By: Rabbi Daniel Fine
A running theme of Perokim 1 and 2 is that merely doing mitzvos is not enough. The thought, kavannah, is just as important. On a basic level, one must have in mind that they are fulfilling Hashem’s will each time they do a mitzvah (mitzvos tzrichos kavanah). Yet there is a much deeper element: the effect the mitzvah has on one’s character. One can perform every mitzvah in the book and still not be properly devoted to Hashem (Ramban). In Vayishlach, before they meet, Yaakov tells Esav ‘I lived with Lavan,’ which Rashi understands to mean ‘I kept all 613 mitzvos and did not learn from his evil ways’. This can be interpreted to mean that keeping mitzvos does not guarantee righteousness – one can do mitzvos for selfish motives. Thus, Yaakov had to emphasise that he had both performed the mitzvos and internalised them fully. Mitzvos are the Divine means of correcting our characters and attaining closeness to Hashem – and as such deserve much thought, focus, attention and devotion. Rav Shimon Schwab offers an insight on this theme, connected to Korbanos.
A korban is made up of two parts: action and thought. First are the physical laws of the animal and how it is to be offered, and second is the mindset of the person bringing the korban. Each type of korban comes with its own specifications as to the gender, age and species, as well as the laws regarding how it is to be offered and when (if at all) it is to be eaten. No less important is the requisite mindset of the person bringing the korban: the korban is offered in order to inspire thoughts of repentance and genuine introspection. Watching an animal being slaughtered is supposed to make a person stop, think and ingest the destructiveness of sin.
Adam’s two sons, Kayin and Hevel, were the first people found on the pages of Tanach offering korbanos. Hevel’s korban was accepted, whilst Kayin’s was not – leading Kayin to turn on and kill his brother. The Sforno writes[i] that Hevel’s korban was not necessarily physically better than Kayin’s – both brought the produce of their occupation: Hevel was a shepherd and brought the fat of the sheep, whilst Kayin was a farmer and offered the fruits of the land. The difference, says the Sforno, was in the two brothers’ mindsets – Hevel was full of thoughts of repentance and purity when offering his korban, whilst Kayin simply offered his korban without any accompanying mindset (‘the daydreaming sacrifice-bringer,’ so to speak). Rav Schwab explains that Kayin was simply misguided as to the inner workings of korbanos: he thought that offering korbanos was purely a physical exercise – involving no mental element whatsoever.
Yet, continues Rav Schwab, Kayin was not alone in his mistake; Shaul Hamelech spared the Amalekite animals despite having been told otherwise by the prophet Shmuel, in order to offer them as sacrifices to Hashem. Had Shaul realised that offering korbanos had a mental, spiritual component, he would never have tried to offer these forbidden animals to Hashem. As Shmuel himself says in reproaching Shaul, ‘does Hashem want these Olah offerings as in obedience to the word of Hashem?! To obey Hashem’s word is better than a choice offering’[ii]
Later in history this mistake was repeated. In the generation of the first Beis Hamikdash the people thought that physical motions of sacrificing would be sufficient atonement. Thus, the prophet Yeshaya rebukes them, ‘why do I need your numerous sacrifices, says Hashem … Bring your worthless meal-offering no longer’[iii] Yeshaya rebukes the people for focusing on the physical element of the korban and ignoring its accompanying mental element.
Yet by the second Beis Hamikdash, people had changed. They had learnt from their predecessors’ mistakes and focused on the mental element of korbanos – repenting and mending one’s ways. However, as Rav Schwab points out, the people of the second Beis Hamikdash went to the other extreme. They discarded the physical element and act of sacrifices, ignoring the laws for what a korban should look like, where it should come from and how it should be offered – believing mental spirituality would suffice. Thus, the prophet Malachi reproaches the people, ‘You present Me on My altar loathsome food … when you present a lame or sick animal is nothing wrong?’[iv] One’s ‘mental connection’ is worth nothing if it is not mirrored by adherence to particulars of the mitzvah in question.
A contemporary attitude to mitzvos that is prevalent is ‘I’m alright as long as I feel spiritually connected’. Perhaps this is an outgrowth of the selfishness and self-centredness prevalent during that generation: the same selfishness that caused the baseless hatred that destroyed the Beis Hamikdash. Having the audacity to redefine spirituality on your own terms, whether believing it to be mental or physical and wresting it from the Maker of spirituality is an act of self-centredness.
