To Love And To Fear Your Name

The first section Parshas Chukas is the parsha of poro aduma. However, it would appear to be in the wrong place. Moshe Rabeinu learned the details of the poro aduma before Matan Torah and long before the episodes of the spies and Korach. Why is it not mentioned until now?

In Parshas Shelach, we read about the sins of the princes of the Shevatim, who said that Hashem could not overcome the Canaanites. On the other hand, Rochov in the Haftora had no doubts whatsoever: “I know that Hashem has given you this land. We are fearful of you and all the people of the land are broken in spirit before you.” How could a simple Canaanite woman like Rochov have a clearer understanding than the nesi’im, the cream of Klal Yisroel? Korach was also a baal ruach hakodesh. How could he have thought that his challenge to Moshe Rabbeinu would succeed?

In Parshas Vayera, when Avrohom Ovinu was about to sacrifice Yitzchak, the malach told him, “Now I know that you fear Hashem.” (Bereishis 22:12). The Netziv asks why the malach described Avrohom Ovinu as fearing Hashem rather than loving Hashem, as the novi Yeshayahu described him? (41:8). He answers that although fearing Hashem is a lower level than loving Hashem, someone might lose his fear of Hashem on reaching the level of loving Him. Hashem had indicated before that He was open to hearing Avrohom Ovinu’s opinion about His plans and was even prepared to change His plans, if need be. (Bereishis 18:23). Avrohom Ovinu might have thought it reasonable to argue with and challenge Hashem. Such closeness could lead to cheshbonos coming into his mind not to do the rotzon Hashem. Ahava mekalkeles es hashura – love sometimes causes a straight line to be crooked – one might do illogical things. After Hashem told him to do the Akeida, Avrohom Ovinu might have put forward many reasons not to sacrifice Yitschak, his only heir, but he didn’t. He simply accepted the rotzon Hashem. This is why the malach called Avrohom Ovinu one who fears Hashem, recognising that, despite the fact that you love Hashem, you haven’t lost your fear of Him.

A moshol to illustrate this balanced relationship: a loyal servant feared the king and did everything the king asked without delay. He rose through the ranks until he became the king’s trusted private assistant. The king even invited him for working lunches and encouraged the servant to comment on his plans. One day the king told the servant that a neighbouring country was threatening to attack, with thousands of troops ready to invade. He told the servant to take one hundred of his own soldiers and confront the enemy. Despite the suicidal nature of the plan, the servant immediately stood up, asking when he should begin. As he reached the door the king called him back. “Well done! I was only testing you. Despite our closeness, you still fear me and are ready to follow my commands without question.”

This may be the meaning of our request in Ahava rabboh every morning, “l’ahava uleyira es shemecho” – to love and fear Your Name. Even if we have reached the level of loving You, we should still fear You.

Those who challenged Moshe and Aharon – the nesi’im, Korach and his cohorts were great people who had reached a high level of ahavas Hashem. Unfortunately they no longer had the same fear of Hashem that they used to have. Precisely because of their love and the closeness to Hashem which accompanied it, they made cheshbonos – perhaps Hashem would be pleased to hear their opinion, even if they argued with Him. “Love can make a straight line crooked.” This was their undoing.

Rochov only feared Hashem. She and all the other Canaanites had heard how Hashem had taken the Jews out of Mitzrayim and split the Yam Suf with amazing miracles. They trembled. As Rochov said, “We are broken in spirit before you.” With Rochov there was no love for Hashem, no cheshbonos, no possibility of arguing, just total submission.

Reishis chochma yiras Hashem. (Tehilim 111:10) Fear of Hashem is the foundation of a Jew. There are higher madreigos such of awe of Hashem and love of Hashem but fear of Hashem must always remain. This was Avrohom Ovinu’s achievement and this is what we ask for in Ahava rabba, ‘ to love and (still) fear Your Name.’

Perhaps this is why Chukas follows Shelach and Korach. After the nesi’im and Korach sinned, despite their high madreigos, the Torah is telling us to get back to basics: “Zos chukas Hatorah” as Rashi says. “This is a gezeira from Me and you have no permission to question it!”

