Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Va’etchanan – Loving G-d

In this week’s parsha, we find the tzivui from Hashem of “v’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha”. On this commandment of loving Hashem, many meforshim ask a very simple question. How is it possible that Hashem can command us to love Him? Love is something that a person feels in his heart, either you love someone or you don’t! How is it possible to command a person to love? And furthermore, many commentaries explain that this commandment isn’t merely a positive commandment like the rest of the commandments, rather it’s one of the foundations of Torah Judaism. If that’s true, then why did the Torah wait until sefer Devorim, the last sefer of the Torah, in order to reveal to us this tzivui?

The Rambam himself anticipates this question and offers an answer that the real commandment isn’t on the actual feeling of love, rather it’s a commandment to look around the world at the greatness of Hashem’s creations, which will undeniably lead to feelings of love for the One who created them. This idea is reiterated by the Rambam in the end of Hilchos Teshuva where he says that a person comes to a level of ahava for the Ribbono shel Olam through da’as, knowledge of Hashem and His presence. This yesod is also echoed by the Maharal in his sefer Nesivos Olam in which he states that by a person internalizing the oneness of Hashem until he feels that there is nothing which exists separate from Hashem’s shechina, fulfills the mitzva of ahavas Hashem.

However, maybe we can offer another answer. When a couple first become engaged and begin their pre-marriage classes, one of the first classes nearly always given is focused on how develop a love for your wife. The way I heard it was that the core of the word (which also often represents the essence of that word) ahava, love, is hav, which means to give. The true way that a person can develop a love to his wife is really giving to her.

But if we really think about it, there could be a husband or wife who materially give a lot, yet they’ll still feel a distance between them and their spouses. The reason may be because even though they may be giving things here and there, they aren’t giving themselves. In order to give to someone to create a love for that person, you have to be able to give yourself to that person. Once you do that, you can truly be able to develop a feeling of love.

The same is true with Hashem. The Ohr Hachaim says in this week’s parsha, the pasuk which follows the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem is “…..asher anochi mitzavcheh hayom al levavecha”, “that I have commanded today on your heart”. Says the Ohr Hachaim that this pasuk following the tzivui of ahavas Hashem isn’t a coincidence, rather the only way to get to ahavas Hashem is by “putting the words on your heart”. And the only way to ingrain the words of Hashem into ourselves is by completely giving ourselves to Him. This is the explanation of the commandment, to love Hashem. It isn’t so much on a feeling, rather it’s on the act of giving yourself for Hashem. And maybe that’s also why it’s written here, at the end of the Torah. For Hashem is telling us that there are 613 ways for us to give ourselves to Him. It’s only up to us to make the choice to do them.

In life, man’s nature is to give himself to something. Rabbi Ezriel Tauber says that it’s this exact innate drive which yields such fanatic sports fans nowadays. Hashem gave us this drive to give ourselves to something. It could be an ideal, a job, or even family. So when a person stands in the middle of shmoneh esrai, or when he learns a blatt Gemara, what does he think about? The Ribbono shel Olam, or his work? That reveals to the person what he’s really giving himself to. The drive is there. The only question is how we use it.

 

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Naso – The Nazir – Don’t Let An Aveira Hold You Down

This week’s parsha deals with the laws of the Nazir. At the end of the period of the Nazir’s abstinence, in order to finish the process, he would have to go to the Beis Hamikdash and bring a series of korbanos. When the Torah relates this obligation in the end of the process of the Nazerus, it uses a very interesting lashon. Instead of simply saying that the Nazir should go to the Ohel Moed to prepare to bring his korbanos, the Torah says,”and he shall bring himself…”

What’s this idea of bringing oneself? Why does he need to bring himself, why couldn’t the Torah have just said that he should bring a korban? What’s the pasuk trying to teach us?

The Meshech Chochma says an idea here which is relevant to everyday life. What is the worst thing which happens when a person sins? Obviously, there’s the spiritual ramifications and the inevitable distancing from HaShem. But the Ba’alei Mussar say that there’s something even worse which results. And that is, that when a person sins, he begins to associate himself with the sin. Once he begins to associate himself with the sin, there’s no telling the depths to which he could fall.

