Tzaddik B’Emunoso Yichye

The korbonos are in the merit of our Ovos. (Rashi, Bamidbar 28:19 in the name of Reb Moshe HaDarshon as we have already quoted). The bulls are the merit of the chessed of Avrohom; the rams in the merit of the yiras shomayim of Yitzchok. Now we come to sheep, which are in the merit of Yaakov; as the posuk says, “Yaakov separated the sheep.” What characteristic of Yaakov does this posuk  indicate? As we prepare for Shabbos Chazon,  the climax of the Three Weeks, during which we should try to follow the midos of the Ovos in order to merit the third Beis Hamikdash, we need to know which midda of Yaakov was exemplified by his separating  the sheep, in order to be zoche to bring korbonos again.

Separating the sheep was part of Yaakov’s deal with Lovon to fix his wages for all the years he worked for Lovon. It was, to our minds, the worst deal of the century. Yaakov separated the spotted and striped sheep from the plain ones. Spotted and striped offspring which would be born to those plain sheep will be the payment due to Yaakov. The chances of a plain sheep giving birth to spotted or striped sheep were almost zero so it looks as though Yaakov had been outwitted by the cunning Lovon. Nevertheless Yaakov was not deterred. Doing a certain amount of hishtadlus and placing his bitachon in Hashem, Yaakov accepted the deal. And the deal proved successful with many striped and spotted sheep born to the plain sheep. Yaakov had the proverbial “last laugh.”

Ba Chabakuk ve’he’emido al achas; tzaddik b’emunoso yichye.”(Makos 24a). In the end of days, our main challenge will be maintaining our emuna that Hashem is the Creator and Director of the universe. Since the Creation until recently, it was accepted by everyone that the world had a creator. People had the clarity and common sense to realise that a universe cannot create itself. Yes, certain people believed in different avoda zoros or garbled versions of the Torah, but that the world should have no creator was seen as farcical by a vast majority of people. In the final epoch before Moshiach, an amazing phenomenon will appear; intelligent people somehow believing that the universe created itself by some method which they themselves admit has not been discovered yet. (This is the nonsense which OFSTED demands our mosdos to teach).

In the last century particularly, events have challenged our emuna that Hashem runs the world. However, and this is precisely the tremendous zechus of those who maintain full emuna despite everything which has happened, we refuse to be sidetracked by events which we cannot understand. As I explain in my sefer The Hidden Light, (Menucha Publishing P18)

We have to decide what our belief is. If we maintain a childish belief in a god who has supernatural powers and is supposed to do anything we want at any time we demand it, we will have questions on our belief. Why didn’t he help when we needed it? If, however, we believe in Hashem who is the all-powerful Creator, responsible for the myriads of stars and every blade of grass; who provides food for every creature from the greatest to the smallest, who gives us strength for every step we take and every breath we breathe, we might still wonder why He allows certain events to happen. But to expect an explanation which we can understand pre-supposes that we are capable of understanding Hashem’s conduct. This is clearly a weak assumption. Such a Creator is so much greater than us in every possible way that there is no reason to assume that we will understand Him, His actions or His decisions. In fact if a person thinks that has the mental capacity to understand whatever Hashem does, he is contradicting himself. If we are equal to Hashem, why worship Him?

Another phenomenon raises questions on our emuna from the opposite angle. We see that Israel is a very successful modern state. Its economic level is equal if not superior to many western countries. It is a world leader in agriculture with many innovative methods of improving production, water purification and cyber-technology. It contributes, completely out proportion to its size and population, to medical science and international intelligence. World leaders queue up to meet the Prime Minister. International surveys testify that the citizens of Israel are amongst the happiest people in the world, especially in the religious areas. Unfortunately, most of those who govern and represent Israel are not religious Jews. Halacha has only a minor influence on state policy. It is hardly the Malchus Beis Dovid which we have been waiting for. So why does Hashem bless it so spectacularly?  In the past our emuna was challenged by extreme suffering. Now our emuna is challenged by the success of those who transgress the Torah. Why is the State of Israel so successful?

I think this can possibly be explained in three ways. Firstly, the Meshech Chochma (on Shemos 6:13) interprets a Medrash to mean that the tribes of Reuven, Shimon and Levi were not enslaved in Mitzrayim. He says that because they had been demoted in importance by Yaakov’s brochos, were they to have suffered slavery, they would have left the fold completely. One blow after another would have too much for them and they would have sought a future outside of Klal Yisroel.  After the destruction of the Holocaust, the morale of a vast majority of Jews was at an all-time low. Had they not seen an early return of Hashem’s blessings to the Jewish People, in material even if not in spiritual terms, many more Jews would have simply opted out of Klal Yisroel. Hence Hashem, in His wisdom, has seen fit to favour even a secular Israel with His blessings.

A second possible explanation is based on a Rashi at the beginning of Bamidbar (1:1). Rashi explains that when Hashem instructed that the Jewish People be counted, it was always an act of love. For instance after the sin of the golden calf Hashem counted those who had died in order to know the number of survivors and to express His love for them. (Sifsei Chachomim) The Jews were perhaps worried that because of their sin and subsequent punishment, Hashem no longer loved them. This show of love was a great comfort to them. Similarly after the Holocaust, many Jews may have deduced that Hashem doesn’t love them anymore. The spiritual renaissance and material successes that we have enjoyed since then, show that nothing could be further from the truth. For whatever reason, the gezeira of the Holocaust was necessary, but His love for us is as intense as ever.

A third possible explanation why Israel, despite being a secular institution led by secular Jews has enjoyed such unprecedented success is based on Kiddushin 36a. “The Jewish People are the children of Hashem; as the posuk says, “Bonim atem l’Hashem Elokeichem.” (Devarim 14:1). How do we know that even if the Jews serve idols they are stilled called the children of Hashem? Says the posuk, “Even if people say to you, (in golus) ‘You are not My people,’ it shall be said to them, they are the children of the living G-d.” (Hoshea 2:1). Hashem seems to be reminding all of us, that despite our sins, even our extreme sins, which are surely no worse than worshipping idols, we are still His children and a Father loves His children.

This emuna which we hold on to despite many challenges, is the emuna exemplified by Yaakov Ovinu when he separated the sheep and throughout the long and difficult years when he faced a succession of demanding tests. It is our unbreakable faith in Hashem that Chabakuk was referring to when he said, “Tzaddik b’emunoso yichye.” Through our emuna Hashem grants us life.  And our emuna, despite the many years of golus, together with our emulating the other midos tovos of the Ovos will, hopefully, cause Hashem to  zocher chasdei Ovos – remember all the righteous acts of our Ovos and meivi Goel livnei veneihem, bring the Redeemer to their children’s children, bimheira beyomeinu omein.

Going in the Right Direction

Last week we quoted Rashi saying that we bring bulls as korbonos in the merit of Avrohom because he ran to shecht a bull to give hospitality to his guests. We deduced from this that if we want to earn the opportunity to bring bulls as korbonos in a rebuilt Beis Hamikdash, we have to go in the ways of Avrohom Ovinu, in particular, following his example in chessed. Rashi also says that we bring rams as korbonos in the merit of Yitzchok who was prepared to be brought as a korbon himself and was only replaced by a ram at the last second. This requires us to follow Yitzchok’s example of fearing Hashem if we want to merit bringing rams in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash.

