man enters a store to buy himself a garment, he tries on a lot of clothes until he finds a garment that fits him.  In contrast, a father of a large family doesn't check the size of the clothes, but rather takes everything that looks suitable because in any event he won't lose out. If a garment doesn't fit one of his bigger children it will fit one of his smaller children.  Similarly, when the Holy One Blessed Be He wanted to overthrow Sodom, he wanted Avraham to pray for them.  And even though the prayers would not be effective for the men of Sodom, who were very evil, and those people would be removed from the world, in any event  the prayers of Avraham Avinu would not be wasted.  They would be a merit for his children and for the generations after him, and that is the explanation of "he commands his children and his household after him".

"For I have known him..."  (Bereisheet 18:19)


Avraham passed many tests, and despite all that, the Holy One Blessed Be He said "For I have known him...", meaning that "I love him because he educates his son in accord with the way of the Torah".  From here we see a proof that this is worth more than all the tests that Avraham Avinu passed.  (from HaRav Sh. Taplinski ztsvk"l) 

"And I am dust and ashes" (Bereisheet 18:27)


Dust has a certain amount of importance in terms of the future, because plants can be grown on it.  Ashes have a certain amount of importance in terms of the past, because (prior to being burnt) they used to be a utensil, vessel, tool or some other useful object.  Avraham said about himself, that he doesn't have any importance, not from the point of view of the past and not from the point of view of the future. And therefore, Avraham merited that the generations to come after him would have the Mitvah of the Dust of the Sotah (suspected adulteress), which has the purpose of clarifying about the past, and the Mitzvah of the Ashes of the Parah (cow), which is used to purify people in the future. 

"And Hashem remembered Sarah..."  (Bereisheet 21:1)


Rashi says that someone who prays for his friend, and he needs the same thing (for which he is praying on behalf of his friend), the one who is praying is answered first (i.e., his needs are fulfilled before his friend's needs are fulfilled).  It is told that someone came to complain before a particular Tzaddik (Righteous Man), that his friend had opened a store next to his own store and was selling the same type of merchandise.  The Tzaddik answered him, pray that customers will come to your friend and in any event, you too will be blessed because of your prayer.

"On the third day...And he said, here are the fire and the wood, and where is the sheep for the offering?"  (Bereisheet 22:4-7)


One time while the Gaon HaRav Avramski ztzk"l was speaking in learning with his student the Gaon HaRav M.M. Schezingler ztz"l, he said to him, you should know that if you are asking a question of someone and it is your will to receive his answer, you need to consider carefully if there isn't someone present in the place whose presence is likely to prevent him from answering.  And I learned this matter from Yitzchak Avinu.  For it presents a difficulty that Yitzchak asked "where is the sheep for the offering?" on the third day and not the first day.  But the truth is that Yitzchak already wanted to ask Avraham that on the first day, but he thought in his heart that the presence of the young men, Eliezer and Yishmael, might disturb Avraham from answering.  And therefore on the third day after Avraham told the young men "Stay here by yourselves with the donkey" (Bereisheet 22:4) and Avraham and Yitzchak were walking by themselves, only then did Yitzchak ask Avraham his father "here are the fire and the wood, and where is the sheep for the offering?" (from Mishmar HaLevi Al HaTorah) 

"And an angel of Hashem called to him from the Heavens..." (Bereisheet 22:11)


The Meforshim (those who write commentaries on the Torah) ask, why was the command about the Akeida (the binding of Yitzchak), given directly by the Holy One Blessed Be He, as it is written: "...please take your son..." (Bereisheet 22:2), but to remove Yitzchak from the sacrificial altar it was sufficient for this to be a commandment given indirectly, by means of an angel serving as a messenger?  And the explanation is, that to slaughter a Jew, only the Holy One Blessed Be He can command that, but to save a Jew, also an angel is able do it.

