Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Yitro – The First Tow Dibros

In this week’s parsha we recount receiving the Torah directly from HaShem at Har Sinai. There’s an interesting Medrash which tells us that every morning and night when we proclaim “Shema Yisrael HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad”, we’re alluding to the first two dibros which we read in this week’s parsha.

If we were to look closer at the first two Parshios of Kriyas Shema, we come upon some peculiar discrepancies. In the first parsha of “V’ohavta”, the pasuk says,”v’hayu hadevarim haeleh asher anochi mitzavcha hayom al levavecha”, “And these matters that I command you today will be on your heart”. In contrast, the pasuk in the second parsha of “v’haya” reads, “v’samtem es divorai eileh al lvavchem”, “and place these words of mine on your heart”. The obvious implied difference is that the first parsha seems to speak of a situation where the words of Torah will automatically be on a person’s heart, while in the second parsha it implies that placing the words of Torah on our hearts will require an action of actually putting them on our heart. The question becomes, why did the pesukim change its wording? What’s the difference between the first parsha and the second parsha of Kriyas Shema which warrants a change in the implication of its precise wording?

There’s another Medrash which says that when Klal Yisrael heard the first two dibros, the words of Torah stuck to their hearts. The message of “I am HaShem your G-d”, and “You shall not have any other gods” instantly become a defining trait intrinsic to the essence of the Jewish people. It wasn’t simply a commandment on us to act. It didn’t exist outside of us, rather HaShem made these two commandments become embedded in our core, deep down in the recesses of our Jewish consciousness. These commandments changed us from who we were; and effectively made us Klal Yisrael.

Love by itself isn’t sustainable. It’s like a building without a strong basis and foundation, it’s bound to be wobbly and unstable. Eventually, if the wind blows strong enough, it’s bound to fall. In every aspect of life where we try so hard to love, the love itself needs to have a strong base. It’s no wonder that in certain societies which socially call infatuation and lust “love”, the divorce rate is bound to be higher. Love isn’t simply attraction. It needs a core and foundation. This is something that every chassan teacher teaches a chassan, and every kallah teacher teaches a kallah. The beginning of marriage is supposed to be used to build foundations. It’s the reason why there’s a specific Mitzvah during the first year of marriage to spend more time with your spouse.

But how are we supposed to build? What point is trying to be stressed during that first year of marriage?

The answer can be found in the first parsha of Kriyas Shema. The first parsha begins with the commandment to love HaShem. But we know that love by itself isn’t really sustainable. It needs a foundation. So, what’s that foundation? The foundation is in the immediately preceding proclamation of “Shema Yisrael haShem elokenu HaShem Echad”. The foundation is in recounting the first two dibros. To recognize that there is only One G-d. Recognizing and proclaiming oneness is the precursor and foundation to loving HaShem.

The same is true with the love between husband and wife. The entire first year of marriage is dedicated to realizing that your spouse is the only one. It’s to recognize your oneness together. Only with that essential and tantamount building block can a love truly manifest. Only when one realizes that there truly is no other can he begin to really cherish the one for him.

This is also the difference between the first two parshiyos of Kriyas Shema. The first parsha speaks about the love between us and HaShem. The second parsha deals with the Mitzvos themselves. The first parsha therefore says “v’hayu”, that the words of Torah will automatically be placed on his heart. The reason being that if a person establishes a true love of HaShem, he won’t need to do any action of putting the words of Torah on his heart. It will happen automatically. He’ll become one with His Creator, and as a result become One with the Torah as well. The second prasha deals with the reality that not all of us have achieved such a lofty level of true love for HaShem. As a result, we need to act. If we still love other things in this world and haven’t directed our love solely towards HaShem, then we’re not truly one with the Torah. But there still is hope. The pasuk tells us that even if the words of Torah aren’t automatically placed on our hearts, we can still put them there. By learning and reviewing we place those words of Torah on our hearts.

This is the real lesson we learn from the first two dibros- a lesson in how to love. Love isn’t something which just happens, created out of nowhere. True love doesn’t mean “love at first sight” when sparks fly. It needs a foundation. It needs to have a deep base, so that even when a strong wind pushes the building itself will never go down.

