Divrei Torah

Yechezkel Perek 8

Perek 8 presents the climax of the nevuah and sheds light on the text of Yechezkel .We are told stories of the Beis Hamikdash as Yechezkel is taken by his hair and brought to the Beis Hamikdash in Heaven.

The idea of a Beis Hamikdash in Heaven is explained by a number of different sources. The world that we see around us, including the physical world of the trees, sun, moon, and even our bodies, are all reflections of a world that is far more real than the illusion we live in. If one stares at a mirror for a long time, it can become hard to discern what the real image is and what the reflection is. Likewise, even when we are convinced that the reflection is reality, it may merely be a shadow of reality.

Everything in the physical world is sourced in the heavens, in the most complete and perfect form possible. Some posit that the Torah presents the rewards for mitzvos in physical form (good crops etc.) because physical bounty and flourishing in this world is symbolic of spiritual bliss in the higher spiritual realms. What Hashem is showing the Navi here is the true Beis Hamikdash.

Chazal comment that when the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, the ultimate tragedy was that it only had the potential to be destroyed because the Beis Hamikdash in Heaven had already been destroyed by Bnei Yisrael. Hashem is showing the Navi Who really leads the armies that burn down the House of Hashem.

Yechezkel 18

In this perek, we address the concept of zechus avos . At the start of Michtav M’Eliyahu, Rav Dessler questions the essence of zechus avos; does it not contradict the rule that Hashem will not reward (or punish) someone for the merits (or sins) of his ancestors? We are in this world to work on ourselves and achieve spiritual perfection, so why should we be rewarded for others’ mitzvos?

Rav Dessler answers by re-understanding the concept of zechus avos. Instead of reading zechus avos, it should read zacus avos (the purity of the Avos). As Rav Dessler explains, the concept is that the Avos (being the DNA of Bnei Yisrael) planted certain traits and qualities within the genes of Klal Yisrael. Avraham implanted chesed, bris milah, and a connection to Eretz Yisrael, Yitzchak established a connection to prayer and mesirus nefesh, and Yaakov implanted a connection to Torah. (Even the majority of most irreligious Jews today practice chesed, give their children bris milah, and have some connection to prayer. This is the strength of the inheritance we received from our Avos). Therefore, says Rav Dessler, zechus avos is not that we are simply rewarded for mitzvos which our ancestors performed, but we are tapping into these inherited traits which we are to look after and cultivate.

Yechezkel Perek 28-29
In perek 28 and 29, Yechezkel admonishes the leaders of both Tzor and Egypt for being arrogant and haughty. This rebuke highlights the importance of humility. The Gemara notes that since Moshe humbled himself before Hashem, the entire Torah was named after him; “Toras Moshe”. In addition, the Gemara in Chullin lists leaders of Bnei Yisrael who were humble, and we know that Har Sinai was chosen as the venue for Matan Torah because of its humility. It seems that greatness, leadership, and humility go hand in hand. In his celebrated letter, the Ramban even calls humility ‘The best of all the good traits.’ Why is humility so important?

The Maharal writes that humility is a prerequisite for accepting Torah properly. Since Torah is non-tangible and non-physical, only someone who has made himself non-physical can receive it. Acquiring the trait of humility nullifies one’s ego and defines himself less as a physical being. In addition, a haughty person places limits on himself by defining himself with his achievements, talents, or possessions. A humble person does not set limits on himself, which makes him a fitting vessel to receive Hashem’s limitless shefa (influence or assistance) via His Torah.

There is a further reason why the trait of humility is so central. To do the concept no justice and put it in brief, our task in this world is to glorify Hashem and reflect Him in our lives. The biggest potential obstacle to this task is none other than ourselves. It is tempting and gratifying (in the short-term) to glorify oneself and massage one’s ego instead of using oneself as a tool to give honor to Hashem. Consequently, the trait of humility is central in that only a humble person, who does not glorify himself, can truly and genuinely reflect Hashem in his everyday actions.

Perek 33

In 33:12 Yechezkel states that a righteous person who discards his religious observance will not be rewarded for his mitzvos. Rashi, (3:20) explains that this concept refers to one who regretted his mitzvos. Additionally, Yechezkel adds that a wicked person who repents will be rewarded for his mitzvos. How does this apply to the concept of teshuva?

Teshuva is a huge chesed from Hashem that allows us to undo any previous misdeeds via simply regretting, comitting not to re-sin and confessing. It is an unnatural opportunity given to us by Hashem out of pure chesed/rachamim, as the Mesilas Yesharim states in perek 4. However, we find that the same concept applies in reverse to our mitzvos; if one regrets having performed a mitzvah then one gets no reward for it. This would imply that there is a natural phenomenon whereby once one regrets a deed, that deed is no longer a part of him. This understanding of teshuva does not fit with the Mesilas Yesharim’s description of teshuva as a unique kindness.