"...in the thicket by its horns..." (Bereisheet 22:13)


Rashi says that it (the ram) was running towards Avraham and the Satan entangled it and confused it among the trees in order to hold it back. And the Gaon HaRav Eliezer Menachem Shach ztzvk"l asked, what was in the mind of the Satan?  Isn't it obvious that if Avraham goes to bind his son at the Akeida, and throws himself into the burning furnace, Kal V'Chomer (in English: "all the moreso")  some small thing like this won't hold him back (from doing a Mitzvah)?  And Rav Shach's  answer is that by the Satan, there are no calculations and no logical reasoning such as Kal V'Chomer ("all the moreso").  He tries all the possibilities to prevent a Mitzvah, whether it's a small thing or a big thing.  And he added that, with regards to the snake (in the Garden of Eden) who is the Satan, it's written "...and you will bruise his heel" (Bereisheet  3:15), that he will cause a person to stumble also in a small matter.

The Reward for a Mitzvah


The Sages say that there is no reward for a Mitzvah in this world.  The Gr"a says, regarding the reward for the Mitzvah itself there is no reward in this world, but for the Tircha (in English: "bother")  that a person puts in at the time that he performs the Mitzvah, he does receive a reward also in this world.  Avraham Avinu went to the Akeida (binding of Yitzchak) for three days.  The first two days are the Tircha ("bother") associated with that Mitzvah, but the third day was the day of the Mitzvah itself, and the reward for that is only in the World to Come.  And this is what is hinted at by the verse (Hoshea 6:2): "He will revive us from the two days, on the third day He will set us up, and we will live before Him."  The fact that we are surviving is because of the Tircha ("bother") of the Mitzvah of the Akeida on the first two days, but the reward from the third day of the Akeida will only be in the future to come.

The Torah Portion of Vayeira has 147 verses. Haftora: "Va'isha Achat Min'shei V'nei HaN'vi'im" (Melachim 2:4). We say Borchi Nafshi


May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Noach 5775

The Torah Portion of Noach 5775


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l



"These are the offspring of Noach -- Noach was a righteous man..." (Bereisheet 6:9)


At the time when a Tzaddik (Righteous Man) leaves this world without children, he is distressed and cries.  The Holy One Blessed Be He says to him, "Why are you distressed and crying that you didn't beget any children?  I have a fruit that is more beautiful than children, the Torah which you occupied yourself with."  For so it is written in Proverbs (11:30):  "The fruit of a Tzaddik is a tree of life", and there is no tree of life other than Torah, as it is said, "It is a tree of life to those who uphold it" (Proverbs 3:18).  The verse "The fruit of a Tzaddik is a tree of life", refers to Noach.  Our Rabbis said that Noach did not pass away until he saw all the world resettled, ... and until he saw seventy nations who were his descendents, and none of this was remembered -- only his righteousness, as it is said "These are the offspring of Noach -- Noach was a righteous man", and it is not written Shem, Ham, and Yaphet, but rather his righteousness.  You should know that this verse ( "The fruit of a Tzaddik is a tree of life" -- Proverbs 11:30) is speaking about Noach, because at the end of the verse it is written "and a wise man takes souls" (Proverbs 11:30).  This refers to Noach who took souls, and would support and feed them (i.e. the other people and animals who were with him in the ark).  (from Midrash Tanchuma as published by Buber)


"...and the earth had become filled with robbery."  (Bereisheet 6:11)


The Sages say that the Holy One Blessed Be He doesn't begin to punish people by taking their lives, but rather begins with their financial wealth.  If so, why didn't Hashem first punish the generation of the Flood financially?  The explanation is that the money which was in their possession was stolen, and therefore He immediately punished them physically.


"Tzohar (a light) shall you make for the Teiva (the ark) ..."  (Bereisheet 6:16)


There are two explanations for the Hebrew word "Tzohar"; there are those who say it means a window, and there are those who say it means a diamond.  The Hebrew word "Teiva", in addition to meaning "ark" in English, also means "word" in English.  Based on this, teachers of Mussar (Ethics) say that every word that you bring out of your mouth needs to enlighten, that is, one should bring out his words in Torah and prayer, and do it in such a way that those words will spread light.