[i] Sforno Bereishis 4:5
[ii] Shmuel Alef 15:22
[v] Yeshaya 1:11-13
[iv] Malachi 1:7-8
By: Kovi Rubenstein
Yeshaya had a private ‘ma’amad Har Sinai’ where he saw a vision of Hashem, who was sitting on a high and lofty throne, and the Seraphim were praising Him. Yeshaya says, “Woe is me, for I am doomed, as I am a man of impure lips and I dwell among a people with impure lips.” (Yeshaya 6:5) One of the seraphim takes a coal from the altar and places it on Yeshaya’s lips and tells him, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your sin has gone away and your sin shall be atoned for.” (6:7) What was Yeshaya’s sin, and how was it removed by the coal?
The Gemara in Yevamos 49b relates that Yeshaya’s mouth was impaired because he slandered the Bnei Yisrael when he said, “I dwell among a people with impure lips.” Rashi writes, “He was punished that his mouth was impaired because he called Bnei Yisrael a people with impure lips of his own accord, not by Hashem’s command or as rebuke.”
The Yalkut Shimoni similarly writes (II:406): “When he [Yeshaya] saw the heavenly angels praising Hashem and didn’t join in their praise, he felt bad, “for I am a man of impure lips,” for had I joined my praise with theirs I would live forever like them … While he was still standing and contemplating this, he uttered an extra phrase, “and I dwell among a people with impure lips.” Hashem said to him: Regarding what you said, “I am a man of impure lips,” you are pardoned since you are master over yourself. But are you master over my children that you said, “and I dwell among a people with impure lips?” Immediately he was punished, as it says … “in his hand was a ‘ritzpa’ (coal).” In does not say, “gacheles,” (ember) but rather, “ritzpa.” What is ‘ritzpa’? R. Shmuel bar Nachmani says: “Ratzetz peh” (Smash the mouth) which spoke loshon hora about my sons.”
Eliyahu also complained against Bnei Yisrael and said, “They have forsaken Your covenant.” (Melachim I 19:10) There, too, Hashem prepared for him an “ugat retzafim” (coal-baked cake), which R. Shmuel bar Nachmani also sees as an allusion to smash the mouth of one who slanders Bnei Yisrael.
The “ritzpa,” the coal, serves as a hint to lashon hara because its damage is long lasting, and it continues long after the criminal act of speaking is over. The Yerushalmi (Pe’ah 1:1) explains the idea of the “rotem” tree that Eliyahu slept under in the same way: “All other coals, when they are extinguished on the outside they are extinguished inside [as well]; whereas these [coals of rotem], even though they are extinguished on the outside they are not extinguished inside. The story is told of a person who left coals burning on Succot and found them still burning on Pesach.” This shows the long lasting effect Lashon Hara has. This is the connection between the coal and the sin of Yeshaya.
By: Rafael Dembovsky
Perek 11 is perhaps one of the most poetic, symbolic passages found in Yeshaya. Yesahya describes a post-Messianic world, in which the “wolf will lie down with the sheep; the leopard with the goat”. Furthermore, the “bear and the cow will graze together”, such will be the extent of world peace in the Messianic era.
The Redak brings several interpretations of these Passukim. The first interpretation, one that he eventually rebuffs, is that in the times of Moshiach, the nature of predatory animals will be subverted such that they will be willing to forsake the meat of their prey for the grass of the ground. The second explanation is that the Passukim are not to be taken too literally; animals will continue to eat in their normal fashion. Nevertheless, they will be withheld from causing any damage in the Land of Israel. Finally, the Redak suggests that the “bear”, and other predatory animals, represent those people whose lives are spent in the pursuit of worldly benefit. The herbivores, on the other hand, indicate those who attempt to serve Hashem without deriving unnecessary pleasure. That these two, seemingly incompatible, categories of people can “graze” together illustrates how, ultimately, each and every nation will come to recognise that Hashem is the King, and everything else is futility.