Continuing the Momentum

A week is a long time in politics, as Theresa May will agree, downsizing from her dream of a super-majority to hoping that the Irish Unionists will keep her afloat. However, whether it will be a soft or hard Brexit, Mrs  May or someone else in No 10, the pound is up or down, there is one constant. And this is the subject of this article.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:1) says, “Think of three things and you will not come to sin: where we came from – a  putrid drop, where we are going to – a place of worms, and in front of Whom we will have to give judgment – before the King of Kings.” All the mefarshim explain that the author of the Mishna, Akavya ben Mehalalel is advising that we need to heavy dose of humility to avoid sin. An arrogant person is very likely to sin because, in his eyes, he is far more important than anyone else, even Hashem. Merely thinking of our humble origins, our inauspicious subterranean future and what might be a very difficult encounter with our Maker is just the right medicine to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Interestingly, Rebbe Akiva, a few mishnas later (3:18) seems to have a different opinion. He encourages us to consider our very privileged situation, created in the image of Hashem, being called Hashem’s children and being the recipients of a very cherished utensil – the heilige Torah. Rather than making us more humble, it is likely to have the opposite effect – boosting our feeling of self-importance. Did Rebbe Akiva not agree with Reb Akavya’s prescription for spiritual health – humility? Did he also not accept Rebbe Levitas’s advice to be “very, very humble.” (Ibid 4:4)? Indeed the Abarbanel sees these different mishnas as offering different avenues to spiritual health. Of course Rebbe Akiva knew of the importance of humility. “Hashem said that He and an arrogant man cannot live in the same world,” (Sotah 5a). But often, reminding a person of his great importance that he is created in the image of Hashem and that he is one of Hashem’s children will have more effect in raising his spiritual behavior than reminding him of his humble origins. It is simply unthinkable for people of our pedigree to sin. As Yirmiyahu (2:1) reminded the people before rebuking them, “I remember your great kindness and love when you followed Me into the barren wilderness.” For people of our yichus, sin should be unthinkable – es passt nisht.

The story is told of a talmid of one of the biggest yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel who was feeling low. He couldn’t find a chavrusa and didn’t even have a fixed place to learn. One morning he sat down, opened his Gemoro and, with little enthusiasm, began studying. Soon someone came up to him and said that he was sitting in his seat and he should move. This was too much for the talmid who decided there and then to leave the yeshiva and join the army. He quickly put on his jacket and left the Beis Hamedrash, ready to jettison the religious life he had lived up until then. On the way out he was spotted by a son of Reb Mechel Yehuda Lefkovitz, who noticed that the talmid’s jacket wasn’t straight. He went up to him, oblivious of the spiritual volcano which had just erupted in the talmid’s mind and pointed out the bent collar. As he gently straightened out the collar, he said to the young man, “Es passt nisht for a talmid chochom like you to walk around with an untidy jacket.” The talmid who at that point was almost outside the Yeshiva stopped in his tracks. “A talmid chochom?  No-one has ever called me that before.” He felt very encouraged by this passing comment and decided that his decision to leave the Yeshiva had been rather hasty. With new determination he returned to the Beis Hamedrash and to his Jewish future.

We brought last week the view of the Abarbanel that whereas Akavya ben Mehalalel’s prescription to avoid sin was to remind us of our humble physical origins, Rebbe Akiva’s method was to remind us of our noble spiritual origins, that we are created in the image of Hashem and called Hashem’s children. By this method we feel that it is beneath us to sin.

It is, however, possible to say that there is no argument between the Tana’aim.  Akavya ben Mehalalel is addressing an arrogant person, who needs a lesson in humility to avoid sin. We say to the baal ga’ava. “Who do you think you are? You came from a putrid drop. Your future neighbours will be worms and maggots. And, unless you improve you’re going to have to endure a very difficult judgement with the King of Kings.” Rebbe Akiva, on the other hand, is talking to someone who is despondent, with little self-confidence. He sees himself as a failure. He needs a boost. “Remember that Hashem created you in His image. You are one of His children. And Hashem Himself gave us His heilige Torah to learn.” Perhaps this will inject into him some kosher pride which will help him succeed in the future. Or, as my son-law Itzik Fekete suggested, we all need both lessons, using the educational tool of smol doche, yemin mekarev. (the left hand pushes aside, the right hand draws near). We all need to be reminded of our lowly origins to gain the vital tool of humility in our avodas Hashem. But we also need to feel our special connection with Hashem to encourage us to steig, to live in an uplifted way, appropriate for a member of the spiritual aristocracy.

