Divrei Torah

Perek 6

By: Eitan Cohn

The Possuk say “וירכיבו את ארון ה על עגלה חדשה” that David drove the ark of Hashem on a new wagon (6:3). Chazal teach us that since David said in Tehillim “זמירות היו לי חוקיך” (Your laws (the Torah) were like songs to me)”, he was punished for forgetting the mitzvah that the Aron must be carried on one’s shoulders, and he transported it on a wagon which caused devastation.

The Avnei Ezel asks an obvious question on this: what is the connection between the mitzvah ofבכתף ישאו  (that the Aron should be carried on one’s shoulders) and what David said in Tehillim. Furthermore how is this punishment equated as measure-for-measure?

He answers that the real way to experience and live Torah, is through true toil and effort; as Chazal say “the Torah only exists in someone who (metaphorically) kills himself for it”. He adds that Torah and Mitzvos which are performed with laxity and insufficient effort are not adequately fulfilled. Therefore, one must bear the weight of the Aron (the Torah) on their shoulders and not just carry it through less difficult means.

Dovid called the Torah “זמירות” to represent his joy over it. However this joy and elation also denotes effortlessness and ease. Consequently, Hashem caused him to forget this effort, in the mitzvah of בכתף ישאו.

This teaches us a valuable lesson. We must always toil and invest effort into that which we do and not try to avoid effort. As we learn in Pirkei Avos, ‘לפום צערא אגרא’ (loosely meaning: the gain is in accordance with the pain).

Perek 7

By: Jeremy Ullmann

We want the beis hamikdash back! That is the cry of Tisha B’Av, and everyone feels it in different ways. But amidst the confusion of Golus, unfortunately we do not really know what the Beis Hamikdash is, nor what it was. The Vilna Gaon said that he did not reach the level of the average Jew who lived in the time of the Beis Hamikdash. That was the Vilna Gaon who is leagues apart from us today.

We are, however, given a glimpse of what the Beis Hamikdash is in Perek 7, when HaShem tells Nosson the prophet, to relate the task of building the Beis Hamikdash to David HaMelech. HaShem says (7;6) ‘I have not sat/dwelt in a (permanent) house from the day I took Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt until this day; I was walking in the Ohel Moed and in the Mishkan.’ Now, we see that HaShem’s Presence in the Mishkan is described as merely ’walking’ as opposed to His ’sitting’ i.e. a more consolidated presence in the Beis Hamikdash. The point is that the Beis Hamikdash is HaShem’s House. It is the centre from which kedusha sprouts to the world and is the place where the Bnei Yisrael and HaShem can keveyachol meet – it is the direct connection between us and HaShem. The problem is that nowadays we do not have a proper comprehension of this e.g. bringing a korban and being cleansed of a sin or everyone going up to the Mikdash for aliyah leregel 3 times a year and the communal Pesach offering.

The Gemorah in Sukkah says that anyone who does not mourn over Jerusalem will not see its rebuilding. What can we do to feel this? One way to perhaps try and start feeling this is to create a mini-Mikdash inside of oneself (“bilvavi mishkan evneh…”) – to bring HaShem into one’s world more.

Everyone has their own thing to work on and thus their own ideas. I would like to suggest one. There is a theme (I have heard it by Rav Pincus quoting Rav Avigdor Miller) that Shabbos is the point in time that the Beis HaMikdash is in space. Both are points of connection between us and HaShem; one can ‘break Shabbos’ by doing the smallest of actions e.g. uprooting a plant, talking about business matters, even cutting one’s nails. This reflects the Beis Hamikdash, where small things carried death penalties, e.g. a stain on a Kohen’s garment, a non-Kohen walking where he should not.  Washing before doing the work in the Mikdash, mirrors the washing for Shabbos. Thus, a way to strengthen our feeling for the Beis Hamikdash is to improve on an aspect of Shabbos. Whether that means learning more about Shabbos, increasing kavod or oneg Shabbos. There are many different ways of achieving this, as the Kotzke Rebbe once remarked ‘ Where is HaShem? Everywhere you let him in.’

Perek 8

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

The Redak cites Chazal, who explain that Tzadok and Achimelech were not really Kohannim – as the pasuk (8:17) seems to say they are – but rather they were Talmidei Chachamim. If so, why does the pasuk call them Kohannim? ‘To tell us that just as a Kohen gets gifts first, so does a Talmid Chacham.’ In other words, one is to try and help/support a Talmid Chacham whenever possible. Let’s just broaden this slightly, asking the question ‘what do Talmidei Chachamim do for us’ that we should have to make sure that we assist them as much as possible? This might be a bit longer than normal, but it’s worth it!