"Tzohar (a light) shall you make for the Teiva (the ark or the word) and to an Amah (cubit) you shall finish it from above.  The Petach (entrance) of the ark  you shall make in its side; make it with bottom, second, and third decks."  (Bereisheet 6:16)


It is told about the Gaon R' Yehuda Tzadka ztz"l Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef, that he was always accustomed to say every blessing with three pauses, for example:  1) Baruch Atah Hashem (Blessed are You Hashem), 2) Elokeinu Melech Haolom (Our G-d King of the universe), 3) Shehakol Nih'ye Bid'varo (that everything exists at Your word).    After he passed away, he came in a dream to one of his grandsons, and told him the verse "Tzohar (a light) shall you make for the Teiva...", emphasizing the interpretation that "Teiva" means "word".  During a blessing, one should express his words clearly like a "Tzohar", which is related to the Hebrew word for light.  An "Amah" is a Hebrew measurement which is usually translated as a cubit.  The three letters of the Hebrew word Amah (Aleph, Mem and Hey)  are the Roshei Teivot (beginning letters) of the Hebrew words "Elokeinu Melech Haolom"  ("Our G-d King of the universe").  So the message here is that when one says a blessing, it should be with Kavana (intention) that the One he is saying it to is Our G-d King of the universe.  The word "Petach" (entrance) which appears in the phrase "an entrance of the ark you shall make in its side", hints to us about the Evil Inclination, as it it written "at the Petach (entrance) sin crouches" (Bereisheet 4:7).  This means that in the merit of saying a blessing properly, one can overcome the Evil Inclination.  And regarding "bottom, second, and third decks",  the meaning of this is that you should make three pauses in every single blessing.


"Noach did according to everything that Hashem had commanded him, so he did."  (Bereisheet 6:22)


Noach didn't think to make the ark in order to save himself, but rather he only did it because of the commandment of Hashem.


"...and from the animal which is not pure..."  (Bereisheet 7:8)


The Torah used an extra eight Hebrew letters in order to speak in a clean language (by saying "and from the animal which is not pure", instead of " and from the impure animal").  It has been asked, "Don't we see that many times the Torah does explicitly use the word 'impure'?"  The explanation is, that when the Torah writes a Halacha (a religious law), it needs to be in a way which is clear and explicit so that we won't make any mistakes in following the Halacha, but in a story about an event, which would not cause us to err, the Torah uses a clean language in order to teach us how we should speak.


"And Haran died in the presence of Terach his father, in his native land, in Ur Kasdim."  (Bereisheet 11:28)


It is written in the Targum Yonatan that when Nimrod cast Avram into the burning furnace because he didn't worship idols, Haran said "If Nimrod wins I will be with his group and if Avram wins I will be with his group".  And when all the people that were there saw that the fire did not have any effect on Avram, they thought in their hearts: "Isn't Haran the brother of Avram full of magic and witchcraft?  It must be that he is charming the fire so that it won't burn his brother."  Immediately fire fell from the upper heavens and engulfed Haran and he died, in front of Terach his father.  And in Rashi it is written that Haran sat and thought in his heart: "If Avram wins I will be with him, and if Nimrod wins I will be with him."  When Avram won, they said to him, "Who's side are you on?"  He told them, "I am with Avram".  Then they threw him into the burning furnace and he was burnt up.   There are those that question why this happened, because in any event Haran did a good deed?  And the answer is that the Holy One Blessed Be He doesn't hold back reward from anyone, and his reward was that Sarah was descended from him (Iskah, Haran's daughter, is Sarah), and the rest of the Matriarchs were descended from Milcah  (who was also Haran's daughter), and in addition, from Lot (who was Haran's son) were descended Rut and Naamah. 


