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The Torah admonishes us to be sensitive to the pain of animals. The Chofetz Chaim renders a symbolic meaning to these words. He suggests that they apply to any activity one sets out to accomplish with Hashem's help. For instance, when we implore Hashem daily in tefillas Shacharis:, "Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah," we should not think that Torah scholarship will simply come down from Heaven as a gift. Erudition is not a gift; it is something for which one works, - diligently and with great toil. We cannot sit back and relax, waiting for Hashem to provide Torah to us at our convenience. We should enter the Bais Hamedrash, open up a sefer and learn with enthusiasm and fervor. Only then can we anticipate that Hashem will grant us the profundities of Torah. Consequently, the interpretation of the pasuk changes to the following, "You shall surely stand them up, with him." It is understood in the sense that "You", Hashem, will help the Jew by supporting his goals and sustaining him throughout, only as long as "with him" means, the person plays an active role.
Judaism is not a spectator religion. One must be active in performing mitzvos, studying Torah, and performing acts of loving kindness, Only after one "does" - will Hashem support him throughout his endeavor.
"An Amoni or a Moavi shall not enter into the congregation of Hashem... because they did not meet you with bread and water... and because they hired against you Bilaam... Nevertheless Hashem would not listen to Bilaam. (23:4, 5, 6)
The Torah places great emphasis upon the imperative to distance the nations of Amon and Moav from our midst. Why? What did these nations do that was so invidious that they may never be accepted into the fold of Judaism? What crime did they commit that castigates them for all time? The Torah offers two responses. First, they did not come forward and welcome us with food when we passed by them during our trek in the desert. Second, they hired Bilaam to work against us. These actions, especially the second one, are unquestionably reprehensible. Are they worse, however, than the acts which the Egyptians committed against us? Are we to ignore two hundred and ten years of suffering, torment and murder?
Nebuchadnezzer and Titus were reshaim who destroyed the Bais Hamikdash. Yet their descendants are permitted to marry into the Jewish nation. The Ramban addresses this question. He offers a classical response that goes to the foundation of the Jewish People, demonstrating the caliber of refinement that is demanded of the Jewish personality. He writes that Amon and Moav were descendants of individuals who benefited from Avraham Avinu's kindnesses. Avraham had saved Lot and his family from the destruction that befell Sodom. Lot had fathered Amon and Moav. The key that elucidates the enigma of Amon and Moav is hakoras tov, appreciation/gratitude. Amazing! Because their ancestor was saved by our ancestor, Avraham, they were obliged to us; they should have been makir tov. The root of their iniquity is their lack of appreciation, their refusal to acknowledge the benefit that they received.
By nature, man thinks first and foremost of himself. He leaves little room for others. The middah of chesed, kindness, is a characteristic transmitted to us by Avraham Avinu, the pillar of chesed. Everyone possesses an element of this character trait, although some people manage to bury it deep in their personalities. If one does not go out of his way to be kind to others, however, we cannot sever him from the human race, since we expect man to be egotistical by nature. Hakoras tov is a character trait which is inherent in every human being. Who does not repay those who are kind to him? What kind of human being would ignore those who benefited him? Such a person is repulsive, his actions contemptible. He has isolated himself from humanity by his refusal to recognize and repay those who have helped him. Amon and Moav acted in a despicable manner. They demonstrated their unworthiness to be viewed as human beings at all, let alone to be accepted into the Jewish nation.
"When you go forth in camp against your enemies, you shall guard against evil. " (23:10)The Torah previously addressed the problems and challenges that abound during the course of warfare. The Torah here does not seem to be speaking of physical war, but rather of spiritual war. The term "machane" is different from the term "milchamah." We are referring here to one's own "machane," camp, one's peace of mind and spiritual values - not the enemy's. Hence, the Torah says, "You shall guard against evil." This suggests that the only time one needs shmirah, "protection" is when he goes out. This is obviously not true. Chazal state that the Satan is particularly active during times of danger. Thus, one should be extremely careful whenever he separates himself from the Klal, community.
In the Yerushalmi, Shabbos 2:5 Chazal ask a noteworthy question: Why does the Torah emphasize the need for shmirah only when one leaves the camp? Is it not imperative to be on one's guard at all times? They respond that the Satan is overly active during times of danger. Horav Moshe Swift, zl, comments that the term Satan never refers to those who oppose us by aiming for our physical annihilation. The Satan takes a more subtle approach. He waits until the person is outside of the Torah camp, when his defenses are down, when his spiritual values are vulnerable, when his entire Torah lifestyle is at risk. The Satan strikes specifically at a time when one is not surrounded by the Torah community, when the support that encourages and maintains all of us is not accessible. The Torah addresses such situations and enjoins us to be ever vigilant, lest we fall into the clutches of the yetzer hora.
If one remains "within" the Torah community, if he is not exposed to the adversity and cynicism that permeate the social circles of the secular world, then the need does not arise. We are admonished to guard ourselves particularly when communal and social pressures demand that we must interface with the world "out there," when we must come in contact with a culture that is -- at best -- not in consonance with Torah dictate.
Probably one of the biggest problems is the orthodox Jew, who -- as a result of his insecurity - attempts to outdo his secular counterparts. We should realize that actions which are unbecoming a Torah Jew degrades orthodoxy and flaws the brand of Judaism - which our ancestors died for. It is unfortunate when the Jew who attends a Minyan in the morning and even goes to a shiur, proceeds during the rest of the day in a manner unbefitting his Torah orientation. This is blatant chilul Hashem! We must stand out as Hashem's emissaries to the world, as examples of integrity, as paragons of virtue and as models of a nation committed to a heightened spiritual/moral perspective.