Or perhaps we could suggest yet another approach, different from the classic commentaries. It could be that Akavya ben Mehalalel, rather than promoting humility by reminding a person down of his lowly origins, is in fact doing exactly the opposite, building us up as Rebbe Akiva does. But he uses a slightly different method.

The Chovos Halevovos in Sha’ar Cheshbon Hanefesh teaches the concept of spiritual self-examination. He mentions thirty-two different areas which we have to consider constantly if we are to serve Hashem correctly. The first is whether we are sufficiently thankful to Hashem that He created us from nothing. This was a pure kindness of Hashem in order to provide us with happiness in this world and the next. Secondly we have to thank Hashem constantly for giving us a healthy body to house our neshomo. Thirdly we have to thank Hashem for giving us a brain with a high level of intelligence so that we can do what we need to do. Fourthly we have to thank Hashem that He gave us the heilige Torah which is the key to our success both in this world and the next. Fifthly we have to consider whether we are doing our utmost to learn the Torah etc.

Now, let’s return to Akavya ben Mehalalel. He says that if we want to avoid sin we must follow the advice of the Chovos Halevovos. We have to be supremely happy and grateful that Hashem has seen fit to transform us from a putrid drop to a living person. He has given us a physical body of amazing complexity to house our neshomo and He has endowed us further with a healthy mind without which we could not function at all. And He gave us the holy Torah to help us live in the correct way in this world to gain access to the World to Come. Consideration of Hashem’s great kindness will encourage us to do whatever we can to thank Him and to use what He has given us only for Avodas Hashem. For example, how could we use the amazing blessing of a healthy tongue to speak loshon hora?

At some point our physical ‘clothing’ will be discarded into the ground, a place of worms and maggots, but our neshomo will move on to a great new world, more beautiful than we can imagine. The pleasure of one hour in the World to Come is greater than all the pleasures of this world (Pirkei Ovos 4:22). The more we have achieved in this world, the greater our pleasure will be in the next world. We will be judged. Wonderful! This shows that we have a job to do and assuming we succeed, a beautiful future awaits us.  Animal and birds do not have to face judgement because they have no responsibilities and no future beyond their physical death. We, however, have an important task to do and a purpose to our existence. The fact that we will be judged testifies to our eternal destiny — this should be a source of great happiness. Consideration of these three things, says Akivya ben Mehalalel, will surely inspire us to strive to the highest madreigos. He and Rebbe Akiva are giving us the same message in different ways. We must know how special we are. We have been created as Jews which is the key to us earning all the rewards and pleasures of this world and the next. Shevuos may be over but consideration of our amazing destiny will surely enable us to continue our spiritual momentum into Tammuz and beyond.

The Summer: Make Hay While the Sun Shines

The question is sometimes asked why we say vehu rachum straight after neila at the end of Yom Kippur? One answer is that we might have said Boruch Hashem it’s all over. Our first mistake after Shevuos could also be to say “it’s all over.”  Not just Shevuos but the whole serious of Festivals, starting from Purim. In fact all these Festivals have been extremely useful in building up our thanks to Hashem for all the miracles both then and now bringing us last week to a sincere Kabolas Hatorah The question is what now? What are we supposed to be focusing on after Shevuos?

