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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 60:1-22

SEPTEMBER 16-17, 2011 18 ELUL 5771


"Even any illness and any blow that is not written in this book of the Torah Hashem will bring upon you." (Debarim 28:61)

We shudder as we read the section of the perashah that foretells the punishments to befall our people in the event they don't follow the Torah. But, there is a great hint of benefit hidden in these verses. Rabbi Shimson Pincus says that in a roundabout way Hashem is telling us how much He loves us and how He guarantees our survival. The Torah says that even terrible things that are not mentioned will happen. But, isn't it enough what is already written? How much more terrible must it be?

The answer is that these punishments are described as a "berit" or a covenant. (verse 69). A berit means a connection and a knot. The punishment represents our connection to Hashem, for if not for the punishment we would sin and that would cause a breakaway from Hashem. The punishments cause us to return to Him in order to stop the suffering. Therefore the Torah is telling us that Hashem is promising us that we will return and always be connected. And if you might ask what will be if after all of these events the Jews will still not return, then what? The Torah responds that more plagues that are not written, etc., to tell us that Hashem has more and more difficulties to bring. No matter how stubborn the people are, Hashem can force the people to return with more plagues.

Basically, the words "even any illness that is not written" is Hashem's way of saying that I love you so much I will never let you go. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy and gladness of heart" (Debarim 28:47)

This pasuk teaches us that serving Hashem without happiness brings punishment to a person. The Arizal says that precisely because the Jewish people worshipped Hashem in an unenthusiastic manner, without excitement, they would ultimately serve their enemies. A major component of serving Hashem is being in a constant state of happiness. In fact, if we had not failed to serve Hashem with joy, we would not have been exiled.

The Yalkut Me'am Loez illustrates this point with a parable. There was once a king whose son was uncontrollable. His constant acts of disrespect and disregard for the law brought great embarrassment to the king. Often, his father would be about to punish him, but at the last minute, the son would put on a sweet angelic smile. When the father saw the happiness and innocence in his son's eyes, he couldn't bring himself to punish his son.

This is a great tool to protect us from punishment. When Hashem sees the joy coming from a person's performance of a misvah, He defers punishment. It is not enough to be intellectually aware of the greatness of the Torah and a Torah life. A person must experience it with joy. If one doesn't see the happiness which Judaism brings upon us, he may eventually turn elsewhere to search for happiness.

Let's take the initiative in these days of Elul, as we approach the High Holidays, to do our misvot with extra excitement and happiness. This will serve us well on Rosh Hashanah when Hashem reviews our deeds for the year. May we all be written in the book of life and happiness, Amen. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"You shall build there (on Mount Ebal) an altar to Hashem your G-d." (Debarim 27:5)

It seems rather peculiar that Mount Ebal, the place where the curses were uttered, was chosen as the site for the erection of an altar for offering peace sacrifices and great rejoicing in tribute to Hashem. Would not Mount Gerizim, which was the site where the blessings were pronounced, have been a more suitable place? Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l points to expediency by which the curses brought about Jewish observance rather than to that of the blessings. Hashem in His infinite compassion employs disciplinary and punitive methods only as a means to induce us into the correct observance of His misvot. If there would be only reward and no punishment then people would be more easily swayed into transgression. They would think that the monetary and other physical pleasures to be accrued, override the everlasting rewards one would reap in the World-to Come. Therefore it is indeed the curses and punishments which have greater influence, and are the insurance that we will continue to serve Hashem. Mount Ebal was therefore appropriately chosen as the site for rejoicing.

The commentaries reflect upon the aesthetic contrast between these two mountains. Mount Gerizin, covered with weeds and nettle, was bleak and desolate, nurturing only thorns and thistle. In contrast Mount Ebal was like a garden, where beautiful plants and trees sprouted all over its fertile land. Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin zt"l explains the blessings and curses which a person received from Hashem are by no means dependent on his place of dwelling. Whether he lives in an aesthetically attractive and culturally refined environment, or he resides in an underdeveloped and distasteful place, it is his actions, which ultimately determine his spiritual success or failure, and his being worthy of curse or blessing. (Peninim on the Torah)


"Our customers are furious about the late delivery of the spring line!" ranted Joseph, chief of sales. "They may go elsewhere for the fall collection!"

"The delay was not our fault!" Rachel, the head designer, insisted. "Our line was designed at the beginning of the season, but the sales department didn't bring in the orders on time, so manufacturing was off schedule!"

"I don't think that is true!" interjected the merchandiser. "We worked overtime trying to meet the deadline, but then the goods just sat around the warehouse, waiting to be shipped!"

"You finished the run on a Friday afternoon before a three-day holiday! How could we have shipped on time?" shouted George, the warehouse manager.

"I think I've heard enough," the boss interrupted.

The mood was somber as the group of middle-management executives removed their papers, cell phones, and laptops from the conference table and quietly headed for the exit. It was clear that the boss was highly dissatisfied, and everyone knew that a price would be paid for the company's failure to produce sufficient bottom-line profits. The boss was displeased about the drop in business, and even more disappointed about the failure of any of his key personnel to accept responsibility for the fiasco.

Rav Yerucham Levovitz, zt"l, the Mashgiach of Yeshivat Mir Yerushalayim, pointed out, "Human nature dictates that one who has done wrong, or failed, will blame the failure on others" (Da'at Torah, volume 3, Parashat Shemini). This is true regarding personal failure, and is even more applicable when a group of people are involved in a mistake. In such a case, every individual tends to feel that he or she is not the one responsible - it must be the fault of one of the others.

The Gemara teaches, "When a time of trouble befalls a community, the leaders should declare a communal fast with prayers and supplications of repentance" (Ta'aneet 19a). But what would be accomplished by fasting and praying if everyone felt that it was only the wrongdoing of others that was to blame for the troubled times? Who would repent and turn the eyes of Hashem towards blessing rather than curse? The decree of the Sages would only be beneficial for all if each individual took personal responsibility for the community's problems, and repented.

The lesson to each of us is clear. As we watch in horror while tragic events unfold around the globe, each of us should feel that perhaps "I" contributed to Hashem's decision to bring this upon our people; that it is my responsibility to do my best to pray and to repent and to turn the situation around. It is so easy to look at others and place blame, rather than honestly admit, "I know it is because of me!" (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

* * * * *

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

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