My rebbe told me a story years ago when I had just become a chassan. He told me that Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman was once sitting with his wife when his daughter had just gotten married. The way they were sitting at the table struck his daughter as somewhat peculiar. The daughter and her husband sat together while Rav Herman sat at the opposite end of the table vis-à-vis his wife. His daughter remarked playfully, “Tatteh, you see you’ve been married so long and are so far apart, yet me and my husband just got married and are so close together”. Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman looked at her and smiled. He replied, “You who just got married need to be sitting next to each other to feel together. But my wife could be on the opposite side of the world and I’ll still feel as if she’s right here by my side.”

Love takes work. Like a precious plant it needs to be cared for to germinate. The first step is to realize the oneness and exclusion. The first two dibros are the most important because they establish this connection. They proclaim HaShem’s oneness at the exclusion of all others. This is the platform for “v’ohavta”. This is the platform for true love.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Beshalach – Miracles And Otherwise

Two years ago on Friday, Parshas Beshalach, I was traveling to Long Beach with my wife and father-in law, Rabbi Singer, for the Shabbos sheva brachos of our cousins Pinny and Hadassah Fried. We were fifteen minutes away when the transmission of my relatively new car died, in the middle of a busy four – lane road, with no shoulder to pull onto. My car was on the side of the road, sticking out like a sore [broken] thumb into a busy lane. No tow truck was available for hours, and Shabbos was fast approaching. We needed to solve this – move the car somewhere and get to our hotel right away!

A repair shop across the street kindly offered to let us leave the car there for the weekend. Getting the car across those four lanes was our challenge! I had a broken foot and could only hop! Neither my wife nor my father-in-law were able to push the car.

Just then, a police car stopped and told us we had to move the car! We explained the problem. He turned on his lights and parked his car in the middle of the road, blocking all lanes and stopping traffic on both sides. Yes, on Parshas Beshalach, the path across the four-lane road split! A few men from the repair shop helped push the car across the street, while I hopped across alongside my wife and Rabbi Singer. It was a sight to see. And we made it to the hotel with just a few minutes to spare before Shabbos.

I’ve heard many people say, “If I would witness miracles like the Ten Plagues or the splitting of the sea, then I would believe in Hashem. How come Hashem doesn’t perform miracles anymore?” In truth, even obvious miracles aren’t enough. Let me share a shocking midrash in Yalkut Shoftim. The Midrash explains the verse at the end of the long tachanun prayer, “To you, Hashem, is tzedakah and we are ashamed.” This is referring to Klal Yisrael at the splitting of the sea. Why the shame? A man named Micha had taken an idol with him when he left Mitzrayim and carried it in his pocket as he walked through the split sea. What an embarrassment that a Jew should carry an idol while Hashem is saving our lives! Yet, Hashem did an act of charity and with His infinite kindness, split the sea despite this rebellious act.

But how is it possible for Micha to carry an idol when he is witnessing such awesome open miracles?

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz explains that any level in clarity regarding Hashem that is attained without effort, simply won’t last. It was true with Micha and with many others. Chazal tell us everyone present at the splitting of the sea had a vision of Hashem superior to that of the great prophet, Yechezkel, yet many were not changed by the experience. The key to change is the effort we make to work on ourselves, not a wondrous experience itself.

When I was in yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, a group of boys told me they miraculously escaped a terrorist attack unharmed. A terrorist with a machine gun opened fire at people sitting outside the many restaurants on the street. People ran, hid and cried. One boy told me that when the coast was clear, he quickly ran to a beis medrash to say tehillim and thank Hashem for saving his life. However, another person had a very different reaction. After the coast cleared, he went back to the restaurant to order another beer!

We all experience things that can inspire us to make a positive change. But do we act on it? We can hear an inspiring lecture, shiur, or attend an uplifting Shabbaton, but if we don’t make an effort to change as a result of these experiences, we will remain the same.

One can walk out of Egypt and into the sea and stand at Har Sinai with an idol in his pocket!

We experience Krias Yam Suf (splitting of the sea) daily in our lives in different ways. True, it’s not everyday we have a major road split for us, but things like getting a raise, a new job offer, a shidduch for a child, a refuah sheleima or even just experiencing less traffic on a commute to work one day, — these are all the Almighty reaching out to us. It’s up to us to recognize His ongoing assistance…and act on it.