Rav Wolbe in his sefer Alei Shur talks about the concept of the “ani hapnimi”, the “internal ‘I'”. Every individual has this internal sense of self, the essence of who he really is. One of man’s greatest avodah’s in this world is to separate the “I” from the exterior outliers, such as the yetzer hara. That is, to realize that the yetzer hara is not “me”, but something which convinces me to do the wrong thing. Our avodah is to realize that our actions exist outside of our essence. The essence, the “I” is the neshoma, something which is completely pure and good. If sometimes we’re swayed by the yetzer hara to sin, it isn’t the “I” inside of us sinning, rather an external force which influences us. Our greatest fault isn’t in the actual sins we do, rather it’s when we associate ourselves with our sins. When we allow our internal “I” to be defined by our actions.

We live in a society obsessed with labeling. There’s a term for literally everything. If a person has a problem stealing, he becomes a “kleptomaniac”. He begins to label and view himself in a certain way, and as a result, he defines himself as a certain type of person. Once he defines himself as that type of person, his future actions follow that definition. He begins to act as who he thinks he is.

A while ago, I received a call about someone I knew who was struggling with a certain problem which could yield a future addiction. I told the caller that it was imperative that this person not identify himself with the problems he was facing. He obviously can’t ignore it, but once he begins to identify with the problem, he’ll no longer be working to rid himself of the issue, he’ll be working on uprooting his very essence.

The goal of the Nazir was to reconnect with the internal “I”. The Meshech Chochma explains that a person would take the vow of Nazerus after falling prey to the yetzer hara and sinning. The goal of the thirty days of abstinence wasn’t merely to cut back on the “goodies”, rather it was to recognize that the yetzer hara isn’t his essence! That there exists a “me” besides for my taivahs! When a person would refrain from something for thirty days, he would begin to realize that there does exist a sense of self without the yetzer hara’s persuasion.

This is what the pasuk is trying to teach us when it says that the Nazir would “bring himself”. After thirty days of abstaining from worldly pleasures, he would be a different person, one who was in touch with his individual reality! When he would achieve such a state of mind, he would be able to “bring himself”; that is, he would bring the old “him” who was defined by his desires to the Ohel Moed to prepare to bring the korbanos.

Everyone falls in life. It’s one of the realities which is sometimes hard to come to grips with. The real question is how we deal with it. A person could let it consume him, or he could realize that a mistake was made and move forward. The only true way of moving forward is to realize who we are. The work we do on ourselves is to control the “eil zar b’kirbeich”, the “foreign god inside of us” referring to the yetzer hara. Its foreign, it’s not a part of us. In order to truly grow, we need to identify ourselves with the true goodness inside of us, and not the lowly desires on the outside. Only with such an understanding can we reconnect with ourselves and take further steps down the road in avodas HaShem

 

Yacov Nordlicht – Shavuos – A New Birth

In this week’s parsha, we find a peculiar pasuk which reveals a very deep yesod. In the beginning of the third perek, the pasuk says, “And these are the offspring of Moshe and Aharon”. However, the pesukim go on to only mention the children of Aharon. The obvious question is, why does the Torah introduce the counting of Aharon’s sons with “these are the offspring of Moshe and Aharon” while it continues to list only the children of Aharon!?

Rashi anticipates this problem and says that the reason the Torah mentions Moshe is because Moshe taught Aharon’s children Torah, and if one teaches another Torah its akin in the eyes of the Torah as if he has given birth to him. (As a side note, this Rashi seems to be a little bit difficult to understand. Moshe taught Torah to all of Klal Yisrael, so it should have mentioned Moshe by the counting of the children of all the shvatim…)

What’s this idea? What does it mean that if a person teaches another Torah it’s considered as if he had given birth to him? What change happens in order to consider the person a “new” individual?

There’s a yesod I heard a while ago from Rav Yehuda Vagshal which I think is applicable to answer this question. There’s a famous ma’amer of Chazal which says, “ain ben chorin eleh mi she’osek b’Torah”, “there’s no free person besides for one who toils in Torah.” Chazal learn this out of a pasuk which says that divrei Torah are “charus al luach libo”, that is, “engraved in the walls of one’s heart.” Chazal tell us not to read it “charus”, “engraved”, rather “cheirus”, “freedom”.

