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Simchas Torah/Bereishis - Vol. 2, Issue 48

Mashiv haruach u’morid hageshem

The Gemora in Taanis (4b) rules that although Sukkos corresponds to the time when we begin to need rain for the success of the crops, we don’t begin to pray for rain on Sukkos itself because rain on the holiday is considered a curse. We must wait an additional two weeks after the end of Sukkos to allow sufficient time for those who ascended to the Temple for Sukkos to return home without getting wet.

According to this logic, we should similarly stop praying for rain two weeks before Pesach to allow people to ascend in dry travel conditions. Why do we continue praying for rain up until Pesach, praying for something which if answered would significantly impede the ability of people to ascend to the Beis HaMikdash with their Pesach sacrifices?

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv suggests that this is due to the power of inertia. The issue of those traveling to Yerushalayim is one which must be taken into account, but it is not compelling. Therefore, when Sukkos comes at the end of the summer, when we haven’t been praying for rain, this consideration is sufficient to delay the change in our prayers to begin petitioning Hashem for rain. On the other hand, when Pesach arrives at the end of the winter, when we are currently asking for rain, this argument isn’t strong enough to cause us to alter the status quo and cease our prayers prematurely.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains the difference with a practical observation. When people go to the Temple for Sukkos, they haven’t yet taken our their winter wardrobes and travel in clothes which are ill-suited to protect them from the rains on their return journey, so we must give them sufficient time to return home before we begin to ask for rain. On the other hand, when people ascend to Yerushalayim for Pesach, they are properly outfitted in their winter gear which will be able to stand up to any inclement weather they encounter, and we are therefore permitted to continue our prayers for rain.

Finally, Rav Chaim Kanievsky posits that the answer lies in a psychological difference. The verse in Tehillim (55:15) states b’Beis Elokim n’haleich b’ragesh– in the House of Hashem (the Temple) we will walk with feeling. It is pointed out that the letters in the word b’ragesh are short for barad, ruach, geshem, sheleg – hail, wind, rain, and snow. This hints that when one merits traveling to the Beis HaMikdash, his excitement and enthusiasm is so great as to allow him to overcome the greatest of hurdles and to travel in even the most inclement weather. As a result, we are permitted to continue praying for rain in the weeks before Pesach because those ascending to Yerushalayim won’t be deterred by the rains. After Sukkos, on the other hand, people are returning to their homes without the emotional charge and would find the rains tremendously burdensome, so we have no choice but to delay our petitions!


V’lo kam navi od b’Yisroel k’Moshe (Devorim 34:10)

The Torah testifies that nobody will ever reach the tremendous heights attained by Moshe Rabbeinu. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2) that even Moshiach won’t be able to reach the level of prophecy reached by Moshe. How can this fundamental belief be reconciled with another comment of the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 5:2), who writes that every Jew has the ability to be as pious as Moshe? Further, while the Rambam discusses only theoretical potential, Rashi writes (Shemos 6:26) that Aharon was actually considered equal to Moshe. How is it possible that Aharon, great as he was, was on the level of Moshe, whom the Torah calls the greatest prophet who ever was or ever will be?

Rav Elchonon Wasserman and Rav Moshe Feinstein explain that it in objective terms of accomplishment, nobody will ever reach the tremendous heights attained by Moshe. If his celestial “score” was 1000, nobody – not even Aharon – has ever or will ever score 1000. If so, in what way can Aharon or anybody else be considered equal to Moshe?

While Moshe may have scored 1000, this was because he received a special neshama with the capability of scoring 1000. Moshe filled up the house with spiritual light when he was born (Rashi Shemos 2:2), something that can’t be said of Aharon and certainly not of any of us. Even if Aharon scored only 900 or 950, he can still be considered Moshe’s equal because he maximized every talent with which he was blessed, and whatever score he received was the highest possible for his soul. Although his raw score was lower, his “grade” was the same 100% as Moshe’s, and in that sense they were equal.