Rashi (Bamidbar 20:1) asks why the death of Miriam is put next to the psukim dealing with the parah adumah, and answers that this is to reveal a thematic connection between the two: ‘just as sacrifices atone, so too does the death of a righteous person (tzadik) atone for those alive.’ The Kli Yakar here points out that there are three other places where we find similar ideas about tzadikim. Firstly, the death of Aharon’s sons is juxtaposed with the Yom Kippur service at the start of Achrei Mos – again signalling that the death of the righteous has an atoning facet. Secondly, back to Chukas, the death of Aharon is sandwiched with a mention of the special clothes of the Kohen Gadol (20:28); clothes which also had an atoning feature. And lastly, when the death of Aharon is repeated in Chumash Devarim, it is put next to the breaking of the luchos, which Chazal comment to mean ‘the death of tzadikim is as hard to handle as the breaking of the luchos.’[0] Why does the Torah repeat the same idea four times?

The Kli Yakar answers that these four mentions correspond to four different benefits a righteous person gives to the world. Firstly, in their merit we get parnasah – sustenance, food, etc. – as the gemarra[1] says ‘the entire world is fed due to [the merit of] my son Chaninah.’ This benefit corresponds to the death of Miriam; Miriam’s well provided water from which we could all drink. In fact, Rav Yosef Engel reveals that just like the manna would taste of whatever food a person wanted, so too did the water of beer Miriam taste of whatever drink the drinker desired (yes, even whisky – though I don’t think they had Johnnie Walker back then). Next is the fact that we get a degree of atonement when a tzadik leaves this world,[2] which is hinted at in the juxtaposition of the deaths of Aharon’s sons and the Yom Kippur service; the paradigm example of atonement. Thirdly, a tzadik serves as a shield in that people can be saved from troubles via his (or her) merit. This corresponds to the death of Aharon being placed next to the clothes of the Kohen Gadol – for one of the things the Kohen Gadol does is daven for the people to be saved from tragedy. Thus, the gemarra[3] says that a Kohen Gadol can be faulted for any (unintentional) murder that takes place, for ‘he should have prayed to HaShem (beforehand) to elicit Divine mercy’ that no murders should occur. And fourthly, the most visible benefit is that a tzadik sets an example for us in following HaShem’s Path in life. Thus, the gemarra reports[4] ‘when a tzadik dies, he is lost to his generation’ – the generation no longer has the guidance and shining example that they once enjoyed. This benefit corresponds to Aharon’s death being put next to the breaking of the luchos – the luchos encapsulate the Divine revelation at Sinai which showed (and instilled within) us the correct path in life.

 

[One thing to take out of all this is that a tzadik is not just a tzadik for himself; a central part of his life is to help others. As Rav Tzvi Kushelevski said, ‘we do not believe in tzadikim in fur,’ and explained that when the room is cold, there are two options; put on a fur coat or light a fire. The difference is that lighting a fire makes everyone warm. We do not go for a tzadik in fur, I.e. a tzadik who is only interested in his own growth and does not confer benefit on anyone else. Our tzadikim are on fire! In fact, this reminds me of a story of Rav Aryeh Levin, who would go round visiting the Jewish prisoners in the days of the British mandate. When the Muslim prisoners saw that Reb Aryeh was so well-liked by those who he visited, they asked that he visit them too. Asked why they asked for this, given that they already had a Muslim Mufti who would come and visit them regularly, they explained ‘our Mufti thinks he is above all of us; if we’re lucky he lets us kiss his hand – but he does not talk to us warmly at all. Rabbi Levin, on the other hand, treats all the prisoners kindly and is genuinely interested in helping them and passing regards from their families. We want Rabbi Levin.’[5] This is the difference between fur and fire.