It’s brought down in seforim that when chazal darshan like this, there’s always a connection between the word being changed and the word its being changed to. In our case, that would mean there’s a connection between “charus” and “cheirus”; “engraved” and “freedom”. What’s the connection between the two words?

To explain this, we can start with a parable. There are two ways a person could make a picture on a rock. He could take some paint and smear it on a rock. In this way, the paint would remain the same paint and the rock would remain the same rock, the paint would just happen to be on the rock. Another way to make this picture would be if the artist chose to engrave the image into the rock itself. In this way, the rock itself would portray the image wanted.

The same is true with learning Torah. A person can learn Torah in such a way where the Torah exists outside of him. Just like the paint on the rock, the essence of the person remains unchanged, he just happens to know some Torah. A deeper way to learn is for the person to engrave the words of Torah into his heart. In this way, his essence is changed; it itself speaks Torah.

That’s the connection between the word “charus”, “engraved”, and “cheirus”, “freedom.” A person who learns Torah is considered free. But which type of learning Torah? Only one who engraves the words of Torah into “luach libo”, the walls of his heart.

I think this could be the pshat in the Rashi we mentioned earlier. When one teaches another Torah, why is it considered as if he has given birth to him? Because if Torah is taught and learnt in the correct way, the essence of the person changes. He’s no longer the same person he was before he learned Torah. If he allows the words of Torah to penetrate him, they become engraved in his heart. Then the heart itself speaks these words of Torah.

Next week it will be Shavuos. Besides for being an intense day of Limud Hatorah, the Torah tells us that the korban brought on Shavuos was a Mincha Chadasha. I saw once (I believe a Sfas Emes) that the Mincha Chadasha was brought specifically on Shavuos because the essence of Shavuos is a day of hischadshus, renewal. So if we’ve spent the past year to busy or to complacent to try to engrave Torah into ourselves, Shavuos is the day for the Tikkun. To reflect on the meaning of Torah and the role it plays in our lives. Is it our essence, or merely something we know? Is it the paint on the rock, or is it a part of the rock itself?

This question can serve as a good preparation for Shavuos, to approach the day with a proper mindset and desire to become a person who exudes the message of the Torah from the essence of his being.

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Emor – Yom Tov Insights

This middle of this week’s parsha enumerates the different commandments regarding the shalosh regalim, or the three festivals we celebrate each year. When talking about the festival of Shavuos which occurs fifty days after Pesach, the Torah calls it “Atzeres”, literally meaning “a restraining.” Rashi explains this with a mashal, that it can be likened to a king who invites his sons to a seudah which was set to take place in a set number of days wishes to “restrain” them from leaving for just a short time longer. So too by Shavuos, HaShem wishes to keep us by him for “just one more day.”

Along this line of reasoning, the Ramban says that in reality, Shavuos is just an extension of Pesach. It’s when HaShem wishes to keep us around for just a short while longer from the “Seudah” which was the chag of Pesach. In fact, the Ramban explains that the days of the Omer which we currently find ourselves in are really like one long Chol Hamoed with the chag finally climaxing over Shavuos.

What does this mean? In what way is Shavuos an extension of Pesach?

The general idea of Chol Hamoed by Pesach and Shvi’i shel Pesach is the completion of the Yetzia from Mitzrayim which began on the first days of Pesach. As the Torah says by Kriyas Yam Suf, “And HaShem saved Bnei Yisrael on that day.” Without Kriyas Yam Suf the Yetziah from Mitzrayim wasn’t complete; even though we left the physical subjugation of our tormentors, there was still something lacking. Kriyas Yam Suf is what completed the process. Before Kriyas Yam Suf, the Egyptians were technically able to run after us and force us to return. The true freedom of the Yetzia was therefore not yet complete because we were still in a state where it was technically possible to revert back to our status as slaves. Only after Kriyas Yam Suf did it become impossible for us to return to our status as slaves in Mitzrayim, and therefore only then was there a true Yetzia from the shibud of Mitzrayim.

This is what Chol Hamoed and the last day of Pesach represent. A culmination and climax to what had already begun. It completed the process of the Yetziah, for now there was no going back; there was no returning to our lives of slavery.

