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PARSHAS KI SAVOThen you shall call out and say before Hashem, your G-d. (26:5)
When one brings his Bikkurim, first fruits, to the Bais Hamikdash, he recites a formal declaration, which includes a short sketch of Jewish history. This awakens within the bearer of the Bikkurim the awareness that the Land and its fruit belong to him only as a result of Hashem's intervention. Had "history" been untouched, he would have had nothing. The word v'anisa, is translated by Rashi as, "you shall call out (loud)." V'anisa, in this context, means to raise one's voice. In an alternate explanation, the Sefas Emes says that v'anisa is derived from the word, ani, poor man. Thus, v'anisa, means, "you shall make yourself like a poor man," lowly, self-effacing and meek. Before one approaches Hashem in prayer, he must prepare himself emotionally. He must come subdued, like a poor man who stands at the door begging for alms, with a heavy heart, acknowledging that he himself is nothing, and that he has nothing to offer Hashem. He is just here to beg, to plead, to supplicate His positive response.
One prepares himself to pray by expressing his own lowliness before he is ready to articulate Hashem's praises. This is what the Mishnah means when it says, maschil b'gnus u'msayeim b'shevach, "He begins with the shame and concludes with praise." The author of the Haggadah uses this phrase to describe the Jewish People's journey through history. Originally descendants of Terach, father of Avraham Avinu an idol worshipper and subject of Nimrov, self-proclaimed god of the world, we developed into a nation that is deserving of the appellation mamleches Kohanim v'goi kadosh, "a kingdom of Priests and a holy nation." In this sense, however, we are saying that the individual must sense the v'anisa, his inferiority as he approaches Hashem, and only then can he begin to articulate Hashem's praises and entreat Him for His favor.
The Sefas Emes reconciles his definition of v'anisa, with that of Rashi. Clearly, the obsequious poor man standing at the door does not raise his voice. Nonetheless, the two definitions do not contradict one another, since the more one subdues himself, the louder his voice becomes, so that he can be heard. In other words, it is not always the loud "voice" that is heard. Indeed, the "loudness" may stifle the sound if it is the product of arrogance. One does not have to raise his voice in order for Hashem to hear, but he does have to lower himself if he wants Hashem to listen.
Horav Yitzchak, zl, m'Vorka was wont to say, "Chassidim should know how to be bent over when standing erect, to cry out when they are silent, and to dance without making any movement." This is a profound and eloquent statement. It is also a demanding manifesto, but it can be accomplished. With the proper discipline and state of mind, one can transport himself into a different world, while his physical body remains stationary. This is how one connects with Hashem.
As I try to come to grips with this idea, I am reminded of a story which Rabbi Yechiel Spero relates in "Touched By A Story 3." The Rizhiner Rebbe zl, would conduct his Friday night tisch, chassidic gathering around the Rebbe's table, without uttering a word of Torah. Indeed, he hardly spoke at all. Nonetheless, his tisch was the gathering place for hundreds of chassidim. They would come there merely to bask in the rebbe's presence. Two young cynics heard about this "silent" tisch and decided to see for themselves what all the "commotion" was about. They had heard of the Rebbe's captivating powers, but this did not seem possible.
They traveled to Rizhin, but by the time they prepared themselves it was too late. The tisch had already ended. The only one left in the shul was the gentile janitor who was busy cleaning up. They had traveled so far and they were not prepared to return without learning something about the Rebbe's tisch. Therefore, they asked the janitor, "Perhaps you can tell us exactly what takes place during the tisch."
The janitor was not Jewish, nor was he very erudite but he possessed a sense of perception that exceeded his acquired knowledge. "I am not really sure what transpires," he began. "All I know is that the holy rabbi sits at the head of the table, with his followers sitting on two tables parallel to his. He just sits there and does not say a word. His followers also sit there - and listen to what he does not say."
The reply touched these two men like nothing else could have. The gentile's simple description, coupled with his admiration and reverence for the Rebbe, inspired them to return once again - as participants. They would also sit and bask in the Rebbe's silence. You see, it is not always what a person says that pierces through to the neshamah, soul. At times, it is what he does not say - his silence - his devotional - that speaks louder, loud enough for the heart to hear. There is a tremendous need for silence in our shuls. A shul is a place where one goes to pray, to express his feelings, to articulate his thoughts and emotions. It is also a place for silent devotion. There are people who daven by raising their voices, beating their chests and swaying with intensity. There are others who just meditate and say the words quietly, almost silently. There are also those who, regrettably, use the shul as their social hall, gym or business office, regardless of how much it may disturb others.
