|Back to this week's parsha||Previous issues|
And it will be, if you will listen diligently to My commandments. (7:12)
Rashi translates the word "eikav" as "heel". Thus, the pasuk is admonishing us regarding those mitzvos "that man treads upon with his heels." Our attitude towards Torah and mitzvos should be wholesome. We are enjoined to accept and observe Torah in its totality. The greatest danger to religious thought and observance is posed by he who takes extracts of the Torah. The Torah is a symphony, a harmonious blend of religious observances. To take one single bar from a musical composition is to destroy the music. It is no different regarding the Torah. To extract one period of our history - to scrutinize one moment in our lives -- can be devastating. We view history as a continuum in its totality. Otherwise, our faith in the Almighty might be challenged. We must focus upon the entire panorama, the good and the bad, to perceive the Hand of G-d weaving His guidance, directing one event after another.
The act of selecting mitzvos defaces the entire Torah. It is all one body of knowledge. To emphasize one mitzvah more than the rest, to remove one mitzvah because it seems antiquated, is like amputating a limb of the body. To focus on tzedakah, charity, and relegate Shabbos to antiquity; to concentrate on kashrus and ignore the laws of of lashon hora, slander; to underscore the mitzvah of Tefillin, while permitting other mitzvos to be neglected and even rejected, is to cripple the Torah. To trample upon mitzvos which one feels are trivial is to begin to destroy the Torah.
The greatest menace to our people has been the individual who has decided to determine what is a major mitzvah and what is a minor mitzvah. This applies to anyone who is dishonest with one hand and puts on Tefillin with the other, as well as to those who slander with the same mouth for which he demands ultimate kashrus. There is no end to the double standard evinced by some - all in the name of the benefit of Torah. This is the interpretation of trampling upon mitzvos with one's heel.
Dovid Hamelech in Tehillim 49:6 laments, "What should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels encompass me," He fears the sins that were performed as a result of the "heels", the sins of double standard. In other words, he is afraid of the sins of distinguishing between mitzvos, of rejecting some and keeping others. Perhaps, we might also take his message to heart.
And it will be, if you will listen diligently to My commandments. He will bless you and multiply you, and He will also bless your children… (7:12,13)
There are many definitions for the word "eikav". The popular translation, "and the consequence will be," gives us something to consider. The implication is that the blessings of "good" sons and daughters are in accordance with one's commitment to observance. Good children are not a gift or a reward; they are a direct consequence of the parent's deeds. To paraphrase Horav Moshe Swift, zl, "If parents listen, children listen; if parents practice, children practice." Obviously, exceptions exist to every rule, but there is definitely a corollary between the parent's behavior and the children's behavior.
Rashi translates "eikav" as "on the heel". Horav Swift interprets the pasuk as a lesson to parents. Children follow of the heel -- or in the footsteps - of their parents. They see and sense their parents' commitment and take it to heart. Our greatest error is to underestimate our children's perceptions. On many occasions, we express the hope that a child will follow in his parents' footsteps. We hope that this is an appropriate blessing.
The Torah offers an added suggestion for raising our children. In the closing words of our parsha, the Torah says, "For if you will diligently keep My commandments which I command you to do them; to love your G-d, to go in all His ways, and to cleave to Him." The secret is "l'davka bo," to cleave to Hashem. Chazal ask: How does one cleave to Hashem? They respond that it means to cling to students, to scholars, to teachers and to wise men, and it will be as though one is cleaving to Hashem. A good home is a great start, but good friends, a proper environment, a healthy, spiritual atmosphere are also necessary ingredients for raising children. If you cling to the Torah, if you associate with talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, pious and learned, G-d fearing Jews, it is as if you are associating with the Almighty Himself.
There is no easy recipe for raising children. The Torah encourages us to follow its prescription for child-rearing. We may add that a little Tehillim goes a long way. Above all, we should realize that our children's future is not fully in our hands. We must listen to the advice of the Torah and remember that our children are entrusted to us by Hashem for a specific purpose. They are not our private, personal property to do with them what we think is right. Last, we must turn to Hashem in prayer for Siyata Dishmaya, Divine assistance, that the blessings we hope for will be actualized.