As we all know, the purpose of the Yetziah from Mitzrayim was in order to become bnei chorin, a free people. When we were slaves in Egypt, there were two areas in which the Egyptians enslaved us. We were physically slaves, and we were spiritually slaves. Besides for having to work day and night for the Egyptians, we had descended to the 49th level of Tumah. We were nearly as impure as humanly possible, devoid of any ability to connect with holiness. The Geulah from Mitzrayim worked to remove us from these two distinct areas of slavery. We became physically free, and we also became free of the spiritual shackles which bound us. As an aside, which of these two areas served as the focal point of the Geulah is seemingly a machlokes between Rav and Shmuel in the Gemara. The Gemara says that when we speak out the haggadah on Pesach, we begin with words of g’nai and we end with shvach. The machlokes between Rav and Shmuel is whether we should start with “avadim hayinu” (which remembers the physical slavery) and climax with “and HaShem took us out from there”, or if we should start with “our forefathers worshipped avodah zara (a representation of the beginning of a spiritual “slavery”) and culminating with our closeness to HaShem. The simplest explanation of the argument is whether or not the focal point should be the geulah from the physical slavery or the freedom of the nefesh which resulted from the Yetziah.

On Shavuos we remember and relive Kabbalos Hatorah when we stood at Har Sinai and received all of the various instructions for living life and attaining a closeness with HaShem. When the Ramban calls Shavuos an extension of Pesach, what he means to say is that the entire Yetziah of Mitzrayim was for a purpose. It was to be truly free individuals. Whether to become a physical ben chorin or a ruchniyus-dik ben chorin, the Yetziah was to make us free. The climax in attaining that true freedom only came when we received the Torah.

When we received the Torah, something about us changed. We weren’t the same people as we were before. We became separated, a nation with a different role and purpose than every other nation on Earth. We became a people connected with a different and deeper reality than our non-Jewish counterparts.

This was the true freedom. When we left Mitzrayim, it was only scratching the tip of the iceberg. We began the process of freedom, but we still lived in this world. Even though we believed in HaShem with every fiber of our being, something was lacking. That connection to the deeper dimensions of reality, the ability to look at the world and see more that just the physical structures which our eyes beheld didn’t exist. Only when we received the Torah were we able to connect to a deeper consciousness. Only with the Torah were we able to truly ascend and become a completely different people than the other nations.

This is why Shavuos is a culmination of Pesach. Once we received the Torah, there was no going back. We can’t return to the status we held before Kabbolas Hatorah. The freedom was realized and internalized. Whether an actualization of a spiritual freedom or even a physical one penetrated in full, we became a people with a truly different genetic makeup than every other nation on Earth.

Our avodah is to realize this inherent difference. Our world has consistently been plagued by the influences of the outside world. Whether it be from television or movies, we’ve allowed the other nations of the world to dictate a large portion of our moral compass. And it’s a tragedy. We cannot be an “Or Lagoyim” if we keep on trying to be like them. We end up following instead of leading by example. We need to realize that we are different. Our connection to a deeper reality is what separates us. It’s what frees us. Only once we truly internalize this can we properly feel the cheirus which started on Pesach.  Only once we truly understand this can we live the type of life we are supposed to and serve as an example for positive change in the world.

 

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Achrei Mot-Kedoshim – What Is Kedusha

This week’s parsha begins with a commandment from HaShem to be Kadosh. The Ramban on this pasuk says that throughout the Torah, there are many negative commandments which prohibit us from doing certain things. However, this commandment isn’t necessarily saying not to do something, rather it’s telling us how to use that which is muttar to us.

What’s the pshat in this? The general mindset when one sees such a Ramban would to be somewhat skeptical. As a Rebbe of mine once said, this is the type of Ramban people want to just skip over. There are so many things we can’t do, now there are also restrictions on that which we can do!? What’s the Ramban trying to teach us?

Chazal tell us that Ya’akov Avinu was the chosen one of the Avos. A medrash even recounts that his face, is d’mus, is engraved on the kisei hakavod. Why was Ya’akov Avinu considerably more special than the other two Avos? Why was it his face engraved on the kisei hakavod and not Avraham or Yitzchak?

