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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 60:1-22

SEPTEMBER 4-5, 2015 21 ELUL 5775


"That you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground." (Debarim 26:2)

Our perashah begins with the misvah of Bikurim. After the land was conquered, farmers were to take the first ripened fruits to the Bet Hamikdash and present them to the Kohen, in a ritual that included a moving declaration of gratitude to Hashem for all that Hashem has given him and declaring Hashem's eternal role as the guide of Jewish history.

Rabi Moshe Feinstein zt"l asks that it seems strange that the farmer must give the first fruits to the Kohen. The farmer loves these fruits that were the first to ripen after all his hard work. The Kohen really doesn't view these fruits in any special way. They are like any other fruits to him. This seems like a loss for the farmer to give them to the Kohen. He answers that the farmer needs to realize that the true owner of the fruits is Hashem and the Kohen accepts the fruit on behalf of Hashem. The farmer should realize that it is only right to celebrate this happy occasion of the new fruits with the main Owner.

What we learn from this is that Bikurim is an expression of gratitude. The main point for a person to feel gratitude is to realize that what he has is a gift and it's not his. Imagine if a wealthy man takes a homeless man and gives him a house He gives him a car. He gives him his daughter in marriage. He gives him a running business. Will this man have any difficulty feeling gratitude to that person? Of course not. We, like the farmer, many times feel that what we earned or acquired is ours. Therefore, it is a big job to feel true gratitude to Hashem. The moment we feel that what we have is truly Hashem's we feel a tremendous feeling of gratitude. That's the reason the farmer gives the fruits to the Kohen, because he is actually giving the fruits to Hashem, the Owner. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

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

The Torah lists a long string of misfortunes that may befall the Jewish people (G-d forbid). Indeed, some of the events mentioned in these curses are very tragic and have happened to our nation throughout history. The reason given for this harsh conduct by Hashem against us is that we did not serve Hashem with happiness.

The Ari z"l gives this verse a twist and learns it in a novel fashion. The reason for these curses is that when we did not serve Hashem, we did it with happiness, which means that when we were doing sins, we did them with a good feeling rather than with regret and remorse.

This has to teach us that not only our actions count but even our attitudes while doing these actions. If we end up doing something wrong, we have to feel badly even while doing it so that it's not considered as if we did the wrong thing with happiness. One of the methods of following this advice is by doing misvot with happiness. If we feel good when doing the right thing, even if we sometimes fall and do the wrong thing it will not be with joy but with reluctance and hopefully regret. That way we will tend to increase those things which we associate with happiness, which are the misvot, and stay away from those things which we are doing without happiness! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"Cursed is the one who does not uphold the words of this Torah, to perform them." (Debarim 27:26)

This verse declares that those who do not uphold the Torah are cursed. With this in mind, it is easy for us to blame non-religious Jews for much of the suffering within the Jewish People. After all, this verse declares that their disregard of the Torah is bringing a curse to the Jewish People. However, this attitude is not what Hashem wants from us! The Mishnah tells us that every Jew is obligated to say, "The world was created solely for me." The basic understanding of these words is that Hashem created the entire world just for 'me' to enjoy. However, a deeper understanding is that we should consider that every occurrence in our lives is tailor-made for us, to learn and grow from. Therefore, it does not make sense to blame others while ignoring our own responsibilities. Rather, it is up to each individual to evaluate his own actions and have the courage to admit how he may have caused problems for the Jewish People. This concept is illustrated by the words of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld in the following story that took place over eighty years ago in Eress Yisrael.

Soon after the 1929 riots in Eress Yisrael, which claimed the lives of so many Jews, many people gathered in the home of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld to ask why Hashem had allowed such devastation to ravage the Holy Land.

"Perhaps it is because of the soccer matches that are being held on Shabbat," suggested one man looking at Rav Yosef Chaim for approval.

The Rav rose from his seat and declared, "Absolutely not! Most of those people were drafted into the Russian army and forced to desecrate Shabbat, eat non-kosher food and were prohibited from performing any misvot. After arriving home, the experienced mass pogroms where many of their families were brutally murdered. Now, do you think that these people who abandoned Torah and misvot under such conditions are responsible for the punishment set upon the entire Land?!"

