Divrei Torah

Perek 2

By: Malki Zeidman

To set the scene: it’s the beginning of Melchim Beis (2:2) and Eliyahu knows that his death is approaching. He turns to his talmid- Elisha and says

‘Shev noh poh’ – ”Stay here now’

There is a danger that when we read Nach we might fall into the trap of thinking that it is relating merely historical events to us or ethical stories. From just these three words, so much can be learnt.

‘Shev noh poh’ – ”Stay here now’ – Why did Eliyahu not want his primary talmid, Elisha, to proceed with him.

Let’s take a look at what the mefarshim have to say.

Rashi- The approach from Rashi and the Metzudas Dovid is that these words show us the great humility of Eliyahu. Elisha was driven away so that he wouldn’t see his Rebbe, Eliyahu die.

Ralbag- Alternatively, Eliyahu wanted to spare Elisha the pain of seeing his master being taken away from him.

Malbim- Yet another opinion is that Eliyahu wanted to convey his nevuah (prophecy) to all his disciples equally, not necessarily through Elisha. If Elisha were alone with him at the time of his death, he would become the recipient of the nevuah, and all other prophets will receive their nevuah through him.

Despite the difference in focus provided by the meforashim, it becomes clear that even the most undramatic statements and actions of the neviyim are of profound significance. From these three words, the Torah is giving us a glimpse at the depth of character of Eliyahu. All commentators agree that Eliyahu was exceptionally humble, he had a deep reservoir of concern for the pain of others (even at the expense of his own needs perhaps to be accompanied at the point of death), and concern for Klal Yisroel – that nevuah should be accessible to as many as possible following his departure from this world. The only point of disagreement between the meforshim is which characteristic of Eliyahu is most important to convey to us at this point.

Perek 4

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

There is an important message regarding Rosh Hashanah brought out from perek 4 pasuk 13. After the kindness performed by the Shunamis lady (who according to some was the sister of Avishag Hashunamis, who served David at the start of Melachim Alef), Elisha offers ‘to speak to the king or the chief of the army’ on her behalf, to fulfil any request that she had. But the lady turned down his offer, instead declaring ‘I sit amongst my people.’ The Zohar[1] informs us that this conversation took place on Rosh Hashanah. Elisha was asking the lady if she wanted him to daven for her and intercede with Hashem to grant her any request she had. However, the lady refused, insisting that she did not want to be singled out; she wanted to be counted solely as a member of Bnei Yisrael, because when one is judged as an individual, the precise murky details of one’s spiritual account are raked through, and the result might not be pretty. In contrast, when one is judged as part of the nation of Bnei Yisrael the judgment is more lenient, for one taps into the tremendous communal merit of the Jewish People. Indeed, Rav Elchonon Wasserman refused to be called up for an aliyah on Rosh Hashanah for this reason – he did not want to be singled out.[2] The note hanging outside the celebrated Kelm Beis Hamidrash in the build-up to Rosh Hashanah expresses these sentiments aptly. The note implored everyone to be extra careful to create an atmosphere of unity and develop good relations with others during this crucial period, for, as the note explained, on Rosh Hashanah we coronate Hashem as King, and in order to do that there needs to be unity amongst His subjects. As the passuk says, ‘And there was a king in Yeshurun when the people gathered together’, which can be interpreted, ‘When is there a king? When his subjects unite.’

Theoretically this is very useful – we can call on our membership of Bnei Yisrael to dilute our judgment – but do we really regard ourselves as members of Bnei Yisrael, or is it just a membership card that we pull out when it suits us? What do we actively do to help the Jewish People?

