Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

For sponsorships and advertising opportunities, send e-mail to:

Back to This Week's Parsha Previous Issues

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Vol. 11   No. 43

This issue is sponsored anonymously

Parshas Re'ei

The Tefilah Experience
(Part 2)

In the first article, we discussed 'to know before whom one stands', 'to Daven because we need G-d' and 'self-nullification'.

A fourth major prerequisite to Tefilah is to Daven in Shul with a Minyan. To be precise, this really incorporates two separate issues, since Halachah-wise, it is preferable to Daven in Shul than at home, even when there is no Minyan (in either place). One cannot after all, compare the sanctity that pervades the house of G-d to the relatively mundane atmosphere that is present in one's own home. Add to that the 's'char halichah' (the reward for walking to Shul) that one loses by staying at home, and the awe and dignity that one tends to display there that are missing in a private residence, and it becomes abundantly clear that there is no comparison between Davenning in Shul and Davenning at home.

More important still is Davenning in Shul with a Minyan. It goes without saying that someone who Davens on his own loses out on each and every Davar she'bi'Kedushah - Kadish, Kedushah, Borchu, Amein ... !

But aside from that, how can one possibly muster Kavanah (devotion) when Davenning on one's own, in the way that one is able to when Davenning with a Minyan?

And then again, the very fact that one is Davenning together with a community increases the value of the Tefilah. Any Mitzvah performed communally is more meaningful for so Chazal have said 'be'Rov am hadras Melech' (the glory of the King is enhanced when there are more people). Yet one cannot compare shaking the Lulav together with the community, or even blowing the Shofar with them, to Davenning with the community. For shaking the Lulav and blowing the Shofar, are after all, individual Mitzvos (which are enhanced when they are performed communally). Not so Tefilah, which is a communal Mitzvah, as is evident a. from the text of the Amidah, which is in the plural, and b. from the numerous Devorim she'bi'Kedushah which recur throughout the Tefilah. Perhaps we can even go so far as to say that Davenning at home is only permitted for someone who, for whatever reason, is unable to Daven with a Minyan.


And if, as we just explained, Tefilah is a communal Mitzvah, then it stands to reason that seeing as their hearts are all directed towards our Father in Heaven, the community become one unit. That is why the Arizal said that before one begins to Daven, one should undertake to fulfill the Mitzvah of "ve'ohavto le'rei'acho komocho" (loving one's fellow-Jew [as well as G-d, who is also called 'Rei'acho'], like oneself). For, when all's said and done, his heart is turned towards the same Father in Heaven as mine. How can I not love him?


If we were to consider all of the above issues as the means, then the end would be to Daven with Kavanah, which is surely the most important condition of all. Nobody likes his children (or anybody else for that matter), to talk to them insincerely, whilst concentrating on some other 'important' matter. And G-d doesn't either. Chazal, after all describe Tefilah as 'Avodah she'ba'Lev'. Consequently, the meaningfulness of one's Tefilah, as well as G-d's response to it, will be commensurate with the amount of Kavanah that goes into what one says. To be sure, verbalizing one's Tefilah is an integral part of the Tefilah (as Yitzchak Avinu said to his son Ya'akov 'the voice is the voice of Ya'akov'), and without it, it carries little chance of achieving its goal. Yet verbalizing it is secondary by far to internalizing it. Chazal have taught 'Rachmana Liba Ba'i' (it is the heart that G'd wants), and if this is true in every spiritual endeavour that man undertakes, it is particularly true of Tefilah, which as we just explained, is called 'Avodah she'ba'Lev'.

The words of Tefilah have been described as the body, and the Kavanah as the soul. One should therefore bear in mind before one begins the Amidah, that just like a body without a soul, a Tefilah without Kavanah is lifeless.

Most of what we have written until now will fortify one's attitude towards Hashem in general and Tefilah in particular. In the final part of 'The Tefilah Experience', we will offer some minor 'tips' to reinforce one's Tefilah still further.
(To be cont.)

* * *

Parshah Pearl
(Adapted from the Rosh on the Chumash)

Changing the Stakes

"The blessings and the curses" (11:26).

Commenting on the thirty Pesukim of curses in the Parshah, as against the eleven of blessings, the Medrash explains that the Torah's insertion of "B'rochoh u'K'loloh" implies that irrespective of what may appear from the outside, the two are equal.

And to illustrate the second explanation that he offers (that the B'rochos begin with an 'Alef' ["Im"] and end with a 'Tav' ["Komemiyus"]), the Medrash gives the following parable. A king was once showing his son round the palace, when they came to a pot full of goodies, next to which stood a pot full of sharp swords.

In reply to his son's query, the king explained that the pot of goodies was for whoever carried out his wishes, and the pot of swords for whoever did not. However, he added, since he genuinely wished to reward the former, but was loathe to punish the latter, the swords would serve their purpose by merely frightening the would-be sinner into submitting to his will.

