Divrei Torah

Perek 4

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

What was the misdeed which caused the Aron to be captured, and which Aron was it? This is a machlokes between Rashi and the Ramban. Rashi writes that there were two Aron Kodeshs. One held the broken (first) tablets which Moshe received from HaShem – this was the one which was to be taken to war. And the other was the Aron which holds the full (second) tablets. This was not to be taken out to war. Now, Bnei Yisrael erred and took the Aron with the full tablets with them into war, and thus it was duly taken away from them. The Ramban, however, maintains that there was only one Aron – which contained both sets of tablets. And this Aron was never supposed to be taken to war (the only two occasions the Aron travelled in front of the camp in the Torah were special exceptions according to the Ramban).

Perek 8

By: Gidon Mann

In (8:5) the Jewish people ask Shmuel for a king. However, in the next Posuk, it says that it was bad in Shmuel’s eyes.

Why was this bad in Shmuel’s eyes? Isn’t there an explicit mitzvah in the Torah to appoint a Jewish king (in Parshas Shoftim 17:15)?

The Radak explains in the name of Chazal that the reason it was wrong was that they asked in the wrong way, not for the sake of the mitzvah. If they would have asked “Give us a king who can judge us with integrity and faith”, that wouldn’t have been bad in Shmuel’s eyes. But instead, they demanded “Appoint for us a king”. This subtle change from “Give” to “Appoint” implied that the king was absolutely necessary, thereby showing a slight lack of faith in Hashem’s Kingship.

Furthermore, they added on the words “Like all the nations”, meaning just like the nations’ kings fight their wars for them, so too our king should do that. However, if the Jewish people follow the way of Hashem then Hashem will fight their wars, not the king. Fighting wars was not supposed to be the main function of a Jewish king and therefore, the Jewish people were asking for a king for the wrong reasons so it was bad in Shmuel’s eyes.

We can learn from here that one should be very careful with how one speaks. By the Jewish people changing just one word, “Give”, into a slightly different word, “Appoint”, a situation that should have been the fulfilment of a mitzvah deoraisa turned into something far worse. Additionally, we learn the importance of seeing Hashem as the Being running the world, not rulers. This is particularly prevalent this week with the American Elections. We must realise who is the true King of all Kings.

Perek 15

By Shragi Rubenstein

In (15:6), Shaul prepared to fight and hoped to decimate the nation of Amalek. In preparation for this battle he decided that it was only right to warn the Keni nation who were inhabitants of the area where the battle would occur. He warns them that it is imperative that they withdraw from the battlefield and flee to safer ground as otherwise they would be destroyed amidst the chaotic battle with Amalek. He then goes on to tell them that the reason for his concern about their wellbeing is down to the simple fact that they assisted the Bnei Yisroel when they came up from Egypt.

The Ralbag questions this reasoning of Shaul and asks where exactly do we find that the Keni assisted Am Yisroel? He answers that in fact Yisro was the ancestor of the Keni and therefore this kindness was in fact the kindness mentioned in Parshas Yisro (Shemos 18:20), as Yisro told Moshe to implement a system where other judges would assist the people, not only Moshe. This certainly was a vital piece of advice as it set the basis for the entire judicial system of the Bnei Yisroel for years to come.

The Ralbag goes on to say that the Possuk here brought up this case when talking about the destruction of Amalek in order to compare the way in which Yisro the ancestor of the Keni treated the Bnei Yisroel when they came up from Egypt and Amalek. Amalek ambushed the Bnei Yisroel as they came up from Egypt. Therefore the Ralbag explains that the sole purpose for Shaul’s attack against Amalek was to avenge Amalek’s attack way back in the desert at the very beginning of Bnei Yisroel’s existence. Therefore the Keni’s deeds back then are mentioned and furthermore the Ralbag explains that this is the reason why the Bnei Yisroel were forbidden from benefiting from any of the spoils of war they received from the battle with Amalek, because the war was solely in order to avenge that attack and not in order to gain possessions and spoils and therefore it would not have been appropriate to take spoils.

We see a very similar case with Mordechai and Esther in the Megillah where (9:16) the Bnei Yisroel did not take any of the spoils of all the people they killed right at the end of the Purim story. As we know Haman was a descendant of Amalek and indeed most of the people they killed were from Amalek, therefore in a similar scenario that battle was only for the sake of vengeance and not for looting and seizing spoils.

