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Category Archives: Dvar Torah

Tastes and Reasons

The Mishnah (Berachos 33b) rules that one who says, “As Your mercies, G-d, devolve on the mother bird and its nest, so too, have mercy on us,” must be silenced. The Gemara explains that the requirement of sending away the mother bird prior to taking her eggs is solely a Divine decree, not based on the desire to be merciful to the mother bird, as the forbidden prayer would seem to imply. Yet the Sages themselves say (Devarim Rabbah 6:1): “…So, too, G-d’s mercy extends to the birds, as it says, ‘When you discover a bird’s nest…send away the mother…’”

To resolve this contradiction, we must distinguish between a taste and a reason. If we were asked why we eat, we would answer that we must eat in order to live. If questioned further why we eat bread and not stones, we might refer to the necessary nutrients available in bread but not in stones. But if asked why human beings need these nutrients, or why we are capable to extracting needed minerals from bread and not rocks, we could say nothing more than that is how G-d created the world and the answer lies exclusively in His mind.

Even though we eat to stay alive, Hashem created the world in such a way that our food also has a pleasing taste and aroma. But that taste should never be confused with our reason for eating. Even if our taste buds were destroyed and we could not taste our food, we would still have to eat. And if we let our taste buds guide our choice of foods, we might soon die of malnutrition.

The mitzvos are the spiritual nourishment of our neshamah (souls). Why or how a particular mitzvah nourishes our soul we cannot know any more than why G-d created bodies which require certain nutrients. But Hashem wanted the mitzvos to be palatable to us, so he infused them with taste — ideas and lessons — that we can understand. We must never confuse, however, the lessons of the mitzvos, with their underlying reasons.

If one entreats G-d, Who has mercy on the birds, to similarly have mercy on us, that entreaty reflects his own determination that he understands the reason for the mitzvah from G-d’s perspective. That is a mistake. We can never know why G-d decreed a particular mitzvah. But to learn from the mitzvah a lesson of mercy, as an enhancement to our performance of the mitzvah, is perfectly acceptable. That is the intent of the Sages in the Midrash mentioned above.

All mitzvos are intrinsically chukim, unfathomable Divine decrees. With respect to some, even the “taste” is obscure, and they are categorized as chukim, and in some the “taste” is more easily discerned, and they are called mishpatim.

Parah adumah is called Chukas HaTorah, a law of the Torah, and not Chukas HaParah, the law of the red heifer, because it demonstrates in the clearest fashion that the entire Torah is based on a Divine understanding beyond our ability to fathom – it purifies the impure yet impures the pure. Only when we base our performance of mitzvos on submission to the decree of the Creator, will they be performed with perfection.
(Rabbi Zev Leff)

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The Ungrateful Dead

Miller’s Musings

פרשת קרח

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There is no question that in any leadership struggle there is one side that ends up embittered and resentful. If one deems themselves worthy of authority, then for their push for power to end in defeat leaves them deflated and often enraged. Korach fervently believed that he was the one that should have been chosen to be the prince of the tribe of Levi. When, at the very beginning of Sefer Bamidbar, it was given to another, it was too much for him to bear and it eventually led to his suicidal plot to overthrow Moshe and Aharon. But if this was indeed the motivation behind his rebellion, why did he wait so long so sow the seeds of discontent amongst the people and instigate this failed coup? Why did he not immediately react in this way when he learned of his being snubbed?

Any follower of political intrigue and observer of the halls of power, knows that one of the most important skills for a person climbing the ladder of control to possess is timing. To go gung-ho against one’s enemy without careful thought is foolish and self-destructive. But to wait for just the right moment, when the foe is at their weakest and already in decline, is the surest way of ensuring overall victory. Whilst Moshe was in the ascendancy, when he had redeemed them from Egypt, begged for Hashem to spare their lives after the sin of the golden calf and shown himself to be a caring and devoted leader, would have been folly. Any attempts to incite the people against their beloved teacher would have been met with disdain and anger. But, says the Ramban, now that they have been sentenced to die in the desert and Moshe was unable this time to be their savior, now that they could conveniently forget all he had done for them, now was the opportune time to garner support for his proposed insurgence.