As always, no act is too small. Merely paying the shul membership fees helps build one’s immediate community. Similarly, there are many good organisations which focus on the spiritual welfare of Klal Yisrael to which one can donate. Moreover, as the gemarra tells us, a mitzvah performed with one’s body carries much more spiritual weight than one performed with one’s monetary resources, and it shows more about where a person’s loyalties really lie. So what can we do physically to ameliorate the widespread spiritual depravity that much of Klal Yisrael suffers from today? Rav Moshe Feinstein famously said that just like there is an accepted custom to give a tenth of one’s money to charity as maaser (conditions apply), so too one should give a tenth of one’s time to helping people who are lest spiritually adept. This could be by learning with someone, attending a shiur and encouraging others to do so too, or helping solicit funds for a good cause – all are good ways to get involved and brand oneself as a firm and active part of Bnei Yisrael. Additionally, there is an important mental barrier to go through in declaring oneself a fully-fledged and devoted member of Klal Yisrael. Often we over-categorise other Jews and in doing so we mentally excommunicate and distance them from us. Statements, whether verbal or mental, like ‘he’s not like us because,’ ‘she’s part of that group,’ ‘why do those people have to do that,’ or ‘that’s the shul I wouldn’t be caught dead in’ do not help one feel connected to fellow Jews whatsoever. Siblings tend to be different. People who realise that they are all brothers should be able to deal with differences.

Perek 6

By Aimee Marsden

In the sixth chapter of Melachim Beis, Aram is at war with Israel. One morning Elisha gets up very early as usual and goes out to find a massive Aramean army with thousands of horses and chariots surrounding the city. His attendant becomes scared and says ‘Alas my Master! What shall we do?’ Elisha responds by telling his attendant ‘do not fear, for those who are with us are more numerous than those who are with them’

Elisha then prays to G-d ‘Please open his (the attendant’s) eyes, and let him see (the many horses and chariots protecting them)’.   The Abarbanel, Ralbag, and Mezudas Dovid tell us a profound idea. Elisha merely davens for his attendant’s eyes to be opened. This is so he would not be afraid and cause the city’s inhabitants to call out and reveal Elisha’s whereabouts. ‘Elisha did not pray for fiery horses and chariots. He knew that God would help him.’ Perhaps in this there is a message in this for all of us.

In this time of difficulty, Elisha had no doubt that Hashem would help him. There was no fear, no hesitation. Elisha clearly did not have anxiety about the fact that a huge army was surrounding and seeking to seize him, for he believed with absolute certainty that Hashem would save him. It is said in the Talmud ‘Da lifnei mi ata omed… know before whom you stand’. It doesn’t say ‘think’, it doesn’t even say ‘believe’. We have an obligation to know that Hashem is with us every single second of the day. If this realization is mastered, then when faced with a most difficult distressing or stressful situation, we will be able to maintain our calm and have absolute unwavering faith in the One Above to help us through it.

In every single situation we find ourselves in, Hashem is guiding us. Of course, we still have to ask, to be able to access this. However, as long as we have confidence in Hashem’s capabilities to provide us with the assistance needed, and as long as we believe that we are worthy of asking for and receiving Hashem’s aid, we should have no doubts that Hashem has heard our prayers and is doing what’s best for us. If we always strove to know that everything is in Hashem’s hands, imagine how much needless worry and anxiety would be avoided!

One of the keys to davening with absolute certainty is to have a strong sense of self worth. Knowing that almighty loves us and values us as one of his children will enable us to preserve a strong sense of trust when the going gets tough.  Genuinely believing that Hashem wants to help us will enable our relationship with Him to be infinite. Furthermore, how could a person be expected to do complete teshuvah (repentance), if he genuinely believes that his actions are inconsequential?

Obviously, Elisha Ish Elokim was a prophet. This idea may have come more easily to someone who communicated with G-d on a level that doesn’t even exist now-days. Clearly, there is a very challenging struggle for us now to attain this level of absolute knowledge. However, I think that within this concept there is a clear message for us all, and something we can all strive for.