This idea is very profound when it is considered that when Hashem gives us a task such as avenging Klal Yisroel we must not get sidetracked by other aspects such as the spoils of war. Ideally when we are davening we should only have one kavanah which is that of connecting to Hashem and at the very least we should always focus on the fact that we are doing this deed because it is a Mitzvah rather than getting too distracted in all the minute and insignificant details.

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

Shaul is commanded to wipe out Amalek; the entire nation, including animals (the mefarshim discuss why animals too – the basic idea is either that any vestige of memory or hint to Amalek has to be removed; for Amalek ‘muffle’ HaShem’s expression in this world via their philosophy of doubt in emunah and happenstance. Thus, we do not want anyone even mentioning anything connected to the name of Amalek. Others point out that Amalek possessed some form of magic whereby they could turn themselves into animals). Either way, Shaul goes against this Divine command and has mercy on the animals  (not to mention keeping their king alive too)  in order to use as sacrifices to HaShem. Shmuel reprimands Shaul for this; notifying him that his reign as king will come to an end. What exactly was Shaul’s sin?

A beautiful idea is put forward by Rav Aharon Lichtenshtein (and others say it too). Shaul’s problem was that he went with his own ideas over HaShem’s commands. Shaul felt that it was moral to leave the animals alive, and generally show mercy . What he did not realise (on his level) was that when HaShem commands us to do something, our workings and calculations are irrelevant; especially if these calculations are on the basis of ‘morality.’ For ultimate morality is dictated by HaShem; our versions of morality are subjective and biased – only HaShem’s objective morality is true, real and accurate. And besides, adds Rav Aharon, if Shaul was really going with his own version of morality, why did he kill any of the people of Amalek?! This is also why this sin saw Shaul stripped of the kingship. For a king’s role is to follow HaShem’s Will (and lead the people in that direction too) unwaveringly – but Shaul showed that his personal calculations and ideas came before those of HaShem. Such a person cannot be a spiritual leader of the people.

The idea is really an offshoot of emunah and bitachon. Just like we rely on HaShem in our lives and events, so too are we to rely on HaShem to dictate what’s moral and what’s not. After all, He sees the bigger picture.

Perek 16

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

In perek 16, David the shepherd is selected for the kingship. It seems interesting that so many prophets and leaders of the Jewish People were shepherds – we were not always doctors and lawyers! Avraham dabbled in shepherding, Yitzchak was a shepherd, and Yaakov chose this line of work too. Indeed, immediately before Moshe receives the burning bush prophecy, the Torah (Shemos 3:1) reports that ‘Moshe was shepherding,’ almost as if to say that his occupation as a shepherd was conducive to, or in some way caused, his prophecy. The Kli Yakar poses this very question: is it just a coincidence that many prophets were shepherds? As always in Torah, the answer is no – it is no coincidence. As the Kli Yakar writes, a shepherd simply spends more time in the great outdoors to contemplate the wonders of Hashem’s creation. Moreover, a shepherd has time alone to contemplate things and reach a certain level of spiritual purity. This is in stark contrast to the fact that Pharaoh tried to busy the Jews as much as possible with slavery so that they would not have time to think about life, as the Mesillas Yesharim points out. In short, a key faculty of a Jewish leader is clarity of thought and devotion to HaShem – not to mention the care for others which shepherding tends to imbue one with.

Perek 20

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

Secondly, those who merit to focus during the weekly Haftara would have noticed that perek 20 is the chosen haftara for when Rosh Chodesh falls on Sunday; the aptly-named haftaras machar chodesh. However, upon first glance, the only thing that the entire perek has to do with Rosh Chodesh are the two words ‘machar chodesh’ (tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh) in pasuk 5. Did Chazal make us do away with the normal haftara for just two words of relevance? Rav Shimon Shwab answers that there is a deeper connection to Rosh Chodesh in this perek. In pasuk 27, Shaul asks ‘why has Ben Yishai [referring to David] not come [to attend my meal].’ The answer, as we know well, is that David was hiding from Shaul’s baseless hatred of David [instigated by the Divine-sent ruach ra’ah]. Each Mussaf of Rosh Chodesh we speak of the Beis Hamikdash’s offerings, and pray for the Mikdash to be returned to us. Therefore, says Rav Shwab, this perek was handpicked to be the machar chodesh haftara for it serves to remind us why we do not have the Beis Hamikdash today. Why has ‘Ben Yishai [I.e. the Moshiach] not come?’ Because of baseless hatred. And once we know what the problem is we can begin working on the solution; ahavas chinam.  That’s the lesson of this perek.


