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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 6:1-13

FEBRUARY 10-11, 2012 18 SHEBAT 5772


"That which is in the heavens above or on the earth below" (Ten Commandments 20:4)

The Ben Ish Hai teaches us a seemingly simple parable that contains a profound message, with which he homiletically explains a pasuk in the Ten Commandments.

Once, a property owner decided to take apart a wooden ladder that was attached to his house. He felt the ladder gave robbers and trespassers easy access to his roof, so he told his servant to take it apart. The servant, who wasn't blessed with much intelligence, started his job. As he steadily climbed up the ladder, on each step he broke the rung beneath him. He managed to make it all the way to the roof, but then looking down, he discovered that he had no way to get down. Some bystanders got him down with difficulty and gave him advice. "First you should have gone up to the roof and taken apart the ladder as you came down, from top to bottom."

The next day, the boss told his servant to take apart a ladder that went into a deep pit in the backyard. The servant remembered the advice, "top to bottom," and started working. As he went down into the pit, he made sure to break every rung above him. When he got to the bottom, he was stuck with no way out. Everyone laughed at him. "But you told me top to bottom," he said. They explained that it all depends on the circumstances. "When you are working on a ladder up to a roof, you work top to bottom," they told him. "But when you are dealing with a ladder descending into a pit, you break it as you go bottom to top."

The Ben Ish Hai says a person has both physical and spiritual needs. We have a tendency to constantly compare ourselves with those around us. We have two choices. We can either contrast ourselves with those "above" us - those who have more than we do - or those "below" us, who have less than we do.

When it comes to material needs, some tend to look at those who have more, yet when it comes to their spiritual health, their eyes aim to those below them. In essence, they are acting just like the foolish servant and are the laughing stock of the universe.

This week the Torah says, "which is in the heavens above or in the earth below"

(20:4). The road to a successful, happy life is to know when to look where. When it comes to heavens, matters of spirituality, one should always look up. Compare your spiritual condition with those greater than you. When it comes to the earth, material matters, look down and compare yourself with those who have less.

Happiness is not about wealth and comfort but about perspective and attitude. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Do not bear Hashem's name (in an oath)" (Shemot 20:7)

One of the Ten Commandments is to not swear falsely or in vain. To swear falsely is self understood, but to swear in vain means to proclaim a fact which is obvious such as swearing that a book is a book, or anything similar to that. The Gemara tells us that the earth trembled when this prohibition was uttered because using Hashem's name in vain is truly a terrible thing with dire consequences. This should make us be careful whenever we mention Hashem's name in any situation. In addition, this should make us hesitate to swear in any manner, even without using Hashem's name, but all the more so when mentioning the Holy Name. Many times people say "I swear to G-d" in order to make a point - this is not something to take lightly. We must watch our mouths and get into the habit of saying "Beli Neder" ("Without an oath") even when not mentioning "I swear".

Here is a short list of what is considered an oath:

1) By G-d, this is so-and-so.

2) G-d is my witness that I did or did not do this.

3) By my life that such and such happened or didn't happen.

4) I should be cursed if this isn't true, etc.

We see from here that even without using the word 'oath' or 'swear', we could be obligating ourselves in a very heavy way. We must also be careful from saying "I am going to do this misvah (such as giving charity, going to shul, etc.)" without saying "Beli Neder" because it's also considered binding. Also, if we do certain practices three times it may be considered as a vow, so we should say "Beli Neder." Let us attempt to be on guard and not swear in any which way or form. If one has a doubt, contact a Rabbi to see if he may need Hatarah. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"You shall be to Me a kingdom of Priests/Ministers and a holy nation." (Shemot 19:6)

Harav Zalman Sorotzkin, z"l, notes that Hashem wants us to be a kingdom of ministers. It does not say, "You shall be ministers," teachers to the world community, emissaries of G-d, agents that are to disperse throughout the world, dispensing knowledge, wisdom, ethics, morality and sanctity. It would then be our mission to reach out to the nations who have strayed, to those that have distorted the designated image of man, to influence them and imbue them with the knowledge that G-d is their Creator.

This arrangement would simply not work. The fact is that the nations of the world rejected the Torah outright from "day one." From the "get go," they said that they had no need for the Torah or the way of life it encouraged. If they rebuffed Hashem, they would certainly repudiate any efforts on our part to reach them.

We were, instead, enjoined to be a "kingdom" of ministers, a holy "nation" unto Hashem. It would be the collective duty of Hashem's "kingdom" of ministers to set an example, to serve as the standard for all kingdoms of the world. Its pure faith in the G-d of Heaven and earth, its just and true laws that treat citizen and foreigner alike, would serve as a symbol for the world. As justice would reign in this "kingdom of ministers," it would provide the world with an example, a standard to which to conform.

