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.

 

The Good News And The Good News

“If you follow My laws and keep My mitzvos and do them, I shall give you rain in its season, the land will give its produce and the tree will give its fruit…” (Vayikra 26:3). That’s certainly good news. Hashem, the Creator of the Universe has given us the key to success. In fact there are 613 keys to success. It seems a tall order, but with determination we can do the necessary and we will receive all the blessings mentioned here and many more besides; a veritable paradise on Earth. But then, apparently, the bad news. “If you don’t listen to Me and don’t do all these mitzvos … I will cause you to panic, make you ill in various ways, you will sow your seeds for nothing and your enemies will eat the fruit. You will be struck down before your enemies. You will flee but no-one will be pursuing you. And it gets worse. “If you still won’t listen to me but consider it all chance, I will increase your punishment. I will make your heavens like iron and your land like copper…I will send the wildlife of the field against you which will kill your children, exterminate your cattle and your roads will become desolate.” The pesukim continue in this vein warning us of more and more punishments if we remain obstinate and treat everything as chance. There is a bright point when posuk 32 says that the land will remain desolate even though we will have been exiled which the Ramban understands as a promise that throughout our long exile, other nations will never populated the land. It will remain empty ready for us to return as the British politician Lord Shaftsbury said in 1853 that “Eretz Yisroel is a land without a people waiting for a people without a land.”  However, most of the parsha seems to be doom and gloom. But is it?

The Rambam (Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3) writes, “When a tzoro happens to a community, we should know that it is because of our wrong deeds. We should do teshuva and this will remove the tzoro. But if we say that the tzoro is a chance happening or natural and is nothing to do with our behavior, this is cruel, because this attitude will cause us to continue our wrong ways and the tzoros will just increase. This is what it says in the Torah, “If you consider what has happened as ‘chance’ I will increase my anger.” (ibid). This should change our understanding of our parsha. It is true that we are being warned about possible punishments but at the same time the pesukim tell us how to avoid those punishments. Don’t treat what happens as chance or natural. Consider possible reasons for a tzoro, do teshuva and the tzoro will go away. This doesn’t seem like bad news. It’s good news, giving us an escape from the tzoro we are suffering from..

In England, at the moment, there is a crisis in that OFSTED is insisting that our schools teach our children about “alternative life styles” and their belief that the world just happens to be; no-one created it. Our Rabbonim and askonim are doing their hishtadlus to convince OFSTED and the Government not to interfere in our system of education. But are we supposed to stand by passively, or is there something we can do? The answer is that there is plenty we can do. Tzoros don’t just happen, as the Rambam said. We have to think what might possibly be the cause of this gezeira.  OFSTED are Hashem’s messengers to awaken us to do teshuva. But what might we be guilty of? Do we have any clues?

It is well known that the Baal Shem Tov once saw some chillul Shabbos which distressed him greatly. He wondered why he should have been punished in this way. He came to the conclusion that it was because someone had once not shown respect to a Talmid Chochom in his presence and he had not objected vociferously enough. Since a Talmid Chochom is sometimes compared to Shabbos, concluded the Baal Shem Tov, this must be the reason for his being punished by seeing chillul Shabbos. A person has to look for a midda keneged midda, an aveira which is in some way connected to the punishment, albeit on a much higher level, as a clue what he must do teshuva from.