Words of Chizuk (Encouragement)


The Sages say that the Seal of the Holy One Blessed Be He is Truth.  There are those that explain this by saying, that when you look at the letters and words that are on a Seal, they superficially seem to be backwards, but when you use the Seal to sign a document, the letters and words come out properly.  Similarly, there are occasionally people who when they do not understand the ways of Hashem, they immediately have complaints, G-d forbid.  On this we can say to them, that the Seal superficially appears to be backwards, but if we look carefully at the matter we will see that it is straight, because Hashem's leadership and Seal are precise and true and straight.


The Torah Portion of Noach has 153 verses.We take out two Torah Scrolls.  In the first we ready the Torah Portion of the week, and in the second we read the Maftir, from the Torah Portion of Pinchas "U'vayom HaShabbat" until "V'Niskoh".   Haftora: "Hashamayim Kis'i" (Yeshayahu 66). This Shabbat is Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Mar Cheshvan; in Musaf we say "Atah Yatzarta".We say Borchi Nafshi.



May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bereisheet 5775

Bereisheet 5775


SHABBAT MEVORCHIM


Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"A Good Beginning."


A teacher said to his students: "Don't say that we have passed the Holidays, but rather, Baruch Hashem we have gained the Holidays, and Baruch Hashem we have also gained many Mitzvot."

"Rabbi Yitzchak said..." (Rashi on Bereisheet 1:1)


Rashi began his Commentary on the Torah with the comment "Rabbi Yitzchak said..."  The source of this comment is from the Yalkut Shimoni.  The "Be'er Mayim Chaim" wrote that Rashi began with this particular comment in order to honor his father, who was called Rabbi Yitzchak, in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of honoring one's father and mother.

"Rabbi Yitzchak said..." (Rashi on Bereisheet 1:1)


Rashi began his Commentary on the Torah with the letter Aleph, "Amar R' Yitzchak" (in English:  "Rabbi Yitzchak said").  And he finished his Commentary on the Torah Portion of V'Zot HaB'racha with the letter Tav, "Yishar Cochacha She'Shavarta" (In English: "May your strength be straight for having shattered the Tablets").  This is to hint to us that Rashi's commentary was inclusive from Aleph until Tav (from the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet to the last), and didn't miss anything. (from the Gaon R' M.D. Halperin ztz"l)


"In the beginning of G-d's creating the heavens and the earth -- and the earth was bewilderment and void..." (Bereisheet 1:1-2)


First of all a Jew needs to believe that Hashem created the heavens and the earth, and from that he will understand that all of this world is bewilderment and void. 

The high level of Adam HaRishon (the first man) and what we can learn from it.


The most capable person in the world and the the one with the greatest memory and deepest understanding and intellectual grasp, was Adam HaRishon (the first man).  The reason he was on such a high level was because he was directly created by the Holy One Blessed Be He.  And he also had a lot of physical strength, and when he was expelled from Gan Eden (the garden of Eden), it was necessary to have a strong guards to prevent him from entering again because of his great strength.  And these strong guards were the Keruvim (Cherubim), angels of destruction, and the flaming sword which turned every way. And if he had not eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, he would have lived forever.  And what did he do in Gan Eden?  The Torah tells us that Hashem put Adam HaRishon into the Gan of Eden "to work it and to keep it" (Bereisheet 2:15).  The Sages say that  "to work it" refers to the positive commandments, and "to keep it" refers to negative commandments.  And Adam HaRishon was constantly studying the Torah.  And we see from this an awesome thing, that the Torah of Hashem has no end.  Adam HaRishon was the person with the most capability in the world and he had the potential to live forever, and he learned the Torah constantly, and in spite of all that, he still had more to learn from Hashem's Torah.  (This ethical lesson is from the Chafetz Chaim.) 

"...Let there be a firmament..." (Bereisheet 1:6)


Rashi says that the heavens were wobbly on the first day.  The Holy One Blessed Be He shouted at them on the second day ("Let there be a firmament"), and because of that they are standing in fear and awe until today.  Because of this we have the term "fear of Heaven".  Just as the heavens always stand in fear and awe, so the Tzaddik (Righteous Person) is always in fear and awe (of Hashem).