Perek 7

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

The four metzoraim in perek 7 are camped outside the camp of Klal Yisrael, where they decide to see what’s happening in the enemy camp. They wander over and find that Aram have deserted their camp and have left their food and clothing behind them. However, it is only due to the fear of being caught that the metzoraim actually decide to tell everyone else about the free food – despite the fact that there was a rampant famine at the time. This reflects the underlying problem that a typical metzora has – selfishness and narrow-mindedness. The main causes of tzara’as are stinginess and lashon hara – both illustrate a degree of self-centredness One who speaks lashon hara decides to put his own prestige and popularity over someone else’s reputation by spreading slanderous negative gossip about them. And stinginess is symptomatic of caring for one’s own money over the welfare of one’s friend. The lesson? Don’t be selfish – look at others and their needs.

Perek 14

By: Avigal Uzvolk

In perek 14 of Malachim Beis, Amatzya is King of Yehuda. He is introduced with the following perplexing pasuk:

‘ויעש הישר בעיני ה’ רק לא כדוד אביו ככל אשר עשה יואש אביו עשה’

‘And he did all that was right in the eyes of Hashem, but not like David his father, but according to all the things his father Yoash had done.’

This does not seem to make sense since we had just learned that Yoash had strayed from the ways of Hashem; he is described as having done ‘that which was evil in the eyes of Hashem’.
In Divrei Hayomim Beis, Amatzya is described using a similar pasuk except that the last clause is different. There it says that he did things ‘רק לא בלבב שלם’

The Malbim explains:

Amatzya did not stray, nor did he do ‘evil’, which is why he is described as doing ‘that which was right in the eyes of Hashem’. However, unlike David, his Avodah was not born through Ahavas Hashem but rather through a sense of simply having to do what was right, what was expected- what he had learned from his father Yoash. His Avodah was on a far more superficial level. This meant that his own connection with Hashem was weak, the foundations of his relationship were weak and therefore it would be easy for even the smallest challenges to knock him over. Indeed Dovid was able to surpass all his challenges, every time he fell, his relationship with Hashem was strong enough that he was able to return to Him and beg forgiveness and do Teshuva- for this reason he is called a tzadik. Yoash was bound for failure because he did not have the strength in his Avodah to withstand a challenge.
Others say that the reason why David was able to succeed was because he remained unchanged as a King- he retained his anavah (humility). However Yoash allowed greatness to get to him so that he was essentially setting himself up for failure, orchestrating his own ‘pride before the fall’.

Perek 17

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

Perek 17 pasuk 15 tells us an important concept and lesson for life; a similar pasuk can be found in Yirmiyah (2:5), and it makes its way into the haftara for the three weeks. The pasuk read ‘and they went after nothingness (hevel) and they became nothingness (va’yehebalu).’ The concept is that one often defines themselves by the pursuit that one puts themselves into. In other words, if one spends their days running after the latest technological advances, they have essentially become a mere piece of technology themselves – they have defined themselves by their pursuits. If, on the other hand, one searches for meaning and fulfilment in life by cleaving to Hashem’s mitzvos, they have defined themselves in terms of someone who is willing to elevate themselves above the mundane. What one pursues and wants defines who they are. Thus, the words ratzon (will) and ratz (run) are from the same root in Hebrew – what one runs after reflects one’s wants and wishes.

For example, there is little wrong with purchasing a fancy expensive phone, but that phone cannot be all that you are; one cannot pride their personality, character, and aims in life in having this new phone. If one does, then they place themselves into their phone, as it were, and reduce themselves to the value of the phone – another expression of restriction and death. As Yirmiyahu puts it (2:5) ‘they went after hevel (nothingness) and they became hevel’ – since they defined themselves by such trivial pursuits they turned into nothingness as a consequence.