The following parable related by Horav Ezra Hamway, zl, Rosh Bais Din of Aram Sova, should serve as a deterrent for us, especially as we approach the Yimai Ha'Din, Days of Judgment, when our tefillos play a critical role in our lives. The yetzer hora, evil inclination, and yetzer tov, good inclination, once met and stopped to chat. The yetzer hora said, "It is getting out of hand. We are constantly at each other's throats. Let us work out a compromise in which I will have one part of man's world, and you will have the other. In this way, we will have clearly defined boundaries, so that our bickering and quarreling will finally be put to rest."
The negotiations were simple, since each one had a proclivity for a certain space where it would feel most comfortable. The yetzer tov opted for the domain of the bais hamedrash, the shuls, and any place endemic to holiness. The yetzer hora laid claim to the cafes, theaters, and other places of frivolity and entertainment. All went well until the day in which the yetzer tov entered a synagogue and discovered, to his chagrin, that the yetzer hora was firmly ensconced there. "What are you doing here on my property?" the yetzer tov asked. "I thought we had agreed to stick to each other's boundaries. The synagogue is my domain!"
"Yes," answered the yetzer hora. "It may appear to be a synagogue. It has an Aron Kodesh, Sifrei Torah and a bimah in the middle. For all appearances, you are right. It looks like a shul, but just listen to the sounds. There are people speaking about business deals, lashon hora, slanderous speech, and all sorts of mundane, trivial matters. It sure does not sound like a synagogue. This place looks more like it belongs in my domain!"
And He brought us to this place, and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (26:9)
The fact that Eretz Yisrael is described as a "land flowing with milk and honey" is somewhat enigmatic. This quality notwithstanding, there certainly must be other attributes of Eretz Yisrael that the Torah could have emphasized. Since when does a land's physical qualities play such a significant role? Rashi comments that makom ha'zeh, "this place," is a reference to the Bais Hamikdash. The individual is praising the Holy Land for being home to the Bais Hamikdash. He is, thus, making a spiritual statement. Eretz Yisrael's intrinsic kedushah, holiness, elevates it above all other lands, but is the connection to milk and honey?
Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, suggests that "flowing with milk and honey" is actually a metaphor for the Holy Land's spiritual character. Milk and honey are both foods that seem to be unkosher. Milk is a derivative of a cow's blood that has metabolically become milk. Furthermore, it should also be considered eiver min ha'chai, an organ from a living animal, which is also not permissible to be eaten. Despite these two characteristics, milk is kosher because Hashem says that the process which changes blood into milk is a completely transformative process which also changes its halachic status, rendering it kosher.
Likewise, a bee, which is a ritually unclean insect, should produce a similarly unclean product, which would cause it to be unkosher. Hashem, however, does not look at it this way. Since the process which produces honey occurs outside of the bee's body, it is rendered kosher. Two products, milk and honey; both should not be considered kosher, but are kosher because a transformation occurs which converts them into a totally new entity.
Eretz Yisrael has that effect on a person. The land is holy, and the individual who lives there is suffused in holiness as he immerses himself in its atmosphere. Eretz Yisrael is such that a person who has strayed throughout his life seeks to return to his faith after experiencing its greatness. There is, however, a negative aspect to this distinctive character of holiness: it has little tolerance for those who challenge it. If an individual insists on living a life of secularism and degeneracy, despite being in the world's center of kedushah, the holiness of Eretz Yisrael provides a glaring and deprecating contrast which magnifies his illicit behavior. One cannot have it both ways. Therefore, "choose life."
Because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant. (28:47)
Joy is more than a frame of mind; it is a prerequisite for serving Hashem. It is also a barometer for measuring one's level of service to Hashem. An unhappy person is unproductive and, for all intents and purposes, does not really function effectively as an observant Jew. Furthermore, the mere fact that he is unhappy is indicative that something is terribly wrong with the manner in which he serves Hashem. Otherwise, how could he be unhappy? This pasuk implies that a lack of joy in mitzvah observance catalyzed the churban, destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.