You will eat and you will be satisfied, and bless Hashem your G-d. (8:10)
The Chidushei Ha'rim observed that the festive meals celebrated by the chasidim of his time had the same holy objective of the fast days of the misnagdim's devotion. They both inspired the individual to be cognizant of the Almighty. They imbued him with yiraas Shomayim, fear of Hashem. Horav Eli Munk, zl, notes that while the fast days are meant to bring one closer to repentance, their fixed schedule may be a drawback as a result of the lack of spontaneity. Celebrations, on the other hand, are an impulsive expression of joy. They are dynamic and inspiring, influencing their participants to greater mitzvah observance.
While it is not the purpose of this paper to delve into the background and philosophical perspective of chasidus, it is important to understand that the idea that a seudah, festive meal, is awe-inspiring is reflective of chasidic doctrine. Thus, what might seem "different" to one segment of Jewish belief might be quite natural to another. Joy is a basic component of chassidic doctrine. Dejection, depression and regret for past actions, walking around all day as if one is carrying the world on his shoulders, represent an alien element in man. Joy, unbridled enthusiasm, and hislahvus, ecstasy in the worship of Hashem, allows the individual to achieve dveikus b'Hashem, clinging to Hashem.
The festive meal, the tisch, table, in which the Rebbe shares a meal or a part of a meal with his chasidim, presented a unique opportunity for inspirational companionship, song and dance. The Rebbes made every effort to conduct their tisch whenever feasible, even under the most dangerous conditions. During the Holocaust, the ghettos were more than once the scene of clandestine "tischen". The Belzer Rebbe, zl, conducted a tisch on Friday night, on a train from occupied Greece to Turkey, during his escape from Holocaust Europe. A number of Rebbes conducted tischen in Auschwitz proper. Probably the most poignant story which indicates the Chasidim's devotion to their festive meal as a means for serving Hashem is the following narrative: The Melitzer Rebbe, Horav Elimelech Horowitz, zl, conducted a tisch with his chasidim in an open grave prior to his death. When Rav Elimelech realized the end was near, he requested a piece of bread for his final meal. He reclined and ate with his chasidim in front of the open grave. Following the brachah over the piece of bread, he said a dvar Torah and entered into a state of great hislahavus, ecstasy. He began to sing a new melody "nishmas kol chai," the breath of every living creature (shall praise Your Name). Together, they danced their final dance. He then approached the German in command and said, "We have done ours, now you may do yours." Nothing can be added to such a moving story.
It shall be that if you forget Hashem, your G-d. (8:19)
In the pesichta to Esther Rabba, the Midrash says that the word, "v'haya," "it shall be", implies joy. If this is the case, how can forgetting Hashem be equated in any way with joy? Imrei Chaim interprets the pasuk homeletically. The word "shchoah"/"shchiach" has other meanings - "frequent" and "to be found". Thus, the pasuk is interpreted in the following manner: If simcha/joy, as implied by the word "v'haya", is shchiach, -- or commonly found -- in your home, with you wherever you are; if it is a part of your life, then "tishchach," you will find Hashem, your G-d. In order to reach Hashem, to establish a relationship with Hashem, one should be b'simchah, have a happy outlook. It does not mean that one should walk around all day smiling, even when life "throws him a curve" and things do not go his way; but a positive and hopeful outlook is part of one's bitachon, faith in the Almighty.
In an alternative exposition, Horav Baruch m'Mezboz, zl, explains that there are two ways to perform an aveirah, sin. In one instance, a person falls into the grasp, the stranglehold of the yetzer hora, evil inclination. He cannot release himself; he has sinned. While he is to be criticized, he nevertheless has the opportunity available to him to repent, to perform teshuvah. There is, however, the one who takes great pride in his rebellion, who actually manifests joy when he sins. Such a person has rejected the Almighty; he does not deserve to be forgiven. "V'haya" it shall be - if you forget Hashem, in such a manner that it is "v'hayah," full of joy. If one takes pride in his iniquity, if one apparently enjoys his act of transgression, then there is little hope for his return. Teshuvah is the result of reflection, of regret, of a feeling of remorse - the antithesis of this person's actions. Even in sin we are given a chance to come back, if we do not close the door.