This appears more difficult. To do chessed is to some extent, natural. We enjoy helping others. Following Avrohom’s example is a challenge, but a challenge which we can meet with simcha. Fearing Hashem, to the extent that Yitzchok did, goes against our instinct for self- preservation. How can we take on such a seemingly unsumountable challenge?

I remember an exchange which took place in Glasgow about thirty years ago between Rabbi Chaim Jacobs of Lubavitch and some members of the community at a public gathering. Somebody asked Rabbi Jacobs why Lubavitch teach the children to say brochos  in their cheder when the parents don’t say brochos. I remember his answer. He said, “One day you’ll thank us that your children will not be under the impression that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want.”

When we learn about saying brochos before we eat, we are learning to fear Hashem. We are learning that we can’t just do whatever we want, whenever we want. We have a G-d who allows us to do certain things and does not allow us to do other things. We don’t just grab food and put it into our mouth. First we have to check that the food is kosher. Next, what the correct brocho is. Is it milchig if we are fleishig. This teaches us self-control. Indeed it is the beginning of learning to fear Hashem. It is not merely a drush which extrapolates the mitzva of saying one hundred brochos per day from the posuk “What does Hashem ask from you …except for fearing Him.” Brochos and fearing Hashem are intertwined.

We learn to say brochos when we are young because this is how the process begins . We asked how we can reach the level of Yitzchok’s fear of Hashem. The answer is that we cannot reach his level in a moment or two or three. It is a long process, possibly the work of a lifetime. In the meantime we can climb the ladder of yiras Hashem step by step.

We start with a fear of punishment. Hashem seems to be an extension of our parents or teachers who will punish us  if we cross the road without looking right, left and right again. So Hashem will punish us if we transgress one of His mitzvos. Although this is a childish concept, it is an important first step. If a child is told gently that it not a good idea to cross the road without looking because he might be hurt, this will not enter his mind very deeply. And if a ball or an ice-cream van happens to be on the other side of the road, he might just forget the benign warning he was given. However if he is told that he will be severely punished if he runs into a road without looking, fear of punishment might be more effective and help him think twice. Similarly we have to realise that Hashem is not just giving us good advice when He tells us to do mitzvos but He will punish us severely for any transgression. This might be more effective when we are faced with a strong temptation to sin. “Consider what you will gain from doing this sin — a moment’s gratification, compared to the loss — severe punishment which Hashem can give us.”(Pirkei Avos 2:1)

As our concept of Hashem matures, we realise that He is not just a disciplinarian. He provides for us constantly. As a person’s knowledge of his body increases we realise that we are dependent on Hashem for the good functioning of countless aspects of our physical and mental health. Now we will not just obey Hashem because otherwise he will punish us. We understand that we are so utterly dependent on Him that only a fool would transgress His will. If we are sinning, who will keep our heart beating if Hashem decides against continuing to give us life? Our yiras Hashem will already be on a higher level than before. We are climbing the ladder.

In time, hopefully, our recognition of what Hashem does will continue to grow. He doesn’t just provide for us. He provides for every creature from the eagles in the sky, the elephants on the plain and the small ants on the ground. He provides sunshine, rain and winds according to what the world needs. He controls all the Hosts of the Heavens, millions of galaxies. Transgressing His will is futile. Can we hide from Him? Can we disobey Him? Can we question His authority? The idea of not doing what He says is absurd and self-defeating . If He commands, we do it, without question.

Whilst we may consider these concepts from time to time, thinking about them constantly  –Shivisi Hashem lenegdi tomid is the level of tzadikim. To be able to think about the greatness of Hashem at every moment, whatever we are doing, without a pause, is the level of our Gedolim. When a person is on that madreiga, even if Hashem says to him, “Give up your life for Me,” he will obey without question. This was the madreiga of Yitzchok Ovinu, symbolized by the ram.

It is our task to aspire to this level if we want to bring a ram in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash. We may not be   on the top rung of the ladder, or even half way up. But if we are at least on the ladder, trying to climb, Hashem will certainly rejoice that we are going in the right direction.

Connecting with our Zeidy

After a short delay, we are now well into the Three Weeks. Our focus is on the breaching of the walls of Yerushalayim  which led to the destruction of both Batei Mikdash on Tisha B’Av. Our efforts at this time should be to earn the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash and the final Geula.

Yeshayahu Hanavi (1: 11) already said that Hashem does not want korbonos unless we behave as we should. He mentions particularly aveiros bein adam l’chaveiro. Sacrificing animals can reflect a streak of cruelty. How can we show that when we slaughter an animal for a korban it is part of our avodas Hashem rather than insensitivity to the life we are extinguishing? By living in a way which shows that we are indeed highly sensitive to the needs of others.

Kiddushin (71b) makes an extraordinary statement, quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (Even Ho’ezer 2:1). If we want to check a person’s Jewish status, we look for shetikusa. Do they live at peace with other people or do they always insist on their rights, which causes many arguments? If they live in peace with others, being willing to compromise or be mevater, if they do chessed to others, we can be confident of their Jewish status. If not we have to check further.

Beitza 32b relates the story of Shabsoyi bar Marinus who went from Eretz Yisroel to Bovel on a business trip. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful. He did not blame the Babylonians for his failure, but when his request for food was refused, he said that these people could not have been authentic Jews. “They must be from the eiruv rav.”  To see a fellow Jew in need and not help him. Is this how a Jew behaves?

Rashi in our parsha (28:19) says that the bulls which were sometimes brought as korbonos were in the merit of Avrohom Ovinu, who ran to the cattle in his field to provide his visitors with a tasty meal. We can deduce from this that if we want the merit of bringing cattle as korbonos in a re-established Beis Hamikdash, our behavior must reflect in some way that of Avrohom Ovinu.

In Tanach (Shmuel II 12:1-6) we read that the Novi Noson told Dovid Hamelech a story about two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many cows and sheep but the poor man had only one small lamb which he looked after like a daughter. The rich man once had a guest but instead of taking one of his own flock, he took the lamb of his poor neighbor. Dovid Hamelech was extremely annoyed by the behaviour of the rich man and said that he deserved to die and should pay back the poor man four sheep because he did this thing and because he had no mercy.

In Ahavas Chesed , the Chofetz Chaim says the death penalty was not for stealing the lamb. For the theft, the punishment was the payment of four sheep. The death penalty is for the lack of mercy. It is for the heartlessness and cruelty of taking the lamb, the sole possession, of a poor neighbour. The Novi Micha says, (5:7-8), “Will Hashem be appeased with thousands of rams or tens of thousands of streams of oil? What does Hashem want from you but to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with Hashem.”

Rashi gives a mind-boggling explanation on a posuk in Parshas Bolok. (22:33). Bilaam hit his donkey three times because it stopped three times for no reason that Bilaam could see. The malach told Bilaam that he and not his donkey, deserves the death penalty. However, if Bilaam had died, the malach would have killed the donkey. This was because otherwise people might have recognized that this was Bilaam’s donkey who had rebuked Bilaam and said, “Why did you hit me these three times?” and Bilaam did not have a good answer. This would have embarrassed the deceased Bilaam and Hashem is concerned with the honour of all of his creatures. Bilaam was a rasha, the donkey’s outwitting him was embarrassing, but not earth shattering; but Hashem is concerned with kovod habrios. Are we at least as careful about kovod habrios when we, for whatever reason, decide to turn down a shidduch suggestion or an application to a yeshiva or seminary? Are our vulnerable fellow Yidden less deserving than Bilaam?