Why is the word Kohanim used? The Kohen ministers to the spiritual needs of the nation. He serves Hashem in the Bet Hamikdash. The Kohen is meant to be a model for the Jewish People. He is the educator who lives a stellar spiritual life, who leads by example, who shows us how to bring Hashem into our lives. The exposure of the Kohen to spirituality infuses him with a sense of purpose. The Kohen understands that there is much more to life than what we perceive in the here and now.

Aharon HaKohen was an "oheb shalom urodef shalom" - he loved peace and pursued peace. He sought to reach out to all Jews, regardless of their affiliation. Yet, he and his descendants are forbidden from coming in contact with the deceased. Is there a greater act of hesed, kindness, than hesed shel emet, kindness of truth? No one is there to reimburse the favor, the kindness. The Kohen would love to get involved. It is his "thing." The Torah says that he must never come in contact with the dead. Why?

Death is the ultimate reminder that we are not here forever. Thus, the concept of death would "encourage" us to live for the here and now, ignore the future and think only of the present. The Kohen, whose mission it is to remind people that life has a higher purpose, a loftier goal, is to avoid contact with death. Kehunah and death do not see "eye to eye." The Kohen is, therefore, mandated to go against his natural proclivity to reach out. Instead, he must desist. He is a Kohen, a minister on a mission.

The Kohen represents the idea that we must think about the future. We are not allowed to wallow in the past. We have suffered greatly as a nation, having undergone cruel and debilitating persecutions that have maimed us both individually and collectively as a nation. Yet, we drive on; we continue living, building, thriving, looking to the future. Every time we are knocked down, we arise, clean ourselves off, and forge on. We do not live for the here and now, because we understand that life has a higher purpose. We do not become consumed by momentary anger which only manages to undermine our drive to go on. We are a mamlechet Kohanim, a nation whose goals are consistent with Kehunah. As a kingdom of ministers, we understand that there is much more to life than its physical reality. There is a tomorrow. This is our faith; this is our belief. Tomorrow beckons. (Peninim on the Torah)


"Moshe said to Hashem, "The people cannot ascend Har Sinai, for You have warned us, saying, 'Declare the mountain off-limits and sanctify it.'" (Shemot 19:23)

At times, we become so obsessed with a question that we often ignore the simplicity of the answer. I have always been bothered about why people continue along their merry ways, sinning to their hearts' content, despite their participation in classes, lectures, inspirational speeches, literature. Veritably, we all will present great reasons: the evil inclination; habit; it does not mean "me"; the lecture is about someone else. These are all great and profound reasons, but, what is the core truth, the bottom line concerning why one sins? Harav Mordechai Gifter, zl, interprets the above pasuk in its most simple form and derives from there a compelling lesson.

Moshe Rabenu told Hashem that lo yuchal, the people were literally unable to ascend the mountain, because Hashem had declared it off-limits. This is seemingly enigmatic, for certainly the people were physically able to ascend the mountain. The only thing preventing them from doing so was Hashem's injunction against doing so. Why does Moshe use the word unable? It is not grammatically correct.

This is where we err in our understanding of Hashem's prohibitions, and, by extension, what our correct attitude should be to sin, in general. To Klal Yisrael, Hashem's commands were not merely words to be kept or disobeyed at one's discretion. They were realities, concrete facts that were unassailable. If Hashem forbade a specific activity, Klal Yisrael truly felt that they were physically incapable, totally powerless, to do what was forbidden. Thus, they were unable to ascend the mountain.

Herein lies the answer to our original question. Sin occurs only if one fails to consider the Torah to be an absolute reality in his life. Torah must be a part of him. Thus, if Torah prohibits an activity, the individual is simply unable to do it. (Peninim on the Torah)


"Do you like instant coffee?" Abraham asked.

"No. I only drink the real brew," replied Aharon.

"Same here," said Abe. "I don't understand how people eat microwave food either."

Many people would agree with Aharon and Abe, preferring the "real thing" to the instant variety of everything from soups to dinners.

The only problem with the "real thing" is that preparing it takes much longer.

Sometimes, however, fast is not good.

In the Torah (Debarim 23:2), Hashem states, about the enemy:

"I will not chase him out in [only] one year, lest the land become desolate and the [wild] animals will overpower you."

In life, we must find the proper balance. In a low-priority situation - such as when you don't have time to make fresh-brewed java - instant may not be the same, but the trade-off is worth it. However, when it comes to education and self-improvement, the long-term goal is best served by a step-by-step climb to success. Instant gratification is fine for frivolities, but when dealing with issues that really matter, "no pain no gain" is the way to go .

Put in the effort and reap the long-lasting benefits. Patience sometimes pays, even in a wireless, digital world. (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)

Please pass this message along. Tizku L'misvot.

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