Anyway, all of this tzadikim business is great and interesting, but what relevance does it have to us? There are two points of interest here. Firstly, the Rambam writes[6] that it is a Torah mitzvah ‘to honour those who learn/teach Torah, and those who know Torah.’ Thus, gaining an appreciation of what a tzadik gives to the world will help us develop a more profound understanding of our mitzvah to honour such people. Indeed, the gemarra[6b] says that one of the people considered a heretic is one who says ‘what do the Rabbis do for us?’ – now we have our answers. But there is another important idea here – one which is much more practical and relevant to us (it’s mainly built off the fourth benefit of a tzadik we mentioned; his setting an example in life)…

Judaism is not a spectator sport. It’s not for the tzadikim to do the mitzvos and for us to stand by and watch. It’s not for the yeshivas to learn Torah while all I do is give them some money from time to time. It’s for me to learn and do mitzvos too (though donating some money to yeshivas can’t harm your prospects in the Olam Haba club). Rav Berkowitz put it succinctly in stating that our role is not merely to ‘kiss the hands of the tzadik.’ The idea is not to be a spectator, but to take practical lessons and inspiration from these people. There are many examples and good sources for this concept, some of which we shall cite.

The gemarra tells us that ‘attending to a tzadik is greater than learning Torah from him,’ because in serving him you get to see how he applies the Torah learning across his daily life; you get to see a living Torah. Similarly, Rashi[7] deals with the question as to why the story of Eliezer finding wife for Yitzchak occupies over 60 psukim, whilst many important laws in parshas Mishpatim are learnt from the subtlety of word in a single pasuk. Rashi answers that ‘the normal/everyday conversation of the servants of the Avos is nicer to HaShem than the Torah of the children.’ As Rav Chaim Halpern explains, this is based on the same idea; commandments of mitzvos can tell us what to do in life, but the everyday conversations and happenings of even the servants of the Avos (Eliezer here) shows us how to apply this Torah – how to become infused with all the Torah’s lessons and middos and let them be expressed in one’s life. There is another place which espouses the same idea too. The Rambam writes[8] that the first thing a person is judged for in the Heavenly court is how much he devoted to learning Torah. Yet the gemarra[9] clearly outlines that the first question we will be asked up there is ‘did you deal honestly in business?’ and only then will we be asked ‘did you fix times for Torah study?’ The resolution, as Rabbi Leff suggests, is that the question about honesty in business does concern Talmud Torah; it is asking how much you applied the Torah’s ethics and morals to ‘non-spiritual matters’ – how much did you allow Torah to flow into your everyday life? Indeed, we see this concept in another place in parshas Chukas . The opening of parshas Chukas is leined for parshas Parah in the build-up to Pesach. There are two parts to the section we lein – the laws of the parah adumah (psukim 1-10), and the laws of tumas meis and the process of purification (11-22). The Mishna Brura[10] rules that the main part of parshas parah is these latter psukim dealing with tumas meis. Why – surely the whole point of parshas parah is the parah adumah (the first section)? Again, one idea is that since the laws of tumas meis are more practical to us (we don’t deal with the parah adumah too much, but all Jews had to be weary of tumas meis), these form the core of the reading.[11]

All these remind us that we are not to just watch tzadikim and admire them now and again, but to learn from them and their examples; to apply their examples to our everyday lives.

Therefore, next time you find yourself in the company of a gadol or tzadik, or a shining example and role model, go ahead and observe them and take some time to learn something from them and their behaviour. The gemarra[12] reveals that students of major Rabbis used to hide in their houses to observe how their Rabbis acted (I’m not suggesting that!) – such was their willingness to glean something from these major figures. We can at least start realising that Rabbis are not fill-ins between Mincha and Ma’ariv on Shabbos, nor just people who manage to get a good deal for our chametz on Pesach; they are living Torahs.]

Perek 16

By: Elny Cohn

At the beginning of this week, we read about Dovid’s struggle against Avsholom’s rebellion and the suffering that he endured.

In perek 16, Dovid found himself in a very difficult situation. Shimmy was shouting at Dovid, and throwing stones at him and others who were surrounding him. Avishai Ben Zeruya asked the king whether he should   kill Shimmy for this terrible act of violence and public humiliation towards the king. And, in possuk Yud, Dovid answered him, with words that epitomise and illustrate why he was possibly the greatest Jewish King. Dovid answered saying:

…” כי יְקַלֵּל וכי ה אָמַר לוֹ קַלֵּל אֶת דָּוִד וּמִי יֹאמַר מַדּוּעַ עָשִׂיתָה כֵּן.”

“…He is cursing because HaShem said to him ‘Curse Dovid’, who can then say, ‘Why have you done this?’ ”

Radak states that Dovid understood where his suffering was coming from, and that Shimmy was simply an agent of HaShem. Rashi expounds slightly on this opinion and says that Dovid knew that Shimmy was the head of the Sanhedrin and therefore he must only be inflicting hardships onto the King out of divine will.