There is a well-known story of a young man, who was chosen to marry the daughter of a wealthy Jew because of his Talmudic prowess. He went to the girl’s family for the Shabbos aufruf together with many guests whom the rich man had invited. However on the Friday afternoon, the chosson happened to notice that the kallo had become extremely annoyed with a turkey which had come through the open window and settled on the dough for the Shabbos challos. She  grabbed the turkey, threw it out of the window against a nearby wall where it died on impact. The chosson decided that he did not want to marry a girl with such bad midos and promptly went to the shul where he pretended to steal from the tzedaka box. His “crime” was discovered and he was thrown out of town in disgrace. The rich man still celebrated over Shabbos telling his guests that he was happy to have discovered that the chosson was a thief before the wedding rather than after. Later the chosson’s father, who knew that his son was not a thief, asked his son why he hadn’t reported the real reason that he decided not to marry the kallo. He replied, “What, and embarrass a Jewish girl?”

An example of chessed happened to me last week. On my way back from Yerusholayim I filled up my car at the petrol station at the beginning of Kvish 1– the main highway between Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv. As I was proceeding down Kvish 1 I heard loud hooting. “It can’t be anything to do with me,” I thought, as I double checked that I was in the middle of my lane. After the  Givat Shaul junction, when the traffic normally speeds up, I heard the hooting again, coming from a big green bus just behind me. Again, I assumed it had nothing to do with me although I was becoming a little apprehensive. The bus then overtook me but instead of racing ahead, the driver maneuvered the bus into a position which forced me to stop. “What could be the matter?” I thought worriedly as I opened my window. The bus driver opened his window and said “It’s open!” pointing to the back of my car. I didn’t know what he meant so he came over and pointed to the petrol cap which I had forgotten to close. As I was checking in my wing mirror, the bus driver, who had already stopped his bus full of passengers on one of Israel’s busiest roads, causing a hold-up behind him, jumped down from his bus and closed the petrol cap himself. As he came back to his bus, we exchanged a handshake, a warm smile and mutual blessings. “Wow,” I thought, “the lengths that some people go to, to do someone a chessed.

A man once approached a fancy restaurant but was stopped by the doorman who pointed out the sign which read, TIES MUST BE WORN. The man, who was not wearing a tie, nevertheless asked to be allowed in since his grandfather had founded the restaurant. The doorman put his hand inside the door and with an understanding wink, gave the man a tie to put on. Another man then appeared with a torn shirt, torn shoes and long unkempt hair. He also claimed to be a grandson of the founder.  The doorman totally ignored his pleas and threw him out. “You have no connection to your grandfather,” he barked, firmly shutting the door.

We may not be on the level of Avrohom Ovinu in our mitzvos bein odom l’chaveiro to merit bringing korbonos in his zechus. But if we at least have a connection with our great zeidy, our pleas may still be answered.

Remember; Do Not Forget

“Five tragedies occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz; the luchos were smashed, the korban tamid was no longer brought, the walls of Yerusholayim were pierced, Apustomus burnt a sefer Torah and he brought a graven image into the Heichal of the Beis Hamikdash.” (Taanis 26a). As we know, Moshe Rabbeinu smashed the luchos when he saw the people dancing around the golden calf. And Hashem congratulated him on this, saying Yeyasher Kochacho sheshibarto.” (Devarim34:12, Rashi).

We are told to remember the sin of the golden calf every day. “Remember; do not forget how you angered Hashem in the wilderness.”(Devarim 9:7). The sin of the golden calf was very serious. However is still difficult to understand why we have to remember it every day. And why the double expression, “Remember; do not forget.” Also, we are told that with every punishment we receive, a bit more will be added because of the golden calf (Shemos 32:34)). Why? Are all succeeding generations responsible for the sin of that generation? Surely the pasuk says, “The fathers shall not die for the sins of the sons, nor the sons for the sins of the fathers; each man shall die for his own sin.” (Devarim 24:16), unless the children continue the sins of the fathers (Brachos 47:1). Do we continue to build golden calves? Besides, only three thousand people were actively involved in the sin, that is, a half a percent of the people. And why did it “anger” Hashem so much more than other sins?

Our question will become even stronger when we consider the mitzvah of the para aduma and its deeper significance. If a person touches a corpse or even goes into a room where a corpse is lying, he becomes ritually impure. He becomes an av hatuma who can even pass on tuma to another person. The only way he can purify himself is through a complicated procedure involving a para aduma, the details of which were beyond even the mind of Shlomo Hamelech to understand. Why is there such a consequence for touching a corpse or being in the same room? Death happens every day. “A generation comes and a generation goes.” (Koheles 1:4) It is the way of the world. “A man’s life is three score years and ten and if he merits it, eighty years.” (Tehilim 90:10) He was a great man? There will be other great men. The cemeteries are full of ‘indispensable’ people[1] and the world continues. Why does proximity to a corpse have such major implications?

“I said that you were gods and sons of the Most High. But you will die like men; like one of the princes you will fall.” (Tehilim 82:6-7). When they received the Torah, the Jews regained the level of Odom Horishon before his sin and no-one would have died. But because they sinned with the golden calf they will die like men.” (Avoda Zara 5a) Every death is a reminder of the sin of the golden calf. Without it, there would have been no death. Therefore coming into close contact with death has to be a major event so that a person considers why this happened. The Torah commands a complex procedure with a para aduma to cancel out the effect of the tuma. We cannot treat death as just “the way of the world.” We must remember the cause of death – the sin of the golden calf.

But this only reinforces our original question. What was so ultra-significant about the sin of the golden calf that we have to constantly remember it. Why the double expression, “Remember; do not forget.” What has to do with us? And why did it “annoy” Hashem so much?

A person has a chronic illness which needs constant medical care. He has a very conscientious doctor who has followed his illness for many years and prescribes a certain medication in amounts which vary according to the patient’s precise condition. But then he hears the tragic news; the doctor has passed away following a sudden heart attack. The patient is besides himself. “Who is going to treat me now? Which other doctor could possibly be knowledgeable enough about my condition to prescribe the right dose of medication? Oy veh.”

Another person never did well to earn a parnasa. He was always getting into debt. Fortunately he had a rich uncle who always came to his rescue. Then, again, tragic news. The uncle was suddenly niftar. At the funeral he wept copiously. In truth, he didn’t love his uncle so much. He loved himself. How on earth is going to manage from now on?

In another example, a certain politician was very sympathetic to the needs of his Jewish constituents. He always seemed to know who to speak to when the Jews had a problem. Then, catastrophe. He lost his seat in Parliament and was now unable to help. “Sounds of fasting, crying and lament filled the street.” The Jews had lost their saviour; their sister in the king’s palace was no longer. Who will help them now?”

How would we respond to these situations? Like the Jews in each moshol or differently?

When Moshe Rabbeinu failed to appear after forty days there was panic. “Moshe, the one who took us out of Egypt, who brought us across the Yam Suf, who went to receive the Torah on our behalf, had disappeared, presumed dead. They looked at each other in desperation. Who was going to provide for them now? When a person is in a state of panic, he does not follow his sechel but his base instincts and they made a golden calf or at least supported the idea of a golden calf. Hashem was extremely “annoyed.” A king might see one of his subjects transgressing his law and punish him. But if a king saw that this subject has forgotten about him and thought that a servant had been providing for them and not the king, the king would be very annoyed. This is a treasonable offence.  The king will never cease reminding his subjects from then on that he and only he provides for them.