Since the first problem with OFSTED, is matters to do with kedusha, it seems logical to consider that Hashem is trying to encourage us to rectify matters of kedusha; particularly since we know that “wherever there is immorality, androlomusia comes and smites the good and the bad.” (Yerushalmi Sota 1:5). Our generation has more challenges in this regard than previous generations, even more than a few years ago. Perhaps twenty or thirty years ago there were fewer women in the workplace. And those who were, were always Mrs So and So. Today, women are in every possible position. Women are lawyers, accountants, bank managers, business representatives etc where they interrelate with their customers. And, almost without exception, they introduce themselves by their first name and expect to be told our first name. Sue and Moshe has a different ring than Mrs Jones and Mr Cohen.  And listen how often she repeats your name. Welcome to the world of modern business techniques to weaken our defences and make us more likely to buy their product. By the end of the first conversation we feel like old friends. This is already a big nisoyon for Moshe who has been brought up in b’kedusha vetahara. Pesachim 113a says that Hashem makes a special announcement about three people every day. One of them is a bachelor who lives in a city and does not sin. He faces great nisoyonos and if he is successful, Hashem rewards him greatly. Today, we all face such nisoyonos and in order to be successful we have to be prepared to respond to Sue’s warm introduction by saying, at a polite distance, “Good morning. I am Mr Cohen.” And the reward the Gemoro talked about will be ours. This is one example in the area of kedusha where we all need chizuk, which Hashem, through OFSTED, is possibly trying to communicate to us.

The other area that OFSTED is trying force on us, is teaching our children that, according to science, we know that the world came about by itself. This is not true. Even Richard Dawkins said, “How did the whole process start? We do not know.”(Climbing Mt Impossible p.282). So why do they want us to teach lies? Perhaps we are being reminded to ask ourselves whether our honesty always impeccable. Are we always careful that every document we sign is authentic? Do we always admit to our spouse when we have made a mistake? And davening in a way that indicates that we are having a heartful talk with Hashem, whilst our minds are thinking about our business, our holidays or local politics, is also a form of falsehood.

No, the tochacho is not all doom and gloom. It is Hashem’s way of encouraging us to do what is right. Yissurim start with taking the wrong coin out of our pocket and increase gradually until the nightmare scenario written in the pesukim. But He hopes it won’t come to that. He gives us reminders of one sort or another and we are supposed to understand the message and rectify our mistakes. Then we will be able to receive all the blessings mentioned in the previous section. The parsha is not good news and bad news but good news and good news! 

Yismechu B’Malchusecho

What would you say is the theme of this week’s parsha of Emor? You would remember that the parsha discusses the laws of the kohanim that they may not approach a deceased person and the physical blemishes which render a Kohen unfit to participate in the service of the Beis Hamikdash. Other halochos of ritual impurity follow and after that, details of Shabbos and all the Yomim Tovim. You would probably say that there is no single theme, but a wide range of topics which happen to be in the same parsha. Perhaps, though, we are missing something … the theme which ties everything in the parsha together.

A number of mefarshim find it difficult to understand the rationale of tumas meis. A Kohen may not approach a corpse except that of a close relative. If he is in a house where somebody dies he becomes tomei. The ramifications of these halochos are quite significant. A Kohen may not participate in a funeral unless he stands under a different roof or outside, well away from the niftar. As a Kohen about whom the posuk says, “They will seek the Torah from his mouth,” (Malachi 2:7) he is just the person to direct the tzibbur how to give the correct kovod to the niftar by quoting the Chazal that “The loss of even one neshomo is like the burning of a Sefer Torah” (Moed Koton 25a) but he is excluded. As the head of the community, he should be giving the all-important hesped in honour of the deceased and the bereaved, but he is relegated to a side room, if he is there at all. Also, the concern that a person might suddenly be niftar prevents the kohen from visiting a patient who, in his last moments, may be in need of spiritual guidance and encouragement which the Kohen might be the most qualified to give. How can we understand this?

It is also difficult to understand the prohibition of the Kohen with a physical defect from participating in the service in the Beis Hamikdash. It seems unfair. He is already suffering from his defect and now he receives another blow, disqualification from performing the avoda. Despite his broken heart or perhaps because of it, he yearns for closeness to Hashem and longs to participate in the avoda in the Beis Hamikdash. There, in the holiest place on Earth, he would be able to plead with Hashem to heal him. His tearful tefilos would surely reach the kisei hakavod but his path is blocked. “Kohanim with blemishes must stop here.” He can only look from the distance. Where is Hashem’s mercy for this person in need?