Then I saw and behold! You had sinned to, Hashem, your G-d, you made yourselves a molten calf. (9:16)
Horav Aizik Charif, zl, distinguished between the generation of the wilderness who made the Golden Calf and the ensuing generations who have also sinned. The "dor ha'midbar," generation that sinned in the wilderness, gave up all of their money, jewels and precious stones for an ideal - to make a god for themselves. The ensuing generations have given up their spirituality, even their tzelem Elokim, image of G-d, for the sake of money. Are the two truly that different? The sinners who made the Golden Calf wanted a god for themselves, they made a molten god for their personal use. They would be in charge. After all, they made the god. We are not much different. We are also making a god. Our god is called money/materialism. They had a golden calf. We have the almighty dollar. The sin is the same - only the idols are different.
After all is said and done, they were willing to relinquish their money for something spiritual. We are more than happy to relinquish our spirituality for materialism. Do we think less of spirituality, or are we more materialistic than our ancestors? In any event, is it not pathetic if we cannot learn from those who made the Golden Calf?
Now, O, Yisrael, what does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem, your G-d. (10:12)
Horav Chaim Volozhiner, zl, offers a practical explanation of this pasuk. One who truly fears Hashem -- in other words, he is in awe of Hashem -- really fears nothing or no one else. On the other hand, one who does not fear Hashem is unfortunately scared of everything - even his own shadow. Consequently, Moshe told Klal Yisrael, since they were compelled to fear something, that they might as well focus their fear on Hashem. Thus, they will have no reason to fear anything else. Moshe said to Klal Yisrael, "All Hashem is asking of you is that you fear Him." By fearing Hashem, you will relieve yourselves of all other sources of fear.
Horav Chizkiya Cohen, zl, notes the word "me'imcha," "of you," in the pasuk. He explains the significance of the word after first citing an anecdotal story that occurred with Horav Yisrael Salanter. Rav Yisrael once met a man and asked him, "What do you do?" The man responded by telling him his business/vocation. Rav Yisrael once again asked him, "What do you do?" The individual once again responded with the name of his business. This did not faze Rav Yisrael, and he once again asked the man, "What do you do?" Again the man responded, somewhat impatiently, with the type of business with which he was involved. Finally, Rav Yisrael told the man, "I am asking you what you do, and you tell me what Hashem does!" People, regrettably, think that their hard work affects their parnassah, livelihood. It is categorically not true. Everything comes from Hashem, the source of all parnassah. Man, unfortunately, has a difficult time remembering this. We go through life attributing our lack of mitzvah observance to our jobs, our involvement in business, or the demands of our profession. These excuses are as foolish as the one who is making them. To them, the Torah says, "What really does Hashem ask of you - just to fear Him." Disregard everything else. Hashem will take care of His responsibility, you take care of yours. Parnassah - Hashem will take care of it. You go back to the Bais Medrash where you belong, and leave Hashem's work to Himself. Regrettably, people would rather read this essay, say it is a good vort, and continue along with business as usual.
The Baal Shem Tov, zl, offers an alternative definition of yiraas Shomayim. While the usual term refers to man's fear of Hashem, the Baal Shem Tov defines it as the fear that Hashem has. Ostensibly, Hashem fears nothing. There is a form of fear, however, that applies in this circumstance, which can be explained through an analogy of a father and his child. A father, desiring to protect his child from injury, warns the youngster that if he goes where he does not belong, he will be punished. For instance, we tell our children not to run in the street, for fear they might be hurt by a car. In order to reinforce our warning, we "attach" the fear of punishment. Now, the child invariably stays away from the street; but for the wrong reason. He fears his father's punishment, not the possibility of injury resulting from his carelessness.
The same idea applies to our relationship with the Almighty. We are admonished regarding specific transgressions; we are also given a host of mitzvos to perform. By performing mitzvos, we enhance our spiritual health. When we err and sin, we hurt our neshamah. Hashem attaches a punishment to the sins, so that we will be careful not to transgress. It would be wonderful if we would refrain from transgression out of a realization of the terrible effect of sin. We stay away from sin for the wrong reason. We fear the punishment, not the sin.
Hashem "fears" for our spiritual health and welfare. He "fears" we might do something foolish, something harmful to us. This is referred as a yiraas Shomayim, the fear Hashem has for our welfare. We should aspire to attain that plateau where we fear the effect of sin, rather than the punishment. That is a trait which develops with spiritual maturity.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
1) To what does "zeroa ha'netuyah," outstretched arm, refer?
1) Makas bechoros.
2) a) Rosh Chodesh Elul b) Yom Kippur
Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first five years have been published in book form.
The fifth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.
He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588.
Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to email@example.com