"It is not written on the second day that it was good."  (Rashi on Bereisheet 1:7)


Rashi says that the work of the second day was not completed until the third day, and that is why it doesn't says "Ki Tov" (that it was good) on the second day. The Sages say the reason is because it was written on the second day about the division between the upper waters and lower waters, and where there is divisiveness it is not appropriate to say that it is good.  Machloket (divisiveness or quarreling) is the opposite of goodness.

A Story about Rabbeinu Bachya (author of Chovot HaLevavot)


Rabbeinu Bachya had many arguments in his days with non-believers of various kinds.  One time they told him that there was a world famous artist who had made a very beautiful painting and they showed it to him.  He said to them that the painting was made during the night by a monkey who had come, and next to the monkey was a bottle of ink, and he spilled the ink on the canvas and the result was this picture...They said to him, an astute person like you, how can you say such things?  How is it possible that this was done by a monkey?  He said to them, also you say things like that, that this world with a sun and moon and all the creations, with all the plants and animals, happened by itself without the existence of a Creator and Leader of the World.  And in this way he convinced them.

A Similar Story about Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi


Similarly, it is told about Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi z"l that he had a neighbor who was  a non-Jewish poet, and he had arguments with him about faith in Hashem.  One time the non-Jew wrote a song on his table in the courtyard and was not able to finish it with a nice ending.  Meanwhile he went for a walk in the forest, thinking that perhaps he would find some kind of nice ending.  Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, who was also a great poet, saw this.  On the man's table was a pen with ink, and Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi took the pen and finished the song in a beautiful way.  When the non-Jew returned he saw his song's ending, that it was very beautiful, and he thought to himself, certainly my neighbor Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi finished it.  And he asked him: "Did you write this ending?"  Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi answered him that it happened by itself.  The neighbor said to him: "An astute person like you, how can you say things like that?"  Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi answered him: "Your ears should hear what your mouth is saying.  Two lines can't be written by themselves, and a beautiful world like this, how was that created by itself???!!!"  And he convinced him.

"...Dust shall you eat..."  (Bereisheet 3:14)


Hashem gave a punishment to the snake that "dust shall you eat".  Doesn't this seem to be good for him, because he will have sufficient food in every place that he goes?  The explanation is that in truth, this is bad.  This is similar to a parable about a king who was angry at his son and gave him a lot of money and sent him away from his table.  He said to him: "I don't want to see you.  You have enough money, go and support yourself in any place that you want, but by me you are not welcome to have your foot step inside my house any more."  Applying the parable to the snake's situation, we find that all of the living creatures have a connection with Hashem and always request food from the Holy One Blessed Be He.  But the snake has no connection to the Holy One Blessed Be He, for He said to him "You will have food in any place that you want, but not from me".

"And Kayin (Cain) rose up against his brother Hevel (Abel) and killed him."  (Bereisheet 4:8)


The Sages say that they argued about apportioning the world, and they agreed between themselves that Kayin would take for his portion the land (real estate) and Hevel would take for his portion the movable property.  And therefore they quarelled, because Kayin said to Hevel that he should fly in the air and not have his foot walk on the ground since it belonged to him, and Hevel said to Kayin that he should give him the clothing that he was wearing.  Maran HaGaon Rav Eleazar Menachem Man Shach ztz"l asks, what are the Sages coming to tell us by saying this?  The answer is that it is in order for us to contemplate this: that even if all of the world is his, all of the countries great and small, in any event if a person doesn't work on his Middot (character traits) he is liable to arrive at the lowest level so that he won't able to stand that another person would walk on his land.

"And Noach found favor in Hashem's eyes."   (Bereisheet 6:8)


The Midrash says that if someone who is "Noach L'briot" (in English: "easygoing with others"), he will find favor in Hashem's eyes.

The Torah Portion of Bereisheet has 146 verses. It has one positive commandment.Haftora: "Ko Amar HaKail"  (Yeshayahu 42). This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevorchim.  Rosh Chodesh of the Month of Mar Cheshvan will be on Yom Shishi and Yom Shabbat Kodesh (Friday and Shabbat).The Molad: Lail Shishi (Thursday night) at the hour 9:02 with 16 Chalakim. 