Everything Moshe had done was only as a messenger of Hashem. Without Moshe, will everything stop? Is Hashem short of messengers; short of doctors, rich uncles, politicians, Jewish leaders? “Harbe sheluchim L’Makom” ‘On the day that one tzaddik dies, another one is born.”(Kiddushin 72b). “Lo almon Yisroel – Hashem will never desert Israel.” (Yirmiyahu 51:5). Moshe Rabbeinu is not even mentioned the Hagada; only “I and not an angel; I and not a seraph; I and not a messenger; I am He and no-one else.” Moshe was the archetype servant of Hashem. Not only was he horrified that the people had apparently put their trust in him rather than Hashem but he realized that it was unconscionable that, under these circumstances, they should receive the luchos which was fashioned by Hashem. So he smashed them; an act that Hashem agreed with and congratulated him for. “Yeyasher koach sheshibarto

Now we can understand the Jews’ grievous error when they made the golden calf.  We have to remember it constantly and some of the punishment for building the golden calf is given to us because we are not immune to it ourselves. Yes, we sometimes repeat the same sin in different forms, putting our faith in Hashem’s messengers rather than in Him. The mitzvah of Para Aduma which we cannot understand with our sechel because its details are, to us, inexplicable, reminds of the sin of the golden calf which we did because we panicked and didn’t use our sechel. And finally we can understand the double expression. “Remember” the actual sin of the golden calf and “Don’t forget” that we can also transgress the same sin, just in different way.

[1] A favourite saying of my late friend Mr Hymy Gillis of Glasgow ע”ה

A Heart Full of Joy

“And the people saw that Aharon had died and they cried about Aharon for thirty days, the whole House of Israel.”(Bamidbar 20:29). Rashi says that both the men and women mourned Aharon because he pursued peace between those involved in argument and between man and wife. This is how the Torah describes, in this week’s parsha, the end of an era. Aharon Hakohen, the older brother of Moshe Rabeinu, the Kohen Godol for forty years, was no longer.

The juxtaposition of Parshas Korach which detailed Korach’s rebellion against Moshe and Aharon and Parshas Chukas which reports the death of Aharon who happily served as his younger brother’s second in command for forty years without a murmur suggests to us the following question; why was Korach jealous but Aharon not? Korach was no spiritual lightweight but couldn’t overcome his unhappiness at being overlooked; Aharon seemed to be quite happy at taking second place to his younger brother. What caused the different attitudes between Korach and Aharon and what can we learn from it?

After Korach’s demise, Hashem wanted to prevent similar mistakes in the future. The people needed a permanent reminder that it was His choice that Aharon should be the Kohen Godol. He told Moshe Rabeinu to take a staff from the prince of each tribe, with his name on it and on the staff representing the tribe of Levi, the name of Aharon was written. The staffs were all put in the Ohel Moed and left there overnight. As we know, by the morning, Aharon’s staff out of all the staffs had miraculously blossomed, proving that he was Hashem’s choice. Everybody saw and accepted it. But we would also like to know why Aharon had been chosen. Which special characteristic made him worthy of being chosen. Does anything in this episode give us a clue to Aharon’s special quality? . Does the choice of almond blossom give any hint?

In Hallel we read,”Let all the nations praise Hashem…because of His kindness to us…Praise Hashem that He is good, His kindness is forever. Let Israel say, His kindness is forever. Let the House of Aharon say, His kindness is forever, Let those who fear Hashem say, His kindness is forever.” (Tehillim 117-118) The order is meaningful. The more we have benefited from Hashem’s kindness, the more we are obligated to thank Hashem. Firstly all the nations, every human being who benefits from Hashem’s kindness — Hashem provides him with food and so on, have to praise Hashem. Then Israel, to whom Hashem, in addition to the basic requirements for life, has given the Torah and mitzvos, must thank Hashem more deeply. Even greater is the obligation of the Beis Aharon who have a special role in the Beis Hamikdash, to thank Hashem for their special gift. But what does the final line refer to? Who are the yirei Hashem? How does this final line fit into the order of the pesukim? In what sense do those who fear Hashem have the greatest obligation to thank Him?

One of the most inspiring non-Jewish speakers of the twentieth century was the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King. In one of his greatest speeches, he said: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep the streets even as Michaelangelo painted, as Beethoven composed music or as Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of Heaven and Earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Why am I bringing the words of a non-Jew into this Torah article?

There are a number of reasons not to be jealous of somebody else even though that person seems to be more successful financially, has a more senior job or just seems to have more blessings. The simplest reason is that we often don’t know about his challenges, his difficulties or his worries. If we knew them we would never want to be in his or her situation. Moshe Rabeinu’s position was far from being “a bed of roses.” Medrashim tell us that when Moshe Rabbeinu came out of his tent early, some people said that he must have problems in sholom bayis. When he came out late, some people said that he was busy making plans against the people. When he walked along, people looked at his healthy body and said that his physical health is as a result of all the money which we’re paying him. (Rashi Kiddushin 33b). Moshe Rabeinu himself said, “Soon they are going to stone me.”(Shemos 17:4 ). Who could be jealous of his job? Aharon’s position was also fraught with danger. One mistake in the Kodesh Hakodoshim could be fatal.

A second possible reason not to be jealous of another is humility. “I haven’t got the qualities necessary for that more important job.” This may have been what Aharon was thinking when he accepted Moshe Rabeinu’s appointment as leader with such equanimity.

But there is a third possible reason for Aharon’s lack of jealousy. When the posuk (Bamidbar 17:23) tells us that Aharon’s staff blossomed, the phrase is introduced by the word hinei. Rashi (Ibid 18:8) says that hinei implies simcha. As the pasuk says, “Behold he (Aharon) is coming out to greet you (Moshe) and he will see you and there is simcha in his heart. We usually interpret the pasuk to mean simply that Aharon will be very happy that you have been appointed leader of Klal Yisroel. But there is another possible interpretation, a deeper reason for a person to avoid jealousy. If a person is completely satisfied, fulfilled and b’simcha with his present role, there is no room in his mind for jealousy. Aharon had that simcha in his present role so he was not jealous of Moshe. The almond is a symbol of speed. It represents simcha because someone who is happy with what he is doing will do it with alacrity. (Kli Yakar). Aharon had plenty to do making peace between married couples and other quarrellers. He was already doing a great service to Klal Yisroel. Nothing was missing from his life. In these circumstances he could not be jealous.

Korach was the richest man in Klal Yisroel (Pesachim 119a). He could have opened a charity organisation to provide all Jews with basic needs; to lend to rich and poor; to provide donkeys to help with transporting the physically challenged. The list is endless. He should have been overjoyed to be fulfilling this vital communal need. But he looked outside of himself and yearned to take on another person’s job instead., He saw only the pluses and not the minuses and he was jealous; a bitter jealousy which caused his downfall.

Every one of us is unique. Every one of us has a vital role to play in Hashem’s world. Even if we are not from the Beis Aharon we can be among the Yirei Hashem who do our unique job to the best of our ability. In Hashem’s orchestra the violins, the trumpets, the cymbals – even the triangle – are all needed. Even a street cleaner can rejoice with fulfilling his vital role, as Martin Luther King eloquently proclaimed. Hashem’s front- line troops, those who serve Hashem despite their personal challenges, and lower-ranked soldiers without special difficulties can all rejoice if they fulfill their divinely appointed role successfully. Like Aharon we can all have simcha in our heart; not only for ourselves but when we see others succeed.