In the Parsha of Behaaloscho we read the two pesukim beginning ‘vayehi binsoa ho’oron… They are surrounded by inverted nuns. Why? The Gemoro Shabbos 116a explains that they are to separate one punishable offence from another. The sin immediately following these two pesukim is self understood. The People were complaining against Hashem. What was the sin mentioned just prior to this section? The People journeyed from the mountain of Hashem. Tosfos explains that they left too quickly. “Like a child runs away from school.” But we could still ask what they did wrong. Surely they were not rushing away from Har Sinai. They were rushing to do the Mitzva of Yishuv Eretz Yisroel. The answer is that nevertheless they should not have been rushing away. There was so much to think about, having just received the Torah. Don’t rush away, even to do another Mitzva. Why are there no Festivals in the month of Cheshvan? The answer could be the same. The previous month of Tishrei was full of Festivals each with its important lessons. There is so much to think about. Let’s have some time before we move on to the next thing.

So we have just got the Torah – let’s think about it.   Toras Hashem temima meshivas nefesh…. The Torah is makes the fool wise….the Mitzvos of the Torah give so much Simcha… they give light to our eyes…they are more precious than gold…sweeter than honey. The Chofetz Chaim that explained the Torah is better than gold and silver because as it is says in Mishlei “one who loves money is never satisfied with his money” and we can’t always get more, sometimes we even lose what we have. It is better than honey because although honey is sweet, how much can you eat? After a certain amount of honey we feel sick. But Torah we love, we want more and we can obtain it. It is up to us, there is no shortage, there is enough to go round. And the more we have, the better we feel, the more spiritually enriched we become. So this is what we should be thinking of now – the wonderful Torah which we have received just now from Hashem.

Now I would like to look ahead somewhat – the rest of the Summer. What should we be trying to gain from Summer and how can we best utilize the time before the Yomim Noraim and Succos season is upon us.

When Summer is mentioned what do we think of? Long lazy days? Summer holidays? Sunshine? It usually has a positive connotation. English people particularly look forward to sunshine. We’ve all heard the phrase. “ Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” However in Tenach, Summer has a negative connotation. It is associated with intense heat, thirst. “ The sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night” In the Chumash, Hashem promised Noach after the flood that thereafter the seasons will never cease, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Obviously every season is necessary. So what is the particular purpose of Summer? Maybe Shlomo Hamelech has an idea. Mishlei (6/6-9) says “ Go to the ant, you lazy one. See her ways and become wise…. She prepares her food in the Summer and stores up her food in the harvest time. So…surprise, surprise. Hashem did not create Summers to be lazed away! It’s a time to be used well, to prepare for the future. Let’s hear the words of Reb Shimson Refoel Hirsh zts”l in Judaism Eternal as translated by the late Dayan Dr I. Grunfeld zts”l in his chapter on Ellul.

The Summer is drawing to a close. The earth receives the final glow of the sun and its fruits approach their full maturity. Everything that grows and lives seeks to extract the maximum of ripeness from the last rays of the year. The apple paints itself with its final shade of red, the wine receives its richest sparkle. The ground gives its last sap, the corn-stalks grow to their limit. The bee seeks its last drop of honey in the flower cup before it vanishes. The squirrel drags its last grain of corn to its winter store. The returning swallow carries the last straw to the nest. There is no time to be lost; the end is in sight. The Master will soon call. Everything seeks while there is still time to attain and to achieve the best that is in it. It does not wish to appear before its Master with fragmentary and half finished work, with its year’s performance still defective. The worm the grasshopper, the beast, the bird, the stalk, the herb, the seed, the fruit, everything seeks to fulfil the will of the Master, to perform the task he has laid upon it. Shall then negligence, remissness and perversity dwell in the haunts of man? Shall he harbour in his heart the spirit of thoughtlessness which lives in a dream world for the day only, without ever thinking that the end is close and that the Master is calling, without looking into and round himself, without looking before and after so as to sieze the speeding hour by its pinions and using the vanishing moment to prepare himself for eternity?

So how can we best use our Summer? We already spoke about maintaining the level we have reached after Purim, Pesach and Shevuos. Appreciating the Torah which we have been given. But what else? There’s so much we can appreciate in the Summer. Messeches Baiya (5b) brings a halocho that no one was allowed to redeem their maaser sheini fruit within a certain distance of Yerusholayim.The Gemoro explains that this was “ to adorn the streets of Yerushalayim with fruit”.