This Shabbat we begin to say Borchi Nafshi.


May you all have a  light-filled and happy Shabbat.  Shabbat Shalom.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

Chag HaSuccot & V'zot HaBracha 5775

CHAG HASUCCOT -- V'ZOT HABRACHA 5775


"V'Samachta B'Chagecha"  ("And you will rejoice in your Holiday")

Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

THE HOLIDAY OF SUCCOT


On the first night of Succot, it is a requirement to eat a K'zayit (olive-sized portion) of bread in the Succah, and one needs to intend with the first K'zayit to fullfill the positive Mitzvah to eat bread in the Succah.  This is similar to the eating of Matzah on the first night of Passover.  And one should also intend that the reason for the Mitzvah is a remembrance of our leaving Mitzrayim (Egypt)  as well as a remembrance of the Clouds of Glory.


The Torah writes that the Succot and Arba Minim (Four Kinds) should be majestic and beautiful.


HaRav Yakovson ztz"l would explain this by means of a parable.  There was a boy whose mother needed to dress him in beautiful clothing so that he could participate in a Simcha (happy occasion).  The boy came from the street, and his body and clothes were dirty. Then his mother went to dress him in his beautiful holiday clothes.  People told her, that's not the right way.  First give him a bath, and when his body is clean then dress him in the beautiful clothing.  And similarly, this also applies to the people of Israel.  During the month of Elul we purify ourselves, and also on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  And after that, we arrive at those things which have majesty and beauty --  a beautiful Succah, and the Arba Minim (Four Kinds) which are majestic.  First comes purification and then comes beauty.


"And you shall rejoice on your Holiday..."  (Devorim 16:14)


It is said in the name of HaRav M'Brisk ztz"l that the most difficult Mitzvah is the MItzvah "and you shall rejoice on your Holiday".  One needs to be very careful not to be even a moment in sorrow, in order not to transgress the positive Mitzvah of  rejoicing on the holiday.


"...That I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in Succot..."  (Vayikra 23:43)


The Tur asks why we don't build Succot in the month of Nissan, since the Succot are a remembrance of the Clouds of Glory, and the Clouds of Glory were there immediately upon our leaving from Mitzrayim (Egypt).  The Gr"a explains that after the Sin of the Golden Calf, the Clouds of Glory disappeared, as it is written: "...and Moshe saw the nation, that it was uncovered..." (Shemot 22:25), that is, they had become revealed to everyone's eyes since the Clouds of Glory had disappeared.  It was only afterwards that the Holy One Blessed Be He forgave Israel for the Sin of the Golden Calf, as it is written "I have forgiven according to your word" (Bamidbar 14:20), and that was on the 10th of Tishrei (Yom Kippur).  Immediately afterwards on the day after Yom Kippur, on the 11th of Tishrei, the Children of Israel were commanded about the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).  During the course of two days they brought the donations for the Mishkan, that is on the 12th and the 13th of Tishrei.  On the 14th of Tishrei all the wise-hearted took the donations for the MIshkan in their hands and immediately on the 15th of Tishrei they began to occupy themselves with building the Mishkan.  It was then that the Clouds of Glory returned.  Therefore we find that on the 15th of Tishrei, which is the time when the Clouds of Glory returned, we make a remembrance for that on the Holiday of Succot.


THE FOUR KINDS 


The Etrog (Citron) is similar to the Heart, as it is written in the Zohar, that the Etrog is the Heart.  The Lulav (Palm Branch) is similar to the Spine, the Aravot (Willow Branches) are similar to the Lips, and the Hadassim (Myrtle Branches) are similar to the Eyes.  And with these four items, one sanctifies his entire body.

The Etrog (Citron) has both taste and scent.  The Lulav (Palm Branch) which is from the tree which produces Dates, has taste but not scent.  The Hadassim (Myrtle Branches) have scent but not taste.  The Aravot (Willow Branches) don't have either scent or taste.  This is a hint that there are all different kinds of people, and we need to bring all of them close.