The Talmud Yoma 9 posits another reason for the destruction: sinaas chinam, unwarranted hatred, among Jews. Which is it? Hatred, or a lack of joy? The Shem M'Shmuel explains that they are one and the same. One who is unhappy lacks the zest for life, probably the most important ingredient for being able to tolerate a situation, to endure a crisis, to rise above adversity. A bitter, depressed person does not get along with people. His jaundiced outlook distorts everything that he sees and generates a feeling of self-destructiveness which extends to his relationships with others. He sees demons everywhere, and he believes that every person is out to get him. Such a person is filled with self-loathing, which envelops him as he focuses on others. He begins to hate. First, it is those whom he feels who have hurt him directly or indirectly. The circle becomes smaller and tighter, as he begins to hate those who once had been his closest friends and even relatives. Yes, the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed as a result of unwarranted hatred. That hatred, however, was foreshadowed by a lack of joy in mitzvah observance, which created the unhappy person who found an outlet for his self-loathing: hatred for others.
Torah study should inject a sense of joy in a person. Yet, one who is a bitter, depressed person cannot benefit from Torah's therapeutic effect. How then is he to become happy? It is all a question of perspective: How does one view Torah study? Is it a scholarly objective, an academic challenge that he must master, or is it a Divine gift, the word of G-d, something that transcends the parameters of this world? Those who have studied Torah as just another branch of wisdom or ethics, have robbed themselves-- or have been robbed-- of its true essence. In his commentary to Devarim 26:8, the Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh writes that if people would sense the sweetness and pleasantness of Torah they would go out of their minds in their quest to consume more and more of it. Indeed, all of the gold and silver of the world would be nothing in comparison. We do not fully realize what Torah is and, therefore, cannot experience its ultimate sweetness.
Once a person begins to realize the depth and breadth of Torah, when he grasps what it is and what is its source, and Who is its Author, his entire attitude will change. Only then can Torah take its effect. In fact, as the Igrei Tal writes in his forward: "It is a mistake for one to say that he who studies Torah lishmah, purely for its own sake, with no ulterior motive, 'and enjoys' his learning - that he is detracting from the lishmah, because of his enjoyment. They are wrong! On the contrary, the essence of the mitzvah of Torah study is for the individual to be happy and filled with joy and to develop a strong sense of satisfaction and pleasure from his learning. Then the words of Torah will course in his veins and become a part of him. The more he enjoys the Torah, the greater becomes his bond to it." It is all a question of attitude.
The Alter m'Slobodka, Horav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zl, asked Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, to define the correct approach to teaching students. Rav Yisrael replied, "To generate life to the lowly and make those who are in pain come alive." In other words: imbue them with a sense of geshmak, joy and satisfaction in what they are doing. When a student enjoys his learning, he will continue it as a life-long endeavor. The one who is bored will soon give up on his learning - and everything else, for that matter.
Rav Nosson Tzvi made every effort to generate a spirit of cheerfulness and joy among his students. This was especially true during the Chagim, Festival period, when there was much singing and dancing reverberating throughout the halls of the yeshivah. He felt that one who studies Torah should not walk around as if he is carrying the world's problems on his shoulders. In fact, he discouraged his students from being too serious and never smiling. It demonstrated a lack of simchas ha'chaim, joy in living. The fact that one can study Torah and perform mitzvos -- which truly catalyzes a greater closeness with Hashem -- should elevate a person to a heightened sense of joy.
Rav Meir Feist, zl, was such a person. Born in Mt. Vernon, New York, in 1907, to a family of Alsatian Jews, he was stricken with polio at the age of four and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. His family was not observant, but he chose a life of Torah observance for himself, devoting much of his time to Torah study, eventually receiving smichah from Horav Mendel Zaks, zl, son-in-law of the saintly Chafetz Chaim. He earned his living in the family business of music publishing, which brought him into contact with the unconventional, the bohemian, and the creative personalities of the artists that frequented Manhattan's Greenwich Village. He would spend entire nights talking, guiding and inspiring the people with whom he came in contact.
When he turned fifty, he decided to intensify his religious observance. He grew a beard, began to study mussar, chassidus and kabbalah. Shortly thereafter, he sold his business and move to Lakewood, New Jersey, where he spent day and night immersed in Torah study in Beth Medrash Govohah. In 1974, he visited Eretz Yisrael and decided that he would finally realize his lifelong dream of settling there. Alas, he became ill with double pneumonia and passed away at the age of sixty-eight. When he became ill as a child, the doctors had declared that he would never live past the age of forty.