Meforshim tell us that there was an inherent difference between the Avodah of Yaakov and the Avodah of the other two Avos. The other two Avos we find being immersed completely in ruchniyus. Avraham was fully involved with kiruv and gemilas chasadim, while Yitzchak was involved constantly involved in tefillah. Ya’akov Avinu, on the other hand, is the one we find involved in gashmius. He was the “ba’al-a-bus”, involved in working for Lavan, making money. He’s the one with the four wives and tons of children.

The Ba’alei Mussar say this distinction and point out that it’s a very high level to emulate Avraham and Yitzchak and immerse yourself completely with ruchniyus. However, there’s a higher level. To take the gashmiyus and elevate it. To make the material world kadosh. That was the level of Ya’akov Avinu. That was his essence.

I once saw a vort in Maseches Berachos which further brings out this point. As we know, Ya’akov Avinu was the one who was mesakein tefillas Arvis (Ma’ariv). The Gemara has a discussion whether or not ma’ariv is a reshus or a chovah (is it an obligation or is it something one can choose to do if he desires). According to the opinion that it’s a reshus, I once saw an explanation that this was a consequence of the essence of Ya’akov. Ya’akov’s mehus was to take the reshus and elevate it.

This is the yesod in the Ramban. It isn’t saying that Kedusha is to be abstinent. In fact, the Messilas Yesharim says that Abstinence is the level before Kedusha. A person reaches kedusha through being a poreish, but they definitely exist as two separate states. The reason is because Abstinence means refraining from things; Kedusha is taking that which your allowed to have and elevating it. This was the Darga of Ya’akov Avinu and its the one of the highest levels we can strive for.

In order to be like Ya’akov Avinu and to have our d’mus engraved on the kisei hakavod, we need to ingrain within ourselves this yesod of the Ramban. The only way to connect to HaShem is if we become like Him. Something which is Tahor can’t come into contact with something which is Tamei. So too, if we want to be davuk to HaShem, we need to become like Him, Kadosh. There are things in this world which are muttar to us. But if we want to truly establish ourselves with an essence of kedusha, it means not just refraining from that which is assur but elevating that which is muttar. With this yesod in mind, it’s possible to become like Ya’akov Avinu and truly connect to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Ki Tisa – Seize The Light

This week’s parsha recounts the event of the cheit haegel. Chazal tell us that the effects of this grave sin are still felt today. That is, in every sin there exists a latent nekudeh derived from the cheit haegel. What is this nekudeh, and how did it become part of our every sin we do?

In order to answer this question, we have to understand the depths of the cheit haegel.  Meforshim provide countless explanations as to the nature of the sin. Maybe we can offer our own mahalach.

Chazal liken the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai to a chuppah between HaShem and klal Yisrael. The Gemara in Yevamos teaches us that a person cannot be called a “man” unless he’s married. That is to say, that the nature of marriage is to complete a person. The Zohar haKodosh points out this idea and says that before the creation of a person, HaShem tears a neshama in two, places one half in a male body and the other half in a female body. The marriage is the unification of these two parts of the soul. In this sense, they complete each other.

The same is true by the “chuppah” of Matan Torah. Before Matan Torah, klal yisrael was incomplete. The definition of klal Yisrael didn’t come into its actualized completeness before the matan Torah. Matan Torah achieved this shleimus, this completion of our spiritual definition.

Along these lines, we can understand why the nekudeh of the cheit hagegel exists within each and every one of our sins today. The cheit haegel represented a divide from HaShem. Even though we experienced HaShem only forty days earlier, the cheit was as if we were divorcing ourselves from this marriage with HaShem. Chazal tell us that a person only sins when a “ruach shtus” has grabbed a hold of him. That is, even if he could be so clear of emes and the right thing to do in a certain situation, a person could still slip because he becomes temporarily enshrouded in darkness. This nekudeh is one we see from the cheit haegel. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz goes through midrashim dealing with the circumstances surrounding klal yisrael at that time. The world turned bleak and gray and the Satan showed kal yisrael the coffin of Moshe Rabeinu descending form the mountain. They thought he had died! To them, all was lost. In that moment of bleakness and darkness, klal yisrael was able to sin, even though they had experienced the most intense revelation the world has ever seen forty days earlier. Even though they had so much light, the darkness still blinded them and they were able to sin.

