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Category Archives: Dvar Torah

Teshuva and Tefilla 2

We begin the day with the morning blessings.

The purpose of saying blessings is to recognize that all we have is from Hashem and He alone is the source of everything we have. “Baruch ata Hashem…” – blessed are you, Hashem, lit. means that all blessings are from Hashem. This is why we begin the day with saying blessings for all our earthly needs. The power of vision, having clothes, being able to stand and walk etc. In this way we connect ourselves to Hashem from the very beginning of the day.

As mentioned, sin stems from a sense of disconnection from Hashem, if we pay attention to the morning blessings, it might help us to feel more connected and appreciative – and this in itself constitutes teshuvah, and will help us avoid sin in the future.

R’ Adam Philip

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Priestly Help

A poor woman married a rich man, but the marriage did not work out and she requested a get (document of divorce). He refused and ran away to Brazil. A married woman may not remarry until she gets divorced or her husband dies. She was now stuck! A very kind Rav, exerted much effort to aid her and traveled to Brazil. He publicized what had transpired in a Jewish newspaper and that the Beis Din had obligated the husband to divorce her and requested help from anyone who could aid.

The newspaper landed up in the hands of a priest of idolatry. The kindness of the Rav and his efforts made an impression on him and he contacted the Rav to find out the details of the man. He discovered that the husband was selling fruit and vegetables. The priest offered to the Rav that he would publicize that it was forbidden to purchase from the husband if he continues to refuse to give the get. Since the husband would be scared that he would lose his livelihood, he would acquiesce and give the get.

The question was is it permitted to use the priest to help the woman as it would appear that importance and credence was given to the idolatry.

This was not considered to be a problem as the assistance of the priest was not on the grounds of honouring the idolatry or giving it any credence, rather the priest happened to be the person who could provide the appropriate influence on the husband and therefore it was permitted. (R’ Chayim Kaniefsky – quoted)

An Individual Awakening

We are now in the month of Elul. Elul is a time of awakening. The shofar is customarily blown every day, as it was when Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to Mount Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Elul for forty days to receive the Torah. The Jew becomes aware of his responsibilities in this world – his potential to bond with the Creator of the universe and his ability to perfect himself and the entire creation. The shofar arouses us, as do the auspicious days of Elul themselves, to awaken from the lethargy of an entire year. They urge us to once again gain a recognition of ourselves and our mission in this world.

In this light we are given one of the hints of Elul in the verse “U’mal Hashem Elokecha es levavcha v’es levav zarecha – Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring” (Devarim 30:6). The first letters of this verse spell Elul. The awakening of Elul removes all the partitions and obstacles between us and our Creator and intensifies our recognition of and sensitivity to Hashem. To do this, we must reorient ourselves to know both our true selves and our Creator.
(Rabbi Zev Leff)

Only You

(I wrote this and then realized that I wrote this vort a few years ago – if anyone remembers it that is amazing!)

The very first verse of parshas Re’ah seems to provide us with a grammatical problem. Moshe tells the Jewish people, “See, I am presenting before you today, blessing and curse.” The English translation hides a grammatical problem with the verse. Even though Moshe was speaking to whole nation, he begins to address them an individual level and then switches to refer to them on a group level. The word for used “see” (ראה) is in the singular and the word used for before you (לפניכם) is in the plural. Obviously Moshe did not get confused and err in his command over the Hebrew language! What is the message?

Even though Moshe was speaking to the whole nation, he wanted to emphasize that each individual is extremely important (R’ Chayim M’Vurmiza – quoted). Hashem created each person with his own package, his good points, his bad points, his family, his background, his environment. No two people are the same. Each person has his unique role to play in the make-up of the world.

There was a man who wanted to organize a shiur in his shul, so he arranged a good speaker to come to the shul after Ma’ariv on a certain night. The night of the shiur arrived. Ma’ariv was packed and then after Ma’ariv concluded every started to leave the shul. One of the members of the shul was making a wedding that night and everyone was going. The organizer of the shiur had forgotten about the wedding! Remaining in the shul was the speaker, the organizer and one other listener! The organizer went to the speaker, explained what had transpired and apologized. He was hoping that the speaker would understand that it wasn’t worthwhile for him to speak and go home. But he did not. Even though there were only two listeners he stayed and gave a fired-up drasha as if the shul was packed. After the shiur the organizer went over to the Rav and asked him how he could give a shiur so full of energy with such a small turn out. The Rav replied, “Does an ambulance not drive with its lights and siren even if it is only going to save one life?”

Parshas Re’ah

The Torah deals very “harshly” with a meisis, someone who attempts to steer a fellow Jew away from the path of the Torah and worship other gods. He receives the death sentence. We are warned not to pity him or cover up for him. Amazingly, this “harsh” treatment is all due to him, just for trying to persuade someone else to veer off track, even though he did not succeed!

We know that Hashem rewards the doers of good more so than He punishes the doers of evil. If this is what awaits someone who just attempted to do evil and lead others astray, can we imagine what awaits someone who just attempts to help others onto the right path and bring them closer to Yiddishkeit (even if his attempts are not productive)!? (R’ Simcha Zissel – quoted)

No Challenge Too Great

This week’s parsha, Re’eh, contains the laws of the “tithes” and for our purpose, the second tithe. Regarding which, the farmer was required to take a 10th of his produce to Jerusalem and eat it there. The Torah adds that if a person’s 10th was too large to take with him, then he was able to “convert” his produce into an equivalent monetary amount, which he could easily carry to Jerusalem, and use it to buy food which he was to eat there.