In Spiritual terms, the number Eight refers to transcending the mundane, being one above the ‘natural Seven’. Consequently, whilst the Seven previous days of Pesach relate to miracles Hashem performed for us in this world, in this era, so the Eighth day must allude to a time beyond Nature, in the realm of miracles.
According to the Ramban in Parshas Bo, unless one believes that each and every incident that occurs in this world is a direct expression of Hashem’s desire, then one has not fully grasped the essence of Judaism. The ultimate level of emunah is such that a person won’t distinguish between the natural and the miraculous, because he realises that both of them are equal revelations of Hashem.
In the continuation of the Perek, Yeshaya writes that there will be no damage done to Jerusalem by wild animals, because the world will be “filled with knowledge of Hashem, like water that covers the seabed”.
One could raise the following question. Although Yeshaya describes an inspiring, emotive portrayal of mankind living in the service of Hashem, why does this have an immediate impact on the behaviour of animals? Why should the “knowledge of Hashem” withhold the wild animals from ravaging?
The answer, it seems, lies in the aforementioned Ramban. Once the world has experienced the spiritual uplifting that will be the Moshiach, no one will question Hashem’s sovereignty. Not only will Hashem be crowned as King, however, but everyone will recognise His direct impact on every single action in this world. Therefore, once the population recognise Hashem, and the knowledge of G-d overflows like water from the deep, then the behaviour of the animals is irrelevant; in whichever way Hashem has them behave, G-d’s hand will still be acknowledged. Therefore, because the “bear and the cow” are willing to acknowledge Hashem, He will be willing to prevent the wild animals from causing damage to our land.
Thus, Yeshaya presents us with a powerful message. It is only when we fail to recognise G-d in the mundane that we are forced to acknowledge Him through trials and tribulations. If we only wouldn’t distinguish between what we perceive to be natural and what we perceive to be miraculous, then Hashem would have no need to force us to concede to His dominion in ways we would rather not.
Im Yitrtze Hashem, let us all be zoche to reach this pinnacle of emunah and recognize Hashem’s dominion over every aspect of our lives.
Yeshaya perek 12
One of the most profound pessukim in Nach has to be the opening passuk of perek 12: ‘I praise you Hashem for You have been angry with (/exiled) me.’ The concept is that we can praise Hashem for the suffering itself – once we look back with hindsight and see that the suffering was ultimately constructive. Let’s explain…
Pesach and Tisha B’Av always fall on the same day of the week in any given year. It’s not a coincidence that the day of ge’ulah and the day of tragedy are connected. For the concept is that tragedy and redemption are interlinked; tragedy causes redemption. One needs to go through periods of tragedy in order to reach the redemption; this is true in our personal lives as well as for the destiny and history of the Jewish People. Hashem knows what He is doing; tragedy is there for a reason. And that reason is to bring the ultimate ge’ulah. Let’s illustrate.
In benching’s Shir Hama’alos we come across a perplexing phrase. It reads ‘when Hashem returns to Zion we were like dreamers, then our mouths will be full of laughter.’ Why ‘we were dreaming’ in the past tense if the entire paragraph is referring to the future event of redemption? The answer, as Rav Neventzal reveals based on Rav Dessler’s piece, is that after the redemption comes, we will look back at all our past tragedies and see that they were not really pains at all – they were all necessary steps to bring about the redemption. Just like someone in a deep dream doesn’t feel physical pain but imagines pain in his dream, we will see that our previous pains were not really the pure suffering that we thought they were – they were steps to redemption.
This theme of tragedy-to-redemption is the deeper meaning of the order of seder night –‘maschil bignus imesayem bishvach.’ This dictates that we start the haggadah with how Lavan tricked us, slavery (the bad times) and end with the Exodus and its miracles (the good times). However, this is not merely a clever organisational tool for ordering the Haggadah. Rather, it tells the story of Jewish history on the whole, and is the reason that yetzias mitzrayim is the prototype example for future redemption. What it tells us is that things can be going extremely badly to the brink of complete collapse, when it suddenly things take a sharp turn for the good. And the good did not come despite the bad, but rather it was a product of the bad. Thus, yetzias mitzrayim is compared to a birth; just like in a birth things are very painful yet it is those very same pains that create the joy of the birth, so too the bad and painful things in history cause/are steps to the good times.