“My income does not cover my expenses. I struggle to make a parnoso six days a week. What could be a better idea than taking advantage of a long Shabbos or Yom Tov afternoon to say Tehilim that my situation should improve? Or an obituary of a good friend is printed in the paper and Shabbos is the only time I have to read it. What could be wrong?” And yet the halocho does not allow it. Why?

In the Book of Ezra ( due to non-Jewish influence, it is found in Nechemia Chapter Two) we read, “It happened in the month of Nissan of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes that wine was brought before him and I carried the wine and gave it to the king. I had never before appeared downcast in his presence. And the king said to me, why is your face downcast?” Why was Nechemia always careful to appear happy in the king’s presence until that day?

A king was visiting different provinces in his kingdom. In the first province the people took advantage of the king’s presence to cry out to him about their woes and plead for help. Although there was justice in their claims and the king truly wanted to help, he did not enjoy his visit. A second province heard that the king was coming. They decided to say nothing about their problems but rather prepared a banquet in the king’s honour. The food was excellent and a band played joyful music throughout. The king enjoyed his visit very much and when the people of this province later wrote to the king asking for his help in certain matters, he was only too pleased to respond generously.

Nechemia was always careful to appear happy in the king’s presence in honour of the king. A king wants his subjects to be happy. It is a sign of his success. There is a time and place for requesting his help but except for those occasions, it is kovod malchus to be joyful in the king’s presence.

Hashem gives us six days a week to attend to our needs and request His help but on Shabbos, when Hashem’s Shechina comes to our homes, the halocho requires us to radiate happiness. On Shabbos we must show kovod malchus by expressing our thanks to Him for all His help and by rejoicing in His presence with three sumptuous meals, singing and joy. We are not allowed to daven for our earthly needs or read something which might make us upset. The same applies on Yom Tov when we have a specific mitzva to be besimcha.

“Hashem is close to the broken-hearted” and hears their cries from wherever they come. No-one is more merciful than Hashem. But just as it is not appropriate to cry at someone’s simcha, it is not appropriate to cry in the Beis Hamikdash. There the Levi’im sang, accompanied by live music (Succah 50b). This created an atmosphere of simcha to enhance the kovod malchus . Were those with physical disabilities allowed to participate in the Avoda, they might well be tempted to cry out in prayer at a crucial point, disturbing the simcha and detracting from the kovod malchus.

Certainly a kohen’s presence would be helpful and educational at a funeral but more important for the tzibbur is to associate Hashem’s earthly representative only with simcha which creates kovod malchus. Unless it is a moed, a Kohen does not do the Avoda when he is an onen, on the day his close relative is niftar, because he is lacking in simcha. The Kohen Godol, who should be on the highest level of emuna, has the status of moed  the whole year and even if he is an onen he continues to do the avoda because he should always be besimcha. (Moed Koton 14b)

This, then, is the theme of the parsha; to be besimcha because it increases kovod Malchus. Now, unfortunately, we have no Beis Hamikdash. But we have our mikdash me’at, our shuls and our homes. There we can honour Hashem by being besimcha, enjoying our Shabbos seudos, speaking about our many blessings and singing songs of thanks and praise to Hashem. As we say in Shabbos Musaf, “Yismechu b’malchusecho shomrei Shabbos.

Home Sweet Home

In the parshios of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim we were warned several times not to follow the customs of the Canaanites. They were guilty of the worst immorality and it would seem unnecessary to warn us so many times not to follow their example. We, the descendants of Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaakov, should stoop to such depths? Surely not. So why does the Torah keep repeating this warning?

In the parsha of Metzora we read that if certain white blemishes were found on the wall of our house we had to destroy the wall. And if the blemishes returned or spread further we might have to destroy our whole house. The meforshim say that these blemishes, and similar blemishes on our clothes or body were a punishment for speaking loshon hora and transgressing other mitzvos of the Torah. Rashi brings a very surprising medrash that when the Jews destroyed their houses following inspection by the kohanim, they would find treasures left behind by the Canaanites, when they fled from the invading Jewish army. Thus  Jews, who were guilty of serious aveiros, became enriched by their find. Does this seem fair or just? As the Gemara often says, “vechi hachotei nischar?” “Should a sinner be rewarded?”