A person’s memory is incredibly malleable, prone to persuasion and adjustment both by oneself and others. It is amazing how often we can soon forget the tremendous kindnesses that have been done for us at our lowest times. When we feel indebted to someone we are incredibly adept at convincing ourselves that there is no real gratitude needed, either because we do not like to feel beholden to another or because we do not want to be reminded how far we had fallen. This is something we must be so aware of because ingratitude can often be the truest indication of who we really are and how self-centered we truly may be. We must remind ourselves of those people who were there for us when we needed them most and ensure we show them the appreciation and love they deserve.

*May we be grateful for the incredible gift of Shabbos this week*

לעילוי נשמת לאה בת אברהם

לעילוי נשמת שרה יעל בת גרשון

לרפואת אלימלך יהושע אהרון בן דבורה רבקה

Wise Women

This

week’s parsha, Korach, contains the sorry tale in which Korach contested Aharon’s appointment as the high priest and managed to persuade a group of followers, all of whom felt that they deserved the position. When the Torah informs us initially, of the group of followers we find the name ‘Oin ben Peles’ mentioned, however the Sages tell us that in the end he was saved from the terrible fate which the others endured. We are told further that he was saved due to the sound reasoning of his wife who argued that “whatever happens, you are not going to be the high priest, either you will be compliant to Aharon or to Korach, so why get involved in this argument, what do you stand to gain?” The Talmud praises her and quotes a verse which describes the “wisdom of women”.

The

question is asked, what was so “wise” about her advice, surely what she told her husband was pretty obvious, why all the praise? The answer offered is that one who is able to behave in a rational and calm manner whilst surrounded by raging fires of controversy and argument is indeed wise. In all areas of life a person must remember never to lose himself but rather remain calm and thought out, in short- be wise!

R’ Ezer Pine

Parshas Korach

Korach and his followers challenged the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon, “It’s too much for you. For the whole congregation is holy and Hashem is amongst them” (16:3). The verse could be understand as saying, that everyone is holy; in what way is everybody holy? Because Hashem is amongst them, Hashem is in their hearts. This is the age old claim of many that it is sufficient to be a Jew in the heart, there is no need to act like a Jew. (R’ Moshe Shternboch)

To some extent most of us are guilty of this crime in some way or another. Even though we may perform many mitzvos and behave like good Jews, there are times when it is a little hard and we excuse ourselves saying that Hashem will understand. “Hashem knows I would love to do it, I just can’t.” Even when it is hard for us, Hashem wants our mitzvos.

Humility – continued

The Talmud in massechet Ta’anit tells us that the Torah is compared to water, since just as water always seeks to go to a low place, so does Torah and it can only exist with a person how lowers himself – which means that he is a humble person.

The Maharal points out that not only Torah knowledge, but also all the physical and spiritual abundance that comes with the Torah, can only rest upon a person who is humble.

Rav Dessler writes the following: There are those who achieve spirituality and completely nullify physicality (gashmiut), but they see/recognize themselves as nullifying physicality.

And there are those who nullify themselves, but they see themselves nullifying themselves.

Then there are those that nullify even that – and those are the true humble persons.

R’ Adam Philip

Look Within

There was a teacher who complained consistently about the behaviour of one boy in his class. There was almost no day, when the boy did not receive some kind of punishment. Eventually, the teacher spoke to the father and told him that the boy needs to take Ritilin. The father agreed, but told the teacher that neither he nor his wife would be able to give it to the boy as they both leave the house very early. The teacher told the father that he would take care of it. But the father did not want the boy to take the Ritilin in full view of the whole class! The teacher had a plan. The boy would go to the staff room to prepare a coffee for the teacher and there, in private, he would take the Ritilin. The father agreed.

The results were amazing. The boy transformed into one of the top boys in the class.