By Dvora Meyer
The predominant motif which pervades all the writings of the Prophets is their profound love for the Jewish People, and an over-riding concern for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of their fellow Israelites. Simultaneously, of course, the words of the Prophets are permeated with the awareness that the very existence and continued well-fare of the Jewish people is directly dependent upon their fulfilment of Torah commandments, and their allegiance to Hashem.
Yishaya is referred to by Chazal as the greatest of all Prophets, second only to Moshe Rabbeinu. The writings of this towering prophet manifest an unbounded love for Bnei Yisroel, whom he envisioned joyously returning home after centuries of exile, rededicated to keeping the Torah and serving Hashem.
“Why was it,” our Sages ask, “that Yishaya was selected to be the Prophet of good tidings and consolation for Bnei Yisroel, more so than any other prophet?”
“משום שהוא היה מקובל עליו עול המלכות שמים בשמחה יותר מכל הנביאים”
“Because Yishaya accepted upon himself the yoke of Heaven with joy, more so than any other prophet”.
Elsewhere, Chazal observe that Yishaya was always eager to vindicate Bnei Yisroel, and to find mitigating circumstances in their behalf. Nor was there anyone with a greater love for his people than Yishaya. We find in this week’s Perokim how Yeshaya was willing to walk around in tattered clothes and barefoot for three years in order to deliver one prophecy to the Jewish people!
What an appropriate message from Yishaya! Firstly we can learn the foundations of happiness from Yishaya. He had every reason to be disheartened in the face of a corrupt and non-repentant nation, but he accepted his task from G-d with joy and served Him with great happiness. This is in essence the meaning of ‘Simche’ in Adar, to find happiness and fulfilment in every day Torah and Mitzvot observance.
Secondly, Yishaya’s great level of Ahavas Yisroel is mirrored by Mordechai and Esther, who continued to daven and fight for the Jewish People, even after they openly ignored their warning words of wisdom against going to Achashveirosh’s party. Esther especially risked her life for the sake of Am Yisroel when presenting herself to the king uninvited. It was due to the great love these great ‘heroes’ had for their people that allowed the miracles of Purim to come about. So too, when Bnei Yisroel will finally take heed to the prophetic words of Yishaya, then the Geullah can finally come, Bimheirah veyameinu!
(Adapted from R. Zechariah Fendel)
By: Lea Pessin
There is a prophesy in Yeshaya of a “bad wilderness” coming from the west. Many Meforshim comment that this is referring to Bavel, and could be referring to the fact that Bavel will bring bad times on the Jews. However, it could be referring to two things – not only the fate of the Jews, but also a hint to the fate of Bavel later on.
Bavel was destined to maim and hurt the Bnei Yisrael because the Jews sinned against Hashem. But Bavel was particularly harsh and cruel in dealing with the Jews; they did not do it with the right thoughts of fulfilling G-d’s will, and therefore G-d turned Bavel into a desolate, bleak wilderness.
The Jewish people can only be vanquished if they deserve it, and if it is G-d’s will. If not, G-d will protect His people and destroy those who harm them. As long as Bavel did as Hashem asked, they were the ones bringing the “wilderness”, but as soon as they took it too far, they were punished and they became the “wilderness”.
Let us take care never to have to become the wilderness referred to here, whether because of our own faults or from being too self-righteous in judging others and giving them a ‘taste of their own medicine’.
Who is wise? He who learns from every man: we can even learn a lesson from Bavel, our vanquisher – never judge hastily or exact punishment on anyone, however convinced you are that you are right and entitled to it.
The pasuk following the completion of the creation of the world (2:4) reads ‘These are the products of the heavens and the earth in their having been created (be’hibar’am), on the day that Hashem the L-rd made earth and heavens.’ Rashi comments that the small Heh allows one to read the word be’hibar’am as be’heh bra’am, meaning that Hashem created the world with a Heh. As Rashi goes on to tell us, the pasuk in Yeshaya (26:4) says that ‘with Yud Heh Hashem fashioned the worlds,’ alluding to the fact that Hashem created this world with the letter Heh, whilst the World to Come was created with the letter Yud.