Reverend Gabriel Brodie ז”ל

One of the most respected and influential members of Manchester’s wider Jewish community was niftar last week. Humble to the end, he never learnt for semicha so that people would call him rabbi; he remained a Reverend, the title of most of the previous generation of ministers in Anglo- Jewry. I am sure that obituaries will be written about his life and achievements by others. But I was one of his early talmidim and feel an obligation to write a few words about him from my perspective.

I went to his shul, officially a branch of the Great Synagogue, later the Great and New Synagogue, which was and is known by the name Stenecourt, as a young boy. At that time I don’t remember much about the spiritual side of the shul but I do remember that I got a tick on the chart for coming. The aggregate of ticks for all the children was added up and on Chanuka, after the annual youth service, the ones with the most ticks received a prize.  I treasured what I had earned, providing me with a fresh impetus for continuing my regular attendance at the shul.

My barmitzvah was in another shul, The Higher Broughton Shul in Duncan St because that is where my parents belonged, but it closed down shortly after, leaving the way open for our family to move to Stenecourt (How amazing it is that the Higher Broughton shul closed down fifty years ago because no Jews lived in that area any more but now it is the centre of renewed Jewish life with the highly respected Rav Yehuda Leib Wittler as the local mora d’asra).

Keeping teenage boys interested was a new challenge for Reverend Brodie, but without any major gimmicks he managed to maintain our loyalty. I remember speaking to university students who seemed to gravitate to Stenecourt and they said that they came because they all regarded Reverend Brodie as a very genuine person, welcoming everybody to the shul and being everybody’s “friend.” I remember shalosh seudos in the winter. The problem was that shalosh seudos was just at the time the results of the football matches were coming in and whether we were “United” or “City” supporters, we were all very tense. How can one enjoy a shalosh seudos if you don’t know how your team has done? So why did we pile in to enjoy matza and herring and a dvar Torah given first to the boys and then to the men? The answer is that somehow the results of the matches were written out by the caretaker and stuck to the door of the shalosh seudos room. I don’t know whether Reverend Brodie had arranged that and no halachic conclusions can be drawn from it but, bottom line, we were in the shul, not the street.

Mincha and Maariv are not usually overflowing with people in the typical Anglo- Jewish shuls but Stenecourt’s minyanim were constant. But one night presented a particular challenge. It was the final of the European Cup between Manchester United and Benfica televised live. Clearly no self-respecting schoolboy would leave the television screen to go to shul. The idea was too preposterous. However Reverend Brodie found a solution. Mincha and Maariv was scheduled at the exact time of half time. We raced to shul for a quick Mincha (heiche kedusha) and even quicker Maariv and amazingly we were home to see almost the whole of the second half. Again no halachic conclusions can be drawn from this but Reverend Brodie had found a way to teach us our real priorities while understanding that we weren’t really holding there. Maybe he had charisma, maybe special siyatta dishmaya but he just kept us all on the straight and narrow. When I was seventeen, he heard I was going to Yeshiva and he was overjoyed. He organized a gift from the shul of a set of Mishna Berura wishing me success in my Yeshiva studies, a set which I still use to this day.

On my holidays from Yeshiva he always asked me to give shiurim and drashos, which gave me the confidence to pursue a rabbinical career rather than a legal one, despite having a place to study law at London University. When the time came for me to marry, he was again our main support, saying to my new bride as we came out of the yichud room, “So Mrs Fletcher, how do you like married life?” No doubt he brought a smile to hundreds of young brides with this little joke. I still remember his drasha at our chasuna even though it was over forty years ago and of course we still have the picture as he presented us with a becher, (Chazon Ish size by special request), on behalf of the shul. After our chasuna, my wife and I went to Amsterdam where I joined the Kollel but whenever we came back to Manchester, Reverend Brodie always invited me to speak in the shul. He wrote a beautiful letter of recommendation to help me find a rabbinic position which was important in my being appointed rabbi of Queen’s Park Shul in Glasgow. My ability to leyn, which was vital there, was much enhanced because of him encouraging me to continue lehning from time to time, after my barmitzvah. And my megila reading which I started in Amsterdam, continued in Glasgow and continue to this day in Ramat Beit Shemesh is based almost entirely on the way I heard it from him in Stenecourt.

For about fifty years Reverend Brodie was centrally involved in all my family events officiating at my late father’s funeral in 2010 and being a rock of support to my mother thereafter. He also was a power of support to my late parents-in-law after they joined Stenecourt from another shul in their later years.

Of course, this is mostly about myself and his vital role in my life. But the boys I went to Stenecourt with in the 1960s all set up beautiful frum Jewish homes and have all been successful, each one in a different way. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people came under his good influence over the decades he was involved in his avodas hakodesh. What wonderful merits he will have taken with him to the olom ho’emes. In later years, the Reverend Gabriel Brodie Beis Hamedresh in Stenecourt is always full with people davening or learning or having meetings in the side rooms. He himself continued to give shiurim inthe shul well after his official retirement. How wonderful of the shul not to wait until after his death to honour him but to rebuild the shul and Beis Hamedresh in his name to allow him to see and enjoy the fruits of his labours of close on seventy years. A light has gone out of Anglo-Jewry. Yehi zichro boruch.

Letter by a Poshete Yid

It is reported that the Satmar Rebbe of Kiryas Yoel, Rav Aaron Teitelbaum shlita was said to have recently bemoaned that some of his chassidim were celebrating the “Zionists’” success. “They will not be among those who will receive the Moshiach when he comes,” he said, adding that “If the chareidi representatives in the Knesset do not succeed in bringing in a new law, fifty thousand talmidei yeshivos will be drafted into the army.”

I am not a Rebbe, nor the son of a Rebbe, not even the grandson of a Rebbe. I am a poshete yid, a simple Jew, who would like to explain why, although I am not a Zionist, I do celebrate Israel’s success. And I find his words very surprising, as I hope to explain.

When the concept of a secular Jewish state was first considered in the late nineteenth century it was opposed by nearly all the Gedolim . Many opposed it even if the state would be run according to halacha, but since there was no chance of that, the idea was an anathema. Then, in the years before the Second World War, some Gedolim looked at the looming threat from Germany and changed their view.  But still, a majority were opposed, particularly Reb Elchanan Wasserman, Hy”d.

After the Holocaust, however, the situation had changed again, dramatically. Six million Jews had died, huge numbers of frum communities with their Rebbes and their Rabbonim had been wiped out. Half a million survivors waited in Displaced Persons’ in Europe camps for some kind of future, but no country was prepared to admit them. The Zionists were determined to create a state, come what may, leaving the spiritual survival of those who were already living in Palestine at their mercy. In this most forlorn of situations, the surviving Gedolim had to decide what to do. Then the Zionists, for their own reasons, asked the Agudas Yisroel to join them in pushing their case for a State. The Aguda insisted on certain conditions — independent religious education, Shabbos should be a rest day (so that religious Jews would be able to get jobs) and kashrus would be observed in public places. The secularists reluctantly agreed. The Gedolim of Aguda decided, that in this situation, supporting the concept of a State, even a secular State was the best option. In 1948, Israel was established, and the half a million survivors including many religious people were allowed in. Most of the religious community followed the decision of the Aguda to work within the system. They sent representatives to the Knesset and began fighting, if not to win over the majority, at least to maintain their own rights and be able to live as religious Jews. The early years of the State were grim; as the secular leadership was determined to create “the new Jew” devoid of religion or any connection with the past. Sadly they had many “successes.”