We will suggest three approaches:

  1. The Chofetz Chaim (cited by Rav Elchonon in his kovetz ma’amarim) reconciles this difficulty by explaining the two different types of teshuva. Teshuva Mi’Yirah (repentance stemming from fear of Hashem) follows the standard natural procedure, and just as one who regrets his positive deeds can nullify them, one who regrets his sins can also nullify his wrongdoings. However, there is an additional type of teshuva know as Teshuva Mi’Ahava (repentance stemming from love of Hashem). This form of teshuva is indeed miraculous as it is able to convert sins into merits for the person who repented.This is Hashem reaching beyond the call of duty and is by no means ‘natural’.
  2. Rav Elchonon Wasserman (kovetz ma’amarim) rejects the answer of the Chofetz Chaim, and maintains that the aforementioned Mesilas Yesharim implies that every form of teshuva, whether from fear or love, is miraculous. Rav Elchonon thus offers an alternative understanding of teshuva. Every mitzvah (and sin) is composed of two elements. The first element is the fact that one is following the will of Hashem, and the second element is the real spiritual benefits of a mitzvah which Hashem inserted into the world’s makeup (see Netziv, start of Bechukosai). For example, when the Avos performed mitzvos before the Torah was given, they were tapping into the spiritual effects of performing a mitzvah, but they could not have had the component of listening to Hashem, for they had not been commanded. Conversely, if one put on tefillin every day but found out that they were not kosher, he would have the element of ‘listening to Hashem’ without the spiritual benefit of the tefillin. Every sin has the same two components; the fact that one is rebelling against Hashem, and the individual spiritual damage that comes from each sin. One who accidentally eats non-kosher food will still have the spiritual damage of the non-kosher food, but will not be guilty of rebelling against Hashem.

When one does teshuva for a sin, it is natural that Hashem eliminates the aspect of transgressing the Divine will, for as when one regrets performing a mitzvah, one has changed the willingness to listen to or rebel against Hashem. But if one regrets a mitzvah, there is no way to take away the spiritual fact that he has received the benefit of the mitzvah. The miraculous aspect of teshuva is that regarding sins, Hashem will cancel out the negative spiritual repercussions for one’s actions.

  1. The answer given by Rav Yitzchak Hutner is that in truth, teshuva is a supernatural gift that Hashem has given us, as described by the Ramchal. The Rambam writes that “Hashem gave us the Torah which is a tree of life. Whoever fulfills what is written within it and comprehends it with complete and proper understanding will merit the life of the world to come.” (Hilchos Teshuva 9:1) If living a Torah lifestyle and performing mitzvos means that one is ‘Attaching himself to the tree of life’, then a righteous person who regrets his righteous past and good deeds has detached himself from the source of life and thus it is only natural that he will ‘die spiritually’. However, a sinner who does teshuva is trying to connect to the ‘tree of life’, but since he is devoid of mitzvos, he is detached from the life source.. Therefore teshuva is entirely miraculous as Hashem provides him with life despite him being disconnected from the source of life. According to nature, if someone has been detatched from the source of life, there is no possibility of them living even if they connect to the source of life. In this sense, teshuva is indeed miraculous.

Yechezkel 39

After talking about our glorious redemption through a clear Divine battering of our enemies, the passuk (39:43) forecasts that ‘The other nations will realize that it was Bnei Yisrael’s sins that caused them to be exiled in the first place.’ Why should our redemption prove that galus was a result of our sins?

The Metzudas David explains that once the nations see Hashem’s miracles, they will realize that our prolonged exile was not due to Hashem’s ‘lack of power’ to redeem us, rather, it must have been because of our sins.

Perhaps we can offer another explanation of this passuk, based on the Maharal.

The Maharal writes (Netzach Yisrael perek 1) that exile and redemption prove each other, for it is not normal/natural to have a nation so persecuted and downtrodden in such an extensive way. Given that unnatural occurrences by definition cannot last (if they did, they would be ‘natural’ and normal), exile proves that Bnei Yisrael will one day return to their essence as free people: redemption. Accordingly, once the other nations witness our redemption, they will look back at our exile and wonder why we were in exile for so long. If, indeed, the norm of the Bnei Yisrael is to be redeemed, why were we in exile for so long? They will therefore conclude that it must have been due to our sins.

May we merit the arrival of Moshiach and the third Beis Hamikdash speedily in our days.

Yechezkel Perek 43

The sefer begins with a description of the Holy Throne of Hashem and the angels surrounding it. This description vividly portrays the distance between mankind and the ethereal word of the angels. Why are we unable to live a life of pure service to Hashem like angels? Why must we make mistakes in the maze of this physical world?

The Navi is shown visions of the Beis Hamikdash being made into a place of idol worship and seeing the people of Hashem betraying Hashem in His own house. These visions are interspersed with meetings with angels, causing us to feel the distance between man and Hashem even more acutely.

Once the House of Hashem is shown to no longer be a place of the revelation of Hashem and the people are also no longer servants of Hashem, we reach the climax; the land is taken over by Bnei Yisrael’s enemies. However, Bnei Yisrael are not wiped off the face of the earth, despite their many sins, although they face more wars. These wars were a part of Hashem’s love for us and were necessary for us to turn back to Hashem.

Then we receive the news that there will be another Beis Hamikdash and the people will return and live again like the servants we yearn to be. We will be brought back to life. We are told the name of the great city where the revelation will be, where the Kohanim will offer sacrifices, where the Leviim will sing their songs and where Bnei Yisrael will go to. That city is called “Hashem is there”. The message we are being shown is that we have the chance, the honor, of serving Hashem in the great way that the angels do, and like angels, we can also engender a great revelation of Hashem’s Presence. At times, we even have a better chance than the angels, for angels have no free will and so are unable to achieve spiritual growth, but we have free will and thus can grow and overcome obstacles and challenges!

We must remember this when we read about the depths we have sunk to: the deeper the pit we dig for ourselves, the higher we can climb. We can rebuild any connection, and any sin can be wiped out.