What does this mean?[1a] The answer to this can be gleaned from the explanation of the Maharal to a Mishnah in Avos.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:1) tells us that ‘with ten utterances the world was created. Surely Hashem could have created the world with one utterance? This was to punish the wicked who destroy the world that was created in ten sayings and to give reward to the righteous who uphold the world created with ten sayings.’
The conventional explanation to this Mishnah is that since Hashem used ten sayings instead of one to create the world, the world is more valuable, and so destroying [or upholding] the world is more punishable [or worthy of reward].
The Maharal asks a question; the fact that Hashem ‘spent’ more on creating the world should not mean that the world is more valuable. For example, if the market price of a house is £200,000, but I pay £750,000 for it that does not make the house’s value £750,000. The house remains valued at £200,000, and all that my extra £550,000 means is that I am not a good businessman. Similarly, why should the fact that Hashem used ten sayings to create the world make the world worth more if He could have created it in one saying?
The Maharal answers by explaining that different numbers and letters embody different concepts. For example, the number four represents the dimensions of the physical world; there are four directions on a compass, and four seasons. Similarly, because our physical world is defined by area/space, the fourth letter is a Dalet, which is made up of two perpendicular lines, representing the length and width of an object’s area. The number ten embodies holiness (kedusha). Yom Kippur is on the tenth of the month, there are ten Commandments and ten people are needed for a minyan. In addition, as a spiritual entity, kedusha itself is nivdal – separate from the area-defined physical world. Appropriately, the tenth letter is a Yud – the smallest letter, the least governed by space. The letter Heh is made up of both a Dalet and a Yud. Thus, the Heh (and the number five) embodies there being a central spiritual dimension (the Yud) to a physical structure (the Dalet). Likewise, there are five parts to the neshama (soul), the spiritual core of the physical body.
What the Yud represents, explains the Maharal, is the key to understanding the Mishnah. The fact that Hashem created this world with ten sayings – the number embodying spirituality – means that this world has holiness within it. Once we understand that the world contains spirituality and is to be used as a vehicle for spiritual growth, wicked people that destroy the purpose of the world can be punished, and the righteous can be rewarded. Reward and punishment are a consequence of there being a spiritual purpose, and consequently expected behaviour in this world.
This is what ‘the world was created with a Heh and the next world with a Yud’ means. We are being told that Olam Haba is made up of pure non-physical spirituality, as represented by the Yud. As the gemarra and Rambam put it, ‘in the world to come there are no physical bodies, no eating, no drinking’. While this world does have physical dimensions, there is also a spiritual dimension and purpose here – symbolised by the Dalet and the Yud coming together to form the Heh.
By: Aron White
“וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִתָּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל, וּבָאוּ הָאֹבְדִים בְּאֶרֶץ אַשּׁוּר, וְהַנִּדָּחִים בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וְהִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לַיהוָה בְּהַר הַקֹּדֶשׁ, בִּירוּשָׁלִָם”
“And it shall be on that day, the great Shofar will be blown, and those lost in the Land of Ashur will come, and those pushed off in the land of Egypt (will come), and they will bow to Hashem on the holy mountain, Yerushalayim. (27:13)”
The Passuk mentions two places that Jews will be exiled in, Ashur and Egypt, and assures us that those exiled there will return. Rav Tzadok Hacohen (one of the Chasidishe Rebbes at the end of the 19th century) understood a deeper level of meaning behind the two places, Ashur and Mitzrayim. Each land is representative of certain problematic behaviour which people will adopt in exile. The redemption described, refers to the correction of that behaviour, and its channelling into Avodas Hashem.
Rav Tzadok explains that being “lost in the land of Ashur” means to be lost in the pursuit of pleasure (the root Ashur means happiness). The Navi is describing that there will come a time when in the exile people will channel all their energy, attention and drive, to the pursuit of selfish goals. However, the issue represented by “being pushed off in the land of Egypt” is not of misdirected excitement and enthusiasm, but a lack of drive and effort in any shape or form. Among other proofs Rav Tzadok brings for this idea, he refers to the fact (mentioned in the Torah) that the Nile can provide water for the entire land of Egypt, unlike the land of Israel which requires Tefila, and great physical work, to irrigate the land. The exile of Egypt is symbolic of a lack of energy, goals and drive.