Now let’s turn the clock forward seventy years. The old Zionists leaders are no longer and a vast majority of the so-called secular public are observant to some extent, for instance fasting on Yom Kippur. From tiny beginnings, the religious community has grown enormously with tens of thousands of boys and men studying Torah full-time. The secular President of Israel recently said that the idea of the early secular leadership to create “a new Jew” was a mistake. To be called a Zionist today is regarded  by secular people as an insult. Yes, they are happy that they have a State to live in and enjoy, for the most part, normal lives, without being hounded by anti-semites, but they have no ideological ambitions. Their goal is to earn a living and bring up a family like most people in all countries do. And they are increasingly drawn towards the lifestyle of the religious people whom they see wherever they go.

Miraculously, despite continuing security threats, from an economic and political point of view, Israel is an outstanding success. The country is smaller than New Jersey or Wales but is a world leader in many areas including agriculture, water purification and cyber-technology. The Jewish population has grown to over six million and political leaders from all over the world queue up to meet the Prime Minister.

Now I can come back to my first point. I am fervently against the Zionist philosophy as espoused by the secular leaders of seventy years ago. We went along with the creation of a State not out of love for it. It was with trepidation, and only because of the catastrophic situation we found ourselves in after the Holocaust. But we followed the leadership of the Chazon Ish, the Steipler Rov, Rav Shach, Rav Eliyashiv, Rav Steinman etc who put all their efforts into promoting Torah learning for all those who can, supporting the ever-increasing religious communities, guiding kiruv organisations and instructing their representatives in the Knesset to safeguard Jewish values as much as they could. Miraculously, Hashem has helped Israel survive numerous wars and continues to send amazing blessings of prosperity and success. We are happy with these successes, mainly because they have given us the security and wherewithal to live in peace, leading full Jewish lives.

Why does Hashem give so much success to those who publicly profane the Torah? I believe the answer can be found in Kiddushin 36a. “Instead of saying they are not My people, tell them that they are the children of the living G-d.” (Hoshea 2:1). Say Chazal, “Even if they serve avoda zara, they are still My children as it says, “Bonim atem L’Hashem Elokeichem” (Devarim 32:1). And a Father loves His children.

Does the Satmar Rebbe want Israel and all the Jews who live here to be defeated militarily, with the resultant second Holocaust that this would bring about? Does he want us to be economic failures with our children going to bed hungry? Strangely, he forbids his chassidim to vote but looks to the religious representatives to fight against their secular opponents. If it were not for our Gedolim, there would be no-one to fight the secularists. If the Satmar chassidim would vote, especially in local elections, we would have more strength to fight and likely enjoy more successes. Why did they vote for Hilary Clinton when she had already pocketed the bribes of the Arab nations who want to destroy us? And why do they deride President Trump when he supports us?

The Rebbe may believe that for the Moshiach to come, the Jewish People have to be scattered around the world with no State, as the late Rebbe, Reb Yoel, wrote in his sefer Sholosh Shevuos. This obviously requires the dismemberment of Israel and apparently he is working to this end. However I do not believe that most Gedolim are of that opinion. On the contrary, even Reb Moshe Sternbuch shlita, a renowned anti-Zionist, has written recently how imminent the coming of the Moshiach is. We are waiting for him, here, ready for him to come at any moment.

A Poshete Yid

“Toira Die Beste Schoira”

This well known Yiddish expression, which means that the Torah is the best merchandise, sums up our historical love of the Torah. The nations of the world spent their free time at circuses and amphitheatres whilst the Jews learned the heilige Torah. Our neshomos absorbed faith in Hashem and a moral code unequalled by any philosophy then or now. We sharpened our brains on the intricacies of the Talmudic discussions and were inspired by beautiful examples of elevated behaviour by our Tanaim and Amoraim.

We have been enthalled by stories like those of Reb Yehoshua ben Chananya (Eiruvin 53b) who said that he has never been bested except for when he was put in his place by … a young girl and young boy. The case of the young girl was when he was walking across a path over a private field. The young girl said “Isn’t this a private field?”

(which you may not cross because of possible damage to the crops). He answered, “ Isn’t this a used path?” (a path used by the public already which may be used by a stranger). The young girl responded swiftly. “Yes, it’s been used by robbers like you!”

In the other case he was walking along a road and came to a junction where a boy was sitting. “Which way is to the city?” he asked the boy. The boy answered that this way is short and long and the other way is long and short. Reb Yehoshua ben Chananya followed the route which was short and long. He soon reached the outskirts of the city but found his way blocked by vegetable gardens and orchards, so he had to the retrace his steps. When he reached the junction he complained to the boy, “You told me that this way was short!” The boy replied, “Didn’t I tell you that it was long?” Reb Yehoshua ben Chananya kissed the boy on his head and said how blessed the Jewish people that they are so wise from the oldest to the youngest.

This loving relationship between the Jewish People and the Torah is the context of the widely observed custom to stay up on the night of Shevuos, learning the Torah. Every year, on this night, Botei Medrash from London to Los Angeles, Manchester to Melbourne and Tel Aviv to Toronto are full of men and boys staying up learning sometimes with the encouragement of cheese cake, ice cream and cholent! The world is absorbed by narishkeiten and we are learning the heilige Torah!

What does a Jew do with his spare time? Learns the Torah. What does a Jew do after he is retired? Learns the Torah. What does a bas Yisroel want from her husband? That he should learn the Torah. What does a Jewish child strive to be able to do when he is older? To learn the Torah. The Torah is like a magnet which every Jew is drawn towards. Rashi (Shabbos 150a) says that Jews are always thinking about words of Torah. A person without the Torah is like flotsam on the stormy seas. He is rudderless, anchorless and totally adrift. He floats towards nothingness. He is drawn after his heart and eyes and risks sinking to the murky depths, physical and technological. His only hope is to find a way back to the Torah.

Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav (Brochos 54b): Four people need to thank Hashem —Those who travel overseas; those who journey through the wilderness; one who was ill and recovered; one who was dangerously imprisoned and escaped. What do they say? Rav Yehuda says: Boruch…hagomel l’chayovim tovos shegemolani kol tov. “Blessed be the One who does good even to the undeserving, who did me all this goodness.” Abaya says that he must say this brocho in front of ten men, as it says, “ They exalted Him in an assembly of people.” (Tehillim 107:32). Mar Zutra said that two of the ten should be talmidei chachomim as it says, “And they praised Him in front of the wise ones.” (ibid)

Why do people who have had these particular experiences need to thank Hashem? Why in front of ten people and why do two of the ten need to be talmidei chachomim? We all know that after travelling overseas, we “bentch gomel” on the next day that the Torah is read. The listeners respond; Mishegemolcho kol tuv, hu yegemolcho kol tuv sela. “The One who did you this goodness, He should continue to do you only good, for ever.” It is a beautiful mini-ceremony. We bless Hashem, the people bless us and afterwards usually people to give us a friendly sholom aleichem. But we just asked several questions on why the Gemoro limits the occasions when we say the brocho and why in this way. True the Shulchan Aruch (219:3) says that the requirement to have two Talmidei Chachomim is only lechatchila and the custom is not to be particular but nevertheless we should try to understand why Mar Zutra in the Gemoro mentioned it.