Perek 21-22

By Reuven Cohen

Hamlet’s moral statement of, “I have to be cruel to be kind” is looked upon by many as one of Shakespeare’s fundamental principles which he imparted to society. However, as per usual, our Sages were one step ahead and this philosophy can be found in the perakim that we have learnt this week. It’s apparent in Saul’s merciless decree to exterminate all the Cohanim of Nov (22:19), in sharp contrast to his compassion for Agag and the livestock of Amalek (15:9.) Chazal learn an important lesson from here: “He who is merciful when he should be strict will eventually be strict when he should be merciful” (Yoma 22b.) The famous quote resonates from this gemara.

Furthermore another topical foundation can be learnt from this week’s perakim. Astonishingly, (21:13) the mighty warrior David is frightened of the potential threat of Achish the King of Gath. Why only now is David fearful? He showed no such fear when coming up against the likes of Goliath, the most supreme opposition of them all?!

If we look at the purpose of the war against the King of Gath and the battle against Goliath the answer is simple really. When David fought Goliath he was acting on behalf of the Jewish nation and fighting for the sake of Israel in order that their empire would not be seized by Goliath and his people. However when engaging in war with Gath, David was fighting for his own benefit and not for the benefit of Am Yisrael. We can therefore learn a very powerful and poignant lesson:

When fighting for the sake of Am Yisrael one can be assured that G-d will assist him, however when fighting for one’s own motives, one cannot be sure of this Divine protection. We pray that in current times especially, the soldiers of the IDF who are fighting for the sake of Am Yisrael, that they have this divine protection to help them in their battles. Additionally, we see the importance of being involved in communal activities and this should encourage us to do our part in helping the wider community.

Perek 26

By: Gavi Deutsch

In Perek 26, Shaul restarts his chase after David. Again, David has the chance to kill Shaul when he and his camp are sleeping, but instead takes Shaul’s spear and water bottle. Yet again, Shaul tells David that he regrets chasing after him, and gives David a blessing. There appears to be a glaring question. Shaul was no fool; he was handpicked by Hashem to be King of Israel. Why does he seem to be behaving like a yo-yo, one minute he is chasing after David and the next he apologises and shows remorse, and then he is chasing him again?

A possible answer can be applied from the following concept. Everyone is made up of two parts known as a guf (body) and neshama (soul), but they can also be called ’real character’ and ’exterior.’ This ‘real character’ is what one truly is like, the rest is all layers of artificial make-up which prevents people becoming what they really are. Our goal is for the exterior to reflect one’s true character and to exhibit our genuine self (easier said than done).

The major implication of this is that all the good middos, emunah, bitachon, etc are already contained within each one of us. It is not a question of acquiring them from scratch, but stripping the  layers of exterior (guf) will produce the results of our middos, emunah etc coming through naturally. (that was a real ground-shatterer for me when I first heard it). Rav Dessler puts it like this – the real me is called the ’ani’ as in what Hillel says in Pirkei Avos (1:14) ‘im ein ani li mi li’ (if I – ani – am not for myself who is for me). Hillel is saying ’if I do not represent my true ani (my real character), then what can others do for me’. They are relating to someone that is not who I really am; it’s a cover-up and therefore they cannot help a fake person. We each have moments of realisation where we comprehend who we really are and everyone has their own unique personal way of achieving this.

Perhaps this is what Shaul was experiencing when he saw David. His ‘ani’ was covered up by the his outer evil exterior and subsequently wanted to chase David, but when he saw David, his true self shone through and he did not want to harm David whatsoever. This can be expressed as a parable. A man was walking through a forest to get to a city in the dark and he cannot see the path which leads out of the forest. Suddenly, there is a flash of lightning and the path lights up for a split second; the man catches a glimpse of the path and is able to make his way safely to his destination. We only experience brief flashes in our lives of our true character; the aim is to utilise these flashes to find the correct path and enable our interior to radiate. May Hashem help us use make-up removal successfully!