 

Perek 23

כא וַיְצַו הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת־כָּל־הָעָם לֵאמֹר עֲשׂוּ פֶסַח לַה אֱלֹקיכֶם כַּכָּתוּב עַל סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית הַזֶּה: כב כִּי לֹא נַעֲשָׂה כַּפֶּסַח הַזֶּה מִימֵי הַשֹּׁפְטִים אֲשֶׁר שָׁפְטוּ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְכֹל יְמֵי מַלְכֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה: כג כִּי אִם־בִּשְׁמֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה לַמֶּלֶךְ יֹאשִׁיָּהוּ נַעֲשָׂה הַפֶּסַח הַזֶּה לַה בִּירוּשָׁלָם:

The Pesukim tell us (23:22) that a Pesach festival like the one that takes place in Perek Kaf Gimmel had never happened since the days of the Shoftim. Many of the Mefarshim comment that the possuk means from the end of the period of the Shoftim because Shmuel, the last of the Shoftim had all of Bnei Yisrael devoted to Hashem but even Shaul Hamelech who was the first of the kings, didn’t have Bnei Yisrael entirely devoted to Hashem. Am Yisrael had already started doing wrong, and had already built a few Bamos to offer up Korbanos to Hashem outside of the Beis Hamikdash.

What is a bit peculiar though, is how Rashi says that what made this Pesach much more special than all the others is the fact that not as many people gathered for any Pesach festival from the end of the Shoftim up until now, than at this Pesach Festival(v. 22). This would seem rather strange because now, in Perek Kaf Gimmel, all the ten tribes of Yisrael have been exiled, and only Yehudah and Binyamin remain. So surely the Pesach festivals before the ten tribes had been exiled would have been a bigger event? So therefore, how could this be the biggest Pesach festival in approximately 250 years?

The Metzudas Dovid elaborates and says that when the possuk says כַּכָּתוּב עַל סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית הַזֶּה, it means in a state of great holiness and purity. He then answers our question by saying that it means that what possuk Kaf Beis is talking means is that not this many people had come to celebrate Pesach in as such a holy state as this, since the end of the period of the Shoftim.

This makes sense because even when the 10 tribes still lived in Eretz Yisrael, they had been going to offer up korbanos to Hashem in Beis-El and Dan. So the only people in the Beis Hamikdosh were the tribes of Yehudah and Don anyway. So now, it was Yehudah and Don in the Beis Hamikdosh in a state of total holiness.

Perek 25

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

We shall discuss the murder of Gedaliah in perek 25; an event which has been enshrined in Jewish history via its commemorative Tzom Gedaliah, the fast day which falls the day after Rosh Hashanah.  It is in this context which we shall examine the severity and importance of Gedaliah’s assassination…

Perhaps the least understandable of all the fast days is Tzom Gedaliah. The extent of our knowledge of the reason for this fast is that a man called Gedaliah was killed during the times of the Churban Bayis Rishon. However, we do not fast for several other leaders or great people who were killed in cold blood. In fact, on its surface this fast day seems so unfathomable that my non-Jewish schoolteacher concluded that the Fast of Gedaliah must have been set up as a warm-up (lap) for Yom Kippur, to get us used to fasting! Obviously, Yom Kippur needs no warm-up act, let alone a fast which is much shorter than Yom Kippur itself. So what exactly are we fasting about on Tzom Gedaliah?

In order to make this question more pressing, let us briefly review the history of Tzom Gedaliah – see perek 25 of Melachim Beis for the full account. After Nevuchadnezzar had invaded Eretz Yisrael, conquered Yerushalayim, destroyed the first Beis Hamikdash and exiled the vast majority of the people therein (the ten tribes had already been exiled years earlier), Gedaliah was appointed governor of the few Jews that remained. Due to political disagreements, Gedaliah was assassinated by a certain group of Jews, and the remaining population fled to Egypt for fear of a fatal response by the Babylonian army. It is because of this murder that Chazal decreed a fast for generations, yet the ten tribes had already been exiled, the Temple had already been destroyed, its holy contents taken, and the population had been killed, plundered, or exiled. Only a small group of Jews remained in Jerusalem, and the man who was appointed to be a puppet leader, acting on the commands of his Babylonian superiors, was killed. Admittedly it was not a happy or memorable event, but why declare a fast because of it – we had already lost everything! Why did Chazal single out the murder of Gedaliah as such an important event to remember by fasting for generations?