After a few months, the father asked his son, “How is it going in school?” The son answered, “For a few months the class has been calm, and the teacher has been very pleased with me. He does not shout at me at all.” “What happened?” inquired the father. “I’m not sure,” the son responded. “Everyday at the end of davining, the teacher asks me to go make a cup of coffee for him. I go, make the coffee and take a pill, and put it into his coffee, and he drinks it, and he is calm.”

It seemed that the person suffering from an inability to concentrate, was actually the teacher!

The teacher had a halachik question. Did he have to reimburse the father for the Ritilin that he had taken?

Seemingly, he would need to as he was the “guilty” party, and he was the person who needed Ritilin and benefited from it. However, since the father paid for it with intent that his son should have success in school and especially as it came out that his son did not consume these unnecessary substances into his body, presumably the father was happy with the money spent.

More importantly, for us, the message is obvious. We should examine our own behaviour, before we blame others.
(VeHa’arev Na)

The Power of Women

The sages tell us that it was Korach’s wife who instigated his rebellions against Moshe, and it was the wife of On ben Peles who saved his life by preventing him from becoming involved in that rebellion (Sanhedrin 109b). They conclude, quoting the verse, “The wisdom of women can establish her home, and the foolish woman destroys it with her own hands” (Mishlei 14:1).

Elsewhere, the Sages relate the story of a righteous couple who divorced. The righteous woman married a wicked man, and the righteous man subsequently married a wicked woman. In the end, the righteous woman transformed her wicked husband into a tzaddik and the wicked wife transformed the tzaddik into an evil man. The Midrash concludes that all depends on the woman (Bereishis Rabbah 17:7).

In a similar vein, the Sages explain the verse, “Thus shall you say to Beis Yaakov and tell Bnei Yisrael” (Exodus 19:3), to mean that Moshe was first to offer the Torah to the women and only afterwards to the men. The Maharshah adds that Moshe was to approach only the women, and they in turn were to approach their male relatives and convince them to accept the Torah.

What is the source of this enormous power of women to influence the Jewish people?

The answer to that depends on a proper understanding of the different intellectual attributes of men and women. On the one hand, the Gemara (Niddah 45b) says, “Greater understanding (binah) was given to a woman than to a man.” It is for this reason that women are ready to accept the responsibility for mitzvos at twelve years of age, a year earlier that their male counterparts. On the other hand, the Sages say, “Nashem daaytan kaloos alahem” (Shabbos 33b), which is loosely and wrongly translated, “A woman’s intellect is lightweight.”

What are the attributes of binah and da’as mentioned by the Sages? Binah is a function of the heart, an emotional sensitivity to information, and an ability to put that information to concrete, practical use. Da’as, on the other hand, is a function of pure intellect, the crystallization of the abstract truth.

Both of these functions are crucial for one to establish and lead a Torah life. One must both be able to ascertain the truth in a totally objective manner and apply that truth with a sensitivity. The male and female aspects of mankind were originally one, and the total human they formed contained both these intellectual attributes (see Berachos 61a). With the separation of male and female, each was given one aspect — da’as for the male and binah for the female — in greater intensity. As partners in marriage, both attributes find their original expression.

A greater measure of binah was given to women. They have a greater propensity for emotional sensitivity — i.e., greater in proportion to their capacity for da’as

Good Habits Die Hard

Miller’s Musings

פרשת שלח-לך

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Conventional thought would say that the more important something is the more reminders we would require to ensure there is the least chance of our overlooking it. For those living a life governed by the Torah, there is nothing more valuable than the performance of Mitzvos. Therefore for those of us less naturally spiritually attuned, Hashem conferred upon us the Mitzvah of Tzitzis. This Mitzvah, as the Torah tells us, is so “that you may see it and remember all the commandments and perform them”, which is all well and good, were it not for the fact that the Torah seemingly repeats this again in the next verse, “So that you may remember and perform all My commandments.” The mechanism by which gazing upon Tzitzis reminds us to act righteously is beyond the scope of our discussion, but we do need to try and fathom the need for the aforementioned replication of the stated nature of Tzitzis as a memory aid.