Rav Yerucham Levovitz says that a person sin has deep roots. It doesn’t merely exist as an external action, rather it comes from a deep seeded shoresh which predestines a person to sin. This root is that a person allows himself to be clouded by darkness; that he isn’t strong enough to repel the “ruach shtus.” The avodah of a person is to constantly connect to HaShem’s light. To be a “light unto the darkness” doesn’t just mean showing morality and middos in a world which has gone insane. It means being the light within one’s own darkness. That even when all seems bleak and lost, to realize and connect to the flickering light of a neshama that we have inside of us. When we connect to that light, then the darkness, the “ruach shtus” can’t grab a hold of us. Only then can we truly change and free ourselves from sin.

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.

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.

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Va’era – Feel Hashem

In this week’s parsha, regarding the makka of Barad (hail), it says something very interesting. Like many of the makkas, the makka of Barad had a condition within the makka. The condition was that anyone who came indoors or entered his livestock indoors was unaffected by the plague. Anything in the field would be destroyed, but if the Egyptians would heed the word of Moshe and enter themselves indoors, they would be saved.

The psukim then recount what actually happened during the plague. It says, “those who feared the word of Hashem chased his servants and livestock into the houses. And whoever was ‘Lo Sam Libo (did not place the words of HaShem on his heart), he left his servants out in the field.”

On the surface, these verses are hard to understand. In the first verse, it says that those who feared HaShem would enter their possessions indoors. Along these lines, the pasuk should have continued “and those who didn’t fear the word of HaShem left their possessions outside…” However, the pasuk doesn’t say this. Instead of saying “those who didn’t fear HaShem”, the pasuk says “those who didn’t place HaShem on their hearts…” What’s the meaning if this? Why not just say, “those who didn’t fear HaShem?

I heard one answer once from Rav Doniel Kalish (the menahel of Waterbury Yeshiva) which I would like to elaborate on. He said that an explanation in the pasuk is that the idea of not fearing HaShem doesn’t really exist. Deep down, there doesn’t exist a person who doesn’t have a little inkling of heavenly fear. Even the greatest atheists of our day have a fear of HaShem. The only difference is that they don’t place their hearts on that fear; they’re not in touch with it.

To illustrate this, there’s a famous parable which Rav Yisroel Salanter used to relate. (The following is not the exact mashal, but it’s similar). Picture the following scenario: One day, the Coca Cola company publicizes a serious mistake made at one of its manufacturing outlets. Approximately 200 cans of Coke had accidentally mixed with a small amount of a different liquid which would cause a minor stomachache if drunk. How many people would stop buying Coke that day? Even for that one day, how drastically would the sales of Coke drop? The company would go out of business! No one would buy it! But why? Do you know what the chances are of getting affected by those cans of Coke? On average, the Coca Cola company produces 100,000 cans of Coke in the UK alone! That’s millions of Coke worldwide! The chance of getting one of those 200 cans of coke are microscopic! And even if you do, all it would cause is a minor stomachache! How many people would stop drinking Coke, even though the chances of getting that can are so small?

Says R’ Yisrael, it’s the same thing with fearing HaShem. Even if a person hasn’t been studying in Yeshiva to know how we know all the truths of HaShem and the idea of reward and punishment, likely, on the tiny percent chance that all those Jewish Rabbis dating back to Mount Sinai know what they’re talking about, wouldn’t a person feel compelled to fear?

The reality is that everyone has this fear. It’s innate. The only thing is that people try so hard to not believe. They try hard not to see HaShem. Many modern-day scientists aren’t looking for truth; they’re looking for ways to have an excuse for not believing in G-d. Rav Kalish said over a story with one of the other rebbeim at his Yeshiva. The Rebbe had just experienced the birth of his first child, and in his extremely emotional state, he couldn’t help but look at the secular Israeli doctor and say, “did you see that?! How could you not be religious after seeing something like that!?!” To which the doctor replied to him, “I know. It’s really hard”. The doctor had a hard time not believing in HaShem, but because of his convictions, he was able to not place HaShem on his heart, thereby ignoring Him.