THE SHAKING OF THE FOUR KINDS


A man was in a war and he was told to bomb.  He asked his commanding officer about that and said that he didn't see any reason why he should bomb, since he didn't see any target.  His commanding officer said to him, don't ask, just bomb and afterwards you'll see what you did.  And in truth, afterwards he saw that many of the enemy were killed and their buildings were destroyed.  Later on, when the man was standing and shaking the four kinds, he remembered his experience in the war, and he said to himself, if the Holy One Blessed Be He commands us to do the shaking of the four kinds, we don't need to see the results immediately, and in the course of time we will merit to see it.

KOHELET



"Fear Elokim and observe His Mitzvot..." (Kohelet 12:13)


It is written in Kohelet "Vanity of Vanities" seven times.  Rashi says that this corresponds to the seven days of the week.  The Meforshim (expositors) ask, isn't it written in the verse, "And Elokim saw everything that He had made and behold, it was very good" (B'raishit 1:31), so how did Sh'lomo say everything was "Vanity of Vanities"?   The explanation is that when one writes a lot of zeroes  000000 that it amounts to nothing.  But if one writes the number 1 at the beginning of all those zeroes, it's able to be a very big number.  Similarly it is written in Kohelet "Fear Elokim and observe His Mitzvot".  If one has Fear of Heaven, that already isn't vanity of vanities, and that is very good.  (from the Gr"a)


THE TORAH PORTION OF V'ZOT HABRACHA



"And this is the blessing with which Moshe blessed..." (Devorim 33:1)


The very fact that Moshe Rabbeinu blessed, is in and of itself a blessing.


"The Torah that Moshe commanded us is a Heritage..."  (Devorim 33:4)


There are two times that the word Morasha (in English: Heritage) is written in the Torah.  One is in the Torah Portion of Va'eira: "...And I shall give it to you as a Heritage..." (Shemot 6:8), and the other place is here.  This is a hint about the Land of Israel, that we cannot continue to exist there unless we observe the Torah, because the Torah and the Land of Israel are connected together (since both are referred to as a Heritage).


"The Torah that Moshe commanded us is a Heritage of the Congregation of Ya'akov." (Devorim 33:4)


In the Torah there are all kinds of laws that are not applicable to everyone.  There are Mitzvot that are applicable only for a Cohen, and there are Mitzvot that are applicable only for one who works the soil, and no one fulfills all of the Torah.  Only if we are united can it be considered that each and every individual fulfills the entire Torah, and that is the meaning when the verse says that the Torah that Moshe commanded us is a Heritage of the "Congregation of Ya'akov".   (As individuals none of us fulfill all of it, but united together as part of the Congregation of Ya'akov, we can fulfill all of it.)


On the First Day of Succot we take our two Torah Scrolls.In the first we read in the Torah Portion of Emor: "Shor Oh Kesev", and 5 men are called.In the second we read the Maftir, in the Torah Portion of Pinchas, "Uvachamisha Asar Yom".Haftora: "Hinai Yom Ba" (Zechariah 14)


On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Succot we read Megillat Kohelet.We take our two Torah Scrolls.In the first we read the Torah Portion Ki Tisa: "Vayomer Moshe El Hashem Re'eh", and 7 men are called.In the second we read the Maftir, in the Torah Portion of Pinchas, "Uvayom Hash'lishi".Haftora: "V'haya Bayom Hahoo."  (Yechezkel 38)



On Simchat Torah we read in three Torah Scrolls.In the first we read "V'Zot HaBracha".In the second we read Braishit, from the beginning until "La'asot".In the third we read the Maftir, "Bayom Hash'mini" in the Torah Portion of Pinchas.Haftora: Yehoshua Chapter 1.


May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat Kodesh and Yom Tov.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

May the Merciful One establish for us the Fallen Succah of David.