A homiletic approach to the text of this verse is as follows. The verse reads- “And if the way be too long for you, that you are unable to carry it, for the place which the Lord, your God, will choose to establish His Name therein, is too far from you”- If the way (to the temple) appears to you too long, and the weight of the load bothers you to the extent that you can’t carry it- this predicament is symptomatic of the fact that “the place is far from you”. The word “makom” which literally means place is also one of the names of Hashem and therefore this verse could be understood as coming to explain the reason why our farmer is having a tough time fulfilling this mitzvah- because he feels that his relationship with G-d- “the Place” is distanced.

If our farmer would truly understand and feel the closeness that every Jew should feel with regards to his relationship with G-d, then no mitzvah would be too challenging.

Love breaks all boundaries- if Hashem’s love for His People was reciprocated then no challenge would be too great.

R’ Ezer Pine

(Based on the writings of the “Alshich HaKodosh”)

Teshuva and Tefilla 1

We are now approaching the days of awe. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The preparation for these days is the month of Elul, which is just around the corner.

As most of us probably know, the letters of ELUL are the first letters of “Ani Ledodi VeDodi Li” – “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” (Shir HaShirim 6:3)

This verse reflects the spiritual service that begins in Elul. We arouse ourselves from below – Ani Ledodi, and then Hashem arouses Himself from above.

The goal of a Jew is to always get closer to Hashem. Every sin, causes the sinner to distance himself from Hashem, and this coming period of time is especially designated to teshuvah, namely to restore our relationship with Hashem and the initiative has to come from us – firstly “Ani Ledodi” I am my beloved’s.

Not only does sin cause a distance between the sinner and Hashem, but sin is also caused by being distanced from Hashem. A person who lives with Hashem and has a good connection with Him, does not easily sin.

One of the ways to connect with Hashem is through prayer. The purpose of tefilla (prayer) is the recognition that we get everything from Him.

Therefore it seems appropriate to study some of the explanations and commentaries of our daily prayers, and that in itself will make us grow closer to Hashem and will constitute active teshuvah.

R’ Adam Philip

A Refuge In Time

(Rosh Chodesh Elul is this Shabbos and Sunday.)

The Arizal reveals that the month of Elul is hinted in the parsha that discusses the cities of refuge for someone who killed unintentionally. The first letters of the phrase “Inah l’yado v’samti lach” (Shemos 21:13) spell out Elul. Somehow the cities of refuge and their significance are connected to this time when we are meant to repent and prepare for the Day of Judgement.

One who appreciates the supreme value of every moment of temporal life will not be negligent or careless and cause his own or another’s life to be in danger. An unintentional murder is not the result of an accident beyond one’s control; rather, it is the result of carelessness and negligence. Only an individual who does not appreciate the value of life, whose regard for the importance of life is deficient, could possibly be negligent in a manner that could cause another’s demise. One who fails to act with the proper regard for human life and causes unintentional homicide needs to be reeducated and impressed with the value of life. This is achieved through sending the unintentional murderer to the cities of refuge. The cities of refuge were the cities of the tribe of Levi. They devoted their lives to spiritual pursuits. Seeing this would clarify and put into perspective the true purpose of life.

The entire year we are negligent; we do not not consider our lives in light of eternity. We carelessly and foolishly commit sins that rob moments of our lives of their intrinsic eternal value. We are so to speak, guilty of unintentional murder of ourselves. Therefore Hashem gave us the month of Elul as a “time of refuge” in which to regain our perspective on life, to utilize it as a means to generate eternal bliss.
(Rabbi Zev Leff)

Black is Beautiful

The paint on the battim of the tefillin has rubbed off in a couple of spots, leaving small white areas. Are the tefillin pasul (invalid)?

This is a major dispute among the authorities. Even though many consider them to be kosher (see Mishne Brurah 32:184), as many hold that the black of the battim is only a matter of beautifying mitzvos and a custom, it would be wise to paint them (lishmah) as soon as possible. Markers and brushes with reliable hechsheirim for painting battim and retzuos (straps) are available in most Judaica stores. (The retzuos should be black – this is a halachah le’Moshe M’Sinai)

The guideline above is based on the assumption that the spots where the paint rubbed off are immediately noticeable. However, if the battim give the general impression of being black, and the white spots are noticeable only upon close inspection, then the tefillin are fine (Halichos Shlomo). Although it would be best to paint those spots as well, it need not be considered urgent.
(Inside סת”ם – A Complete Buyer’s Guide by R’ Reuvain Mendlowitz)

Parshas Eikev

Hashem is praised as being great, powerful and awesome, Who does not show favouritsm and Who also does not accept a bribe (10:17). All the praises are understandable except the last one. It is an attribute regarding human beings, but why is it such a praise regarding Hashem?

The verse does not refer to not accepting monetary bribes, rather it refers to bribes through mitzvos. A person who has performed many wonderful acts may think that Hashem will pardon him if he slacks of here or there. This is not so. Hashem does not accept a mitzvah bribe. A transgression will not go unpunished. This is the praise of Hashem. It is the norm for human beings to arrange special favours for their close ones, not so regarding Hashem. It does not matter how righteous the person is, how close he is to Hashem, a punishment is still handed out for a wrongdoing. (Ramban)

Many times we justify ourselves and say to ourselves, “I have been a good boy recently, I am sure Hashem won’t mind if I do this and this.” Not true. Hashem does mind.