Divrei Torah

Perek 2

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

I would like to tell over a beautiful insight Rav Chaim Shmulevitz points out in perek 2. When David HaMelech was on his death bed, he instructs his son Shlomo (HaMelech) about Shimmi ben Geirah. Some time earlier, Shimmi had cursed David. Shlomo was not to kill Shimmi outright, but rather to cause Shimmi to create his own death. What did Shlomo HaMelech do? He issued a royal decree to Shimmi ben Geirah that he must not leave Yerushalayim; if Shimmi would leave then he would be killed for treason. Shimmi listened to this and agreed. Three years later, two of Shimmi’s servants ran away and Shimmi goes out of Yerushalayim to bring them back. When Shlomo HaMelech hears this, he has Shimmi killed; a fate that Shimmi accepts. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz asks a penetrating question here. Shimmi ben Geirah was a holy person; he headed the Sanhedrin, and Yerushalayim is the holiest city in the world. What was Shlomo’s big idea in ordering Shimmi to stay within Yerushalyim, and why did Shimmi not manage to do so?

Rav Shmulevitz answers that it is human nature that man cannot be or feel limited and constrained. A man cannot be kept in a box. Thus, as soon as Shlomo HaMelech told Shimmi that he had to stay within Yerushalayim forever, even the holy city of Yerushalayim became a prison for Shimmi ben Geirah, since he was not allowed out. Shlomo HaMelech knew this, and knew that sooner or later Shimmi would have to break out; he did, and Shlomo had him killed. In other words, man cannot be constricted and ‘held in;’ this is death. This is one of the reasons why the Rambam writes (hilchos Mattanos Aniyim 8:10) ‘there is no mitzvah as great as redeeming captives,’ for constriction is death, and saving someone from captivity means ostensibly bringing him back to life again.

The idea behind this seems to originate from Adam having been created with huge dimensions (the gemarra says that he reached the Heavens when he stood up straight). Similarly, Adam can be rearranged to get the word me’od – which means ‘plenty.’ Adam was created physically limitless to reflect the fact that he is spiritually limitless too; he has a soul invested in him from Hashem Himself – one which has such spiritual power that it is way above the limits and constraints of our physical world.

We are limitless – may we recognise our capabilities.

Perek 6

By: Aron White

The Abarbanel asks a question based on the Pasukim. After the description of Hashem appearing to Shlomo, the Pasuk once again describes Shlomo continuing the building of the Beis Hamikdosh. (Melachim Alef 6:14) But surely the beginning of the building has already been described before Hashem appears to Shlomo? (Pasuk 1 and 9) Did Hashem appear to him right in the middle of the building? What are we meant to learn from this?

The Abarbanel explains that Hashem had to appear to Shlomo as he was in the middle of building the Beis Hamikdosh, to put everything back in perspective. When one throws himself fully into a project, it can be very difficult to maintain the correct outlook on that project; one is liable to become totally engrossed in it. In the middle of Shlomo’s massive, international (see 5:25) project to build the Beis Hamikdash, Hashem had to remind him of the real conditions that will ensure the future of the Beis Hamikdosh; Bnei Yisrael`s Avodas Hashem. Then Shlomo could once again throw himself fully into the building, with a refreshed perspective on the whole project.

Just as we find here that one can forget during his efforts for a project Hashem`s true conditions for the success of that project, Rav Chaim Volozhin writes in Nefesh Hachaim that in the middle of a project we are even liable to become engrossed to the point we forget the reason and context for that project entirely! Despite being critical of those who spend the entire day learning Sefarim about fear of Heaven etc, without learning Gemara, Halacha etc, (Nefesh Hachaim 4:1), he writes that in the middle of one’s learning, one should stop to rethink about the fear of Heaven, and then continue his learning (Nefesh Hachaim 4:7). One can become so engrossed in his Gemara that he can forget the connection to Hashem that the whole learning process is based on.

A boy once came to his Rabbi in Yeshiva, surprised by a dream he had had the previous night, in which God spoke to him. The Rabbi suggested maybe it was because he had thought about Hashem during the daytime. The boy answered “Impossible! I get up in the morning, daven, learn, go to my shiur, daven, learn etc. all day, when do I have time to think about Hashem?”

Perek 8

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

There is an interesting comment of the Redak (8:2) with regards to the first month of the year. Taking a leaf out of the opening Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah, the Redak writes that the first month of the year (‘Rosh Hashanah; hereafter RH) is the month of Tishrei – this is the month the world was created in. However, once Hashem appeared to Moshe in parashas Bo and gave him our first national mitzvah, He changed the first month (the RH) for the Jewish People to Nissan: Hashem commanded that (referring to Nissan) “this month shall be to you the head of the months.” Only for us is the first month Nissan – for the other nations it‘s Tishrei.

Perhaps the explanation for this is that Tishrei marks the physical beginning of the world. This is the month we celebrate our festival of Rosh Hashanah on because we go back to the creation of the world and recreate ourselves as individuals in the process. This mirrors the role of the other nations to physically build up the world. However, for us the true first month (RH) is Nissan because this marks the national birth of the Jewish People, and consequently our spiritual birth. This is the month in which we were elevated onto a more spiritual plain when we left Egypt and this is the month in which we became one unified nation. This matches our role in the world in adding a spiritual dimension to the world.

The Jewish People have a special national identity and a unique spiritual potential and role – our first month is Nissan.