"You shall observe and carry out what emerges from your lips, just as you vowed a voluntary gift to Hashem, your G-d, whatever you spoke with your mouth." (23:24)Upon examining the text, the end of the pasuk seems redundant. Would it not have sufficed to simply write, "You shall observe and carry out whatever emerges from your lips." Horav Mordechai Rogov, zl, makes a practical insight which explains the pasuk. When a person is involved in an "eis tzarah," a period of pain or anguish, the neder, vow, which he makes is undoubtedly sincere. He is stressed and motivated by anxiety. At the time, he truly plans to fulfill every promise that he makes. What happens, however, when it is all over and things have calmed down, when there is no longer a reason to worry? Does he retain the same genuine feelings as he had before, or is he doing what he has to do because he committed himself during his time of need? The Torah demands that an individual demonstrate the same enthusiasm when fulfilling his promise, as when he had originally made the vow.
David Hamelech says in Tehillim 116, "My vows to Hashem I will pay, in the presence, now, of His entire People." What is so impressive about David's fulfilling his vows? Is that not to be expected? Horav Rogov suggests that David is saying he will fulfill his vows with the same enthusiasm and emotion that he exhibited when he originally made the vow. This is the interpretation of the pasuk, "You shall observe and carry out what emerges from your mouth" - fulfill your requirements not out of obligation and complacency, but - "just as you vowed... whatever you spoke with your mouth." With the exact conviction, with the same sentiment with which you made the vow, so should you fulfill its demand.
"Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way as you came forth from Egypt." (24:9)
Rashi explains that Miriam's punishment serves as a model for us to use to admonish others not to speak Lashon Hora. "Do not speak Lashon Hora or you will be punished with tzaraas just like Miriam", is the warning according to Rashi. Upon reviewing the commentary of Yonasan ben Uziel, we note an interesting interpretation of Miriam's sin. He writes that we should warn others not to be unduly suspicious of other people's actions, as Miriam's suspicions of Moshe were groundless. This indicates that Miriam's sin was not in slandering Moshe; it began much earlier with her spurious suspicions. This idea implies that, at least according to the Targum Yonasan, it is prohibited even to suspect someone of a wrongdoing.
We suggest that suspicion is a component of Lashon Hora. First, we incorrectly suspect - this suspicion grows in our minds; then, we "share" our feelings with others. Perhaps, if we view those around us in a positive light, the path towards slander and hatred would have no place to begin.
"A perfect and honest weight shall you have... Remember what Amalek did to you." (25:15,17)Rashi explains that the juxtaposition of the admonition regarding false weights, upon the remembrance of what Amalek did to us. One who does not maintain integrity in the marketplace, who cheats his fellow man, should concern himself with the reprisal of Amalek. Horav Simcha Bunim Sofer, zl, explains Rashi's comment. One who cheats in business demonstrates a lack of emunah and bitachon, trust and faith in Hashem. One must believe unequivocally that Hashem will sustain him and provide for all his needs. He determines how much and what one needs, and He provides it.
What occurred during the war with Amalek? Chazal teach us that Moshe's hands raised towards Heaven were not the cause of Klal Yisrael's triumph. Rather, the people's ability to subjugate their minds and heart to the service of Hashem was the determining factor in their success. Thus, Amalek's war against Klal Yisrael symbolizes our ability to withstand outside pressures in order to focus upon the real source of our sustenance - Hashem. Amalek came to extinguish our fire of belief in Hashem. He did not succeed.
One who is weak in his emunah and bitachon will regrettably resort to a life of theft and deceit. Fraud will be his partner, as he seeks his livelihood in a manner unbecoming any human being, let alone one who believes in the Torah. How far are we from relating to this concept? Is it that uncommon to find people who are meticulous in their mitzvah observance, yet marginal in their business dealings? Why do we look for "hetairim" when it involves money? Where is our bitachon that Hashem will provide for us - regardless of the circumstances? Let us learn a lesson from the Torah and not "distinguish" between spiritual matters and business.
The city of Yerushalayim, twice destroyed, sits in mourning. The Navi compares the city to a barren woman who sits in envy while her neighbors play with their children. The Navi consoles Yerushalayim that one day she will be so full of "children" that she will need to expand her borders. The Navi then compares her to a wife who was once banished and is now called back by her husband. The Navi's message is clear: Klal Yisrael undergoes persecutions, but their effect is only temporary. The grief, though painful, is the precursor of a long and joyous life. We must accept the good with the bad, joy with anguish, for it all comes from a loving father, Hashem.
"For but a brief moment I have forsaken you, and with abundant mercy I shall gather you in." (54:7)
Has Hashem forsaken us for but a "brief moment"? It would seem that the present exile in which we live is by no means to be viewed as a "brief moment". Radak explains that although the days of our exile will be lengthy, they will seem to be nothing more than a brief moment in comparison to the abundant mercy Hashem will show us when we are gathered in by Him.
Horav Moshe Swift, zl, renders a novel homiletic interpretation of this pasuk, "For but a brief moment I have forsaken you." This refers to the individual who has taken a brief "interlude" from mitzvah observance. He just went off the traditional path ever so slightly. Let him be forewarned that in order to get back on track, to return to the derech ha'yashar, the correct path of observance, he will require "abundant mercy" from Hashem. We must strengthen our boundaries, solidify our perimeters, with a solid grounding in Jewish education and an ongoing attachment to the tent of Torah. Only then can we ensure that the winds of change and the blandishments of alien cultures will not sway us beyond the periphery of Torah commitments.
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