I think we see from here a very powerful idea. The idea of not fearing HaShem isn’t simply not feeling the fear; it’s not thinking about it. It’s removing the self from that emotion, by numbing yourself to it. That’s the way a person removes HaShem from his life. Yet we see from here another point. That just as a person combats fear of Heaven by not thinking about it, the only thing a person needs to do in order to acquire it is to actively think about it. One should think of HaShem wherever life takes him. And when he thinks of HaShem, when he brings down HaShem’s presence into his life, then he’ll undoubtedly acquire this trait of “fear of Heaven.”

 

Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Vayechei – A Sasum Parsha

This week’s parsha is called sasum, meaning “closed”. Meaning there’s no space separating Vayechi and last week’s parsha, Parshas Vayigash as we find by every other parsha. The first Rashi in the parsha explains that the reason behind this anomaly is that the lev (heart) and ayin (eyes) of klal Yisrael were “closed” due to the death of Ya’akov. In an allusion to this, the parsha itself was left “closed”.

What does this mean? Obviously, Bnei Yisrael didn’t begin to lose their actual eyesight as a result of Ya’akov Avinu’s death. Rashi must be referring to our spiritual eyesight, the ability to truly see and feel the presence of HaShem. But why did Ya’akov’s death contribute to a lessening of this ability?

Chazal tell us that normally, when we have a space in between each parsha, the function and purpose of the space is to give time to be misbonein the previous parsha and process all the fundamental yesodos we just read. It’s to take all of the ideas we just gleaned from the Torah and make them relevant to ourselves.

With this in mind, Rashi isn’t merely telling us that we began failing to see and feel HaShem with Ya’akov’s death. Rather, the parsha was left sasum because we began to lose our ability to properly be misbonein about the Torah. Without Ya’akov Avinu, there’s no purpose towards having a space in between parshas for without Ya’akov we lost our ability to properly think and inculcate the Torah ideas within ourselves.

In more kabbalistic sources, each part of the body is likened to a corresponding middah. The “eyes” of a person correspond to kedusha. They’re the only part of the body which cannot receive even a small speck of a foreign agent such as dust without irritation and discomfort. The “heart” on the other hand, corresponds to tahara. Just as the process of tahara is the changing of a substance which was once tamei, so to the heart receives the blood from the rest of the body and “changes” the blood so to speak by infusing it with usable oxygen before dispersing it again to the limbs of the body.

This is the deeper idea which Rashi is alluding to. It isn’t that we physically began to lose our eyesight. Rather we began to lose our spiritual sight.  When Ya’akov Avinu passed away, the galus began. The koach of kedusha and tahara in Yisrael began to diminish and wither away. In an allusion to this nekudeh, the parsha is sasum. Because we began to lose our kedusha and our tahara, we weren’t able to properly focus and inculcate the concepts of the Torah.

There’s a much deeper idea and penetrating insight which results from this train of thought. By leaving the parsha sasum, the Torah isn’t just teaching us what results from a diminished sense of kedusha and tahara- rather it’s also teaching us how to deal with it. It’s teaching us how to live our lives while still in the galus. It teaches us how to respond during the times when our avodah isn’t as it should be. The only way to deal with such a galus, is to look back. Because the parsha is sasum, its forever connected to its predecessor. This teaches us to always look back. To remember the times of enlightenment, when things were clearer, when our avodah was stronger. In the parsha, the Brothers knew that in order to deal with the diminishing kedusha in klal Yisrael, the only way to handle it would be to look back. To remember when Ya’akov Avinu was alive. To remember the times of light and the times when avodas HaShem was stronger. With that type of hisbonenus, a person can bring light even into a galus night.

This idea is a very important eitzah for the times in life when a person falls. So many people leave yeshiva, and after a short time in the secular world, realize that they aren’t holding where they used to be in avodas HaShem. Many just get disappointed and move on, because that’s just the way life is. Back in yeshiva, night and day were spent focusing on avodas HaShem and a clarity in life. But after yeshiva ends, ever so slowly the trivialities we tend to attribute so much importance to begin to take over. Our kedusha and tahara which we worked so hard on to build begins to falter. So how do we react? Does one shrug and accept it as a hardship of life? The Torah here is teaching us how to deal with it. Don’t just ignore it, rather think back to the times when you were in yeshiva, to the times when we loved davening and learning, when they weren’t a burden for us. When we remember and relive those times, we draw upon our power of inspiration. And with that inspiration, we can continue to grow, even amidst our dark galus night.