According to both understandings, Dovid is teaching us a valuable lesson which can and should be incorporated into our everyday lives. He is living by one of the most difficult, yet fundamental principles in Judaism; understanding that everything comes from HaShem and that everything has an ultimately positive purpose, even if it something seems harsh or challenging. I think that if we internalise this message and attempt to mirror Dovid’s level of emuna in HaShem and understanding that He runs the world only to fulfil the reason he created it, to do good towards us, we will live life as more content and appreciative people, as we will understand that even in hard times, as Nachman Ish Gamzu said, גם זו לטובה ‘Also this is for the good’!

Perek 17

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

One reason Achitofel killed himself after his advice was not followed was because he thought he’d fall into the hands of David (Redak). Perhaps another reason can be ventured – and even if this is not the correct answer as to why Achitofel killed himself, it’s an important idea to remember anyway. It’s all about tzniyus.

As Rabbi Avigdor Brazil explains, tzniyus is not just about wearing modest clothing – it’s a middah. The trait of tzniyus means essentially that one realises that they are a precious world in and of themselves. If one develops themselves internally to have a whole world of internality inside of them, one does not feel a need to show everyone what’s going on in this inner world. One will not flaunt their traits, wealth, body parts etc. to others, for you realise that you are much more than what you show other people; you are a whole internal ‘you’ which does not need to show itself to others to ‘prove’ that they exist. Conversely, someone who does not tap into/develop/recognise their internal self, then one will simply show off everything they have – for everything becomes external as opposed to strong and internal.

In addition, one who has a strong internal world will not be phased when someone else criticises something they do/are. For if one exists over and above what they do (they are an internal world in and of themselves) they will simply let this comment pass by – for the criticism does not affect who one really is. For example, if you tell someone who has the middah of tzniyus that ’you can’t play football’ they won’t get offended – for they know that they are much more than ’someone who plays football.’  However, someone who lacks this internality of tzniyus will get offended at this comment; for all they are in their eyes is this talent (they haven’t developed their internal world) and thus they will see the criticism as attacking all that they are.

Perhaps it can thus be suggested that Achitofel (on his level) had some lack in this middah of tzniyus, and therefore when his advice was not followed he simply killed himself. For he saw himself as ‘a great advice-giver’ as opposed to ‘an internal world of strength who has a talent of giving advice’ and so when Avshalom disparaged his advice, his whole essence (as he saw it) was offended, shaken, and ultimately lost.

May we be given the strength of character to realise, uplift, and develop are internal worlds and not need to flaunt them to the outside world.

Perek 22

The Gemara in Pesachim 119b says that Hashem will ultimately make a Seudah for the righteous and will pass the cup for Bircas Hamazon to Avrohom, Yitzchak, Yaacov, Moshe and then Yehoshua. Each of whom declines because of some shortcoming in himself. When the cup is passed to Dovid Hamelech, he lifts up the cup and proclaims כוס ישועות אשא ובשם ה אקרא. It was fitting for Dovid Hamelech to bensch as he was able to proclaim Hashem during the good times as well as in the difficult times. In fact Dovid is referred to as דוד עבדיך on many occasions to highlight this relationship with Hashem.

In פרשת וירא when Avrohom was on his way to the Akeidah it says וירא את המקום מרחוק – and he saw the place from a distance. The Slonimer Rebbe explains that the word המקום can also refer to one of the names of Hashem. It is natural that when one goes through challenges to feel distant from Hashem. Even though we know He is still there.

The Shirah that Dovid sings in Chapter 22 is listed by the Yalkut Shimoni as one of the ten songs that have been sung in our history. The tenth Shirah will be sung when Moshiach comes. This Shirah is typical of Dovid’s focus in life. Of seeing the goodness and Hashem’s kindness rather than the suffering and travails he underwent. To him even the hard times were signs of Hashem’s kindness because he believed steadfastly that everything Hashem does is for the good even though we don’t understand why.

With many slight variations this Shirah is kapitel 18 in Tehillim. Why then is it included here in Shmuel when many other Tehillim refer to incidents from Dovid’s life? Abarbanel explains that the general theme of salvation from adversity is referred to here and that is why it is relevant to be included here. Furthermore, Dovid sung this song throughout his life whenever he experienced a victory and wanted to make it accessible and applicable to anyone in any given situation.