While in this world people are given respect based on their objective scores, only Hashem knows what somebody was actually capable of attaining and grading them accordingly. The relative or co-worker who always seems to do more and accomplish it quicker will be held to a higher standard by Hashem. We should take comfort in the recognition that Hashem won’t compare us to anybody else. He judges every individual on the basis of his unique talents and trials. At the same time, we should use this knowledge to utilize our personal strengths to become the best Jew that we are capable of being – one who will merit to sit next to Moshe Rabbeinu in Gan Eden!


B’reishis bara Elokim es haShomayim v’es ha’aretz (1:1)
Vay’varech Elokim es yom hashevi’I vay’kadesh oso ki vo shavas mikol melachto asher bara Elokim la’asos (2:3)

            Dovid HaMelech writes in Tehillim (119:160) rosh d’var’cha emes – Your very first utterance is truth. The Baal HaTurim points out that the final letters of the first three words in the Torah spell the word emes – truth – hinting to the fundamental importance of the value of truth in Hashem’s eyes. Indeed, the Gemora in Yoma (69b) states that Hashem’s “seal” is emes. Further, the final letters of the last verse describing the creation (2:3) also spell the word emes, alluding to the fact that the universe was created with Hashem’s attribute of truth from beginning to end.

            Rabbeinu Bechaye points out that the first verse in the Torah contains every vowel sound except for one. The shuruk is missing from this verse. He explains that this is because the letters which spell the word shuruk can also be rearranged to spell the word sheker – falsehood – and because Hashem created the world to be a place of truth, there was no room for a shuruk in describing the beginning of the Creation!

            It is not only the Written Torah which is emblazoned with Hashem’s seal of truth, but the Oral Torah is as well. The Aseres HaDibros begin with the letter aleph (anochi), the Mishnah begins with the letter mem (me’eimasai), and the Gemora starts with the letter tof (tanna), again spelling the word emes!

            The Vilna Gaon notes that it is not only the Torah itself which is encoded with Hashem’s seal, but even the great commentaries upon it are embossed with this powerful commitment to the truth. The Torah forbids (Vayikra 11:42) the consumption of all creeping creatures which slither on their bellies (gachon). Interestingly, Rashi renders the word “belly” as “innards” – me’ayim – which would seem to be anatomically imprecise, as beten would seem to be a more accurate translation. Further, the word gachon appears much earlier in the Torah (Bereishis 3:14), in reference to the punishment of the serpent which tempted Chava, yet Rashi felt no need to explain the meaning of the word until its appearance in Parshas Shemini.

            The Vilna Gaon beautifully explains that the Gemora in Kiddushin (30a) states the letter vov in the word gachon is the middle letter in the entire Torah. Rashi begins his commentary on the Torah with the letter aleph (amar Rav Yitzchok) and ends with the letter tof (asher shibarta). Rashi didn’t feel the need to explain the word gachon, or else he would have done so where it initially appeared. However, because this is the middle of the Torah, and therefore of his commentary, he wished to render it as a word beginning with the letter mem in order to hint that the entire Torah, along with his Divinely-inspired commentary, is emes – true – from the start to the middle to the very end!


Vaya’as Elokim es shnei ham’oros hagedolim es hamaor hagadol l’memsheles hayom v’es hamaor hakaton l’memsheles halayla v’es hakochavim (1:16)

Many people claim that their goal in life is to achieve greatness, to become an adam gadol (great person). However, questioning them as to their understanding of the specific benchmark used to measure one’s success will yield wildly varying answers. Some will define its attainment by the size of their bank account and the amount of respect they command from others. Others will claim that it is to be measured by one’s interpersonal skills and the acts of kindness that a person performs for others. Another group may argue that it means becoming a wise Torah scholar. How does Judaism define greatness?

 The Shelah HaKadosh writes that if a person wishes to know the true inner meaning of any word, he need only examine the meaning of that word the first time it appears in the Torah. Searching for the word âãåì, we needn’t go too far. It first appears in our verse, where the Torah relates that Hashem made the large light (the sun) to rule by day and the smaller one (the moon) to dominate by night. On a simple level, it appears that the first use of this word merely refers to the mundane fact that the sun is physically larger than the moon, hardly inspiring in our search to understand the Torah’s definition of greatness.