And so it is here, the Medrash explains. The b'rochos might well be few; but G-d will carry them out liberally. Not so the k'lolos, which G-d is loathe to carry out to the letter, and which He quoted in full measure only to frighten us from going astray (so that we should earn the b'rochos). So you see, the b'rochos are meant to materialize in full, the k'lolos are not.

Alternatively, the Medrash adds, it can be compared to a kind and compassionate king who purchased a slave. In his contract he wrote that if he performs his will and serves him faithfully, he, in turn, will feed and clothe him; but if he does not, he will place him in fetters and kill him.

When at first, the slave did indeed serve the king faithfully, he provided him with all his needs far in excess to what he had written in the contract. And when eventually, the slave became lax in the king's service, the king punished him, but not nearly to the extent that he had threatened.

So it is with G-d (the epitome of kindness and compassion). As long as Yisrael fulfilled His wishes, he showered them with boundless goodness (over and above what He promised them in the b'rachos). And when they sinned in the days of Yirmiyahu, He told them that, seeing as they could not possibly bear the punishments that He had warned them about, He would make a compromise and mete them out only in half measures.

And that, says the Rosh, explains the Pasuk in Eichah (2:17) "G-d did what He planned, He compromised His words" (though Rashi translates these words as "He completed his decree").

The Gemara in Sanhedrin states that had Hashem not poured out His wrath on the wood and stones of the Beis-Hamikdash, nothing would have remained of K'lal Yisrael.

This was G-d's compromise, and it enabled Him to fulfill both the simple explanation of the Pasuk and the Medrash's own interpretation at one and the same time. For G-d did indeed complete His decree, giving vent to all of His anger on K'lal Yisrael. Only he made a compromise, by letting the stones feel the brunt of it, and not the people.


The Two Roads

"The B'rochoh if you will listen ... and the curse, if you will not ... " (11:27/28).

This can be compared to an old man sitting at a fork in the road. One of the two forks was initially covered with brambles for the first mile or two, but eventually became clear and straight, whilst the other was initially clear and straight, but eventually became full of brambles.

The old man sat there and warned all the travelers to take the first road and to avoid the second. Those who listened to him, had a hard time at first, but it was not long before they were able to travel in great comfort. Those who did not however, may have found the first leg of their journey plain sailing, but they were soon in trouble, faced with a problem to which they had no solution (see also main article Parshas Devarim).

And that is precisely the choice with which all of us are faced. We can choose to take the easy path and to do whatever tickles our fancy. But later we will find that the path of our choice leads to Gehinom, where the going is very much tougher and less comfortable than we initially envisaged. Or we can pick the path of Torah and Mitzvos, not easy to be sure, but we are then assured that when we arrive in Olam ha'Ba, life will be smooth, pleasant and joyous. It is a choice that every single one of us has to make. And (as we wrote there) it is a question of whether we eat now and pay later, or vice versa.


The Mitzvah of Shechitah

"And you will Shecht like I commanded you" ('ka'asher tzivisicho' [12:21]).

This Pasuk, the Gemara in Chulin (28a) explains, refers to the basic Dinim of Shechitah that G-d taught Moshe when he was on Har Sinai - that Shechitah involves cutting the esophagus (the food-pipe) and the trachea (the wind-pipe) - the majority of either of a bird, and the majority of both of an animal. The Rosh quotes the Ri mi'Kurbil, who observes that the words "ka'asher tzivisicho" have the same numerical value as 'Rov echad be'of, ve'rov shnayim ba'beheimah' (the majority of one by a bird, and the majority of two by an animal).

Alternaively, the letters 'Asher' (from "ka'asher" )ćare the acronym of 'Echad', Sh'nayim. Rov'.


Giving Credit ...

"When G-d will cut down your enemy" (12:29).When a human king engages the enemy in battle, it is his legions who go to war, but the king who takes the credit, when everyone talks about the king's victory over his enemies. Not so with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. He is the One who fights, and He is the One who defeats the enemy, but He gives credit to Yisrael, as if they had won the war. And so we find in Yehoshua (10:11), where the Navi (records how G-d threw large stones on the Cana'anim, yet after the victory, he writes "And these are the kings of the land whom Yehoshua and Yisrael defeated" (12:7).


No Miracles for False Prophets

"And the sign and the wonder come true, which he (the false prophet) spoke ... " (13:3).

Chas ve'sholom, says Rebbi Akiva, that G-d should work miracles for false prophets! Only the Pasuk is speaking about Chananyah ben Ezor, who was initially a true prophet, and who proved himself with wonders. Later however, he went off the path and became a false prophet. And it is regarding that stage, where he prophesied in the name of avodah-zarah, trying to convince them of his authenticity, based on the miracles he had performed when he was genuine, that the Torah is warning here.