The Maharsha gives a beautiful explanation. He says that we are not just thanking Hashem for the miracle of surviving these four different experiences. He explains that there are four situations which prevent a person from studying the Torah as much as he would like and being able to be involved in mitxvos and maasim tovim. The situations are poverty, wealth, illness and enemies. A poor person is searching for a parnoso to put bread on the table for himself and his family. He may have to travel distances to earn some money here and there. How much time will he have left to learn? He is like the holchei midbar those who journey through the wilderness searching for something to eat or drink. A wealthy person, strangely enough, is also hindered by his situation from advancing his avodas Hashem. Firstly, having a substantial income is very likely to reduce the quality of his tefilos. To the magid who urges people to daven sincerely for the blessing of parnoso, the wealthy man might smilingly produce his latest bank statement. Furthermore, says the Maharsha, the wealthy man might well have investments overseas which require him to travel to check them. He might have property in Europe, a business in China and a banana plantation in Ecuador. By the time he visits all these places, how much time has he left to learn? He is symbolised by the yordei hayom – those who travel overseas and cannot learn the Torah properly, as we learn in Eiruvin (55a) “The Torah is not over the sea.” (Devarim 30:13 ). Reb Yochonon said this means that the Torah will not be found with the merchants (who are constantly travelling overseas).

If a person is ill (chas vesholom) of course it is difficult to learn. He may be weak or in pain. He may be busy going to appointments with the doctor or in hospital. In hospital it is certainly difficult to learn. Lastly, a person with enemies who might plan to imprison him or who have already imprisoned him in the past, is fully occupied with avoiding them. He is too worried at the prospect of being captured, to learn or do other mitzvos with a calm mind.

If a person has been in any of these four situations but is now free, he has to thank Hashem and bentch gomel. Hashem in His great kindness has taken me out of poverty, danger and so on, even though I am undeserving”. However the emphasis is not, according to the Maharsha, on survival, that he has been the beneficiary of a miracle but rather that he can now learn, daven and do other mitzvos properly. He has time to learn. He has the peace of mind to daven. He can concentrate on all aspects of avodas Hashem without the worries and disturbances which he had before. That is why he says the brocho in front of ten people, two of whom are talmidei chachomim. Yes, he has survived b’chasdei Hashem and this he announces in front “an assembly of people’ as it says: Nodeh lecho unesaper tehilosecho – “I will thank You and speak of Your praises.” But there have to be two talmidei chachomim to indicate that the main thing he is thanking Hashem for is that he now available to put all his efforts into learning and avodas Hashem.

In Parshas Bechukosai we see how Hashem rewards those who study the Torah diligently. “Im bechukosai teleichu” on which Rashi comments, “If you will study diligently…You will merit that the rains will fall at the right time, you will have ample crops” etc. The late Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt”l understood this as a continuation of Parshas Behar with its central theme of shmitta. During the shemitta year, the farmer is forbidden to work and has time to learn Torah. “If you study diligently, during this shemitta year when you have the opportunity, you will be rewarded that in the other six years you will have rain in the right time and your crops will be very plentiful.” Wherever we live and in whatever year, the same promise applies. If we learn diligently whenever we have the opportunity we will be blessed with ample parnoso. We may follow the beautiful custom of some who instead of rushing to work, have a morning chevrusa or go to a morning shiur. And lo and behold, the same customers come in later; somehow our income goes up rather than down as logic might have suggested. After all, Toira is der beste Schoira!

A New Person

Unfortunately, the rumors are true. A lady in our community has been pronounced by the Beis Din to be a sotah. She was sent to the Beis Hamikdash and is due to drink the special water tomorrow. What a disgrace; a public humiliation.

Her korban mincha is made of barley which used to be primarily animal food reflecting her animal-like behavior and because of her sin, it does not include levona (frankincence) or oil. But what could have led her to such reprehensible behavior? She was a fine woman from a fine family. The answer must be wine. She drank too much wine and was induced to sin. But if too much wine can bring a person to do what they normally never do do, could it happen to me? I’d better become a nazir who may not drink wine. This is what Chazal say concerning our parsha: “Why is the section about a nazir immediately after the section about a sotah? Because one who sees a sotah in her disgrace will become a nazir and forbid himself to drink wine.” (Sotah 2a).

The posuk says, “If a woman makes a vow and her husband annuls it, it is annulled and Hashem will forgive her.” (Bamidbar 30:8). If the vow was annulled why does Hashem have to forgive her? Nazir 23a explains that the posuk is talking about a lady who made a vow to be a nazira. Her husband, in the next room, heard her vow but did not agree that his wife should become a nazira. He annulled her vow, which the Torah allows him to do. His wife did not hear his annulment and presumed she was a nazira. However, she came across a bottle of sweet wine which she drank. Since she was not, in fact, a nazira she will not be punished for breaking her vow but the Torah says that she still requires Hashem to forgive her. When Rebbe Akiva heard this explanation he cried. “If someone who didn’t actually sin requires Hashem’s forgiveness, how much more so if they did sin.” (Nazir 23a) Why did Rebbe Akiva cry? Was this such an illuminating explanation? Did he not realise the gravity of sinning till now?

The Chafetz Chaim once heard about an earthquake in a faraway country, killing hundreds. Most people paused for a moment when they heard the news and then carried on with their lives as before. The Chofetz Chaim stopped what he was doing and meditated on the disaster. The earth had suddenly shifted causing buildings to collapse on top of the residents. Some died instantly. Some were trapped and later died. Tens of thousands of people were homeless. “What a tragedy!” the Chafetz Chaim groaned. And then he shouted to all who could hear him, “Vus vill der Tatte?” What is Hashem trying to tell us with this earthquake?

Undeterred by the sound of the heavy rain which was falling in Bnei Brak, Rav Aaron Leib Steinman was concentrating on his learning as usual. Suddenly he stopped and his face turned a deathly white. He stood up and slowly said the bracha  Boruch….shekocho ugevuraso molei olom. Blessed be the One whose strength and power fill the world.” – the brocho on hearing thunder. Then he returned to his learning with increased enthusiasm. “Why did the Rebbe go so white just before?” his pupils, who had also said the brocho but had quickly gone back to what they were doing, asked him. “Why does Hashem make thunder?” he asked them. “To straighten the crookedness of our hearts,” he answered, quoting Brochos 59a. “When I heard the thunder, I thought that Hashem is obviously talking to me. “ ‘Straighten the crookedness of your heart, Leibele, before it’s too late.’ Should I not turn pale after such a rebuke from Hashem?” Rav Steinman asked.[1]

One of the regulars at the shiur became suddenly ill and was niftar shortly afterwards. The other members of the shiur went to the levaya and tried their best to comfort the bereaved family at the shiva. The shiur resumed afterwards as normal. But out of all the shiur, Mr Schwarz became a changed person, getting up early to prepare for the shiur, asking good questions and spending time after the shiur reviewing. He explained that Chazal say, (Shabbos 106a) that if one of a group is niftar, the whole group has to worry. “How do we know how much time we have left?” he asked the fellow-members of the shiur.

What do all these people have in common? They have all seen or heard about something which others have all but ignored and used that event as a springbord to elevate their yiras shomayim. They have all taken to heart the statement of Chazal in our parsha. When we see a sotah and we are disgusted by her behavior and we are inspired to improve, we should not let it be just a fleeting thought. We can use it to learn how to behave or how not to behave. A volcano in Hawaii, a local thunderstorm, the sudden illness of a friend or even an acquaintance, something we hear in a shiur can be a life‑changing experience for us, if we choose.