The room fell silent as they listened to the Rav's heartfelt admission. "Perhaps it is us, living here in Jerusalem who are to blame. We were not forced to violate misvot, and we did not witness our families murdered in pogroms, yet we do not take note from the great Torah scholars who are all around us, and do not follow in their ways. Much more is expected of us, and perhaps we are more to blame for not fulfilling our potential, despite the great opportunities that we have." (Short Vort)


"Because you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy." (Debarim 28:47)

This verse describes how our failure to serve Hashem with joy will bring terrible anguish on the Jewish People. Accordingly, we need to know how to serve Hashem with joy, and what happens if we are placed in a situation where we cannot be joyful?

Serving Hashem with joy is not only the delight that we should experience when we perform misvot; it is the underlying feeling of gratitude that whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, we can always find a way to fulfill the will of Hashem.

The following story illustrates this concept; that it is truly possible to serve Hashem in every circumstance that we find ourselves in:

Under one of the cruel regimes that imprisoned Jews from practicing their religion, two prominent Rebbes were taken from their Bet Midrash and thrown into a prison cell. They shared a small, dark room with only each other and a bucket of waste - still full from the previous 'tenants' - for company. At the sight of his prison cell, one of the Rebbes began to cry, "I'm not crying because we are in jail; I know that Divine Providence led me here and everything Hashem does is for the best. I am crying because I have not yet prayed Minhah yet, and now that there is a smelly bucket of waste in the cell, I am forbidden to pray. How can I serve Hashem if I can't even pray?" The other Rebbe smiled and responded, "Just as you serve Hashem by doing His will and praying Minhah every day, so too, now you are doing His will by not praying Minhah…but you are serving Hashem in just the same way!" After hearing this, the Rebbe who had not yet prayed, rose with tears of joy. He grasped his friend's hands and together they sang and danced around the bucket of waste, ecstatic at the thought of serving Hashem according to His will.

Hearing all the commotion, the prison guards approached the cell and witnessed the bizarre scene of two prominent Rebbes dancing and rejoicing around a bucket of waste. Not wanting the Rebbes to have any kind of pleasure, they stormed the prison cell and removed the bucket, delighted at having deprived the Rebbes of their source of joy. As soon as the guards left, the Rebbe who had not yet prayed, turned towards Jerusalem and prayed Minhah, once again delighted to serve Hashem in the best possible way! (Short Vort)

Keys to Success

Joseph had a deadline to meet. He left home early enough to beat traffic and be the first at work, hoping to take advantage of the early-morning calm to complete his project. But now, standing in front of the office building, he feared his planning and diligence had been for naught: the entrance was locked!

As Joseph stood in the street, wondering what to do, Freddy, the janitor, arrived to unlock the doors.

"Am I glad to see you!" Joseph exclaimed.

The custodian removed a giant key ring from his belt and began to search for the right key. Struggling not to appear impatient, Joseph made a feeble attempt at small talk. "That's an awful lot of keys for one man to carry around!" he observed.

"It shows you how important I am, and just how much the boss depends on me," retorted the pompous caretaker.

This glimpse at the janitor's image of himself as indispensable to his employer made Joseph stifle a smile. He did a mental tally of the managers, supervisors, and skilled employees who really drove the company and added to the bottom line. The boss depended on all of them much more than he depended on the man with the keys!

Most people assess their own value based on externals, which, of course, don't really add inherent value to an individual. I am reminded of an important meeting between two principals of two huge corporations for the purpose of discussing a proposed major joint venture. Before the scheduled time, representatives from each company arrived at the conference room carrying laptops, cell phones, beepers, files, and BlackBerry devices and began to set up at the conference table. Some wore very expensive garb; some also sported status timepieces and accessories. At the exact moment that the meeting was scheduled to begin, the two principals walked in almost simultaneously. They were simply and neatly dressed and carried nothing into the meeting - except themselves. They did not need any externals to prove their importance. Without their presence, knowledge, and power, the meeting would not go on. Don't bother gathering external props to impress others. Don't strive to be the man with the key ring. It only takes a minute to get yourself together. If you fill your potential, you can possibly "get in"…even though you don't hold the keys. (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.

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