However, the Bostoner Rebbe notes that in searching for some deeper significance, we must consider the scientific relationship between the sun and the moon. To the uneducated eye, it seems that the sun provides light during the day and the moon at night. However, this isn’t accurate, as the moon is incapable of generating its own light. More correctly, the sun gives light during the day, and at night the moon reflects the sun’s light. In this sense, the sun is the giver and the moon is the receiver.

Applying this understanding to people, the Torah is teaching us a profound lesson. In our quest for true greatness, we must bear in mind that success isn’t measured by how hard we work, pray, or study Torah, but by how much we emulate the “great” sun by sharing our warmth and light with others!

            The Rebbe suggests that this is the meaning of the blessing that we give an 8-day-old boy at his circumcision – zeh hakatan gadol yih’yeh. Literally, we bless the child that although he is presently very small, he should live and grow up to become a capable, self-sufficient adult. However, on a deeper level, we may explain that a newborn child is the ultimate taker. He is unable to care for himself in any way and is solely dependent on others to provide him with the food, clean clothes, and emotional love that he needs to live. We bless him that although he is currently the epitome of smallness – a taker – he should grow up to give to others just as others are currently giving to him, thus making him a truly great person!


Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The Medrash (Sifri V’zos Ha’bracha 2) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jews, Hashem first offered it to the other nations of the world. Each of them asked what is written in it, to which Hashem responded with the mitzvah which would be most difficult for that nation to observe, such as not committing adultery, not murdering, and not stealing. Why did they refuse to accept the Torah based on its containing these commandments, as these are mitzvos in which non-Jews are commanded regardless of their decision? (Darash Moshe)

2)     Rashi writes (33:9) that although the majority of the Jews didn’t circumcise their sons who were born in the wilderness due to danger, the tribe of Levi accepted the risk and willingly circumcised their sons in the desert. How were they permitted to accept upon themselves this “stringency” if it presented a genuine risk to the baby’s life? (Chasam Sofer, K’motzei Shalal Rav, M’rafsin Igri)

3)     In blessing the tribes prior to his death, why did Moshe give the shortest blessing to Yissochar (33:18), who is known as the tribe of Torah scholars? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Taima D’Kra Hosafos)

4)     Rashi writes (33:18) that Moshe repeated the names of the five tribes which he blessed at the end – Zevulun, Gad, Dan, Naftoli, and Asher – because they were the weakest of the tribes and he wished to strengthen and encourage them. How can this be reconciled with Rashi’s comment (Bamidbar 32:17) that the tribes of Gad and Reuven were particularly strong and therefore led the Jewish army in its conquest of the land of Israel? (Matamei Yaakov Parshas Matos)

5)     According to one opinion in the Gemora in Bava Basra (15a), Hashem taught the last eight verses of the Torah (34:5-12) – which discuss Moshe’s death and burial – to Moshe, who wrote them in tears. How could Moshe cry over the matter of his impending death when the Mishnah in Berachos (9:5) rules that a person is obligated to bless Hashem for bad occurrences just as he would bless Hashem for good ones? (Tiferes Shlomo)

6)     Rashi writes (34:6) that the burial place of Moshe opposite the idol of pe’or was prepared during the six days of Creation to serve as an atonement for the sin of the Jews in their worship of pe’or (Bamidbar 25:3). Why was Moshe’s death necessary to atone specifically for this sin more than for other sins such as the golden calf and the spies? (Chanukas HaTorah, Darash Moshe)

7)     Rashi writes (34:8) that because Aharon was a lover and pursuer of peace, every single Jew cried and mourned over his death, but only the males cried over the death of Moshe. Why didn’t the women of that generation also mourn Moshe’s death?