To succeed in a Torah life requires the employment of whatever (kosher) tactics are at our disposal. Seeking a positive environment conducive to spiritual growth, a careful use of preemptive safeguards and constant efforts to connect with G-d, are just some of the methods that will bring us closer to our goals. But if ‘old habits die hard’ it would be entirely logical to use that for our betterment and create habits that we would want to be difficult to jettison. Each time we repeat a good pattern of behavior we make it easier the next time to reproduce this behavior due to it becoming more and more of something habitual and instinctive to us. This we can suggest is the meaning of the duplication of the Torah informing us of the power of Tzitzis to prompt us towards Mitzvos. When we see the Tzitzis it will inevitably remind us and inspire us to do the will of Hashem. And once this is done, and a good deed has been accomplished, this will in turn build within us an automatic reminder to do likewise should the opportunity arise again.

We are always warned to not perform Mitzvos by rote and to endeavour to do each mitzvah because we want to, not because we were trained to. Yet there is a lot to be said for creating positive habits within ourselves. If we are always used to praying when things go awry it becomes something that we naturally do. If we teach ourselves to always respond warmly and with generosity to people, it will become second nature. Of course we must find newness and instill depth into our acts, but if we start by training our habits, and the habits of our loved ones, to be as they should be, we are giving ourselves an excellent head start to eventually being the authentically great people we want to be.

*May Shabbos be a positive force for change in our habits and life*


לעילוי נשמת לאה בת אברהם

לעילוי נשמת שרה יעל בת גרשון

לרפואת אלימלך יהושע אהרון בן דבורה רבקה

Parshas Shlach

There are many people who live very traditional lives as Jews and yet, unfortunately, their children have strayed from those paths. Obviously, there is not one reason for this and we can never know all the factors, but one idea is hinted to in this week’s parsha.

There is a mitzvah to separate a piece of the dough and give it to a kohen (known as the mitzvah of challah). The Torah says, “From the first of your kneading, give to Hashem, a portion, for your generations” (15:21). The verse hints to us guidelines for life – first comes Hashem, first we give to Hashem. Yiddishkeit should be the priority in our lives. Other things are to fit around our Yiddishkeit, not the other way around. When we live our lives this way, when the children see that Yiddishkeit is the top priority, then it will be “for your generations” – the children will follow in the same path. (R’ Moshe Shternboch)

The Right Solution To The Wrong Problem

This week’s parsha, Shlach Lecha, contains the calamitous episode in which the Jewish nation, by
sending spies into the land of Israel before they were to conquer it, displayed a lack in trust in
Hashem- the consequences of which we suffer from until this very day. (After they understood the
mistake that they had made they cried, a cry which haunts us even today- that day was the 9th of Av- a
day which remains a day of lament).

Moshe Rabeinu’s involvement in this sorry story needs some investigation. The talmud relates the
conversation between Moshe and the Nation which finishes with Moshe telling them, “dont let me
stop you”. Furthermore in verse 3 the Torah says “viyishlach osem Moshe al pi Hashem”-
“and Moshe sent them with the consent of Hashem” this verse implies that both Moshe and Hashem
were “for the spy plan”. And to add to the confusion, there is a verse in Devarim which

Moshe comments regarding the sending of the spies “and the matter was good in my eyes”- in
reference to these words the talmud comments “it was good in Moshe’s eyes but not good in the
eyes of G-d”.

So was this excercise good or not, could we really conceive that Moshe, the “faithful servant”,
would instruct/ allow them to do something that was not pleasing to Hashem.
The answer in short is, it was a needed endevour in a non needed situation.
A person merits the level of Heavenly protection in direct correlation to the degree in which he truly
believes in Hashem’s all encompassing world involvement.
In the wrong situation that they doubted Hashem’s ability to enter them into the land of Israel, it
was the right thing to employ spies.

It’s not enough to simply intellectually believe that Hashem runs the show, rather we have to plant
that knowledge into our hearts to the point that we have a clear and deep emotional conviction that
everything in life is in His “hands”.

R’ Ezer Pine
(Based on the sefer “zichron meir”)