May be be glad and rejoice in this the Torah.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Yom Kippur 5775

YOM KIPPUR 5775


"AND FOR EVERYTHING, G-D OF FORGIVENESS, FORGIVE US, PARDON US, ATONE FOR US" (from the "Al Chait" prayer)

Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l

"...Seal the mouths of our adversaries and accusers..."  (from the "Avinu Malkeinu" prayer)


The Chafetz Chaim says that when a man requests "...Seal the mouths of our adversaries and accusers", he is asked in the Upper Realms: "What about your mouth?  Do you guard your mouth?",  but when a man is careful about his speech, then his prayer is accepted.


It's a Mitzvah to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, the day before Yom Kippur.


There are several reasons for this.  There are those that say that it is in order for a person to have the strength to fast.  And there are those that say the reason is that on every Holy Day, half of the day needs to be for Hashem, and that is the prayer, and half of the day is for us, and the festive meals are the half for us.   Thus the eating on Erev Yom Kippur is the half which is for us, and on Yom Kippur we pray the entire day, and that is the half for Hashem.  Rabeinu Yonah says another reason; it is a Mitzvah to eat on Erev Yom Kippur because we need to be happy that we have arrived at this day.  The Sefat Emet says another reason why it's a Mitzvah to eat on Erev Yom Kippur; on Erev Yom Kippur it's a Mitzvah for each person to appease his fellowman.  And it's only natural that when a person is fasting he is tense and his heart is not receptive to listening to his friend.  Therefore the Torah said to eat in order for a person to have the heart to forgive his friend, as it is written regarding Boaz "And he ate...and his heart was satisfied". (Megillat Rut 3:7) 


"For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to purify you; from all your sins shall you be purified before Hashem."  (Vayikra 16:30)


Rabbi Yisrael Salanter says that if Yom Kippur was even only once in 70 years, we would need to be happy, all the more so that it comes every year.  


"Al Chait...V'Al Chait"  (in English: "For the sin....and for the sin...")


We say "Al Chait" according to the order of the Hebrew Alphabet, twice.  One time we say "Al Chait", and another time we say "V'Al Chait".   The reason the confession covers every letter of the Hebrew alphabet is in correspondence to the Torah which we have sinned against, since the Torah was written with every letter of the Hebrew Alphabet.  And why do we cover the Hebrew alphabet twice?  One time corresponds to sins between man and Hashem, and another time corresponds to sins between man and his fellow man.


"And they shall confess their sin which they have done..."  (Bamidbar 5:7)


Vidui (In English: Confession)  is a positive Mitzvah from the Torah, as it is stated in the Torah Portion of Naso: "And they shall confess their sin which they have done..." The main point of confession is to abandon the sin, and one strikes his heart to as if to say "you (my heart) have caused me to sin".  


"P'tach Lanu Sha'ar"  (in English:  "Open for us a gate", from the Ne'ila prayer)


It is written in the Holy Books, that just as every gate has a specific key to open it, but an axe can open every gate; so too in the Upper Realms every "Heichal"  (in English: "Hall")  can be opened by means of specific Kavanot (in English: elevated and/or Kabbalistic intentions during prayer), but a broken heart and submission to Hashem and crying are like an axe that can open all the Halls.  It is written in the Zohar that there is a Heichal (Hall) and a treasure which is opened only one time in the year at the time of Ne'ila (the final prayer on Yom Kippur).  This treasure has within it all the goodness in the world -- atonement, forgiveness, an emanation of abundance, and everything good.  If so, we need to strengthen ourselves very much at the time of Ne'ila in order to receive this emanation of abundant blessings.



On Shabbat-Yom Kippur we take out two Torah Scrolls.In the first we read the Torah Portion of Acharei, and 7 men are called.In the second we read the Maftir, in the Torah Portion of Pinchas, "Uve'asur Lachodesh".

Haftora:  "V'amar Solu Solu"  (Yeshayahu 57)

L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach
L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772

G'MAR CHATIMA TOVA -- MAY YOU BE SEALED FOR A GOOD YEAR