8)     Rashi explains (Vayikra 23:36) that the festival of Shemini Atzeres is Hashem’s way of saying that after we have spent so much time together with Him in the sukkah, it is difficult for Him to separate from us, and He therefore asks us to linger one more day. How will this solve the problem of the painful separation, which will presumably only become more difficult after spending additional time together? (Darkei Mussar, Tiferes Torah)

9)     The Gemora in Sukkah (48a) derives an obligation to rejoice on Shemini Atzeres from the seemingly superfluous word àê – only – in the verse regarding Sukkos (Devorim 16:15) v’hayisa ach sameach – and you shall be completely joyous. How can the word ach, which comes to limit or reduce (see Rashi Pesachim 71a d.h. ach), be interpreted as coming to add to the obligation? (Vilna Gaon quoted in Maharatz Chayos Sukkah 48a)

10)  How was it permitted to enact that the annual reading of the Torah should conclude on Shemini Atzeres, as there is a Talmudic rule (Moed Kattan 8b) that ein m’arvin simcha b’simcha – we may not mix two different joyful occasions together?

11)  In describing Hashem’s Creation of the universe, the Torah refers to Him (1:1) as Elokim, which refers to His attribute of strict justice. Rashi explains that Hashem initially considered creating the world with justice, but after realizing that it wouldn’t be sustainable, He instead created it with mercy. As the Torah is describing the actual Creation and not the theoretical one, wouldn’t it have been more accurate to refer to Hashem, which symbolizes His attribute of mercy, creating the world instead of Elokim? (Ayeles HaShachar)

12)  The Torah relates (1:5) that after the first day of Creation, there was night and there was day. In what sense was it possible for there to be a night prior to the Creation of the sun, moon, and earth, which are the cause of the darkness of night? (Bartenura Al HaTorah, Ayeles HaShachar)

13)  The Torah relates (1:5) that after the first day of Creation, there was night and there was day. Did the creations on each day occur at night or during the day? (Bereishis Rabbah 12:14, Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 7, Ayeles HaShachar)

14)  The Torah relates (1:5) that after the first day of Creation, vay’hi erev vay’hi boker – there was night, and there was day. As the word erev refers to the beginning of the night and boker to the beginning of the day, wouldn’t it have been more precise to say vay’hi laylah vay’hi yom, which would include the entire night and day? (Ayeles HaShachar)

15)  Rashi writes (1:11) that Hashem commanded the ground to give forth fruit trees which would taste like the fruits they would yield, but the earth didn’t listen and instead sprouted trees which grow fruits, but which themselves don’t taste like fruits. How can the Torah write åéäé ëï – and it was so – if the trees didn’t follow His instructions? (Bartenura Al HaTorah, Ayeles HaShachar)

16)  Did the serpent actually speak to Chava (3:1), or does the Torah merely relate the content of what it communicated to her in some other fashion? (Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Yad Ramah and Be’er Sheva Sanhedrin 108b, Ayeles HaShachar)

17)  Prior to eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, why didn’t Adam eat from the tree of life, which was permitted to him and which would allow him to live eternally? (Tosefos Rid)

18)  Why didn’t Adam and Chava die immediately upon eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, as Hashem threatened (2:17) that they would die on the day that they ate from it? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel, Ramban, Bereishis Rabbah 19:8-22:1, Bamidbar Rabbah 5:4, Rashi Tehillim 90:4, Sefer HaGematrios of Rav Yehuda HeChossid, Ayeles HaShachar)

19)  What was the first episode of domestic violence in history? (Baal HaTurim 3:12)

20)  The Medrash relates (Vayikra Rabbah 10:5) that upon encountering Cain and hearing that he had repented his sin and received a lesser punishment, Adam was overwhelmed by the power of teshuvah and was inspired to formulate the chapter of Tehillim (92) known as Mizmor Shir l’Yom HaShabbos. What is the connection between this chapter and repentance? (Taima D’Kra, Introduction to Shu”t Ein Yitzchok, Ayeles HaShachar 4:16, Brisker Rov)


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