The fact that G-d, who knew what the future held, allowed Chananyah ben Ezor to prophesy with all the tools that he needed then, and did not withhold prochecy from him at the time - was in order to put Yisrael to the test (as the Pasuk goes on to explain).

And it goes without saying that one should pay no attention to false prophets whose initial attempts to prove themselves, are based on witchcraft, and not on any Divine source (the Rosh).


The Enticer, My Brother

"When your brother, the son of your mother, entices you secret " (13:7).

"The son of your mother", comments the Rosh, because he and you came out of the same womb, creating an intimate bond between you. He is more likely to try his hand at enticing you than your paternal brother, whose brotherly love is perhaps tainted by the fact that he, as well as you, stands to inherit your father.

"in secret", he adds, because one would hardly expect him to announce such a disgusting deed publicly.

Alternatively, says the Bechor Shor, the Torah is teaching us here that the Pasuk in Mishlei (11:13) which frowns upon someone who divulges somebody else's secrets, does not apply here. Secrets such as these must be presented to the Beis-Din immediately, so that they can take the necessary steps to root out the evil from Yisrael - even if it does concern the maternal brother whom you love.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 433:
To Worship Hashem with Prayer Each Day (cont.)

The first three B'rachos comprise the praise of Hashem, the last three, thanks to His Great name and the middle twelve to the personal needs of each individual in K'lal Yisrael. Some time after Ezra and his Beis-Din instituted the Amidah in this format, it became forgotten, until the Tana Shimon ha'Pakoli reinstated it ... the first of the middle B'rochos is 'Da'as' (knowledge with its various branches), because it is the most important of all man's acquisitions, as Chazal have said 'If you lack knowledge', you have nothing ... on Shabbos and Yom-Tov, Chazal were loathe to trouble the people on the day of their Simchah, so they instituted seven B'rachos (instead of eighteen), three at the beginning, three at the end and one in the middle, each Tefilah according to the order of the day ... the one exception is that of Rosh Hashanah, where, in the Musaf Amidah, they replaced the twelve B'rachos with three - representing 'Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofros' ... On Rosh Hashanah, as opposed to the rest of the year, the Sheli'ach-Tzibur can render Yotze, someone who is fluent in the text as well as someone who is not. At any other time, he can only render Yotze someone who is not fluent ... An integral part of the Mitzvah is the need to recite the first B'rachah of the Amidah with Kavanah, to the point that someone who did not do so is obliged to begin the Amidah again. The definition of Kavanah in this instance it would seem, is the awareness that he is standing before Hashem and it is to Him that he is Davenning ... One should therefore make a point of clearing one's mind of all other thoughts before beginning the Amidah, and concentrate on this only ... The Chachamim have also said that certain things are absolutely necessary before a person is permitted to proceed with his Tefilah - such as (ritually) clean hands, covering one's body appropriately, that the location is clean, and things that cause him to rush his Tefilah, such as the need to relieve himself, are taken care of. And then there are initial requirements which do not prevent a person from Davenning, such as standing, facing Yerushalayim, preparing oneself with regard to standing in awe before G-d, eyes facing downwards, but one's heart directed upwards, with hands placed on one's heart, as a slave stands before his master, with one's clothes properly arranged (not just casually). Even one's voice should be controlled, not too quiet, but not too loud ... One bows down in the prescribed places (at the beginning and at the end of both the B'rachah of Avos, and that of Modim) ... They also fixed the times of Tefilah too - Shachris, from sun-rise until the end of the fourth hour. Someone who Davens from then until mid-day, has fulfilled his duty, though it is not considered 'Tefilah in its right time'. Someone who needs to set out on a journey may Daven Shachris already from dawn-break... The time to Daven Minchah is from half an hour after midday until (Safek) nightfall, and Ma'ariv, all night, up to dawnbreak ... One must take great care to Daven before involving oneself in other work (in order not to forget to Daven) ... Someone who failed to Daven a certain Tefilah (besides Musaf) must Daven two of the next Tefilah (whatever it happens to be) ... Someone who is Davenning the Amidah, may not interrupt to give Kavod to anyone, even to reply to the greeting of the King of Yisrael. Nor may he interrupt if a snake is 'wound around his heel' (provided he is certain that it does not belong to a dangerous species) ... Furthermore, Chazal also said that one should Daven with a community, whose prayers are answered more easily than those of an individual ... and the rest of the details are discussed in Maseches B'rachos and in Orach Chayim (Si'man 98). This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women. Someone who fails to Daven for a day and a night has contravened a Mitzvas Asei, according to the opinion of the Rambam; whereas someone who fails to Daven when he is in trouble, has transgressed it according to the Ramban. His punishment will be severe, because he has removed from himself G-d's Hashgachah (Divine Providence).

* * *

For sponsorships and adverts call 651 9502

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel