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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 61:10-63:9

OCTOBER 14-15, 2016 13 TISHREI 5777


“And you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, for a seven day period.” (Vayikra 23:40)

Not only are we required to be happy on Succot itself, but these days of Yom Tob are meant to be a source of gladness for the entire year. Happiness is a vital, inseparable part of the service of Hashem throughout the year, and the very fact that the Torah commands us to rejoice on the holiday proves it is within our means to overcome any challenges and achieve happiness, regardless of our particular circumstances.

Sometimes a person has difficulty in achieving happiness because one fails to have a sense of accomplishment in life, and this leads to feelings of frustration and depression. The solution for this challenge is to reflect on the incredible merit of simply being a Jew and the loftiness of every single misvah.

Rabbi A.Y. Heschel tells a story that Harav Elazar Shach told about Harav Avraham, the brother of the Vilna Gaon. Harav Avraham was a lifelong resident of the town of Kaiden, and even after his children all moved to the great Torah center of Vilna, he stayed in Kaiden. As years passed, his children pleaded with him that he and his wife join them in Vilna, but they steadfastly refused.

In his old age Harav Avraham was once asked why he was so opposed to relocating to Vilna, and he revealed that it was his wife who would not even contemplate moving away. He related that many years earlier, when they were still a young couple, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur had arrived and not a single etrog was available for the residents of Kaiden. When finally an etrog was brought to the town, the seller wanted an astronomical price. A price that the Jews of the town, even after pooling their resources, could not afford.

When she learned about the etrog crisis, Harav Avraham’s wife said that they would sell their home to buy the etrog and ensure that the town would be able to fulfill this lofty misvah. But Harav Avraham and his wife never again owned a house, and for many decades that followed, they endured much poverty. “As much as my wife would like to live near our children,” Rav Avraham related, “she cannot possibly forgo the joy she feels when she passes – several times a day – the house we once owned. Each time she walks by, she is filled with gratitude for having this merit. I can’t take this joy away from her,” he concluded.

While we are not on the level of being able to sell a house for an etrog, on a daily basis each of us has tests and challenges and rise to the occasion. This is a source of unlimited joy. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Hashem created you forgetful and you forgot your Creator." (Debarim 32:18)

There was once a person who owed many people money, and every time they asked him for it he would get under tremendous pressure and have no way to respond. One day, his friend saw his suffering and suggested to him that any time a creditor asked him for money he should act crazy as if he cracked from the pressure of his financial burden. This way, they would eventually leave him alone. Sure enough, every time one of his creditors approached him for money he would talk about the weather, the stock market, etc., and carry on as if he'd snapped. In no time, the word was out that he had lost his mind because of his financial burden and people start leaving him alone. One day, the original friend who gave him this idea approached him and told him that the loan that he had given him was due. This so called crazy fellow began to carry on like he did for his other creditors. His friend then replied, "I gave you the idea to do this and you're trying to pull it off on me?"

Hashem created a human being with the ability to forget his problems and worries. Without this, a person would be overcome with all of the burdens life has to offer. If a person forgets Hashem or his obligation to keep the Torah and misvot, he is acting like the fellow in the story, since he is using the very gift that Hashem gave him for his benefit against his Benefactor. Let's not forget this lesson. Shabbat Shalom. Tizku Leshanim Rabot.

Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

To the Limit

"Because you trespassed against Me in the midst of B'nei Yisrael at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh in the wilderness of Sin, because you did not sanctify Me in the midst of B'nei Yisrael." (Debarim 32:51)

Rashi explains that Hashem was blaming Moshe and Aharon for limiting the opportunity for a heightened effect of Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d's Name) when they caused water to flow from the stone. Had they spoken to the stone rather than hit it twice, Hashem's Name would have reflected a more sublime level of sanctification. B'nei Yisrael would have remarked, "If a mere stone which does not receive reward or punishment nevertheless fulfills Hashem's imperative, we should certainly fulfill His misvot." This grievance seems demanding. Although a greater miracle could have transpired had Moshe and Aharon spoken to the stone, nonetheless, a miracle did occur. We are differentiating between various degrees of Kiddush Hashem. It seems peculiar that the term "trespass," which connotes a grave transgression, should be used to describe this sin.

We may derive from this pasuk that maintenance of the status quo is, in fact, reactionary. One who is capable of attaining greater levels of erudition by applying his abilities to a greater extent but does not, is guilty of a grave sin. One who does not use his G-d-given talents to their fullest extent, one who lacks the motivation to rise to the occasion and proceed in Hashem's service, actually stagnates. In essence, such a person "trespasses" and sins. As the Talmud in Megillah 18a explains, the term "trespass" implies a change which signifies a regression from a previous loftier level of sanctity. By not reaching the higher level of sanctity, Moshe was in effect "trespassing" the wishes of Hashem. We should take note of this lesson in order to catalyze us to stretch our abilities to their fullest extent, so that we can contribute to fulfilling Hashem's objectives for each one of us, individually.


Sports are considered competitive activities, in which participants try to outperform their opponents in achieving the goal of the game. In baseball, the goal is to score the most runs by crossing home plate, while in basketball, it is to score the most points by throwing the ball through the hoop. In races, the object is to be the first to reach the finish line, and in golf, it is to get the ball into the hole using the fewest strokes.

Other activities, also categorized as sports, have participants trying to outdo their own best performances. Runners try and go further or faster than they have before. Bikers try to outdistance their all-time high or increase their speed. Strength trainers lift weights that exceed their previous performances. Of course, these activities are sometimes done in a competitive environment, yet there is also the “beat my own best” scenario, which removes external challengers from the equation.

In the game of life, we also compete with others. Our egos demand that we “win” in all aspects of performance. To satisfy the urge to come out on top, we sometimes judge others and find them wanting. Thus, an older brother will criticize a younger sibling for behavior which does not meet the standard he demands of the young one – even though the big brother himself does not meet those standards, either. A manager will push an employee to work longer and harder than she does herself. A husband will criticize his wife – or vice versa – for any assortment of shortcomings.

We have no problem seeing the faults of others – even the microscopic ones. We demand that others perform to perfection in spite of the fact that we ourselves are less than perfect.

But smart people demand more of themselves than they expect of others. Such people are much more successful than those who criticize others. Rather than focus on another person’s faults, look at your own achievements. Find an area with room for improvement, and work on it. Hashem gave you two eyes. One is to see the good in others, and the other is to observe your own faults. Redirect your focus inward and grow from the self-analysis. (One Minute with Yourself – Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

The Arrogant Etrog

“You shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a citron tree.” (Vayikra 23:40)

Pri ess hadar, "the fruit of a beautiful tree," is commonly accepted as referring to the etrog tree. In Sefer Likutim, the Arizal says that the letters of the word etrog: aleph, taf, resh, gimel form an acronym for the pasuk in Tehillim 36:12, Al tevoeni regel gaavah, "Let not the foot of arrogance come to me." Horav Yaakov Galinsky, z”l, explains this pragmatically. The pasuk in which David Hamelech deplores arrogance and prays that it not affect him in any way, is truly a pasuk fitting for the etrog. This could be termed the "etrog’s prayer," for the etrog is the one fruit that has a right to be arrogant. It is a beautiful fruit, completely unblemished, with nary a spot and bumps out of place, perfectly symmetrical, and very expensive. It is the specie of the "four species" that symbolizes the Torah Jew who observes misvot, studies Torah and performs acts of lovingkindness. It is the fruit replete with laudatory qualities, the fruit that all other fruits "envy." Thus, it prays to Hashem not to allow it to become arrogant, to elevate itself above others.

In Sha’ar Abodat Elokim 4, the Hobot Halebabot relates a dialogue between a hassid and his students. The hassid said, "If you would not have sins, I would fear something even greater than sin. "What is greater (more egregious) than sin?" they asked. "Arrogance," the hassid replied.

Rav Galinsky relates a well-known episode concerning a middle-aged couple who came to Harav Aharon Leib Shteinman to seek his sage advice concerning an "issue" which was causing tension in their relationship. Apparently, the husband was quite well-to-do. Yet, despite his enormous wealth, he drove a ten-year-old car, which his wife felt was demeaning. She had decided that the time had come for them to purchase a new car. Indeed, she had already selected the color!

Rav Shteinman looked at the husband and asked, "Nu, so what is the problem? [As if he had nothing else with which to occupy his time.] Why do you not buy a new car?" "Rebbe, I fear an ayin hara, becoming the victim of an evil eye." (If someone will notice the new vehicle and become envious of its owner, it could create an evil eye, which is a sort of spiritual curse).

Rav Shteinman heard this and was impressed. Apparently, this individual did not want to bring attention to himself. He must be a person replete with qualities which people envy. "Tell me," Rav Shteinman asked, "can I test you on Shas?"

"What - am I a Kollel fellow; that I study all day, so that I can master the entire Talmud?"

"I understand," countered Rav Shteinman, "Perhaps you have mastered one or two sedarim of the Talmud?" "Rebbe, I said that I am not a Kollel fellow; I have not mastered an entire Seder." "Perhaps you are proficient in one masechet, tractate?" "No, not even one tractate. I am a simple layman," the man replied, somewhat agitated.

"Let me see," replied Rav Shteinman, "You have neither mastered Shas, nor are you proficient in even one Seder. Worse, you claim not to have completed even one tractate! Yet, you fear someone's envy? Why would anyone be envious of you?"

Rav Galinsky concludes with a powerful statement from the Oheb Yisrael, the Apter Rav, zl, who said, "There is no reason to have a discussion concerning arrogance. All one has to remember is, 'Nine Apter Ravs (individuals of such distinction) do not comprise a minyan, quorum. Ten wagon drivers (representative of the simple, usually illiterate Jew), create a minyan, which is a setting for kedushah and Kaddish. It becomes, a place to which the Shechinah, Divine Presence, comes and goes."

It is not who one is, with whom he is affiliated, from whom he descends, or how much money he is worth: it is before Whom he stands - Hashem Yitbarach; and, before Him, we are all the same. Even the etrog, by itself, without the support of the other three species, each representing another aspect of Klal Yisrael, does not effect the misvah. It requires all four minim, species. Moshe Rabenu clearly represented the etrog of Klal Yisrael. Yet, when the nation sinned with the Golden-Calf, Hashem told him Lech red, "Go down," from your high position (Shemot 32:7). A leader is only as exalted as his flock. When the flock fails, he fails.

I will add that, when one is endowed with a special gift, be it exceptional acumen, illustrious lineage, material abundance, all of which he uses properly for the betterment of others - while it is no reason to arrogate oneself - he is certainly worthy of kin’at sofrim, the envy of scribes, which spurs one to greater growth. One who truly cares about achievement is spurred on by the desire to emulate, and even surpass others. This form of jealousy may not be the ideal, but, if it serves as an incentive, it cannot really be that bad. (Peninim on the Torah)

* * * * *

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