In the Summer our shops are adorned with beautiful fruit. Peaches, plums, avocados and grapes. Nectarines, pomegranates and dates. Apples- Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths and Mackintoshes. Why are there so many varieties with such delicious tastes? The answer is written in the Brocho we say in Nissan when we see the blossom on fruit trees “ Boruch…. Lehanos bohem bnei odom…. to give us pleasure.

Talking of peaches, perhaps I can share with you some of the amazing chochmo which is evident from the peach as is written in Rabbi Avrohom Katz’s book, Designer World. The first chapter is about peaches.

The annual conference of peach trees had one made item on the agenda – how to preserve the species. If their seeds would fall near the tree they wouldn’t survive because of the great competition for water. One highly respected old peach tree proposed a daring plan. They would utilise the human species. They would first protect their beloved offspring by placing them in an impenetrable casing. They would then tempt these unsuspecting humans by surrounding this casing with a delicious, soft and aromatic fruit.The humans would walk away with the fruit, enjoy it and eventually throw the casing with its invaluable merchandise on to the ground. Some of the younger peach trees laughed. “What does it help? Our fragile little seeds will be stuck inside the casing like in a prison until they die!” “Not to worry,” said the older peach tree. “True the protective casing will be designed with a seam running along its length which will be bounded with a powerful adhesive. Not even a metal hammer will be able to crack it. However when the case falls into soil special enzymes will amazingly emerge which will dissolve the glue and allow our beloved seed to escape to freedom and life.” The truth is, of course, that no wise old peach tree could have arranged all this. Not in a day, a year, a million years. Only the Designer in Chief has arranged it all for our pleasure as He has arranged everything else. In the Summer we should think more deeply about the words of the brocho, Boruch..borei peri ho’eitz. Let’s not miss the opportunity.

We mentioned the sun. It may be ninety three million miles away and it gives us life but we need Hashem to protect us from its rays. Hashem does this with the very handy ozone layer. So we get the benefit without paying the cost.

During the summer particularly when we go out in the sunshine, even if it’s not at noon, it might be hot but we survive Boruch Hashem. We should say the words of Tehilim 121, at least in our minds “Hashem protects you… the sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night”

If we could now take a step further and use the Summer season to help us think about the seasons of our lives. The period of our lives when we can achieve the most is often called our personal Summer season.Our Spring season is when we’re young, growing up, still immature. Autumn is when we’re declining. Winter is after 120 years. Our Summer is when we have grown up, we have the abilities to achieve. If we think back to the words of Mishlei – the ant uses Summer to prepare for Winter and Shlomo Hamelech said we have to learn from the ant.

If we don’t prepare our Neshomos in our Summer, what will we have in the Winter? As per the famous proverb – We have to make hay while the sun shines. Making hay might include learning Torah or helping others learn.

Careful observance of Mitzvos. Bain Odom LeMokom, Bain Odom Lechaveiro, Midos Tovos. It includes successfully facing the particular challenges which Hashem sends our way, financial, family, health issues.

Keeping our emuna in all circumstances, getting the halochos of Brochos clear and saying our Brochos with kavono. Using any special talents with which we have been blessed.

Sometimes being industrious in the Summer is hard work. It involves particular challenges, even an odd tear. As we say in Shir Hamaalos “ hazorim bedima, berina yiktzoru –they sow with tears, they reap in joy. To sow seeds is sometimes difficult. But those who sow with tears will reap in joy – those who don’t sow will have nothing to reap. Those who work hard on Erev Shabbos will enjoy a wonderful Shabbos. Those who don’t prepare on Erev Shabbos will have nothing to eat on Shabbos. This is the summer. Whilst others spend the time in spiritual hibernation, we can achieve, we can grow, we can invest in our neshomos.

Hashem promised Noach that there will always be summers because we need them. Not for sleeping through but to be used. To appreciate Hashem’s gifts, to be grateful for His protection, to value his Torah and to be better prepared for the next season – Rosh Hashono, Yom Kippur and Succos, Zman Simchosainu…haboim olainu letova, omain.