But here comes the punch line. The Passuk here is describing the redemption from these two exiles, and describes the redemption from Ashur as happening first. Rav Tzadok continues his theme to bring out an incredible lesson. Those who have aims, drive and energy, even if they are not for great things, will be redeemed before those who are lethargic. Energy, excitement and drive can all be channelled gradually into other things. Dreams can get bigger, aims can get broader, and goals can expand. Those people will be redeemed, i.e. find their correct path in Avodas Hashem, before those people who are lethargic. In a state of lethargy, there is no drive to work with and no energy to channel towards anything higher.
In becoming an Eved Hashem, one must first have a mindset of doing, aiming, striving for something. Even if initially those goals he sets may not be ideal, as one grows, one can gradually alter his goals, and divert more of his energy into greater things.
By: Alex Jaffe
Perek מ Posukim ל – לא
ויעפו נערים ויגעו ובחורים כשול יכשלו: וקוי ה’ יחליפו כח יעלו אבר כנשרים ירוצו ולא ייגעו ילכו ולא ייעפו:
“Youths may weary and tire and young men may constantly falter. However, those whose hope is in Hashem will regenerate strength, they will grow a wing like an eagle; they will run and will not tire, they will go and they will not become exhausted.”
When Amalek attached the B’nei Yisroel when they came out of Egypt, Moshe went to the top of the mountain and raised his arms. The posuk says: והיה כשאר ירים משה את ידו וגבר ישראל… – when Moshe raised his hands the B’nei Yisroel overpowered Amalek, but when they were down, Amalek began to win.” The Mishna in Rosh Hashana asks – could it be that the hands of Moshe could cause people to win and lose battles? It answers that when Moshe’s hands were raised, the B’nei Yisroel looked heavenwards and would reaccept upon themselves ‘ol malchus shamayim’ and would thus overpower Amalek.
Our posukim here reflect this. When Amalek attacked the B’nei Yisroel, the posuk describes the condition of B’nei Yisroel as: “עיף ויגע ולא ירא אלוקים – Tired and exhausted and not fearing Hashem”. Thus they were in a state of ויעפו נערים ויגעו ובחורים כשול יכשלו: and thus Amalek were able to attack. However, as soon as Moshe raised his arms and the B’nei Yisroel looked heavenward and reaccepted ‘ol malchus shomayim’, they were suddenly transformed into ‘קוי ה’ – those who place their trust and hopes in Hashem.’ Thus, they were no longer tired and exhausted, rather they regenerated strength and defeated Amalek.
There is a possible hint that this is what it means in Parshas Yisro when it says that the B’nei Yisroel journeyed from Refidim (where Amalek attacked the Bnei Yisroel) to Har Sinai, Hashem says: ואשא אתכם על כנפי נשרים – I carried you on eagles’ wings… Hashem was alluding to the יעלו אבר כנשרים – that regenerated strength that they had after the battle with Amalek.
May we merit to experience the fulfilment Possuk which describes the B’nei Yisroel on their way to geulah – whilst nations around them stumble and tire, the B’nei Yisroel will regenerate strength because of its trust in Hashem.
By: Aron Coten
“וְיַאְדִּיר תּוֹרָה יַגְדִּיל צִדְקוֹ לְמַעַן חָפֵץ ‘ה”
The Lord desires [this] for His righteousness’ sake; He magnifies the Torah and strengthens it. (42:21)
Rashi comes to answer an obvious question on this passuk. The passuk doesn’t actually say what Hashem desires? The translation above merely inserts the word this in brackets, which merely obfuscates the meaning of the passuk. Rashi explains that what the passuk means to say is that Hashem desires “to show us and ‘open our ears’ in order that we be righteous.” With this, we can understand the rest of the passuk. Hashem wants to make us righteous and in order to help us do this he glorifies the Torah so that we can learn from the Torah the correct way to conduct ourselves (Metzudos Dovid).
The final Mishna in Makkos (3:16) famously says:
“Rabbi Chananya ben (son of) Akashya said: The Holy One, blessed be He, wanted to give Israel merit; therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvos (commandments) in abundance, as it is written: ‘G-d wanted, for its [Israel’s] righteousness, to make the Torah great and mighty’.”