One of the most mysterious epochs in Jewish history was in the days of Ezra shortly after the second Beis Hamikdash was established. The Babylonian Emperor Koresh and later the Persian Emperor Darius, son of Achashveirosh and Esther, gave permission for all the Jews in their empire to return to Eretz Yisroel and rebuild the Beis Hamikdash. These amazing proclamations by the most powerful rulers of their day should have been greeted with tremendous joy by the Jewish exiles. A mere seventy years after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash and subsequent exile to Babylon, the Jews were given the opportunity of returning to their homeland, rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash and starting afresh. Both these kings gave the Jews all the money they needed to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash and even promised that those Jews who could not afford travelling expenses would be subsidized by the non-Jews from whichever town they lived in. Surely it was an opportunity to be seized with both hands. Yet the Book of Ezra tells us that a paltry forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty decided to go. Why so few? How can we understand this?

To add to the mystery, we have to know that two hundred years earlier, Yeshaya Hanovi had prophesied explicitly that a king by the name of Koresh would be aroused by Hashem to allow the Jews back from their golus in Babylon to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash (44:28). So it should not have been a surprise. Furthermore Yirmiya Hanavi (29:10) had also said explicitly that after seventy years in Bovel they would be allowed to return. He even told them that Hashem told him to buy a field but to be sure to keep the relevant documents because he would need them when everyone returns. Surely the Jews would have been counting their years in Bovel – sixty years to go, fifty years to go … just as we count the days of the Sefira as we look forward to the giving of the Torah. With five years to go, surely they would have already packed their suitcases ready for the big day. But apparently this didn’t happen. Ezra appealed for more to come but the people didn’t respond. He punished the Levi’im (Yevomos 86b) who wouldn’t come by denying them maaser rishon which the Torah says is to go only to them, with little effect. How can we understand this? Only seventy years before, the first exiles, with superhuman courage, refused to sing in front of Nebuchadnezzar and bit off their thumbs so that they could not play their harps, saying, “How can we sing in a strange land?” Now their children and grandchildren preferred to stay in Bovel! And let us remember that the time of Darius was after the Purim story when the Jews all accepted the Torah anew. Reish Lachish (Yuma 9b) said that if the Jews had responded and come with Ezra, we would never again have gone into galus, the second Beis Hamikdash would have been permanent and this would have been the final redemption. Why didn’t they go?

Melachim II (2:19-22) tells us that Elisha was once in Yericho. The residents told him, “This is a very good place to live, but the water is poisonous and it causes people to die. Elisha then put some salt in the water which miraculously purified it, (to the annoyance of local youth who were making money bringing clean water to the city!) Chazal ask “If the water was killing people, why was it such a good place to live?” They answer that people like the place where they live. (Sotah 47a). Rashi says that even a bad place seems good to those who live there.

Kesuvos (110a) says that there are three parts of Eretz Yisroel and a man cannot force his wife to move from one section to another even if the new place is very similar to the old place. People like the place they know. They are used to its customs. They are comfortable with the climate and the people. Why move to a new place which they don’t know? “Home Sweet Home” is not a new concept.

Rashi (Kiddushin 69b) says that the residents of Bovel were living in peace and they were reluctant to lose that security (this was just before Homon came on the scene!) to move to Eretz Yisroel with all the challenges such a move could bring. They were happy where they lived.

(This could be why the Anshei Knesset Hagedola who wrote down the text of the Shemone Esre shortly after this time, inserted many references to the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash to try to maintain our connection with Eretz Yisroel and to keep in our hearts the desire to return so that we won’t squander future opportunities.)

Before the Jews moved into the land of Canaan they had to be warned time and time again not to follow in the ways of the Canaanim even though most of them would not be there any more. It is easy to be influenced. Don’t English Jews like their cup of tea and their Marmite? Don’t French Jews wear berets and American Jews love their apple pie?