Rav Meir's life was filled with chronic disease and excruciating pain. During half of his life, he lived alone in the world, without parents or family. Yet, to anyone who knew or came into contact with him, he was a wellspring that radiated love and overflowed with kindness. His humility was typical of a tzadik, a righteous person, whose life had been molded by Torah and mussar. He exemplified a harmony of piety with a deep and loving sense of humanity, insight and love for others. Everything that he did-- from his avodas Hashem, service to Hashem, to more mundane matters-- was manifested in freshness and enthusiasm. He never failed to smile and make those around him feel good. Above all: he never complained about all of the adversity that he had had to endure. He never said a harsh word to anyone. Indeed, people would aptly describe him as "the happiest man in the world."
How does someone carry such a heavy burden of pain and deprivation and avoid sinking into the abyss of despair and bitterness? How does one see others walking around, raising families, planning for the future, while he is resigned to his little cubicle, his partner a wheelchair, his companions seforim and books, and not feel a tinge of envy? How does one continue with a will - no, a zest - for life? How does one radiate a joyful countenance, a pleasant and patient disposition, a sense of tranquility, a feeling that he is the beneficiary of good fortune? How does one maintain a sense of hope while simultaneously encouraging others? Indeed, Rav Meir integrated happiness into his very being and exuded it to everyone who came in contact with him. How?
He explained, applying David HaMelech's pasuk in Tehillim 84:11, "One day in Your courtyard is better than a thousand (elsewhere)." Rashi explains, "It is better to be in Your courtyard and die the next day than to live a thousand days in another place." Since the destruction of the Batei Mikdash, Hashem's courtyard is the yeshivah and study halls where Torah is studied. Thus, living as a ben Torah for a single day is more rewarding than living a life of pleasure for a thousand years.
Wow! This was the secret of Rav Meir's success. He understood and felt that every day that was afforded him to spend studying Torah in the bais hamedrash was an unsurpassed opportunity for dwelling in the chatzar, courtyard, of Hashem! Every day that he lived and experienced avodas Hashem was an unparalleled opportunity for dveikus, clinging, to Hashem. Only in this way could he have continued to live in joy and contentment throughout his misery and pain.
The Navi says in Megillas Eichah (3:39), "For what should the living complain." Chazal explain that just being alive is sufficient reason for a person not to complain. Rav Meir exemplified this quality. For him, the mere fact that he was alive, despite all of his hardships, was an opportunity that should not be wasted. He understood the infinite value of life. Indeed, he lived life to its fullest.
In an alternative exposition, Horav Mordechai Pogremonsky, zl, views this pasuk homiletically. "Because you did not serve Hashem" is a general statement referring to sin. One who does not serve Hashem is sinful. Sin is bad, but one would think that a sinner at least has feelings of remorse and regret for his lack of observance. No! "You remained with gladness and goodness of heart." Not only did the sin not bother you, but you retained a sense of happiness despite having rebelled against Hashem. Why? How could one continue to feel so self-satisfied, so smug, even filled with joy after knowingly transgressing His mitzvos? It is because "everything was abundant." We had it good. We possessed wealth, prestige, all the good. We became obese as a result of Hashem's benevolence; we took, and gave nothing in return. We asserted that we gained everything through our own powers and doing - ignoring the Almighty. Is it any wonder that one is not troubled by his iniquity? He has it too good.
Yehi chasdecha Hashem aleinu kaasher yichalnu lach.
Hareinu Hashem chasdecha v'yeshacha titen lanu
The word lach (yichalnu lach) is usually translated as "you." In his Michtav M'Eliyahu, Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler,zl explains that when we entreat Hashem for kindness, it is not for our own personal gratification. Rather, it is yichalnu lach, whatever "You," Hashem, sees fit for us, whatever You decide is good for us. Everything which You do for us is chasdecha, an act of kindness, "Your" kindness, which is boundless and limitless. Rav Dessler adds that just as when one visits a doctor he places his life in the hands of the physician, the same attitude certainly should prevail in our relationship with Hashem, Who cannot only do whatever He wants, but also knows what is best for us.
We first ask that Hashem's chesed should be "upon" us. We then conclude, Hareinu Hashem chasdecha, "Let us 'see' Your kindness, Hashem." Why do we change our request? The Shalah Hakodesh explains that there are covert miracles and concealed acts of kindness of which we are unaware. They are revealed only to Hashem. These are the acts of kindness that are "upon" us. They affect our lives without our awareness of them. Only Hashem knows. There are also those acts of kindness which are overt and well-known to us. These are the kindnesses which we "see." They are titen lanu, "given to us."
Ruthie and Sam Salamon
in loving memory of
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