We all have a metaphorical idol in our pocket—an area in our lives we need to work on, such as attaching too much importance to monetary matters or worrying too much about our self – image. Let’s try to toss bad influences and bad traits out of our lives. Opportunities to get closer to our Heavenly Father are abundantly there for the taking—if we just make the effort to reach out and grab them.

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Beshalach – Turn To G-d

There’s a very interesting medrash brought up in regard to this week’s parsha which deals with the relationship between HaShem and klal Yisrael during the period of yetzias Mitzrayim.

The medrash relates a parable of a king. One day, the king was walking along the road when he hears a woman screaming for help. He runs and sees that the woman is being attacked by robbers. As any good King would, he ran over quickly and saved the woman from the robbers. After a while, he decided he wanted to marry this woman. However, when he went to talk to the woman about it, she wouldn’t speak to him. So, what did the King decide to do? He paid the robbers to go harass the woman again, just so she’d feel as if she needed him. Sure enough, she called out to the king. In a matter of seconds, the king was there to save her from the robbers.

The nimshal to this parable is that the woman is kal Yisrael and the King is obviously HaShem. When we were in mitzrayim, we experienced such hardships which made us call out to HaShem. We were just like the woman who was attacked by robbers. And HaShem was there, listening. He ascended quickly and took us out of Mitzrayim. He saved us from the hands of our oppressors. Yet immediately afterwards, once we were saved, we stopped calling out to Him. So, what did HaShem do? He made Mitrzayim run after us, just so we’d call out to Him again.

There are many points one could learn from such a mashal. I wanted to speak about one small point which is a big yesod in yiddishgeit which really spoke to me.

These weeks are constantly referred to as the weeks of shov’vim, which is an acronym for the parshios of shemos, vayeira, bo, beshalach, yisro, and mishpatim. Meforshim point out that there’s a specific hashpa in these weeks which is given to us to help us work on our middos. Yet when we come to work on our middos, we need to know exactly where and what to work on.

For many people, myself included, avodas HaShem (more specifically tefillah) is strongest in our darkest hour. When we feel as if we’re genuinely in need of HaShem is when we infuse our tefillos with such strength that it shakes the foundations of shamayim. Yet, we see from here that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. A relationship with HaShem doesn’t just mean calling out to Him when the going gets tough. It means calling out to Him and working on the relationship even when the times are good. However, because at those moments we don’t feel a pressing need for HaShem’s help, it’s precisely in these times when avodas HaShem is hardest. And because avodas HaShem is at its hardest in these moments, is it specifically these times which require our fullest concentration and work.

I once heard a mashal from Rav Tzvi Meir Silberberg which spells out the idea. Let’s say you were walking along at night, and you saw a friend hunched over on the ground looking for something underneath a streetlight. You ask him what he’s looking for and he responds to you that he dropped his wife’s diamond ring. Being the good friend that you are, you bend over to help him look for it. After much looking you ask him exactly where he lost his diamond. He responds that he thinks he probably dropped it two blocks away. So why was he looking over here? Because here there was a streetlight as opposed to two blocks away where it was dark.

Obviously, this friend won’t find what he’s looking for. The same thing is with us in our avodas HaShem. If we only try to fix ourselves in the places where it’s easy to fix, we’ll never find what we’re looking for. We want to be true ovdei HaShem. The only way to do that is to go into the darkness, to the place where it’s hard to serve HaShem, and to work on ourselves there.

One of the yesodos of the mashal of the king and the woman is that HaShem wants a relationship in every situation. HaShem wants us to call out to him even when things are going good. Even when it’s harder to feel as if we need the relationship, that’s exactly where HaShem wants us to call out to Him. The underlying foundation is that HaShem wants us to serve Him, even when it’s hard. Calling out to Him when we don’t feel like we need to is comparable to the diamond hidden in the darkness. But the yesod extends to much more than tefillah. It’s a yesod which permeates throughout the rest of our avodas HaShem. In order to truly work on ourselves and become closer to the Ribbono Shel Olam, we need to be able to look for that diamond in the darkness. We need to work on ourselves in our avodas HaShem not just where it’s easy, but also where it’s difficult. But if we put in the time and really devote ourselves to this avodah, we’ll inevitably find the diamond of closeness to HaShem.