The one who had to destroy his home but found treasures left behind was not being given a reward but was being warned that if the Jews continue the customs of the Canaanites and don’t follow the Torah they too will exiled, leaving everything behind just like the Canaanites who fled, leaving their treasures behind.

Our homes should be sweet. With Torah they are even sweeter.

Yisgadal Veyiskadesh Shemei Rabboh

We come again to the parshos of Tazriah and Metzorah with their descriptions of white blemishes of various shapes and sizes on people, clothes and houses. We listen respectfully to the baal koreh who tries valiantly to remember whether the word is supposed to be hu or hi (easier for Chassidim) and return home to eat our cholent usually none the wiser. Is there no way we can be inspired by these parshos? Or is this our annual kaporoh for enjoying our Pesach matzos smothered with eingemachts too much?

In the Shacharis Kedusha of Shabbos and Yom Tov, we implore Hashem to rule over us. This is a very strange request. Haven’t we all already accepted Hashem as our King? When we say the Shema we affirm that Hashem is our King. He is, was and always will be our King, as we repeat many times especially on Rosh Hashono when we crown Him as we hear the resounding tekios? What do we mean when we say and often sing ‘Vesimloch oleinu ki mechakim anachnu loch – Rule over us because we are waiting for You’?

Three times a day we say the two paragraphs of Oleinu. The first paragraph emphasizes how much we must thank Hashem that He has chosen us to be His People, mentioning also that He rules over Heaven and Earth. We can never thank Hashem enough for our beautiful inheritance. But why do we say the second paragraph, that the all idol worshippers should acknowledge Him, so often? Of course we want Moshiach to come. But why do we repeat this request every time we say Oleinu?

The Rambam writes that it is a mitzvas asei to build a house for Hashem, ready for us to visit three times a year and bring korbonos in it. If possible it should be overlaid with gold. (Hilchos Beis Habechira 1:1 and 11) Later he writes that it is a mitzvas asei for the Beis Hamikdash to be guarded even though there is no fear of enemies. (ibid 8:1) The Rambam explains that guarding the Beis Hamikdash is a way of showing honour to Hashem: “One cannot compare a palace with guards to a palace without guards.”

All this is the minimum honour we can give to Hashem our King. Any powerful king has a resplendent palace which is a symbol of his power. His subjects will visit him regularly to pay homage to him and do there whatever he commands them to do. How much more so should we honour Hashem who is the King of Heaven and Earth.

This is indeed how things were in the time of the Beis Hamikdash, especially the first one. Shlomo Hamelech built a beautiful Beis Hamikdash in Hashem’s honour. Kohanim, Hashem’s hand-picked representatives, served there doing the prescribed Avoda. Three times a year all the People left their farms across Eretz Yisroel to come and pay homage to Hashem, bringing with them a sample of the blessings Hashem had granted them during the year.

During Pesach, my wife and I visited our family who live in various communities in England and we saw new shuls, new mikvaos and many Yidden davening, learning and living like loyal Jews. We were impressed. There are other beautiful communities in America, Australia, South Africa and many other places over the world. We are apt to be happy and proud of all these different communities in the “four corners of the world.”

However we may be forgetting our true lowly position or more accurately the terrible chillul Hashem in today’s situation. We have become used to Jews living mefuzar umeforad bein ho’amim – scattered among the nations. This is, for us, normal. But Hashem is King of the Heaven and Earth and His People should be living in honour in the special land which He gave us. Anything else is a chillul Hashem (Sotah 49a). Where is Hashem’s Beis Hamikdash, the symbol of His Kingship? In ruins. As the prophets bemoaned, “Where is His strength, where is His might?” Instead of doing His Avoda we have to suffice with learning what used to be done. As the malachim ask, “Where is the place of His glory?”