The sweet explanation is that the importance of this event lies in the fact that the crime was committed the day after Rosh Hashanah. If a group of Jews were so unmoved by Rosh Hashanah and so obstinate in the face of such an opportunity for holiness that carried out a murder the very next day, this deserves to be remembered. Thus, Chazal laid down a fast day in order that we make sure to avoid such mistakes and do not remain completely unmoved by the day of Rosh Hashanah. In fact, the Radak[1] holds that Gedaliah was murdered on Rosh Hashanah itself, which would make this crime even more heinous. Although this is a sweet explanation, our second approach seems to be the more accurate one, which we shall introduce with a question.

The gemarra[2] lists the events that occurred on the 15th of Av which caused it to be declared as a day of simchah for generations. One of the events was that on Tu B’Av we were finally given permission to bury the hundreds of thousands killed by the Romans in Beitar around the time of the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. When the Jews arrived to bury the remains of the corpses they saw that the dead bodies had not rotted nor decomposed; they were complete and ready for burial.  In commemoration of this miracle the fourth brachah of Birkas Hamazon (hatov vehameitiv) was instituted. What is the simchah of this event – if anything it is a symbol of continuous destruction and pain to bury so many people? The answer is that when it seemed like Hashem had ‘left us’ completely, He still took care of us and made sure that we could bury the dead. Hashem showed us that He was still there for His children and that there was still hope; He was still holding on to us, and us to Him, so to speak. The events of Tzom Gedaliah were the converse of this. Yes, we had lost the Beis Hamikdash and the vast majority of the population of our Holy Land, but as long as we had even a handful of people left in Yerushalayim, we still had some foothold in Eretz Yisrael and some vestige of the direct connection to Hashem that emanates from there. We did not have much, but we had something – a lifeline, a foothold, a tangible sign that the Jewish People were still there in their Holy Land, and so there was still hope for the return of those who had been exiled. When Gedaliah was assassinated and the last handful of people fled to Egypt we lost that foothold and had nothing whatsoever. This is why the event is so important and indeed the reason for Chazal’s declaring it a fast day across generations. This is the explanation given by the Mishnah Berurah (549:2): ‘The third of Tishrei, the day on which Gedaliah ben Achikam was killed…and the last flame (those who remained in the Land) was put out. For after Gedaliah’s murder they were all exiled, and many were killed.’

There are several practical messages to take from this. One must bear in mind that the Mishnah Berurah writes that the main point of a fast day is to inspire one to repentance, while the Ben Ish Chai adds that the withholding of food should lead us to empathise with those who cannot afford to put food on their table, pushing us to give charity. The concept I would like to highlight is one which connects to the Ten Days of Repentance as a whole. As long as we are hanging on to and associating with something, we still have a connection to it and have a chance of returning to it properly.

In the case of Gedaliah, the smallest of footholds in the Holy Land showed that we were still connected to it, and could hope for a full reunion with it via the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. In terms of the Ten Days of Repentance, this concept translates into the idea that as long as we make a genuine commitment to move forward spiritually, no matter how small the commitment is, we have declared ourselves willing to follow Hashem’s Path. We shall illustrate this with an interesting halachah. The Shulchan Aruch[3] rules that during the Ten Days of Repentance one should refrain from eating bread made by non-Jews (pas akum). Why did the Shulchan Aruch highlight this halachah specifically, since we tend to keep this halachah all year round anyway, especially nowadays? Why did he not simply emphasise the need for Teshuvah? The Shulchan Aruch seems to be teaching us that during the Ten Days of Repentance, if we make a commitment to grow in a certain area of Judaism, no matter how small that commitment seems to be, then we have made a success out of these days, because it shows that we are interested in connecting to Hashem’s Path and moving forward. Similarly, by highlighting a halachah which is not too difficult to keep (pas akum), the Shulchan Aruch is teaching us that during the Ten Days of Repentance we are aiming to move forward spiritually in a gradual but steady manner – thus showing ourselves to be committed to steady growth.