Perek 28

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

After Shaul fails in his task of wiping out Amalek, Shmuel tells him that ‘HaShem has torn the kingship of Israel from you this day, and has given it to your fellow who is better than you’ (Shmuel Alef 15;28). Shmuel here was secretly referring to David, the next King of Israel, albeit the reference was in a covered-up manner. Towards the end of sefer Shmuel Alef, Shaul HaMelech is on the verge of going to war to defend Bnei Yisrael from the Philistines, but before doing so wants to know whether he will be successful. Since Shmuel had died already, Shaul secretly goes to a witch to temporarily bring Shmuel back from the dead so that he should tell Shaul whether they would be successful in war or not. In the resulting conversation, Shmuel tells Shaul that him and his sons are to die in this war [which does occur], and Shmuel reveals that ‘HaShem has torn the kingship from your hand and has given it to your fellow, David’ (28:17). Chazal reveal to us the longer version of their conversation that ensued at this point. Shaul asks Shmuel why he did not tell him when he was alive that David would be the next King, to which Shmuel replies with the key sentence [for our subject] ‘when I was in the world of falsehood I spoke falsehood, but now that I am in the world of truth, I shall speak only truth.’ We see that Shmuel calls his earlier description from perek 15 of the next king as ‘your fellow better than you’ as a ‘falsehood’ (lie). What was the lie here? It was the mere fact that Shmuel covered up David’s identity and instead referred to him in a roundabout way as ‘your fellow better than you;’ even though this description was true. Consequently, we see that a partial cover-up of the entire truth has the definition of a lie in the Torah’s eyes.

If so, the above question becomes much more searching and painful; how can the Torah of truth tell us to cover up [true] existent differences if this is, by its own definition, a falsehood?

Rav Dessler reveals the answer here. He notes that the Torah looks at things from an infinite perspective; ie with the knowledge and viewpoint that this world is transient and that what really matters is that which will last for eternity and on an infinite level; spiritual achievements. For example, a table in the Torah’s lens has no value whatsoever, for it will last for perhaps 50 years out of a maximum of infinity. The mitzvos done around a table, for example bentching, saying divrei torah, oneg shabbes etc, though, do have a value in the Torah’s eyes because they will last forever – past this transient physical world. The idea is reflected by the Malbim at the beginning of Chumash. He writes that though some refer to the creation of the world as a creation of ‘something from nothing’ (yesh me’ayin); in [spiritual] reality, it is the opposite. Before the world was created, there was only HaShem and nothing physical. When the world was created, HaShem made a void where he held back his Presence, so to speak, and in it created the world. Thus, from an eternal and spiritual perspective, HaShem created nothing (the physical, deteriorating, world) from Something (Him). [We can appreciate this idea nowadays relatively simply. A football player can be brilliantly talented, but if he is 34 years old, then he will not cost much money. On the other hand, a relatively promising 16-year old can cost millions, because their value is based on how many years they will last, and one year of playing is not the same as a potential long-term investment of fifteen years. And the same goes for stocks, shares, business buy-outs, relationships, friendships, etc; one learns to value things based on their ability to last. So too does the Torah value a physical thing as a nullity in effect, for compared to an infinite number of years then it is nothing.]

Using this principle, one can return to our main two questions; how can the Torah command the ignoring of truths/differences? And why are we told to use bad middos for spiritual pursuits?

The Torah, indeed, never tells us to ignore a difference that exists. The thing we do not realise is that from the Torah’s perspective and viewpoint, physical differences, which we said were the root of all bad middos, do not really exist. On an infinite scale, taking into account the years one has in this world in comparison to the years beyond this world, does it really make a difference that someone else has a newer car than yourself? Or that one has a bigger nose than someone, or that someone else managed to do something that you did not? The answer is that it does not matter on the infinite scale, and as such the Torah views such a car (etc.) as something which does not really exist; it has no value on an infinite scale. Thus, the Torah, in warning us not to develop bad middos, is not telling us to lie, for those physical differences that are the root of bad middos are themselves non-existent differences. On the contrary, you are displaying falsehood by valuing them as something that really exists! But the Torah does say one may/should be jealous of spiritual achievements [yiras shamayim], for those are differences which do exist on the infinite scale of things – it will make a difference after one hundred and twenty if one had yiras shamayim or not, and the same goes for the achievement of any mitzvah. In short, where a difference really exists (spirituality), the Torah tells us to stress it, but where a difference does not really exist, the Torah warns us not to stress it (physicality, bad middos).

A practical lesson to take out of this is to try and start using the Torah’s ‘currency exchange’ / value system to start valuing things in life. To define what is good and bad and what choices one makes based on what is worth it and has real value on the infinite scale. In the words of David HaMelech (and appropriately we say it in a house of morning): ‘Fear not when man grows rich, when he increases the glory of his house, for upon his death he will not take anything, his glory will not descend after him’ (Tehillim 49;17-19). A visitor once asked Lord Rothschild how rich he was. Lord Rothschild responded by showing this visitor accounts of the sums of money he had given to charities; ‘This is what will accompany me when I leave this world – that is my wealth,’ commented Lord Rothschild.