Perek 12

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

The gemarra (Nedarim 40a) notes from the destructive kingdom-splitting consequences of Rechavam’s following the advice of the younger counsellors our perek 12 that ‘the construction of children is destruction (binyan yeladim stirah) and the destruction of the wise is construction’ (stiras zekeinim binyan). The ‘simple’ explanation here is that children do not realise that sometimes in order to move forward one needs to take a step backwards and go back and solidify the foundations of any given project. Thus, children build on unstable and precarious foundations, which itself is nothing but destructive. The wise, however, understand the need to first solidify the foundations, and so their going a step back to achieve this looks like destruction, but really it is construction. Rechavam should have heeded the advice of the experienced, mature counsellors who realised that it was worth it to scale back taxes in order to consolidate his kingdom. The Kotzker Rebbe adds another level to this first part of the gemarra. ‘The construction of children is destruction,’ says the Kotzker, refers to the fact that when children want to raise their self-esteem and confidence (‘construction’) they do it via putting others down (‘destruction’). Let’s learn to aim for genuine growth; and not at others’ expense.

Perek 18

By: Ellesheva Kissin

Eliyahu the prophet challenges the Baal worshippers to a duel. Each side would offer up sacrifices to their ‘gods’, and whoever’s prayers were answered would be the winner. Team baal went first. They slaughtered the hapless animal and cried out in supplicating tones to their god, waiting for the rush of fire to descend and prove them right. Nothing came. They prayed harder, tore their clothes, danced around the altar, performed rituals and ceremonies , screamed in desperation, beat their chests and fell on their faces. Eliyahu went next. He placed the sacrifice on the altar and – immediately – the pillar of fire descended. The Baal team was defeated!

What was discovered under the altar? A man lying down, clutching a box of matches.  He’d been bitten by a snake while trying to set fire to the Baal offering, to try and “prove” that Hashem was false. Who was this dead person?

Yehoshua cursed the ruins of Yericho, saying that whoever would rebuild the city would do so at the cost of his children’s lives. All the Jews heard this, and no one but a lunatic would have even thought about trying to rebuild Yericho. Yet, we were told that Chiel from Beis El rebuilds Yericho! All of Chiel’s sons died – from the eldest to the youngest, none survived. One would think that the fulfillment of Yehoshua’s curse would have persuaded Chiel of Hashem’s existence. Nevertheless Chiel was this dead man attempting to ignite the Baal offering. How can this be?

The Gemara in Sanhedrin informs us that Chiel was in Wicked King Achav’s inner circle of sidekicks. Chiel, tortured by the memory of his children’s deaths, sought comfort from Eliyahu HaNavi and King Achav. He inquired whether the rebuilding of Yericho could have been the cause for his family’s ruin. Eliyahu reproved Chiel, and told him that indeed it was the Curse of Yericho that made his children die.

Achav scorned this. “Remember that curse that Moshe placed on all those who started serving idols? Apparently Hashem’s anger would be roused, and He’ll withhold all dew and rain. That clearly did not come true, I am practically famous for my idol worship, and it’s more like the rain buckets down so heavily it’s hard to get to the idol-worshipping temples! If Moshe’s curse failed, why would Yehoshua’s be more successful? Therefore it was not Yericho that made your children die.” Eliyahu was so incensed by the blatant disregard for his advice and the shocking display of mockery, that he caused there to be a drought in the land for three years. That scorn not only caused disregard for Eliyohu’s Heavenly rebuke, but was worthy of causing the entire Jewish people to suffer from the drought.

The Mesilas Yeshorim reinforces this. In Perek 5 it is written that “like a shield smeared with oil, which repels arrows and causes them to fall to the ground, so is scorn in the face of reproof and regret.” Scorning words of truth is so powerful that logic and reason disappear in a flash of laughter. You only have to look at the tragic tale of Chiel the Bethelite to see how true this is. Chiel himself came to the conclusion that it must have been Joshua’s curse on Yericho that killed his children, and would have repented if not for Achav’s scorn. This mockery of Eliyahu’s words caused his decline, so desperate to refute Hashem’s existence that he tried to falsify another god’s existence – for which Hashem killed him.

We can all learn a huge lesson from Chiel’s story: the danger of mocking rebuke. Next time you feel like making any kind of snide comment, just think twice. You don’t want to end up like Chiel.

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

In perek 18 Eliyahu reproaches the people in a most remarkably strange way. He berates them for serving both Hashem and the idol ba’al, saying (18:21) ‘if Hashem is G-D then go serve Him, and if ba’al is god then go serve him.’ This is very brave rhetoric, but why did Eliyahu seemingly give the people an option to serve ba’al – why not simply berate them for serving ba’al as opposed to berating them for serving Hashem together with ba’al?

The answer (I think I once read in the name of Rav Pam) is that Eliyahu realised that before the people could even think about making a decision to commit to Hashem, they had to stop hedging their bets. As long as they were stuck in the fluffy overly-liberalistic attitude that ‘we should serve both Hashem and ba’al, for that way we’ll have certainly got it right’ there would be no chance of a proper commitment to Hashem. One can talk to an irreligious Jew about religion. It’s much harder to talk to someone who has both a Christmas tree and Chanukah candles at home; for they don’t know how to commit in the first place. Thus, Eliyahu told the people ‘why are you hedging your bets’ – commit to one god – for that would be the first stage in their eventual repentance to Hashem.