This is a shocking, intolerable chillul Hashem. We believe that Hashem is all-powerful but the facts on the ground seem to indicate otherwise. Modern idol-worshippers abound. Atheists invade our schools and tell us how to educate our children. We say that we are in golus but we forget about the golus of the Shechina. Our lives continue as though all is well. Where are the signs of our shock, our disgust and our misery at this spiritual catastrophe?

Fortunately, however, the siddur, reminds us not to be satisfied. We speak of Hashem’s glory and might in the first half of Oleinu. But then, in response to our realization that the world which we see hardly reflects Hashem’s glory, we immediately express our hope that this horrible contradiction will soon be rectified; that all these ancient and modern idol-worshippers, will soon “bend their knees to Hashem” in an acknowledgement of their error. In Kedusha after proclaiming Hashem’s great Holiness we immediately plead, Mimkomecho Malkeinu sofia, eineinu sir’eno malchusecho.” Of course we believe that You are the King of Heaven and Earth, but ’eineinu sireno malchusecho’ – we want to see Your Kingship and we want the whole world to see Your Glory. As we say in Yom Tov Musaf, “Galei kevod malchusecho – Reveal the honour of your Kingdom in the eyes of all humanity, bring in our scattered ones and enable us to perform Your service. This is not because we are tired of golus but because we want Your Name to be glorified and sanctified – Yisgadal veyiskadash Shemei Rabbo. Our Oleinu should not be said as we take off our talis or as we walk out of shul but in a way which shows our heartfelt desire to see imminently “the glory of Your strength.” Our mimkomecho should be said or sang with great passion as we implore Hashem to reveal His greatness and sanctity.

As we listen to the details of Tazriah and Metzora we should ponder how Hashem’s glory once revealed itself through special signs which reminded each individual that he has sinned, as an encouragement to better behavior, Sadly, as the Seforno (13:47) says, now we do not merit such an open display of Hashem’s love for us. Instead of wishing that the krias HaTorah would end already, we can silently yearn for a return to such wonderful times, when Hashem’s glory will be revealed to all and He will be publicly and universally acknowledged as the King of Heaven and Earth.

Vayidom Aharon

After the simcha of Pesach come the weeks of the Omer. We look forward joyfully to Shevuos but can’t ignore past tragedies – the deaths of Rebbe Akiva’s talmidim, the massacres perpetrated by the Crusaders and others in more recent history. The contrast between the rejoicing of Yom Tov and the mourning of the sefira makes parshas Shemini which is read this year on this first Shabbos after Pesach, particularly appropriate.

It was supposed to be a tremendous simcha. The Mishkan, which represented Hashem’s forgiveness of the Jewish People’s sin of the golden calf and His willingness to allow His Shechina to dwell amongst the Bnei Yisroel, was to be inaugurated. And that’s how the day began. Fire descended from the sky to the mizbe’ach and consumed the korban olah. The people saw, rejoiced and fell on their faces.

But then, tragedy.  Nodov and Avihu, two of Aharon’s sons, offered unauthorized incense and another fire blazed down from Hashem, killing both. “And Moshe said to Aharon. This is what Hashem said, that I shall be sanctified by those close to Me and honoured in front of the people and “Vayidom Aharon” Aharon was silent.” (Vayikra 10:3). No wailing or protesting such harsh judgement, just a silent acceptance of Hashem’s justice.

When the late Rav Betzalel Rakov was told that his beloved youngest son, Nosson Zvi, had drowned in a swimming accident one fateful erev Shabbos about thirty years ago, he immediately stood up and exclaimed Hashem hu Ho’elokim, Hashem hu Ho’elokim seven times before sitting down to find out more details. The deeply ingrained emuna and spontaneous acceptance of Hashem’s will shown by our great leaders is an inspiration for all of us even if, thankfully, we don’t suffer such tragedies ourselves.

But is there something besides acceptance of Hashem’s justice which can help a person at such a horrific moment? Is there an aspect of our emuna which can be an extra source of comfort not only for those who have suffered tragedy but can help to give all of us a new direction in the way we view life?  A new insight into familiar words of Hallel may provide us with just such help.