When at least a minyan of people finish learning together, it is customary to say Kaddish D’Rabbanan (see Rambam Seder Tefilos Nusach Hakadish). However, most Poskim (Ra’avad; Magen Avrohom) hold that we only say Kaddish specifically after learning Agadata. Therefore, in order to be sure that we have fulfilled this, it is common practice for the Mishna above to be recited.
The Rambam writes that it is one of the principles of faith that when a person performs one of the 613 mitzvos, lishmoh, he merits a portion in the world to come. One way of understanding R’ Chananya’s statement is as follows: By Hashem giving us so many commandments, it is virtually impossible for us not to do at least one act properly during our lifetime and through this seemingly insignificant act, we can earn chayei olam haba without even knowing it. Furthermore, the Meleches Shlomo explains that many of the mitzvos we are instructed to do, any normal person would probably have done anyway. The examples he gives to illustrated this point are the bein adam l’chaveiro mitzvos. Therefore, by making these actions which we would have done anyway obligatory, Hashem allows us to gain extra merit in the easiest possible way.
May we merit to perform more of the many mitzvos (including the ones we wouldn’t have done anyway!) that we have been given B’chasdei Hashem to do and with that bring the geulah sheleimah b’karov.
Perek 55 draws on a comparison between water and Torah. Let’s expand and explain…
The midrash compares Torah to water, saying that “just as water only has a sweet taste if one is thirsty, so too Torah only has a sweet taste if one has a thirst for it.” There are two important points to glean from this midrash. First, we see that Torah is supposed to be sweet, and second, this sweetness is directly related to our desire for Torah.
Even though on a basic level the Torah is sweet to anyone who merits to understand a little of its truth, on a deeper level the sweetness of Torah is the extent to which the Torah affects us personally. Just as sweetness of taste occurs when the water enters our body, so too the sweetness of Torah corresponds to how much one internalises it. The true sweetness is in allowing Torah to seep into our very fibre to uplift us and make us better people more connected to a Higher Source. This is why we ask that the Torah should be sweet for us, for learning Torah has the greatest power to perfect our character and connect us to Hashem. Unlike other mitzvos, the point of learning Torah can be completely missed – one who sees Torah as mere intellectual stimulation will not taste the true sweetness of Torah. It is no coincidence that the word vehaarev shares a root with the word ‘to mix’, for the sweetness of Torah is how much it has become mixed in to who we are. That is sweetness. To explain why thirst is a prerequisite for this sweetness, the more you value something, the more you ‘let that thing in’ to affect you. For example, one values and appreciates one’s parents much more than the mailman (hopefully), and therefore one places trust in and generally allows one’s parents to shape one’s life more than the mailman. The same goes for Torah. The more we desire and value Torah, the more we allow ourselves to be exposed to and influenced by Torah.
By: Aron White
Perek 58 (the Haftara we read on Yom Kippur morning) includes Yeshaya`s reminder to the people to ensure that their fasting and Teshuva moves beyond external actions, and is actualised by caring for the poor.
The Alshich comments on the double command of the Navi, who encourages the people to “Give bread to the poor, and bring them into your house.” He explains that merely giving bread to the poor is symbolic of giving a person charity without investigating what the specific needs of that person are. In addition to the immediate giving of charity, one should bring the poor person into the home, symbolic of coming into close proximity with the poor person, in order to identify and attend to the person’s specific needs.
We can take the Alshich`s stress on the importance of close proximity to the receiver of Tzedaka a step further. It is emotionally more comfortable to give Tzedaka to a poor person from afar, to so to speak “use the poor person as ones Lulav,” to do a Mitzva of charity without ever having to emotionally sympathise or more importantly, empathise, with the person who is receiving the charity. Bringing the poor person into the home is a way of breaking down that barrier, of ensuring that not only does a person give the poor person the money, but he can connect to and empathise with, the receiver of his charity.
This finds its expression in the day of Yom Kippur itself, as the Gemara in Brachos 6b, “The main reward one receives for a fast, is for the Tzedaka he gives afterwards.”One can understand this Gemara as teaching that the experience of a fast should help one empathise with the condition of a poor person who lacks food, and this understanding should lead to the giving of Tzedaka. We should make efforts to use proximity with people in difficult situations, and our own personal challenges, to empathise with those going through difficulties, and not merely help them from a physical and emotional distance.