It doesn’t have to be a sad event. If we have a new child or grandchild, we feel a surge of happiness and appreciation to Hashem. Instead of just thinking temporally about this new blessing, we can resolve to concentrate better when we say Modim, – not just today but every day. When we hear that somebody has made a Siyum Hashas, we shouldn’t just wish him a mazal tov. We can think that if he can do it, so can I. It might take years more effort but if we try our best, we also might be granted the years we require to reach that target. A hashgacha pratis story which we may have read can be forgotten by the time we put down the book or it can used to help us grow in bitachon. Our cups can become half-full.  Our simchas chayim can be revitalised. We can truly become ‘a new person.’



[1] I have just made up this story but it could well be true.

A Double Simcha

“You shall count seven weeks from the beginning of the reaping and then you shall observe the Festival of Shevuos for Hashem your G-d….and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d, you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levite, stranger, orphan and widow who are among you.” (Devarim 16:9-12). But why should we rejoice on Shevuos? The Torah doesn’t say.  The next pasuk says, “Remember that you were slaves in Mitzrayim,” but this surely is connected to Pesach and not Shevuos. Even stranger, is that the previous pasukim mention the festival of Pesach but don’t mention an obligation to rejoice.

We could also ask why the Torah mentions precisely here a long list of people we must bring simcha to. We know that we have to be hospitable and kind to others. What is the connection between hospitality and Shevuos? The same question arises in Parshas Emor. In the middle of all the technical details of the Yomim Tovim the Torah tells us to give the corner of our fields to the poor. (Vayikra 23:22) All the meforshim ask why the Torah inserts this obligation to give to the poor in the middle of Hilchos Yom Tov. Rashi explains that “it teaches that anyone who gives to the poor is as if he built the Beis Hamikdash and brought korbonos in it.” We know that we have to remember the poor particularly on Yom Tov but why does the Torah emphasize it so many times? And why it is comparable to building the Beis Hamikdash and bringing korbonos?

We all know that there are leniencies on Yom Tov which don’t apply to Shabbos. “Whatever is necessary for eating may be done for you.” (Shemos 12:16). We are allowed to cook food on Yom Tov if it will taste better than the same food cooked on Erev Yom Tov. There are certain other melachos we may also do, subject to numerous conditions which are not the subject of this essay. But nowhere is there a reason given for this leniency. We manage to avoid all 39 melachos on Shabbos. So what is different about Yom Tov? (The sefer Derech Hashem gives an explanation al pi kabala).

Pesachim 68b tells us that on most Yomim Tovim there is a dispute whether we have to rejoice through eating and drinking but on Shevuos everybody agrees that it is required. Why? “Because it is the day the Torah was given.” Rav Yosef said he ate meat of the highest quality on Shevuos because “If not for that day, I would be like all the other Yosefs in the street.”

The Rambam (Hilchos Yom Tov 6:17) writes that we have an obligation throughout Yom Tov to be “Same’ach v’tov lev – to rejoice and feel good in our heart.” Rav Nissim Karelitz understands this to be a separate and more encompassing obligation that eating meat and drinking wine. Why should we be more b’simcha on Yom Tov than on Shabbos? Shabbos is essentially an expression of our emuna that Hashem created the world. It is appropriate to be b’simcha but it is not an obligation. On Yom Tov we remember specific miracles which Hashem has done for us, like taking us out of slavery in Mitzrayim and looking after us in the wilderness. We are naturally very grateful to Him for these tremendous miracles. The Torah gives us a mitzva to be b’simcha  because that is the appropriate behaviour for a recipient of wonderful kindnesses. And it could be that to enable us to rejoice fully, Hashem allowed us to enjoy the best, freshly cooked foods.

The giving of the Torah to the Jewish People, however, was and is the greatest kindness that has ever been. As we say every morning, “Ashreinu, ma tov chelkeinu, uma no’im goraleinu, uma yofo yerushoseinu. “Our yerusha – our inheritance – is the Torah. As the posuk says, “Torah tziva lonu Moshe morasha kehilas Yaakov. The Torah is, among many other things, our blueprint for life, our source of happiness and the antidote to our yetzer hora. Eating the best quality meat shows how happy we are to have the Torah. We recognize that without the Torah, we would be just like all the lost souls who roam the secular world until they die, physical and spiritual wrecks, unfulfilled and depressed. Without the Torah, Yetzias Mitzrayim would have been an exercise in futility. Yes, Hashem has redeemed us from slavery in Mitzrayim and brought us out into the wilderness. Now what? The raison d’être of yetzias Mitzrayim was the giving of the Torah. That is why the Torah does not tell us to be b’simcha in the section about Pesach –  merely leaving Mitzrayim was no reason to be b’simcha. Only after we received the Torah, yetzias Mitzrayim retrospectively became a simcha because it was the first step in our receiving the Torah. That is why the mitzva of simcha on Pesach is only learned from a comparison from Shevuos to Pesach.(Tosfos, Chagiga 8a). Our simcha, therefore on Shevuos is actually a double simcha; one for Shevuos and one retrospectively for Pesach.

Our simcha on all Yomim Tovim but especially on Shevuos is encapsulated by the words of the machzor. “Atoh vechartonu mikol ho’amim – You chose us from all peoples, You loved us, desired us and elevated us from all nations. You sanctified us with Your mitzvos, You brought us close, our King, to Your service and You proclaimed Your holy and awesome Name over us.”

The interpolation of the words “our King” can help us answer our original question. Why is there such emphasis on Yom Tov on providing for the needy that it is compared with building the Beis Hamikdash? The answer is that we are not dealing with a mitzva of hospitality or charity, but much more. Our simcha on Yom Tov is not merely a personal feeling. It is the building block of a national kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim. With our simcha, we our voting in our hearts to accept Hashem as our King, to remain part of His Chosen People. But if it’s just us, there is a problem. Have you ever noticed that when dictators arrange elections, they always manage to win with 99.9% of the votes? Why do they insist on such near unamity? With 60% they could also claim victory. The explanation us is that a 60% vote may be a majority but it lacks the honour of a unanimous vote.

If even 90% of the Jewish People accept Malchus Shomayim but 10% are unhappy with Hashem’s rule, there is a lack in kovod Malchus. To complete Kovod Malchus, there needs to be a unanimous acceptance of Malchus Shomayim. There needs to be Ish echod b’leiv echod. We all need to say, “Na’aseh venishma.

Some people will naturally tend to be lacking in simcha, all for different reasons. The orphan has no parents, the widow misses her late husband, the stranger has no social structure, the Levite has no fields, the poor have no money. If they will not join with the rest of the Jewish People in accepting b’simcha Hashem’s Torah and His Kingdom, there will be a lack in kovod malchus. Therefore we have a special obligation to show kindness to them, each one in the appropriate way, to bring them simcha so that they too will join in accepting the Torah b’simcha with everybody else. Our efforts to give simcha to those in need, thus promoting Kovod Shomayim, is equivalent to rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash, the absence of which also causes a diminution of Kovod Shomayim.

Shevuos, therefore, is not just ‘another’ Yom Tov but a day of cosmic implications. The Heavens and Earth waited for this day. It is the day we can rise from our mundane lives to connect with eternity; a day when, together with all other Jews and with double simcha we can accept the Torah and re-affirm our membership of Hashem’s eternal Kingdom.