In 22:36 of the Shirah, the words וענתך תרבניand ‘Your humility made me great’. Abarbanel suggests that it should translate as ‘You instilled Your humility in me’. This is demonstrated by the following: There were four kings, David, Asa Yehoshafat, and Chizkiyohu. David prayed that he would be able to pursue, overtake and eradicate his enemies. Asa said that he could only pray, chase and overtake. Yehoshafat could only sing G-d’s praises. Chizkiyohu, when threatened with the army of Sancherev went to sleep at his regular time. In all of the above examples Hashem brought about victory for each of the kings. However Dovid, even though it may seem that his victory came about from his own heroic efforts he would know that victory only came from Hashem. The other Kings were worried they might credit themselves with the military victory and did the minimum according to their level of faith and then they relied on Hashem. In this way as Dovid did his entire life he demonstrated what it is to be a true עבד ה.

Perek 24

By: Rabbi Daniel Fine

As is relatively well-known (and David Hamelech quickly realised), we are not allowed to count Jews directly (‘one, two, three, four…’). Indeed, David Hamelech was punished for falling foul in this area in our perek 24. Instead, we use some indirect way of counting (‘hoshiya es amecha…’) or count via objects; for example, by counting the half-shekel donations given to the Mishkan. What is the idea of not counting Jews? Let’s start at the beginning; the sources. From where do we learn that we may not directly count Jews?

The gemarra[2] tells us that it is learnt from a pasuk in Hoshea,[3] which reads ‘the [population] number of the Bnei Yisrael will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured nor counted.’ How exactly is the gemarra using this pasuk as a source for the prohibition to count Jews; the pasuk is a forecast of the Bnei Yisrael’s numerous population numbers – the pasuk does not seem to say that it is forbidden to count Jews; just that it is impossible to count Jews? The answer is that the underlying concept behind not counting Jews is that the Jewish People are a supernatural people, and have no limits as to what they can achieve (we are the only nation to have returned to its homeland after having been kicked out twice – not to mention the miracles of the wars of Israel). Putting a number on someone/something is the ultimate form of limiting them; one is saying that this person/object is limited to a certain number or measurement, and cannot currently stretch to more than this figure. But the Jewish People are naturally supernatural, and expand beyond any limits, and so counting us (putting a number on us directly) would be defying our entire existence as a supernatural people. Therefore, the gemarra is learning from the pasuk in Hoshea that since we are a people without limitations, and this is reflected by the fact that our population numbers will increase exponentially, it is forbidden to count us, because counting us denies this supernatural character in attempting to bring us down to the finite expression of numbers and figures. This idea is also hinted at in Yoav’s response to David. David orders Yoav to conduct this census, and Yoav replies (24:3) ‘HaShem will increase the numbers of the people 1000 times…’ Yoav was essentially saying to David ‘why count the people; this goes against the bracha of limitless and multitude given to the Avos.’

In fact, Hamman attempted to make the Jews a ‘natural commodity.’ This is one way to explain what was ‘achieved’ in giving a sum of money[4] to Achashveirosh in exchange for the ‘privilege’ of exterminating the Jewish People. Hamman was trying to declare the Jewish People a ‘selllable item’ which could be expressed in terms of a finite monetary value; thus denying their supernatural limitless nature whereby they cannot be confined to any specific sum of money. In addition, Hamman’s wife tries to convince her husband that this plan will not work. When Hamman returns home despondent at the fact that he has had to lead Mordechai through the city on horseback, Mrs. Hamman tells her husband that ‘if Mordechai is a Jew…you will not be able to conquer him.’[5] And as Rashi reveals,[6] the longer version of what she said was ‘this nation are compared to stars and dust. When they descend they become as low as the dust, but when they are on the ascendancy they rise up to the Heavens and to the stars.’ What Mrs. Hamman was telling her husband was that it is impossible to confine the Jewish People to a natural plain, because they are ‘naturally’ a supernatural people. May we all live up to our ‘natural’ abilities to break out of limitations in achieving what we want to achieve.

Perhaps according to this we can explain why David was punished for counting the people. For there seems to be a glaring question to be asked here. David did not count the people personally; he sent Yoav to do it for him. And we have a rule that ‘there is no shlichus (concept of emissary) when it comes to sin.’ Therefore, why is David punished; Yoav should get the blame? According to what we’ve said, it was because David (on his level; and having been enticed by the Satan too) had some lack of appreciation for the concept that Klal Yisrael are supernaturally limitless. It was only because of this mindset that David could order the people to be counted. According to this, it was not for the act of counting the people per se that David was punished, but for the mindset which was expressed by the order to have the people counted.