Dovid Hamelech said, “Lo amus ki echye va’asaper maaseh Koh. (Tehilim 118: ). “I shall not die but live and I shall speak of the deeds of Hashem….zeh hashaar L’Hashem tzadikim yovo’u vo. This is the gate to Hashem, Tzadikim will come through it.” What did Dovid Hamelech mean that “he won’t die?” Everybody dies at some point. And which gate was Dovid referring to?

Tomid (32b) relates that Alexander the Great was once sitting by a river and smelt a wonderfully fragrant odour. He thought that it must be the smell of Gan Eden and walked towards its source. He finally reached a gate behind which seemed to be the source of the odour and concluded that this must be the door to Gan Eden itself. He asked to be allowed in. A voice from behind the door said, “Zeh hashaar l’Hashem tzadikim yovo’u vo. This is the gate to Hashem. Only tzaddikim may enter.” Alexander was not a tzaddik and was denied entry. Without going into the deeper meaning of this Gemoro, we see that the gate mentioned in the posuk is understood by Chazal to be the gate to Gan Eden.

With this in mind perhaps we can understand the deeper meaning of Dovid Hamelech’s words. The previous pesukim portray Dovid’s full trust in Hashem. “The nations surround me; with the Name of Hashem I will destroy them.” They increase their attack. “They surround me more and more…like bees….they are so close that they try to push me but Hashem will still help me.” The danger intensifies but Dovid maintains his trust in Hashem. As Chazal say (Brachos 10a) “Even if the sword is on your neck, do not give up hope.”

But does trust in Hashem mean that one will definitely survive?  Sadly not. Many have died through illness and al Kiddush Hashem. Trust in Hashem means that we believe that everything is in Hashem’s hands, not that we will always get the outcome we want. (Chazon Ish: Emuna Vebitachon). What comfort can we cling to in the face of tragedy?  Dovid Hamelech tells us, “I will not die, for I shall live.” Leaving this world is not death. It is not the end. We live on in another, better world. “Zeh hashaar L’Hashem… If we have lived our lives as we should, we, unlike Alexander, will be allowed to enter the gates of Gan Eden. We will live on, enjoying a much greater closeness to Hashem than is possible in this world. And “I will speak of the great deeds of Hashem.” we will continue to praise Hashem as we say three times daily in Ashrei.  “I will bless You every day and praise Your Name for ever.”

Dovid Hamelech said, “Even if I walk in the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil because You are with me. Your rod and your staff will comfort me.” (Tehilim 23: 4) A staff supports but how can a rod, an instrument of punishment, be a source of comfort? Perhaps Dovid is hinting to this same principle. In the valley of the shadow of death – survival is not assured. Whether Hashem helps me and I survive or even if the Divine justice is that I do not survive, I will not fear because “You are with me,” whether in this world or the next.

The Seforno (Devarim 14:1) writes that Jews do not cut their skin or pull their hair out when their loved one dies because, although we miss them, “We are the children of Hashem, we are a holy nation” and those who have left this world will be enjoying rewards greater than any pleasure we could experience in this world.

Like the unborn baby who thinks that his mother’s womb is the whole world and knows nothing of the big wide world outside, some think that our world is the whole world and don’t realise that there is a great world beyond ours. In that world, those who suffered in this world will even praise Hashem for their difficulties because it will be as a result of their maintaining their emuna despite their suffering that they will merit supreme pleasure which will far outweigh the pain they experienced whilst they were alive. Even those kedoshim who have died al Kiddush Hashem will praise Hashem when they receive their tremendous reward in olam haba as is written in the Shemone Esre, “The kedoshim will praise You every day.”

Without a belief in the World to Come, this world can seem unjust; the righteous sometimes suffer, the wicked sometimes prosper. With a belief in the World to Come, our emuna is strong, our incentive to achieve spiritually is enhanced and our acceptance of Hashem’s justice will be complete.